The show judge set the black cat onto the table and lifted its tail. Then and I am not kidding about this the woman puffed up her cheeks, leaned in close and blew quite a gust of air into the cat's rump region. The cat responded with a soft, high-pitched screeching noise. (Researchers say humans respond the same way. Nearly 78 percent of them then look for another doctor.)
Anyway, blowing into the hind area of the cat was a move performed by the judge to test the cat's reflexes. Historical footnote: Just weeks after witnessing the exact same thing during a cat show in 1690, Germany's Johann Christoph Denner invented the clarinet.
This event was the Rocky Mountain Cat Fanciers' 31st annual spring cat show, an event conducted once again in our City Auditorium because of the building's size, its convenient location and mostly because desperate village officials keep hoping that putting 162 cats inside for two days might somehow displace the odor left by a large gathering of professional wrestling fans in 1994.
As you know, Colorado Springs hasn't had many visitors of royal descent since the turn of the 19th century. Back then, English nobility would frequently grace our foothills and valleys, lured to this great land called Colorado for the sun and the mountain air and also for the chance to point and howl with laughter as grumpy old Jedediah Bruce, the village idiot who never married, would get all liquored up and rant about "illiterate immigrants." (There was another brief era of royalty in our town, a period that ended with the departure of pastor Ted Haggard, who was a queen.)
But last weekend saw the return of royal bloodlines. This would include Heatherbrook Rohrie of Kristan Katz, Vanir Quazar of Katpenn and Sassafraskat Frihet of Maccha Skog, a Norwegian princess who greeted the crowd in the traditional way of her homeland: licking her hand and rubbing it all over her own face. Not to be outdone, Burmese beauty Quercetin's Alcyone dazzled her adoring fans by batting her long eyelashes and then looking away in an aloof and noble maneuver, so demure and alluring that you almost forgot about the walnut-sized hairball she'd just hacked up.
There were other stunning moments at the show, including an unforgettable 12-minute span when Japanese bobtail cat Jito Hi-Sou Magomusuko beat his own world record by eating 63 hot dogs. Although it's possible I'm confusing Magomusuko with six-time world champion weenie-muncher Kobayashi, of Nagano, Japan. (Footnote: The American record of 56 weenies in 12 minutes is held by Haggard, who also had quite a time with the buns.)
Seriously, the show was a gathering of majestic and playful and regal-looking cats, cats with pedigrees and bloodlines, cats that are bred for the purpose of feline perfection. There was also a category for common housecats, about a dozen cats with actual names such as Dennis, Sugar and Polly, cats without pedigrees or any distinguishable bloodlines, cats bred for the purpose of leaping onto the top of the refrigerator and not making eye contact with you.
And while the cat owners included a smattering of what might be considered odd or quirky folks totally unlike, say, the highly respected Colorado Legislature there were plenty of plain ol' folks eager to show off their cats. Dennis Allen, for example, was surrounded by several of his entries, majestic cats known as Maine Coon cats huge, furry, 25-pound felines that originated, according to the story, one night many decades ago when author and famous Maine resident Stephen King "was kind of bored."
"I enjoy the process of watching my cats succeed," said Allen, who along with wife Trudie runs TruTails Maine Coon Cats out of Fort Collins. "It's like living vicariously through your kids. When our cats win at these shows, I get the same feeling I had the day my son Mike scored 50 points in a basketball game in fifth grade."
(Sadly, the team was disqualified when Mike displeased with a traveling call arched his back, tipped over his bowl of water and then scratched the referee's nose.)
And if you think cat shows like the one in our village are small-time, well, may you choke on that tuna and liver sandwich.
Vickie Nye, for example, has been around the world 10 times as a cat show judge. Last week she worked a show 200 miles south of Paris in the town of Montlucon, which is a French word meaning, literally, "I have mounted a convict."
Anyway, Nye, who is also a bank executive in California, has judged hundreds of cat shows in China, Russia, Australia and nearly every European nation including Finland, where cats are treasured not only for their beauty, grace, intelligence and loyalty but also for their warm fur. (So-called keitenmeitens, or "kitten mittens," are featured in most upscale fashion shows in Finland, and are especially prized if you leave the tails on.)
"These shows and the whole business of showing cats, it's all about the quest for the perfect cat," said judge Nye, who, despite having spent more than two decades as an international judge, had somehow never heard of keitenmeitens.
I told her not to feel bad that not even an expert like her can be expected to know everything about the animal.
And then I hurried across the auditorium just in time to see another judge play Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto" on a startled Norwegian Forest Cat.