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Scaredy Cats, One and All

LAST SUNDAY, the unexplainable happened. In the span of about five hours--between working out and running errands--three black cats crossed Biter's path. Not cats forced into panic-stricken flight by dogs or hordes of children in SpongeBob SquarePants costumes, mind you. Not one cat who zigzagged in front of our car three times. No, we're talking three separate cats, on three separate paths, who, of their own volition, decided to run in front of us.

It gave us pause.

The first cat was on the Los Gatos Creek trail, probably feral and just skittish in general. The second one appeared a couple of hours later on a busy street behind a mall. This one ran out into the street--hesitated in that uniquely feline should-I-shouldn't-I? kind of way that mirrors so many voters in this upcoming election--then shot out in front of our car on a suicide mission that we narrowly averted.

Well, that's weird, we thought.

By the third one, an all-black adolescent cat that simply darted from the ivy on one side of the street to the driveway across the street, Biter was glad to be only a few blocks from home. We felt like we should go to bed and put a pillow over our head.

Seeking solace, Biter went to the library, the largest collection of books printed before 1972. It turns out that the whole black cat thing is bunk, based on bad religion, bad people and crazy ideas from that dark 300-year period in Europe and the United States known as the witch craze.

Not only did people believe that thousands of people were flying to secret meetings using garden implements and household tools to get there, but that once there, they ate babies, kissed the butt of the devil (literally), had sex with him and then turned themselves into animals including--you guessed it--black cats. At this point these witches-turned-cats would embark on such evil deeds as causing milk to spoil, making crops fail, getting people sick and having those giant collars go into fashion.

Even after most of that insanity was over (an estimated 50,000 men and women were executed, and countless animals thought to contain them), people continued a tradition of burning cats in wicker baskets on three religious holidays.

And who says we haven't evolved?

The irony, of course, is that by executing so many cats, the rat population grew by leaps and bounds. And when this thing came along known as the "black death," a form of bubonic plague carried by rat fleas, well, millions of deaths later, most people realized the cat extermination was a really big mistake.

Biter couldn't resist a book called The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Superstition, a horrible tome full of ancient lore about bad luck and its many causes (throw away baking scraps--they are unlucky), and Biter intends to chuck it into the recycling bin to keep from polluting our psyche forever (bird tapping on a window--symbol of death) right after we've finished memorizing all the symbols for love and money (eye quivers--lover is thinking of you).

First of all, the black cat/path-crossing thing is only thought to be unlucky by the Americans and some European countries. It's considered lucky in Japan and Britain. And furthermore, three black cats crossing your path is right there in the book, too. And get this: it's good luck.

So there Biter was, on possibly the luckiest day of our lives, up to our neck in blankets when we should have been in Vegas, or at least at the local liquor store stocking up on Lotto tickets, grabbing numbers out of thin air to make us so rich we'll never have to think about black cats or our 401k ever again.

Biter also noticed that our new neighbor has a black cat. Although this wasn't one of the path crossers, this one will have a lifetime of opportunities to do so, right in Biter's front yard. "Here, kitty, here," Biter said crouching down, in a sincere attempt to make friends with this gentle little holdout from past superstition and unreasonable conduct. Naturally, it ran away as fast as its four black legs would go. Biter reflected that possibly black cats have superstitions about white people, too. And after all we've put them through, who could blame them?

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From the October 24-30, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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