Archive for the ‘Substitutes’ Category

With apologies to William Faulkner,
but only if he first apologizes to the better William.

It has been several months since the caretaker has cataloged events at Stratford Palace. Had there been a proper excuse for this lapse, it would have been inserted here, but there is none, which I suppose in itself is good news. By God’s grace, neither the caretaker nor the cats have endured any illnesses or injuries or calamities that would have prevented blogging. Instead, the caretaker has found many activities to occupy her time, and they have crowded in upon her duty to report on His Majesty and affairs of state. But tonight the caretaker finds herself with a few extra minutes, so she will summarize the events of the last few weeks to elicit a droll smile from both our gentle readers.

Therefore, we commence, but not like Faulkner. We will allow our story to unfold in chronological order because we are not a famous Southern author who learned the hard way that liquor and horseback riding do not mix. But that’s another story….

Part 1: June 13, 2017

Even before this terrible day arrived, the cats were suspicious of the caretaker’s movements. She had spent hours dragging luggage out of closets, rifling through obscure dresser drawers, and arranging small bottles of various liquids into plastic bags. Having seen this sort of behavior before, the cats were increasingly filled with dread. They realized it was only a matter of time before the caretaker disappeared for several days—and nights. But what made this terrible day even worse was the influx of visitors who arrived just before the caretaker’s disappearing act. For two creatures whose third greatest fear is being trodden upon, the cats found that the presence of ten additional lumbering feet in the house was too much to be borne. Mercifully for them, the flurry of activity was soon over, and they were alone.

Utterly, utterly alone.

After several hours of deep silence (and possibly naps), Buddy yawned, looked at his forlorn companion, and said with sad resignation, “Catty, we’re gonna have to fend for ourselves.” As dark descended, so did their spirits. It mattered little that the tall Dan-man arrived every evening to attend to their needs. He was not the caretaker. The caretaker was gone. Utterly, utterly gone.

Until she wasn’t.

Part 2: June 17, 2017

The sun had already shone for many hours, which could only mean that another dark night was closing in like the unruly flaps of an Amazon.com box. When the key turned in the door, the cats barely looked up. It would be the tall Dan-man again to open another can of the wrong food, fill the bowl with inferior water, and stop for a quick head-scratching, and then he’d be gone.

Utterly, utterly gone.

But this time was different. Buddy scarcely believed his golden-green eyes when the door flew open to reveal the caretaker’s tired face. The floodgates were opened and the miaow-ridden complaining began. But it was soon squelched by the feeding and the watering and the scratching and the soothing words and the scooping and the sitting-down-to-make-a-lap.

As soon as the lap was made available, Buddy draped himself over it and commenced a deep purr that lasted longer than seemed possible. His world had been redeemed.

For a few days, anyway.

Part 3: June 26, 2017

As before, this day of parting was preceded by several days of flurrying and scurrying, rumblings and grumblings, and a great deal of document printing, all of which boded ill for the cats. When the suitcase turned up and filled up, Buddy once again looked at his morose companion, this time saying, “Catty, she’ll be gone again soon.”

And she was. A rolling box drove up and carted the caretaker and her luggage far away for many days. A different tall man this time, who brought a bubbly little boy, came to the house daily to brighten the cats’ world, but they were having none of it. They grudgingly drank enough water and ate enough food to stay alive,  but they were too irritated to enjoy themselves.

Then both the best thing and the worst thing happened all at the same time. It was very confusing.

Part 4: July 1, 2017

Although the caretaker had received a cool reception the prior evening, July 1 was her first full day back, and the cats had grudgingly begun to acknowledge her existence. But when the neighbors began their annual completely unnecessary fireworks practice, the cats clung to the caretaker like a couple of wet leaves.

Think of a cat as a creature who has Attachment Disorder alternating with Borderline Personality, and you’ll understand completely what these last few days at Stratford Palace have looked like. Hours of aloof behavior that conveyed the message “I’ve learned to be independent during your long absences,” have been followed by tense moments of terror, as explosion after explosion filled the air outside the palace. Hearing the awful sound and mistaking it for gunfire, Buddy, remembered the Alamo, the storming of the Bastille, the attack on the Tuileries, the falls of Troy and Jericho and the House of Usher, and he imagined himself the target of a monstrous coup. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. Bear, having no such illusions, thought only of the naps that were being interrupted. Uneasy lies the head that has to endure the incessant thunder of fireworks.

On July 2, the caretaker awoke to find both cats pressed up against her back, sound asleep, a phenomenon that had not happened in recent memory. (Normally they take turns being near her because they do not like to share her attention.) A relatively quiet morning gave way to a boisterous afternoon of explosions no different from that of the previous day, and the same thing happened on July 3rd and 4th. In fact, on July 4 for some reason the fireworks intensified in number, lasted entirely too long, and brought a great deal of upset and fervor (or fur-vor, if you prefer).

But today, on the fifth day, there is silence. Glorious, glorious silence. At this very moment, Buddy is draped across the caretaker’s lap watching the words of his story magically appear on the screen. He wishes you to know that he bears no ill will toward those who planned the coup, but he hopes they will move along quietly from this time forth, even unto the ending of the world. He is certain that all of his gentle readers regard him kindly and would never commit such crimes against his person.

He does tend to sound pompous from time to time, but that is only to be expected from royalty (and Navy captains). 




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As promised, we will reveal our very exciting news about the cats’ New Can Opener. Now, gentle reader, before you protest that cat food cans are usually equipped with a ring top that practically opens itself, we must remind you that opposable thumbs are important in completing the ring-top-opening transaction. Granted, with a bit of ingenuity, the lack of thumbs might be overcome, but at the very least, the ability to use tools is important. And so we announce with great delight that Stratford Palace has gained another hooman who serves as a supplementary caretaker. The old, decrepit caretaker calls him “Son,” but the cats call him “Unca Dan” because that’s what The Boy used to call him.

Several weeks ago, Unca Dan came to visit for a few days, and the cats mourned when he stopped coming back. After all, he has all the qualities that cats want in a hooman: a kind disposition, an excellent lap, and ten fingers that are willing to scratch ears and open cans. So when he returned a few weeks ago, bringing bags and boxes into the palace, the cats were ecstatic. Besides having access to another hooman whose sole purpose is to adore them, the cats had a brand new set of luggage to inspect. Since such inspections are Buddy’s forte, he took charge of the situation immediately:

Buddy the Inspector at Work

Buddy the Inspector at Work

Finding all of the household goods in order, Buddy turned his attention to escorting Unca Dan around the palace, pointing out the best napping spots, the sources of fresh water, and the location of the food cabinet. Even after several weeks, Buddy feels responsible for helping to assimilate the new family member into the household, so he spends a great deal of time escorting him from room to room. After all, we wouldn’t want our New Can Opener getting lost, would we? Perhaps his most important task is to wait up at night until Unca Dan comes home (pictured below). It is safe to say that Buddy takes his kingly responsibilities seriously. His subjects are truly blessed to have such a watchful monarch.

Buddy waits up for the New Can Opener

Night Watchman

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Anyone who has been lonely and bored enough to follow these adventures from the beginning will realize that several months ago a post was labeled as the first part of a series entitled “Myths Uncovered.” So that our gentle readers will not lose heart entirely and sink to the level of watching reality television, the second in the series will now be provided. The first three myths in the series may be reviewed here; we begin with the fourth.

Myth #4: Cats are creatures of habit.

This myth is difficult to debunk, as it is partially true. However, it would be more precise to state that although cats may behave erratically, they expect their caretakers to be creatures of habit and their surroundings to remain constant. Bear, for example, has learned over the years that shortly after the time of getting up in the morning comes the time of sleeping on the bathroom rug, where she strategically places herself so as to trip the caretaker when she steps out of the bathtub. For many months, Bear would follow the caretaker everywhere in the morning. Now, however, she has become more proactive and precedes the caretaker in her morning routine. Most days, she finishes breakfast and makes her way to the bathroom rug whether the caretaker is present or not. It’s always good to get a head start on naptime.

Buddy, however, picks and chooses which part of the morning routine he wants to support. After making sure that the caretaker is up and busy, he disappears, sometimes to the spare room to sleep, sometimes to the kitchen to clear the breakfast plates, sometimes to the living room window to spy on the last raccoons of the morning, and sometimes to the bedroom to rifle through the laundry. And sometimes to stalk Bear as she quietly makes her rounds, which brings us to our fifth myth.

Myth #5: Cats do not feel guilt.

A couple of days ago, the caretaker turned a corner just in time to catch Buddy sneaking up on Bear. He halted just before his final move, which by all indications would have been to pounce on Bear’s unsuspecting flank. Suspended briefly in midair, Buddy stared up at the caretaker with a look of confusion blended with a depth of guilt that is generally lacking in both cats and congressmen. Though not a meow was spoken, his attempt to recover from this faux paw (sic) was worthy of a politician, as his face wrote novels of excuses in breathtaking Hemingway style:

Oh, hello, hooman. I know this looks bad, but what really happened was that Bear was just walking in front of me and I just was minding my own business and then she suddenly sat down and it’s not my fault that I almost ran into her because I was distracted by thinking about how much trouble you go through to make sure we have a good life and besides I always give my sweet and beautiful sister plenty of room to express herself because I would never oppress women and there truly wasn’t anything bad happening here and I wasn’t trying to hurt her so you don’t have to get upset or anything because you know that’s not good for your health and we can forget all about this, right? But please stop laughing.

The scene broke up as Bear wandered away in disgust. She cannot bear the sound of laughter.

Myth #6: Cats are aloof.

Again, a partial truth at best. It is quite true that cats want human contact only on their own terms. The caretaker has found that the surest way to get Buddy to stop aggravating her at 4:00 in the morning is to grab him, hug him, and talk baby-talk to him. But what precedes her attempt to regain her own personal space is always a completely un-aloof furry face planted strategically in her face or neck, attempting to bring her back from blissful rest to painful reality. Some mornings she is jolted awake by the tickling of whiskers on her neck; some mornings by the insertion of a wet pink nose in her eye. No aloofness here.

To the casual observer, Bear appears aloof, but that is an illusion she reserves for some of the substitutes who feed her. What looks like aloofness is mere laziness. Her theory is that there is no point in wasting energy on substitutes who do not stay around to dote on her. When the caretaker is at home, Bear is actually quite clingy, following (or preceding) her everywhere and sometimes ending up underfoot. When the caretaker is seated, Bear is never far away. As this sentence is being written, Bear’s head is a mere three inches from the caretaker’s arm. When winter comes, Bear will strategically arrange herself so that her entire back is adjacent to the side of the caretaker’s leg. This is a maneuver requiring advanced geometrical and physics formulae to ensure that the greatest amount of body heat is conserved. Perhaps these mathematical feats deserve their own myth to break (that cats are not academically inclined) but unfortunately the calculations are accomplished entirely in Bear’s head, so there is no way to prove her utter brilliance.

Once again, the lesser hooman wins all the academic glory, simply because cats do not require calculators for their solutions. The world is not a fair place at all.

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This post will not be written in our usual light-hearted fashion, as the caretaker’s heart has been a bit heavy since learning of the loss of a special four-legged friend. For the past year, the universe has been held in balance, more or less, by the existence of two matched pairs of cats. Buddy and Bear were perfect counterparts to Prince Po and Princess Priss, with Po being another male black-and-white, and Priss being a sweet girl tabby. Had the two sets of cats ever been in the same room, the two B’s would have thought they were looking into one of those carnival mirrors that makes everything appear slightly smaller, as the two P’s were normal sized cats and Buddy and Bear are, well, a bit on the large side.

The caretakers for each set of cats have been friends for many years, and they often serve as substitutes for each other when out-of-town trips are necessary. During the recent holiday weekend, Buddy and Bear’s caretaker took the extra keys and set out for the Red Brick Cottage to feed Po and Priss. Po had not been feeling well for a while, but the vet had prescribed some nasty tasting medicine with the usual confident pronouncement of “he-will-be-fine-soon-if-you-give-him-this.” When the substitute arrived for her first day of duty, he ran out to meet her, and he meowed her through the difficult process of plating the food and ensuring that all of the gravy was scraped out of the container and distributed uniformly across the layer of meaty nuggets. When she arrived the next day, however, she found him lying on the bathroom rug, and he refused to come out to eat his dinner. Since she had been told he might behave this way, she didn’t worry about him, though she brought the plate to him and tried to coax him to eat just a little. She eventually went back to her own kitty responsibilities at the Seafoam Cottage, hoping he would eat it later.

When Po’s regular caretakers returned, he was glad to see them (for they are good and kind), but he was obviously not feeling well. After realizing that he was getting no better, they took him back to the vet, for they are good and kind. This time there was no reassurance and no medicine. The same sorts of tests that had previously failed to diagnose the problem now indicated that Po had a very advanced case of feline leukemia virus. It is the worst news a cat caretaker can ever hear, as there is no hope of long-term recovery.

So today the universe is slightly off kilter, as Buddy’s twin at the Red Brick Cottage has been lost to a terrible illness. As good and kind as his caretakers are, they were not able to ward off the worst enemy. They can take comfort, however, in the fact that they gave him the very best life a cat could ever imagine, with excellent food and treats and toys and a water fountain and most of all, love. Lots of love.

Po’s sudden demise has left the Seafoam Cottage under a bit of a cloud, and even Buddy seems to know something is wrong. The day the caretaker came home after learning about Po’s death, Buddy was particularly attentive and spent a great deal more time than usual letting the caretaker scratch his ears and talk to him about the fragility of life and the need to show the ones we love how much we love them while we have the opportunity to do so. His mind wandered a bit when she started to talk about unknown dangers that may lie around the corner, and he became concerned that she would stop letting him go out to patrol the screamed-in porch. Bear has slept through most of these conversations, but she remains at the caretaker’s side, waking or sleeping, to reassure her that there is still much in this life for which we may be grateful and that there is hope that love can live beyond the grave.

That is, after all, the best part of grace.

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Clever Girl!

Buddy has unfortunately found it necessary to take a break from his missives to Tristan to deal with a very pressing issue: the caretaker’s treachery. During the past year that she has served him, she has sometimes wandered off for a couple of days at a time. Although it is true that she has always arranged to have an adequate substitute to replenish the supply of food and water, it is also true that the cats find it frightfully inconvenient to have their universe disrupted. There must be order, and it is her job to provide it! Buddy may be the very embodiment of chaos, but that distinction does him no good unless he is surrounded by such an extreme clockwork existence that his chaos appears so much the more terrible by comparison. Dinner should be on time, hang it all!

Besides, it is a difficult, time-consuming, and painful process to train a caretaker; it is virtually impossible for the cats to get everything they want from a substitute, even the most capable one. And during the 24 days that have already passed in this month, the caretaker has been away for a total of 10 days. She first disappeared for 6 days, and at her return the cats were certain she understood that leaving again was out of the question. But it was not to be. It is as though some of Buddy’s obstinacy has transferred to her, and THAT is a grim prospect indeed.

Perhaps the greatest irritation surrounding the second disappearance is that the caretaker has demonstrated a remarkable capacity for subterfuge, a development that does not please either Buddy or Bear. At the end of the first trip, she had unpacked her bags, cleaned and put away all the contents, and returned to her usual household routine as though she had no plans ever to leave again. But in the early afternoon of the Sunday that transpired between the trips, Buddy wandered into the spare room to find a suitcase lying on its back—always a tell-tale sign—so he did the only sensible thing: he stretched across it to nap (and shed) so violently that no one would ever dare travel with that luggage again. The caretaker smiled and seemed to accept Buddy’s clear prohibition of all future departures. She stroked his head when he lifted it ever so slightly to acknowledge her existence, and she walked away softly, allowing him to return to a blissful sleep. “So thoughtful,” he mewsed. “I would give her a raise if I paid her.” So the next morning, when she suddenly produced two other bags, fully packed and tagged for flight, Buddy was astonished. From whence had come these two magic bags, upon which no cat had yet laid his head?

It seems that while the cats’ attention was diverted to various matters of State—catnaps, porch visitations, and possibly even feeding times—the caretaker had surreptitiously packed her clothes, keeping the un-shed-upon luggage hidden away in a closet. Carefully concealing her real motives, she went shopping and bought back extra treats and good food, and she let the cats spend extra time on the screamed-in porch. And all the while, her apparent kindness was leading up to the ultimate treason. As she hurried out the door to meet the taxi, Buddy yelled behind her such epithets as “Inconstant woman!” “Cruel vixen!” and worst of all, “Faminist!”*

But all the while, he was secretly thinking, “Clever girl,” and wondering how he could co-opt her methods to his purposes.

Of course, Bear is much less dramatic than Buddy. She has little capacity for devising evil or maintaining a grudge, so her favor was regained during the excellent meal she was served upon the caretaker’s return. Her substitute caretakers had provided food, water, and laps upon which she could sit and be doted upon, so she felt there was nothing much to forgive. Buddy may one day be able to forgive the caretaker. In the meantime, he is heaping on the guilt and looking for ways to apply her sneakiness to his endeavors. And still she smiles, just as though God’s in His heaven and thus all is right with the world.

* Buddy is particularly proud of coining the term faminist, or the alternate spelling famine-ist, meaning “a willful woman who insists upon getting her own way even if others have to starve.”

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The cats are not certain what the word “goodbye” means, but they hear it frequently and are well aware of the results. When it is uttered, the caretaker breaks open the side of the house, steps through the opening, and shuts it behind her. It is a most disconcerting event. When she also has in her possession the big box on wheels that she calls a “suitcase,” there is a fair amount of panic in the otherwise happy little home. The presence of the box means that the sunlight will disappear and return at least once before she returns, and that is not a good thing. The cats don’t sleep well unless the caretaker is there, ready to be rudely awakened at their slightest whim.

The caretaker usually waits until the very last minute to pack, in order to save Bear at least a small amount of grief. As soon as Bear sees the suitcase being rolled out, she falls into a fit of depression that cannot be cured with even the very finest treats. Well, at least not at first.

The presence of a suitcase invokes several passive-aggressive tactics, a particular specialty of the cats. For one, when the suitcase is lying down, Buddy and Bear take turns planting themselves on top of it, preventing the addition of clothes, and therefore, trying to thwart the caretaker’s evil plans to leave. The tactic never works, but Bear is persistent. When the suitcase is left open, Bear enjoys the opportunity to nap in the growing stack of clothes. Apparently, this is good therapy because one cannot completely hate that which one is able to use as a bed.

Alas, goodbye comes eventually, and then the house is peopled only once a day for a brief time when the substitute caretaker stops by to make sure there are enough snacks and water for the following day. The presence of a substitute is tolerated, but if The Boy is part of the equation, Buddy comes alive. Buddy and The Boy go way back, and they are always glad to see each other. Bear, on the other hand, has no interest in The Boy, unless he is holding snacks in his hand. There is something to be said for single-mindedness.

But eventually when the side of the house opens again, it will be the caretaker. Here is where the cats are able to execute the passive-aggressive pièce de résistance. At the end of the workday, the cats display a moderate amount of happiness that the caretaker is home: “Oh, you’re home. Well, since you’re already standing up, you might as well feed us. And do attend to the litter box by all means.” A very touching display of affection, all in all.

Yet when the caretaker returns from a weekend trip, the cats barely look up from their nap. They raise their heads slightly, blinking in a very annoyed manner, and seem to be saying, “Oh, it’s you. Keep it down, and whatever you do, don’t turn on the light!” With cats, it is not true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, at least when it comes to the caretaker. She will be punished by their collective cold shoulder for at least 30 minutes, or as soon as the snacks are brought out, whichever comes first. By the time everyone has eaten and ears have been thoroughly scratched, all is forgiven and the napping can resume.

Look carefully! There's a cat in that suitcase.

Bear Hides in the Suitcase

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Anyone who might wish to replace the caretaker should know that cats really do have quite simple needs. A soft bed, nutritious food, fresh water, and a litter box, and the cats are set for all nine lives.

The bed, of course, needs to be situated near an east-facing window so that the gentle morning sunbeams can reach in and gently caress that little spot of soft fur in the crease that sits at the base of each ear. While you’re at it, you might as well set up a matching bed near a west-facing window to make the best use of the final rays just before the world turns dark and Buddy is forced to prowl the night and wake you at random. It is important for him to get his rest. How else will he be able to keep you awake half the night? Hmmmm? 

As for food, nutritious is all well and good, but for pity’s sake, make sure you provide at least one can of the expensive designer food per day. This is extremely important to Bear. Even though there are two cats, two plates will not be necessary, but you must by all means ensure that you place equal amounts of food in two carefully rounded mounds on each plate. Dry food must be available throughout the day and night, and it should consist of the multi-colored chunks of, again, gourmet (are you listening?) fare sold at very large prices in very small packages. You should purchase three or four varieties and swap them out because the cats get a smidge bored with eating the same thing every day, day after day. Actually, two days in a row is unacceptable. And by all means, don’t forget the treats, the ones that are crunchy on the outside and have a soft filling. Certainly not those spongy soft treats that the silly caretaker tried to foist on the cats a few months ago. The cats like variety, but all of the options provided should be superior, based on a set of criteria that only the cats can fully understand. You won’t get it right even half the time, and when you do, your efforts won’t be appreciated, but don’t ever let that keep you from trying.

Then there’s the water. You may think that refilling a water bowl daily is sufficient. All the cats can say to that is, “Tsk, tsk,” which comes out sounding a lot like “Hiss, hiss.” And that is very much like the soothing sound that a delightful Drinkwell water fountain would make if you were clever enough to purchase one. The cats greatly enjoy the delights of drinking from running water, so if you don’t get the fountain they will make use of one of your lovely sinks. Or the bathtub. Or a skillfully placed hole in your expensive waterbed if you have one. Perhaps you could just keep the flow in all of your faucets going at a trickle at all times if you don’t purchase a fountain. And if you have a waterbed, that is most certainly the only way to prevent its sure and certain destruction.

Finally, there’s the litter box. The cats can’t tell you much about that, other than it should be kept clean, should have a lid for privacy, and should be placed away from anything that you don’t want to find covered with litter like confetti after a parade. Apparently the current caretaker has some notion that the litter should not be scattered over the floor. The cats would simply say, “Get over it. You have a broom, and quite frankly, you need the exercise.” Oh, and unless you’re willing to buy the super-duper deodorized litter, then get over the smell as well. Just be glad they aren’t elephants. 

Cats really do have simple needs. When compared with rock stars, that is. 

The last sunbeam of the day

Bear makes the most of the comfy bed

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