Calvin

Calvin should not be a common name for a domestic house cat. This was the omniscient opinion of my mother since it was the name of her younger brother. She loved him and missed him. He died while I was in college, actually I was visiting a college friend when she called to let me know and ask me if I could get time off to go to the funeral. I told her that I was sorry but I would not be going to Uncle Calvin’s funeral.

My sister Susan and I nicknamed Uncle Calvin Wimpy because he was like the Popeye character that loved his hamburgers anyway he could get them. He would hum Wimpy’s song as he passed through Nana’s kitchen on the way to wash up for dinner, “I will gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today.” This is the most we ever heard out of our uncle, maybe he might have told us to turn the TV volume down. He was known as silent Cal. He worked for his father, lived at home, and became ‘the man of the house’ after my grandfather passed away. He loved fishing, hamburgers, and playing baseball – I am not sure if I listed them in the right order – but I did see him play town league ball (I think he was a pitcher) and he was good. I also remember him exploding with rage, but that’s another story. Uncle Calvin never married and died alone.

Anyway, you’d think that I wouldn’t name a cat after my dead uncle, that I’d sort of put the name to rest – so to speak, put it on the no-vacancy list. It’s funny to be sure but I don’t dislike the name, it doesn’t conjure up my dead uncle’s shade nor taste sour in my mouth when I call Calvin’s name. Besides, I have met several people who have named their cats Calvin – Calvin seems to be a most common cat name, contrary to my mother’s negative view. Oddly enough, all of the Calvins have been, and is now, a gray tabby with mackerel stripes, large yellow eyes, and brick-red nose. The name Calvin comes from the Sunday comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, one of my favorite strips ever and while Calvin is the name of the bratty protagonist of the strip he is also my mild-mannered lover cat.

According to the nation’s largest pet insurer, Veterinary Pet Insurance, the 10 most popular names for cats are: Max, Chloe, Bella, Oliver, Tiger, Smokey, Tigger, Lucy, Shadow, Angel – no Calvin in the bunch [Wikipedia]. Popular Cat and Kitten Names on Catster.com male cats list record Calvin tied with Nemo at #152, with Hobbes coming in at a popular #143.

Calvin was born outdoors in a cardboard box and was a surprise to my friend’s family. Another litter of kittens had been born at the same time, but these kittens were expected and welcomed. Hobbes was one of five kittens born to an impossibly tiny mother cat, who when she left her kittens to get a little air was killed by a coyote. Calvin’s mother was brought into the house to wet nurse the orphan brood – this was when Calvin met Hobbes – and I got to choose two new kittens to add to my cat brood-clatch. Hobbes’ young tragedy caused him to guard the food bowl so his whole life has evolved around eating. Calvin was a cool little kitten, in comparison to chubby Hobbes, that developed into an even cooler grown-up cat with the best manners and disposition in the whole wide world. All this said, Hobbes chose me to be his person, next to food, his allegiance is to me and no one else. I originally got him for my son because his tiger tabby died (Hobbes I) suddenly when he was seven, but Hobbes II didn’t much take to a boy that listened to Stars Wars theme music 24/7, battled rogue Jedi fighters, and lost his gerbils under his bed. [What is that odor coming from your room? Old sneakers?] I fed Hobbes so naturally I was God revealed and he adored me; to Hobbes, food = love.

While my son is away at college, Calvin and Hobbes share equal rights to my lap, they lay between my legs, really – Hobbes is too heavy and hot to lay on my lap. When one cat leaves to stretch or visit the litter box the other cat jumps up and settles into the warm vacant spot. My recliner is prime real estate to my lover cats. Sometimes I brush them or massage them but mostly we co-exist in harmony while reading, knitting or watching TV. Every now and then my son says that he wants to take Calvin to college with him, that Calvin wants to live in the city and see the sights. Calvin has never indicated that he wanted to leave to me – he barely walks into the hallway if I leave the front door ajar. When my son is home Calvin hangs out with him (Calvin has chosen him as his human but will share him with his girlfriend, as well as put up with his long absences). I think that Calvin is content to stay where he is, curled up on the back of my recliner watching me type. He is purring his low guttural purr that says, “This is where I am most happy.”

My cats (there are four of them) are pretty good company to one another, and to me. We all like the same things and have the same sense of humor. We like science fiction movies on TV, as well as Jane Austen movies on DVD and PBS. Hobbes can’t get enough of QVC and Calvin likes the news. Birthdays bring juicy cans of water packed sardines and Happy Birthday songs sung in Cat. They have learned over 50 English words [Bad Cat! sends shivers up their tails, paw pointing, and incriminating glares] and I have mastered quite a few Cat sounds over the years to converse without cursing or humiliating myself.

I’ve always thought that if cats liked a person then the person was worth keeping as a friend, conversely, a person that cats show disdain toward should be avoided at all cost. Have you noticed that cats have radar for people that fear them? They try to qualm those fears by being especially nice, like never leaving them alone, brushing up against them, and wanting to share their lap. I have seen my perfectly well adjusted cats become ghosts when certain unmentionable visitors [my daughter and soon-to-be-son-in-law ] fly in from Chicago to spend a few days over Christmas break. It appears to be my daughter’s voice that irritate my cats, they even react to her voice when I hold the phone to their ears – abject panic flash across their faces until I remove the receivers quickly. My daughter has a cat, Murphy, a gray tabby, so it isn’t that my cats sense a dog lover – its that they don’t like competition.

As hard as I try I cannot get cat hairs off of my knit shirts and black pants. I use paper sheet lint rollers and several cloth brushes but the hairs weave themselves into my jackets, scarfs, and cashmere sweaters defiantly. I don’t leave my clothes laying around and I vacuum, yet cat fur stands up to the most severe cleaning methods. What’s up with this? Its like my cats mark me so that only other cat owners acknowledge my suave appeal. Cat owners understand each other without explanation like silent meows produce desired objects instantly. Cat owners unite! Of course, the term cat owner is incorrect – unless we are talking about cats owning their humans – owning something should be reserved for nonliving things.

‘Pet’ is also an uncomfortable term, perhaps ‘housemate’ would better cover the relationships that so enrich our lives. How would animal housemates affect the US census? If corporations are constitutionally granted free speech then animal housemates should be tallied as well. This way their voices can be heard on animal rights: cruelty, inbreeding, feral v. domesticated issues, diseases, contaminated food supply, health, over population, and euthanasia; these matters need vocal representation at both the state and federal level. As a general rule we treat our beloved animals better than we treat our parents and relatives when it comes to health care and end of life suffering. What suffering we can’t bare to witness concerning our cats and dogs, we allow our loved ones to experience, sometimes drugged into unconsciousness, lingering, withering in pain, to improve our understanding of God’s mercies.

Calvin is in his prime at six years old, he is no longer a frisky kitten, yet not a long napper. He is visible when he wants and invisible when he needs to be. He is a bachelor but often pairs up with Chocolate, chasing her for exercise throughout the house, responding when she calls, and sleeping nose to nose. He still visits Maggie for licks and ear checks; Maggie is my old queen cat and foster mother to the rest of the brood. When Calvin and Hobbes were first introduced to Maggie, they learned to approach her with respect or she would hiss and swat them into submission. They learned to grovel, to sort of bow by lowering their heads and extending their front paws, tails at neutral. Maggie would either direct them, one at a time, to come forward or run away. If Calvin or Hobbes met with her approval she would wash them head to tail – this looked to me to be an arduous task considering the work the tongue had to perform and the resulting hairballs that had to be coughed up. I noticed that Maggie preferred Calvin over Hobbes, due to two of Calvin’s most precious attributes: he performed his bow with the up most respect and he looked exactly like Maggie right down to his brick red nose. He could have been her own long lost kitten. (I adopted her from a cat placement center and was told that she had had a litter of kittens with her when she was picked up off of the street, they called her Ally Cat in her paperwork – her kittens were cleaned up and parceled out without any regard to their mother’s feelings of abandonment.) Maggie would hug Calvin when she washed him, purr as he slept through the rough parts of the brisk cleaning, and when she was done he would return the favor by washing his mom.

Hobbes, due to his humongous size, seemed to have outgrown the daily washings. Plus, he wasn’t as faithful as his brother to showing respect to his foster mom – he wouldn’t scrape and bow on approach, nor defer the food bowl when Maggie queued up to eat. Soon he outsized all of the house cats and even though he was mild-mannered, he became the bathroom bully, in charge of who he decided could eat and drink. Maggie, and sometimes Chocolate, would freeze under his menacing glare, scary howls and claw strikes , until he gave the signal to eat or flee, or I intervened with a word to distract Hobbes’ attention. “Bad cat!” always worked nicely to assert my alpha cat status. Hobbes defers to me because, as I said above, I am his queen, his Goddess. Hobbes will do just about anything for me – except wash his butt.

Calvin doesn’t get into of this turf war business over food and sleeping-on-the-bed rights. He does his own thing, Zen-like, and harbors no ill will amongst the brood. He knows I am the alpha and that I love him unconditionally. His über-coolness is legendary; he is the Dude to his brother, who though larger is still pin-headed and not capable of the suave smartness that Calvin exhibits without trying. Calvin is George C looney to Hobbes’ Laurel Hardy.

I share the milk in the bottom of my cereal bowl with Calvin every Saturday morning, unless I am eating oatmeal which is not his favorite. I make sure to pour him some milk, just a little because milk is harsh for cat’s stomachs, to keep our tradition going. No other cat can share his milk, or his food bowl, which is separately placed in the bathroom where his brother can’t reach – and none of the other cats bother to jump up to it either. This is the cool-cat compact that Calvin and I have between us, that even though he is smaller, he is big in my eyes, he is my Dude and I am his alpha benefactress – which is way different than being Hobbes’ God.

March 14, 2010 KBP

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