Thursday, November 02, 2006

My Tale of Devotion to Mao Nichols


I’ve had Siamese cats my entire life. My first, Freda, grew up with me. Freda was blind, and slept on my chest every night from the time I left the crib to the day she died in my arms at the age of fourteen. In countless childhood photos, I’m depicted hauling Freda around like one of my dolls, putting her atop owr ponies for rides, stuffing her in a doll's baby carriage. She was an amazing cat, and we were inextricably bound to one another.

When I had my first opportunity to have cats as an adult, I adopted a stray (Perl) from the pound, and Mao’s uncle, a Siamese. The first couple of days were difficult. Uncle Mao would not come out from under the bed, and I was convinced he detested me. But once he came out, we bonded and he slept every night thereafter in my left armpit. When he passed away, I got Mao, the nephew of my original (“Uncle”) Mao. In my family, male Siamese were always named Mao, so the name was a foregone conclusion. (It’s from a Kliban cartoon in which two cats are wearing Mao jackets. One cat is saying “Mao”, and the second, contemplating a mouse hole is saying, “Mousie Dung”.) Mao was the kitten from his litter that nobody wanted: seriously crosseyed and buck-toothed, he wasn’t going to win any beauty pageants. He came home with me, yowling for dear life, and he hasn’t quieted down since. He helped heal the incalcuable loss I felt over Uncle Mao's death in a way that only a new kitten can do.

By then, Mr Tasty Face was in my life, and was working from home, so as a kitten, Mao spent cold mornings buttoned inside Mr TF’s shirt while he worked on the computer. I was also lucky enough to be able to take Mao the kitten to work with me, and he made best friends with Oski --- a teeny tiny tabby --- a kitten belonging to a co-worker. Mao perfected his Siamese bellow early, and would yowl ceaselessly in the office until Oski arrived at work… and then the play began nonstop. Because his bellowing was disruptive, I often had to shut him inside an empty file cabinet in my office where I kept his bed so that he wouldn’t be evicted. Mao and Oski were the very best of friends.

Like most Siamese, Mao is a two-person cat. He is unquestionably MY cat, but he’s also very close to Mr Tasty Face. And we’re the only two people on Earth he will interact with. Once, I went to Montana for a photography workshop, and Mr TF was scheduled to meet me there toward the end of the week for a brief vacation. Even with Mr TF at home, Mao ran away (presumably, looking for me). I endured a miserable few days until Mr TF found Mao, a short distance from our home. He disappears when catsitters stay with them. He’ll disappear when we’re gone for only a day. This has presented a problem in attempting to plan vacations. Once, when I was gone for a weekend, he went into the kitchen cupboards and found a bag of flour and distributed the contents across the entire kitchen floor. (I don’t know how he did it – it was as if there had been a flour explosion.) But even as infuriating as he can be, he is hopelessly endearing and unquestionably devoted to us.

He also detests any changes in his routine. He insists on sleeping in my right armpit (Uncle Mao favored the left), and if he comes to bed and finds me sleeping on my stomach so that he can’t make a bed in my armpit, he’ll sit on my back and poke me with his paw until I roll over and present the correct armpit to him. He will pee on things if he doesn’t get his way. He’s territorial -- more so than even a junkyard dog. Mao waits every single night in the yard for me to arrive home from work. The routine never varies. He walks up to the car, yowls, stretches, then rolls onto his back on the sidewalk, inviting me to scratch his tummy. On evenings when we watch TV, he has to sit on my lap, never Mr TF’s. When I’m at the computer, he sits atop my mouse hand, and I rub his belly with the topside of my hand.

Mao has an extensive vocabulary of discrete vocalizations. He is extremely expressive, and honestly, you can tell exactly what he is saying. He is often cranky, but endearingly so. He has a broad repetoire of tricks that he has effortlessly mastered. He can sit, fetch, shake, high-five, and get in the box. I can dress him in absolutely anything and he will pose for photographs for hours on end. When I start setting up for a shoot, he will jump up and get in position without being asked. It’s not that he likes doing it – one look at the expression on his face betrays his disdain – but he does want to make me happy and spend quality time with me. And get some Pit’r Pats in the bargain.

He’s also a masterful dumpster diver. He used to “fetch” bagels for us from the trash behind a café a half-block from our house. I was completely befuddled by finding old bagels in the middle of the kitchen floor, or on the porch or deck… until I caught him red-pawed, bagel-in-mouth, hauling a sesame bagel home. I’m sure in his own way he was trying to bring us gifts. He also hauls his favorite toy (a rainbow wand) around the house in his mouth, yowling an unnerving gutteral yowl at maximum volume. He prefers to do this in the hours between 2 and 4 am. For the uninitiated, it sounds as if he's being tortured. We have to hide his toy every night if we want to enjoy uninterrupted sleep.

When Mr TF and I first started dating, Mr TF thought I was a little on the crazy cat lady side to talk to my cats. Even crazier that the cats talked back. It didn’t take long before he realized that we were truly communicating, and the interactions were just as rich as those you might have with humans. And of course, before long, he was talking to the cats, too. And giving me advice on how they wanted to be petted, or inventing new cats toys, or catering to their whims, or teaching them new tricks. Mao was his introduction to cats as interactive companions, not just furballs you feed and water and clean up after. As such, Mao is the cornerstone of our "family" --- a family that includes parental units and three cat kids. The inter-species relationships are as real (if not more so) as any other familial relationships, and we are blessed to have Mao, Skeezix and Rocky in our life.

So in broad strokes, I’m trying to paint a picture of my devotion to Mao. We are mates. He’s typical Siamese. He’s not a low-maintenance cat – he demands attention and interaction as insistently as any two-year old. But he rewards me with ceaseless devotion and amusement and companionship. As he gets older, he gets increasingly vocal and cranky and short-tempered, but I wouldn’t want him any other way.

--- The Food Lady

Mao's blog: Mao's Mews


Blogger Frend of Skeezix said...

A beautiful tale of devotion - I loved that Kliban book so much! "Cats can see things we can't," was one of my favorites!

Elaine, Luxor's Mom

11:11 PM  
Blogger Jake and Bathsheba said...

I'm also a big Kliban fan. In the late 70s, my friends and I loved to share his books Cats, Whack Your Porcupine, and Never Eat Anything Bigger than Your Head. I also still have this terrific beach towel of the Kliban cat blues singer: "Love to eat them mousies, mousies what I love to eat, bite they (sic) little heads off, nibble on they tiny feet."

I enjoyed reading your story of Mao. My father rescued a Siamese that was being tortured by some children when I was in college. He was totally devoted to the cat, who, only a couple of days after being rescued, bolted out of our front door, ran into the street, and was seriously injured by a car. He survived and lived to be about 17-18.

Dad was heartbroken when Marcellus the siamese died of kidney disease and he didn't think he wanted a cat again. I had Jake the kitten then and Dad really loved him. I felt so bad for my dad that I ALMOST gave Jake to him because I had three cats at the time and I knew that I'd still see Jake a lot. But fate had it that I kept Jake and Dad eventually got Toby, another siamese, as a kitten. Unfortunately, Dad died when Toby was just 2 1/2. Toby bonded with my mom, but she ended up in assisted living unable to care for a cat. Toby went to live with my brother because J&B didn't like him, and Jake's dad thought that Toby would upset our household. Toby bonded with my brother, but he doesn't get along well with all the cats (and a dog) in that household despite the fact that he used to live with a little schnauzer and loved her.

I could go on and on. I loved your story. Our cats mean so much to all of us, and I love to read everyone's stories. If only I didn't get so emotional when I read them.

(Jake is curled up on my lap as I type this. He's starting to like this new spot, but it makes it harder for me to type as his head rests on my right wrist.)

~J&B's Mom

9:50 PM  
Blogger Latte said...

What a wonderful tale of devotion! I too started early with my love of Siamese but only from a distance as my mother was "allergic" (I say that in quotes because she now has 2 cats.)

I've always really like Mao, he seems like quite an amazing meezer and he certainly puts up with the OSH antics that we're all familiar with!

I really look forward to many healthy years with all of my fur kids (The Chip Man & I are not into the 2 legged kind) but especially Latte. Even though Kaze is completely devoted and adoring of me, I can't get past my special bond with little Latte and my admiration of his strength and will to live. Whenever he chooses to let me pet him or snuggle my heart just melts to hear him purr. There is just something special about the meezers ;).

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

J&B --
Owr ladey has the "Love to eat them mousies, mousies what I love to eat, bite they (sic) little heads off, nibble on they tiny feet" tshert. It's in storage, but she can't bring herself to toss it.

Latte -
The food ladey and the food man are not into 2-legged hyooman kittens, eether. Wich is grate becuz if one shode up, I'd run away frum home.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Rosie & Cheeto said...

What a grate tale of devoshun. Yoo sure have the fud lady trained to think yoo are the gratest thing since canned turkey and giblets! Yoo even make the fud lady move so yoo can sleep with hur in the morning...NICE JOB!

8:54 PM  

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