May 5, 2012 § 4 Comments
It’s difficult drinking with cats. They won’t do it willingly, no matter how you disguise it, unlike dogs, happy to guzzle beer till they pass out like the freshmen boys they so resemble. You cannot offer a cat a tuna martini. You have to inject the spirit directly into a vein (after having caught the ferocious feline and swaddled it in a towel), and then, if you’re not careful, it’s sober one minute, blotto the next.
I’ve discovered from patient experimentation the amount equivalent to a middle-aged female human’s first drink—a few drops, what you’d wipe off your mouth with a napkin—and to wait a civilized 45 minutes before doing it again. And they, in turn, have learned to stay on the bed with me, our version of the 70’s sunken conversation pit, and gaze at me enthralled as I repeat iconic stories from my youth. Stories that sound so paltry compared with a fatherless brown boy escaping Vietnam in ’75, a Croatian 17-year-old tricked into prostitution and held captive until the day she finds a cell phone and texts Nicolas Kristoff, a young American raised Mormon, now recovering in Las Vegas. But the cats are not aware of my inadequacies as an entertainer.
Drunken cats. They know better than to show it. They let their eyes close slowly in that dreamy way they’ve perfected; they don’t try to go anywhere; and if they must get up, and reveal some loss in coordination, anyone could blame it on my habit of strewing vacuum cleaner parts and piles of magazines I can’t figure out which credit card is automatically re-subscribing me to on the designated clear areas of the floor. They knock over my coffee and glasses and the lamp frequently, even when they’re not drunk, so it’s all just more of the same. Sometimes I make them listen to Linda Ronstadt.
Drinking with cats means the cats are even less present, leaving me no choice but to ruminate (in a winey way) on why I choose not to feel my feelings—that phrase that always reminds me of palpating the vaginal folds of an unwilling old lady. But why must I live a life where my feelings are often so unpleasant I have to lob them into the future, where they wait for me with 10 friends and a fuck-you attitude? I’d like to conduct a survey of chronic depressives asking this question. Why? What is the meaning, the reason? I think the answers would be illuminating, if not quite on the level of Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden.
Drinking with cats. You can only do it properly when they’re dead. You drain them of their blood (a steel table with a trench around the perimeter is good for this), and replace it with a dollop of scotch and a generous pour of a yeasty champagne. The scotch lends them a peaty warmth, the champagne the delirious fizz of animation. This lasts about an hour, but during that hour they sing, tell filthy jokes, and talk mysteriously of the sentient shadows on the other side—the color of velvet they always say, as if velvet has a color—then, alas, the party is over.
Yes, they speak. They sound like nails hammered into rain.
The rare cat will rise as a vampire after death, and be a priceless companion. She, too, can speak, although she won’t. She is immortal, and as such gives your own mortality another kick in the ass, making every day of your life seem like more of the same: never quick or clever enough, overtaken by the merciless future…but she is so beautiful! She walks like a queen, and her eyes…
The vampire cat feeds off small rodents, which she enthralls with her uncanny powers, ensuring the victims are too weak to totter more than the few steps from their holes to where she patiently waits, curled atop the slick pages of the newest Elle. Vampire cats never excrete, nor do they mew, meow or yowl; they look out north-facing windows with the serenity of a jade Buddha; and though they require a dark closet in the sunlit hours, if you get in there with them you can hold their chilly corpses in your lap and think about what it will be like when everyone you love is dead.
And if everyone you don’t love is not dead, the vampire cat will take care of it. They don’t care for human blood but they can open an artery, not to mention charm their way into any household and make all the residents think the cat belongs there. I’ve heard of cases where the master of the house lies dead—some intruder, some murderer—but the wife is most upset by the disappearance of this cat, whom she’d never laid eyes on before yesterday but with whom she feels already such kinship, such longing, a soul bond…
I learned most of this on the Internet, in a chat room behind a firewall behind an international auto-parts auction site. I’ve only met a vampire cat once, at a home I was taken to blindfold, after being driven in circles for a dizzying 30 minutes. The cat was smoke-silver, long-haired, with midnight eyes. She weighed 22 pounds. She stared at me, kneaded me with her great paws, claws pricking like somebody else’s conscience, and put dreams in my head.
They’re not easy dreams. The charming man I met last night was killed by barricudas in a flooded estuary in White Plains. My deceased mother-in-law was found wandering in a torn dressing gown through the corridors of an unsafe Oakland hotel. My best friend lost her five-year-old daughter to a self-mutilating disease.
It helps to drink. The cats watch me. I don’t drink too much, just enough to help me adjust.
To what, you say? To what to you adjust? Not having an indoor-outdoor swimming pool, curving to follow the natural line of the rock, and surrounded by exotic greenery? Not having a valet with white gloves who folds up like a collapsible tripod when not needed? Not having money grow under the bed, or appear in the clean laundry, or be diverted from others’ bank accounts in small, regular amounts? Not having love, a condition for which I am already too fragile.
Curse of the Cat Woman
It sometimes happens
that the woman you meet and fall in love with
is of that strange Transylvanian people
with an affinity for cats.
You take her to a restaurant, say, or a show,
on an ordinary date, being attracted
by the glitter in her slitty eyes and her catlike walk,
and afterward of course you take her in your arms,
and she turns into a black panther
and bites you to death.
Or perhaps you are saved in the nick of time,
and she is tormented by the knowledge of her tendency:
that she daren’t hug a man
unless she wants to risk clawing him up.
This puts you both in a difficult position,
panting lovers who are prevented from touching
not by bars but by circumstance:
you have terrible fights and say cruel things,
for having the hots does not give you a sweet temper.
One night you are walking down a dark street
and hear the padpad of a panther following you,
but when you turn around there are only shadows,
or perhaps one shadow too many
You approach, calling, “Who’s there?”
and it leaps on you.
Luckily you have brought along your sword,
and you stab it to death.
And before your eyes it turns into the woman you love,
her breast impaled on your sword,
her mouth dribbling blood saying she loved you
but couldn’t help her tendency.
So death released her from the curse at last,
and you knew from the angelic smile on her dead face
that in spite of a life the devil owned,
love had won, and heaven pardoned her.
November 20, 2009 § Leave a comment
Martin Amis, Kingsley Amis
I was just reading a Huffington Post column about The National Book award, which also mentions the scandalous Publisher’s Weekly “best books of 2009” list that includes no women writers. I can’t comment on that, not having read many new books this year, and none of the winners. But the column goes on to revisit past award missteps, including Kingley Amis’s The Old Devils having been chosen over Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Handmaid’s Tale bored me and I never finished it; The Old Devils is a great book. The characters are a bunch of aging Welsh alcoholics getting ready for a visit from an old friend who’s made it big in the literary world—a sort of modern Dylan Thomas, but less self-destructive. The ones left behind are the ones falling apart.
The humor is dark and relentless; the depiction of drinking is enough to make you weep with laughter. The men drink gin and whisky in the pub, while the women drink white wine at home (all day). Everyone smokes. The horrors of aging and the horrors of hangovers blend in a way that makes more sense the older I get; I’ve long suspected hangovers are merely bulletins from the front.
Amis’s characters are right wing cranks with romantic underbellies, and he spares them nothing. You don’t have to think you could spend five minutes with one of these people in real life to adore them on the page. They’re hobbled and half deaf, forgetful and losing their teeth, selfish, resentful, envious, and deeply nostalgic for youth. They still have desire, and will behave foolishly for it, and they tell you more about dystopia—the dystopia of everyday life—than Atwood will ever know.
Kingsley Amis famously couldn’t finish any of his son’s books. I’ve liked some of Martin’s Amis’s stuff, but I have more patience than Kingsely. It’s always seemed to me that what the father couldn’t stomach was Amis fils’ pretentiousness. It’s not a killing pretentiousness—Martin Amis has a lot of virtues as a writer—but you can’t ignore it. And there’s nothing a K. Amis books skewers more viciously than pretentiousness.
Of course, being an alcoholic keeps you on the defensive your whole life, no matter how famous you become. When you’re prone to humiliating yourself any night of the week, only a gargantuan sense of humor and an ingrained resistance to human vanity can keep you going.
You do look a little ill.
But we can do something about that, now.
The fact is you’re a shocking wreck.
Do you hear me.
You aren’t all alone.
And you could use some help today, packing in the
dark, boarding buses north, putting the seat back and
grinning with terror flowing over your legs through
your fingers and hair . . .
I was always waiting, always here.
Know anyone else who can say that.
My advice to you is think of her for what she is:
one more name cut in the scar of your tongue.
What was it you said, “To rather be harmed than
harm, is not abject.”
Can we be leaving now.
We like bus trips, remember. Together
we could watch these winter fields slip past, and
never care again,
think of it.
I don’t have to be anywhere.