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The Amazing Talking Cat

by Jon Carroll, San Francisco, CA, USA


SO I AM SITTING at my computing machine earning my living, and my cat wanders in and speaks to me. I recognize that category of discourse immediately; it is meowus ordinari, the common house cry.

The two other primary varieties of cat speech are meowus bigtroubli, a sort of low growling moan, and screechus extremeli, which is an upper-register howl designed to alert people in Utah to the existence of certain troubling facts.

Those two modes of expression always demand my immediate attention. The former usually means there's an opossum in the kitchen; the latter means that the cat is being abducted by aliens -- a not uncommon occurrence, alas.

Meowus ordinari often has to do with food. Less often, it has to do with access. Boomer has a cat door, but she does not like the cat door. She is a large cat, and her door is not a large door. She would much prefer the services of a doorman.

So I am sitting, as I say, my stubby fingers flying over the keys, and the cat is standing in the middle of the room and speaking. Whatever she is talking about, I know she can wait just a minute.

I mean, she's a cat. She weighs 13 pounds. I weigh 195. I do not have claws, but I have a certain animal cunning. I can purchase weapons. I am the alpha male. If I am creating lovely sentences, the cat is going to have to like it or lump it, although she will certainly lump it.

And she can just go on lumping it until I am ready to deal with her demands. There can be nothing less than absolute clarity on the power dynamics. Me: Big human, opposable thumb, knows many words of French, can drive a car. Her: Small cat, no thumb, limited speech, owns no vehicles. I ask you: Who is the master?

BUT SHE DOES not meow just once. She meows and meows and meows. She walks up and down, as though she were doing the Meow Play in a theater-in-the-round. She attempts to establish eye contact.

Well, of course it is impossible to create prose with a damn cat yowling in one's ear. I stand up, stare down at the cat and say, "OK, what is it?"

She immediately goes into the "Quick, Timmy, come quick, old farmer Roberts is drowning in the crick" dance. She races toward the object of desire and turns to see if I'm coming. If I'm not, she runs back toward me, turns and runs away. "Follow me, Timmy, the whirlpool at Devil's Bend is dragging him under!"

Reluctantly, I follow her. Unsurprisingly, our destination is the food bowl.

I GET DOWN on my knees. I run my fingers through the kibble. "Look, Boomer, plenty of food still left. None of these Poultry Platter Flavor bits are over 24 hours old. Besides, and forgive me for mentioning this, you're a cat."

But no. The food doesn't smell right or something. I know that if I were to leave the house in a rush and forget to fill the cat bowl, then somehow the vile food that did not smell right would be all gone when I returned home to strenuous recriminations.

Boomer understands my attitude instantly. She runs in distressed circles. "Poison, poison, my master is trying to poison me. Whatever am I to do? I am but a poor neutered cat with no means of support. Oh poor me, oh dear."

I know where this is leading. If I go back into my room, she'll follow, and the dance will begin again. I get some more food and put it in her bowl.

She walks away, not wishing to seem over-eager. She lies down and starts washing herself. Food? She is indifferent to food. I let loose a howlus anguishii, the cry of the American cat owner.


Editor's note:

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