Maximum fluffage

Smack! Smack! Smack! I woke at dawn to the sound of knocking. My cat, Kiki, stared at me while earnestly batting the blinds against my bedroom window with one white-tipped paw. Normally she’s snoring on top of my head at that early hour, so I pulled myself out of bed to check her food, water and litter. All good. Confused and sleepy, I succumbed to temporary anthropomorphic insanity and decided Kiki was worried about the Jazzy Cats “A Haunted Weekend” cat show.

It’s crazy, I know. For one thing, I hadn’t told her I planned to spend the afternoon watching 250 felines with pedigreed backgrounds go whisker to whisker at the Red Lion Inn. For another, she wouldn’t understand if I did—she’s a cat, for Friskies’ sake. Still, for an animal who spends most of her time ignoring me or using me as a pillow, Kiki seemed unusually insecure last Saturday.

Like fallen leaves and band-name stencils, Kiki was a gift of the Midtown streets. Friends found her in a parking lot on 19th Street five years ago, crying like the motherless child she was, and brought her to me. Her origins are a mystery, but her crooked tail and propensity for biting disqualify her as a cat-show participant.

That’s OK. My unwillingness to spend $1,000 on a pet and groom it like a Barbie doll make me equally unfit. I’ve got to hand it to the Jazzy Cats folks, though. Two-hundred and fifty cats in a room sounds like a recipe for chaos, but it turns out cats can be herded and these people know how.

The first thing I noticed, after braving a hallway gauntlet of cat-toy vendors to pay my $6 admission, is that nothing smelled like cats—or, more specifically, like the hundreds of litter boxes accompanying them. Was it possible these cats were so well-bred that their excrement literally did not stink? In four hours at the show, I never saw anyone wield a pooper scooper.

Halloween ruled the weekend. On banquet tables throughout the primary exhibition room, elaborate cages were gussied up with orange lights, spider webs and drapes in spooky holiday patterns—as if the cats expected trick-or-treaters. Many even had bowls of candy out. I grabbed a Twizzler from a plastic cauldron and walked the aisles.

Oh, the wonders I saw! Cats from faraway lands like Pennsylvania, Texas and Bakersfield. Shiny red Abyssinians. Doe-eyed Scottish Folds. Humiliated Persians in ruffled collars. Kittens piled in a group snooze. Mirrored cat condos with hammocks. Feline vanity stations stocked with mirrors, brushes, talcum powder, Feliway and Aqua Net. All of it mixed with more witch dolls, crystal balls, rubber rats and blinking pumpkins than the holiday aisles at Target.

Most cats slept, but a few meowed and rubbed against the cage doors. I wanted to pet them, but I feared mussing their hairstyles.

A male voice continually called cats to the judging area over a loudspeaker. When a kitty’s number came up, they got one last brushing (against the grain for maximum fluffage) before being carried to one of six judging rings in the next room. When I had my fill of sleeping cats and mini candy bars, I followed.

Each ring held a central table surrounded by still more Halloween props, 12 cat cages, and about as many chairs for spectators. Middle-aged Caucasian women, the quintessential cat-show participants, chatted throughout the competitions. The word “cute” dominated: “Isn’t that cute?” “She had the cutest tortie.” “What a cute ragdoll kitten!”

I seemed to be the only person who wasn’t competing. The judges, accustomed to a crowd that required no explanations, silently palpated the contenders. Winners were named without fanfare. After I got over my amusement at the cats’ barely tolerant facial expressions when judges stretched their torsos or felt their teeth, I began to feel bored. All the cats were adorable, but I’d rather watch them sleep in the sun than stand awkwardly on a table while a stranger evaluates their coat color.

When I got home, Kiki was at the front door. I picked her up and pronounced her Best in Home.