Pyewacket today at his computer celebrating our 10th anniversary!
Today is the 10th anniversary of sharing my life with a cat. (Which is longer than two of my three marriages, but that's another story.) All my life I have had dogs... from earliest childhood in Brooklyn with a succession of mongrel strays (along with a pigeon coop on my roof where I flew birds for several years)... to Golden Retrievers when I moved to Beacon, N.Y. for a while, to a long-time relationship with a Beagle which had wandered onto my weekend Rhinebeck farm and never left, joining my two pet squirrel monkeys, Demi and Schatzi, and weekdays in a Manhattan apartment with various baby ducks and a lovely German wife. (For more about my pet monkeys, read my recent Huffington Post reviewing the last Planet of the Apes movie.)
My last (and best) wife loved Lhaso Apsos, so we had a succession of them, all named Mollie or Fieldsie. My most passionate love affair with a dog was with a Sheltie, a Shetland Sheep dog named Carlotta. We got her when she was 8 days old, just as I was starting to produce a Universal film about the life of W. C. Fields and his mistress, Carlotta Monti, thus the name. When I ran a large film company at MGM, Carlotta was so beautiful and well-behaved that she came to the studio with me most days and visited everyone in their offices, too much affection. Carlotta died in my arms at 11 of kidney failure, and my last Lhaso, Mollie, died at 16 of old age in my current Beverly Hills abode.
Carlotta on the beach in Malibu.
After a suitable morning period, I went to the Venice Rescue Clinic to seek a new dog. While there, I spotted a cage in the corner and saw a small, frightened cat in it. "You don't want to look at him," I was told. "He's a feral cat, wild, from the streets. We have a nice dog for you to see." But something attracted me to that small animal in that big cage, a look of calm sophistication, which is a hallmark of the best cats. I asked them to open up the cage door and the cat crawled into my arms... and has never left. He looked into my eyes with a deep, fearless gaze and promptly fell asleep while being held.
"I'll take him," I said. But it was not that easy, those Venice people are very thorough. "We have to see your home first, to know he will be secure as an indoor animal," and they promptly visited it to see it was spacious and secure. Two weeks later they delivered the small, skinny kitten to me.... and he promptly jumped up on my desk overlooking the garden, squatted there and began watching me. In a decade he has never stopped watching me. There was an early on emergency when a delivery man left my front door open and he disappeared. After frantically running around the neighborhood, I found him hovering under a bush... and promptly put a tag around his neck with my name and phone number on it. He has never again ventured out without me.
The neighbor's dog and my cat in our joint garden.
I named him Pyewacket, which warrants an explanation. Thirteen years ago I acquired the remake rights to a wonderful '58 Columbia film, Bell, Book & Candle, which had starred Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart, supported by a young Jack Lemmon, comic Ernie Kovaks, Hermione Gingold, Elsa Lancaster and more. Kim played a witch in Greenwich Village amid a coterie of witches and warlocks, while Jimmy Stewart played her hapless lover and victim. All witches have a 'medium,' which is an animal, usually a cat, which is the instrument for carrying out their supernatural acts. In this famous John Van Druten play and film, the witch's medium is a cat, Pyewacket, named for an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. (Incidentally, Roy Disney's yacht was named Pyewacket; smart man he.) So my cat became Pyewacket and has never, never to this day, answered to his name. However a long whistle that his food is ready will bring an instant response. Bell, Book & Candle is in development hell, but Pyewacket has developed gracefully into a 20 pound gentle monster.
My last Lhaso Apso, Mollie.
What have I learned in 10 years of being owned by a cat? Yes, you heard me correctly. People can own dogs, who slavishly fawn at those who feed them. Cats are different, and to my mind superior. My cat is charming, affectionate, stand-offish and occasionally somewhat remote. The most loving he gets is when, lying at the foot of my bed, he spots my open eyes and crawls over to the pillow to be scratched between his eyes in a sign that the day has begun. He sits on my lap as we meditate for 10 minutes, me humming and him purring.
Then it is feeding time, me gallons of strong coffee and him a can of Friskee cat food (79 cents), mixed with a capsule of L-lysine for health reasons. Over the years I have tried to buy the most expensive cat food, including Paul Newman's celebrated brand, but this animal is happiest with a can of the poultry or seafood supermarket brand of his choice. So be it. Yes, he does share my food with me, and will eat certain things -- chicken, fish and meat, but abhors vegetables and salads, like his companion. Did I mention the ease of keeping a cat as compared to a dog? Keep the litter box clean, that's it, as compared with those successions of dog-walking early mornings, late nights and in between, a drag. I take him to the Cat Hospital on Cotner a few times a year for a check-up and shots, a trip he does not like. Betty Hayman brought me a beautiful cat carrier/walking stroller, but he would have no part of it, although he spends part of each day on the cat perch she brought me early on. My neighbor, Donna, will walk her little dogs and occasionally they will come in to visit with Pye, who sniffs them and then ignores them. I tried walking him in the garden on a leash, but it was not a happy excursion.
I get a weekly 'cat blog' from some woman who has been doing it for years, and I have learned much from her about the history and nature of these remarkable animals. Did you know that cats will always present their rear ends to you when sitting near you... an instinct from the jungle when they had to be sniffed to show they were friendly. Cats sleep about 97 percent of the time, and can nap anywhere and anytime. At least my Pye can. I have never had another cat, although the Venice Rescue people called me a few years ago to see if I would like another cat.
I agreed, and they brought a nice black-and-white female to the apartment. She promptly took one look at my friend and jumped up into the fireplace, and remained there for four days, despite my entreating her with food and water. Finally the Venice people came, climbed up into the fireplace and took her back. The end of my second cat adventure.... Pye seemed pleased.
How will I celebrate this 10th anniversary of a strong, loving relationship. Well, cats are actually carnivorous, and my animal loves freshly cooked chicken. So this morning after my Special Olympics board meeting at Providence Restaurant (thank you, Chrissie and Michael), I will stop by the wonderful Lindy & Grundy butcher shop and greet the two girls who run it, Amelia and Erika, and pick up a nice free-range chicken from a nearby farm. Tonight I will gently poach it until it is cooked moistly and well, then Pye and I will sit at my desk and enjoy a celebratory dinner... him licking his whiskers and me drinking some Laetitia Brut Rose and smiling as I scratch him between his ears. Meow, indeed.
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