Monday, November 15, 2004


I begin to suspect there’s more than noise behind cats’ loathing of vacuum cleaners.

This occurred to me Saturday, when the niece was over and Roger Mexico, as usual, was hiding. It’s inexplicable. Sophia’s never done anything to the cat. She’s never had the opportunity, if only because he’s always hiding. And it’s hard to imagine Mexico reacting to some long-ago memory of being tortured by tots in some other house, since he’s been here since he was a baby.

When I went to the basement to do laundry, he emerged from his hiding place, thinking my presence was meant to give him the all-clear. “She’s still up there,” I warned him, repeatedly, but when I left, so did he. Saw Sophia. Froze.

Shaking my head, I went upstairs, seizing the opportunity to get some stuff done even though I knew it meant missing the outcome of the standoff. (She pets him, he tenses and walks quickly from the room. High drama.) My light-gray carpet was a horror — speckled with pebbles of cloth from new dark socks, littered with microscopic bits of paper and other rubble, clotted with hair off Mexico’s lush charcoal coat. This was my chance to vacuum, finally.

So I did, but ruefully, recognizing what a nightmare this was for the poor cat. First, confrontation with his most dread nemesis, a four-and-three-quarters-year-old girl in a purple princess dress. Then, overhead, the awful announcement of the only other thing that sends him running, that screaming, brutally gleaming, hard plastic eliminator of evidence, the vacuum.

I assumed Mexico would get over it. He gets over everything, returning quickly to his comic solemnity as whatever he suffers fades into foggy long-term memory or unimportance compared with more immediate possibilities: a pet, a nap or a feed.

But that must be it, I thought, running the vacuum repeatedly over the roughage of my room, watching it reluctantly suck up Mexico’s cottony patches of hair. Cats don’t have possessions. The only way they can claim ownership is by rubbing against something, marking it with their scent, leaving a little of themselves behind after a cleaning. Having so decorated, they can return to a room and look around approvingly, smelling themselves on the bookshelf and bedspread, seeing themselves on the carpet and closet floor.

Then here comes the vacuum, to destroy all their hard work, to eliminate all signs of occupation. It’s as though every week we come in with new books, magazines, wallpaper, furniture, dishware and Hummel figurines and regularly return to find it wiped away, just the raw architecture of our house remaining, for us to once again make into a home.

It’s not an easy thing to deal with. But I don’t vacuum that frequently.

You know, for the cat.


Indri said...

I could really stand to have someone come in here and vacuum up all my Hummel figurines, let me tell you.

Very interesting theory, Marc.

Scape7 said...

I think about my cat a lot. I have a different theory, comparing domestic animals with small children, that also bears some consideration. But it seems to bother the parents of small children.

eric said...

OK...lay the theory on me, Marc. lol

With two dogs, three cats and a nearly five-year-old girl...I'm really curious.

Cats are God's softball pitch. Dogs are his fastballs. Kids are the big leagues -- like Roger Clemens in underware.

Anonymous said...

Re: kids & cats, I think it's all about hierarchy. Cats know kids trump them. I've always got a battle going on for the place on the couch next to me. The minute I sit down, the cat will jump up and claim a spot on my lap or if I'm lying down, in the prime petting location. When the kid sees the cat there, she attempts to squeeze in between me & the cat until the cat is ejected from the couch. Sometimes if A. and I are both on the couch, the cat will climb up on my shoulder (and I can imagine her thinking, let's see YOU do that, kid!).

Re: vacuums, I don't know, I always imagine the cat laying around thinking, "gee, M, this place is a mess! Maybe you should hire someone!" I think lots of people leave when the cleaning person comes.... the cat is the same. "If you're going to be stirring up dust, I'm outta here!"

Anonymous said...

Don't kids trump cats?

Anonymous said...

OK...I missed the earlier post.

Scape7 said...

The theory comparing the thinking of small children with domestic animals is, I confess, pretty much summed up in the description. They just behave similarly in some ways. For instance, when the cat attempts to jump from the floor to a table, screws it up, misses, scrambles to correct, fails and falls to the ground again, it immediately recovers by acting as though it never attempted the jump. It sits still for a second, raises a leg and starts cleaning. (Jump? What jump? Why would I jump? This is where I want to be. This is where I'm cleaning myself. So why would I jump? Why would I ever contemplate such a thing? Don't be a silly.)

Young children behave the same, in my experience. If they attempt something and can’t accomplish it, the most typical response is to act as though the attempt was never made.

So, sorry: Really more of an isolated observation than a complete theory. I was pumping it up on a gamble I wouldn't be called on it.