You can meow a little bit, I tell Ben, the new cat on the Farm. Just not a lot. Just enough to show you're a cat. This is what the cat communicator told me to say to Ben when he gets stuck in meow mode, and so I tell him this several times a day.
Ben has a touch of feline Tourette's Syndrome, I think: he gets started on a meowing jag and can't seem to stop. The situation is not helped by the fact that his meow is a particularly unlovely one -- a low-pitched, guttural sound not unlike the quacking of a duck. Exactly like the quacking of a duck, in fact. That cat would make a good duck decoy.
What to do? Ben is here for the same reason all our cats are here: we inherit all our animals from our children and grandchildren. In Ben's case, the meowing reached levels completely unacceptable for life in a New York apartment; maybe if Ben had more room he'd calm down. And he has, to a great degree.
I also pick him up and cuddle him, repeating my phrase --Just a little bit, not a lot. I stroke his throat, which he likes, and let him burrow into the crook of my arm. Ben is as strong as a pit bull -- when he burrows into the crook of your arm, you know it.
I also tell him not to jump on the girl cats. His old roommate, also his sibling, was another tomcat: girls are a new thing for Ben. He is the most virginal of virgins. He is a eunuch as well, of course, but this has not stopped him from imagining something wonderful where they are concerned.
You can imagine What's-Her-Name's reaction to his romantic overtures. The din of catfrontation shatters the night if they encounter each other, and Ben always seems to get the worst of it, although he outweighs What's-Her-Name by several pounds, which is a lot on a house cat.
You can meow a little bit. Just not a lot. And no jumping on girls.
After a few weeks of this, What's-Her-Name took to eating all her meals outside by the back door, in order to avoid Ben, who is a native New Yorker and not an outdoorsman. But it's getting cold now; she needs to come in to eat. This she refuses to do, choosing instead to stand at the foot of the back steps and stare up at us until we fold. We have to catch her and carry her inside, barring the kitchen door against her nemesis, letting her inspect the perimeter of the room repeatedly and only then eat her breakfast on top of the kitchen island.
Maybe we could arrange a cat summit, Q suggested. You hold one and I'll hold one, and they can talk. Q believes in diplomatic solutions where possible, and believes that they are more possible than most people think.
And so, on Election Day 2006, the Geranium Farm Cat Summit was held on the landing at the bottom of the stairs. Ben was large and mostly silent, emitting an occasional friendly quack. What's-Her-Name growled steadily, ready to strike if need be, her muscles taut and wiry under her skin. Q spoke movingly about peaceful coexistence. I murmured into What's-Her-Name's ear: See, he's not so bad. He's a nice cat. He just wants to be friends. He's not going to jump on you any more. This was rather an empty assurance, I thought, even as I spoke; who am I to guarantee Ben's behavior? Diplomacy is an uncertain business, at best. I can understand why world leaders can be reluctant to stake all their prestige on it.
The Farm Summit did not end with the feline equivalent of a handshake: nobody sniffed anybody else's bottom or anything. What accord has emerged has come only from above; it did not bubble up from the parties themselves. Enforcement of it, too, will be our responsibility. Like it or not, I guess we're in this.
But nobody killed anybody. So I guess it could have been worse.
Advent is almost here. For absolutely the best Christmas and Advent music you will ever hear, pick up The Miserable Offenders' CD "Keepin' the Baby Awake" at the Farm's bookstore at http://www.geraniumfarm.org/. Well-known composer, world music performer and writer Ana Hernandez was part of the Offenders, together with the brilliant and very funny musician and writer Deborah Bly.
And Year One of the Daily Office lectionary begins again. If you use my Let Us Bless the Lord series of meditations for this nourishing form of daily prayer, it will be time to switch back to Volume One, Advent -Holy Week in Year One. Also available in the bookstore, as is my Advent-Christmas book Let Every Heart Prepare. And some other wonderful books and music. Check it out as you begin to consider your holiday shopping.