We were doing the tango when my wife informed me that we had acquired a cat. I had agreed to the weekly dance lessons because I am a good husband and because tango lessons were cheaper than going to counseling again.
So while I was doing my best to time my frottage with the beat of the music, she said, “The Boy found a cat in the alley. He rescued it. We’ve got a pet now.”
“The hell we do,” I said.
She spent the rest of the class selling the cat, hard. It was so cute and sweet. The Boy loved it so much. When she sensed her emotional appeal wasn’t making headway, she went with reason: The Boy was 6, it would teach him responsibility, etc., etc.
It’s not that I dislike animals. I grew up with a big, white Akita named Haiku that I adored. Kind of a pretentious name, but you can’t blame the dog for that. It was my father’s doing. It was my father’s dog, actually. When I was in kindergarten, my folks fought a lot, and my dad eventually moved out, going to live in our back guesthouse. But not long before Dad decamped, my parents had a party. Right in the middle of it, Haiku casually walked over to where Mom was sitting, lifted his leg, and peed on her. When my dad moved out, Haiku went with him.
A couple of years later, when it was just my mother and me, we got an orange cat of indeterminate breed named Richmond. I named him. Richmond was a good kitty, except when you tried to pet him anyplace other than his head. Then he flew into a rage, attacking the transgressive hand with the blood lust of a rabid ocelot. This made for great fun when people met Richmond for the first time.
Anyway, point is: storybook childhood filled with fond memories of pets. Why I wanted to deprive my son of the joys of pet ownership was simple. I didn’t want to pay for it. Oh, the cat itself wouldn’t be expensive; it’s the incidentals that get you.
A friend of mine, for example, has a cat that ate part of a board game. It cost $800 to open up that cat and retrieve a Trouble pawn. A few months later, that same cat ate the rubber nub off a doorstop and had to be opened up yet again. And again it cost him $800. All pets do this. Whether it’s a torn ACL or a rare form of cancer or a fondness for small, bowel-obstructing objects, there are always incidentals.
By the end of our tango lesson, I thought I’d made myself pretty clear. No cat, no way, no ma’am. But we’d taken separate cars, and on the way home, I saw My Fair Lady, several car lengths behind me, pull into a PETCO. I swung my car around. When I stormed through the sliding doors, MFL was talking to a clerk.
“No you don’t!” I shouted. “You are not buying stuff for that cat. We do NOT have a pet!” I knew if she fed the cat, I’d never get rid of it.
It was really a mock shout, intended to startle my sneaky wife. But it stunned the clerk. MFL started pleading with me, going on about how sad the cat looked and how skinny it was and how it needed our love. The clerk looked like she wanted to run.
I said, “Fine! Fifteen dollars! That’s all you can spend, woman. Not one penny more. We cannot afford a cat. If you spend one penny more than $15, I swear to you, I will take that cat to the lake and drown it.” With that, I spun on my heels and left.
The clerk was so traumatized that she gave MFL a free bag of cat food. MFL tried to explain that her husband was only joking, really, but the clerk refused to take her money.
A few days later, before The Boy could settle on a name for the cat, I loaded it into a pillowcase and drove it to a cat rescue outfit. I gave them a $20 donation and the rest of the cat food. The Boy took it well. On the way home, he hardly even cried.
But it’s only a matter of time before I lose this battle. It’s inevitable. When I move out, though, I’m leaving the pet behind.