Since I moved to America a few months ago, I’ve been unable to work. It takes months for a work visa to be processed and in that time I can’t leave the country, or do much of anything really. To save on costs, my wife and I have been living with her parents and brother.
It doesn’t matter as much as you’d think. Most houses in America are huge in comparison to the UK. Living with other people isn’t a problem. If you need some time alone you can sulk off to your own wing of the house and pretend that nobody is there with you.
When it becomes a problem, is when you also have enough animals in the house to open a petting zoo. My wife’s family seems to collect animals like most people collect useless kitchen appliances. Instead of an ice cream maker they’ll only use twice, they get a new cat. Instead of a popcorn machine, a dog. When you have as many cats as they do, it probably seems like something you buy regularly. “Hey, don’t forget to stop by the store on the way home and get a new cat!” “Cat food. You mean cat food, right?” “No no, I mean a cat.”
You may think that having five cats would be amazing. You could lie on your bed and have all of them sit on top of you like a lovely, warm blanket. Every night you could fall asleep to the soothing sound of a purr. Plus you’d never be lonely, how could you with so many little friends?
I admit it, it’s true. Cats are amazing. But five cats? That’s a little too much, even for me.
Have you ever seen a tumbleweed? You know, one of those bushes you see rolling along the desert in Westerns? Now imagine it’s not in the desert, but your kitchen . And it’s not a bush of twigs, but a bush of hair. A hair tumbleweed.
Now think to yourself, how much hair must cats shed in order to make a tumbleweed? The answer is: a lot. In a house with five cats, everything is covered in hair. Every time I’m eating, I look down and see a cat hair in my food. Every time I get into bed there’s hair all over my pillow.
You know that horrible feeling you get when there’s a hair in your mouth and no matter how hard you try you can’t seem to find it? That’s basically how I feel all day.
I’ve swallowed so much cat hair over this last few months that I’m surprised I’m not coughing up hairballs. Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet. But the cat’s aren’t shy about it. They love to randomly start retching. Throwing up in the most annoying place possible. I’m sure they do this on purpose to mock me. “Hey, I’m going to vomit all over the mail? M’kay?” “Oh, I’ll just puke on the carpet inches away from my mat, you’d like that, right?”
When you have one cat, a puke covered hairball happens from time-to-time. With five cats, it’s a daily occurrence. Every little cat annoyance is multiplied by five so that it’s no longer little, but huge.
If you have a cat, maybe they wake you up once a week by meowing or scratching at your door. With five cats, it’s almost every day. If you have one cat, when it gets worms…well you can see where this is going. Five cats with worms!
Anyway, although cats are bad, the types of behaviour they encourage in humans is worse. First of all, they attract crazy cat ladies – otherwise known as my wife and mother-in-law. These are women who treat their cats like they are babies. They have to take another cat selfie for the thousandth time and all they can talk about is their cats.
Every day, before talking about the weather, or work, it’s always the cats. “Do you know what Callie did today?” Most of the time, the conversation is exactly the same. The cats did cat things. Like rolling around on the floor or meowing. But for some reason we need to talk about it every day.
I’ve even found myself being pulled into these conversations. I’d love to say that the men of the house are above it all, but we’re just as bad. I can’t say I’ve ever resorted to baby talk and I’m not naming names, but I’ve heard every other man in the house say the following. “Who’s a good little Chummy Wums? You are? Oh yes you are! You are!”
Despite having only five cats, it often feels like there are more because each cat has accumulated a dozen nicknames: Thumbs, Chums, Tum-Tum, Toom-Toom, Chummy, Chummy Wums, Lady Chummington, Chummichanga, Little Chumelita. This is all one cat.
You may be wondering at this point, when I’m going to mention the dogs. Their trouble is that they’re old and often stinky. They long ago passed their peak of cuteness and find it impossible to compete with their feline companions.
I’m the only person sympathetic to the dogs, because for me they’re new. For everybody else they’ve become a family member. You know when you get comfortable enough with a family member that you have no qualms about shouting at them. That’s how it is with the dogs. If one of the dogs knocks over a cup, they’re sent to bed. If a cat knocks over a cup, it’s the only thing we’ll talk about for a week because it was so cute. Poor dogs.
They mope around the house in a sulk, jealous of the cats and the attention they get. From time-to-time, the dogs do something funny and out of the ordinary. Suddenly everybody is stroking them, petting them. They’re getting the baby talk, “Good girl, oh whosa good girl.” Then one of the cats walks in the room and that’s enough, the dogs have had their fifteen seconds of fame.
Partly this is the dogs’ own fault. The only time they get animated is when they’ve had a poop or there’s a possibility of a treat. Their entire life is lived in the hope that a treat will appear. I’ve taken pity on them and give them treats way more often than I should. I even made them some dog biscuits made from used beer grains. Now they follow me around the house, sticking their wet noses into my arm or leg at any opportunity. “Hey, maybe if we stick our nose in his leg, he’ll give us a treat.”
The opposite happens, I’ve just started to get annoyed with them like everybody else. But then I get guilty and feel like I need to pet them to compensate or give them a treat. They get more encouraged and I feel more wet noses on my legs. The cycle of wet noses will never stop.
Now we get to the bird and the fish. The only thing I can say about them, is really, what’s the point? Whenever anybody gets a fish or bird, I’m sure it goes more or less like this. For the first day they look at them with wonder. The next day they glance at them. From then on they just become a fixture of the house, something beside the wall that you never look at. Like your collection of figurines or a painting. But unlike those things, there’s the added annoyance that you need to keep feeding them to stop them from dying. Imagine buying a painting that you needed to feed every day? You’d probably get sick of it eventually and stop.
Despite all I’ve said though, the pets aren’t that bad at all. Not when compared to the humans. When I said that living with others isn’t a problem, I was being slightly disingenuous.
Humans are the worst. First of all they eat all of the food. No matter what I buy, I know it may not be there the next day. We bought four pounds of grapes and a two days later they were all gone. Who eats grapes at that rate, that’s two pounds per day !? And I don’t want to even speak about how many bananas these people eat. I can’t tell if I’m living with humans or monkeys sometimes! If chocolate or sugar is involved I may as well forget about it. I’ve taken to hoarding candy so nobody else can eat it.
The food situation is bad, but the noise situation is worse. Every animal in the house has their own schedule. Each morning I am woken by something. If not a cat. Then a TV. I’ve listened to so much Fox News in my sleep that my own internal monologue has started to sound like Donald Trump.
But I don’t complain, because I know I have annoying behaviours too. Apparently I don’t make the bed properly and I’m constantly leaving the shower curtain open. I have an odd tendency to not put my dishes in the dishwasher but on the counter top, despite the fact they’re only a foot apart. I’ve tried to be nice and do some laundry, but I can’t hang up the clothes correctly either. Also I don’t fold towels the proper way. Yes, there’s a proper way or so my wife says!
Maybe the cats and dogs aren’t so bad after all.