May 02, 2006

Familiarity Breeds Cat-empt

This week I am staying at my brother and soon-to-be-sister-in-law’s place, and let me tell you, it makes for an interesting time. I was ecstatic when they invited me to stay, since it meant sleeping in town rather than driving twenty miles away to my mother’s house every night (never again) and every morning to work (ever); with gas at $3.00 a gallon, the round trips would leave me with a solitary moth flying out of my wallet. I offered to buy him groceries for his kindness (I would be eating dinner there, at least, so it made sense), and we’ve got a whole host of meals planned out for each night. Add to that the fact that my brother and I, once notoriously at odds with each other, are getting on like gangbusters, and it suddenly feels like when your parents are out of town and the kids have the whole house to themselves: you mature about five years in a day because you’ve got to take care of yourselves. There’s no point fighting and arguing if there’s no adults around, and if you don’t do the shopping, you don’t eat. Rules that existed in abstract are now applied to daily life. It’s funny to see a formerly-irresponsible sibling embracing self-sufficiency, not just for himself, but to include someone else. It’s adorable, and a little bittersweet, to see him have another family.

Living in their house (forgive my dangling participle, Jackie) has given me a chance to relive all the things I had forgotten about romantic cohabitation. Namely, that I really never want to do it again.* Everyday domesticity is a thing for me to observe and study, like chimpanzees in their natural habitat, rather than take part in. I well remember the polite effort that goes into every conversation; such is the way when two drama majors decide to get hitched, they live desperately afraid of offending one another’s touchiness (in my brother’s case, ‘tetchiness’). No wonder they’re in love. For all they baffle me with their consideration for one another, they are also a drunken boatload o’fun; hanging out with couples is usually nauseating for me, but she and my brother have a weird connection that is comfortably inclusive. He and I make jokes like we’re five, and his fiancé has another girl to chat with about Friends and Charlotte Russe. I feel right at home.

I hope I’m not secretly making them hate me.

I’m a pretty easy to please houseguest. I’m low-key, laid-back, and other “hey, whatever man” expressions. I have very few must-do activities (Tuesday night Gilmore Girls, for example, remains a potent addiction, even though I’m now starting to dread what fresh dialogue hell awaits me each week), and my brother is pleased that I am conveniently ever-present to keep an eye on his eating habits. We go running when I get home, we all eat dinner, and kick around doing various activities until bedtime. If I didn’t have to work the first nine hours of the day, it’d be a vacation.

It’s weird to be back with cats, though. It’s been a while since I’ve lived with critters, and boy howdy do I not miss it. Their care, their smells, their nesting all up in your stuff, your monthly budget blown on sticky-rollers so you don’t look like (or, because they don’t work fuck-all, less like) Crazy Cat Lady. Between the three cats and the shih-tzu, you’ve really gotta watch your ankles on the stairs or you’ll end up in a Stephen King short story. One cat in particular, Strange (euonymic to the max), has the habit of attempting to zoom under my bed like a fat grey blur the second I have the door open, hoping I will somehow not notice, and leave him there to peruse my belongings at his leisure. When he discovers (painfully, thanks to Newton’s second law) that this is not the case, he finds solace in meowing plaintively at my closed door in the wee hours of the morning. You can see how I take particular pleasure in the following conversation.

ME: Whoops! I almost sat on your giant cat.
MY BROTHER, “JESSICA”: Hey! He is not fat!
ME: I didn’t say ‘fat’, I said giant. Colossal. Defying the natural eye.
JESSICA: Leave my cat alone. C’mere, Strange.
ME: He can’t. Gravity pulls on him a lot harder than the rest of us.
JESSICA: Shut UP! He’s just big-boned!
ME: Only because he eats small mammals… whole.
JESSICA: Shut it! My cat is beautiful!
ME: Majestic, like a mountain.
JESSICA: Your cat is fat too, y’know.
ME: My cat doesn’t look like two large squirrels tied together.
JESSICA: He does not! Strange, what are you doing?
ME: Oh my god. It’s eating again.
JESSICA: Strange, stop eating the dog food!
ME: Hee! He’s hoping there’s real dog in it.
JESSICA: Shut up! STRANGE! You’re not helping your case here!
ME: Stop eating food, you great lummox, before they have to wash you with a hose!
JESSICA: Don’t help me.
ME: I guess his giant mouth isn’t only for midnight yodel torture.
JESSICA: You can’t prove that was him.
ME: I caught him sleeping in front of the door. I guess he fell asleep after he burned his calorie.
JESSICA: Okay, get out now.
ME: Oh look—he’s trying to follow me downstairs, hoping there’ll be food in it for him, (with accompanying mime) but the walk… is just… too… hard—
JESSICA: Get!
ME: Hee!

Yes, I know, it’s not right to mock the obese, particularly the powerless non-human obese. You haven’t heard the meowing. Only new parents, who have endured many sleepless nights of incessant crying, and have maniacally delighted in waking their child from a nap will feel me on this. And even they won’t admit it.

* OK, maybe under extreme duress, like all-consuming, passionate, soul-fusing love. Odds are high, so I’m not moving the books off my bed just yet.

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