Journal of the Plague Year 2020: Cats Are Becoming More Complicated Now

siamese cat
My cat, Lyndon Johnson, looking well-integrated after his latest firmware upgrade.

I’m back working from home after a long stint in the lab. Remember what I said about seeing what really happens in the neighborhood during daylight hours? In the middle of a long afternoon of skimming over shock and vibe data, I looked up from my monitors and through a window, and saw a pillar of black smoke.

This was not a distant fire, like the ones that I’ve ignored for weeks as they rage in the Catalina Mountains. This appeared to be close enough that it might force me to flee, or at least to read a long email chain on the neighborhood listserv.

I strolled down a half-block, just far enough to establish that, yes, it was on my alley and about three blocks down. As I stood there, sirens started wailing and a few fire trucks pulled up. I nodded, satisfied, and withdrew. My idea about this sort of thing is, Don’t walk down there just to gawp and get in people’s way.

As I watched from my improvised desk, the smoke turned white, then disappeared. The whole incident lasted perhaps 30 minutes. I found myself thinking, Does that happen all the time? Do fires just crop up around here and get put out while I’m at work?

After work, I went to to Co-Op to pick up groceries; I hoped that cooking dinner might lift my mood, which has been persistently grim. I overheard one of the cashiers say, “I feel like cats are becoming more complicated now.” She made a gesture that seemed to encompass the global pandemic.

I have felt for some time that my cat Lyndon is becoming more needy and weird. It seems like he sits in the middle of the kitchen wearing a fixed expression of horror and gazing into the middle distance more often than he did as a kitten. A few times a week, he rears up on his hind legs, places his front paws on the bottom of a picture frame, and stares into the glass, chittering unhappily. Often when I wake up in the middle of the night and wander out of the bedroom, he’s sitting in a far corner of the kitchen, monitoring the room warily, as if he were the only visible participant in a tense meeting.

I tell myself that Lyndon has always been this weird — all cats are weird — I was just always at work. Now that I actually have time to observe him, I think, Wow, that’s one odd little critter. 

The lockdown is getting hard. It’s always been frightening, frustrating and tiring, but I have my own very personal reasons for wishing I could see people. I keep telling myself to settle in. Arizona’s numbers are numbingly bad. This is the middle of the beginning.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 (as of June 23): 59,974

Current hospitalizations: 2,270

Deaths: 1,463

Recovered: 7,936


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