Saturday, July 22, 2006
We have five cats, DK and I, and for our whole life together we've never had fewer than three. So far, we've managed to stay a kitten or two short of being cat hoarders. We've had cats long enough to have experienced this and the last century's great technological sea changes in feline waste management.
When we started out it was simple -- there was the oblong rubber trough, the bags of pebbly gravel, the slotted scoop. For a long time that sufficed. But then came the first innovation, the covered litterbox. It seemed like great way to keep the various odors relatively contained, so we got one. Next came clumping litter. Icky puddles of cat-piss now became cute little scoopable egg-shaped balls. Bad for the kitty ? Perhaps. But great for us. We converted. The next innovation ? Plastic litter pan liners. Utterly simplified the biweekly (oh, alright, alright, monthly) complete cleaning-out of the box. Despoiling the planet ? Yeah, probably. But by now, up to five pets and two litterboxes, and sole operator of the household waste-management contract, I was inured to guilt. I was becoming the Tony Soprano of cat doo doo.
Things coasted along smoothly until our last wedding anniversary in May. My romantic husband, the guy who once got me gerbils for Valentine's Day, bought me a new litterbox, a "Littermaid Elite Mega Advanced Automatic Self-Cleaning Litterbox." What motivated such an extravagant gift ? Guilt, perhaps, that I'd taken over all the catshit-related fun ? I cannot say. It was a loving, a well-intentioned gift. Much like a handbasket. As in The road to hell, over which she traveled in a handbasket, was paved with good intentions.
I stared, wide-eyed, at the carton. The image on its side depicted a blue-and-white contraption, clean as a swimming pool. Clinically clean, clean as an OR. I was, nonetheless, filled with a nameless trepidation; I felt an upsurge of my well-rehearsed puritan's guilt at extravagance. All my prior litterbox upgrades paled in light of this thing. It seemed a tad obscene. I felt like the fisherman's wife -- sending out her poor husband to demand larger and larger boons from the Flounder. Look where that got her.
I thanked my dear husband, and proceeded to ignore the big, unopened carton sitting in the vestibule. A week or so later I arrived home to find that he had opened it and assembled the Littermaid Mega Elite. He'd placed it in the basement -- in the skanky little corner beyond the washing machine -- next to the old litter box. The corner that always flooded in rainstorms. There it sat, its little digital clock blinking, its ionic air filter humming, poised to rake whatever our pets chose to deposit into the plastic receptacle beneath the trap door at its end. And there was evidence of it's having raked: neat little zen-garden parallel lines in the cat litter led from rake to receptacle. It was cleanish and almost beautiful.
Well, then, we'd give it a whirl, no ? I flipped through the manual, shuddering at the warning about "kittens less than six months old," skipping the stuff about how to program the timer, losing patience at the part about emptying the receptacles. Let's see if the thing could give me a day or two respite from scooping. That might be nice ! Brimming with an unfounded, quasi-psychotic optimism, I threw out the old box. How could this not work out ?
Two days later I squatted to inspect the thing. The trap door was half-open, resting on a mound of cat effluvia. The various nooks and crannies of the box and the receptacle apparatus were awash in yellow fluid, as was the floor. Abetted by the Littermaid Mega Elite, our innovative kitties were sprinkling outside the box. How clever. I decided to deal with the brimming receptacle at the end of the litterbox. Perhaps I could re-use the thing, although the manual warned against it. I proceeded to pry the flimsy, plastic tub out from under a long row of shit-encrusted little plastic tabs.
Before long, I, too, was shit encrusted. And piss-doused. In 22 years of scooping cat excrement I'd never ONCE gotten cat waste on my hands. Not ONCE, I tell you. Now, squatting there next to the Mega Elite, I'd been slimed. Horribly slimed. Vaguely nauseated, I emptied the receptacle into the old waste bucket, and then tried to re-insert it. Agains I had to stuff flimsy, squalid plastic under squalid little tabs. I felt myself grow agitated. The Box hummed and blinked, it was mega and elite and unnaturally calm. Practically imperious. It was mocking me.
Next I had to change the newspaper under the thing. How to lift it ? There was no good way. With each attempt, it began to come apart, disarticulating here, unhinging there. Hidden reservoirs of cat excreta poured out from its various nooks and crannies. I was close to tears. I was certainly paying for my two day respite from scooping.
Finally, I'd accomplished all I'd set out to do. I decided to run the rake through once, for good measure. I consulted the manual. Simple. Turn the power off, then on and the rake would activate. I did.
The rake shuddered once and was still. I turned it off and on again. Another shudder. And again. Just a shudder.
I consulted the manual. There were pages of troubleshooting tips. It suggested that rake failure could mean low batteries. But the thing was plugged into the wall ! It suggested that there might be too large a burden of stuff for it to rake. But the box was empty ! It suggested that the "runners" might be full of debris. I scraped out the little slot along which the rake was failing to travel. The rake continued to heave its windy, exasperated, shuddering little sighs. I stabbed blindly at the various little buttons near the blinking clock. And finally gave up.
I knew it. It was just as I'd expected. I was being punished for my hubris. Humiliated, in the root sense of the word: humus, dirt.
It was back to the rubber trough, pebbly gravel and scoop for me. No more mega-elite, heavenly palace. I was being banished back to my old seaside hovel. The Flounder was pissed off. And me ?