The image of a slobbering bull dog gleefully riding a rocking horse on a stupid pet tricks segment on The Late Show with David Letterman is but a memory now. With the demise of Letterman at 11:30 p.m. on week nights, I treasure even more my feline housemates, Patches and Cokie, who have taught me their own versions of stupid tricks over the past eight years. Resourceful and inventive as felines can be, their made-up play is intriguing and irresistible to me.
Cat tricks range from solo performances to partnering with each other, or with me. Patches spends more time at the kitchen sink than I do. The sink is mounted in the northwest corner of the house with a window on each wall. Spring jumping with his powerful hind legs up to the counter top at the sink, Patches impersonates a canine pointer by posing and pointing to a bird singing and fluttering its wings in the Paulownia tree. Then my boy cat utters a succession of urgent little squeaks—eeh, eeh, eeh—that capture my attention. Pretty soon two of us are pose-pointing at potential “prey.” “Rob-Rob-Robin” excites Patches most; I am titillated more by “Mrs. Claudia Cardinal” or “Bobby Blue Jay.” The very best mornings feature our two love birds, “Cutie Pie” and “Sweetie Pie”, dancing the hully-gully on the deck bannister.
‘Musical chairs’ can be fun. When I write at home, I work at the kitchen table that has six chairs with padded seat cushions. Patches might be camped on the chair beside me, on the old rocking chair behind me, or on top of the automatic recliner, known as the “electric chair,” in the adjacent sitting room. If I abandon my work station to brew an afternoon tea, chances are I have lost my seat to the 18-pound, playful hair ball, grinning at me with his half-closed eye lids and that self-satisfied cat look. Option one is to lightly nudge his muscled rump to see if he is in the mood to hop to the adjacent dining chair. Option two is more fun. First, I pull the empty chair back, then slide Patches’ chair to the left, making race car sounds—vroom, vroom, vroom. Then I simply slide the new chair in toward my work station and plop down. I usually don’t mind the exchange, especially when my new chair has less hair on the cushion.
One of Cokie’s favorite tricks is called ‘Horsey Back.’ The first time we ever played this, the opportunistic cat watched me get down on my knees to set the wake up time on the clock radio a few feet across from the bed. Suddenly I felt a plop on my back. With Cokie perched there, I thought of nothing better to do than to go down on all fours and treat her to our first horsey back ride. As I trot around the sides and foot of the bed, Cokie in the saddle, she simply leaps back onto the bed when she has had enough.
Mornings are generally a good time for cats to show off. Patches typically stretches out along the entire width of the bottom step, as though he is making love play with the step carpet while waiting for Cokie and me to arrive downstairs. Often Cokie races down the twisting staircase, doing a flying leap over her prone brother. As I approach the last few steps, Patches springs to life and returns the favor by executing his own leap-frog over his sister. They like to put their “daddy” in a good mood so that he will think about preparing morning treats.
Morning treats come in two varieties in our house—wet food, which we call ‘gravy treats,’ and little nugget treats, usually Party Mix, Whisker Lickin’s, or similar creation of the Purina Company. After three months of gravy treats, crunchy treats now prompt the morning rubs and purrs. Cats, like their canine cousins, are fans of ritual. As I prepare morning treats on the countertop, the cats begin a kind of Kabuki dance. Cokie rubs noses with her brother. Then Patches wraps his puma-like right leg around his sister’s neck and laps his pink, sloppy tongue up and down both sides of Cokie’s face. After about six slobber licks, Cokie utters a low growl, which heightens as Patches fails to take her cue and continues with aggressive grooming. Then the punches fly—bat, bat, bat, bat-tat—which signals a whistle from the “referee.” By that time, I am ready to deposit the treats at their pleasure, and the ritual has ended.
Cokie loves to charge ahead of me to the basement when I am carrying a clothes basket. She helps me sort and load the clothes and prances over from the dryer top to the washer as I pour in the liquid to make “soapy suds.” Once the washer lid has been closed and the wash cycle begun, we are ready for another favorite trick called “Takti Wide” (taxi ride). If Patches hasn’t already followed us to the basement laundry area, I call out to him, “Patches, ready for ‘takti wide,’ buddy?” Most times he will respond and we are set. Patches’ job is to lead the way upstairs. As soon as I hoist Cokie into my arms like an infant and start to chant the ‘takti wide’ song, that’s Patches’ signal to lead the way. Patches turns tail and bounds up the steps. I bounce Cokie gently in my arms as we dance our way upstairs. The taxi ride ends when I chant the last ‘takti wide’ and place Cokie on a soft cat bed or chair cushion. Just as on Letterman, stupid cat tricks often lead to even more stupid human tricks.
Another game in which we can all participate is called “Let’s Chase the Kitty Cat.” This normally occurs when I return from a long day away from home. Having caught up on their sleep, the cats need to release some pent up energy. By the time I have pulled into the garage, ascended to the main floor, and hung up my jacket, both cats are crouching low around the side of the sofa or under a table, ready to spring-jump at whomever decides to run first. As the two speeding felines race around in a large circle between living room, kitchen, and family room area, I often opt to join the ruckus and chase after Patches.
Patches loves to make one circle through the downstairs before he speeds up the steps to the second floor. There he lies in wait, hidden under an odd chair in the dark bedroom, until I approach so that he can spring into action and whoosh by me in furious delight. Other times, he simply reverses course and races past me as I am still running up the steps. Reacting to the surprising cyclonic whoosh blowing by me, I utter a loud, protracted “Whoa” and double over in laughter. Game over and breathless, I tip-toe over to the cats and congratulate them on how fast they have run. Cokie appreciates a half-peanut or a spinach leaf. The Patch Cat prefers a spoonful of vanilla yogurt or ice cream.
Of the two cats, Cokie runs faster. Patches often tries to catch up to her as they stampede up the stairs to the second floor. But Cokie always makes her flying leap onto my bed unscathed, and Patches must wait to try another day. Cokie does not permit Patches to lie on my bed, so it becomes a safety zone for her.
It may be that the best tricks are not rituals, but simply impromptu, one-time-only surprises. Patches favorite toy is “Green Fishy.” He enjoys depositing Green Fishy in various locations around the house after each play session. One morning last month I was tickled to find Green Fishy floating in one of the water bowls. I suppose Patches figured that Green Fishy might have needed to take a little swim. I knew that Patches was a clown the first time I laid eyes on him.
About six weeks ago, I was darting back and forth between my work on the kitchen table and some materials on the glass table in the family room. Ready to go back to my laptop on the table, I changed direction abruptly and stepped toward my work chair. Patches, already in mid-air, had decided to leap for the same chair and careened off my leg like a thwarted missile. Funnier still, he landed safely on all fours on the carpet, but 90 degrees off his intended course. I still laugh when I think about how perfectly our “collision” was timed. Weeks of practice could not have made a more polished stupid cat and human trick.
Alas, we will never see another stupid pet trick on Letterman’s show. But cute cat tricks are prevalent on YouTube, if you don’t have pets of your own. If you can’t get to a yoga studio, I heartily recommend a dose of stupid cat tricks to restore balance to your life, clear the mind, and to humor your soul.