All my life I’ve admired calico cats. The lovely contrast of tricolor fur is like nothing else in the cat world – and indeed a rarity in the animal kingdom.(1)
But I had never thought twice about the variety of calico called tortoiseshell, “torties” for short. Torties are a brindled variety of calico with little to no white fur – black, brown, red, russet, and multiple, mixed variations of black and orange.
When I went to the shelter to get my first cat, they had no traditional calicos, only tortoiseshell calicos, among the tabbies, bi-colors, solid colors, and just about every other color pattern – except calico.
I pondered the many choices, and found myself drawn to the torties. After all, they were a kind of calico. I asked my fiancé’s advice. He was studiously and purposely unhelpful. “Gee, I don’t know, honey, they’re all nice cats.”(2)
I found a little tortie whose elastic name band said “Bejeau.” “Aha!” I said. “Someone can’t spell Bijou. That’s the one.”(3) I took her home. And made her a new name band with the proper spelling.
A few days later, the shelter called to see how we were getting along. “Fine,” I said, “except she wants to sleep across my throat.”
“Oh, dear,” said the shelter lady. “She’ll probably stop that when she feels more secure.” And so she did.
Bijou was the first of my torties, but there have been others since – Anjou, Laurel, and Louise.(4)
Once I was sent to New York City on business and had an extra day to spend (because of the ridiculous way airlines charged for business travelers).
I decided to make it an all-cats day. First I went to see the musical Cats, and then I went to the cat show at Madison Square Garden.
The musical was awesome, but the cat show was fun.
I saw varieties and breeds of cats that I had never heard of. I saw pampered cats that looked like princesses in elegant pink silk beds, their likewise-silky long hair flowing around them and a look on their faces that said, “You peasant! Move along now that someone else may adore me.”(5)
At one of the judging stations, the man doing the judging was willing to chat with me. He told me how to tell the difference between Norwegian Forest Cats and Maine Coons by the shape of the face. Then he told me about tortoiseshells.
With all his years of cat-judging experience backing him up, he authoritatively informed me, “All torties have a screw loose.”
Maybe that was why Bijou slept on my throat and Anjou carried a tampon applicator though one of my parties, and Laurel curtsied to everything, and Louise was known in her youth as “Naughty Baby Fek’lhr.”(6) A screw loose indeed.
One of my friends put it better, though: “Torties are the candy bar of cats: a little bit sweet and a little bit nuts.”
(1) There are calico guinea pigs, which are kind of cute, but nowhere near as compelling. Guinea pigs just don’t have a lot of personality.
(2) Smart man.
(3) I had studied French for years. My second torte, named Anna by the shelter, became Anjou.
(4) And some traditional calicos: Julia and Dushenka.
(5) I later saw one of those uppity cats turn pure kitten when a feather on a string was dangled before her. She caught it and proudly sat there with it sticking out of her mouth for the rest of the judging. “It’s mine!” she seemed to say. “I caught it and you can’t have it.”
(6) A joke that almost no one gets.