Herding Cats

When Big Issue vendor Stephen B accidentally inherited a pet, his world turned upside down.

It was about three years ago now, I was landed with this cat: pure white, very handsome, just out of kittenhood and carrying an arrogant teenage swagger. I called him Pretty Boy Floyd.

My mate, the source of Pretty Boy, explained to me that he “really wasn’t a cat person” (“I just can’t handle it, man”) as he untangled himself from his burden. As the heavy door slammed shut, Floyd and I stood in the silence of the hallway weighing up our options. There weren’t many. It was either me or the street.

It was around this point that it occurred to me that I also wasn’t a cat person. I had never owned a cat, never lived with one – in fact, I knew next to nothing about them. Well, I knew they were fluffy, that food went in one end and came out the other, and there was a lot of stuff about them on Facebook doing stupid shit. Not very helpful.

Firstly, I placed his litter box out on the balcony. I really shouldn’t have bothered. Floyd found the clothing lying about my bedroom floor much more appealing. To say it was a rocky start is understating it. Imagine for a moment you invite a friend to share your joint, and they begin by trashing your furniture, stealing your food and pissing on your clothes. You would show them the door, no?

I have yet to be referred to as a “cat person”, but I have noticed that if you mention that you live with a cat, people’s photos start coming out. “Gee, well, yeah. That’s a, um, fluffy one,” I feign interest. Obviously I need more training.

At first, Floyd was agoraphobic, his only view of the world being from the balcony. I found him there one night serenading his beloved in the next block of units – the old Romeo and Juliet routine. But the fear of the unknown overrode his romantic advances and the feline wandered off to a better offer.

He was not so shy the morning I woke with a hangover and found him chewing on a wasp like it was bubblegum. What to do? The idea of sticking my hand into his maw didn’t excite me – and the wasp, still having a lot of fight in him, looked none too happy with the situation. Floyd seemed to be enjoying himself, so I left him to his battle and headed back to the safety of my doona.

In the meantime, Floyd had discovered his penthouse: a wall cavity behind the fridge – a space that was impossible to find unless you were standing on top of the fridge, in a certain position, looking in a certain direction. He adjourns to the penthouse whenever his mood takes him, or when my mood is less than pleasing.

It only occurred to me recently – after my son had paid a handsome sum for his beloved dog, Dusty – that my family had never bought a pet, ever. All through my childhood we always had a dog, but all of them had been found on the street. They all seemed very grateful. The idea of buying one never occurred.

I was asked once just how bad Floyd’s behaviour would need to get before I got rid of him. It took me aback – Get rid of him?! I imagined waking up without the early morning chorus of complaints, no longer sharing our post-shower conference where we sit quietly and sort the day’s affairs, the long smooching sessions when I get home from work. Get rid of him? Pretty Boy?

I don’t really care if he steals my butter, is rude to my guests, holds a grudge for two whole days, or wakes me whenever the mood takes him. I remember once whingeing about him being “my first cat”, when it was pointed out to me that I was also his first human.

Stephen B is a writer, card-carrying Tigers supporter and most definitely a cat person. He sells The Big Issue at North Melbourne Station and Lygon Court, Carlton.

Published in Ed#709.