Saturday, June 27, 2009

Who's in Charge Here?

The Hunter and the Hunted
Recently, the relationship between Quint and has humans has changed. A role reversal has occurred. I was sort of aware of it while it was happening, but didn't really take it very seriously until now. It appears that Carol and I are no longer in charge, instead, Quint has assumed the role of head of household. Yes, I've heard the old adage that cats have servants, but it's not quite like that. Quint doesn't expect us to wait on him. Okay, well maybe he does, but only at meal times, and after dinner at tooth brushing and fur brushing time. But now he's taken the lead at play time.

Mornings and evenings are most often the times when we are around to play with Quint. Carol plays with him after breakfast in the morning. When I get up, I grab a cup of coffee and go into my office to turn on my computer. While I'm waiting for the computer to boot up, Quint and I play Chase the Laser Pointer. After Carol leaves for work, Quint usually spends the morning napping while I catch up on e-mails or work on writing or photography projects in my office. In the afternoon, Quint alternates between napping and watching the birds and other animals out of various windows on different sides of the house. About 5:00 p.m., Quint is awake and ready to start his evening. The big evening event, of course, is Carol's arrival at home from work, when enthusiastic mutual greetings are exchanged. Then, we feed Quint and ourselves. After dinner, it's tooth and fur brushing, and right after that it's normally playtime. All of these events happen at about the same time everyday, a nice comfortable routine.

I've noticed that Quint is now enforcing the routine. After he has breakfast and plays with Carol, he will wait outside the bedroom door for me to wake up. When I do finally crawl out of bed, he leads me into the office where the laser pointer is and wants to play. Actually, he kind of herds me into the office like a sheepdog. When we first started playing with the laser pointer, I got to choose where to shine the little light and then Quint would chase it. Now, he waits for me to point it in the direction that he wants to run and ignores it when I don't. He's taken over control of the game. In the evening, when he sees that we've finished eating dinner, he walks over to where I'm sitting, looks up at me and meows to let me know that it's now time for brushing. After that, he'll sometimes make a quick check at all the windows to make sure there's nothing interesting going on outside, and then he'll walk through the dining room and into the kitchen where he will sit down right in the middle and look at us. This, of course, means it's playtime. If the routine is interrupted and either Carol or I are not near the kitchen when it's playtime, he will come and find us and let us know that he wants to play right now. He's very insistent about it. Again, he's taken charge of the game.

It's quite fascinating, his ability to take control of his life. He may well be better at it than I am. I am looking forward to seeing what other aspects of his life he learns to control.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Way to a Kitten's Heart

Oh, He's a Big Help Alright

Sure, Quint likes me alright. He'll come and visit me while I'm at my desk, or sit in my lap while I brush his teeth, but he completely adores my wife, Carol. Whenever she's at home, Quint follows her everywhere she goes. He sits on her desk while she's at her computer. He "helps" her make the bed in the morning. He goes into the bathroom with her while she's showering, putting on makeup and fixing her hair. He just likes being with Carol. It's been like that from the day he arrived. It may have something to do with the fact that Carol is the one who most often feeds him, but I suspect that it's because Carol is just inherently more lovable than I.

It's true. I've never been much of a people person, at least not on a wholesale basis. I have my close friends, people who I'd do just about anything to help, and I have a wider group who I like pretty well and would enjoy spending more time with, but, in general, I'm not a big fan of humans as a species. Maybe it comes from being picked on pretty severely when I was growing up. My family moved around a lot when I was elementary-school age so I didn't have long term friends or people I grew up with. Having no social skills whatsoever and being the new kid in town didn't endear me to the locals in any way. The sort of teasing one encounters as an outsider tends to make matters worse with regard to the development of any sort of useful social skills. By the time we settled down in one spot, I was already fourteen years old and rather wary of people for the most part. In addition, I had absolutely no common sense at all, so any effort I made to be accepted by my classmates at school was doomed to failure. I'm not complaining, just stating the facts of my formative years. I was socially awkward to the extreme. I'm a little better now, but it wasn't until after I left home to live on my own that I learned any sort of useful people skills at all, and the ones I did learn still aren't those of a sophisticate. What people skills I have are adequate to keep me from getting into fights and for navigating small gatherings, but are useless for much of anything beyond that. I'll never be a salesman, and I don't like talking to strangers on the telephone.

Carol, on the other hand, has social graces and people skills that amaze and astonish me constantly. She loves talking to people, all people. If you sit down to a conversation with Carol, be prepared to tell her your life story. You'll find yourself telling her things you wouldn't tell your best friend, and it's not just because she has the people skills to hold conversations with others, no, it's because she's genuinely interested in you, even though you've just met. Carol is the sort of person who, had we gone to high school together, I would never have dared approach. She knew all the cool kids. Heck, she was a cheerleader. Socially, Carol is way out of my league. She looks forward to going out to large gatherings to meet new people, and when she gets there she has a good time. Almost everybody loves Carol, they just can't help it.

Quint is no exception. Quint loves Carol. He likes me, but he loves Carol. If she's home and she goes outside to do some gardening, Quint meows loudly at the window until she comes back inside. At night, he sleeps on her pillow above her head. In the morning, he wakes her up at whatever time she asks him to. I envy Carol her people skills, but I'm glad that Quint and I have her as a friend and companion. She's a civilizing influence on us both, and I don't blame Quint for adoring her. How could he not?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Keep Away


One of Quint's favorite toys is the little red locking-rings that you have to remove from a one-gallon milk container to unscrew the top. The first time we dropped one on the floor, he batted it around and chased it as if it were a live animal. He played with it for hours, that first time, all by himself, all over the house. I suppose it satisfied some hunting instinct that is hard-wired into a cat’s brain, but it looked to me like he was just having fun. Like he was pretending it was alive and catching it and letting it go, and then catching it again, only to release it for another round. I like watching him play. He is so completely engaged with playing when he is doing it. Completely. It’s the Zen of a cat, that ability to be completely doing whatever activity he has decided to do. He hasn’t perfected it, as he can be distracted momentarily, or even longer, but he never forgets, and after dealing with whatever it might be that distracted him, breakfast, a noise at the window, a knock at the door, he goes right back to single-mindedly doing whatever it was he was doing before he was distracted.

Everything in his world, which, granted, is pretty small, is a potential cat toy. And until he has explored it thoroughly and either classified it as “toy” or “other,” he never gives up on it. If he sees a small object on a shelf above his current jumping height limit, he doesn’t categorized it as “unreachable,” but as “not reachable at this time.” He will go away and think about this new thing and consider his options. How will he reach it? Can someone in the household be encouraged to move it to a more accessible place? It there something nearby that can assist in obtaining the height necessary to reach the thing? I know he is thinking about it. I can see him staring off into space, imagining solutions to the problem, calculating heights and distances and traction coefficients, working out the cat physics of the problem. He never gives up, and he never forgets. If I walk over to that place, he watches me and he makes that noise that says “I want that.” I don’t always know what it is he wants, but he knows, and the “I want that” noise is only used for that demand. There are other noises for other communications.

Playing is ofttimes an individual activity, especially late at night. I hear him dashing about the house, pursuing phantom mice and rats, practicing his night vision skills, dodging obstacles in the living room, leaping from couch to love seat to floor to rug to counter top to the forbidden tabletop to the bookshelf under the dining room window. Once in awhile, he leaps up on our bed, just to make sure we are still there, and then it’s back to dashing about the house. Finally, when all the phantoms have been caught and killed and he is satisfied that all is safe within the house, he will come and join us in bed. Sometimes he sleeps on the pillow above Carol’s head, more often her curls up between our feet. That way he can make sure that if anyone moves, he will immediately know about it.

But playing is always more fun when there is someone else to play with. Since Quint doesn’t have any cat playmates, he has to settle for his human friends. Sometimes that is Carol, other times it’s me, and lately both of us get into the game. The game is a variation of “Keep Away.” Now, Keep Away as a game can be rather cruel, in that, usually the person who is being kept away is an unwilling victim. If you are unfamiliar with this game, it occurs when two people grab something valuable or necessary from a third person. The two grabbers then proceed to toss the grabbed item back and forth between them in such a way as to make it very difficult, or just barely impossible, for the victim to retrieve it. The cruelty comes into play as the two perpetrators must make it appear that there is some hope of the victim regaining the grabbed item. Of course, no such hope exists, but the apparency is important to the longevity of the game and the cruel delight of the grabbers and tossers. It ends when the victim collapses into tears and apathy, which was the purpose of the game in the first place, at least as it was played when I was a child. Usually, I was the victim.

The variation of Keep Away that we play with Quint would be better called Jump Away. There is no cruelty involved, but there is the element of danger, not to Quint, but to Carol and I. It’s a waiting and observation game, but it is also a test of each player’s reflexes. Here’s how it goes. I get on one end of our rather narrow kitchen, Carol gets on the other about eight feet away from me. Usually we are both kneeling. One of us has previously gathered from all over the house, the aforementioned red rings which he so enjoys chasing, three of them is good, four is even better. Quint, who knows this game, sits or lays on the floor between us, waiting. It begins when the possessor of the rings entices Quint by twirling the ring on the floor with a finger. When he begins to stalk the ring, but before he pounces on it and the twirling finger, you toss it into the air toward the other end of the kitchen. You see where the element of danger enters into the game. If you don’t pay close attention, your finger, hand, and arm could be mistaken for a cat toy and bloodshed can occur, not maliciously, of course, but cats don’t really understand the softness of human skin. Cats have hide and a thick layer of protective fur. When cats play with other cats, they don’t usually injure each other because of the fur and the toughness of their hide. No so with us humans, so one must be alert. As I said, this is a excellent test of each player's reflexes. Now, as the ring is, hopefully, sailing through the air, Quint’s part of the game is to catch it. He uses three different methods of doing this, the leap, the flip and the roll. The leap is the most satisfying for all the players. He jumps into the air and catches the ring in his teeth or paws, throws it to the ground and proceeds to ritually kill the poor thing. The flip is fun, too. He’ll let it sail over his head and catch it as it flies away from him, it’s a jump and turn kind of motion. It’s not as high a jump as the leaping technique, but it has a greater difficulty factor. The roll maneuver is executed towards either the beginning or the end of the game. At the beginning of the game, part of the enticement ritual involves tossing the rings to him while he’s laying on the floor. He’ll roll and reach out and grab them as they fly by. Once you’ve got him reaching and grabbing, you can proceed to the leaping and flipping parts of the game. When he gets tired of the leaping and flipping, the game goes back to rolling, reaching and grabbing. This game usually goes on for upwards of fifteen minutes or so, and is played each evening after Quint has had his dinner and his teeth brushed. Someday, someone should make a video of this activity. Someday.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Great Escape

He's an Indoor Cat

It was a typical day around my house. I sent Carol off to work at about 8:30 or so. I had a day off, so I surfed around on the web for awhile, read a few more chapters in the book I was current working though, had a bit of lunch, and took a little nap. When I awoke, I looked around for Quint, just to see what he was up to. I hadn't seen him in awhile, but that was not unusual since he normally sleeps through the middle part of the day. It was well past that time now and I had to meet Carol at 5:00 to pick her up from work so that we could attend a charity showing of a sailing movie made by Roy Disney.

It was very quiet in the house, too quiet, as the line goes. I started looking for Quint. I looked in all the usual places, the shelf behind the couch, the bed, the couch in my office, the chairs in the dining room. He wasn't there. I made a more thorough search, Carol's closet, the linen closet in the hall, under the bed, behind the couch, in the closet in my office, and still no sign of Quint. Okay, I'm starting to panic now. Where could he be? Could he have gotten out of the house? Earlier, I had heard a commotion outside behind the house, a bit of a cat squabble. I didn't think anything of it at the time, since the cats in the back will sometimes argue with each other. Could that have been Quint fighting with the neighbor's cats? It didn't seem likely, but I went out the front door and started looking around the house and yard. I called his name as I searched the perimeter of the property. There were no cats to be found, not even the neighbor's cats who are usually hanging around the yard. Now I'm really getting worried.

I went back into the house and searched everywhere there was room for a cat to hide. It was still very quiet in the house. Quint is quite a talker, as we've discussed, so this was not a good sign. My cat is now officially missing, and I'm officially panicking. It's also getting close to the time I have to leave the house to go pick up Carol in Burbank. What to do? What to do? Okay, I decided to make one last effort to find him outside in the yard. I went back outside and down the driveway. I didn't see him. I still didn't see the other cats, either. I walked to the house in the back of the property where our neighbor and her cats live. I opened her gate and went into her back yard. I still didn't see any cats. I was calling Quint's name the whole time. As I was looking down the narrow path between my neighbor's house and the fence next door, three cats came over the fence and climbed down onto the dark path. Three cats? One of them just had to be Quint. I squeezed into the dark, narrow pathway, tripping over a flower pot and almost falling. I moved up the path toward the front of the house and out into the space between our two houses. There they were!! All three of the cats were together and moving away from me and toward the front yard. As I followed them and reached the corner of my house, they all disappeared. Now what? I headed for the front door with the hope that maybe, just maybe, Quint might have gone there to be let back into the house. He was there!! I opened the screen door and he scampered though and into the house. I started beathing normally again. I picked Quint up and tried to explain to him that he was an indoor cat now and that he didn't need to be wandering around the neighborhood. I checked him over thoroughly, looking for puncture wounds or other damage that he might have incurred in the course of his adventures, but he seemed to be just fine. I let him know how glad I was to see him again and made him promise never to scare me like that again.

I don't think he realizes how dangerous it is out there, and he'll probably go back out again, given the opportunity, so we'll have to be extra vigilant to make sure he doesn't have any more outdoor adventures.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cat's Don't Get Called for Jury Duty

Keeping Watch

It true, you know, that cat's don't get called for jury duty. When I said goodbye to Quint on Friday morning, that is where I was headed. Every other day of that week when I checked in to see if I would be required to show up, I was told that I wouldn't be needed. I figured I had it made. Why would they start a whole new trial on a Friday? Well, someone figured that there might be a need for a few more potential jurors on Friday and some random number generator in some government computer somewhere chose me. So there I was, saying goodbye to Carol and Quint and heading downtown with the possibility that someone might be crazy enough to want me to sit in judgement on someone else's future.

Quint, in the meantime, gets to sit in the window and watch the birds hopping around among the plants on the front porch, or take a morning nap in a nice warm sunbeam. Some years ago, I made this low bench to fit along the picture window in the living room just so the cats could lay there and nap or watch the birds. Carol hemmed the curtains for that window about a foot short so that they didn't interfere with the view. It's the perfect place for a cat nap, and most certainly a vastly more interesting place to spend the day than the jury assembly room in the criminal court building in downtown Los Angeles.

That's just where I was, though. I'd arrived early, about 9:15 a.m., checked in, found a chair away from the juror indoctrination meeting that was going on in the next room and opened one of the three books I had brought with me. An hour or so later, I'd finished up that book and had gotten up, walked around, stretched and returned to my chair. Nothing else had happened. Not a single one of the fifty or more people assembled there had been called to go into a court room. A few people were called to the check-in window to correct some error on the form they had filled out attesting that they were qualified to be a juror, but other than that, nothing had happened. I started a new book, Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, the "story of Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the opening of the American West," according to the subtitle on the cover. A few minutes later, a video played on the monitor in the corner telling all us potential jurors all about the wonderful places to eat and things to see in beautiful downtown Los Angeles. I went back to reading my book. At noon, they told us we could go to lunch, but that we had to be back by 1:30 p.m.

I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get some fresh air and take a walk. Out in the hallway there was quite a crowd waiting for the elevators to take us down to the lobby. Some of the more experienced jurors chose not to wait but to take the stairs down instead. Later, I counted the flights down from the eleventh floor, but on that trek it seemed like a lot more than there actually were. I was guessing around thirty-three by the time I reached the lobby (It was actually twenty-two). I walked out of the building into some lovely Southern California weather with big puffy rain clouds and patches of blue sky and sunshine. I had put a little point-and-shoot camera in my bag when I left the house that morning. I hadn't used it much lately, so I figured that the battery would have plenty of charge left to snap a few shots of whatever downtown buildings and street life that I might encounter. A quick word of advice here: Never forget to bring your spare battery. I turned on the camera and focused on the Los Angeles City Hall and almost immediately got a low battery warning telling me that there was not enough energy to actually take any photos, but that there was plenty left to look at the photos which I hadn't yet been able to take. I found that, if I was quick, I could turn on the camera and squeeze off a shot before the camera's little "brain" realized that the batter was too low to actually do that. I got two hastily framed, bad shots that way and gave up. Nothing left to do now but walk, so I did that. I walked around the block which is uphill on one side and downhill on the other, and then walked back into the building. I had some lunch in the cafeteria on the first floor and then took the elevator back up to the jury assembly room. I found a more comfortable chair and settled in for what promised to be a deadly dull afternoon.

At about 1:50 p.m. they announced that we weren't going to be needed after all and that we could all go home. Ahh, freedom, sweet freedom. I'd done my civic duty again and now I'd be off the list for another year. I celebrated by going shopping at Target to get some wrapping paper for a birthday present we were going to deliver over the weekend. I love going to Target but I never come home with only the items which I intended to get. This time I found a cool little cat toy shaped like a bird. It's makes little chirping sounds whenever you move it. Quint loves it. He played with it all night long. No matter where I was in the house, I could hear the little chirping noises as he prodded and poked at it. I wish I had as much fun with my toys and he has with his.