Mitzi, one of my Russian Blues, is pretty peculiar in her own right. But her brother, Moxie, is one really weird cat.
I knew they were unusual, of course. I thought it was just because they were kittens, which I’d not experienced before, having always adopted mature rescue cats. Naturally, they acted nothing like stately and sedate Stella, my elderly Siamese. It was only to be expected that all that unbounded kittenish energy and enthusiasm go somewhere—into creating household havoc and ruination, and into growing (and growing and growing and growing).
So I was rather surprised when I took Moxie and Mitzi to the vet for the first time. The vet couldn’t get over them. He kept going on and on about how remarkable they were in terms of eyes, coats, coloring, body shape, size, musculature, etc. I didn’t get it, having nothing to compare them to. But the vet obviously had a basis for comparison. He marveled at their demeanor, which was very calm, cooperative and curious. I’ve never heard the vet laugh as much as he did during that consultation. “Look how much attention they’re paying to what’s going on in the other room!” he chuckled. “And they’re not even meowing.” I explained they didn’t meow. “Huh,” he commented, finding that funny, too. Perhaps, because I live so closely with them, my familiarity prevents me from appreciating their uniqueness.
I knew they could be calm, even unfazeable—when they weren’t tearing around the house like maniacs. I’m sure it’s this quality that enabled them to get along with the dogs so well when I first released them from the kitty ICU I confined them to until they were weaned and recovered from the privations of abandonment. Only a very cool cat would sit in the middle of a room and let a big strange dog come up to it and sniff it all over. The dogs were actually more puzzled than the cats, unmistakably wanting to chase them yet unable to unless the cats ran. All the same, I was cautious about the Border Collie puppies playing too rough with the kittens. Until, that is, I saw Moxie chasing Dickens or Twain trying to free himself from the cat attached to his back. From time to time, the dogs also sport bloody noses as the result of sticking them places they shouldn’t.
And I knew they’re exceptionally smart, especially that Moxie, who I suspect of performing cold fusion experiments in the water bowl when I’m not looking. (That would explain the mess.) He and his sister are both great observers who plainly gain a lot of information about the world and the way things work just by watching. I’m sure that’s how Moxie learned to turn door knobs, for example. (Then I had to go around and replace textured knobs with smooth, round porcelain ones and/or install Moxie-proof bolt latches.) Just the other day, I walked into the kitchen where my friend Jere was heating up a cup of coffee in the microwave—with Moxie sitting right there studying the procedure carefully.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” I asked in alarm.
“Uh, warming some coffee?” Jere said uncertainly. “That’s OK, right? I didn’t leave a spoon in there or anything.”
“Yes, of course,” I reassured him. “But not in front of the cat! Next thing you know, he’ll be nuking mice or cans of tuna or his sister.”
And I knew they have strange paws that they use in strange ways—more like hands than paws. Moxie even has some extra toes on his front feet. In addition to the standard complement of retractable claws, he has an extra non-retractable claw on an articulated thumb, and then another clawless thumb on the opposite side of his paw. This lets him get a good grip on things and manipulate them to an incredible extent.
Jere came up with the best analogy for this phenomenon while we were sharing a meal one day. Moxie jumped up and grabbed a fistful of noodles out of my bowl, which he wasted no time feeding into his mouth with great dexterity. “Wow! That looked just like one of those mechanical claw contraptions that drop down to pick a stuffed toy out of a glass box. Only a lot faster and smoother!” I guess I hadn’t eaten noodles with Jere since Moxie and Mitzi joined the household. Otherwise he’d know what a pasta fiend Moxie is, and how you can burn more calories defending your noodles from him than you can get from eating them. He’s very persistent and has quite a reach, not to mention those claws.
Moxie gets into a lot of trouble with those claws of his. I’ve had to make many lifestyle adjustments as a result—even beyond changing out doorknobs and taping the refrigerator shut. It’s not bad enough the M’s (as they are collectively known) hang around the rim of the tub when I’m bathing each morning, playing with the water or my hair or the washcloth. The bath towel also holds an endless fascination for Moxie. He repeatedly charges it when I try to dry off, much as a bull goes for a red cape. He often gets such a secure grip on it that he pulls it away from me and rolls around with it. Wresting the towel back is a time-consuming task that only inflames his desire for possession. This results in a less-than-dry body, even with a backup towel (which then also becomes a target). Although I sometimes get a kick out of working the towel and playing el gato as a matador would el toro, I’m by no means always in a mood screw around like this when I’m wet.
Bull-like as Moxie is in other ways, he does not roar like one. As I mentioned, he and his sister are essentially mute. They do purr softly and they do growl under their breath when carrying around a mouse they caught in the pantry. But their only other vocalization is a faint high-pitched squeak, which they emit conversationally and to get my attention when they want something. This squeaking, better suited to a tiny bird, is ludicrous coming from vigorous 15-20 pound animals. Not exactly a power sound, like a bull’s roar.
That’s not to say they’re quiet, however. Moxie, in particular, is a bull in a china shop. While they can be exceedingly gentle and graceful, they are also very active agents of gravity. Anymore, I don’t even have to see what’s going on when I hear something crash to the floor in another room. “Moxie!” I yell, hastening to assess the damage. “Dammit, Moxie, what did you do?!” I’m sure, by now, the cat thinks his full name is DammitMoxie. Given his mischievous ways, the only thing that surprised me about finding a whole roll of toilet paper unspooled all over the bathroom was the fact it hadn’t happened sooner.
Not only does Moxie often make me feel like a matador, he also makes me feel like a prisoner. Prison inmates aren’t allowed things they could possibly hang themselves with, either. Moxie routinely confiscates the drawstrings to my sweat-clothes, my bathrobe sash and shoelaces, such items being irresistible to him. Consequently, my sweatpants always sag and my bathrobe is always gaping open as I search for the tie—under the bed, behind the dresser, maybe tucked into a nest of ransacked clothes in the laundry basket. I don’t intentionally sport the “jailing” fashion look and don’t appreciate the inconvenience. I generally retain possession of my shoelaces, however, though they’re always pulled out and never tied. I often end up shackled like a prisoner, wearing the shoes by dragging the cat along with them. This is probably a great aerobic workout and it’s clearly big fun for Moxie to slide across the wood floors on his back while playing with a favorite toy. It might be useful to spray Moxie with Endust and dust-mop the floors while we’re at it.
When considering his intelligence, size, weight, power and potential weaponry, I often find myself thinking: “Good thing he’s friendly!” Can you imagine yourself faced with a adversary equipped with those characteristics, right in your own home? Well, you’d have to shoot him. As it is, love is the reigning emotion—closely followed by exasperation.
Aside from being a tremendous pain in the butt and an equally great source of entertainment, Moxie has other qualities I have mixed feelings about. Chief among them is curling up to sleep every night. As always, he still bites my nose (and sometimes my right eyeball), but he’s gentler about these attentions anymore. He still does the Moxie flop, which has evolved from flopping his little kitten self down next to me to hurling his considerable present-day bulk up against me, which can really knock the wind out of a body, maybe even break a rib. None of these habits is very conducive to sleep.
But I’ve never seen another cat who presents its belly for rubbing so sweetly and doesn’t eventually start biting, scratching and bunny-kicking you. No one bellies up for a rubbing like Moxie. He’s recently developed a slow, heavy somersault for belly-presentation purposes. He rolls into it head-first, as ponderously as a lazing whale, his sole goal to get that belly right up and out there, totally accessible to rubbing. And no one luxuriates in a belly rubbing like Moxie does, with nary a bite, scratch or kick. For him, it’s all about the pure pleasure of your fingers running through the downy fur of his upturned underside for as long as you can stand it. I have not yet found a limit to the amount of belly rubbing Moxie will revel in. The onset of sleep or carpel tunnel syndrome gets to me before Moxie tires of being rubbed.
Then, at some point, he flops down on the pillow next to mine in the precise spot that will gently connect his face with my cheek. He still wants to pat my face with his big mitt and that non-retractable claw still grazes my skin. But I’ve learned that I can either fold and tuck his foot under his chest or poke my finger into the cup of his paw to stop that. Then, heads together and breaths commingled, we sleep to a lulling soundtrack of perfectly contented purring.
And, some mornings, if I’m “lucky,” I’ll awake to the gift of a dead mouse on my chest.
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