Editor's note: This is the sixth cat-related column Gene has written in 2017. As a service to our readers, he will be docked $7,000 in pay for each subsequent one.
"Herding cats" may be the most common term to describe an exasperating, nearly impossible job. I found a better one: "Herding cat."
Late in October, my daughter and son-in-law and their newborn left for Guangzhou, China, where they will be living for the next couple of years. Because of a sequence of unforeseeable, interlocking events, bad things occurred. Not to them, to me:
Because their flight was delayed, and because they had sold their car, they had to spend their last day and night in a hotel near the airport, and because the hotel accepted no pets, they had to leave their two cats in their house, and because I had both a key to their house and an automobile, it became my job to corral the cats at 3 a.m., wrangle them into two cat carriers, and drive them to the airport for a 6 a.m. flight.
It'll be a piece of cake, my son-in-law assured me. The larger animal, Lyla, is a real pussycat, he said, and though the smaller one, LittleGrey, is somewhat more recalcitrant — she had been a neighborhood stray, with all the caginess one develops when in constant survival mode — once you have grabbed hold of her, she meekly submits: "She goes limp," he said.
So assured, I awoke at 2:30 and went into their basement, to which both cats had been quarantined for easy access. I picked up the sweet and obedient Lyla and put her, unprotesting, into her carrier. Then LittleGrey bit my hand and darted away. Technically, I had not yet "grabbed hold of her," so I was undeterred. She was now hiding under a bed, which I proceeded to lift from one end, like a wheelbarrow. She skedaddled and darted straight up the stairs to the main part of the house. Muhahaha.
I had closed the door. LittleGrey — an adult cat no larger than a well-fed rat — was trapped at the top of the stairwell, which was only three feet wide. Slowly I turned and step by step, inch by inch, I ascended the stairs, my arms splayed at my sides to block any route of escape. I felt like Freddy Krueger. In my defense, if I didn't get LittleGrey into that carrier one way or another, she'd probably never see her mom and dad again.
When I was within two feet of her, she leapt right at my head, four claws in my face. For an instant we were entwined, like the crew member and the crustaceanoid face-hugger from "Alien." I stumbled backward down the stairs, somehow staying on my feet. And now I had her off my face and in my grasp.
She did not "go limp." Whatever the exact opposite of "going limp" is, that is what LittleGrey did. Her legs were windmilling in a blur, like the Road Runner's before it got traction and roared away, beep-beeping, into the desert. Somehow, the cat broke my grip and was gone, bolting into the bathroom, no bigger than a two-holer outhouse. I followed and closed the door behind me. The cat was in the bathtub. Slowly, I turned. Step by step, inch by inch, I approached her. At this point, I had commandeered a bedsheet to use as a net. As I bent to grab her, net spread wide, LittleGrey assessed the situation and bounded over my head, onto my back, and then off it, and was … gone. Nowhere in the bathroom.
Eventually, I saw her escape route. Using me as a springboard, she had leapt into a cat-size hole in a heating duct. She had disappeared into the unreachable-by-humans bowels of the house.
Perhaps you know what I did next, or perhaps you are too much of a humane person to imagine it. In that case, avert your eyes. I had about 10 minutes to get the cat. So I turned up the heat to 90 degrees. The furnace blasted on. I set the fan to high.
For eight minutes I sweltered, until LittleGrey staggered out of that hole, waay more docile and toasty to the touch. Both cats made it to the airport in time. Today they are happily with their family in Guangzhou. The next time I see my son-in-law, I plan to have a talk with him. It might be heated. If he knows what's good for him, he'll "go limp."