The tale of two cats

Column box-Tito Genova Valiente-Annotations

Innova was the first cat to arrive in the Savage Mind Bookshop. For all the innovations and readiness for change implicated in that word, the name of the cat came from a most undramatic provenance: he was found under a car bearing the said name. Unimaginative as the moniker may appear, it was a solution that needed to be arrived at. Like human children whose names are changed whenever they become sickly during their early years, cats have to have labels a human can use to call them. To not have those branding is to lose them to the wild urban poor surroundings of their youth.

The name was necessary for this animal in order that it be tamed, domesticated. Innova was thus placed within the rooms of the bookstore, accompanying its owner and the many personalities who, as writers, cultural workers, and unheralded artists, feel they own the spaces now given to a cat. While everyone seemed to profess ownership of the cat, Innova was never a pet. He was brooding and isolated himself most of the time, qualities that ironically endeared him to those who got to know him—a beast for the moment domiciled as if he rightfully belonged among books and other curiosities.

The first days of progress for Innova were also the rise of Savage Mind. It was the place to be—a shrine for readership and intellectualism, never mind if people came to the place not to read but to be photographed reading. This must be the new intellectualism, to find the right book that matches one’s hair color and attitude, to pose with just the right amount of je ne sais quoi, a snooty whatever, to accompany the color of the cover and the author emblazoned on it for everyone to contemplate and praise: She must know Brecht. She must love Baldwin. He fancies Foucault. He is seduced by Mishima.

Attitude is big in Savage Mind, and Innova is a ball of attitude and a bed of psychosis, whenever he stays immobile on a rug, under a table, or beneath T-shirts with slogans about childhood and the obscenities of growing up. He is the perfect cat for literature and all it stands for—irrelevance, truth, worlding, weirding, beauty, ugliness, lies, pretentions.

Then one day came another cat. It was a dark phantasm. Again, the name abruptly (for we were never consulted) was invented for it—Kaiju. It is a name that refers to a giant, a monster in the universe of manga and anime.  Which was not a surprise; nowadays, either you are an otaku, a fan obsessed to the point of lovely madness, or something else. That something else could mean you are an angry young man or a spaced-out young woman admiring those obscure singers on YouTube whose squeaky voices are interpreted as new angst.

Kaiju had a big tummy when he was introduced to us, rather, when he was shoved to us. With colors that were a fusion of volcanic ash and nightfall shadow, Kaiju was never the pretty kitten that would elicit ohs and ahs. In fact, sometimes, he is called Paniki, for his face resembles that of a bat. This time, we had a cat whose origin was not danger but home. Love, security, kinship, as we want homes to be, are the framework for Kaiju’s persona.

Kaiju introduced to the household created a discomfort for Innova who, it seemed, found the small one opinionated. While during these times, Innova had settled already for chicken as his diet, Kaiju had not shown any interest in food. He was addicted to the artists who cuddled him. These gestures convinced Kaiju that he was not only the beloved but he was also amidst humans who were loving. He didn’t know that the beings in the bookstore were using him to prop up their own imagined identities. These humans believe cats are closer to writers and artists. This is the wrong assumption: cats are no more lovers of writers than writers are lovers of other people’s writings. But cats can pretend to like our writings and we thank them for that.

Selfishness is the dogma by which the faith of cats is enshrined in the literature of animal companionship. Cats are selfish, narcissistic creatures. These are the same qualities that define artists. The only thing that saves cats from perdition is their utter lack of hypocrisy, which is the domain of dogs —they who have mastered the art of touchy-feely slogans. You know, words like Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

As I am a public anthropologist, I cannot leave out the social nexus in which we can understand cats in the order of things, meaning in the stratification of relationships. There are other cats outside the realm of books and arts, where Innova and Kaiju, to borrow the words of Satre, are condemned to be free. These cats are Carla and Radius.

Carla is a female cat who is always pregnant. She is Sisa of the cat underworld because a few weeks back, I saw her moving around in lamentation as she searched for her kittens. I believe they were stolen, which, following some data I got from an animal lover, then made Carla’s reproductive organs quicken again.

Radius takes his name from Karel Capek’s RUR. With that name, he has nowhere to go but to struggle with his identity. Resilient with hunger, a description that we love to append to us as a nation of beings, Radius could live longer if his name could be changed to that of a hero of the Revolution. Then, we could imagine him to be brave and to have a strong sense of the nation, and dream of becoming a National Artist.

E-mail: titovaliente@yahoo.com

Image credits: Jimbo Albano