Monday, February 7, 2005

The Founding Member of the Unabashedly Anthropomorphic Society of America

"It's the animal instinct in me..."
-the Cranberries

"They never let poor Rudolph, join in any reindeer games..."
-Gene Autry

Support for my decision to adopt a third cat has been mixed at best. My thinking and so called logic has been dissected and picked apart by friends and family and co-workers and the same people that poisoned that Ukrainian's president's soup, and though I've had a history of questionable decision making this one seems to have been more universally summarily dismissed as a poor one than most. Granted I'll admit I've long been the expert at placing myself in unwinnable situations. One person went so far as to suggest that this latest decision is all about an overarching aversion to building an actual family (of the human kind). But you know, maybe I just have a really high albeit near paranoid intolerance for mice. Is that too Howard Hughesian?

So the burning question is why can't we all just get along? Or rather another way to state it is why cat we all just get along?

I've never introduced a new cat into an atmosphere where others already tread so to learn about the process I did what any of us now do when we need information. I googled it on the Internet. And then I ended up talking to some people who had been through the experience. What I learned is that you are supposed to keep all the fur legs and glares separated and segregated physically if not socially while myself trying to remain a comforting presence to all involved The new cat establishes a safe room where he can get used to all the new sights and smells and the resident cats get to wonder what the hell is going on behind that locked door.

After awhile you're supposed to switch their places so they can all acclimate themselves to the smells of each other. (Hopefully the overwhelming stench of the sole human inhabitant doesn't interfere with this busy twitchy nose process.) After even more of awhile when you think that the antenna of the agitated nerves is somewhat receptive you allow everyone to see each other. Expecting a full fledged brawl at this point I was happy that the two resident cats acted like they didn't quite know what to make of this new intruder while the intruder, a fourth of their size looked up with his big round eyes and let out the tiniest of mews- as if to say, "Hi guys, wanna play?"

It's never easy being the new kid on the block. Growing up in Roseville there were three junior highs that fed the two senior highs. All the Fairview kids went to Alexander Ramsey. All the Capitol View kids went to Frank B. Kellogg. Us Parkview kids were split between the two high schools. Thus many of my friendships for all intents and purposes cam to a screeching halt after the ninth grade and my first year of high school was spent trying to find my way among a bunch of people who pretty much had gone to the same schools all their lives.

I remember sitting in hour one of my homeroom class in 10th grade hardly recognizing another face in the room. It took me all the way back to kindergarten- feeling like everyone was in on something I knew nothing about. The same feelings came flooding back during my freshman year at college. I ended up with a group of jocks and drunks and sex crazed hipsters (I learned none were mutually exclusive clubs) that left me feeling like I grew up on Neptune.

So excuse me for feeling more than a little bit of sympathy for cat #3's first week in his new home. Dubbed "Dribble" because being a mostly black cat with a white chin that makes it look like he dribbled a dabble of milk out of his mouth, he had come from a foster home where he lived with six other cats. Thus being introduced to a new place he had to figure that the other two feline figures would understand and be sympathetic to his confusion. They were not.

When his absolute period of isolation ended and the doors were opened a bit where all involved could get a peek at each other for the first time, the anxiety in the air could have been sliced with the force of a swipe of an unclipped cat's paw. The newcomer wanted to explore- the veterans didn't want him in any way to violate their territory.

The newcomer couldn't have been more friendly towards me. Purring seems to be his natural state and when he stops it seems odd. He also turns out to be a great head-butter- seemingly seeing my head as one great big soccer ball.

At the same time it was time to come up with a permanent name. "Dribble" seemed like a good kitten name but long term it just wouldn't do. I remembered a book about the making of the original Star Trek series where the creators of the show ran through a list of names for the Vulcan- everything from Spook to Speck ultimately settling on Spock. I did get a glimpse of what new parents must go through in selecting a name for their baby. I wanted something that capture his essence yet it had to be something others would remember and accept as appropriate. I've long wanted to name a cat after something musical- the long lost great Stephanie Jane won me over by telling me she once had a cat named Jazz. "Dylan" would have been an option if not for Beverly Hills 90210.

I ran through several musicians' names from Duke to Thelonious, from Wyclef to Hank (Sr.) but I just couldn't decide. I then settled on Eliot after Elliott Smith only with one "L" in deference to T.S. Eliot only the short name to that would be "Eli" and I had a friend who named one of her cats "Elijah" (a wonderful kitty name) and thus calling him Eli (that cat unfortunately was killed in an accident) made me feel sad (or sadder than usual).

I just about settled on Cecil after jazz pianist Cecil Taylor. Indeed I called the newcomer that for a day or so but it just didn't seem to fit. So I came back to one of the first names I thought about- Thelonious- Theo for short. I ran it by my friend. She liked the name Thelonious-san Monk-Maeda. I did too.

How to get Thompson and Diego-san to accept little Theo... There were no fisticuffs when I first opened the door all the way. Theo took some steps toward Diego-san who could sit on Theo and flatten him to nothing. Diego-san, who runs this place, glared menacingly but when Thelonious got near ultimately retreated (as is his nature). Thompson proved even more surly. If Theo got within two feet, Thompson growled. If Theo got within a foot, Thompson hissed. If Theo got any closer Thompson ran away. One time Thompson sat perched upon his favorite piece of cat furniture when Theo tried to climb up. Thompson took his one front paw and rapped Theo hard on the top of his head. Theo didn't quite get the message and the process was repeated again until he quit his attempt.

But tonight detente has finally been reached. Thelonious lived up to his name and pranced upon the piano keyboard. Diego-san, himself quite the piano player nodded in approval. Thompson looked over and seemed to accept things as they now are. Thelonious has bundles of kitten energy and the other boyz look on both out of curiosity and seemingly with the message- "you'll learn better one day, kid..."

Yes maybe all this is a bit too remindful of the only piece of work to make both my all time favorite book list and movie list, William Wharton's Birdy, a story in which the title character finds that being a human is a bit too frightening so he chooses something else- but I must say that I'm learning more and more from my exposure to all things feline. As I feel my way forward all I've encountered has an inherent (and often written about) sense yet I love how all the cats have their own unique personalities. Trying to decipher what all that means has proved to be endlessly rewarding and I'm sure little Theo will end up teaching me as much about things as those who came before him have already done, God bless him.

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