Raining Cats and… More Cats

Google “cat”, and you’ll get a return of 6.4 billion hits. Spend five seconds per hit and you’ll need a millennium to get through ’em all. That’s a thousand years on everything there is to know about cats. Your dog will think you’re nuts. Your cat, on the other hand, will wonder why you didn’t start your search sooner. Felis catus, after all, is more manipulative than we humans want to believe.

Something in the cosmos moved me to write about cats this week.  When I started this post (last week), the calendar just closed on National Black Cat Day (10/27) as well as National Cat Day (10/29).  Then my daughter relocated to Seattle, which involved two cars, her cat, and a whole lot of packing.  (Pretty sure half the packing was for the cat.)  Then Monday Night Football happened, and the video of a black cat eluding officials during the Giants-Cowboys game went viral.  Finally, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) spiced up its headlines with a piece called, “Should Your Cat Be Vegan?”

I think this cat-aclysm of events caused all other blog topics to step aside this week (again with the manipulation).  Maybe it was my daughter’s cat, a little upset I hadn’t written about her after several hundred posts.  More likely it was another WSJ article I’ve been saving from last April: “There Is Now Scientific Proof Your Cat Is Ignoring You”.  Now there’s a headline.  Talk about manipulation.  Assuming a little obedience school and training, you probably have your dog right where you want him.  Your cat?  Obedient?  Never.

Per the WSJ article, cats hear and recognize their names; they just choose to show no response.  When they do show a response it’s not for affection, but for potential reward, like petting or playing or food.  Jennifer Vonk, an animal cognition psychologist, says, “…we (humans) sort of reward them for doing what they want to do… they’re better at manipulating our behavior than vice versa.”  In other words, your dog wants to please you while your cat just wants to please itself.

Aside from persistent clawing (which can take down an upholstered chair faster than an army of serrated knives) I rather enjoy the company of cats.  They’re quiet.  They’re soft.  They’re cute when they’re little fluff balls rolling around the carpet playing with toys.  And they’re low maintenance, preferring to catnap or full-on sleep while you dutifully attend to their litter box and food bowl.  So it’s a wonder to learn (“…Scientific Proof…”) – despite their outward laziness – cats have the cognitive ability to do everything dogs can.  They just choose not to.  A little disturbing, no?

Dogs make six distinctive sounds: barking, whining, whimpering, and so on.  Cats – as if to one-up their canine competition – make seven, and they all mean different things.  Cats meow, purr, trill, chatter, yowl, hiss, and growl.  (Listen to every one of them here.)  If you’ve ever heard a cat chatter, it’s mildly disturbing, as if he’s on the verge of a paws-to-the-walls freak-out.  But if you ever hear a cat growl, it’s one of the most unsettling bass-voice attention-getters ever emitted from a small, carnivorous mammal.  My daughter’s cat growled while sitting on my lap once.  Small wonder I didn’t wet my pants.

Domesticated cats have a long history, dating back to 3000 years BC in Egypt or something like that.  They fare well whether “house” (dependent), “farm” (semi-dependent) or “feral” (fully independent).  They also have an impressive list of trivia bits.  A few of my favorites:

  • Cats spend up to 50 percent of their day grooming themselves.  Maybe humans should too.  Grooming tones down their scent to avoid predators, cools them down, and promotes blood flow.  Smart.
  • A group of kittens is called a kindle.  I’ll never look at my e-reader the same way again.  Also, a group of full-grown cats is called a clowder (hold the clams).
  • The average running feline can clock around 30 mph.  No wonder I’ll never catch my daughter’s cat after she “autographs” the upholstery.
  • Cats can’t taste sweets.  In other words, keep an eye on the steak but don’t worry about the big cake in the middle of the table.  Your cat doesn’t care.
  • Your cat has more bones than you do: 244 vs. 206.  No wonder they’re so nimble.
  • Cats sweat.  Through their paws, in fact.  They also pant, which should be the eighth distinctive (and disturbing) sound they make.
  • Disneyland hosts approximately 200 feral cats.  Their job, of course, is to control the amusement park’s rodent population.  Think about that the next time you’re deep inside the Haunted Mansion.

I learned a lot about cats as I prepared for this post.  I realize the whole “nine lives” concept simply means cats are smart enough to cheat death more than most animals. Including humans.  Maybe that’s why they ignore us.  We’re less intelligent.  And easier to manipulate.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Sleeping with the Fishes

With Chinese New Year and Mardi Gras celebrations going on this month, you can bet the decibel levels around the world are higher than normal.  Orbit the globe and all you’d have to do is step outside your rocket to catch the sounds of fireworks and blasting dance music.  In this “Year of the Pig”, I find it funny my zodiac animal is the ox.  By Chinese definition I’m “hardworking, intelligent, and reliable”.  But forget about my “oxen” qualities for now.  Today I want to explore my alter-identity as a dolphin.

(Work with me a little, okay? Don’t dump me at Sea World or a performance of “The Little Mermaid”; just hear me out.  My dolphin identity has more legs than my ox.)

First, a question.  How’s your sleep these days (er, these nights)?  Getting your 7-8 hours, are you?  Do you hit the pillow at night and next thing you know it’s sunshine and chirping birds?  Do you wake refreshed and ready to tackle the day? If it’s “yes” to every question, you and your body clock are finely tuned.  To spin it with science, you “respect your circadian rhythms”.  But here’s where it gets interesting.  Body clocks aren’t wound the same way person to person, nor are they set to the same time.  One size most definitely does not fit all.  We are Timexes, Seikos, Bulovas, and Rolexes.  So which chronotype are you?

Chrono-what, you say?  If I steered this post towards a biology lesson, you’d start nodding off right about now (not the way to treat your body clock).  Instead, let’s keep it simple.  Chronotype is essentially your preference for waking early or sleeping in.  We all have a degree of one or the other, and we’ve had it since birth.

Let’s find out more about the “animal” within.  Take the following test from Dr. Michael Breus (“America’s Sleep Doctor!”) – thepowerofwhenquiz.com – and less than a minute from now you’ll know your chronotype.  You’ll also understand more about your propensity for sleep.  No question – I hesitated when I came up dolphin (c’mon, Dr. Breus – I could’ve been a lion, a bear, or a wolf!), but admittedly the description is spot-on.  I’m a light sleeper.  Naps don’t help me.  Attention to detail impacts my productivity (and my sleep).  I hit the sack at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.  That’s me.  And that’s the dolphin chronotype.

[Note: the Breus test wants your email to get your animal.  Do it, and then unsubscribe.  Otherwise the good doctor spams your inbox with books, courses, supplements, and other stuff.  You just want your animal.]

To test the validity of chronotypes, I took the Breus test again… posing as my wife.  If my answers for her were correct, she’s a bear (the most common chronotype).  She’s not a light sleeper (Mardi Gras could be booming down the hall and she wouldn’t hear a thing).  She works hard in the day, relaxes at night, and often goes to bed later than I do.  She can sleep later into the morning if she so chooses.  She needs a couple of hours to be fully alert after she rises.  That’s my wife.  And that’s the bear chronotype.

Unfortunately, chronotypes are not as dependable as they sound.  For one, they shift as we age.  For two, they can’t always be respected (i.e. jobs and lifestyle drive us off our body clocks).  Finally, sleep is influenced by myriad factors having nothing to do with chronotypes (i.e. diet and exercise; light levels and sound levels; your dog, who always insists on going out at 3am.)  But chronotypes are built into your DNA, so it behooves you to get to know them a little better.

One last wink of sleep trivia before we part.  You know those nights when you wake up unexpectedly, and you feel completely, utterly out of it?  Like, you can’t even see straight, let alone carry a conscious thought – as if you haven’t slept at all?  That moment is called your circadian nadir; when your drive for wakefulness is at its lowest point.  It happens about two hours before your natural wake-up time.  For me – a dolphin – it’s not as disorienting a moment as most.  But I still feel pretty out of it.  After all, I’ve been sleeping with the fishes.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Can a Night Owl Become a Morning Person?”

Rumble in the Jungle

Last Friday, a Miami prep school put on a senior prom.  The party included the usual accoutrements: decorated tables surrounding a darkened dance floor, strobe lights sweeping in rhythm to the blaring music, and the students themselves, dressed in never-be-seen-in-again styles and colors.  The theme (there’s always a theme at prom) was “Welcome to the Jungle”, played out through the room’s exotic backdrops and fabricated trees.  Somewhere during the festivities, a pair of fire-eaters put on a show.  And eying everything that moved, from a cage at the edge of the dance floor?  One extremely agitated, very-much-alive, time-for-dinner, full-grown Bengal tiger.

    

I had to watch the video (here) to believe the headline, but yes, snopes.com – true story.  A tiger went to prom.  Judging from the size of the cage and the attitude of the animal, it’s no wonder the authorities were all over this one, from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission to PETA.  The students – er, administrators – will “have some ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy”.  For starters, where the heck did Principal Pugh find a Bengal tiger for rent?  And then, did Pugh and his staff really think students would want to see said tiger up close and personal? My date wouldn’t have been impressed as I peed in my tuxedo pants.

Prom wasn’t always this way.  Once upon a time it was entertainment enough to simply go to a high school gathering off high school grounds.  Prom was more about the one time you got to borrow Dad’s fancy car; the one time you could be at one of your town’s finer hotels as a minor; the one time you could stay out past curfew (oops; discovered that last one wasn’t actually true after the fact).  Prom was simply dinner and a dance; 95% perspiration and 100% awkward moments.

I can’t remember how I asked my date to prom.  These days, the asking is an event all of its own.  “Promposals” – as the ladies now expect – are supposed to be “creative, elaborate, and over-the-top” invites.  A Breaking Bad fan convinced Bryan Cranston to film a promposal for his date.  Another guy changed his name and photo in his date’s cell phone, so when he called her, the promposal popped up on the screen.  Yet another had a pizza delivered to his date’s house, with “PROM?” spelled out in pepperoni.  A phone call just isn’t enough to get a “yes” anymore.

Proms go back a long way; well over a hundred years.  Proms were originally deemed “times of firsts”, as in first “adult” social event for a teenager, first time taking the car out after dark, first real dress-up affair, first ride in a limo, first formal photo with a date, and so on.  Today, firsts happen a lot sooner, don’t they?  Maybe that’s why we add tigers and fire-eaters to quicken the pulse.  Or hold our prom in the East Room of the White House, as Susan Ford (daughter of the late President) did alongside her Holton-Arms classmates in 1975.

Photo courtesy of Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library

Here’s a bit of prom trivia: the word is short for promenade.  Promenade means “a stroll or a walk, especially in a public place, as for pleasure or display”.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  Further, promenade comes from the Latin word prominare, which means “to drive (animals) onward, with shouts”.  With a nod to Miami – makes sense, doesn’t it?

(Note: PROM also stands for “programmable read-only memory”; a form of computing memory where the setting of each bit is locked.  Makes me think of teenage hormones, especially at prom.  Locked/loaded – nothing you can do to change any of the settings.)

Not to rain on this parade – er, promenade – but every time I think of prom I can’t help but think of the movie “Carrie” – the original version of course, with Sissy Spacek.  Still terrifying after all these years (and I can still hear her mother’s haunting scream, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!!!”).  At least now I’ll just have nightmares about hungry tigers.