The nightmares began in late February, right after I had read that CATS, which has been playing in the Winter Garden Theater in New York, since the 1939 World's Fair, would be closing on June 25 because of declining box office revenue. In those nightmares 26 cats with electronically glowing eyes emerged from a junkyard to play hideous pranks on me.
At first I thought the nightmares were a by-product of looming deadlines, my fondness for Long Island Iced Tea, or the yahoo with the CB radio next door who comes jabbering through my stereo speakers at three in the morning on occasion, even if I don't have the stereo on; but then I saw the photos accompanying some of the 143 articles about the demise of CATS in one local newspaper. The photos gave me a sickening feeling of dread -- the kind of feeling you get when you do something because you think you're alone, then you discover there's another person in the room. That feeling told me the nightmares were caused by the fact that I was the sole cat-owning writer in North America who had never seen CATS.
Disgusting, isn't it? That anyone who has written five books and more than 400 articles about cats -- and has owned far more cats than a rational person should -- has never seen the musical that so influenced the naming of cats and the direction of Broadway in this century.
That first item, unfortunately, is another sticky wicket: I am also the only living "cat writer" in America who doesn't have at least one cat named after a creature in CATS. There have been "Polecat"s and "Bad Seed"s at our house, a gray cat named "Ginger" and a "Sid Vicious" whose name was changed to "Sydney" when we realized Sid was a girl; but there has never been an "Old Deuteronomy", a "Jennyanydots", or a "Mr. Mistoffelees" around here.
...For I Have Sinned
The dreadful knowledge that I might be a closet CATSophobe grew inside me like Rosemary's Baby. Whenever I was around a group of people who started talking about CATS... All right, I made that part up, I have never been around a group of people who started talking about CATS, but if I ever were around one, I'd change the topic as quickly as I could. I'd begin to talk eagerly about the time I attended the cat-stamp ceremony at the Winter Garden Theater on assignment in February 1988. There were several members of the CATS cast on hand for the event, which celebrated the introduction of four postage stamps that each bore a painting of two different cat breeds.
The cast members' costumes were impressive in a theatrical sort of way, but the back-alley cheekiness of the CATS set -- a giant-economy size collage of discarded tires, soda cans, toothpaste tubes, cigarette packs and many other things no longer bright and beautiful -- didn't seem unusual to me. In the rural village where I live there are houses whose back yards look just like the setting for CATS, and those are the better houses. The other ones have that stuff on the front lawn.
Earlier this year I was reminded of my only visit to the Winter Garden Theater when I read that CATS now had its own postage stamp. An actor in a cat costume appears on the stamp beneath the word CATS, and beneath the actor are the words 'Musical Smash' on the left and '33 USA' on the right.
The day I discovered that CATS had its own stamp I dreamed I stopped at a turnpike exit to pay my fare and handed the guy in the tollbooth a 10-dollar bill. He handed me back four ones, and I nearly siezured when I looked down and saw the face of the Rum Tum Tugger where the face of George Washington should have been. I looked up to ask the toll taker if this was his idea of a joke. That's when I saw that he was dressed in Rum Tum's costume. I didn't stop screaming until I got back home, by which time I had awakened my wife and the dogs -- and maybe the CB radiohead next door. (I thought it significant that our cats had slept right through my terror)
Dollar bills and toll takers weren't the only things transformed by CATS in my dreams. Once I dreamed I was watching the Food Network and all the chefs turned into cats. When I realized what they were breading, I woke up sweating. Even commercials were taken over by CATS in my nightmares. Mr. Whipple the Charmin guy, Dave from Wendy's, Bill Cosby; all were singing and dancing and licking themselves in elaborate cat suits.
Worst came to worser a few nights ago when a spiritlike dude in a cat mask appeared to me carrying a huge scratching post shaped like a cross. He said his name was Hector Montalvo, and he was condemned to drag the scratching post around and dress in a toga because I had sinned against CATS.
When Will Time Flow Away?
Montalvo's visit -- which occured after I had read in a newspaper that a 42-year-old computer software salesman from Manhattan claims to have seen CATS 671 times -- convinced me that I had to put a stop to the nightmares. Besides, I was losing so much sleep I was beginning to look like something the cats had dragged in.
Yet what could I do to put an end to CATS maddening midnight dances? I thought about renting the CATS video, but I was afraid that watching it might produce a paradoxical reaction and worsen my nightmares rather than alleviating them. I considered joining a cat writers' association so I could resign my membership card in disgrace at the annual meeting where they sit around and give each other awards. I even thought about schlepping up to New York to see CATS, but then I remembered the humiliation that had been visited upon Evelyn Amato, an unemployed office worker from Manhattan, who attended CATS on January 30, 1996, with her fiance and several members of his family.
Amato, then 31, was sitting in a fourth-row orchestra seat when Rum Tum Tugger bounded off the stage, pulled Amato from her seat, and rotated his groin in front of her face while shouting "boom, boom, boom." Amato was so discommoded by this "assault" that she filed suit against the theater owner and the play's director, producer and composer for assault, battery, invasion of privacy, violation of civil rights, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment. The case never went to trial, which led me to drop any thoughts I might have had of suing CATS for stealing the very approach I had used to pick up women in the '70s.
Obviously I wouldn't be able to get away with a symbolic gesture. I'd have to do something sincere and calculating. I'd have to make a public apology. That decided, I vowed I would be anal retentive about my apologies. I would apologize to more people than the president apologized to about Monica Lewinski. I'd even apologize to dead people, beginning with T.S. Eliot, whose book of poetry entitled "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" is the work on which CATS is allegedly based. For example, I'd apologize to Andrew Lloyd Webber, who set Eliot's cat poems to music, on behalf of the critic who called Webber "the McComposer of McBroadway McSpectacles that almost always bear an unmistakable resemblance to somebody else's work (especially Puccini's)."
Not content merely to apologize, I resolved to learn everything there was to know about CATS and to recite those factoids to everyone I met. After telling people that CATS will have been performed 7,397 times by the end of its June 25 closing, I'll remind them that CATS became the longest running show on Broadway with its 6,138th performance, on Thursday June 19, 1997. Then I'll dazzle 'em with arcana: More than 1.8 million pounds of dry ice have been used to create fog for CATS; the 3,247 pounds of yak hair used for the characters' wigs in CATS weigh more than Rosie O'Donnell; the 58,000 condoms used to protect the body mikes worn by CATS actors were autographed Wilt Chamberlain models; "Memory," not only the most popular song in CATS but also its only good one, according to some critics, has been recorded by 180 different artists; 19 of the 284 actors who have appeared in CATS are dead ("gone to the heaviside layer" in CATS parlance); and the London production of CATS, which has been playing since May 11, 1981, became the longest-running show in the history of British theater in 1989.
Having apologized and made a vow of restitution, I prayed that I'd be able to sleep without interruption soon -- or at least by the closing of CATS on June 25. I was beginning to take comfort in this thought, and was even planning a catnap, when I saw a most disturbing piece in the paper: Right after the closing of CATS had been announced, sales jumped nearly 100 percent, prompting one cynic to write that the closing announcement was a publicity stunt designed to hype ticket sales.
Could it be that no one had any intention of closing CATS? Would CATS really live up to its "Now and Forever" motto? With that familar sickening feeling in my stomach I began to fear that I was doomed to spend my sleeping hours as an unfortunate Peke set upon by Pollicles in a living Junkyard hell while a continuous loop of "Memory" sung by all of its 180 recording artists in succession played over and over in my fevered mind.