A few days ago, I was roused in the middle of the night by loud rapping at my front door. I shuffled groggily from my bed and opened the door to find a mustached, burly man staring me down. He flashed his badge, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection crest embossed into gleaming metal.
CUSTOMS AGENT: Miz Girardin, I am here to take you into custody pursuant to Title IV of the USA PATRIOT Act of October 26th, 2001, of which you are in direct violation.
ME: Title IV! Border Security! Is it something I wrote? I knew I shouldn’t have said that thing about McCarthy…
CUSTOMS AGENT: Our intelligence services have gathered information on your un-American activities. You have broken the three sacred clauses of Americanness. You are unmarried, correct?
ME: Um, yes…but there are no marriageable men! It’s not my fault! There are still eggs in these ovaries! I HAVE TIME!
CUSTOMS AGENT: You do not believe in God?
ME: Not a chance, no…but how do you know that?
CUSTOMS AGENT: I am not at liberty to reveal the nature of our highly controversial and illegal surveillance methods. I must also confiscate the feline in you custody.
ME: I’m not allowed to have a cat?
CUSTOMS AGENT: Single, atheist, in possession of a feline. You should have read your PATRIOT Act. You’ve revoked your American citizenship through Article 5, Section 29, the holy trinity of procedural violations. We’re deporting you.
ME: MAIS JE SUIS AMERICAINE! I DON’T SPEAK ZE HENGLISH!
As the burly man was administering a tranquilizer, I woke up.
The offending feline was perched on top of me, purring. I briefly considered throwing him out the window before remembering that the deportation scene had been but a vivid nightmare. I checked the pocket bedside edition of the PATRIOT Act just to make sure. I didn’t want my parents to have to bail the Himalayan kitten and yours truly out of some jail in Saskatchewan.
The nightmare got chalked up to three pots of pre-bedtime coffee, combined with the lingering Freudian effects of a discussion in Professor Rubenstein’s Postmodern Presidency seminar. For my psyche, the symbolic implications of the Obama family’s search for the perfect White House dog were troubling. I felt myself herded into the camp of the excluded, the non-families sans picket fence, Honda minivan, the latest Whirlpool dryer, and complimentary Golden Retriever. Cats don’t fit into this picture. Cats are for the independent, brooding, and mysterious folk, the skeptics, the intellectuals.
On the scale of soccer mom to Simone de Beauvoir, my self-image, perhaps wrongly, leans closer to #2. My cat, I believed, added to my mysterious, slightly librarian-ish sex appeal. Kind of like my horn-rimmed Burberry glasses.
Empirical evidence suggests that my man quotient has yet to go up because of Harr Bear or the glasses.
The truth is that I would rather face deportation-hell, I would rather spend the night in Sarah Palin’s igloo, helping her birth her grandchild or a moose baby-than be separated from Harry.
For those of you who haven’t had the distinct pleasure of meeting Harr Bear, think giant cotton ball on four legs, with the purr of a 1984 Camaro engine, the googly blue eyes of a Martian, and the intellect of a precocious 8-month old baby. Think of the cat in Homeward Bound (minus the power of speech. He can, however, fly).
Harry’s cuteness is so overwhelming that some people in my life call, video chat, and stop over just to see him. Only him.
But he is forgiven, for what other male would sit in intent silence through entire episodes of Grey’s Anatomy?
Who else would feign indifference when, as we are all occasionally prone to do in private, I perform my secret dance routine to tthe remixed rendition of the Justin Timberlake hit, “I’m bringin’ spinster baaack! YEAH! Bringing spinster baack!”
He masks his horror as I flail my arms and shriek a semblance of song.
So why can’t spinsterdom be sexy? When I look in the mirror, I see a strong, independent woman. Then Harry jumps on the bathroom counter, and I see a crazy lady with a cat.
In the world of boundless pet love, thankfully, it appears that I am not alone.
A survey by the American Animal Hospital Association finds that 83% of pet owners refer to themselves as their pet’s mom or dad. Further, over 63% of dog owners say “I love you” to their pet at least once a day. That’s more that can be said for their spouses.
And there are even crazier cat ladies than moi. They’ve even invaded the Internet.
Harry, for example, had been able to connect (through his Facebook profile) to Catbook, the Facebook Union of Cats, and the Cat Stevens Fan Club.
One of the most popular video series on YouTube features Goma the Himalayan from Vermont, who also maintains his own blog (http://mycatgoma.com/) and will be featured in an upcoming Animal Planet special.
Most Internet users are familiar, further, with the lolcat phenomenon due to the work of http://icanhascheezburger.com/. Wikipedia describes a lolcat as “an image combining a photograph, most frequently of a cat, with a humorous and idiosyncratic caption in (often) broken English—a dialect which is known as ‘lolspeak’or ‘kitteh’ and which parodies the poor grammar typically attributed to Internet slang.”
4 example, dis sentence wud look liek dis in lolcat.
But in America, even the contingent of marginalized crazy cat ladies can’t compete. This is undeniably a dog’s country.
The 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey reports that 63 percent of U.S. households, a whopping 71.1 million homes, own a pet. More people in this country own furry, winged, and scaly creatures than voted for John McCain. In these households, however, there are 74.8 million American dogs. There are only 38.4 million American cats.
It is France, land of the iconic “poodle sitting pretty in café” image, seems to be the feline refuge. There are 9.7 million cats in France, and only 8.8 million dogs. There are zero French crazy cat ladies.
There seems to be a natural congruity between the brooding mysteries of Paris and, er, Parisians, and kitties of the same disposition.
Last fall, I passed a tiny library on the rue du Cardinal Lemoine on the way from my apartment in the 5th arrondissement to Sciences Po in the 7th. Every morning, an orange tabby lounged luxuriously among the dusty volumes in the store window. Of all the mini Paris images I’ve collected for posterity, this is the one I keep closest to my heart.
And until I can hop the next transatlantic flight to show Harry the sights, I take comfort in the LOLCat Bible Translation Project, which is attempting to translate the Bible into lolcat speak.
A cat version of God?
There’s something I can believe in.
ANDI GIRARDIN IZ SENIOR IN DA COLLEGE OV ARTS AN SCIENCEZ. SHE CAN BE REACHD AT AGIRARDIN@CORNELLSUN.COM. RAISIN D’ÊTRE APPEARS ALTERNATE FRIDAIS.