Tag Archives: Jones the Cat

Cat Monday, the Explanation

Cadigan/Leiber/Steadman books

Every once in a while, people come across this silly little blog or actually come to the house and visit, and they ask about the cats. Well, they don’t ask about the cats per se, but they ask about the names. Everyone knows that cat people have a thing about odd names, but people who know me know that I have a thing for reasonably obscure ones, too. This is a deliberate effort to confuse visitors, so they don’t stick around long enough to discover that I don’t name the plants. Believe it or not, it works remarkably well. The only problem is that they continue to ask about the cats, wondering “Why would you choose those names?” When they realize that I used to be a professional writer before I came to my senses, they simply smile and nod, instead of screaming and running for the door. Not that I mind their screaming and running, but the Czarina has issues with this when her parents come over: they have enough of a problem with the life-sized Nanotyrannus head hanging over the toilet in the spare bathroom.

As it turns out, a run on a used bookstore week before last dredged up some beauties, giving me the opportunity to illustrate the examples. Well, that and torment the increasingly more sporadic visitors when they come by.

In the case of Cadigan, she actually had things pretty easy. Her story actually starts twenty years before she was born, when a then-girlfriend came up and told me “You HAVE to read this book.” At the time, I got a lot of that, and was already starting to blanch over the word “cyberpunk” being thrown around about it. At the time, the word was less a description of a certain subgenre of science fiction involving situations where technology outstrips ethics and becoming more of a marketing catchphrase, like “steampunk” today. Worse, by 1992, the subgenre itself had gone from being more punk to more cyber, attracting both writers and readers with an unhealthy obsession with downloading their personalities into computers and leave the meat behind because, as I wrote later, “they couldn’t get laid in Tijuana with a jockstrap full of $100 bills.” (Yeah, I was a little angry back in the early Nineties.) After trying my best to plow through many of the more recommended books at the time, and realizing that the people who read Bruce Sterling novels do so because they can’t handle the depth of characterization in Microsoft operation manuals, I shuddered and gulped, and took a chance on her recommendation. And that book damaged my fragile little mind.

For those who know Pat Cadigan, you already understand why I named my little orange cat after her. For those who don’t, let’s just say that they both have the same curiosity and general attitude about life. Science fiction enthusiasts talk about how Arthur C. Clarke developed the idea of the geosynchronous communications satellite but failed to patent it, but if Pat had the time back in the early Nineties to file patents on many of the ideas in her novel Synners alone, she’d own half of the planet right now. Bill Gates would be her personal doormat, and Steve Ballmer would dance every time she shot at his feet. Just tell yourself, tell yourself, that you could look into the eyes of a kitten with exactly the same expression that Pat gets when she’s on a roll and not think of naming that kitten after her?

Sadly, Leiber was a mistake, at least as far as naming him was concerned. He also had the glint in his eye as a kitten, encouraging me to name him after the much-missed author Fritz Leiber. (The Czarina’s nickname itself came from Leiber’s famous chess ghost story “Midnight By the Morphy Watch,” included in the pictured collection, because of her intensity in learning how to play chess.) Both the grey fur and the green eyes were regular themes in his novels, so it seemed like a good idea. Something happened, though, while I was living in Tallahassee at the end of 2002, and I came back to find him a bit broken. He’s a sweet cat, and enjoyable in his own way, but to call him “dopy” is to be nice. I once had a dog that was smarter than Leiber is, and this was a dog who regularly walked into sliding-glass doors. Combine this with his incessant one-note chirping, over and over and OVER all night long, and I’ve threatened on more than one occasion to rename him “Doctorow”. In that situation, the name might fit, because if this cat could speak English, all he could manage would be “Humperdidoo!”

And the third book? Well, we’ve run out of cats, but this one had particular significance back around 1997 when it came out. Not only did I have a ginger cat named “Jones” at the time, but I also had a savannah monitor at the time named “Steadman”. When friends would ask for that story, and they learned very rapidly not to ask again, for anything, I just told them the tale of the baby lizard I brought home for my birthday in 1997. The hatchling lizard that went into a large cage, loosened his bowels for maximum effect, and very promptly managed to make the inside resemble a Ralph Steadman painting. That was the day, after removing him from said cage and having to climb inside to clean the filth he’d managed to spatter on the ceiling, that I first coined the phrase “a stench that could burn the nose hairs out of a dead nun,” and he rarely disappointed me in new opportunities to use it. Most savannah monitors tend toward personalities that blend David Bowie and Sid Vicious, but Steadman was pure G.G. Allin. In that case, he was the perfect personification of my writing career at that time.

That about sums it up at the time, although the Czarina makes vague noises about another cat, and I’ve made my choice of next pet very plain. With the next cat, the deal is that s/he who pays the adoption fee gets to name the beast, so I suspect she’s saving her pennies in anticipation.

Now that’s just wrong

The Czarina and I are celebrating ten years of marriage at the end of the year, on top of an additional decade as good friends, and yet we’re regularly mistaken for newlyweds. Some couples understand. Others just get upset and stomp off, clutching their abdomens and gasping “Ow! My pancreas exploded!” Still others ask our secret, and they look at us strangely when I tell them “Letting your husband have a crocodile monitor as a pet.” (Hey, one of these days, this might work.)

The real secret, to be honest, is being in a situation where each partner has a separate bathroom. This isn’t just for those situations where trying two functions in the same space is aggravating or flat-out impossible. Since the Czarina and I keep wildly different work schedules, this is the best way for us to get ready for work or wind down for the night without disturbing the other. She’s not getting chocolate in my shaving brush, and I’m not getting peanut butter in her Nair. It’s worked remarkably well for a decade, especially on those afternoons where I come in, coated with ordure and sawdust after turning the compost pile, and she can’t reasonably insist that I hose off in the front yard. We tried that once. That much albino flesh showing at once, and half of the neighborhood had flashburns on their retinas.

Therefore, we have our own spaces. Her bathroom and vanity resembles Cleopatra’s makeup laboratory. Mine just makes people ask how long I let Hunter S. Thompson camp out in the bathtub. Either way, we get remarkably few relatives and acquaintances asking to crash on the couch. One look at the life-sized Nanotyrannus head over the toilet takes care of that.

Even here, the plants intrude, in the most surprising places.

To go with all of the other fence-hugging vines out back, ranging from trumpet vine to moonflowers, I let luffa squash (Luffa acutangula) go feral two years ago. In most years, this earns a decent crop of luffas at the end of the year, and these generally get used as potscrubbers and glass cleaners. They’re gentler on glass and plastic than Scotchbrite pads and the like, and the best thing about them is that (a) they’re cheap to grow and (b) when the scrubber wears out, you just toss it onto the compost pile. Since the tub in my bathroom is a bit delicate, I use a luffa to scrub down the sides so as to prevent scratching, and it’s usually good for about a year before it needs to be replaced. (I’ll also note that these are nearly essential for cleaning terra-cotta pots without abrading them, and I use them for cleaning up dirty porcelain pots as well. You’d be amazed at how many garage sale rejects can be converted into desirable and attractive Nepenthes pots with a judicious application of luffa abrasion and elbow grease.)

Well, no matter how well you clean and prep your luffas at the end of the season, a few seeds remain trapped. Most are immature seeds, ivory-white and flexible, and those go down the drain without any problems. A few, though, are still viable, and just wait for a suitable abrasion of the waxy integument on the outside of the seeds before they germinate. Given the right temperature and humidity, they germinate extremely well. With the absolute perfect conditions, they’ll sprout in extremely unlikely places. The top of a soap drain, for instance.

Luffa seedling on a soap drain

To her credit, the Czarina didn’t yell or so much as raise her voice when I demonstrated the new addition to the household. She didn’t even cock an eyebrow and ask “So you were cleaning out garage sale pots in the bathtub, weren’t you?” (Well, I had, but she wouldn’t have needed to rub it in. Besides, that was only to soak them in sanitizer before drying them. She gets a bit tetchy when I try to wash them in the dishwasher.) Instead, she chirped “Plant it out back and see if it grows!” Yep, she’s a keeper.

As a little aside, there’s no reason you can’t replicate this experiment all on your own. All you need is an ever-shedding cat and an ever-shedding shaving brush, one luffa seed, a soap drain, and a nice warm bathroom. Collect cat fur, from where the FreakBeast is rolling around in the bottom of the tub while you’re at work, every morning as you finish your shower, and put the seed atop your unorthodox growing medium. In about four days or so, take note of your new squashling. Plant it in reasonably acid soil with lots of compost, and watch it take over.

If anyone gives you any grief for encouraging delinquency in vegetables, tell them to talk to me. I’ll tell them about the time in the late Eighties that I used leftover gravel from a friend’s reptile cage as drainage for planters, not knowing that this friend’s former roommate had the habit of dumping the seeds from his latest dime bag of pot into the bottom of the reptile cage. That was not only when I learned that paying attention to proper seedling identification is essential, but that my late cat Jones did his utmost to protect me from charges of cultivating controlled substances by mowing down every last seedling as it emerged. (This was about the time that I also learned that, to the completely idiotic, savannah monitor urine looks exactly like crack cocaine. That’s a story recorded elsewhere.) There are things MUCH worse than the occasional squash seedling in the bathtub.