Saturday, December 12, 2009

By Any Other Name (A Dolby Story)

When I had finally convinced my husband that
a) we COULD have a cat in our college-owned apartment
b) we SHOULD have a cat to enrich our lives and
c) we WOULD have a cat before the end of 1995
our friend, Linda, let us know about a brand new litter of kittens in the neighborhood.

I went with her to the house in downtown Grinnell, Iowa and there, in the back three-season porch, was a proud mama cat and five adorable furballs. Two were colored like gray tabbies with longer fur and three were black and white short-hairs. It was the latter I was after and I knew which one I wanted almost immediately. He had four perfect white socks, a straight, white stripe down the center of his nose, a little white ‘beauty mark’ above his mouth and a white collar under his chin. I also knew I wanted a male and I was delighted that this kitten, with whom I was immediately smitten, fit the bill.

I brought him home and introduced him to Dan. We didn’t name him right away. We had generated a list of possible names, all taken from literature or music, and we figured something would just ‘fit.’ At first Dan wanted to name him “Sinatra” since he came dressed in a natural tuxedo but I vetoed that immediately with a few choice judgments about misogynistic drunken ne’er-do-wells. I can’t remember any of the other names on the list except the one we finally chose.

Thomas Dolby is a British musician who is unfortunately best known for his eighties new-wave hit “She Blinded Me With Science.” As the wife of a music fanatic, I’ve learned to go much deeper into a musician’s catalog and what I most loved him for was an album called “Astronauts and Heretics.” Though it was released in 1992, it is still one of my favorite albums of all time.

The second evening of our new kitten’s residence in our apartment, Dan and I left him alone to go to dinner in the cafeteria. I was nervous about it—he was so tiny after all, and had just been taken from everything familiar. Still, we had to eat and off we went.

When we returned home, the kitten was no where to be found. At first, we casually poked around in every nook and cranny in the apartment—under the hutch, the bed, the desk, in the bathroom, in the back of the closet. No cat. I started to worry. Sure, he was tiny, but he shouldn’t be this hard to find. We continued to search, calling out “here, Kitty!” with increasing panic.

Then we heard him. It was the first time he’d made any sound and it was astonishing in volume and timbre. A rich, deep, clear meow that sounded like it was coming out of the walls.

We followed the sound. Or we tried to, but the more we went where we thought it was coming from, the more it seemed to come from everywhere at once. Presently, we narrowed it down to the kitchen—surely that was its source. But search as we might, he was not to be found in that small room.

Finally, I got down on my stomach on the kitchen floor and looked under the cabinets. What I found was that there was a 1½ -inch gap between the top of the mop-guard and the bottom of the kitchen cabinets. It was an impossibly small opening, but with my ear to it, it was clear that the kitten had squeezed through.

How on earth were we to get him out???

In the end, I opened the cabinet under the sink and pried up the bottom. There, covered in dust and shaking was a tiny black-and-white kitten with huge eyes.

I snatched him up and cradled him in my arms, brushing off the dust and cooing reassuringly. This was, of course, more for my benefit than his. If he got in there, he could easily have gotten back out. But as unfamiliar as he was with this new environment, he might not have wanted to.

Relieved, Dan and I processed what had happened. The experience of hearing his loud meowing coming from the very walls had been extraordinary. “It seemed to be coming from all over the place,” one of us said. “Just like Dolby Surround Sound Stereo,” said the other.

We paused.

Thomas Dolby. Dolby Surround Sound. Dolby.

We knew.

By the end of his second day with us, Dolby had chosen his own name, and it was to fit him perfectly all the days of his life.

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