Living with Chernobog

Last week, I took some flack for writing about Serious Issues like women’s rights, and not sticking to the straight and narrow of my experiences in New York City.  Guilty as charged.  This week, let’s lighten it up and talk about cats.

oiled cat
Oiling the cat.

Cats are not a New York City phenomenon per se, but they do loom large in many apartments (more here).  Cats are mysterious little creatures, usually benign.  Whole swathes of the internet that aren’t being used by porn are dedicated to cats (see cheezburger web meme and lolcats).

Cats can be useful if you have mice, they can be trouble-free roommates, and if you have one that looks like this, you can retire by selling tee-shirts and other merch.  On the other hand, you may have a cat with potential to star in the popular Animal Planet© series, My Cat from Hell.

I’ve had a history of cats.  Most came down on the “plus” side of the ledger.  Two stand out for their mental abilities: one was strange and knowing, and one was mentally challenged.  Mentally challenged for a cat – let that soak in a bit.  I’m guessing MiMi, the cat in question, was actually operating at the competency level of some kind of small rodent Stupid_cat_booknot rats, they’re smart. Maybe a hamster or some kind of tree shrew.  If she had been a hamster, all would have been well.  Unfortunately, she was a small, unremarkable black cat that would have been eliminated immediately per the Darwinian law of the jungle in any environment other than my New York City apartment.  She thrived in my apartment, though, and wrought the kind of destruction on myself and roommates that are usually associated with poltergeist.  My clever friend George called her Chernobog, which is a Slavic demon of some sort .  The name was apt, although MiMi had a very sweet nature and did not revel in her misdeeds, or even notice them.

Her favorite trick was to put her head into a glass of water, then walk over to the edge of the table and look puzzled as the glass crashed to the floor.  “Water gone!  Big noise! What happen?” she would have thought, if she could think.  Us regulars had learned never to leave glasses of liquid unattended on tables or desks, but sleepover guests were regularly awakened by crashes in the night and shards of glass in the morning.

MiMi also had a taste for fine art, and ate the corners off of our artist roommate’s charcoal drawings and watercolors as if she were tucking into cheese and crackers at a gallery opening.

cat book
Yes, they’ll do that to your ipad too.

She would wander about the apartment in a daze, then throw herself randomly onto the floor for a nap, usually just in front of someone carrying a heavy load, causing them to trip and drop the laundry, Thanksgiving turkey, or television set they had been carrying.    One fine day, she sat on the stove and placed her tail in the open flame.   When it started to smolder, she sprinted through the apartment with her tail on fire, looking like a Stuka that got shot down.  Al had to chase her with a wet towel.  After that, her tail was bald for a month.

MiMi also had a fur ball problem.  This is an unpleasant sort of problem plaguing most cats, but with MiMi it was almost an hourly occurrence.  I became so desperate at how often she hurled fur balls that I took her to the vet (“She’s fine.  Some cats just vomit a lot.”).  I tried various home remedies including spreading olive oil all over her in the hope it would lubricate her fur (to no avail), and at last made the hard decision to find a new home for her.  Surprise!  No one wanted her.  By Friday, I was telling everyone that if I couldn’t find someone to take her by Tuesday, it would be time to cross The Rainbow Bridge for MiMi.  I didn’t want to do it, but she had forced my hand. Enough was enough.

Miraculously, she gave up fur ball hurling in 3 days flat.  I swear she knew.  She didn’t actually give it up completely, but dialed it back to within normal cat parameters.  As a result, she lived another 10 years, amusing my dinner guests by throwing herself at top speed against table legs, breaking everything made of glass, trying to bite the earrings out of my earlobes at 3:00 a.m., and bouncing off the window screens in pursuit of

stupid cat
Please don’t sit on me.

flies hovering outside, 40 feet above the street.  She was so notorious that when my friend Deb had to take her new kitten to the vet, she asked nervously if Mr. Kitty’s illness would affect his mental powers.  “Did you want him to be a brain surgeon?” asked the doctor, voice dripping in sarcasm.  Deb gave him an earful of MiMi stories for context.

My other amazing cat was Sly.  He actually wasn’t mine  — I was cat-sitting for a friend who had moved to the wilds of Northern California to paint.  Sly had been a street cat when our friend found him in Brooklyn.

Sly was as uncannily intelligent as Mimi had been uncannily stupid.  Most of our cats needed several lessons to learn how to use the catflap, but I talked Sly through it once and he was good.  If I pointed out anything as off-limits, he respected that.  He had six toes on each paw and an unnerving, unblinking stare which he employed often, but if he liked you he would curl up on your chest and purr loudly.  While he was living with us, he was in charge of keeping MiMi under control, and he did a pretty good job of it.  She was in awe of him.

One day, our friend called to say she had had a dream that the cat was in trouble.  It had been a vivid enough dream that she had driven down from Bigfoot Forest to the local telephone in town to call.   “No, he’s here, everything is fine.”  But that night, he disappeared.  Gone.  There were 3 people living in the apartment, and we thought maybe someone had left the front door open – so we searched the hallways.  We alerted the doormen.  Posted pictures.  No cat.  We searched the apartment – under sofas, in closets.  No cat. I had to call our friend and tell her the news.  For three days, I could almost hear a far-off meow but was  never able to locate the source. Since no one else ever heard it, it was assumed I had gone round the bend.

On the third day, I came home from work, and there was Sly in the living room.  “How did you find him?” I asked Al.  “I didn’t – must have been

cloaked cat
Sly, as I remember him.

Chris.”  When roommate Chris came home, we asked her where she found the cat.  “Not me…I’ve been at work all day.”  We asked the super if he had found the cat, unlocked the door, and put him back.  Nope.  I have no clue to this day how the cat disappeared for 3 days and reappeared.  There are theories – some more plausible than others:

  • Theory #1: He passed out in a coma somewhere weird where we couldn’t find him
  • Theory #2: He crawled into a hole in the wall (we did have them), climbed up the plumbing and wiring, and roamed around until he found his way back into the apartment.
  • Theory #3: He beamed up temporarily to the mothership.
  • Theory #4: He became invisible.
  • Theory #5: He was visiting an alternate dimension, forgot where the portal was, and took a while to find it again.

I guess we’ll never know.

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