ALLEY CATS AND NATURE’S SIMPLICITY
A high-fashion model’s resplendence is a throw of the dice. Preordained markings, a pansy face with a nimbus of fur, contours as sylphidine as a model’s belong to designer cats. Not to moggies.
Does our admiration for pedigreed cats and for everything else finely crafted by visionaries turn us away from what doesn’t bear our signature? Does our inventiveness blind us to the smaller perfections Nature designs on her own, without us?
Within a sane political framework, the human drive to create and improve has made civilization possible, rewarding us with a high standard of living and an immense cultural legacy.
Predating Chauvet by 15,000 years and more - there are traces of culture that nearly double that time span - our paradoxical flair for creation is also destructive. What began as primitive warfare has reached its goal of global extinction. Economic expansion shrinks and degrades natural resources. With a reach beyond that of the hybridizers,’ human ingenuity fingers more than chromosomes: it shapes our behavior. Vendors of nonessentials permeate every aspect of our lives, inflaming our wants for their commodities. In a throwaway culture, the frugal Amish who live off their land and repair their possessions are rock-solid solvent, immune to what erstwhile, rampant consumers have undergone in the free-fall, which some economists see as lasting another seven to fifteen years.
Examples of overconsumption are rife, but one will serve as illustration. As costly as the armed forces Moloch and end-of-life care, romantic attraction gouges the incomes of young and old, lining the pockets of those who convince them of all the things they need to succeed in this endeavor.
When wooing the hen, the bowerbird - an anomaly in the avian world - entices her with pretties: pebbles, flowers, eye-catching snippets of this and that. In like manner, market-driven convention decrees that a suitor regale his beloved or quarry with gifts, haute cuisine and entertainment, that he whisk her away to weekend resorts - a perk for the proprietor if her gentle upbringing mandates her own bed and bath down the hall.
In turn, the beloved rifles her savings bagging the man in her cross-hairs, luring him on with cosmetics, fragrances, cantilevered silicon implants, botoxified lips, a fetching wardrobe, scented candles, soft music CDs, gourmet dinners with blazing desserts she’s planned and toiled for days to prepare for his gustatory pleasure - and ultimate defeat.
Leaving nothing to chance, she knows the importance of feigning an interest - if none exists and never will - in his mission in life, his passion for sports, his hobbies. Consecrating herself to this end, she buys rock-climbing gear, snorkeling paraphernalia and Spandex costumes she can’t squeeze into until she’s had her thighs vacuumed down to the sinews, a crippling ordeal that can set her back $8,000.
While she’s weaving away so hard and fast she chafes her little spinnerets, the man is still torching his money non-stop, not only on her, but on dancing lessons, body-building workouts, on an ‘image’ car and - if he’s hit 30 - on potency pills that turn everything pale blue. Even the sun looks like a dead grape. So far, so good. Cash is flowing out of their hands into the corporate coffers.
And that’s just part of it.
Forget Lawrence Welk and the Wednesday evening Bible Study Koffee Klatch. Knife artists are carving grannies into swain magnets, cinching their pouches and hitching their wattles for $6,000, $10,000, $20,000 and up, a Road to Romance Rejuvenation that’s rocket fuel for their secret cravings.
Truman came over for a two-week stay with these very rich people in Aegina. This massive, huge house. Extraordinary woman who had a total body lift. I’ve never seen anything like it. She’s seventy and looks ten. Incredible. [Truman Capote, by George Plimpton, quoting David Jackson]
That is, if the surgeons know what they’re doing: a three-inch balloon pulled over a skull creates an effect younger than springtime compared to some of these geriatric lifts. Yet the seniors press on, having been told that 85 is the new 58. A sales pitch no longer disdained as uncouth, cosmetic surgeons flourish their skills on the ether waves and plaster their ads in newspapers and magazines, showing what they can do for a jaw draped in Turkeyville crepe (their ads aimed at women, since male sag is Hunkville ‘crag,’ as we all know).
Meanwhile, the marketing hacks are slopping the flames with kerosene left and right, churning out their how-to instructions in whiz-bang romance that walk us through the ‘friends first’ tactic, the ‘sensitive and caring’ maneuver, the ABCs of how to launch a ‘relationship’ (never mind if the ‘ship’ is a sieve with a wheel that falls off), the lowdown on reducing one’s partner - the term conjures up sheepskin chaps and a ten-gallon Stetson - to honking rapture.
This self-help material is published for teens and young moderns, the divorced and bereft yearning to dip their toe in the action, for wobbly gents with a yen for girleens and fiery crones itching to lay their mottled clutches on boy-toys.
Computer dating services rock. Way to go! Plates, plaques and figurines commemorating the vows of the royalty sell by the millions. So do tabloids when celebrities revel in smorgasbord hookups and fairytale nuptials. And by the billions when the thrill sours.
But unless we all abandon ourselves to serial whoopee - which the marketers want (brisk turnovers and fresh beginnings pump up the sales) - here’s the sad part.
Luscious lingerie is for lovers. It isn’t for spouses. Huntresses wear seven-inch heels and dabs of black lace with Paphian cutouts only a man with an iron constitution can look at without keeling over. Unless they’re hyper-vigilant, wives have moved on to shapeless sneakers. Sensible hammocks with sturdy, rubberized shoulder straps. Baggy size 40 ribbed-cotton drawers with reinforced crotches.
What does this mean? The end of the road for the hammer-toe and bunion designers. Doom for the thong trade. Gloom for the ‘bustier’ industry.
…encased in the foundation garment, I resembled nothing so much as a test tube with something bubbling out the top. [The Egg and I, Betty MacDonald]
As a finishing touch, champagne and truffled Chateaubriand are for billing and cooing. For ninety percent of the population, post-coital fare is a can of pop and Hen Nuggets with catsup. A near-fatal blow for the cordon bleu restaurateurs.
The sale of nonessentials revolves around seduction and romance. Weddings and breakups are gold mines, and money is spent in hundreds of other ways during our lifetime. But no spending spree is more wildly untrammeled than that lavished on what the marketing hipsters call ‘chemistry.’ In their fury to sell, this is why they plunge into the fray with their dating advice and image enhancers, their spangled threads and night-on-the-town extravaganzas.
To make matters worse, several other problems threaten their survival. From high-rolling sales to a dead slump, two versions of romance leave them ashen-hued.
Serial whoopee is left in the dust by one of these versions, which barrels along at a dizzying clip and is showcased in books that blend bleak humor with pillar-of-salt petrifaction for readers less worldly than the authors. To compare the antics described in their pages to those of the Trobiand Islanders’ is an upper left hook to the Islanders. With their glamour careers and graduate degrees, as portrayed by the authors, the heroines’ quest for romance is Hog Heaven for the distilleries. But what does it do for the rest of the economy?
The novels of D.H. Lawrence describe the marketers’ second nightmare, one worse than the first, which at least ups the stock in corn squeezings and rubber plantations.
In The Rainbow, on an evening in spring, Tom Brangwen puts on his best coat and stands in front of the looking glass, trimming his beard. To the wrenching despair of Tillie, his housekeeper, he walks out the door and into the orchard to pick a few daffodils. As only he can, Lawrence immerses his reader in the vernal spring twilight with wind-shattered blossoms blowing like snowflakes from the trees, the watery fragrance of daffodils and their slippery sap on Tom’s fingers as he breaks the stems.
Since that long-ago evening, hybridizers have turned daffodils into ruffled blobs hefty enough to fend off an assailant. Compared to these pompons, Tom’s slender trumpets are less than they might be, as is the tryst about to unfold as he strides through the meadow to the vicarage of his soon-to-be betrothed.
Deplorably less, in the marketers’ eyes, as his meeting with Lydia has nothing to do with a ‘dating scene,’ a ‘dating game,’ an ‘affair,’ a ‘fling.’ For starters, there’s no alluring inner and outerwear to pave the way. No ‘vibrant red frock’ guaranteed to ensnare ‘Mr. Right.’ No comme il faut night on the town. Nothing with a price tag.
Tom’s bouquet is as wanting in what matters as his amatory prowess. When he asks the young widow to marry him - he blurts out the question moments after he steps into the parlor - she shrinks away, bludgeoned and mute, murmurs a denial, but then takes a step forward, her mind fogged in, solemnly offers to kiss him, and reposes herself in his lap. Instead of flying into a clinch, they sink into a primordial silence as wind booms in the chimney and the moon scuds through silver storm clouds.
It was rather splendid, to be so ignored by her, whilst she lay against him, and he lifted her with his breathing. He did not interfere with her. He did not even know her. It was so strange that she lay there with her weight abandoned upon him. He was silent with delight.
There’s no honed technique for ‘making the move’ towards a juicy return on an evening’s investment in dinner, fine wine and the theater. For these is no investment. No ‘scoring.’ No scoreboard. Every slick ploy and artifice touted as needful by marketing mavens is missing. Yet this may be one of the most authentic love scenes ever written.
And the dawn blazed in them, their new life came to pass, it was beyond all conceiving good…
Compared to the curvilinear whirl we glory in 160 years afterwards, these lovers are so far beyond square, they are cubistic. Tom ambles home in the storm, and within a few weeks he and Lydia are married in a country wedding.
Rising from the depths to the shallows, where it scrapes bottom, Lawrence’s novel follows the Brangwens for 45 years, ending in the granddaughter’s rebellion against the coarsening effects of industrialization.
To what warehouse of dead unreality was she herself confined?
…What good was Anglo-Saxon when one only learned it to answer examination questions in order that one should have a higher commercial value later on? She was sick with this long service at the inner commercial shrine. Yet what else was there? Was life all this, and this only? Everywhere, everything was debased to the same service. Everything went to produce vulgar things to encumber life…
…She felt very strange, in this crowd of strange people, uneasy, as if she had no privacy. She was not used to these homogeneous crowds. She was afraid.
She felt different from the rest of them, with their hard, easy, shallow intimacy, that seemed to cost them so little...
She did not know how she suffered…She was healthy and exorbitantly full of interest. So she played tennis and learned golf, she rowed out and swam in the deep sea, and enjoyed it very much indeed, full of zest.
Yet all the time, among those others, she felt shocked and wincing…exposed to the hard, brutal, material impact of the rest of the people.
Yet the mercantile drive that Lawrence detests is part of the human creative drive that transfigures life.
There’s nothing evil in needing money. Everyday wares and luxury items, technical marvels and guidance from our ‘in the swim’ experts need people to buy them. But would the economy sink if its goods had more substance than show? Would it go down if consumers chipped away enough of the encrustation to question its value, as balanced against true human achievement, much of it crucial to our lives, physical and spiritual?
From show to essentials, art exalts the commonplace. A painting by Rembrandt is oil and ground minerals brushed onto fiber with animal bristles and genius, a combination transmuting base substances into gold, real and metaphorical. With their tubes and alembics, alchemists struggled in vain to achieve what artists have always achieved.
Mankind, given the leisure and talent, scales the heights in its striving for beauty, like Hemingway’s leopard. The pyramids and the Parthenon, Angkor Wat, Gothic cathedrals with their rose windows, Ruskin’s jeweled prose in praise of the architecture of Venice, the world’s religions, all the immortal, doomed-to-oblivion books and music, the timeless ragas for sitar and tabla (of which the novelist Han Suyin wrote a soaring description), the masterpieces of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Berlioz, Bartok, Britten – all were wrought by the fragile, besmirched, God-aspiring, here today and gone tomorrow human race. If some or most of these works are challenging, much of the music is irresistible: Debussy’s shimmering harmonies, every note of the somber, impassioned Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s symphonic poems like mist on the moors fading into antiquity, Honegger’s ‘Summer Pastorale,’ Bonfá’s ‘Manhã de Carnaval’ - a weeping cypress of sound he composed for the film ‘Black Orpheus.’
Science, humanity’s second milepost, imperils the planet as it opens a world of possibilities. Whether billions of people are a good thing, hybridizers helped trigger the population explosion by transforming and transmogrifying animals and plants.
Ethnobotanists study the foods aboriginal peoples hunted and gathered. Many Native Americans, north and south of the border, were skilled plantsmen who supplemented their crops with wild foods. Along coastal North America the camas tuber was a staple, as were Oregon grapes, salal-huckle-blue- and blackberries. Indigenous peoples also prized nettles, a nutritional powerhouse with a flavor enjoyed as far afield as Scandinavia.
Before the advent of hybridizers, Lilliputian ears of corn, narrow-leafed lettuce with white, bitter latex-like sap, Queen Ann’s Lace (the original carrot), bead-sized apples and puny potatoes were the ancestors of today’s harvests.
Luther Burbank, a native of Massachusetts who lived most of his life in California, devoted himself to producing new hybrids, cross-breeding, growing and burning thousands, saving only the rare mutations he had envisioned and labored to refine. He developed many hundreds of grains, vegetables, fruits and flowers, including novelties such as his spineless cactus and milk-white blackberries.
While the world would starve with Euell Gibbons’s method of gathering edibles, wild plants can make up in spectacular flavors what they lack in size. Orchard cider is to wild what cologne is to perfume. Every summer seasonal pickers and connoisseurs brave murderous brambles to fill their buckets with blackberries, carry them home or sell them to restaurants that buy them for $20.00 a gallon, clamor for more, and bake them into vindictively seedy, starchy pies they sell for $4.50 a slice to tourists. But where there isn’t a profit motive, these wildlings are heaven when made into ‘leather,’ juice or syrup by reverential berry-lovers. A taste-treat for man, bears and bees for millennia, they’re packed to the drupelets with Vitamin C, decent traces of Vitamin A, potassium, protein, fiber and tongue-twisting flavenoids and antioxidants thought to slow aging and reduce the risk of cancer.
Domestic flowers and crops reflect the tremendous patience of hybridizers. To name one example, their rainbow roses have reached the summit of Parnassus. Yet Edward MacDowell wrote a sonnet for piano in homage to the simplicity of the wild rose. Whether pedigreed cats are more prone to disease than alley cats, hybrid roses are besieged by such an array of worms and plant lice, rust, smut and mildew, sprays to combat their assaults taint the seed pods, and poison birds and benign bugs.
From this sinkhole of ailments to robust health, wild roses are not only free for the taking as a stray cat, a kettle of hips (their flavor can vary with the variety) simmered in water, pressed through a strainer and lightly sweetened with organic sugar yields a murky, rust-red brew containing more vitamin C than citrus – i.e., if the kettle is stainless steel - is loaded with iron, brimming with nutrients no thinking person wants to miss out on, and fondles the taste buds with a flavor so jasminy-tea-like, so pruney-plummy-lemony-sun-drenched-summery-rosy, you’ll toss back a quart in two minutes flat and quake to lay hands on a hundred acres to pluck and freeze so you can quaff this Beulah Land nectar everyday to the end - a dim and distant end, be it known, as it may keep you chugging along, free as a bird of aches and pains, into the twilight zone of terminal codgerhood and Mother McCree pixilation.
And maybe beyond. Scientists are telling us that aging stops before we do - that a Chuck Yeager oldster who’s headed south through decades of buffeting finally reaches the South Pole of Flab, crashes through the Methuselah barrier and into a frictionless orbit. Bodies in motion like to remain so, and Struldbrugs with gumption glide serenely into a realm of ageless, fathomless Time and Space. A clunk held together with baling wire can likewise break through the barrier and cruise into near-infinity. Both implode at some point, but far beyond their falling-apart stage. If parents can do this, can their cats? One website recommends a daily teaspoon of hip juice.
Before trying this, though, you may wish to consult ‘Rosehipswebmd. Even cabbage has been said to contain more than 20 carcinogenic, mutagenic and clastogenic compounds. If this Johns Hopkins study is still around, it’s hidden away, as cabbage is lauded, these past few years, as a bruiser of a bodyguard in shielding us from cancer. Similarly, skull-and-crossbones coconut oil, in its new incarnation, is ‘heart-healthy’ to the nth.
As for wildlings in general, not only are manmade roses as beautiful as they are delicate, ‘think-pink’ breeders, inspired by their faith that white needs assistance, have turned their talents to lilies-of-the-valley.
Years ago in rural Sweden there was a rye field surrounded by woods, and in its midst was a circular ‘island’ surrounded by a sea of gold stubble. Constable, who blended an unsurpassed palette of greens from blues and yellows, might have admired the gradations of green in this make-believe island crowned with birch trees, its rocky outcroppings gemmed with a living mosaic of malachite and jade. A path through the island led to a grotto of ferns and wild ‘Liljeconvalj,’ fairy white bells in a green twilight dusky as that of a sunken cathedral, their whiteness spectral and incandescent among the foliage. Shock suggests pain, but a shock of this kind was a midsummer’s dream to senses already dazed by the fragrance. Plastic flamingo pink wouldn’t have worked in this context.
One last wildling deserves commendation. Fish oil can be laced with contaminants. But purslane, a global weed, has a stellar profile minus the PCBs and mercury. Its pea-sized leaflets are freighted with virtues too many to list, especially Omega-3, the nutrient found in fish oil. It’s zesty in salads and sandwiches if you don’t over-chew – just crunch it once or twice and swallow, as you would okra. It’s easy to transplant, and is happy in a tub or its own plot in the garden. It grows all summer, is healthful for you and possibly your cat. (But check the Internet.)
From hybrids and wildlings to portraits of people living in and out of the mold, artists throughout history have painted persons of distinction in opulent surroundings, notably Sargent, whose women clients were creamy-skinned, languid-eyed socialites, half reclining amid potted palms and Persian rugs. But after years of turning out portraits, he finally returned to landscapes. In contrast to Wikipedia’s account, at least one book describes his having confided to his family that painting his clients’ ‘mugs’ wore him out.
From Sargent’s haunts, Andrew Wyeth esteemed Miss Olson, a native of Maine and friend of three decades he loved for her spirited personality. Unable to walk - she rejected a wheelchair and crawled on the ground or dragged herself from room to room, leaning on a kitchen chair - she was steeped in Yankee pride, is said to have supported herself with her needlework, and treated her friend to her home-cooking. Yet she and her brother lived close to the bone in an age-weathered, desolate, stately old house, surrounded by fields overlooking the Atlantic.
Wyeth liked to spend time with Miss Olson. Did he paint her as often as he did Helga in later years? Probably not, for he painted and drew nearly 250 portraits of Helga. But he painted Miss Olson again and again over the years, without turning away in boredom or disgust.
With their upswept coiffures, their diaphanous gowns and ropes of pearls, Sargent’s society matrons and maidens were rarefied emblems of grace and culture, of old and parvenu riches. Had Miss Olson the funds and perceived a need, she might have sought help in improving her appearance. And she would have been more alluring in silk and a marabou boa than in her thin housedresses.
But none of this mattered. He painted Christina sprawled in a meadow. Christina seated in her doorway, gazing out at the fog. Christina cradling a moggie kitten. And for all her bad hair days, Wyeth’s Christina is America’s Mona Lisa.
City-dwellers who lived in a house with a handsome décor and every amenity might not respond in this manner to his art, nor is there reason they should: his paintings evoke differing interpretations. Some see them as ominous, others as sentimental or lacking in depth. And many critics consider him one of our three or four greatest American artists of modern times.
But if they grew up in a farmhouse from an earlier century, his scenes of silence and solitude stir memories buried beneath a layer of what they learned when they ceased to be children: the ‘just-so’ disposition of things, the standards of appropriate dress and appropriate looks. His art kindles something deeper and earlier than their penchant for Bauhaus leather, glass and chrome, for stainless steel and granite kitchens, color-coordinated bed linens, shaven lawns, brilliant flowers - all the trappings of taste.
They love his sepia-grays and old golds - the colors of photogravures in an album - his aged houses that sheltered generations of farmers and sea captains. For they look at these scenes and feel a dawning of memory at the sight of a conch shell sitting alone on a sea chest, at a lace curtain rippled by sea wind. Pot-bound and arthritic, Miss Olson’s kitchen geraniums are more restful to them than the studied effect of tropical foliage in a stately jardinière. With their high-powered lives and high-powered mowers, those who love Wyeth look at his empty fields of grass and feel again what they had forgotten – the heartbeat of life when it isn’t ceaselessly tinkered with by developers, hucksters and trend-setters mongering their beautiful, wearisome clutter.
…to see the human figure in all Things is man’s disease; To see the inhuman God is our health. [Robinson Jeffers]
A complement to Wyeth’s paintings is Chapter I of Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native (also on the Internet), his Egdon Heath a tranquil reprieve from the Butchart approach, as subdued in its tints as Wyeth’s landscapes, both untouched by the bustle of interventionists who dislike the non-human as alienating, a spur to recasting what is beyond them into whatever is showy enough to bedazzle the viewer or prod his lust for acquisition.
But granting that, by hook or crook, we can obtain some daily or weekly glimpses of Nature free from masonry and pavements, it seems that the best way of deriving lasting enjoyment from such glimpses is to simplify one’s pleasure to the extremest limit possible. By this I mean that it is always wise to avoid show-places and choose for your excursions into the country the simplest and most natural scenery you can find. To a cultured mind no scenery is ordinary, and such a mind will always prefer solitude in an unassuming landscape to crowds of people at some famous ‘inspirational’ resort [The Meaning of Culture, John Cowper Powys]
The gift for transforming a vision into tangible works that enrich and delight is one of humanity’s most redeeming characteristics. But it’s crass to conclude that Nature unimproved by man has no value of its own, that Albrecht Dürer’s patch of weeds is paltry compared to a Dutch master’s tulips and roses, a sumptuous still-life of buds and tendrils drooping from a king’s ransom, silver-gilt urn.
From paintings to cats, here are some health problems of Persians.
Shortness of breath, malformed tear ducts, entropion (everted eyelashes caused by inward-rolling eyelids), dystocia (abnormal labor), a 12.5 year life expectancy, up to a 29.2 percent mortality rate in kittens, partly from stillbirths, 36-49 percent rate of polycystic kidney disease (inherited, multiple fluid-filled cysts causing kidney failure at an average age of seven), hypertrophic cardiomypathy (common in all cats, but probably hereditary in Persians: a thickening of the heart muscle, poor relaxation and filling ability), progressive retinal atrophy (accompanied by cataracts that culminate in blindness), basal cell carcinoma (common in older cats, affixed to skin of head, neck and shoulders, rarely penetrates fascia, and rarely metastasizes), Chédiak-Higashi Syndrome (albinism, unsteady gait, prolonged bleeding, hematomas, chronic infections, cross- and squint-eyed, cataracts, organ failure), deafness, anemia, peripheral neuropathy (weakness and loss of motion in legs, dizziness, seizures, possible gangrene), hip dysplasia (femur slips out of socket), malocclusion (‘bad bite’), seborrhea (overgrooming of scaly, itchy, greasy skin), dermatophytosis (ringworm), pyoderma (bacterial infections, extreme irritation, pustules and lesions), dermatitis (itching, inflammation, crusty bumps on skin), portosystemic shunt (liver unable to perform metabolic functions because of abnormal blood vessels from intestinal tract to liver), diaphragmatic hernia (congenital or caused by injury: tear in muscular sheath separating abdomen from chest cavity, resulting in weight loss, vomiting, bloating, leakage of abdominal fluids into lungs), systemic lupus erythematosus (anemia, facial lesions, alopecia, nasal erosion, numerous other painful symptoms), alpha-mannosidosis (damages brain, kidneys and liver, progressives skeletal deformities, apathy and dementia), coloboma ( a hole in the eye, or a notched or missing eyelid), lacrimal punctal asplasia (obstruction of tear ducts causing overflow of tears), corneal sequestrum (supporting tissue of cornea degenerates, causing black or brown scab, declining vision, infected open wound), cataracts, urinary tract disease and cryptorchidism (undescended testicles).
To counterbalance these negatives, Siamese cats are reputed to suffer from even more maladies than other breeds. But these problems may target pushed-to-the-limit Corinthians, because an Ionic old apple-head can be nicely preserved at age 20, with excellent hearing, wits intact, a normal appetite and digestion, the physical grace - when batting his toys - to leap and twirl like Baryshnikov, a kindly and mellow disposition paired with a deadly sense of turf that convinces male cats twice his size and two-tenths his age not to risk life and limb by trespassing in his domain.
Yet wildlings and mongrels supposedly have fewer health problems than purebreds. Not that purity of lineage, unless it’s artificial, jeopardizes health. Homogeneity in the wild may persist for thousands of years without a decline in vigor. Though frequently inbred, lookalike wildlings appear as healthy as gene-puddle cheetahs – though the cheetahs’ future is admittedly precarious. Less inbred than they are, lions still look as cookie-cuttered as dandelions. But if laymen are puzzled, geneticists know why nature’s purebreds thrive over vast reaches of time, why wildlings, for all their ostensible sameness, possess a genetic diversity lacking in manmade, often more fragile, high-maintenance cultivars.
Despite the risks of over-inbreeding, fanciers pay hundreds and thousands of dollars for pedigreed cats, although the morality of their purchase is easy to question in a world filled with unimaginable suffering, human and animal. If every surplus dollar were donated to a good cause, would it end the plight? For animals, no. Humanitarians claim it would end human suffering to some degree, though behaviorists might counter that the homo homini lupus compulsion is hard-wired, and ecologists that drought and other climate-related disasters are spreading and irreversible. The only opinion offered here is that works of art - animate or inanimate - including the simplest, useful objects, can bring durable pleasure without a need to display them.
But from a natural love of beauty and usefulness to invidious swank, do purebred cats have that much clout as status symbols? Art is valued, in part, because the splendor of Nature, free for all to enjoy, leaves unfulfilled the competitive urge to possess what others do not – but might like to. It’s normal to want to out-do the Joneses, and the northwest Native American potlatch was one of the most grotesque displays of this innate drive.
Barring chimps in tuxedos, it also may be that the pendulum is swinging away from ostentation. Stretch limousines, ermine and ice have a faint aura of nouveau riche-tacky-naïve, the Tinsel-Town gaud S.J. Perelman immortalized. It’s happened that the old guard elite favor plutocrat-chic: unpretentious apparel and Tom and Ray ‘geezer cars.’
Nor does showiness always succeed.
Several years ago, The Wilson Quarterly published an essay about the beau monde’s frustration in trying to flaunt their possessions, cheap imitations of which are mass-produced overnight and snapped up by consumers of humble means: green glass emerald rings, affordable imitations of their bridal raiment.
Of course the analogy fails in that a purebred animal isn’t an imitation. It’s a paragon reflecting years of a breeder’s skill and justified pride of achievement. Is any dog more beautiful than a Borzoi? Can a moggie compete in appearance with a purebred cat? Can the average woman compete with a Balenciaga model?
And yet it is true that cats of mixed breed are always winsome and often remarkably beautiful, many sporting one-of-a-kind colorations. Picture a moggie with a dorsal Rorschach: mirrored splashes of molten copper swirled with cream, the wet-on-wet edges melding into fawn and vanilla, a chocolate spine and tail, white legs with brown striations and a charcoal-blue face with turquoise eyes. Navaho turquoise. Are these harlequin colors inconsequential because the cat has no ‘papers?’
Or are people impressed by orotund titles? Viewed with a pinch of skepticism, is there a reason ‘Fancy Dan’s Fanfaronade’ should steal the thunder from ‘Clab’ (‘Bonnyclabber’)? Is ‘Azurelle Mist of Hufflinghurst Abbey’ more redolent of quintessential kittyhood than ‘Pwee?’ By what right should ‘Endymion’s Triumph’ cast ‘Fusser’ onto the slag heap? Why inflate ‘Bertil’ - 17 lbs. of tangerine purr with orangutan cheeks and flaring cheek plumage, a harvest moon vision of Bert Lahr - into ‘Bertrand de Lahr of Beverly Hills?’ What makes simplicity infra dig and bombast majestic?
Of greater significance, purebreds, unless they’re shackled to kitten mills, live a good life compared to dime-a-dozen moggies who often have nothing and no one to shield them from misfortune. Unlike blue-blooded cats, they can also be homely. Some are hunched and rachitic from poor or no nutrition, cow-hocky, thinly furred, scarred, stumpy-legged, their ears chewed to pieces. Cats such as these have nothing to offer the person who cares for them but trust. Trust is their only and ultimate gift. And it’s special indeed, as many are fierce toward other male cats and fearful of humans - understandably so, for they have sustained enough hard knocks that their ribs are knobby, their personalities shrunken and morose. These cats may appear only at meal-time. But after several years of good food and gentle praise, there comes a day when against all their instincts they’ll try to be dear, and will roll on their backs, their legs upended in the air, inviting their parent to stroke their underparts. This is their love-gift.
A Plain Jane or misshapen moggie can offer their parent what no purebred can: the pleasure of knowing they’re doing what they can to assuage the cat’s hardship. Compassion needn’t be hearts-and-flowers. It can arise from the rational motive of propping up civilization. Where sentimentalists say we’re here to help each other, the unsentimental prefer the word ‘use.’ Both mean the same. We help each other by using each other, and allowing ourselves to be used in ways that soften what would otherwise be a heartless struggle.
How else do moggies reward their parents? If nothing more, it’s amusing to watch them whap Darwin’s pet theory. For some of the gnarliest, spindliest males domineer tomcats twice their size. Enormous hulks widen their eyes and shrink into insignificance when the ‘Man’ appears on the scene and commandeers the gathering. These misshapen, homunculus males demonstrate that there’s another dynamic at work in evolution. Not all fights progress beyond threat; when they do, the smaller and weaker lose. But where the fight stops at the threat stage, a pint-sized Cagney-Edward G. Robinson-Bonaparte male with swagger and strut can lord it over the burliest toms whose genes insure the transmission of brawn, yet are flower-sniffingly meek and mild as Ferdinand the Bull when they spot the runt. Proof that self-image shapes evolution.
There are other good reasons for parenting cats of mixed breed. Purebreds free of health problems reflect the responsible breeder’s art. Yet some cats make us reach for our checkbook because we see their malformations as impressive or ‘cute.’ Extreme Persians suffer even more maladies painful to contemplate: possiblehealthproblemsinextremepersiansen2.htm
If any further incentive were needed, multitudes of unwanted cats and their kittens meeting their end in ‘shelters’ might have been spared by people with as much interest in the singular charm and merit of every cat - whatever its looks and lineage – as they are in genetic ‘purity.’
Does need trump aesthetics?
Does gravity pull?
With zero exception - with absolute, flat-out zero exception - people who feel for animals are instantly drawn to the ‘unloved and persecuted’ - to a gaunt fox with shoe-button eyes and legs too small to outrun a pack of nicely upholstered, fun-loving hunters. To shivering cats hunched under cars, or peeking through a cat-flap at night, searching for a morsel.
Hybridizers have gratified our attraction to beauty, and kept the bulk of the population well fed, at least in developed countries. They’ve also indirectly increased soil erosion. Weeds grow like weeds. Cultivars don’t. They’ve further indirectly increased the suffering of livestock. Moreover, some have deliberately caused discomfort - especially breathing problems - illness and premature death in designer animals sculpted in ways that astonish and amuse us.
It goes without saying we couldn’t survive without hybridizers. But could we survive without our bellwethers who palm off the showy and superficial as something we need? Status symbols and pseudo-sophistication have nothing to do with culture. If there were a way - and there are ways for each of us to find on our own - it might be well to distance ourselves from their sales propaganda, if only now and then. Fashionistas - some hugely gifted, others without an inkling of culture - shape not only our tangible goods, our values and conduct, they carve our perception of what we need to burnish our image. Stepping beyond their guidelines can be an epiphany.
There’s more to a cat than its color and conformation, its adherence to a breeder’s book of standards. Creative human endeavor deserves veneration. But unharnessed Nature has as much beauty as a Lipizian. As anyone knows who’s parented one, mixed breed cats break the mold as surely as wildlings. These unwanted cats are as conducive to joy as love when it isn’t encumbered by must-haves - as a work of art when it portrays Nature’s simplicity.
Why not adopt a moggie or two? They won’t disappoint you.