The problems with the cats had been going on for a week and a half, and they were fighting more when no one was home; I’d leave and run errands (on the days I had the car) or to walk to the library or the Restaurant on Main Street to sit and drink coffee and read, and when I got back home the carpet was covered with tufts of long dark hair intermingled with short orange ones.
Muriel and I talked about it a little, but in our conversations it became clear that the cat problem was my problem; she didn’t have time, she said, to deal with One More Thing. The subtext of her statement was, I understood, that I had all the time in the world. Maybe she didn’t mean it that way, and maybe she wasn’t aware of the assumptions she was making; but it did seem like, from the beginning, because I was the one who accidentally stepped on Che, I was the one who would ultimately deal with it. Then again, there was some truth in her assumption – not that I had All This Time To Do Stuff (which I probably did, if only I had managed my time more efficiently), but that it was My Job to take care of the problem.
Even in the most enlightened of marriages – which our certainly is – there’s always a certain amount of role playing and delineation of duties. Neither of us is particulalry organized, and neither one of us is especially Type-A enough to need that level of control in our relationship. But her level of organization, which was precise and exact in her work life, was the exact opposite in her private life. In some ways I’m probably opposite. My public life is a disorganized mess; I’m lousy at remembering peope’s names; I forget birthdays, important dates, less promininent holidays, and less than pleasant obligations I’d rather not deal with. In my private life I had managed, through repetition, to simplify my life and save myself certain troubles. I always put my glasses in the same place when I take them off at night, even when I’m drunk. I always put my red Bybee coffee cup in the same place. One of the first things I do whenever I move to a new place is establish a new routine. I know that’s supposed to be the hobgoblin of mediocre minds, but when I have some semblance of routine it allows me to save energy I’d waste in more pleasing ways. I don’t have to think about where my glasses are or where my coffee cup is or where I put my keys. My cigars are always in the same place, and so are my pens and paper. Most of the time, I put things back in the refrigerator where I found them so I don’t have to spend time scanning to find it again. I am horribly reliable in my routines; and when I am forced to break my routine, it pretty much fucks with my entire day.
This problem with the cats was one of those things that was screwing up my routine. I was constantly having to separate them, yell at them, shoo them back into hiding. They wouldn’t eat in the same room anymore, wouldn’t drink from the same water bowl, and if they happened to cross paths somewhere in the house – and since the house wasn’t very big, it happened often – they would immediately square off against one another.
The top of my right hand still bore the scars of my last attempt to pull them apart phyiscally, but they were healed more or less. Since then, though, I refused to pet them or pick them up or do anything other than feed them and clean their damned litter box; and I didn’t like doing those things. I would’ve put them both out and let them fend for themselves if it hadn’t been for Muriel’s insistence that it would be cruel.
“They’ve always been house cats,” she protested.
“They didn’t always use me for a fucking scratching post, either.”
She also tried to make me feel guilty for not making nice with Che. Sometimes he’d come out of hiding and want to get up in my lap and I wouldn’t let him.
“He’s trying to make up!”
“No. He’s trying to trick me so he can try and claw my nuts.”
“So you’re not going to forgive him?”
“Let him scratch you and see how forgiving you feel.”
“He’s just a CAT. It’s not like he really remembers it.”
“So why’s he trying to make up?”
Whenever we talked about The Cat Situation, I always ended up feeling like I was the one being unreasonable; but I refused to accept that as the correct response. I wasn’t the one who mauled them, after all. I was the one who got mauled. And more than that—I was also the one who fed them and who cleaned up their disgusting fucking litter box. I cleaned up after them because Muriel couldn’t deal with the smell. Whenever they decided to puke up a hair ball onto the carpet, I cleaned it up. Whenever they didn’t like the change in food and puked – always on the carpet – I cleaned it up. The time Che decided to sneak and eat beans off the stove and he got the running shits – again, all over the carpet – I was the one who cleaned it up. When his claws had to be clipped, I was the one who did that most of the time, because (at the time) I was the least likely to get scratched.
The solution had always been in front of us, but we usually didn’t have the money to get the cats declawed. They’d been destroying our furniture for years; but we resisted getting them declawed because, well, it seemed so MEAN. What if they got out accidentally and had to defend themselves? Not that either of them would ever wander further than two steps out the door before trying to get back inside; they were spoiled and on some level, I always suspected they knew it. Che especially. Nine could survive on his cat food box lable cuteness and whorish personality; Che had pretty much always been a little fucker to everyone except me and (most of the time) Muriel.
Well, since he felt like being a fucker to the one who actually took care of him, I told Muriel they HAD to get declawed.
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
“I’m sure I don’t want to be a scratching post again.”
“What about the money?”
“Call the local vet and find out how much it’ll cost.”
“Why do I have to call?”
“Don’t you know somebody who knows somebody there?”
She hated when I used her ability to network against her. “Yes.”
“Then call and ask. You might get a special rate.”
“They’re not gonna give me a rate.”
She knew she couldn’t argue with me. She’d gotten every stick of furniture we owned because she people knew her from when she’d been at the theatre those summers working with props and scene design; and they all liked her. “Fine.”
But that didn’t solve the immediate problem of what to do with them. The problem was usually two-fold. For one thing, we rarely had the pool of expendable cash; even when we were both working, we never managed to do better than living paycheck to pay check; and we were both college educated and prepared for our inevitable entrance into the middle class. But that entrance never happened. We both made the mistake of following our passions rather than Being Smart. The guidance counselors tried with me, as I’m sure they tried with her, as I saw in my students when they sat in my classes as college freshman. The advice is almost always the same and it hasn’t really changed: study something Smart. Something that will help you Get A Job and Live The Way You Want To Live. Have a passion? Leave it as a hobby; live a Good Life and once you retire, THEN you have your passion to keep you company in your decrepitude. Even as a kid it didn’t make sense to me that the whole goal of it all – college, marriage, life – was to Live For Later. As a result, I have tended to make decisions and live in ways that Weren’t So Smart. It was only on small ocassions that it came back to bite me in the ass. When the car needed repair. Whenever I talked to my extended family. When I quit a job because my dignity is more important to me than a paycheck. When I dared to presume I had a right to a fair shake from the administrative zombies who run colleges and universities.
The Cat Situation was another one of those times when my lack of disposable income came back to bite me in the ass.
The other problem was that Che, since he was more than 5 years old, cost more to declaw than Nine. There was a greater risk that something might happen – i.e., when they anesthetized him he might not wake up – so naturally they charged more. It was a goddamn racket; veterinarians hadn’t yet organized themselves into Animal HMO’s, but it’s only a matter of time. The last one we went to in Arizona told us it would cost a $1000 to declaw Che. And that didn’t include the medicine and post-operative check up. Nine was younger, so he would cost around $600. And even when I was working at ASU and Muriel was working overtime, that was more money than we could afford.
I expected the vet in Mount Arliss to be considerably cheaper; but a dollar for a cup of coffee is still too much when you don’t have a dollar to spare.
When she came home later that evening, she told me she’d called the vet in town.
“Not as much as I thought.”
“That sounds promising.”
She told me it would cost $250 dollars a piece to get them declawed.
“It doesn’t matter that Che is older?”
“I set up an appointment for next week, on Monday. I can drop them off on my way to work; but you’ll have to pick them up after.”
Che must have heard us talking, because he came out of hiding. He rubbed up on my leg and tried to get in my lap, and a shooed him off.
“He just wants in your lap!”
“Maybe after he gets declawed.”
“You’re just being stubbom. Are you sure you want to do this? We can call and cancel.”
Che hissed and arched his back because Nine came out of his hiding place and into the living room. Nine started yowling and crouched, ready to attack. They hissed at one another and yowled and I shooed them both back into their respective hiding places. Then I looked at Muriel. “Monday was the soonest?”
She sighed. The decision, although necessary, wasn’t sitting well with her. That she is soft-hearted is one of the things I love most about her; she helps remind me not to give up on humanity, in spite of however much I want to. She doesn’t try to see the best in all things; it’s something she just does. And no matter how many times she gets disappointed by the general mediocrity of everyone around her – sometimes including me – she never gives up. But she knew we didn’t have a choice this time.
“Yes. It was the soonest.”