It all started one night when our cats lay down in a semi-circle on the floor, right in front of the television.
Our middle cat, Baxter, had, at times, noticed the television in the past; he’d poked at the moving things on the screen with his paw. But on the night of which I write, all three cats seemed to consciously be watching the television.
That struck me as a little eerie. But it was nothing compared to what happened a few nights later, when the cats began to say the word “Sarah” every 15 minutes or so. It was news to me that cats could manage human speech.
I didn’t get any less disturbed a couple of nights later when the three cats started saying “poop song” every few minutes. I suggested to my wife Nydia that we put on the episode of the Sarah Silverman Program that has “A Poop Song” in it.
My instinct was right. That was what the cats wanted.
Now “A Poop Song” is very funny. Cats think it’s funnier than people do. We (meaning we and the three cats) watched the episode at least 15 consecutive times. The cats were still entranced and amused. I don’t know how I could tell they were amused. But I could.
When we switched from the Poop Song episode to our usual variety of movies and others DVDs, the cats made the next stage in their transition to humanity. They started sitting on the couch with us. And when I say they started sitting, I mean they sat up — spines vertical, arms (or legs or whatever you call them) at their sides. They did a pretty good imitation of sitting as we sit.
They also started conversing with us. Their spoken English was far superior to that of the people I talk with on a daily basis. For that I was thankful.
I had mixed feelings about whether I should assist the cats in their transition to humanity. I balked at their requests to teach them how to read and write. I was tired when I came home from work, I said. I needed to rest. I didn’t really feel up to teaching anyone grammar. One thing I didn’t mention was my concern that the cats might not ever be able to manage to hold writing implements. I tried to reserve judgment on that. Cats are versatile and have ingenuity.
I also hesitated when it came to the cats’ requests that I help them get jobs. “Why in the world do you want to get a job?” I asked. “As it is, you can stay home all day and do whatever you want. You get free shelter; all the free food you can eat. Do you really want to give up a deal like that?”
Our cat Cookie, the elder of the bunch, looked over at me and said, “We just want to be like you. People have jobs. We want to be as much like you as possible.”
These cats didn’t even have a last name yet, but they wanted to go out, get a Social Security Card and nail down a job.
Cookie, a tabby who’s starting to get a little chubby, was in the habit of sitting next to me on the couch. After she sat down, she put her hand — or paw, if you prefer — in my hand. I didn’t think about it much, but it was hard to deny that Cookie and I were holding hands a lot. But why shouldn’t I hold hands with my own cat?
One night, while the cats and we were watching Sunset Boulevard, I asked Cookie, “What made you cats decide to start being like people?”
“Well,” said Cookie, “there was a pile of circulars from the mail on the floor. The circular on top had a photo of a man and woman holding hands. Baxter saw it. He just sat there and looked at it for a long time. Then he told me and Sister to look at it.
“I guess we gazed at the photo of the man and woman holding hands for at least 10 minutes. And we just decided we had to have that. We had to have what that man and woman had.”
“But what makes human affection better than cat affection?” I asked. “I know you cats feel real affection. You must feel it when you purr. And I hear you purring quite a bit.”
“Yeah, but it’s not the same,” said Cookie. “The human hand-holding love has greater significance, greater substance, greater value, greater depth. It’s transcendent. It’s fulfilling — ultimately fulfilling. It’s the ultimate reality we can experience. The hand-holding love of people transcends every other kind of love in the animal kingdom — and in the plant animal too, for that matter.”
A few days later, Cookie made a surprising revelation to me. She was getting tired of living like a human being.
“You used to wonder why we spent so much time outside,” she said. “Everything there is always changing. On the surface of the ground, there’s constant change in almost every square inch — lizards, insects, new plants and plant debris, old plant debris being moved around by the wind. There’s a universe of constant change in every yard. And the sounds and noises — there’s constant musical accompaniment that’s always changing. Never the same melody twice.
“And you people never notice it. You never even look at the ground. I see you when you come home from work. Usually you look straight at the front door while you’re walking in. You never even notice what’s on either side of the walkway.”
“It’s true,” I said. “I almost never look at the ground — even when I go walking on it.”
“We miss having that experience every day,” Cookie continued. “Whenever we wanted to, we could experience constant change. It was always something different. Every day was an exciting new adventure.”
“Just like it was when I was a kid,” I said.
“Is that how it was when you were a child?” asked Cookie.
“Yeah,” I said. “Just like that. Then I grew up and everything changed. I hope you cats never grow up.”
The next day, the cats were behaving as they’d always behaved. They used no more human words. The sounds they made were cat sounds. They never looked at the television.
Once in a while, though; every couple of weeks or so; Cookie gets on the couch, sits up and holds hands with me for an evening. There’s no conversation like there used to be. But it’s still a nice experience.