Talented writer explains secret thoughts of cats | Mann Overboard

Bill Mann
Posted 7/7/23

Dog owners, you may be excused.  

We’re going to discuss cats here today, but … I think dog folks will be glad if you hang around.

Throughout my long newspaper-columnizing …

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Talented writer explains secret thoughts of cats | Mann Overboard


Dog owners, you may be excused. 

We’re going to discuss cats here today, but … I think dog folks will be glad if you hang around.

Throughout my long newspaper-columnizing career, there’s one other columnist I continually admired. Jon Carroll was and is a talented writer, and an adept, subtle humorist — especially when writing about his felines. 

(He also coined great lines about things like cult members, which he brilliantly labelled “unglued adherents.”)

Jon was a direct competitor when he was at the San Francisco Chronicle (I was over at the Oakland paper), but I envied his columns and writing talent. Especially the columns about his two cats. 

About his sleeping kitty Pancho, Carroll once wrote: “He radiates contentment. He does not have a mortgage or a rent payment due at the beginning of the month. He knows where his next meal is coming from — it’s coming from me. He is not concerned with the declining role of newspapers in American culture. He can sleep the sleep of the blameless, even when he’s been bad.”

Then: “A boring day, maybe, but he has a tiny brain. He chases string. Maybe we’d all like to chase string instead of whatever it is we are chasing. Of course, maybe life is just God trailing bits of string along the path for us, daring us to pounce.”

(Our current big black cat, The Dude, loves chasing string.)

Cat owners out there will certainly recognize this next scenario. Carroll: “Cats are opposed to reading. That much is obvious. If a human sits or lies down to read, a cat will jump up and interpose itself between the human and the book. “Do not pollute your mind with that trash,” the cat is saying, or perhaps, “Me me me, pay attention to me me me!”

Carroll also cites something close to home — couch time. As a TV critic, I was a professional couch potato for years.  But I had nothing on our cats. 

Carroll: “Observe with me the cat at rest on the couch. The cat is asleep. The cat does not get up and move every 10 minutes. Indeed, hours pass and the cat remains motionless. Poke it, push it, rub it — it stays limp. What of the enemies in the veldt now?” 

Deer? Our yard, as yours may be, is often full of them. Our Dude just yawns when she sees them and — of course — he goes back to sleep. We do keep an eye out for coyotes. 

Every so often, back when he wasn’t taking a long cat cap, Dude would catch and deliver fresh game to us. Mostly birds, sometimes voles.

We’re avid birders, so we had to get rid of our bird feeder. 

It’s still gone, but my wife had another idea: Bell the cat. We got Dude, an otherwise great kitty, a collar with a bell on it. Bird fatalities are, happily, way down. 

Our previous black cat, Rascal, stopped hunting when she was about 12. An early retirement. Good. 

It didn’t hurt her a bit: She was probably one of the oldest cats in PT. She was an astonishing 24 when she finally left us. (That’s over 100 in human years). She’d used up all her nine lives. 

We’d taken her to the vet only once in all those years - to get spayed. 

She was a slight, but healthy, cat, just like Carroll’s kitty Bucket: “Pick her up: She’s as light as a tea mug. And yet she is not sickly. We’ve never had to take her to the vet for anything but routine maintenance. She doesn’t puke, a really good attribute in a cat, and she does her business in the approved locations. An ideal pet, really, for people who never actually wanted a pet.”

Cats, however somnolent, are skittish. Carroll: “I’ve seen cats sleep through earthquakes and then dash out of the house in terror when I dropped a jar lid. Their actions do not map to primal impulses. Something else is at work.

“Why this weird lapse in restlessness? Because they know it makes you cranky. Don’t kid yourself: Your cat enjoys getting on your nerves. But you knew that already.” 

(You can reach cat fancier Bill Mann at Newsmann9@gmail.com. Purrr.)