Renovation: Right in the Thick of It

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I sit today at my computer perch, words fail to describe the renovation chaos we are currently existing within here in our tiny abode. We kicked off the fun with a mandatory window replacement project requiring that the entire contents of the apartment shift to the interior most side and be covered against ages old flying plaster as the windows were taken from their frames. Brawny men used power tools to yank out the old and then sheer strength to bring in the new.

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Kim somehow manages to continue working on some tracing as the windows get yanked out and then replaced. This taken from my spot at the computer – the only choice!

 

Cats spent the day huddled in the bathroom, the barricade buttressed additionally by our mattress and a chair or two. One and done – the windows were done in a day (a few terrible tense hours really) and the army of men moved onto the next apartment. We were number one – the very first in the building – and we are relieved as we watch their march continue through the building – progress pausing for the occasional very rainy or windy day. (If you missed it I posted about the pre-game packing of the apartment in a posts that you can read here and here.)

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Cookie the morning of window removal – deeply uneasy and unsure why.

 

For one thing, I swear I had no idea how much stuff I had managed to cram into our tiny kitchen over the years. I honestly (utterly naively) thought it could be packed in two hours. Man, was I ever wrong! Boxes and boxes (and hours) later I realized that I had held onto dishes that had been given to me decades ago I had utterly forgotten about and that I had utensils (some obscure) that I last used in my professional cooking days – which are now a full two decades behind me.

Some of these (a particular crimper of pie crust comes to mind) were hard to source originally and much beloved in their day, but have remained unused for years now in response to my present pie-making-less life. (Sadly, to a large degree, calorie control means that I exist in a largely pie-free eating state as well.) I am reminded of a life I might have imagined for myself in my twenties – wine decanter and matching glasses anyone? Dessert plates? I will try to cull the herd on the unpacking side. Meanwhile, boxes filled with breakables teeter in piles on one side of our single room apartment.

Acknowledging how hurried the packing really was I now harbor a secret deep concern that I have destroyed our delicate eco-system and will never be able to return us to a normal life. I am reminded of why I waited so long to get this work done, the last real renovation having been done when I moved into this apartment more than twenty years ago now. (Kim and I are hovering on the brink of 25 years since we got together, about two weeks from today, and I moved into this apartment about six months after that.)

While I am not especially picky, peeling linoleum, aging counters, cabinet, and a chronic broken overhead light were demanding attention which seemed impractical to tackle one project at a time. In addition, despite my lack of pastry producing these days, we really do cook in our kitchen pretty much daily. (Unlike some of our fellow storied Manhattan denizens, we do not keep cashmere cardigans in our oven as storage.) Ovens and refrigerators have come and gone over time. However, job changing, helping my parents move followed by Dad’s illness and ultimate decline, have all meant that I have invested no time or energy in the apartment. It has come back to haunt me and I am paying the proverbial piper now.

We are approximately in the middle of the kitchen process – or at least I would like to think so. The stove disappears on Tuesday, as does the water. The fridge will (somehow) find its way into the living room for the duration. (That will be interesting.) I will batten down the remaining hatches and figure out a way to heat coffee and heat the occasional item over the coming week or so. Our devotion to smoothies like to take a hit in the near future as well. (I wrote about smoothies recently, opining on the absence of them when I travel. The post can be found here.) Like our cats, we get disoriented quickly without our routines and our nerves fray rapidly.

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Kitchen dismantled and in progress. The floor is sporting its originally incarnation of linoleum here, recently uncovered.

 

In terms of our cats, Cookie has taken the process especially hard. She is a precise little creature and the ongoing disturbance is really taking a toll. Each night when I come home she and I sit on the couch and she meows the entire story out to me, insisting that I pet her and scratch her ears while she does. She meowed in outright alarm while I packed up the kitchen. I would say she is in a state of high nervousness that only a female house cat can achieve. Meanwhile, her brother Blackie, continues to nap on my spot on the bed, largely unconcerned. I won’t say he is entirely unaffected, but it is remarkable the difference in temperament.

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Blackie curled up in bed, as usual.

 

And yes, for those of you who are Pictorama readers ongoing – all this with Kim’s new book Reincarnation Stories hitting the stands last week! (My two-part review of the new book can be found here and here.) A very nice review came in from NPR (with a shout out to Pam of Pictorama – in addition to the excerpt from the New Yorker online and some other previews. (Always promoting the family business here at Deitch Studio, those links are below.)

Next weekend, despite apartment woes, we will be in Brooklyn where Kim will sign books and have a public conversation with fellow cartoonist Nina Bunjevac. (Comice Arts Brooklyn at Pratt Institute – I think they go on at 5:00. Kim will be signing books and I will set up with some t-shirts and original art work for sale.) Things are hopping here at Deitch Studio all around. Stay tuned for the next installment and wish us luck!

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Cookie this AM on her new favorite perch, two boxes of Reincarnation Stories.

 

Links to some early reviews for Reincarnation Stories:
NPR – Kim Deitch Spins His Yarns

Kitten on the Keys via the New Yorker

The Many Reincarnations of Kim Deitch

Info on the Comic Arts Brooklyn gig

 

 

Overwhelmed

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Recently I started our tale of renovation woe and adventure and now we stand on the threshold of it. If all goes with plan, our windows will be replaced on Tuesday and work will begin on our kitchen shortly after. (That original post can be found here.) Today I sit, surrounded by boxes that need to be filled, wondering how exactly we will do it.

Generally speaking I am very good at managing things. A friend at work once compared me and my then colleagues to border collies. Efficient, sometimes nipping, exacting little canines, herding and organizing otherwise errant sheep. (Fundraising at the Metropolitan Museum often seemed that way. It was about steering things along and executing them. At Jazz at Lincoln Center a bigger and toothier animal is needed – another colleague used to refer to something called shark-itude, and for now suffice it to say more of that type of animal is required in this job.) Fundraising breaks down into many exacting tasks to be executed ongoing and your success is largely your ability to continually hit those marks, or as many as possible.

Therefore, the fact that I sit in our 600 square foot apartment (at least they told me that was how many feet it was when I purchased it – I have neither tested nor challenged that fact, but I have wonder occasionally) worrying exactly how to do what needs doing is a bit unlike me. I have been examining the challenge for days, weeks in fact pausing (only when in South Africa and other things overtook my daily consciousness) and frankly it seems mathematically beyond reason to arrange our furniture in a fashion which allows the window folks to do what they claim to need. That is without actually removing any of the furniture to another location.

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Cookie is ready to help

 

A friend was over last night and suggested turning the couch on its end and propping it up against one of the bookcases for the duration – the best suggestion I have heard to date for increasing access although the execution of it concerns me a tad despite the fact that I consider Kim and I reasonably fit. (Thank you Bill!) Boxes of our beloved (and admittedly a few still unread) books are being packed today in a wild variety of liquor store boxes – Bailey’s anyone? Kim’s to be maintained in his own mystical reading order requiring his own packing. (I just piled mine in by size.) A couple of real dogs are heading to the thrift store where perhaps they will find a new readership. These boxes will theoretically, in turn and when we are in a post-window replacement world, hold dishes and pots and pans from our kitchen. They seem inadequate for that and there will need to be more I suspect. Hopalong Cassidy is playing on the tv although we are not watching, somehow his voice has a soothing Saturday morning aspect to it.

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My pj’s are still available online from a company with the great moniker, The Cat’s Pajamas.

 

I prefer to do rather than to fret, but as I sit in my elephant pj’s this morning, cup of cold coffee at my side (night attire and coffee drinking habits have indeed been examined here and here for new readers) I am somewhat unsure how to proceed. I apologize that you, Pictorama reader, have to be along for the ride, but truly it is the only thing on my mind today. I wonder if the great generals and other masterminds have had these moments – sort of knowing somehow you will have to drag a camel throw the eye of a needle and wondering if you are up to the challenge.

I guess I figure come what may, somehow furniture will find a temporary perch, room will be made and windows replaced. Hopefully no furniture, toys, cats or people will be injured in the process. I will then find the stamina to empty our tiny but packed kitchen for phase two. (I’m sure you will hear more from three weeks of kitchen work and at least a week of take-out eating as a result.) As you see above, Cookie is at the ready to help. As I write she is supervising Kim packing Frank Merriwell paperbacks. (Blackie is snoring on the bed having assumed the warm spot I left upon rising earlier, as is his habit. For now he is unconcerned with this adventure. I am cat-like in my own craving for home quiet and routine. My own fur is therefore ruffled greatly.)

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Blackie slips into my spot in bed for a nap when I get up each morning.

 

After all is done I will see if I can muster the energy for a last maneuver for me and my troops – erecting a wall of bookcases which would enable us to see portions of the floor we haven’t in years. Wish us luck!

Renovation: the Beginning

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A much younger Blackie during an earlier version of packing up the apartment for work to be done.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Into everyone’s life eventually home renovation of one kind or another must come it seems. For better or worse I have kept it to the absolute bare minimum in my adult life time, but despite all efforts stuff gets old, worn, breaks and has to be replaced. I spent the first decade or so of my adult life in a rental apartment – renting might be the only way one can really avoid the need to do home repairs of substance, although I understand from my renting compatriots that renovations can be wished on you even in a rental when the landlord has a plan as well. (Sigh.) I renovated this apartment when I bought it and before I moved in, but now it is more years ago than I want to put in writing and the useful life of many things has come to an end.

Our upcoming home improvement is a combination of work that our co-op needs to do dovetailing in an unfortunate way with a renovation of our kitchen which is at least five years beyond when it should have been done. (Suffice it to say that I am afraid that if the Board of Health in New York City rated home kitchens like restaurants that we would be found sub-par and they would have closed us down.)

After my convalescence post-foot surgery about five years ago, I became aware that the kitchen needed a serious re-do. With a massive plaster cast on my foot I spent three weeks in bed, with it propped higher than my head, followed by another few weeks on a “knee wheelie” which was too large to negotiate our tiny, closet-sized kitchen. (A Great Dane could not fit in the space.) Recuperation ended up being about five weeks without seeing the kitchen at all. (Kim was top chef under my bedridden direction and of course there is take-out) and when I finally saw it again I realized the time had come and it needed some work. However, with some building mandated work coming out of the blue, then changing jobs soon and finally Dad’s illness, it didn’t happen. Suddenly years have passed and here we are and it is in a wretched state.

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Blackie examines my foot cast while I recuperated from this surgery about five years ago.

 

I had hopes of executing the kitchen renovation over the summer, but alas, I had underestimated the difficulty of finding a contractor in NYC for my relatively puny job and instead spent the summer chasing those until I found Mike who seems to be a responsible citizen of the world. For my readers (I will assume most) who do not live in Manhattan co-ops all of this will seem strange and dreadful – which it is. In order to do more than change a light bulb (I am exaggerating but only slightly) in a New York co-op apartment you need to file paperwork – and more paperwork. Then you wait and they ask for a bit more paperwork – licenses, plans, spec sheets for stoves and the like. I understand they want to make sure you aren’t moving walls, ruining pipes or generally bringing the place down around our ears, but it gets a bit absurd.

While Mike and I are in the negotiating with the management agency stage paperwork stage of the project we are in a honeymoon phase of us-against-them. Hopefully we will remain a good team but let’s face it, that is like the difference between dating and marriage. Nonetheless, no complaints, at least he’s been willing to go steady with us.

Somehow, simultaneously, our building which has dawdled along on a project to replace all the windows (they too had planned for the summer) has scheduled this to happen at the same time. I don’t know if you reader are like me, but the idea that some day in the next few weeks someone will come and rip the windows out of our sixteenth floor apartment and tuck new ones in kind of freaks me out. I mean, inconvenience and packing up notwithstanding. There’s going to be a period (hours? minutes?) when our beloved single room home is just nakedly entirely exposed to the outside, sixteenth floor outside world? Yikes.

So we will wrap bookcases in plastic, pack antique toys away (it means everyone will get a good dusting at least) and cats too will have to be spirited into the locked bathroom or to the vet for the duration which we understand to be a day. I’m not sure if I will stay and huddle at my computer perch for the duration or abandon ship for the office after work has commenced. We do not have a firm date yet, but it hovers (menaces, lurks) immediately upon my return from South Africa, a week long trip which commences tomorrow as I write this.

Meanwhile, Kim and I are not strangers to work being done in this apartment. As I alluded to above, the building had a project of pipe replacement a few years back (yes, they re-piped the entire heating system – I guess pipes give out over time, who knew?) which required that a large swath of our ceiling and some of our floor be ripped out for what turned out to be several weeks of work. They encased the work area in plastic, with a little zipper to get in and out, but dust and plaster were everywhere and we remained shrouded in plastic for weeks – more or less living perched in bed and only Kim’s work table otherwise accessible.

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Swathing the apartment in plastic for the re-pipe project which ended up going on for weeks

 

Therefore today, in addition to packing for more than a week’s sojourn to Johannesburg with my beloved Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra, I am assuming the hat of Director of Operations for Deitch Studio once again. I deeply suspect there will be more to say about this soon.

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Blackie slightly horrified at packing during for the re-piping project.

 

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Cookie having a grand time during the same packing project!

 

 

3 Little Kittens

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: This wonderful little tidbit was a gift from my friend Eileen Travell – and it is a perfect addition to the Pictorama library of cat literature, toys, phots and collectibles. I read that the original poem is an English nursery rhyme with roots in British folk lore. The poem as it is generally known today is attributed to Eliza Lee Cabot Follen, an American writer (1787–1860), first published in 1843, but finding its way to the Mother Goose canon over time. This edition is of the poem updated further and modernized for the 1923 publication by Ruth Kauffman. On the inside flap of this copy there is an undated inscription by an earlier owner, Alma Richarde, in uneven but very legible print.

Not much can be found about Ruth Kauffman beyond this volume – although it should be said that must have been a wildly popular book as many copies are available on the internet today. It would appear that Ms. Kauffman was married to Reginald Wright Kauffman, author and journalist; his work generally pertaining to social causes of the day. As for Ruth, her slim volume of The Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens seems to be what she is remembered for today. I could find nothing else attributed to her – or an author with her name spelled this way.

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Her 1923 version of the Kitten Mitten story has the mama cat warning her kits of the great, big world. Of streets and motor-cars, of wayward baseballs and of stones that make a cat see stars. Mama cat further tells them to keep themselves and the “clothes” tidy – their wardrobe consisting of little jackets, shoes and of course mittens, in this case mits that matched each Kitten’s hair. I’ve never been sure why kittens needed mittens, nor for that matter why small children needed them beyond winter weather protection – and these seem to be indoor/outdoor mittens. (Meanwhile, cat mittens turns up some alarming images of contemporary be-mittened cats. No idea why anyone would do that to a cat.) Cookie as a tuxedo has permanent, nice, bright white mittens – those are the kind I like best on kittens.

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Although she doesn’t appear to even rate a Wikipedia entry, the illustrator Margaret Campbell Hoopes’s has illustrated books which appear to do brisk business on antiquarian book sites. Born in 1893 (d. 1956) she studied at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Arts and she and her Florence sister achieved success as illustrators of their day. Their combined work seems to be best known for something called the Alice & Jerry readers of the 1930’s – these have escaped my notice until now. However, in addition to my slim volume, I find illustrated editions of Peter Rabbit, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and many copies of something called I Don’t Want to Go to Bed. (There’s a handsome Puss ‘n Boots that maybe I need to own.) I found a fellow blogger searching for information about Margaret and her sister back in 2008. There needs to be more information on these gifted illustrators.

I do love her illustrations in this book. The cats are just the right combination of anthropomorphic and true feline. The three kittens, Tortoise-shell, Silver-fur and White, are sent out to play while Mama has to bake a pie, and cook some mice that I have caught, So you must just amuse yourselves, but – wear the mits I bought. Out they go and there they skipped about and sang, and bit their tails in play, and turned the cutest somersaults; you know a kitten’s way.

 

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Lastly of note is the owner of the interesting shop where Eileen found and purchase this nifty little book. Sally Brillon, along with her husband Joe, is the owner of 1786 Wilson Homestead (1117 Chamberlin Mill Road, Salem, NY; their website which can be found here) and the photos of the Hutchinson’s shop in a barn intrigued me before I knew Eileen had procured this book for me. In addition to books and antiques, until recently she also taught cooking on a hearth, something for those with a fireplace and the inclination.

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Sally in her shop.

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Andrew, did you buy the top hat?

Should the winds of chance take me to Salem, New York, I will be anxious to stop in and spend a few hours digging around. Who knows what cat related gems must lurk in those piles.

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Joyful kittens at the end of the book!

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is an actual photo, not a photo postcard, which weighs in at only about 3.5″x 3″. It was taken from an album which it had been glued into, black paper stuck to the back. It is an interesting photo when studied – the woman in the background is wearing a fully long dress, as I guess the woman with the cat is although that is a bit hard to see. This dates it early in the 20th century. Meanwhile, a man with a cap, somewhat obscured, is seated behind the woman and cat.

Of course I have purchased it because of this wonderful tabby. He appears to be an orange tabby – which means he is likely to be a he as Google informs me that males outnumber female orange tabbies about 80% to 20%. This photo has an interesting immediacy. When it is blown up large you can see that what the woman holds is a toy on a string, not food which was my immediate thought.

I have had close association with several orange striped cats in my life. My mother has a rather magnificent one named Red right now, who was devoted to my father and who presents his toys and acts as ambassador cat when I overnight in New Jersey.  Pictorama readers my remember my childhood cat Pumpkin, an enormous and dog-like kitty who used to follow me to the bus stop in the morning growing up. He was much larger than this fellow, but had an amazing fluffy striped tummy and tail. He would roll and display his tummy in a come hither way – and then chomp down on your arm with all his considerable force when you tried to pet him. Bad kitty! We had to warn guests and even delivery folks not to be taken in.

Therefore, I can only say I was shocked with Cookie and Blackie arrived here with a very canine desire to have their tummies rubbed – since kittenhood they roll over and demand tummy pets multiple times a day. Cookie in particular needs some tummy rubs every morning to start the day. She will meow and stretch and roll with happiness when you comply. Blackie also invites an occasional tummy pet, but it is as if he likes the idea more than the reality and tends to roll over after a rub or two and send you on your way with a paw push. No biting though.

Our resident cats also perch on their hind legs more than any felines I have ever known. Like the cat in the photo I have had cats that would stand and reach for something, but not as willing to perch that way, sometimes for minutes, as our Cookie and Blackie seem to be. Occasionally they entertain me with their version of cat boxing this way. (If there is anyone out there who has not seen this video of cats boxing in slow motion doing patty cake with commentary – or if you just need a chuckle – have a look here.)

Kim and I have speculated that this is a form of kitty evolution, especially the hind leg standing. Shortly after Kim and I started dating I made him a Valentine drawing of my cats Otto and Zippy, them holding forth in a riotous anthropomorphic party scene while we were out of the apartment, but presumably to disappear magically somehow as we approached the front door. Oh to know the secret life of cats!

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This entertained me with its little bit of photo collage that makes it possible. The noisy boy kittens (I think they are wearing shirt collars like they just came from a late night party) are “singing” to these proper girl cats, who sport enormous bows, presumably it is their human neighbors who are also being serenaded, much to their chagrin. I am especially enamored of the little house the girl cats are in. This card was mailed on October 22, 1907 at 5:30 PM from Lyons, Kansas to Miss Dorothy Curtis, Villisca, Iowa. (Villisca remains a very small town, only 1200 people as of the 2010 census so even today maybe a street address isn’t needed. The town is evidently best known for an unsolved axe murder in the summer of 1912.)

Cats preventing sleep – night and morning – is a big topic, bless their little nocturnal hearts. I have written some about the morning routine here at Deitch Studio. You’ve heard about how I take my place at the computer eating breakfast while Kim commences working at his end of the desk. During the week I read the newspaper and maybe cheat in a little work email and on the weekend I sit, as I do now, writing this blog. What I have not described is Cookie and Blackie’s routine which starts much earlier.

Ever since his first night in the apartment as tiny kitten, Blackie has been the most likely to sleep on the bed with us. (Despite having been terrified of us and hiding under the bed all of his first day here, I woke in the middle of the night to find him curled up between us snoring away.) He starts his evening between us, usually while we are reading, but after lights out he moves to a spot near my feet. He is sometimes joined by Cookie, who has a pillow of her own down there.

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Blackie, crammed between us during nighttime reading in bed.

 

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Cookie on her pillow perch at the foot of the bed.

 

Come 4:00 am (that’s not a mistake, 4 o’clock!) Blackie begins a frontal assault, primarily on Kim as I do not get up at that hour. This largely takes the form of head butting and jumping on a bookcase full of toy cats, and then plummeting down onto the bed. Cookie watches to make sure he executes properly. If for some reason he does not, she will start racing around on the bed – sometimes they have a chase over us for good measure. Kim is an early riser and more susceptible than me and generally he gets up and feeds them and starts his day.

For those of you who follow us here at Pictorama ongoing, you know that my job at Jazz for Lincoln Center keeps me out quite late on some evenings. In addition, anyone who knows me well, knows that I love to sleep so the early routine of the house is a bit trying for me at times. I have always loved to sleep. My mother tells the story that she brought me home from the hospital and I slept through the night (as did she) and she panicked thinking something had happened to me. I am fond of picking the right pajamas and night gowns, always cotton like our sheets. (I discuss my fondness for my pj’s in a former post which can be found here.) At this very moment I am wearing a pair of pajama bottoms with a toile elephant print which I purchased in homage to the elephant drawings Kim is working on. I adore them.

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My pj’s are still available online from a company with the great moniker, The Cat’s Pajamas.

 

But I love my kitties more even than sleep. And, as I alluded to above, they have figured out that I am not the most likely suspect to get out of bed and often, now tummy full of delicious cat food, Blackie will wander back for a second snooze, curled up with me when I finally hear the clock radio an hour or so later.

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Blackie coming back to share the bed early one morning recently.

 

And of course, once we are both out of the bed it becomes a kitty haven. I close with a rare shot of the two of them sharing it.

 

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Everybody into the Pool!

Pam’s Pictorama Postcard Post: Kicking off this 1st of June post with a kitty fantasy worthy of my Jersey shore childhood, although this seems to be more of a mountain lake scene than the Atlantic ocean of my youth. These swimming felines sport an interesting array of swimming costumes that cross clothing periods – while one bikini is prominent, some “men” wear old-fashioned one pieces from earlier in the 20th century, as does a female kitty climbing up a diving ladder further back. A few wear swim caps – keeping their kitty coiffures intact?

Referred to sometimes as Mainzer Cats, this card is part of a large series of postcards produced by the Alfred Mainzer company of Long Island City, New York. (A local business with Long Island City being just across the East River from where I sit right this moment.) The company was in business from the 1940’s through the 1960’s, however the artist responsible for these cards was a Swiss artist, Eugen Hartung (or Hurtong) (1897-1973), who executed the series. So the moniker Mainzer Cats seems a bit unfair in retrospect – these are actually Hartung kitties.

Clearly the artistic and spiritual descendent of Louis Wain, (who I have written about on many occasions including here  and here for starters), Hartung picked up the whacky feline artistic baton of depicting anthropomorphic cats; his felines generally clad in human togs and portrayed in a variety of settings and situations – sometimes when minor disaster is about to strike, although this one doesn’t seem to show anything more serious than a raft tipping over. He is a bit less boffo than Wain and I gather he employed other animals in images as well – dogs, mice and even hedgehogs.

Kim claims to have had a number of these cards pinned up on the wall of his 1970’s Bay area abode and thinks some may linger in the depths of his files. (Um, are you holding out on your wife Mr. Deitch?) This card is the first to enter the Pictorama collection although I have a tugging memory that maybe I also owned a few as a child.

As for cats and water – I have known some more fond of it than others, but none that were interested in full body immersion, swimsuit notwithstanding. I have however known one or two to sit under a dripping faucet now and again – sometimes to drink from, but occasionally just for the bit of drip, drip, drip on their head. My cat Otto was prone to getting a bit too curious about a full tub of water which sometimes ended badly when she took an unintentional dunking now and again. I have had several cats who were committed to being in the bathroom when I showered – scratching at the door insistently if excluded – and more than one that discovered the space between the shower curtain and liner as an exciting cat shower experience perch, I guess not unlike the excitement going through the car wash as a child.