Famous Cats

James David Cohn


I’m a man of few words unless I talk. I talk all the time or so it seems to me and rest assured I have the testimony of others to back me up on this.

If you talk to yourself of course people think you are crazy. But if you talk to your cats, people think you love your pets. This is why you should always have pets.

It is ludicrous that my cats are named Ellen and Portia. They came to me with those names when they were kittens and who am I to change them. When I tell people their names, those who keep up with current events laugh and say oh that’s so cool but it’s really ludicrous as I just said for unlike the famous lesbian couple Ellen _______ and Portia _______ my cats are not spouses or lovers but sisters, born of the same litter. You can see how ludicrous it is. Sometimes I have amused myself by saying to those who are ill-informed about current events, Portia is named after Caesar’s wife and Ellen is named after Ellen of Troy, this latter derivation being an arcane etymological joke that is mistaken by the ill-equipped as being silly or perhaps they didn’t hear me right the first time. And yet they did.

My jokes are often misunderstood. My new neighbor in my shabby disgraceful digs knocked on my door and asked if I had a dustpan. I said no but I have something you might be able to use in place of a dustpan and I offered him a screwdriver. He didn’t laugh. He said and this is a direct quote wait really? I went back inside with my screwdriver and told the girls, ending with the best part, saying, and here’s the best part girls, it was a Phillips head! They love my jokes. Especially the verbal ones except where their names Ellen and Portia are concerned which is why I never make those jokes any more in their presence. They could get a complex.

I know about complexes because my father was a psychiatrist. Thus I am schooled in what is crazy and what is not. That is why I have pets.

My family lived for several of my formative years on the grounds of a state mental hospital in a state which I forbear to name, let us say is was in the mid-Atlantic region and it began with the letter Maryland. We were not patients. My father was the hospital superintendent. He always preferred administration to private practice and who can blame him. The hospital had been the governor’s plantation before it became a hospital. We lived in a mansion which we called The Mansion. Each room in the main quarters had a push button next to the push button light switch. This other push button when pressed activated a device in the servants’ quarters. The device was a beautiful box with numerals and next to each numeral was a little metal arrow on a hinge. The arrows all pointed down when the box was reset but when you pressed the button in room 5 then the arrow next to the numeral 5 in the beautiful box in the servants’ quarters would switch 90 degrees and point at the 5 and its bell would ding. You couldn’t see or hear this happen when you pushed the button in room 5 but my brothers and I assisted each other in conducting two man experiments to confirm this operation. Of course sometimes we lied to each other, much as the screwdriver was a lie, about what did or didn’t happen in the box after pushing the reset button just to make the other think that one or another or both of us might be crazy and being liars our reporting could be considered neither fair nor accurate.

The hospital grounds were sprawling and hilly and there were big sections that did not have buildings on them. My brothers and I played Civil War on them because many of the buildings were from that period and we wished to be authentic although we lobbed bricks high into the air to crash into the roof of the greenhouse pretending the rocks were hand grenades which is certainly an anachronism. We were not literalists.

In the winter we would wait for ice to cover the steep road from the garage, once a stable, to the granaries down at the end of the hill and across the main road, shooting at high speed on our sleds across the icy road and my mother was sure that a car would be coming down that main road and cut short with death our rocketing path to the granaries but no such catastrophe ever happened which proves she was a woman of limited vision which we had always suspected. In the summer the same hill produced blackberries which were delicious or so we averred. And the granaries were itchy when we crawled up into the lofts and dug deep to hide and play dead and sometimes fell on purpose down the hidden hole to the floor beneath which was covered with a forgiving bed of hay. This too my mother warned us about but maybe she had more vision than we realize for it seems now looking back that perhaps she interceded with the hospital authorities wielding her superintendent’s-wife power to get the hay placed at the bottom as a safety measure and who can blame her.

We had pets then of course because we were a psychiatrist’s family or maybe we just liked pets. Everything is maybe. Muttsy chased and caught birds, oh look, Muttsy thinks she’s a cat, she’s crazy, because there she was crouching and wiggling her butt and switching her tail as she moved forward in stages until the killing leap and she brought us the bird as a gift which we applauded and then discarded. We talked to Muttsy didn’t we well why not we were not crazy.

Though I am familiar with the expression mad dog the truth is I do not know if dogs can be crazy or if dogs can think they are cats or if it means they are crazy if they think they are cats but I know people can think that dogs think that they are cats and people who think that dogs think that they are cats might or might not be crazy. These things have yet to be confirmed experimentally with any reasonable degree of scientific certainty.

Muttsy had puppies because she was a she who had never been fixed though this too is a lie, she had puppies because she was a she who had never been broken. All of us in the larder in The Mansion watching the litter arrive, the placentas being ejected with military precision by this bitch but my parents never called her that, little sacks of dog each of which she opened with her teeth as the next litterary companion followed but then one of the placentas she refused to open and when my father slit it open with a sharp kitchen knife the pup was blue and not breathing, my father the psychiatrist becoming a general practitioner as he blew into its bloody mucus covered nose and mouth trying to make it live, this man who had gone to Miami Beach as a psychiatrist in the thirties at the height of the Great Depression when no one could afford to be crazy so he hung out a shingle as a GP and delivered human babies and set broken human bones and for all I know acted as a vet sometimes as well, I never thought to ask him, all those lives past your little horizon until you ask him one day hey Dad were you ever married before you married Mom and he says yes for thirteen years that woman was a crazy bitch.

© 2018 James David Cohn