"For the love of God. Make them stop!" Terror set in as I tried to escape the churning mass of feline savagery. There have been few moments in my long life when I felt that I was in great danger but this was one of them. A feeling of impending doom swept over me and caused me to retreat to the corner of the kitchen - until I felt the microwave countertop against my back and I realized that my escape route was cut off. It was at this point that I cried out for God's mercy and for the Bland County Rescue Squad to save me from what was assuredly certain death.
It was cat feeding time at the Fuhrman house.
I know. You think of them as fuzzy, cuddly, purring little darlings curled up in front of the fireplace. Step into my kitchen at 6:05 in the morning and you'll step back with a bloody stump where your foot was attached only a moment before. These little monsters have a schedule and, by damn, you'd better adhere to it or there's all hell to pay.
It's all my wife's fault. Paula thinks she is doing the world a favor by bringing stray cats into the home and providing for them in a manner that all the children of Sub-Saharan Africa would envy. She doesn't just feed them and wipe their tiny butts (OK. I'm exaggerating a bit).
She has a schedule.
And they know it.
I should probably take the time to introduce the individuals who have turned our loving, nurturing home into San Diego Zoo East. I'm not sure I know all their names and Paula, being the sinister person that she is, sometimes sneaks new cats into the pile without telling me. If it weren't for the fact that I can now recognize each individual shriek they emit, starting at 5:55am, I wouldn't be able to tell one from another. That plus the fact that each has a discernable butt (I learned the hard way. If the shriek didn't work at 5:55, they do this odd butt rub in my face at about 6:00).
But the ones I know of are named Tigger (Yes, I know. And the names only get worse), Lucky, Phobie, Mosby, Wheezer, Pippin, and Frodo (you'll never guess where those last two names came from; they were recommended by my daughter, another human hating cat loving she-devil who only brings cats home so as to bring torment to my poor son-in-law). If she were reading this, Paula would criticize me for misspellings. Fine. And for forgetting some cats. (No. I'll save the discussion regarding the BARN CATS for another day.)
Now you would think that the stampede - and I do not exaggerate - don't be in their path - that runs from our bed to the kitchen at 6:05 would ease up AFTER A FEW YEARS once the little bundles of burning love come to realize that breakfast will be served on time - just as it is every other freaking day of every year. But no. They gallop. You'd also think, based on their velocity and over-all-obstacles trajectory, that they are starved for sustenance. Please. It's just that the TUBS of Kibbles and Bits and Kit and Kaboodle that are filled throughout the day are only cat meal. At 6:05am it's MEAT. See how the bloody stump comes in to the story? They want MEAT. They'll accept any one of your appendages.
There was a point in time not long ago that Paula decided to go to Louisville to see her mother and sisters. She was going to be away - I swear - for a few days. The storage capacity on my Compaq computer is 80 gigobytes. All books ever written could be stored on 80 gigs. By the time she was done composing my instructions (I prefer to call it a treatise) on the proper-feeding-and-care-of-my-cats-while-I'm-gone, the hard-drive was exhausted. Leo Tolstoy would have been in awe of this document. NASA scientists who wrote the instructions on how to build Apollo IX would have bowed before her out of respect for her detail and clarity.
You see, you don't just feed the cats. You can't just slop meat into a bowl. Each cat has a personality and, more importantly, a disposition. Some, like Phobie, will wait impatiently. Others (Lucky!) will climb your leg to get to their MEAT. So the instructions outline the proper method of positioning the seven bowls (You didn't think they would actually eat from the same container!), and correspondingly, positioning their little writhing bodies (Why try? That's my question. Trying to set a cat in a special position is like trying to organize popping popcorn) before the first spoonful of MEAT is dished out. The instructions also define carefully the order in which each cat is fed. Lucky and Wheezer go first and...on down the line.
It all sounds so reasonable. Me? I scooped out the first glop of MEAT, set it in front of Lucky, and as quickly as lightning there were six faces in the bowl (Phobie always keeps her distance. She says, "I'm not getting in the middle of that."). I grabbed a cat, tossed him toward what is designated as being his bowl (trying to follow my instructions like a good husband) only to find that same cat leap back in the middle of the swarming mass before I could turn around. Then I had a dilemma. Each cat is supposed to get an equal amount of MEAT in the morning. At this point, I couldn't see the bowl. I couldn't tell if the MEAT I tossed toward it ever even made it into the bowl. I certainly didn't know who ate it. All I knew was that I could hear this loud hummmmmm emanating from the heap. Somebody got it because the purr was unmistakeable. That's a good sign, I thought. At least one of her cats won't have starved to death before Paula returns (She tells me that they will truly starve if they have to survive on only six pounds of Kit and Kaboodle each day.). The one saving grace, I found, was that if you can get a small amount of MEAT in each stomach, this teeming gang of hell's spawn calms down enough to organize the group and to get each cat to work from their assigned station.
Then the real problem arose. My instructions called for me to dish out a half can of MEAT to seven cats. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. It was gone in less than a minute. But I still had the other half of the can (officially designated to go to the BARN CATS - another set of instructions) but Paula wasn't there and I was desperate. So I tossed the other half at the them, thinking - like a beanbrain - that this would placate them. It did - for just one more minute. Then their little bowls were empty. And they turned on me.
I have a dog. I could beat her with a stick and she would look at me and say, "Thank you, sir. May I have another?" Dogs can be trained. Dogs are civilized. Cats only allow you to coexist so that you are there to provide MEAT - and to clean up their frequent cat-urps.
So now I found myself out of MEAT and backed up against the microwave countertop. If I hadn't whistled for the dog, I can only imagine what would have happened next. Oh, dogs have one other attribute. They hate cats. Beezer - short for Beelzabub the Hound From Hell - came bounding into the kitchen in response. What those cats did to poor Beezer next was the kind of thing you see in your nightmares. But no matter. The distraction gave me the time to make my exit. Beezer was expendable. And if she took down a few cats with her, well, that would be okay too.
That was the one thing I was counting on as Paula's car pulled up outside. I figured if I couldn't keep track of the army of felines in my house, maybe she couldn't either.
* Originally published on August 9, 2004