1  Meeting

When we met Bingley, he was in jail for vagrancy.

At the shelter they couldn’t tell us why someone found him alone, only that a man had turned in this stray cat at the local shelter.  They told us that he was between a year and two years old, but couldn’t say if his people had too many cats, or if he had bitten someone, or if he had just strayed away.  His paw pads were perfectly pink and soft and clean, so he hadn’t had a rough life for a long time.  He was already long and thin–not starved, but hardly overfed, either.

My wife asked to see a dog-cat, a cat with the friendly, interactive traits of a dog.

The kind woman there said, “I have just the cat for you,” and she brought him out.

He ran up to my wife, jumped in her lap, and buried his face in the crook of her elbow, and he sat there cuddling for twenty minutes.  When she put him down, he came over to me and did the same.  Then he looked me right in the eyes and said nothing, but his look said, “I want to go home with you.”

In case you’re wondering, he’s a buff tabby with white ascot and socks and jade-green eyes.

“Let’s see if we can find another:  he may need a buddy,” my wife said.  The volunteer brought out a few other cats and some toys.  I picked up a fuzzy ball and tossed it to Bingley, and he began to bat it around.  One of the other cats came over and looked interested.  Bingley batted the ball to him, and sat back to watch as the second cat played with it.  I had never seen that behavior before:  a cat sharing his toys.  A good sign . . .

We couldn’t take him home that night–we had to go through the adoption paperwork and the checking of our references–but we got him in a couple days and took him home.  None of the other cats seemed to want to interact with us, though they played with one another readily enough.  Bingley wanted to cling to my shoulder, but we had to put him in the carrier for the ride home.  He didn’t like the confined space of the carrier, but he still said nothing.

When we got him home, he got out of the carrier and again climbed immediately on my shoulder.  We gave him a tour of the house and set him down in my study, which has a window out to the front garden:  the volunteers had told us not to give him run of the house, but to keep him in one room for a couple days until he got accustomed to us and our home.  We gave him food and water regularly, and he got blankets and toys, and we told him he could use the books or the computer in the if he wanted to.

On his first morning home, I went in to see if he was ready to come out.  He had disappeared.

I looked all over the room, everywhere except behind the bookcase.  I thought he couldn’t be there, because from my point of view the bookcase sat right up against the wall.

He had tucked himself in behind the bookcase.

I asked him if he wanted to come out for breakfast, and he came right out.

He has always been a food hound.

After the first day, we left the door to his room (formerly my study) open, but he didn’t come out until the third day, though we would stand poised by the door looking out.  And he still hadn’t said anything.  But at last he began to explore the house.

A few days later he told me his name.  At the shelter they had named him Pilot.  That didn’t work.  I tried calling him that, and he gave nothing close to a response.  Would you?  When I heard the name, it made me think of “Pilate,” and while I’ve always thought Pontius Pilate got a bad rap in the Bible, I couldn’t call a cat by that name.  So we tried every reasonable name we could think of from Spot to Shostakovich.  Nothing worked.

One evening my wife and I were sitting on the couch watching Pride and Prejudice, our favorite version with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.  Bingley, then still Nameless, jumped up and sat between us.  That in itself was a big step:  he hadn’t yet got up onto anything except us–perhaps his time in jail, caged, had kept his thoughts low to the ground.  But he sat and watched the movie with us.

Shortly Austen’s character Bingley appeared on screen.  You may know the character:  unfailingly kind and pleasant, and everyone likes him.  And the thought struck me:  he’s just like the cat!

I turned to the cat:  “Is that you?  Are you Bingley?”

He looked back at me, then scrunched his eyes closed, nodded, and spoke to me for the first time:  nothing dramatic yet, just a confirmatory “mmrow.”  Then he turned his head back and watched the rest of the show.

He doesn’t watch much television, but he likes Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and tennis.

From that day he has answered to the name “Bingley,” which he chose for himself, and so far he has lived with us for more than eight and a half years, our devoted dog-cat.

 

2  A Few Words

You may not believe this, especially since Bingley was so quiet when he first got home with us, but before too long he began to teach us a few words and to understand a few of ours.

You already know about how he chose his name and that he is a foodie if not a gourmet.

One evening, as the tide of dinner-hour was rolling in, I asked my wife if she thought Bingley was ready for his food.

He was sitting in my lap, and when he heard the word food, he stood up, looked me straight in the eye, and placed one of his paws on my chin. I asked him, “Are you ready for food?”

He said, “Mmao?” The initial sound is a kind of trilled m–I can’t make it, but it’s one of Bingley’s standard phonemes. I tried my best to duplicate his sound anyway.

“Is that what you call it: Mao?”

“Mmao!” He said, and he jumped off my lap and dashed to the cupboard where we keep his food. When I got there, he said it again. I fed him as quickly as I could, and he seemed happy as could be. After supper–his and ours–he came back and jumped in my lap, turned around a couple times, settled down, and sighed loudly and contentedly.  He had taught us our first important word.

A few days later we found out that his word for milk is the same as ours–his is just higher pitched.  Cat language must be tonal.  We give him Cat-Sip, which doesn’t have the chemicals problematic to cats.  I asked if he wanted milk, and he replied “Miiilk,” without the trilled m and with a rising and then falling tone, higher pitched than his usual vocalizations.

I love the sound he makes when he drinks: a hearty laplaplaplaplap that you can hear across the room.  He came away from his drink with his eyes scrunched a little and with a smile on his face:  his usual signs of relaxed pleasure.

One day when I got home a little late from work (and so late for his dinner time), as I fumbled with the key I could hear Bingley on the other side of the door repeating “Myao-rao, myao-rao,” with stress and higher pitch on the second syllable: I’ve since learned that means either “open the door!” or “let me through!” I don’t think there’s a “please” in there, though.

I’ve heard him say the traditional meow only once. A tomcat from a few houses down was strolling through our back yard and decided to stop to relieve his bladder at our crabapple tree.  Bingley and I were watching through the back window.  Bingley’s meow was more like a howl, a “meee-YOWW!” followed by a hiss–another sound he’s seldom made, at least with us.  He must have felt his property was being invaded, even though he stays indoors.

We had a lot more yet to learn about language, and so did Bingley. For instance, every morning he gets the “Kitty Tour”: I say the words, and he runs over and scrambles up on my shoulder, and we walk around the inside of the house stopping at all the spots where he finds it’s important to sniff or rub his chin and leave a little scent. The tour was easier for me when we got him and he weighed eleven pounds. Now he’s about eighteen, so I get a better workout than I used to. He just calls it “tour,” since he doesn’t see himself as a kitty. But that’s a subject for the next post.

 

3  House Lion

When we have guests over, Bingley will come out to say hello–nothing elaborate, just a sort of “mew,” meaning something like “I’m not sure about you yet, but you may stay for a bit if my people say it’s all right.”  Occasionally he’ll jump into someone’s lap or sit beside someone on the floor.  Once we had over three friends who play guitar so they could jam together, and Bingley sat in cat stance for as long as they played, swinging his tale back and forth in time to the music.  Sometimes he’ll sit in my lap and monitor the conversation, or if he gets comfortable but doesn’t find the conversation to his liking, he’ll settle in for a nap.

Music always grabs his attention.  He’s fond of strings, especially acoustic guitar, and choral pieces, and he likes jazz and Classical music.  He doesn’t care for loud rock music, and he finds Blues a little too depressing.  He likes bagpipe music if one doesn’t play it too loud.

Once, when we had company and had a nice fire going–the fireplace is probably the most special and interesting feature in our little house–a guest was asking about Bingley’s habits.  “Does he go outside, or is he a house cat?” she asked.

Bingley was sitting by the fire, enjoying the warmth and listening to Alison Krauss, and he turned to me to hear my answer.

“Since we got him at the shelter, we’ve kept him inside, in case he went through any trauma.  He’s a house cat now,” I said.

I could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t entirely happy with that answer.  He began to walk down the hallway, but he turned, and with a little flick of his head, he motioned me to follow.  So I went with him to his room.

He stood there for a moment and looked at me seriously.

“House lion,” he said.

“House lion?  Oh, I understand.  Sorry:  no offense.”

“Right,” he said.

From that day on I have referred to him as our house lion, which he much prefers.  He’s not a small fellow, and from the side you can definitely see the lion profile–though more of the mountain lion than the African lion.

He still wasn’t saying much in those days, just a word or two.  He’ll say rather more than that now, when something’s on his mind.

On Friday we were having an unusually warm day for this time of year, and we were sitting in the window box with the window open enjoying a cool (rather than filthy cold) breeze and listening to the birds.

Two cardinals were having a dust-up in the maple tree out front, and one chased the other into the burning bush at the edge of the house.  Instead of their usual plink, they made a ruckus, giving each other the serious business until one flew off across the street.  The other danced up and down a few times to proclaim victory, then dashed off after his opponent, apparently ready for more.

“Must have been territorial behavior,” I suggested.

“Theological argument,” Bingley replied.

He didn’t look straight at me, just turned his eyes a bit in my direction.

I tried not to guffaw.  Bingley can tell a joke and barely break a smile.  It’s one of his talents, though not especially one of mine, so I value it especially.

4  His Manservant

Bingley is a student of languages.

One sunny afternoon, when I was sitting here at my desk writing, I heard an odd sound.  The window was open, and Bingley was sitting in the window box looking out through the screen.  A small bird was hopping around on the ground just below, among the evergreens.

Bingley made a series of rapid clicking sounds, with a mini-mew in the middle.  I think it was his attempt to communicate with the bird.  I took him to mean, “Wouldn’t you like to come in for lunch?”

Once, when we had someone working out in our front lawn, Bingley began to pace the living room floor and growl, like a dog, then periodically jump on the back of the couch and stare out.  He’d make an abrupt sound that sounded like a cross begin a “ruff” and a “mew.”  He had watched the neighbor’s dog across the back yard do that (except for the mew):  I had stood there with Bingley watching that dog.

The first time I heard Bingley say anything complicated, I was so startled that I didn’t quite believe what I had heard.  Not the content:  that was likely enough.  The manner, though, surprised me.  I was sitting on the couch reading, and Bingley was sitting on the floor not far away cleaning his paws.  Then I heard this:  “I say, Jeeves, can you just get me a couple of those nice chicken treats?”

The voice drew me from my reading, in which I was deeply engaged.

Bingley was the only other one in the room besides me, and the intent and expectant look on his face matched the request.

I had already come to realize that he thought of me partly as a friend, partly as a brother, and partly–maybe mostly–as his butler.

Most of the time I’m all right with that.  And I remembered that on the lowest of the bookshelves in Bingley’s room among the novels and reference books sit copies of P. G. Wodehouse’s Carry On, Jeeves and Very Good, Jeeves.

I got Bingley his treats, and he seemed very happy with that.  He finished his bath and jumped up in my lap, nudging my book over a little to make some room to sit down.

A couple times I’ve caught him, when I’d been writing and had got up to take a break, standing on my chair with his front paws up on the desk, looking at the screen where I’d been working.  At first I’d thought he was just attracted to the light or wondering what I could have found so fascinating there.  Once I asked him what he thought of what he’d seen on the screen.  He shrugged, tipped his head once to the right, and once to the left, and returned to look out the window again.

Every now and then my wife and I will stop at one of the animal shelters to look at the inmates.  We may pet a few or give them some treats or make a small donation of money or blankets.  We often think about whether we should get Bingley a buddy, or if he would find having a new creature here troubling or even traumatic.  Today I had to stop at the Petsmart to get him some food and litter, and so I looked in at the cats there.

One of the cats, jet black with brilliant yellow eyes, came walking toward the front of his cage looking right at me.

Then he hissed.

Then he put his head against the bars for petting.  I went over and scratched his ears and petted his forehead for five or ten minutes.

I turned to go, and I was leaving, I looked back to see what the cat was doing.  He hissed again, then began rubbing his head and shoulders against the bars.

So I went back and petted him some more.

Finally I had to go.  I looked back one more time, and the cat made kind of a mini-hiss and began cleaning his paws.  Then he scrunched his eyes at me and mewed as if to say, “Thank you.  Please come by to visit again.”

Very nice cat, just, I think, with a bit of a language problem.

Or maybe I had the language problem:  maybe hisses don’t always mean what you think they mean, any more than kisses do.

I’ll have to ask Bingley.

 

5  Ways to Communicate

Bingley may decide that dinner time has arrived even when it hasn’t.

If he thinks I’m napping at dinner time, he’ll jump up onto my chest then down on the floor then back up on my chest and down again, springboarding each time.  No way to nap through that.

If I’m reading, he’ll jump onto my chest, push my book aside, and begin kneading my pecks while wearing a friendly look on his face.  If I tell him it isn’t time yet, he’ll move down a little to knead my stomach; his expression gets more intent.  If that doesn’t work, he’ll move down farther and knead harder:  with his claws out.  His face gets more pointed, and his look grows almost menacing.  I may not give in to an early supper, but by that time his message has got poignant, and I get up and find something else to do until dinner time officially comes along.

If only I could get him to knead my back that way, I could save on chiropractic bills.

This morning he had a brief chat with a female cardinal that was sitting in the burning bush–which isn’t doing much burning at this time of year.  But what a blessing that the weather was warm enough that we could sit in the window box with the pane open!  After sizing up each other, the bird said “beep!” and Bingley replied with a soft “mow.”  Again the bird said “beep!” and Bingley answered with another quick “mow.”  After two more exchanges the bird flew off.  Bingley’s tail swung energetically through the whole exchange and for a time after the bird left.  I got the feeling that they understood each other from the beginning.

You can probably think of times when you got someone just the right present.  This past week my wife had a bad cold, and on Saturday I come home with a dozen red roses.  That was the right gift.  Last summer I came back one day from the Petsmart with a tall cat-tower, about five feet high with four levels.  I rubbed a little catnip into each level just to make it a little more enticing.

I don’t think I needed the catnip.  The moment he saw it, Bingley jumped right up and climbed to the third level.  He embraced the post and gave his new toy a big hug, then stretched out and purred loud enough to wake Rip Van Winkle.  Getting to the fourth level himself is a little tricky, but if I place him there, he’ll sigh, settle in, and nap contentedly:  he’s at the top of the world.  That was the right gift, too.

He loves to munch on plants, but the large ones don’t do well in his digestive system, so we try to keep him away from them (yes, of course we check first to make sure they’re safe before we bring them home).  Every now and then we bring home a new batch of catnip or cat grass.  He dabbles in the catnip, sampling, but he loves the cat grass.  As soon as we get in the door with it, he runs over and begs to taste it.  As soon as we put it down, he starts munching away.  Then he’ll turn back toward us with his eyes spinning around in opposite directions.  Then we put it up on top of the cupboards for a couple days.  I wouldn’t have guessed that cat grass is a hallucinogen.

In the morning when we play, I’ll ask him to do his tiger jump. We have a string with a soft toy mouse tied on the end, and I’ll flip the mouse up in the air over his head.  He launches himself up with all four feet in the air to catch the mouse.  Then he gets an appreciative “good kitty!” and a nice bowl of Cat-Sip.

Yes, most of the time we communicate pretty well, whether he feels in the mood to talk or not.

6  A Slip of the Tongue

Bingley has always liked to catch a string–I’ve told you about the tiger-jump.  Whether I pull it under a blanket or towel so that he has to dig underneath to get it or just run along so he can catch up and grab it, catching the string has always been one of his favorite games.  He likes when I position the string just beyond the edge of his view, around a corner or underneath a piece of furniture.  If he can see it, it’s no fun to catch, and if I hide it too well,  he figures it’s not worth the energy to pursue.  Hints fascinate him more than facts.

Once, after he had pursued and caught the string a few times and we were taking a break, he picked up one end of the string in his mouth and walked out of the room, stopping just on the other side of the door.  He left the frayed end that he enjoys catching so much just visible to me around the corner.  After a few seconds, he peaked stealthily around the corner to see if I was just about to jump over to catch it.  Only then did I get what he wanted.  When he saw me still sitting where I’d been, he looked at me, and his eyes said, “Come on, man, you’ve got to try this game.  It’s really fun.  I can tell you from experience.”

One morning we’d been playing games for about an hour when I realized time was slipping away from me.  “Sorry:  have to go to work now,” I told Bingley.

“No!” he said.

“Really:  I’m sorry, but I have to go now.  Got to get to work.”

“Don’t go!”  He ran over and grasped my foot in both front paws and put his face against my ankle.  The claws sunk into my skin just a little.

“I know.  I don’t want to go.  I have to go.”

“Why?”  The claws sunk in a little deeper.

“That’s how I make a living.  I need to go to work so I can pay for things.  I’d rather stay and play.”

“Stay and play!” he said, and the claws got deep enough to cause pain.

I pried myself free at the expense of getting a nip on the ankle.  Then I made my big mistake.

“I have to work to make money to buy mmao.”  I did my best to say his word for food.

Mmmao?”  He said.  “Mmao now?  Mmaooo!” he called out, and he ran for the pantry where we keep his food.

I was stuck then.  I had to give him something, or he’d panic all day while I was gone.  So I gave him a few nibblies and hurried out to work.

When I got home, he was waiting, standing by his bowl in cat stance giving me his Mr. Spock look.

You know how Spock will raise one eyebrow, glance pointedly, and say “Fascinating.”  Bingley can do almost that look, but instead of an eyebrow raising, one of his ears lowers to about half mast.  The corner of his eye curls up just a bit, too.

I knew I was in trouble.

Mmao.”

“Yes, I know.” I said.  “And I’m glad to see you, too.”

So I got him his dinner.  After he ate, he jumped up in my lap (didn’t trouble him that I was trying to eat dinner, too), took two turns around, settled in, sighed loudly, and went to sleep.

I was glad to be forgiven, even if finishing my dinner was a little more difficult while balancing a (large) sleeping cat in my lap.

Ever since, I have taken great care not to say the “m-word” except when I really mean it, because it is sacred, and one doesn’t use such words lightly.

In the morning I try to keep him playing long enough so that when I leave for work, he’s ready for a nap and so, for a time, not thinking about food.  Now where did I leave that string?

 

 

 

7  Another Perspective on Bingley

My wife said that I should write down her thoughts about Bingley.  She has moments of ambivalence, I know, but he’s her House Lion, too.  So here’s what she says.

When she wants to give him a hug, he sometimes plays hard to get and skitters under the kitchen table.  If she walks away, a few minutes later he’ll come out and run over to jump in her lap.  He loves his cuddle time, but he wants to be the one to initiate it.  When she holds him up, he’ll place his head gently between her neck and shoulder and nuzzle against her skin.  He goes limp in her arms like a Rag Doll cat (I don’t think he is one, though who can know for sure?).

He obsesses over plants, at least some of them.  Any new plant must get an immediate inspection.  Once he ate so much of a ponytail palm before we realized what he was doing that he clogged his intestine, and we had to take him to the vet.  That wasn’t fun for any of us.

For a cat who spent some time in the Wild and who has been on earth for around ten years now, he still has remarkably pristine pink paw pads.  He also has what my wife calls “baby-butt pink skin” under his thick fur.  Okay. . . .

When we first got him, we also got a couple donut-shaped beds for him to sleep in.  He avoided them for about three years, even though we’d place toys or treats in them or pat them on the inside to show they were safe.  Then, one evening, he casually strolled over, stepped into one, did a few circles, and settled in for a nap.  Everything in its season.

He loves blankets:  sitting on them, in them, or under them.  We have quite a number placed strategically around the house so he can slide in and be a cave kitty whenever he wants to.  Sometimes he will stand beside a blanket and call to one of us to come over and tuck him in.  Jeeves, I say, Jeeves!

My wife has taught him a trick that she calls “Up up, kiss kiss.”  She goes over to the little mantle by the doorway and pats her hand on top and says those words.  Bingley will jump up and give her a kiss on the nose.  He then gets some treats.  I’ve taught him “Slide into third base.”  I place a string under a small blanket or towel several feet in front of him with most of it visible from the side closer to him.  Then I pull the string under the towel.  He runs toward the towel, leaps in the air, and slides head-first under the towel to catch the string.  He’ll do that one with or without treats.  Other than that he’s not a big baseball fan.  He prefers tennis.

He loves for us to hold him and sing to him.  At least in the case of my singing (not my wife’s), that means you can’t account for musical taste even in cats.  I think he takes gentle singing to mean we’re purring, which he likes.  He prefers soft, low tones, and for lyrics he especially likes anything that praises what a good cat he is.  Who could blame him for that?

For treats he will sometimes say “thank you,” but mostly he’ll come over and give a head butt instead.  We’re both all right with that.

8  Characters

Bingley likes to sit in my lap when I work at the computer.  Since my study is really his room, he takes that as his right.  I once wrote nearly a whole book with Bingley stretched out along my left arm, which means I typed it with my right hand only.  The manuscript took about two times as long to write as it should have; I had a persistent cramp in my arm, but a very happy cat buddy.

Not long ago I was working on a new book, and Bingley was once again in my lap, but since I was editing rather than composing, his presence there caused me little slowdown.  Usually he sleeps, but that day he was staring at the screen, following along as I went through the pages.  At one point he uttered “Nice. . . .”  The story includes a heroic dog, and Bingley, being a dog-cat, had just read about her and found that character quite fitting.

So I asked him a question.  “Besides Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, who are your favorite literary characters?”  We have a varied and interesting little collection of books in the study, and one can find many books, especially those in the public domain, online anymore.

He thought for a minute.  “Captain Ahab and Milton’s Satan,” he said.

I admit I was surprised.  Then he gave me that look out of the corner of his eyes, and I knew I’d been had.

“C’mon,” I said.  “Your favorites.”

“You have favorites?” he asked.

“Lots,” I said, and I told him a few of them.

“Hmm,” he said, and he looked left and then right, then back to the screen.  “I like Cassie the dog in your new story,” he said.  “Hmmm.  Favorites.  Manfred and Bertha Rochester.  And Old Deuteronomy, of course.”

Again he looked at me out of the corner of his eyes, and we both guffawed.

Then he started to get a little more serious.

“Opus the penguin,” he said.

“For me, too,” I replied.

“And Calvin and Hobbes,” he said.

“Absolutely.”

“They go adventuring, like us,” he said, and he purred and snuggled up and closed his eyes.

“Which one are you?” I asked.  “Calvin or Hobbes?”

“Calvin,” he said, opening eye one.  And he smiled.

“I always have liked tuna sandwiches,” I said.

“Me, too,” he said.

He slipped off to sleep, and I kept editing.  A short while later he was twitching and mewing gently in his sleep.

I wonder what adventures we were having.

 

9  Close Encounters of the Bird Kind

Watching Bingley is a study in evolution.  I’ve mentioned that he’s a dog-cat (by behavior, Felis canis) and a house lion (by preference, Felis leo domesticus).

But attentive watching over time shows the innate or potential or “ghost” presence of a number of other animals.  Once a moth got into the house, and in pursuit of it he called to mind a ferret–same thing with flies.  As a rather full-figured fella, he sometimes gives the impression of a raccoon.  When he’s taking his morning tour on my shoulder, if he decides he hasn’t quite finished his breakfast yet and wants to get down now, he’ll twist and squirm like an otter.  From one angle, looking at his face from below, the shape of his jaw and nose will call to mind, of all creatures, a dolphin.  While he takes no special interest in rabbits–I think, like me, he has a distaste for them–he seems to have an empathy for squirrels:  he likes to watch them scramble up the crabapple tree.  My wife says that when his ears perk up and he looks like he’s ready to stalk, he shows bobcat features.  Sometimes when he curls up to sleep, he looks almost human–no offense intended to our feline friends.  In his moments of wise reflection with his eyes wide open and glowing, he may even call an owl to mind.

But he has other moments when no one could mistake him for anything but a cat.  He loves to watch birds out the window:  he admires their speed in flight.  But his reaction to them shows instinctive response.  Last spring we opened the window in his room so he could get a better look at the garden.  Out from behind the evergreens popped a good-sized duck, quacking and angry that we’d disturbed her in her hiding place.  As the duck ambled off, complaining, Bingley looked at me before she could get too far away and asked, “Room in the freezer?”

A couple summers back we were looking out the back window at the trumpet vine with its large, inverted-vase flowers.  Bingley was standing on the window sill, and right up to screen flew a hummingbird.  It held its position right in front of Bingley’s eyes for a few moments, then dashed off.  “Wow!” Bingley said.  A face to face encounter!

Earlier this week, before the new snows hit, we were looking out front when a mourning dove dropped suddenly onto the railing.  In the midst of her second coo she got sight of Bingley staring out at her, stifled her complaint, and nearly fell off backwards before catching her balance and zooming away.  He didn’t even have time to do his bird imitation for her.  He had a sad look on his face and said only “Mmaooo. . . .” experiencing, I think, a sense of loss.

Once a small bird, a finch, I think, did a header into one of the big windows in the sun room and nearly knocked itself out.  Bingley insisted I go outside to check if it was all right.  I kneeled by it, and it managed to stand up and hop away.  Shortly after that it flew off.  That seemed to please him.  It’s not all about food, you see.  His interest is ornithological, not simply gustatory.  Maybe he has just a bit–just a bit–of bird in his genetic material, too.  We’re all family in the ecosystem.

We remember those encounters and talk about them occasionally.  He thinks fondly of them and hopes for more.  “Cultural exchange,” he says.

10  Tennis, Anyone?

Watching tennis on tv has never especially grabbed me, though I like to play it or even to watch, in person, good players play.

Bingley loves to watch tennis on tv.  It’s the only tv he watches except for his favorite period dramas.

He’s more of a music kind of guy, npr especially:  string quartets if he’s feeling sleepy, jazz if he wants to watch the birds outside, acoustic guitar when he wants to play, choirs or folk vocalists around the holidays, wind ensembles when the weather’s nice and symphonies when it snows.  His tail sways back and forth with the music.

But he will watch his tennis intently.  He follows the ball so closely that he won’t talk with me while a match is going on.  The rest of the world disappears for him.  He often sighs after double-faults, and he’ll sometimes mew for winners.

I asked him if he has a favorite player.

“Nadal,” he said nonchalantly.  “For now.”

“Why?”

“Catlike,” he said.

“Is he your all-time favorite?”

“No.”

“Who?”

“Navratilova.”  Ah:  too much ESPN Classic again.

“Why?”

“Even more catlike.”

Once we were watching a younger player who had hit a bad spell and couldn’t seem to get any shots in. I always feel bad for good players when they play badly, so I was going to change the channel.

“No!” Bingley said.

“All right.”  I put down the remote.  “I wonder what’s wrong with her today?”

“Forehand and backhand,” Bingley said.  “Rhythm’s off.”

Well, he does listen to lots of music.

“Oh?” I asked.  “How can you tell?”

He turned toward me and looked me in the eye.  “Forehand should go like this.”  He swiped a paw–no claws–across my cheek.  “You see?”

“Hey!”

“And backhand should go like this.”  He whipped his paw back across my cheek the other way.

“Understand now?  Rhythm.”  He looked me right in the eyes.

“Yes, yes, I understand now.  Thank you very much.”

“Welcome,” he said.

After a bit, the young player was doing a little better, though she didn’t win her match.  Her opponent was too tough.

“Williams sisters are cool,” he said.

“Catlike?” I asked.

“Catlike,” he said, and he smiled and closed his eyes.