How often, in our days of ignorance (and corrupted by the wasteful ways of planned obsolescence) have we thoughtlessly got rid of a dead cat. And why? Not because we are profligate or thoughtless by nature, but simply because we had no idea, no idea, the number of uses to which cats may be put, once they stop running about eating birds.
Guiding the nation in the nouvelle thrifte, of course, is Simon Bond, whose slender volume, "101 Uses for a Dead Cat," is returning the nation to the thrifty ways of our pioneer fathers.
And the surprise is that it's fun to make tasteful or useful objects from material that is so commonly just thrown away. Treasure in your own alley.
Bond is a 33-year-old free-lance cartoonist who adores cats, as I do, and who hated to see them just pitched out when they died. But, first, one small quibble: I did think some of the ornaments he proposes, from the Shuffled Ones, were too fussy for the average home. I can but question the use of two stuffed cats as a mantel ornament. Such things are hardly functional.
But then the same can be said of Chippendale, who also went too far on occasion. And here is what makes the book so valuable: Even the ordinary handyman about the house can find in Bond's book a number of delightful and useful things to be made, so that even the most refined craftsman (who has no use for silly gewgaws) will find agreeable projects.
When turned upside down, with paws up, an attractive toast rack is formed. The toast is stood up between forepaws and rear paws, and this makes a homey thing for the breakfast table, less pretentious and less affected than silver toast racks that you see nowadays. Who needs silver, when a functional and handsomely textured toast rack can be made, with only common home tools, from the cat.
One objection I have is that several of the suggested uses require a number of cats. You need two, for example, to make potholders or "oven gloves" for handling hot casseroles in the oven. You need literally dozens to make a textured garden wall, employing the Found Material with the stone and mortar.
So that while these are all ingenious and undeniably attractive uses of the material, I fear they are somewhat beyond the means of the ordinary creative do-it-yourselfer, who commonly has only one cat to work with at a time.
And yet there is no cause for dissatisfaction, since the bulk of Bond's drawings show what can be done with just one. Such as the toast rack. Or the holder for the wine bottle. Or the tea cozy. Of course you need rather a large cat to make the tea cozy, not every cat will do, but then often you have a large cat, larger than needed for the toast rack, say.
The pencil sharpener seems to me affected, and a rather lower-class use for the material. The pencil is stuck in beneath the tail and rotated. It reminds me a bit of embroidered ruffles on evening shirts. Pretty, in a way, but a bit silly. The material is not well used for such purposes. The craftsman will find again and again that an undisguised, straightforward, honest use of material is best. Working with cats, the craftsman will soon learn to capitalize on the distinctive feature of the material itself, its soft and exquisite texture, its insulating properties, the four rigid prongs, etc., and these properties should be appreciated for their natural fitness, without any farfetched attempts to make pencil sharpeners or tawdry ornaments from them.
The rubber stamps, made from the four paws, are eminently practical, however, and may be kept neatly together in a box ready for use with a well-filled ink pad, and the rest of the material may be saved to piece out other projects for which one does not really need two cats, yet needs somewhat more than one.
It should be emphasized that, except in the case of the pencil sharpener and a few other gadgets that suggest Popular Mechanics at its most desperate, no special skills or equipment will be required. Gradually, over the years, in a small way, the fellow of only ordinary competence with the screwdriver and hammer can embellish his personal castle with many pleasant accessories, and one of the chief rewards is the glow that comes from making something of virtually nothing.
Yesterday I interviewed Simon Bond. He told me (I did not detect it, such is the force of his creative drive, a sort of charisma in the eyes) he is only 5 feet 3 inches tall and has been plagued all his life with poor health, especially asthma and allergies, requiring him to live in Phoenix. One does indeed require a very urgent circumstance to live in the West. He said he has rarely if ever made more than $5,000 a year. Now, with money coming in, he dreams of returning to England (where he grew up) and getting a small flat in Chelsea, and having enough money to keep his place warm, and having plenty to eat.
He once ate at the Savoy in London, just to see what it was like, and did not begrudge the cost. That, by the way, is the mark of the great artist, he does not begrudge the cost. He is selective, he orders his priorities, he deals with his material and then does not whine that it cost a buck.
"Since you clearly adore all animals, it must be hard not to be able to have any, with your allergies," I commiserated.
"I grew up with six cats," he said, "and I don't think the allergies were any worse then than now. If I go to London, I may get a short-haired cat."
"No need to settle for that," I pointed out. "You could get a little dachshund. They never give anybody allergies."
"But who'd want a dachshund?" he said. "The little buggers."
"Why, they are true hounds," I reminded him.
"I sort of like mutts," he said, "the kind you see wandering about alleys looking like Basic Dog."
One senses, in Bond, a rough diamond, not yet polished; a promising craftsman and creator, but not yet as discriminating as the connoisseur and true creative giant must become at last. He stated he thought basset hounds rather cute, for example, but said he was not on fire to possess one, being quite happy with a mutt.
His new "Unspeakable Acts" book commences with a fellow tossing a bone for old Rover out the window. Rover is bounding toward the open window after it. In the lower frame of the window we see the top of a church spire.
This particular drawing appears to be lacking in taste.
"I suppose we should say something about sadism," I ventured.
"I guess it's about fifty-fifty," he said. "The lucky ones are the ones who know how much sadism is in them. The least lucky are the ones who think they are all kind and benevolent, and then it breaks through to their vast surprise, very harmfully. I am lucky because I draw. My safety valve is always open."
Still, the little mutt leaping for the window. It might be amusing if it were a cat -- they like leaping out of buildings.
"It's the sadism in us that makes us laugh at the cartoons," he said.
Maybe. Or maybe it's chiefly the joy of learning how to make attractive things out of waste material.