Lyft Pawsenger Series Part 2: parakeet PDA, the verbification of animals, and the psychology of crazy cat ladies

In honor of International Cat Day, here is part 2 of the Lyft Pawsenger series.

In today’s batches: a passenger brings his parakeets, thoughts on using animals as verbs, and a ride with a male cat lover who fosters 22 cats with his wife and comments on the habit of hoarding.

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Parakeet PDA

Passenger Russell* entering the car with his parakeets summons memories from the ’90s, when my family and I had two parakeets of our own named Coco and Limon (our cat Waldo used to take naps on top of their cage). When the two birds exchanged food with each other, it always looked like they were making out. Russell’s parakeets are doing that right now.

“I’ll give them some privacy,” says Russell, who has an Australian accent, as he covers their cage with the towel he’s brought in. 

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Not a puppy, not yet a dog

“The slightly older one’s like getting to an age where his energy’s calming down. He’s not as impulsive, so he can kind of be like a mentor to the younger one. But at the same time he’s also still kind of a puppy so…it’s an interesting dynamic.

“The little one still needs some training; the other day he hopped onto the table and ate a whole platter of Oreos. Luckily he was okay afterwards.

The older one, when the little one does stuff like that, kind of gets this look on his face that’s like ‘Man you’re gona get us both in trouble‘ (shaking his head).”

—30-something African-American man talking about his two dogs, one younger, one older

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#Lyft Thoughts: The Verbification of Animals and what it means to hippopotamus someone

  A passenger and I are driving past cute Victorians on the shaded streets of Midtown Sacramento when the guy on the radio makes the following comment:

“Oh yeah, he was totally peacocking right there.”

I realize that I’m hearing more and more animals being used as verbs these days, and I have to say, I sort of love it.

 I myself had recently used hippopatomus as a verb. When you hippopatomus a conversation you take over it—as hippos do to every room they walk into (or would, if they had access to humans’ living spaces).

What does it mean to peacock? If I had to write an official dictionary definition, it would probably read something like this: to boast, to puff up one’s colorful feathers, to flaunt one’s accomplishments. 

What other animals can be verbified? Readers, when you hear “to cat” “to gorilla” or “to mouse”—what comes to mind for you?

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Loving cat dad, Which Way the cross-eyed cat, and the psychology of crazy cat ladies

“‘Crazy cat ladies get a bad rap because they’re too idealistic. They’re in over their heads even, is what I’d say. She’s crossed the threshold from cat lover to cat addict.” 

Twenty minutes earlier I’d picked up Jacob* in front of a hotel in downtown Sacramento. Clad in green shorts and a beige shirt with a pocket on the chest, he’d been waiting on a concrete bench with a suitcase at his side.

“Hello young lady, could you please take me to the airport?” are his first jovial words to me after opening the door. He then sits down in the front passenger seat, moving it all the way back to accommodate for his very long legs (which, even after he has done this, remain slightly scrunched against the glove compartment).

From the basic conversation we exchange at the start of the ride, I learn that Jacob comes up to Sacramento from Los Angeles about once every two weeks for business trips; that his daughter lives here and works for the Capitol Building, meaning he’s able to see her regularly; and that he’s working to get a measure on the ballot that will expand affordable housing in low-income LA communities.

I also learn that Jacob and his wife have recently converted their garage into a space for tutoring low-income teenagers and children.

“They really need a space. Some of their homes, what’s going on inside them makes it very difficult to study, difficult to think,” he explains.

Growing up on a farm in Indiana instilled in Jacob an appreciation for animals, which contributed to his and his wife’s decision to foster cats. The couple now cares for 22 of them.

“They all get along with each other; there was never any competition or territorial-ness.  Some of them even helped raise the others’ young ones. One cat took in three stray kittens as if they were her own.”

Photo credit: IG account @simabossneko

The pair makes a point of taking in older cats—often former pets of the recently deceased.

“Many of these women loved them dearly before they passed. The cats go from having that to being all alone. It can be very disorienting, the transition. We want to help make it easier for them.”

Of all their cats, Which Way stands out as one of Jacob’s most treasured.

 “We named him that because he’s cross-eyed, and you can never tell which way he’s looking,” he explains.

I notice how, when describing each cat, Jacob makes hand motions as if to outline the size and shape of their body. I also notice (and smile at) how his voice seems to soften every time he says “Which Way.”

Is there a such thing as “full capacity” inside Jacob’s garage? Have he and his wife ever had to turn a cat away?  I wonder.

At this point the conversation takes a leap into unexpected (but interesting) territory.

“It’s very hard, because we want to say yes to all of them,” Jacob replies. “But we’ve also got to think about how many we can realistically provide good care for.”

Here is where he makes the aforementioned crazy cat lady comment you all read at the beginning. And the comment gets me thinking—about the point at which a loving impulse turns into an addiction. About how even if the addict started out loving the thing they’re now addicted to, love’s not at the center of the equation anymore. Compulsion’s replaced it.

Jacob and his wife didn’t go down that route though. They stopped at twenty-two—“a manageable amount of cats,” in his words.

He shakes my hand before leaving the car, thanking me for the ride before walking off to his terminal, suitcase in hand, back towards the healing center that he and his wife have carved out for both humans and animals alike. 

“We named him Which Way because he’s cross-eyed, and you can never tell which way he’s looking.”

A few weeks later, sifting through boxes of old belongings brings our conversation back to the forefront of my mind. 

As I unearth my childhood collection of Pez dispensers, I’m reminded of how as a kid, I threw myself into the hobby of collecting and amassing—everything from Archie comics to souvenir pennies to Pepsi cans featuring different Star Wars characters (which my mom hated and my cat enjoyed swatting around, only to be startled by the noise whenever they crashed against the ground). Bobble-heads crowded my shelves. Shot-glasses that I used as cups for my dolls and stuffed animals during our play tea parties did as well.

One poster of Aaron Carter or a single pin-up of JTT didn’t cut it for me—I had to fill the entire wall. How I managed to not feel unsettled falling asleep under the watch of so many prepubescent boy eyes still mystifies me. Perhaps a budding seed of internalized homophobia making a preemptive attempt at conversion therapy was in part responsible.

My room contained surplus—whether that was after a trip to the library with my mom, or from Beanie babies scattering the floor. So did the pages of my adolescent diary (of the verbal, angsty kind).

I can see looking back now the ways in which as a kid, surplus brought me comfort. Maybe material excess allayed any feelings of solitude.

At one point I even wrote in my journal:

I believe many of us collect to fill voids. More means never going without, never living in scarcity. More confers safety. More means escaping alone-ness. If I just keep accumulating more more more, maybe at some point I can let out all this breath I’ve been holding in.”

Our cultural climate is one that capitalizes upon low self-worth and generalized ennui to sell the message that solutions and relief lie in consumption. Consume more to fill the emptiness, may as well be their mantra.

Material surplus as a child became surplus of a more abstract kind as a young adult. People, experiences, and a constantly full schedule took the place of physical objects, serving the same function that my clutter once did. I scheduled back-to-back activities, unnerved by the thought of banking on solely one interaction to sustain me though the day. Acquaintances, a large social circle, and nonstop activities were the grown-up versions of childhood collections.

I’m not at all saying that surplus is inherently bad; many people not only can successfully juggle multiple commitments, but may even have to in order to stay afloat in this increasingly saturated world. I remembered all my Beanie Babies’ names and made sure each of them got a turn at bat. I did read every library book in the aforementioned towering stack.

 It’s just that sometimes the hoarding mentality can prevent us from appreciating and taking good care of what’s directly in front of us. 

Often (as I came to find through my own later life experiences), “‘more” only feeds disconnection.

What Jacob said about “not being able to love 56 cats” resonates with me. I recall how when I had only one or two Pez dispensers, I really treasured them. They meant more. We had as close to an intimate connection as is possible for a human to have with a chunk of plastic.

The more my supply multiplied though, the less connection I felt with any single one of them.

Looking back now, I’m just glad those Pez dispensers were inanimate objects rather than living creatures with needs and pain receptors, because they surely would have felt the sting of negligence under my care.

Jacob’s message resurfaces from time to time. When I do find myself starting to accumulate—be that material items or events on my social calendar— I ask myself questions now. Questions like Am I saying yes to have one more item to add to my stash? Or because I genuinely connect and derive meaning from it?

 Are my motives extrinsic and escapist— tied more to bolstering my image or avoiding an uncomfortable emotion? Or are they intrinsic and self-actualizing—aimed towards the purpose of connecting?

I have become more intentionally resistant towards what I now regard as the false comfort brought by surplus. Leaning into the initial discomfort of having minimal has gradually instilled within me a comfort that feels more substantial and enduring. It’s a comfort that cannot be easily taken away, because it’s the kind that slowly sets in after recognizing that you on your own are enough.

To bring this all back though, and as a tribute to the big friendly feline-loving passenger of this week’s entry, I’d like to close off with a cat-glorifying passage taken from the compelling and psychologically astute novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine:

“The cat squirmed in my arms and landed on the carpet with a heavy thump. She strolled over to the litter tray, squatted down and urinated loudly, maintaining extremely assertive eye contact with me throughout. After the deluge, she lazily kicked over the traces with her back legs, scattering litter all over my freshly cleaned floor.

A woman who knew her own mind and scorned the conventions of polite society. We are going to get along just fine.”

*Thanks for reading! Check back soon for more Lyft stories, and be sure to follow us on IG @lyft_tales

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Photo credits

Parakeets– https://www.petfoodindustry.com/articles/6813-pet-bird-product-trends-examined-in-us-market-report

Hippo– https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/hippo-dung-fouls-up-freshwater-fisheries/

Downtown Sacramento– https://www.pinterest.com/pin/732749801843855527/

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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