My sister, Oakley, got married in 2001. She and her new husband decided that for their honeymoon, they would quit their jobs and backpack around the world for a year. Everyone thought this was a marvelous plan. Everyone, that is, except Oscar. Their cat.
Actually, they didn’t really consult with Oscar before their big adventure; they consulted with me.
“MOV?” said Oakley, in that sticky-sweet tone of voice reserved only for Really Big Favors, “couldyouwatchmycatplease?”
“What was that?”
“Uh, could you watch my cat please?”
“Wash your hat?”
“Watch. My. Cat.”
“Sure. For the weekend?”
I do love cats, and we didn’t own a cat at the time, so The Husband and I readily agreed. We adore Oscar, the creamsicle-colored cat, and we were happy to have him live with us.
Now, Oscar is not what you might call “skinny.”
As a teeny kitten, he was rescued from certain death in the trash Dumpster behind Target. Traumatized, he never fully recovered from his fear of lack of food.
Oakley loved this pitiful anorexic tabby kitten and fed him food whenever he meowed. Which was all the time.
He would leap up and start meowing to be fed. He was a loud meower. I did not want him to wake up The Husband, so I would think to myself, “What harm can it do to feed him a little bit earlier than normal?”
Later, when I would arrive in Chicago after flying to Philadelphia or Boston, I would call The Husband from my hotel and we would chit chat about our day. The topic of Oscar would inevitably arise.
“That cat is so funny. He begged me to feed him at 4 AM before I flew, so …”
“You didn’t though, did you?” interrupted The Husband.
“Well, yeah ... why?”
“You did? Are you sure? Because when I got up, he acted like he was starving, and he went right over to his food bowl and gave me the most pathetic look.”
No 17-pound ball of sunset-colored fur was going to scam me again. The next time I had to leave the house before The Husband woke up, I left him a note taped right next to Oscar’s food bowl.
“How is the weather, MOV?” he asked, trying to contain his envy.
“Oh, just terrible. Eighty degrees and sunny. Light ocean breeze. You would hate it.”
“Ha ha. Hey, I have a quick question for you: did you feed Oscar before you left?”
I scrunched up my face into thinking mode. Of course I fed Oscar! I even left a note! Didn’t I? Wait—was that today? or yesterday? When was it? Maybe all that altitude change and jet-lag was getting to my brain and I was hallucinating.
“I did feed him,” I finally declared confidently, “And I left you a note that he’d been fed. I put it right by the food dish; didn’t you see it?”
“Yeah, I saw the note. It’s just … well, he was ravenous, so I thought the note might be, umm, an old note.”
“An ‘old’ note?” I queried.
“Yeah, old. So I fed him.” I could hear him shrugging through the phone lines.
“Sweetie, listen. We have to stop double feeding him. I’m serious. My sister gets back in eight months, and if we keep feeding him at this rate, he’ll be obese. It’s not healthy. You have to stop. If I leave a note, it’s a new note.”
“Okay,” he said sheepishly, “You’re right. Maybe you could write the date on the note, so there’s no doubt?”
A few weeks later, I got another pre-dawn assignment from United. As I shuffled around the kitchen trying to make a cup of coffee, there was Oscar, Velcroed to my feet. I put his food in his bowl and he gobbled it up as if it was his last meal on Earth. Fifteen seconds later when he was done, I remembered what The Husband and I had agreed on. I grabbed a small notepad and scribbled a quick note (including the date) and taped it by his bowl.
There was no room for interpretation now.
“Hi, Sweetheart! How was your day?”
After the niceties were out of the way, we got down to business. “Tell me you did not feed Oscar twice. Tell me you got the note.”
“What note?” asked The Husband innocently.
“Oh, geesh, MOV, do you have anyone else to do it? I don’t know that much about cats.”
“Marlene, really, it is so easy. All you have to do is give him one scoop of food, and some fresh water. We usually feed him at 6 AM, half a scoop, and then again at 6 PM, another half a scoop. But honestly, you don’t have to come twice a day, you can just come once a day. Give him one whole scoop instead. It’s the same amount either way. You can swing by this Thursday and I’ll introduce you to him and walk you through everything. Okay?”
The day before our trip, I showed Marlene where we kept Oscar’s food.
“Why do you keep the food in the laundry room with the door closed?” she asked.
“Oh, we found out early on that he’ll try to get into the food if it’s left out. That cat is always hungry.”
We had a wonderful time sight-seeing in New York. We relaxed because we knew that Oscar was in capable hands. After we returned home, I walked next-door to get the key back from Marlene.
“How’d it go with Oscar?”
“Fine. Fine. He’s so cute. Oh, it was funny the first day, because I just spaced out and could not remember where you stored the food. So I was opening all these cupboards, looking for it, and then Oscar is doing figure-8’s around my leg and then he darts off toward the laundry room and starts scratching at the door. He was, like, My food’s in here!”
I laughed. Typical Oscar.
“Yeah, that’s pretty funny, Marlene, because we actually sing this little song to Oscar, show-me-what-you-want-to-eat-show-me-what-you-want-to-eat, and he goes zipping on over to the giant canister. Hilarious!”
I handed her a bottle of Merlot for her trouble. “So everything was good then?” I ask.
“Well … uh, I couldn’t remember how much you said, if it was one scoop or two scoops, so—”
I cut her off. “No, no, it was only one scoop, remember? Two half scoops makes one scoop, but you were only going to come over once a day …”
“Oh, half a scoop? I guess I should’ve written it down. Well, anyway, so I came by twice a day and gave—”
TWICE A DAY?!
“I know, I know, it’s just I felt guilty that he would be all alone and hungry, so I came by at 8 AM and 8 PM every day. MOV, he was absolutely starving. He would look at me with his cute furry face, and I knew that I must be feeding him the wrong amount.”
“So let me get this straight: you fed him two scoops twice a day?” This was four times his normal amount.
“Uh, yes. I guess so.”
I resisted the urge to snatch the bottle of wine back out of her hand.
“Well, MOV, I’m sorry if it was the wrong amount. I started with only one scoop, because I swear that is what I thought you told me, but then he refused to eat. He looked down at the bowl, and then back up at me and he waited. He was like, Are you kidding me?”
Later that evening around 6:15 PM, while we tried desperately to ignore the incessant meowing of fake hunger, the Husband turned to me and said,
“I don’t think we should ever have kids. Obviously, we would spoil them rotten and give them whatever they want, and they would play us against each other, like pawns.”
Eventually, we did have kids. And The (clairvoyant) Husband was right: We do spoil them and they do try to play us against each other. But we’ve learned never to feed them quadruple the amount of food we’re supposed to.