Hong Kong Calico

Copyright 2005, Michael LaRocca

"Dogs have masters;
Cats have staff."

Picasso was born in February 2000. According to local astrology,
the Year of the Dragon. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? I rescued
her from the SPCA in September 2000. Someone had stuck her in a
donation box. I don't even want to know what that means.

I had very definite plans. A calm, quiet, lazy girl who would be
content spending all day cooped up in an 18th floor Hong Kong
shoebox apartment.

There she was. In a glass cage. Her roommate was playing with a
cat toy that some people dangled before her, ringing the bells
and acting like a kitten. Meanwhile, she rested on a perch,
mildly disgusted by all the commotion.

Once I reached in, but not before, she rubbed her head on my hand
and purred. Yes, I decided, I'll take the quiet one. The
paperwork said she was four months old, based on her size. The
guy who handled the adoption looked at her teeth and said, "No,
she's probably seven months, just underfed."

When I got home, I told my wife, "She has a naughty face, but
she's really very sweet."

I returned two days later, after the desexing operation, and
brought home my shy, quiet cat. I set down the cat carrier,
opened it, and there she was. Scared, skinny, gorgeous.

My wife, the painter, stated that the kitten looked like a
Picasso. If Picasso had painted a cat, this is how it would have
looked. Black, white and ginger all in unique swirls and
patterns. Thus, we named our new kitten Picasso.

Picasso camped out in the spare bedroom, between the wall and the
nearby wardrobe, atop some luggage. A very confined, safe area.
The room was full of other hiding places, naturally, since we used
it for clothing storage. Space is a rare commodity in Hong Kong. I
marvel at the folks who live with two kids, grandma, and a
Filipino maid.

"She may be too quiet," we worried for the next two days.

We need not have been concerned. That's how long it took her to
recover from the surgery, and to realize that her masterful con
job was a resounding success. Don't you know that all cats, when
seeking a home, pretend to be angelic? Then, when everything is
safe and you've been lulled into that false sense of security...

Picasso loves to play with pens, lighters and balls of paper.
Knocking massive marble balls from the windowsill always gives a
satisfying bang. On the polished wood floor, they sound like
bowling balls when they roll. Never in a straight line, leading
to hours of fascinating study. The hair on her tail sticks out
like a bristle brush and her eyes look feral as she rushes madly
through the flat. What will she attack next? Possibly the large
silk butterfly on the wall. No one ever knows, not even her.

She loves pouncing on wall hangings, and attacking funnel web
spiders on the television. She knows how to sit on the remote
control and turn on the TV, but it's much more fun to lift the
lid on the computer printer and watch the cartridges move.

Her favorite room may be the bathroom. Picasso can watch people
in there, on the toilet or in the shower. She can smell things.
She can stare at herself in the mirror. She can attack the box of
tissues, although she knows not to do that. Not that knowing
stops her. This is a cat, not a dog. She just lies atop the basin
full of shredded tissues and says "meeeeowrrrrr..." Roughly
translated, that means, "I didn't do that. I just found them
here. I don't know how they got this way." Even though we both
know it's a lie.

She can leap from the basin to the wall that divides the room
almost in half, landing on the 4 inch space between that wall and
the ceiling, slamming into the roof on the way. From there she
can climb onto the light above the mirror, then leap all the way
down to the floor when someone opens a tin of tuna.

Imagine you're a guy about to take a leak, only to have a cat
jump on the toilet and challenge your aim. Now imagine her
batting the stream, perhaps even taking a sniff. Then when the
toilet flushes, she must stick her head way down in there for a
close-up wide-eyed look. She's stopped doing all that,

The bathroom has a tub, which is great for rolling in or hiding
in. Recently I saw Picasso licking a bar of soap, then licking
her white chest. Maybe that's how she keeps it so clean.

Or perhaps her favorite room is the kitchen. She and the kitchen
didn't get along at first. She leaped on the stove at a bad time
and burned her whiskers. Now she's learned that it's safe only
when the burners are off.

The kitchen offers many opportunities to observe coffee brewing,
cooking and dishwashing. Best of all, it has a tap. The water
falls down, then vanishes into the hole. How does that happen? If
she's feeling a bit energetic, I can simply leave it dripping and
go on my merry way. She'll appear half an hour later, face and
paws soaked from batting at the water and trying to bite it.

When the pipes stopped up, she was extremely fascinated with my
repairs. Running water and an open cabinet. This combination was
simply irresistible. Ditto when I repaired the toilet. This is a
cat who is definitely obsessed with understanding plumbing.

The bed is also good, because she can lie on Daddy's chest and
purr. This after fifteen minutes of "kneading bread" on a stomach
that bounces like a waterbed. Picasso almost never bites. She
doesn't sleep at our feet, but she does visit often. Sometimes
too often.

Did you know that a bite on the leg or the toe is a friendly
morning greeting? Picasso taught me that. Two minutes later, it's
also good to sniff my face, purr, and perhaps lick my eyelashes.

She gained some weight, incidentally, and looks her age now. She
is not fat, but neither is she skinny. If I fed her every time
she demanded it, she'd be more bloated than Garfield.

When I edited her web page, she tried very hard to help. She hit
all kinds of buttons, opening and closing windows and creating
desktop shortcuts. Finally, she realized that it happened because
she was pushing the buttons. She cocked her head to one side,
fascinated. She looked at me, then back at the screen. She
understood what was happening, but she's still working on why. I
have faith in her.

Once she saw a photo of some other cat on the screen. She batted
at it for two or three minutes, claws out. It was worse than the
funnel web spider. I must turn off the computer when I'm not
using it because Picasso likes to log onto the Internet.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a stomach
pain, but that's just her pouncing on it again. In the next
second, she kisses my forehead or sniffs my eyelashes again. She
doesn't pounce on my wife's stomach. No, she prefers my wife's
chest. Her claws have gotten quite sharp recently.

We no longer need an alarm clock. Picasso sneaks into the
bedroom, with the stealth of a born hunter, sticks her mouth
directly in the closest ear, and lets loose with a blood-curdling
MEEEEEOOOWWRRRRRRRR!!! Convinced that we're awake, she returns to
the couch and sleeps contentedly.

One thing about the tri-colored Picasso alarm clock, however, is
that she doesn't know when we want to get up. She visits at
midnight, 1, 2, 3, etc. She also doesn't bother to check the

As of late, she's become a more discriminating alarm clock. She
realizes that nothing wakes me up, so she concentrates her
efforts on my wife. At the moment, my wife is responding by
imitating me and lying unmoving. It's working, but one never
knows for how long.

Apparently, Picasso feels that we don't need sleep anyway. Either
that, or we're simply deaf. We never know when we'll hear things
crashing in the living room in the middle of the night, or
perhaps some strange howling.

By now you may be wondering why I'd keep such an insane cat. It's
because we love each other.

Does your cat wait for you to wake up in the morning so she can
say hello? Does she run to the door and talk to you when you
return from work or an errand? Does she know your schedule
intimately, adjusting her sleeping habits to wake up and stare at
the door at lunchtime, waiting for you to pop in for a quick
visit? Picasso does.

She often visits me when I'm reading in bed, rubbing and purring
and saying, "I love you, Daddy." When I'm working at the
keyboard, she watches contentedly from a nearby perch. She always
follows me or my wife around the apartment when we cook or clean
or whatever because she loves to watch us do stuff.

Every cat I've owned has run as far away from me as possible when
I clean the litter box. Picasso supervises. As soon as I'm done
she gives it an inspection and a test drive, but that's not
unusual for a cat.

"Being a cat means never saying you're sorry." I never met a cat
who'd disagree with this statement, until Picasso. If I scold her
for something, most of the time she genuinely apologizes. She
might do it again a week or an hour later, but she just can't
help herself.

Naturally she has mellowed with adulthood, and she was never very
bad to begin with. She's an angel at least 90% of the time. As
for the rest, we all have to blow off some steam sometimes. Life
with Picasso is never boring.

Shortly after her arrival, I bought her a scratching post. She
absolutely loved it. But as she grew older, and longer, it became
too small. It's seventeen inches tall, perhaps acceptable for a
kitten, but not an adult. A cat really needs to stretch her body
to its full length when she's sharpening her claws.

Back in the United States, this would have been simple enough. Go
to the pet store and buy a bigger one, right? Not in Hong Kong. I
had to find myself a pet store with an employee fluent in
English, explain what I wanted, and order it from a catalog. It
wasn't as difficult as it sounds, actually. I'm getting the hang
of Hong Kong now.

Picasso watched in fascination as I assembled the fifty-two-inch
monstrosity, with four perches of varying heights and sizes. The
longest of the three posts, one that rises from the floor, is a
whopping thirty-two inches from the ground.

As I completed the construction, I discovered that one of the
perches had a hole missing. I didn't have a drill. I couldn't
simply take it to the store for a spare part because it was
imported from the UK. Plus, repackaging it at this stage and
returning to the store would have been cruel to Picasso.

I "drilled" the hole with a hammer, some nails and a screwdriver.
When I finished the job, exhausted and sweaty, Picasso ignored
the post in favor of the empty box. She spent days sleeping in
that box. Now it's lined with towels, plus all the stray paper
balls and rubber bands she's found to stash in it, and it serves
as her bed. It's beneath the dining room table, giving her a
four-poster bed.

Finally she discovered the scratching post. She leaped atop it,
putting her at eye level with me, and gave me a grateful meow and
a kiss. She loves it. She can sit on a perch and look over my
shoulder as I type this.

Do you remember what I said before about her claws getting quite
sharp recently? This is why. But aside from an occasional attack
on the feet beneath the blankets, Picasso usually keeps them to

There are two problems with writing about Picasso. The first
problem is, it becomes obsolete so quickly. The second problem
is, I don't know when to shut up. I think I'll just do that now.

You may rest assured that Picasso will be living with us for a
long time to come. We're all much happier this way.

About the Author

Picasso's been with us through five years, two provinces, three
cities, and seven Chinese flats. We currently reside in Hangzhou,
where I bicycle around on quests for tuna and cat litter while
Picasso stays home being beautiful. She's the star of my free
weekly newswletter, WHO MOVED MY RICE?, http://www.chinarice.org
Also, she has a much bigger scratching post now.