Wednesday, November 26, 2014


     My cat Bette is a talented, black-and-white, New York City cat who I named after Bette Davis because of her large, green eyes. Like a true actress, Bette likes to be center stage. In fact, one of her routines is such a hit with my friends that I make her perform it whenever there’s an audience.
     Bette likes to stand on her head on top of the refrigerator.
First, she sits upright on top of the stage (i.e., the refrigerator). When I sing out “Bettteeee” in a high, piping voice, she curls down, rubs her face into the top of the fridge, lets all four paws go limp and stands on her head. I have to move quickly to catch her before she slides head-first off the refrigerator to the floor.
     One day my friend Keith declared that Bette’s unusual talent was remarkable enough for David Letterman’s show. “She’s perfect for Stupid Pet Tricks,” he told me. All my friends agreed, so I began staying up past my bedtime to catch “Late Night with David Letterman” on NBC.
Each night as I watched, Bette would sit on my lap. We saw a sporting dog who could shoot basketballs with his nose and an intellectual dog so clever he could select “War and Peace” from a bookcase. Pretty silly stuff, I thought.
“Bette,” I said, “You’re a shoo-in!” She tucked her paws neatly under her chest and purred.
Keith contacted David Letterman’s casting director and Bette’s audition was set for a Tuesday evening at NBC Studios. We held several rehearsals with Bette and she performed perfectly every time.
      Arriving at Rockefeller Center, we were asked to wait in a hallway with the other Late Night “wannabes.” Keith chatted with the other hopefuls in the waiting area, then whispered, “No other cats.” I felt encouraged.
Soon, a couple shuffled in with a large, squat, pasty English bulldog, who snuffled at Bette’s carrier. She let out a loud hiss. The couple proceeded to dress the dog in a ridiculous cowboy costume, complete with a bandanna, toy holster, miniature cowboy hat and funny-looking boots. Bette immediately went to sleep.
Our turn came and we were ushered into the audition room. A young woman named Barbara checked off Bette’s name on her clipboard. An upright piano was substituted for my refrigerator. I took Bette out of her box, carried her to the piano and placed her on top. She sat placidly looking around for a few moments, not the least bit nervous.
“Quite the professional,” Barbara commented, making a notation on her pad. “Now, let’s see her do her trick.”
I walked over and stood beneath Bette as I had done so many times before. In my special high, piping voice I sang, “Bettteeee!” She looked down at me blandly. “Bettteeee!” I sang again. She looked over at Keith, then at Barbara, then quite calmly jumped to the floor. I caught her and placed her back on top of the piano. “Bettteeee!” I cried, “Bettteeee!”  
She ignored me and tried to jump down again.
For 10 minutes, Keith and I stood screeching “Bettteeee!” and Bette kept trying to climb down. Barbara finally said, “Let her explore.” So we let her explore.  
Bette walked around sniffing at the corners of the room, calm and unperturbed as ever. I picked her up and she purred.
“She seems happy now,” said Keith. “Let’s try again.”
I set her up on the piano again and we called out “Bettteee!” in singsong unison. Even Barbara joined in. Bette gave us one bemused look, jumped down and ran over and began scratching at the door.
Barbara was sympathetic. “That’s our problem with cats,” she said, “they’ll do it at home every time, but in the studio, they refuse. I had hoped Bette would be different.”  
She made a final notation on her pad as I put Bette back in her carrier. On our way out, the English bulldog came clumping in, hardly able to walk in his cowboy boots. His eyes bulged so, it looked like the bandanna was choking him. “Stupid looking dog,” muttered Keith.
As soon as we got home, I put Bette on the refrigerator and sang, “Bettteeee!”  
She gurgled coyly and performed her routine flawlessly. After I caught her, she looked up at me with an unmistakable smirk.
“She did it on purpose,” snorted Keith. I couldn’t argue with him.
Some weeks later my phone rang late at night and an excited voice commanded me to “Put on Letterman!”
I switched the channel and there he was, the English bulldog making a complete fool of himself. With a mini-guitar between his fat paws, he snorted along to a country western song.
David Letterman grinned.
The studio audience guffawed.
Even I laughed.
Suddenly, Bette leapt from out of nowhere onto the table next to the television set and sat staring at me. In contrast to the ridiculous dog, she looked proud and eloquent. As I admired her, a question formed in my mind.
“Bette, why don’t cats do stupid pet tricks?”
I thought I saw the answer in her green eyes.
No self-respecting cat, and certainly not Bette, would sacrifice Dignity for fame and fortune, not even for David Letterman!

Note: This essay was published in CATS magazine in 1993 then again in CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: THE CAT DID WHAT? in 2014.

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