From Neighbors to Barn Cats

            I’ve been cooped up in my little railway-style apartment for 3.5 months now, biding away the time with various semi-productive endeavors like learning how to use Ableton, fantasizing about my next career as a nomadic chef/witch and finishing off family sized bags of kettle chips. While my insufferable millennial neighbors act like Covid-19 is just a non-stop party where the government pays for the beer, piling up in parks and walking around crowded grocery stores mask-free like they’ve never read a single article on the internet; I’m being an actual good human and trying not to kill people. I mean, not physically. In my mind, I’m committing mass murder.

            My still miraculously-in-love-constantly-laughing-next-door-neighbors might as well be letting children starve to death, I eye them with such hostility. Families biking merrily by my apartment, yelling and singing at the top of their lungs as I sit on my front balcony trying to write, get hit by invisible firetrucks. My lower neighbors, who have stopped having daily bed-breaking sex that could double as the most obnoxious opera singer’s vocal warm-up, are now drilling holes into my eardrums with the sound of their… footsteps. After sending a mind tornado through only their front and back windows, I initiate full-on warfare. I write them a letter and leave it in their mailbox. The suspiciously sweet but clearly aggressive jist is “Hey there neighbors! You’re great, I’m great, everything is great but COULD YOU PLEASE WALK AROUND QUIETER YOU DUMB FUCKING COWS.” To be fair, I specified “after 10pm,” and honestly it sounds like an 800lb man is training at all hours for a marathon down there. After no noticeable change I put my big girl pants on and repeat the message in person, where they look at me like I’m crazy before shutting the door and turning back into ogres. At 3am one night as they are stomping around with 15 of their best friends inside, read: illegally… I seize the opportunity and giddily call the cops. Yeah, I’m that person now. But I mean, cops aren’t exactly the most beloved of folks right now, and I figured I was doing a great service to humanity by inconveniencing two groups of dickheads. Fuck them ALL.

            Sooo it’s possible I might not be my best self right now. I decide the solution for social isolation bitterness is… more isolation. I just need to get out of the city! I fire off a wish to the Facebook Fairy asking for a house swap situation to get my bitter ass into nature, and within days, a colleague asks if I might want to look after his farm home for a month while he visits family. FUCK. YES. I only need to know two things: “How do I get there,” and “Can I bring my cat;” since we are now married. 

            One week later and a car packed embarrassingly full of all my “necessities:” just about 17 writing notebooks, my violin, amp, special effects pedals and every cable I own regardless of whether it even powers something I’ve brought (I don’t know what half my shit does still, I just put the thing in the hole that looks like the right shape), two camping tents (long story) and (oh fine I ordered one on Amazon, it didn’t come, they refunded it, I ordered another one, both tents appeared, tents are fun, I need 2 tents), and my cat and all of his catty desires.

            So it’s my first blissful morning in the middle of nowhere, away from my noisy neighbors, not to mention the classic Montreal summer soundtrack of construction noise covering every possible decibel and frequency within the range of the human ear. I make myself a coffee and a smoothie, grab one of my many notepads, and head outside to fulfill my dream of being a weird hermit writer person, thriving in peace and solitude, happily self-banished from society. No sooner than I can write one underwhelming sentence, I hear an abominable noise emitting from beneath the deck floor. It’s unsettling, deeply obnoxious, and from multiple sources… like a group of defunct chain smokers are transmitting their low raspy voices through a hospital full of crying babies. I see four scrappy figures come into the light of day and lurch purposefully up the stairs. Two dark grey and two splotchy white with dark stripes- all ribs and claws and mucousy eyes.

Barn cats.

            I remember my initial conversation with the owner. “Can I bring my cat?” “Sure, if he likes other cats!” He was referring to his two house-cats, but neglected to mention these prickly characters. I love all animals, right?! This will be fine. What’s another four cats, on top of the two cats, on top of my giant Maine Coon cat-husband George Michael? (That’s his name) Well, being ambushed every time I come outside for one. All day every day, the 16-legged muscular cat contraption waits on the deck poised, listening for the doorknob to turn before thudding towards me at lightening speed- throwing themselves at me with all their weight, rocking me like a bus in an angry mob. I use my right leg to “redirect their energy” across the deck. I walk down the steps bare-legged to escape for a moment under the guise of scoping out the garden; and the bigger grey one, who looks like Rocky Balboa in the last round of a fight, follows me around munching on my ankles like some sortof shitty appetizer to the food he clearly thinks I’m about to give him. I feel it necessary to note here that the bigger white splotchy stripes one is the spitting image of Garrett MacLaren, a kid I went to elementary school with who was really annoying.

            Anyway I message the owner. “Heyy! How’s the trip going?? So umm, is it normal for the barn cats to be pretty… aggressive?! Do you think if I fed them, they’d leave me alone? Cool cool because presently one is eating me. Just let me know.” He writes back: “Trip is good. Please don’t feed the barn cats.” I look at them, all but foaming at the mouths, their cacophony of yowls filling the air… and I start to have some very dark thoughts. Murdery thoughts. What if I were to just accidentally… Fuck. I’m a horrible person. I go right from mind-murdering my neighbors for walking too loud, to these poor barn cats for wanting a basic fundamental need met. I Tai-Chi kick them out of my way for I wanna say… 3 more hours… then I drive to the grocery store and buy a goddamn bag of cat food. (So the owner won’t know what sneaky business I’ve been up to when both his extra-large bags of Whiskas are mysteriously empty)

            I get back, and dump what I think is a reasonable dinner-sized amount from the bag into some plastic bowls- an amount I think the bag can sustain for the full month- and those fuckers gobble it all up in 8 seconds. They immediately glare at me for more. When I don’t budge, they harrumph as though to say “I guess that’ll do for now” and lounge in the sun, temporarily taking on the appearance of normal cats. I don’t feel any warm snuggly feelings for helping these creatures- I feel resentment. They are dependent on me. They NEED ME AND IT JUST MAKES ME WANT TO HELP THEM LESS. Why can’t they be like George Michael and the house-cats? (New band alert?) Chilling like the Lion King, eating bugs, happy when I bring out some food but not like SMOTHERING ME IN A BLANKET OF THE NEEDS OF EVERY SINGLE MEAL FOR THE REST OF TIME.

            But I realize, they live a life of uncertainty. They live from meal to meal, never knowing when the next one will come. George was born into abundance- he knows his food dish will always be full, so he never needs to beg. These guys beg because they need to. They are starving, and resourceful. They know, one out of every 15 times, their “method” works, as they have proven by cat science when I caved and bought the Whiskas. The fucked up thing is, I don’t want to help them. I want to help George and the house cats- the ones who already have everything they need. They want it too much, they’re too desperate. It reminds me of dating, where we’re only interested in people who couldn’t give two shits about us, and ignore the perfectly lovely person who’s standing there with flowers. Okay maybe it’s more like the person who texts “just woke up” selfies every 10 seconds and calls you “Babe” by the second date. They mean well… It reminds me, of how most of us only want to help those who don’t really need our help, and abandon those who need it most. Have I found a deep analogy for one of the biggest problems of humankind, or am I just becoming one giant crazy cat-lady trope?!

Why do we spend money on artisanal baby shower gifts when there are homeless people? Why do we order shit from Amazon when small businesses are going bankrupt? Why do we put exorbitant amounts of funding into cops when the only reason we need them in the first place is because there are people who don’t have access to education, mental health resources and basic living wages?!?

         I think if we really go deep and allow ourselves to answer those questions, the world would be a better place. In any case, I keep feeding the damn cats. And I find, it’s easier to feed them, than not to feed them. What seemed like a burden at first makes us all better off. Like any of us who have snapped at a stranger in an A&W line at the brink of a hanger craze, they transform into their sweet, natural selves once their basic needs are met.* Ah who am I kidding they’re still pretty annoying. But there has been a softening. They feel less desperate, dare I say even kindof cute… and I feel less murdery. We’ve reached a compromise. I feed them, and they leave me alone for a while, purring by my side as I read a book, finally relaxing into the unadulterated sounds of nature.

*After publishing this essay, I learned that the reason these guys are so persistent is because they used to be fed daily by someone who has since moved away. If you or someone you know in the Montreal area is looking for a cat to adopt, these guys really are quite healthy and sweet (once they’re fed!), and you’d be saving them from almost certain death come winter when they’re left to fend for themselves. Use my contact form to reach out if you don’t know me personally. Thanks for reading!

One comment

  1. Amahl S Arulanandam · July 2

    They’re so grumpy and adorable!

    Like

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