I do my best work in the morning. That's when my mind is most active and alert. When I commuted to magazine jobs in San Francisco throughout the 90s, I would get proportionally more work done on the train (this was before cell phones were wildly popular) than I ever did once at my desk.
Now that I'm self-employed and work at home, I'm still at my best in the morning. The problem is, so are the cats. I'm positive that if the house gets foreclosed upon, it will be because the money dried up because I couldn't work because the cats wouldn't leave me alone in the morning.
They apparently think my job is not to write, but rather to entertain and minister to them. It's a wonder I get anything done. They have not yet made the connection that the house they sleep in, the yard they play in, and the food they eat is a direct by-product of my work.
It starts with Panther and Midnight, both named for their beautiful black coats. Midnight was a skinny stray that we noticed hanging around the house not long after we moved in five years ago. We started feeding her (yes, after trapping her and taking her to the vet, we confirmed she had been spayed) and she’s filled out considerably.
For a long time, I was amazed at how much food Midnight could put away, until the day when I looked outside and discovered not one but two black cats staring at the house from the front walk, willing someone to come outside with food. Even now, I think they work in concert on bait-and-switch tactics for food: "Oh, no, that wasn’t me you fed an hour ago. That was the other one."
The problem with feeding strays is that it attracts other unwanted animals: in our case, crows. As I'm sitting down to work, there can be an ungodly cawing on the front door step, as one crow will signal the rest of the gang that it's time for the cat-food scavenging to begin. This involves getting up from my desk to retrieve the food dish.
Next on the let's-bother-Daddy agenda is Gus (see photo, in which he has apparently eaten my keyboard). Now, Gus is one of the sweetest cats I've ever adopted. He was one of two ferals whom we were socializing for adoption about six years ago, until my wife decided she couldn't part with them. (Her exact words, as I remember them, were, "If you take those cats to another adoption fair, I'll kill you.") Given toward self-preservation, I kept them.
Though his heritage is unknown, it's clear that Gus has a lot of Ragdoll in him. Ragdolls are traditionally big cats with very soft fur, very affectionate, and prone to bonelessness when you hold them (hence the name). There may also be some Maine coon in him, because he tips the scales at about 18 pounds. A bigger bundle of love you’ll never find.
The problem is that cats love routine. And Gus' routine is to come to Daddy for loving first thing in the morning; he's here purring as I post. This involves jumping on my desk, shoving the coffee mug aside (or over), and butting his head against my hands on the keyboard. I have had to become a lot more assiduous about proofreading since Gus initiated this routine. I know that while we have friends and work, our cats only have us, but I just wish Gus would choose some other time of the day to be so friendly.
Once I convince Gus that only his going into his basket will stave off bankruptcy, Tuxedo will barf up his breakfast. Tuxedo is an orange tabby who will be 18 in a couple of months. I had no idea one cat could expel so much stuff from either end until Tuxedo came into our lives. The veterinarian can't find anything wrong with him – in fact, she considers Tux to be remarkably healthy for his age – so I resign myself to keeping terrycloth and paper towels handy.
Finally, it's Bandit’s turn. Bandit was the other feral. Mostly white (except after he’s been rolling in the garden), he has a black mask that spawned his name (it's also appropriate because he stole our hearts). Far more than Gus, Bandit loves returning to his feral roots and being outdoors as much as possible, especially these days when the weather is nice.
Still within the timeframe of my greatest productivity, about mid-morning, Bandit will return from his adventures in the garden. He doesn't just trot inside, however. For a cat that meowed infrequently as a youngster (like most ferals, who’ve been taught by their mothers not to attract the attention of humans), Bandit has since developed amazing vocal cords. He'll come back in search of brunch and make a noise that sounds like a siren to announce himself. Last week he let out with something so sharp and short, it sounded like a bark. That means it’s time for Daddy to once again interrupt his work and get the kitty treats out of the pantry.
By this point, of course, there's enough kitty hair floating through the air that my eyes begin to itch. This means trotting upstairs for a dose of prescription Systane, something my ophthalmologist gave me that’s far superior to regular eye drops. I don't know what's in it, but I love it.
Eventually, every feline ends up in their favorite basket or sleeping place. Later, I try to nap too, but before that happens, it's my only chance to be productively uninterrupted and avoid foreclosure.