Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bugsy, the ping-pong cat

     Well, it’s been quite some time since I’ve mentioned Bugsy, the SuperKitten. Not sure why that is, ‘cause I see him all the time. We’ve become pals.
     My old folks have seriously bonded with the little guy, and that’s great. He sleeps with ‘em, leaves ‘em little gifts (ping-pong balls, finger puppets, kibble, etc.) in bed, and generally plays around them all day, like a monkey in a wax museum, when he isn’t snoozing or observing the birds outside, and there are lots of those out here in the wilds of the Santa Ana Mountains.
     Bugsy approached me warily at first, mostly because I’m large, I suppose (6’3”). (He's small; under 1 foot.) But I knew he’d come to accept me if I played with him enough. I know cats.
     At some point, I bought the little guy some goofy pink, ping-pong-ballesque cat toy that lit up upon being touched, and he seemed to like it, so, after a while, I just skipped the bells and whistles and just got ‘im plain, white ping-pong balls, which come cheap, in packages of six, at Walmart.
      It’s amazing how a home absorbs balls. At this point, I’ve bought maybe 24 pp balls, and they’ve all been deployed in efforts to entertain young Bugsy, but only 8 or 9 of ‘em are left, so there’s, like 13 balls hidden somewhere, I know not where. Some day, I’ll stumble across the Bauer ping-pong ball depository, and it will be a grand ping-pong day.
     At first, Bugsy would happily chase after these balls, but, pretty soon, that didn’t do it for him; he’d just sit and watch ‘em bounce, doing nothing. I could see his point.
     I had to improvise. I discovered that he went wild (usually) for balls that came to be physically near him but behind something—a chair or table leg, a wall, a container of cat grass, etc. That'll make sense to students of cat psychology. It’s the old feline “freak oblique.”
     Not long ago, our “ping-pong wars” evolved to this: I’d bounce ping-pong balls gently toward Bugsy as he hid behind his cat grass container. Bugsy would then respond alternately as though he were protecting his grass from these dastardly, mouse-like spheres or as though the grass were a shield to protect him from said hideous white vermin-orbs. Go figure. Cats are different.
     The Bugster has quickly developed his ball volleying skills. Half of the time, he'll smack a ball straight back at me, like Arthur Ashe. But I'm accustomed to cat prodigies. I'll let you know when he starts doing my taxes.
     You know cats. Once in a while, Bugsy'll get all excited and furiously smack a ball all over the house, with lightening-quick moves, until the dang thing comes to rest somewhere, whereupon he regards it with complete indifference and abandons it. I'm not surprised by such lunacy, but my folks, who've never really been cat people, stare agog. "He's some kind of genius!" they exclaim. "Vee should call ze TV people!"
     Yeah. The TV people.
     Occasionally, I manage to plop a ball smack dab into the grass container, and this, evidently, is an event of great moment in the Mind of Bugsy. He’ll get excited and then struggle to remove the ball from the container, managing only to shove it more deeply inside the tangle of grass and roots. (He’s still a kitten, and his “intuitive physics” is spotty.) I’ve given him some suggestions, ball-removal-wise, but, his manifest intelligence to the contrary notwithstanding, thus far, it ain’t happenin’, and he struggles. But he seems to like that.
     Cats.
     Today, during our play, he suddenly moved the game venue away from his famous cat-grass corner and over to my old dad’s Frankenstein boots, which were sitting on the floor—massive, black, silent—near the dining room table. OK, so I gathered handfuls of balls and I started bouncing 'em toward the boots. Success! Bugsy loved it.

Bugsy: mad skills
     I’m getting pretty good aiming these pp balls, and, about every tenth ball—which is launched into a gentle bounce from a distance of about ten feet—would plunk inside a boot. This, too, is a phenomenon of great moment to the Bugsian Mind; he would stare momentarily, then pounce on the boot, diving inside it, energetically attempting to retrieve the ball, but with little success. (These Frankenstein boots are deep.) Eventually, I’d help the little guy out, instructively pouring out the ball ("See?"), but such displays are plainly unsatisfactory to him. It is as though he were observing a magic trick, unfathomable. WTF!
     These games are great fun and Bugsy looks forward to them, as do I. What can I say. We’ve got a good thing going. Where will it go from here? Pinball? Jai alai? Arm wrestling?
     Ma told me that Bugsy occasionally leaves these ping-pong balls in their bed as “gifts.” I said, “How is that possible? Ping-pong balls are smooth; there’s nothing for his little teeth to grab onto!”
     “He gets the balls up there somehow,” she said, annoyed. "Maybe with his hands." Well sure.
     A week or so ago, I witnessed the feat with my own eyes. Based on my brief observation, it seems that the young fellow employs his entire mouth, trapping a ball in his jaw, thereby obviating friction and grabbage. That's some technique. My guess is that, occasionally, a ball gets stuck there, and he spends some tense moments attempting to dislodge it. Oh, the humanity—er, felinity!
     What on Earth, or beyond it, could be better than a Bugsy?
     Freakin' nothin’. That’s what.

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