“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” –Mark Twain
Back in the early seventies, we lived in a quiet bedroom community in a college town, and life was simple. Well, simple enough by some standards: we had no children yet, and no dawgs or cats. The few Guinea pigs that lived with us at the time were fairly low maintenance as was our lifestyle in general. We didn’t even have a goldfish.
Earlier we had attempted a few pets. Our tastes ran in the direction of unusual at first: I had a raccoon named “Stumpy”, and we’d made several attempts to domesticate some pigs from a nearby farm. The raccoon was easier to housebreak, but he found a girlfriend and ran away. The pigs were fun, but trust me–they soon get too big to stay in the house.
After I decided to go back to college, we both agreed to keep things simple for awhile. After all, we could budget for simple–or at least thought we could.
One evening as we were finishing dinner, we heard a noise outside. We investigated. The disturbance seemed to be some disgruntled complaints coming from a stray adult Persian tomcat. We didn’t know the animal; had never seen it before. At first we just figured it was out trying to beg a meal, and was about to give it a saucer of milk when I noticed its odd appearance. The cat’s fur was all matted in a particularly awful cosmetic arrangement: it was sporting several layers of thick grease and oil–not just a little bit, but head to tail.
I figured it was a service station cat. It evidently stayed under the hood of someone’s car or truck. It looked as if it had just finished a double shift of assisting with lube and oil changes, and had not bothered to clean up. Some effort would be required to give it a fair appraisal. In the condition it was in, we couldn’t tell by looking at it if we intended to keep it around, or not.
I decided it was my Christian duty to give it a good bath. I have often made those kinds of decisions. I thought later that being back in college might offer some hope for me in that respect if I was to become an educated man. Years later I realized that such an education as I received that night would not be improved upon or amplified in any way should I attend every college and university in the world. Mark Twain was right.
As for “Christian Duty”, I suggest going on a crusade or something will be safer than bathing a cat. But if it counted for anything at all, I’m all caught up as far as duty is concerned …paid in full, so to speak, as I thought surely I was going to die. But I didn’t. Since I did not become a martyr, they will not canonize me. I felt like something similar had happened though, and with the use of a real cannon.
The cat was trusting enough at first that I should pick it up, but when we walked towards the back of the house leaving a coveted saucer of milk behind us, protesting began. The Persian tomcat began giving little hints that this procedure was not going to be a simple thing, and that it was possible that regrets could develop.
We didn’t own a cat at the time, and I’d never bathed one in my life. In this state of inexperience I figured about the only way to bathe such a mess would be to get in the tub with it. Brenda thought that would be a bad idea, and the cat was very vocal implying it agreed with Brenda. It is my custom to seldom heed warnings in life. But this time I did take note that unless I intended to ruin my clothes, I should take them off before attempting to bathe that oily, greasy cat.
I closed the bathroom door and stripped down to duty status. This was a mistake. Not only should you wear clothes, but very thick ones at that! It is conservative to say you should wear armor–at least welding gloves and a football helmet. The birthday suit is improper attire for such sport.
I turned on the water, and the fun began. I didn’t know I was so flexible. I assumed positions and executed physical maneuvers that would no doubt have met the criteria for any position on any professional sports team in the world. Had judges been there to observe, I’m sure I would’ve qualified for several Olympic events.
I don’t know who was screaming louder–me or the cat, but the acoustics in the bathroom boosted the intensity of our stereophonic concert. We sounded like a fire alarm. The bath was not nearly over when the cat decided he’d had enough. The mountain of soap suds added to the oil and grease made it difficult to hold onto the cat. The cat, however, had no trouble holding on to any part of me it wanted to, but momentarily let go of me altogether. Evidently, the door was not closed as well as it should have been. He got out of the tub and left the bathroom in a hurry.
Brenda almost herniated her giggle box that evening. She lay on the floor kicking, pounding her fists on the rug and laughing as I ran naked through the house chasing a greasy, soapy, wet cat. The shower curtain was history. Cat was fine, but I dammed near needed stitches.
It took some doing to corral that wild animal and give it a quick final rinse. It also took a lot of will and determination, and healthy amount of a thing called “gumption” to drag that beast back under the spraying water. The rest of the cat cleaning would have to be done with a couple of old towels we were willing to throw away.
Whatever weakness that may have caused me earlier to consider keeping the cat melted away leaving a resolve that would have flattered Attila the Hun. Besides as I’d mentioned, our household pets at the time just consisted of a family of Guinea pigs. There were sure to be issues. Differences of religion and politics might be unresolvable. While diverse communities elsewhere might make do, Brenda and I both knew this was not going to work out–at least not for that cat.
A phone call was made to a dear friend and neighbor who had no pets at the time. When I told him about bathing the cat, curiosity got the better of him, and he came right over. The tomcat jumped into his lap to escape me, and the bond was sealed. My friend adopted the cat, which was a good thing: if it had stayed at our house I would have killed it–or it me!
The cat found a good home: my friend and his wife enjoyed the company of “Persia” for quite a few years. In some ways, Persia enjoyed a life of luxury most people cannot imagine. Whenever we would go over for a visit, the cat would usually leave the room as soon as it saw me. It didn’t bother me that he would do that, because I am used to that kind of treatment and it occurs often in social situations to this very day.
All that was about fourteen years ago, but I remember it as if it just happened: the mark is indelible in my mind (and other places). We now have a dawg and a cat, but we’ve trained them to generally keep each other clean. Now and then I’ll wash the dawg because he doesn’t know how to climb trees. The cat has a climbing gear and my skin is no match for the toughness of tree bark.
What made me think of all this today? Well, I came home to find my two youngest sons (Nathan and Mason) have decided to disassemble an old lawnmower. It will never again shorten so much as a single blade of grass.
Filthy, greasy parts were all over the back yard. Judging from the mud on my boys’ pants and shoes, they must have gone down to the creek for awhile before starting. David, the older brother may have been involved in the project earlier, I don’t know. He was not at the scene of the crime. He’s at the age now where a lawnmower that works is more valuable, because you can use it to make money.
Their industry and curiosity amazes me sometimes. I reckon I’ll go look in the garage for a couple of old towels we’re willing to throw away, and I hope Brenda is willing to see to the bathing of these fine young mechanics. If not, you can bet I won’t get in the tub with them, as I’m sure some kerosene and a wire brush will be needed. That would be too much like bathing a cat.