Diary of a Mad Housesitter

Day 1: I am housesitting for my friends Rob and Curtis, who are letting me stay rent-free in their suburban Hillsboro home for two months until I can move into my own apartment in Portland. They were very kind to suggest this arrangement, so I figured the least I could do is move here in time to housesit while they go to Europe for two weeks. Also, they did not give me a choice.

It shouldn’t be much of a job, though. I need to water the backyard lawn on days when it doesn’t rain — but, this being Portland, I assume it will rain every day. Rob said I’ll want to clean out the cats’ litterbox “every couple days” because of the smell, but clearly Rob has underestimated my ability to ignore unpleasant circumstances when doing so will eliminate work for me. Curtis said the lawn needs to be mowed every weekend, but I figure as long as it’s been mowed once before he returns, he’ll never know the difference. And it’s one of those push mowers, with no motor of any kind, and Rob said it’s like using a vacuum cleaner. Even given the fact that I immediately spotted this as an outrageous exaggeration, it still shouldn’t be very arduous.

Day 2: When I am alone in a house, I like to sleep with my bedroom door open. I can’t do that here, though. In fact, I can’t leave my door open at any time, because if I do the cats will go in and get their dander and catness all over my bed, and then I’ll have itchy eyes. Rob said the cats never go in the guest room anyway, but I doubt this, because every time I open the door, one of them tries to get in, as though this room is their favorite place in the world. Sometimes it’s Ethel, the sweeter, more passive female cat. But usually it’s Walter, the aggressive, loud-mouthed male. This morning he was so desperate to gain entry to the room that I was actually awakened by his incessant meowing, issued from his post just outside the door. Every few seconds, he would accent his pleading by banging his little paws against the door, which is light and flimsy and shakes when struck as if Walter had flung his entire body against it, which, for all I know, he had. When I open the door, I have to be ready to kick, too, to shoo Walter away long enough for me to shut it behind me.

Day 3: Rob and Curtis also have a dog, an adorable beagle named Demi. (It’s a long story, but no, he wasn’t named after Demi Moore. They do have a few things in common, though, such as being very attractive members of their species and having a fondness for licking themselves.) I love Demi. He is grotesquely stupid, but devoted beyond belief. If I’m downstairs watching TV, he’s on the floor next to me. If I go upstairs to use the computer, he runs ahead, turning around on the landing to make sure I’m still coming, then barging into the office, where he takes his spot on the floor behind me. When I get home at the end of the day and let him in from the backyard, he is obscenely delighted to see me, barking and jumping and licking me the way only my best friends do. We tell each other about our days, and then I pour food in his bowl, which he ignores in favor of begging for whatever I’m eating. It is the most agreeable relationship I have ever had.

Today it rained a lot, so Demi was not happy to be outside. He doesn’t like to get wet, I’ve noticed. When I take him on his walk every night around 10, he’ll avoid sidewalks that have been dampened by nearby sprinklers. I wonder how he ever gets bathed, then, and am glad Rob and Curtis did not include that task on their list of instructions, as it would have been one more chore for me to avoid doing.

Anyway, Demi whimpered and pressed his little face against the sliding glass door until I finally let him in at around 4, earlier than usual. Immediately, he began indicating he wanted to go for his nightly walk. I explained that not only was it too early for his nightly walk, but that the nightly walk was located in the same “outside” as the one where it was raining. He refused to see my reasoning, however, and persisted in his pleas for a walk. So I got my umbrella and took him for a walk, which he did not enjoy, what with the rain and all.

Day 4: I was told to keep both cats in the house at all times, presumably for their own good and not as a punishment for me. But today Walter escaped. It was when I opened the door to take Demi for his walk. Walter must have been lurking near the door, hiding, because as soon as the door was ajar, he rocketed through it like he was on fire. I had Demi’s leash to contend with, not to mention Demi’s dunderheaded exuberance and energy, and so was unable to pursue Walter for several seconds. By the time I did, he was gone, disappeared into the Oregon foliage. I figure he’ll come back. I mean, what kind of dumb cat doesn’t know where he lives?

In other news, tonight while I was working at the computer desk, Demi passed gas in his sleep. It was the vilest thing I had ever smelled. It had the regular scent of dog poo, but concentrated, as if packed in a spray can and then suddenly deployed all over the room. The window was open, yet the smell did not dissipate, nor did Demi even wake up. I told Demi that if he ever emitted such a stench again, we would have him put down.

Day 5: Walter has not returned. I’m not sure I would know it if he did, actually. It’s not like he can ring the doorbell. Wouldn’t he scratch at the door? Or sit outside and meow? That’s what our cat back home always did. But I have heard nothing from Walter. No calls, no letters, nothing.

I drove around our little Stepford-like neighborhood, looking for him, but I’m not sure what I expected. It seemed unlikely that he’d just be walking down the sidewalk, or waiting at a bus stop. (Where would a cat be going on a bus?!) Anyway, I didn’t see him.

Day 6: All right already, I cleaned out the litterbox. Despite the number of cats in the house having been reduced by 50 percent, the thing still managed to get pretty stinky pretty fast. That said, cleaning it wasn’t as gross as I had feared. There’s a little trowel with slots on the bottom that you use to pick up the clumps; the sand falls through the slots, leaving only the clumps, which are fairly solid and compact. Apparently we keep these cats (or, rather, this cat) on a high-fiber diet. I’m not saying I enjoyed it, just that it was bearable.

Day 7: I visited the local animal shelter today to see if Walter had turned up. I had a wide array of fears. My first fear was that he wouldn’t be there, and that I would have to tell Rob and Curtis, upon their return, that I had misplaced one of their cats. My second fear was that he WOULD be there, and that I would have to pay a lot of money to get him out of hock.

I was directed to a room called, for real, “the cattery,” where the stray cats are kept in individual cages. This room is also known as “the den of itchy eyes.” I planned on staying just long enough to see if Walter was there, but I soon discovered that 1) I didn’t know Walter very well and 2) my basic description of him — mostly black with some white areas — matches pretty much every cat ever produced. I knew Walter was a neutered male, though, so that eliminated the female and/or sexually virile members of the cattery. But there were still a few that might have been him. None of them were on Death Row yet, so I figured I had time to come back in a day or two with a photo, assuming I could find one. (Had Rob and Curtis taken their pets to the Sears portrait studio? I could not recall.)

While I was in the cattery with a woman who actually seemed to adore cats, who was probably preparing to embark on a career as a crazy old cat lady, an animal shelter employee poked his head in and said, “Can you guys stay in here for a minute with the door closed? We have a mean dog coming through.” I liked the fact that the technical, professional term for a mean dog is “mean dog.”

Thus quarantined, we watched through the glass as what was apparently a mean dog was led down the hall on a leash. I did not like being confined to the cattery with a lot of cats and a strange woman, but I did like the excitement of seeing a condemned criminal being escorted past us.

Unfortunately, I left the cattery and the animal shelter empty-handed. If Walter was there, I couldn’t pick him out of the lineup. And in another week, Rob and Curtis will be home, demanding to have all their possessions accounted for, and wanting to know if I’ve mowed the lawn.


Not since the infamous treatise on tow truck drivers of 2002 has "Snide Remarks" been so meaty as to require two installments. Of course, since there are not space limitations on an Internet-only column, I could have included the entire story here, in one piece. But it would have made the column extremely lengthy, probably so lengthy as to be unwieldy and discouraging. Reading "Snide Remarks" should not be a time-consuming chore, that has always been my philosophy. So I have split it into sections, like that J.K. Rowling does. You only have to wait a week to find out what happens to me and Walter, though!

This column bears a similarity in content and format to "Stuff Happens," aka "Diary of a Dog-Sitter," from January 2003. I do not know the current whereabouts of the dogs in that column, only that their owner is the one who got me fired from the Herald, so wherever they are, I hope they're still crapping a lot.