Call me, “Stupid.” My father did. Rather often in fact.
But only in the fatherly fashion of educating me as to the tough truths of everyday life. In which every potential pitfall earned a pithy maxim.
None of which I can remember. Except for this . . .
“Never feed a stray cat.”
Not even when they’re cute and fluffy and have shimmering eyes. Not even when each fragile “meow” seems to echo not in your ears but in your heart. Not even when they’re not really a cat at all, but just an itsy bitsy kitty.
“That white cat keeps meowing at the kitchen door,” says my wife. “You didn’t feed it, did you?”
“Me?” I clear my throat. “Feed a stray cat? What do you think I am? Stupid?”
She eyes me.
“I mean, look at my parents’ house. Listed as five stars in the Michelin Cat Guide. Because my mother feeds every single stray. Driving my father nuts. Don’t you think I’d learn from that?”
She eyes me harder.
“Besides . . . what’s one little can of tuna fish?”
In the old days — meaning five years ago — this conversation would have never happened. For our dog — Tofu-chan — ruled our vast savannah of Japanese suburbia with an iron paw. No cat would dare venture into Tofu’s dominion — all 50 sq. feet of it — while she was alive. Alas, Tofu now guards somewhat wider grounds. Pity the poor cat that gets to heaven.
In the meantime, however, one had discovered our tiny yard. Not quite a five star destination, as the only structure is a hefty tool shed, which we keep locked up, less someone steal our hoard of cracked flower pots. The shed itself is flush with the ground — almost.
“That cat you fed is living under the shed.”
“Moby? Impossible! There’s not enough space.”
“And she’s delivered kittens.”
I blink profusely. “But how can that be? She’s just a kitten herself . . . Isn’t she?”
And if my wife had a wooden leg and beard, she might have been Ahab. For she had two harpoons already, one in each eye. She dipped them in sarcasm and let them fly.
“Right. And what’s one little can of tuna fish?”
So it was not one meow we heard now, but five. Yet, only Moby ventured to our kitchen door. The problem was she also ventured to the kitchen doors of our neighbors. From within our vacuum-packed collection of Japanese homes, we could hear other housewives shoo her away.
“She’s causing problems,” said my wife. “The neighbors think she’s ours. Plus cats tend not to poop on their own turf. For that they go next door.”
“Smart animals. Maybe we should do the same.”
“We need answers, not wisecracks!”
So I tossed out ideas. “Well, we could . . . set the shed indoors.”
“Or . . . Pack up and move away.”
“Or call the Health Office.” Which would probably send little Moby and her brood to “live” in Tofu-land.
“No,” said my wife. “We could never do that.”
So . . . Ahab was proving a sucker for baby kittens.
“Here, kitty, kitty,” I called.
“Stop it,” said my wife.
“What? You think they know English?”
“Just don’t call them.”
“Or maybe that I have magic powers and if I call, ‘Here, monkey, monkey,’ a monkey will show? Or if I call ‘accountant, accountant,’ we’ll get a bookkeeper?”
“Don’t be silly.”
“Right. A bookkeeper could never get under that shed.”
“We need a plan!”
“Let alone give birth there.”
“A calculated and clever plan to drive them away!”
So the next time Moby meowed at our kitchen door, my wife got down on all fours and growled at her. I do not know who was more amused, me or Moby.
“I can’t believe you calculated that.”
“So what’s your idea?”
I proposed a one-two-three approach. We would ring the shed with shiny pet bottles, have one of us blast anything that moved — with a squirt gun — and then the other would get on all fours and growl.
“And with your experience, that has to be you.”
But — by the next morning — Moby and her family had disappeared.
“I’ve heard a mother cat will do that,” said my wife. “Move her family to a better feeding ground.”
“Or perhaps you scared her with that growl.”
So we were freed. Freed from nasty scenes with our neighbors. Freed from pressure to call the health office. Freed from hearing all those cute, little meows . . .
My wife and I checked the shed every morning and night.
“Are they there!?”
“No.” Spoken with a sigh.
Then — one day — we heard it.
Thar she meows!” I called. We both dashed to the window.
Yet . . . the yard was empty.
“I hope they’re OK,” said my wife. “I hope they’re safe.”
“Don’t worry. That was a ‘good-bye’ meow. I think I know where they went.”
To my mom’s place in Illinois. Where else?
For why settle for tuna, when you can have steak, grilled to order?
All the classy cats know.