I showed up at my folks' place on Friday just in time to volunteer to take my mom and her “baby” to the vet—he needed to be checked out to see how he’s healed after his gender-attenuating surgery of a week ago. (I don't like my dad driving. He's 80 years old. He'd normally be the one to drive—not just mom—cuz taking the cat to the vet is, for my parents, a massively complex event, evidently requiring both a driver and a towel-wielding cat-handler.)
Naturally, when I arrived, my mom and pop and sister had managed to whip themselves into the usual neurotic/déjà-vu-ular anxiousness. The upshot: Mom had swaddled the poor Bugster deep within some enormous fluffy towel—an entombment that, alone, was surely enough to launch the heartiest of creatures into a Life of Neurosis.
I gestalted the situation and immediately announced that we “go now.” Off we went, mom with her charge huddled in the backseat of my Chrysler. At the PetSmart/Banfield, whilst awaiting the predictable verdict on the Bugster, I bought one of those circular plastic tube-things that encase a white ball. My mom had no idea what it was; she looked skeptical.
“It’s good,” I said. “Don’t worry, he’ll love this thing.”
Soon, the young man was brought out to us. “He checks out just fine,” said the vet. Everybody doted on him. "Cute!" they cooed.
We got back on the road, with my mom reassuring her “Osterhase” (Easter bunny) that, now, at long last, all is well, “you poor thing.”
“Mom, you know,” I suggested, “if you want a normal cat, you should try to act like everything is normal.”
“Maybe just let him loose. Or just stop holding him so tightly in that towel. –You know, act like things are fine, cuz they are, you know.”
“I don’t vant him to get avay!” said mom.
Eventually, back at the house, things got more or less back to normal. So I got out that plastic turbo-thingy and laid it on the floor near Bugsy’s favorite chair—i.e., mom’s TV chair—in the living room. Soon, the boy, guided by his tiny pink nose, zeroed in on it. At first, he seemed interested only in the round patch of rough cardboard in the center of the wheel. He sat on that and then started rolling around on it. He liked it.
Eventually, his tiny white tail bumped the ball—and it moved.
He stared at it. After a few seconds, he carefully batted it with his paw. It started rolling around in its tube. Bugsy was mesmerized.
Cats are unlike humans. Their hard-wiring is such that small objects of mouse- or bird-size are deeply attractive to them—especially if they are viewed from around other objects—trees, chair-legs, chunks of plastic, etc. Go figure.
I call it the "freak oblique." A cat will grab some little thing and then arrange the world such that the object in question is around a corner or behind some solid object, and almost beyond reach. Then he'll just go nuts grabbing at it, playing with it, then maybe disemboweling it.
The makers of this plastic ball turbo thingy understand cats.
After a while, Bugsy lay his head on the carpet, then reached around the plastic tube-wall to touch the barely-visible ball, then, upon making contact with it, jumped away and down the hallway and straight up the window blinds.
Freak oblique! Freak oblique!
Naturally, the Bugster came right back. He wanted more. I decided to join him in his play. We sat silently next to the tube and hovered over it. I sought to emulate Bugsy's attitude and concentration. He’d bat at the ball. Then I’d bat it back at him. (My actions were minimal. Minimalism is essential.)
This went on for a while. He liked our play, though he remained wary. (I'm not mom.) Soon, we were two kittens, buddies in Feline Funland, and it was all very tight and close. I felt special.
Eventually, I demonstrated my ability to flick the ball with such force that it spun quickly around in its tube--so quickly that it nearly became a blur. But Bugsy was up to the challenge of tracking it. His head followed the damned ball: left-right-left-right-left-right. Naturally, his furious head-shaking slowed as the ball’s orbit slowed. It was really something to see.
I burst out laughing. That caused him to run away. He didn’t come back. Oh my.
I caught up with him a few minutes later. He was being cradled by mom. “My tiny Heiny,” she purred. His eyes were shut.
“Looks like a Chinaman,” said dad.
“Yeah, I guess.” I said.