Friendly: My Life and Remaining Questions

Editor's note: Friendly completed a revision of his previous nine-part autobiography. This manuscript came to us only recently, and we publish it here. He attached this note to readers.

Dear Reader,
In this year of my sixteenth birthday, by human reckoning, and in recognition of the long association of our species, dating back to ancient Egypt, I submit this memoir in hopes it will further understanding of the feline way of life, despite the misconceptions portrayed in comic strips, YouTube videos, and Facebook memes.

I fear in some ways
I've followed the human pattern in tell-all memoirs, directing my acerbic wit at everyone else and confessing things I'm actually proud of, such as possessing an acerbic wit.

But I hope this one-part edition will provide a mirror in which humans can reflect on their society...and that this reflection will lead both our species to greater peace and harmony.


My earliest memories are of my mother, my four litter mates...and the doghouse in which I was born, which smelled like it's recent occupant, a middle-aged canine named Duke.

My mother, Smoki, was tall, athletic, and one year old. She loved everyone and lived a carefree life, which accounted for our multicultural birthplace. 

My litter mates and I were not particularly close. They would stay piled in the corner while I explored our house. And by the time our eyes opened, I didn't spend much time in the house at all. 

My siblings, Tabitha and Stubby, so called for their color pattern and shorter legs, were free spirits like our mother. They moved away to pursue other fascinations. “Fascinations” being the word rational felines use to explain their career choices to relatives, much as humans currently use the pursuit of their “passions.” 

Sparkle was solid gray with white paws. The dash of white on her nose resembled the brush stroke of an impressionist painter. Flash looked like Sparkle, except she dipped her whole nose in the paint.

In feline society, familial ties—as humans and even some herding animals know them—do not exist after a litter of kittens has come of age. This arrangement allows each to seek his or her own fortune. So feline society functions well in extensive environments and scales to whatever population size. You might say cats are the one species that has actually succeeded with libertarianism.

When two individuals want the same spot on a rug or want a drink at the same time, there is no reason to write angry letters to small town newspapers or accuse one's enemies of being the antichrist. It's only rational those with greater physical endowments receive the best nutrition and high quality rest. If a disagreement breaks out, the winner is always right.

Thus, feline justice works on shame and ostracism.

My cousin Patches was orphaned when her mother's haystack was struck by lightning. She escaped being burned, and my partner humans fed her condensed bovine milk. Uncle Tigger blamed kittenhood trauma for Patches' unkempt appearance, but being gray with yellow tabby and white spots didn't do her any favors. 

Worst of all, she didn't know felines are supposed to bury their...droppings. Only the very high status or uncouth lack discipline in this respect, which invites criticism—of the way one chews one's food, the grade of mice one catches or whether one really should try some organic almond milk.

We had a lot of cousins, many of them shaped by close proximity to one another. Their days were punctuated by a mad rush to the feed pan every morning, and their conversation lost the edge common in high class feline society.

Feline society is supposed to be rigorous and scientific. In feline language—a phenomena we call Felinese—there is nothing but fact.

Our chief virtuecuriositythe ability to see in the dark, smell trouble, swivel one's ears in the direction of the slightest sound, and detect how wide an opening is by measuring it with one's whiskers...involves dealing in real things.

There is no lying or political incorrectness. Felines have no need to use “downsized” rather than “unemployed.” And it never made sense to think an inanimate object would have a gender.

The difficulty when partner humans talk to feline companions is not that felines don't understand but that human speech is so cluttered with persons and concepts not relevant to the situation, concepts such as honor or destiny or history, things other than biological imperative and the physical environment.

Also… Curiosity. Never. Killed. Anyone.

I am secretly thrilled that my current subject affords this opportunity to disregard conventional English punctuation and thereby emphasize the point.

Distemper kills felines. Automobiles kill felines. Curiosity is what keeps them alive. But I digress.

For nearly a year, my mother's humans assumed I'd been eaten by a coyote, which is a common assumption among human communities. Humans have always invented or played up the shadowy threats beyond the firelight. 

I suspect that explanation deprives distemper...and boredom...of due recognition.

But I also suspect the human tendency to imagine things beyond the firelight springs from their desire for relationship.

The concord between feline civilization and human civilization works out in everyday kindness between particular humans and particular felines. We commonly prefer the company of certain humans. That is something like the love some humans profess for one another.

We tolerate the idea of being “pets” out of respect for our superior rationality, but we prefer the terms “partner cat” and “partner human.” The word “pet” lumps us together with various prey species. And even more egregious, “pet” assumes that we are dependent on particular humans.

Some humans imagine their partner cats are something like human children. A lot of partner humans think the birds or mice we discard are “offerings.” It can become a little embarrassing.

Most cats do not believe any particular cat needs any particular human in any particular way. Many felines do not have more than one partner human relationship at a time. Some choose to have none. Some choose to have several. 

I heard of one smooth operator who spent days in one human's apartment and nights in another human's apartment. The humans assumed he was out "hunting."

Then one of his humans visited the other's place while campaigning for a political cause. And the game was up.

Incidentally, I can't imagine an exercise more fruitless than politics. But humans seem fated to try getting others to agree with them, perhaps also a function of their desire for connection.

Anyway, about one year of age, I revisited my first home and found most of my cousins gone. So I held court on the porch and my partner humans opened doors for me as I came and went.

My partner humans lived across the lawn from their grandparents.

The grandfather always came out to feed the cats around 6 o'clock. I would wait on his back deck, watching the sun climb up over the eastern horizon and enjoying the fresh, unspoiled feeling of morning.

He would pour some milk into a tin can he used for the purpose. Then he would sit down on the step stool by the back door and pull on his shoes.

You would hear the thump as he finished tying each shoe and set his foot down. Then he would pick up the can of milk, straighten up, turn the doorknob, and step outside. He walked down the steps to the cellar one step at a time. He was a little stiff before he got “limbered up” in the morning.

Once he got a can of Wiskas out of the cellar, he would call us, “Here kitty-kitty-kitty. Kitty-kit! Here kitty-kitty.” Then we all walked across the garden to “the cat house.”

I say walked. When he walked, he would lift his knees slightly higher than other humans, which gave his walk a hint of marching. Come to think of it, that might also have been because various ones would be milling around his feet, claiming his shoes and pant lets as our own.

I don't know whether the “cat house”—so named because it once was a chicken house—had ever been acquainted with paint, but I never remember it being anything other than the grey-brown of weathered wood. It smelled of cat food...and of the litter box in the corner...and of the neighborhood raccoons that visited during the night.

In feline terms, this morning routine is merely a string of events—facts and smells and actions set in chronological order. The same things happen to us all, except perhaps for those who die younger and thus have fewer experiences. So an individual's experience differs from another individual's experience only in the order and combination of facts.

In this understanding, one individual is almost interchangeable with any other individual of similar background and experience. Each morning is much like every other morning, even if one has to go back thousands of years to find another Tuesday, October 15, when the sun rose at exactly the same instant it rose this morning.

Anyway, once inside “the cat house,” the grandfather would pour the milk into a bowl and give me my own plate of Wiskas. Then he would serve the others.

I occasionally had to remind them of the respect they owed me, it being only rational the strong and beautiful deserve a certain deference. But I don't think the grandfather understood.

Sometimes he called me “unfriendly Friendly,” which I took to be an example of that human foible, humor, which is the tendency to use strange combinations of words to break the tension between the way things are and the way humans think they should be.

As far as I can tell, humor and poetry and art are closely related in human brain function.

Many humans have made advances toward the feline perspective, buying “Bach for Babies” recordings in apparent recognition that making one's infant smarter justifies Bach's work as a composer. This incidentally, is exactly the reason why cats play with prey species...or play in sharpen the wits.

These are often the same humans who work hardest to “learn” from their life experiences so that they can feel better about the mistakes they're making.

I cannot say I'm certain of their success. A scholarly dynasty of felines once set out to catalogue the contradictions of human behavior and unearth its underlying rationality. The data they collected most humans know as William Shakespeare's plays, and the last of that line died off before they reached any conclusions.

My own investigations have not yielded any further insight. Indeed, though some humans talk about keeping felines around as “mousers”—a term by which they equate our whole race with a sort of rodenticidal calling humans “strawberriers”—it is my observation that the irrational human desire for connection has ironically been largely responsible for the long cooperation between our species…and the comfort in which many of us live with our chosen partner humans.

Canines too possess a bias toward social connections, which explains why canines organize themselves into hierarchies and mix so easily with other societies. It also explains why you will never meet a canine that is particularly rational or dignified.

Duke, the canine in whose house I was born, possessed this monarchist turn of mind, which explains why some are so vicious—think "Game of Thrones" from human television—and why most are so...what humans call “loyal.” 

His sensitivity to human sensibilities made him adept at enforcing human attitudes toward prey species—startling my cousins so small birds could escape but leaving us alone when we captured a mouse.

He once returned from a nearby swamp carrying a duckling in his mouth—unmolested except for being slobbered on. But on another occasion, when a muskrat snapped at him, he grabbed it by its spine, shook it once, and dropped it dead on the ground.

Despite the admiration his qualities earned him among our partner humans, Duke still called them masters. And yet, he was never anything but himself.

I don't know why the idea of memory sometimes includes such a sense of missing, not just noticing the absence, of something or someone when they're gone.

Though he never saw the brilliance of feline rationality, and I could not explain him entirely in feline terms, Duke and I enjoyed each other's company, if I can use such vague language. 

My one regret is that I did not have more time to study and perhaps explain him...and the grandfather.


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