Lucky cats, to get such good seats.
At ground level, they couldn’t see a thing.
Lucky cats, to get such good seats.
At ground level, they couldn’t see a thing.
I was all set to do a companion piece to my last post. I was going to call it, “Medicare Part D: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” It was going to weigh the annual cost of the “optional” Medicare Part D insurance premiums deducted every month from Social Security benefits paid to eligible seniors in the United States against the very real risk of finding oneself in need of having to pay out of pocket at some time in one’s future for prescription pharmaceuticals that could bankrupt you in order to keep you alive.
(Like, just by way of example, $84,000 for the latest, and most effective, treatment for Hepatitis C. What’s Hep C to you? Well, I don’t know. But it’s estimated that four million Americans are walking around with those little Hep C suckers swimming in their blood streams and slowly destroying their livers. Many of the four million don’t even know they’re infected, because it happened before the virus became identifiable and could be screened out of blood banks.)
Then I discovered I had already written this companion piece — two years ago! (It was minus the reference to Hep C medication, which came along later. But still….) The post was called Why Am I Paying $101 a Month for Medicare Part D? You may even remember it if you’ve been hanging around “The Getting Old Blog” that long. And if you don’t, because you haven’t, you can certainly click the link to read it now. The piece hasn’t aged a bit, except for the stated price of the Part D premium, which (of course) was somewhat lower two years ago. So rather than repeat myself, as old folks are wont to do, I had better change the subject.
The first thing that comes to mind as a quicky replacement post is a cartoon recently placed on our refrigerator door by Bill, who has taken to musing aloud that our life together would be even more perfect if we had a third cat. Not so coincidentally, the cartoon is another example of someone beginning to repeat himself (like me). But it’s somewhat more amusing than anything I wrote, or could write again, about Medicare Part D. So here it is, even though it may very well fall flat with dog lovers. I’ll try harder next time.
Living with two house cats is instructive. Our condo is their universe. They know in intimate detail the three upstairs rooms and two bathrooms, the laundry room, closets and linen closets. Downstairs is a long open space, from kitchen and family room through dining room to living room and front door. They’ve commandeered all of it – counters, tables, chairs, sofas, cat tree – plus the utility room and guest bathroom.
They also enjoy the open porch off the kitchen, one flight up from the ground, with birds at the feeders, and bugs, and the occasional squirrel. They can explore the garage, the furnished basement and, more rarely, the unfinished storage section next to the finished part of the basement.
But that’s it. That’s all Sophie, the younger, knows of the world. When the weather and my schedule permit, Sasha, the older, has sometimes been outside on a leash. So she knows there’s also a heaven beyond the front door, carpeted with grass, orchestrated with birdsong, and decorated with fragrant bushes and trees. We’ve never crossed the street though, and she regards the occasional quiet car moving slowly through our residential neighborhood with grave suspicion. Moreover, getting to heaven always requires me.
Jokes about cats letting us live in their houses are ubiquitous among cat owners, and I’m no exception. But joking aside, our cats live at our pleasure. They’re here because we want them here; we could wipe out their known universe by giving them away. That will also occur to a lesser degree when Bill and I move elsewhere as we grow still older. And given our respective ages, one or both of our relatively young cats may well outlive us. Then life as they know it would end when we die.
I’ve set aside money in my will for their care, and stated the hope they can stay together. But such concerns are mine, not theirs. They lack knowledge of a greater universe, a different tomorrow. They have no fears, except of loud noises. They simply enjoy what’s now: treats, smells, washing themselves, petting.
Even though we’re more aware of what’s across the street, foresee some of what’s coming, we might learn from our cats. It’s a wise human who, like a cat, can simply enjoy what’s now.
Our bed is leaving us. The cats have torn several holes in its underside in which to hide. The whole thing squeaks whenever we sit or turn, and not just when something interesting is happening on it. It’s time.
I bought the box spring and mattress from Mattress King in February 1988, under the guidance of the man who’d been my first serious boyfriend when we were young and was then being recycled, as my older son put it, after my second husband and I had separated. That makes the sleeping part of the bed twenty-seven years old.
The headboard and footboard came later, purchased with a year-end bonus after the boyfriend’s second departure from my life. I had always favored Victorian brass beds; I thought they were romantic (and still do). Second husband and I had one, but I left it with him when I departed. This set was as close to the first as I was able to find. I could still hang on to its posts (if hanging was needed) and when made up it looked as good, or better, than the first.
Like the marital original, it was a standard double bed. No Queen- or King-size degrees of separation for me. If I’m alone, I’m alone; so be it. But if I’m not, I need spooning — and always did. Second husband and recycled first serious boyfriend slept straight up and down. Alas, Bill espouses the diagonal “Z.” I can accommodate that under protest, even in a standard double, by making myself into a complementary “Z.” But then came the cats, who both favor my side of the bed. When the three of them are in place by the time I get there, I can hardly insert myself under the top sheet.
So this time we’re going for a Queen. (No room in the bedroom for a King.) Bill, who takes aesthetic pleasure in how things look, was prepared; he’d picked out the new bed well in advance of my capitulation to the need for it. He favors minimalist, expensive Italian design. I’m not arguing. Hanging from the bedposts at our age? Really? All the same, it’s hard to part. (Sob.)
Goodbye, dear bed. Goodbye.
[From “Stand Up for Your Cats,” by Julia Baird, New York Times, March 29, 2015]
Cat men and women, we have the numbers. There are now roughly 95.6 million cats in America [compared to 83.3 million dogs].
Part of the appeal of cats is that they are independent and discerning. They have few needs. They come to you when they want; you can’t force them, or cajole them. They can be fiercely affectionate. They are gloriously indifferent. Cats don’t pretend to like you, and don’t care if you like them.
[From Honorable Cat, by Paul Gallico (Crown Publishers), pages 8-9]
Everything a cat is and does physically is … beautiful, lovely, stimulating, soothing, attractive and an enchantment.
It begins … with the compactness of construction, composition, size, proportion and general overall form. The domesticated cat is the tidiest of all animals. There is an almost divine neatness and economy about the animal. Completely packaged in fur with not a bald spot showing, rarely two specimens wholly alike, it often comes decorated with designs that Picasso might envy and always functionally streamlined for every activity; just another case of the practical made glamorous.
Early in my girlhood, I became aware my mother and father called each other a name I visualized as “Mi” although they both pronounced it “Me.” I had no idea what it meant or where it came from but knew it was not a name I was supposed to use. It had something to do with whatever went on between them that didn’t concern me (lower case), their daughter.
“Mi” was used more affectionately than another mysterious word they sometimes called each other — the one I visualized as “Bubi” but sounded like “Booby.” “Bubi” was matter-of-fact; “Mi” meant something a trifle more intimate. I eventually figured out “Mi.” It was the first syllable of both their names in Russian — his, “Mikhail,” or “Mischa,” hers, Mira (pronounced “Meera”). Since they were using it while speaking English, it was a trace of their early days together in Baku before they emigrated — the memory of which was exclusively theirs. The provenance of “Bubi” remains unknown to me to this day.
My father sometimes had another word for my mother: “Youshka.” It showed up in the context of satisfaction with or approval of something she had produced around the house — a good dinner, nicely ironed handkerchiefs, the fragrance of lemon-scented Old English furniture polish. When reminiscing about his boyhood to me many years later, he once mentioned his family had had a servant called “Youshka” whom he had liked very much; she had brought back candy for him from her day off. I don’t know if my mother ever heard this anecdote. She can’t have been very fond of being called “Youshka” though; she never called him “Youshka” back.
Bill recalls his parents called each other “M.” “M” was the initial letter of each of their first names: Morris and Mary. (Bill’s grandmother, who was Mary’s mother, called her daughter Miriam. But that began with “M” too.) No one else called either of them “M.” It was just for, and between, them.
My first husband, when pleased with me, called me “cute sweet.” It’s scribbled all over dozens of household notes and post-its which I stuffed into a large manila envelope after reading them with increasing irritation. Whatever affection all those “cute sweets” may have contained, they sounded patronizing to me, as if I were some small something that he had acquired and was fond of but wasn’t in any way central to his existence. He was nine years older than I and over six feet tall, so I couldn’t really have called him “cute sweet” back even if I’d felt like it. It may be I never threw the “cute sweets” away because as long as I felt I had to stay in the marriage, that might have been bad luck. Then I forgot about the envelope after things went from not-so-good to worse and he stopped calling me that or using it in little household notes. An upside to keeping them: although the last “cute sweet” was probably written in 1959, because I run across the envelope from time to time while looking for something else in the basement, I still remember all those “cute sweets” well enough to tell you about them.
My second husband didn’t go in for pet names, So any pet names arising in my marriage to him were the ones I used with my small children when tucking them into bed at night, Since they would now be extremely embarrassed were I even to hint at what they were (if indeed they remember them), I won’t. When they reached adolescence, the pet names fell into disuse. But they developed special names for me and their father when speaking about us to each other, which I got to hear but he didn’t. I was “the Ya!” and he was “the Uh!” I have my own views on what ” the Ya!” and “the Uh!” meant, but if I go there, we will need to commence an analysis of that marriage and our somewhat different approaches to parenting that would be unwise. Besides, “the Ya!” and “the Uh!” are not pet names within the meaning of this post. I believe they too were abandoned by the time their users reached college.
Bill and I also began our life together with pet names for each other, reserved for that private place between the sheets where they will stay. All I will say about them is that (1) these names are not based on either the initials or sound of any syllable of our respective first names, which isn’t what you wanted to know, anyway; and (2) a pet name as I conceive it must be accepted by both parties, the one who speaks and the one to whom it refers.
As witness the day when I suddenly burst out not with my usual pet name for Bill, but with “Baba!”
“Baba?” he not unreasonably inquired.
But when I explained I had no idea where it came from but it meant him and it was good, he soon began calling me Baba too. Not always, you understand. Just, impulsively, now and then. I even made up the first two lines of a little song about it. (You will have to create the extremely short tune for yourself.) “I’m a Baba; You’re a Baba; We are Babas two.”
When I connect with my brain, I suspect that “Baba” is a corruption of “Baby.” But believe me when I say that at such times as “Baba” falls from my lips, my brain is usually in sleep mode.
Then came the cats, Sasha and Sophie. Sometimes, when one of them was being particularly adorable, I began calling that cat Baba, too. What do you know? Before you could blink an eye a couple of times, we were a family of Big Babas and Little Babas!
Is “Baba” sufficiently acknowledged by the cats to qualify as a name accepted by both parties and therefore a bona fide pet name of the sort I’ve been discussing? (As distinct from a “pet” name given to dogs, cats, or parakeets.) I believe I can assure you that it is, at least as far as the cats “accept” that their individual names are Sasha and Sophie. They do know the difference between those two “S” names and sometimes come, correctly, when individually called. And when they feel like it. By now they will also come to the sound of “Baba” — when they feel like it. Of course, they may simply be coming to the sound of my voice, the voice of the treat-and-food provider. But these are mysteries beyond the purview of this post.
Lately, when Sophie — the dumber of the two — is particularly slow to grasp something, such as that it’s okay to eat from her dish while Sasha is eating from her own dish — I have begun to call her “Poo-poo,” or “Poozie.” Bill is still trying to wrap his mind around that one — “Why? Why?” he asks — so it may not become shared family vocabulary. If it doesn’t, it will simply be my way of venting annoyance that both our Little Babas are not equally brilliant (for cats).
How did I fall into this seemingly nonsensical post, anyway? Because if I can’t think of something to write next, I look at the title of the blog. This time, it occurred to me that when one of us survives the other (as will certainly happen when two people are getting old together), the pet names for each other will go too. But not the pet names we gave together to our relatively young cats. And that will be a comfort.
When my father died, my mother had no one to call “Mi” and “Bubi” anymore, except perhaps in her heart. She didn’t even have cats. But in her last years she did start feeding a non-feral stray cat, lost or left behind, who came to her door every morning and evening for the cream and tuna she put out. “Why does she keep coming?” she asked me ingenuously. She looked forward to it though. So I do hope she gave the cat a pet name she didn’t share with me. A name that was private — just between her and the cat.
A pet name means more and more as you get older. It means you’re still not alone.
There is no deep hidden meaning in this post, or even a shallow surface meaning. Think of it as penance, or atonement, for past failures to provide photos with my posts, which — I realize — a good blogger should always do.
Thing is, I’m no good at hunting up Creative Commons pictures that might be relevant, or even attractively irrelevant, to what I usually write about. And I don’t generally run around taking pictures of this and that anymore. (Our breakfasts? The cleaning ladies? My hairdresser?)
However, I do feel I can always fall back on the four-pawed members of the household when the need arises. Since I’m pretty sure I haven’t done any such falling back since the end of 2014, perhaps you’ll cut me some slack here and let me show you the five relatively okay shots I got last night of S & S. That should be sufficient penance for at least four entirely verbal posts already run. Then, starting tomorrow or the next day, I can babble on shamelessly photo-less for a while. Thank you.
Then Bill called out from the part of the bed I haven’t shown you, “Let’s sleep already.” (We’ve learned so much from these cats.) So that was that.
Lights out, nighty-night. Don’t let the bedbugs bite. (As they said in the seventeenth century when mattresses — you should have been so lucky as to have one then — were stuffed with straw.)
Now one or both cats will jump from their expensive perches — we’ll hear them — and run downstairs to frolic freely in the dark, disarranging the upstairs hall rug as they go. What they do down there I cannot tell. I don’t go snooping. Cats deserve some me-time, too.