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Sunday, September 20, 2009

CATTY PECKING ORDER

tapo

Tapo and TarBaby need the presence of the giant tonight. Tapo, black and roundish, "the one with the delicate legs" my friend Kay called her, to distinguish her from TarBaby, the other black one, the athlete cat. Tapo is between my arms on the desk between the edge and the keyboard. TarBaby on the slide-out board on my left wanting to be the one between my arms, to lay draped over my left arm feeling the vibration of fingers pecking the keyboard, and purring. TarBaby climbed up onto my shoulders and stood there a few minutes, walked down the other side to the desk, then around between the keyboard and the monitor back to the other side. He went out on the sliding board, then jumped off the diving board to the floor.




Tapo has the place he wants. It frustrates him, but one if the cats doesn't bother another that is getting my attention. When one is getting attention, it's that one's turn. They all know I care about them equally and there's never been jealousy between them from the time they were kittens. I've fed them together too since they were little. There are no mealtime growlings and goings on like that.




I've seen since they grew up that it might have been best to give them separate bowls at a certain point as they individuated. But they have eaten off the same plate all their lives, and it's too late to make a change that isn't even necessary to start with. They do fine. TarBaby has to be the first to eat now. He's up there on the table I feed them on ready for me to dump the can of catfood on the plate, acting like he's starving to death. He licks the gravy and leaves the rest to the others. They all prefer the gravy. Caterpillar likes it too, an awful lot. Tapo likes it too, but she doesn't care any more because she's the bottom of the pecking order and the others always get it first. They seem to like the gravy of canned food and for solids they prefer the dry food. They like both.




Caterpillar and Tapo can eat side-by-side, but any other time to get that close together, one of them, Tapo, would be hissing, and Caterpillar looking at her with eyes that say, I'm gonna box your ears! Tapo hisses and says with her eyes, You better not! Caterpillar says, I'm going to! Tapo says, Leave me alone! Quit it! Caterpillar looks at her with relaxed eyelids saying, I'll let you go this time, only because I don't feel like wasting my energy on a shrimp like you right now. Tapo looks at her and says, Get out of here! Leave me alone! I'm not bothering you! Caterpillar turns away with a studied nonchalance saying, Don't forget who rules here! Tapo says out of the side of her mouth, How could I forget? Caterpillar sharpens the focus in her eyes and says, What's that? Tapo says, Nothing. Caterpillar says, That's what I thought, and walks away, slowly to let Tapo know she doesn't have to hurry if she doesn't want to.




Tapo growls at TarBaby when he gets too close. Sometimes TarBaby will put his ears back, lean his head back in a defensive pose ready to dodge a swipe of claws when circumstances beyond his control bring him too close to her. She growls because he torments her too, and she's letting him know he makes her mad. He will usually walk by her very slowly with an eye on her in case she pulls a surprise attack. Sometimes he jumps over her. Jumps over Caterpillar too. TarBaby is in his own world that doesn't include the other two, except in his role as the big one who protects his two sisters. TarBaby would rather be out hunting mice. Bossy ole Caterpillar he stays away from most of the time. When she wants to get sassy with him, he jumps over her and goes on his way.




Sometimes TarBaby will suddenly take a spell to chase Tapo. He'll look at her. She'll hiss. He'll hold his head up and advance on her. She'll back up and hiss with her ears back. He'll keep on advancing, ready in his cat martial arts way, relaxed, awake for anything. Tapo will turn and run a few feet, turn around and hiss. TarBaby will keep on walking with his eyes locked on hers. She'll turn and run and he'll run right behind her. There's no tight place she can get into that he can't get into as well. He runs her to the farthest corner where she crouches down with her ears back, eyes fierce, teeth ready, growling, telling him she'll shred his face if he comes any closer. TarBaby will reach up like he's going to swat her, and she'll hiss, making TarBaby laugh. Then he jumps on her and they tangle round and round making catfight sounds. Then TarBaby backs off slowly, very slowly, one step at a time, Tapo watching him, ready for any surprise, and TarBaby slow-struts away into another room laughing like he'd just had himself a good time.




These are their tussling moments. They never hurt each other. Often I see TarBaby stretched out on a chair and Tapo right up against him. They lick the tops and the backs of each other's heads where they can't get themselves so well. I stay out of their relationships with each other, because they know better what's going on between them than I do. Meaning, they know everything that's going on between them and I know nothing about it. Bottom of the totem pole, bottom of the pecking order, hierarchies based in physical size, ability and temperament. That runs through everything.




In school it's the big tough guy at the top of the pecking order and the chubby or skinny kid with glasses at the bottom. In the working class the pecking order has to do with might and strength. In the middle class it has to do with intelligence. In the ruling class with power. With cats it's all about who fights the best. Same on Wall St. Same in Washington DC. Same at work, same at school, same at home. It's so primal it's like the foundation of our interrelations as humans. I'm better than you because I drive a BMW and you just drive a Cadillac. I'm better than you because I have more assets than you, more money, more intelligence, more strength, more slickness, a newer car, Dylan's latest album, a nose that doesn't look like a pig's, the best part of town, the best church, came over on the Mayflower, the list goes on forever. Anything applies. Always playing hierarchy. Crows play the game too.




That one is so deeply ingrained in us, I've an idea it will continue all the way through the evolution of civilization in all its twists and turns til we return to aboriginal as the most practical, most intelligent way to live after how many thousand years tearing up everything getting back to what we had right to start with, the Garden.

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