Lake Michigan's Left Coast

Note to Cat-loving Homeowners

So! You keep your two cats inside so coyotes cannot eat them. Wise choice. But, there’s always the litter box. You finally switched to “clumping litter” after a lifetime of cleaning cat boxes! Good for you! Makes life easier, doesn’t it?



You know how cats like to throw that litter around. Especially your black male kitten who keeps getting bigger and bigger! A particularly disruptive and athletic kitten, with claws like sabers, I affectionately call my black guy “The Black Plague” and sometimes “The Black Death.”Quite a ruckus each and every time in the box. So cute.

Maybe you keep the cat box next to a drain in a concrete floor. And maybe the hose from your dehumidifier goes right across the floor next to the litter box, then drains down the drain. Never a problem with that old-fashioned stuff, the “nonclumping litter.” It just washed right down the drain.

But that clumping litter goes down the drain with the dehumidifier water and turns into wet, clumped, cat-litter plaster. D’oh! Why didn’t you think of this before?

Your drainage comes to a grinding halt. The pooling water on top soon becomes a fetid mess in the humidity of your long-awaited Wisconsin spring. Do not discount the eternal damp that comes with a home about 50 feet from your beloved Lake Michigan. (You wanted to live here!)

On your way home from work, you stop at Home Depot’s plumbing aisle (you work at Home Depot so it’s ultra-convenient for you!). You buy a $25 rodder thing like the kind your contractor god John used to use in the basement of your house in Chicago. John had a really strong electric one, but you can’t quite afford that. He was also really strong. No worries. You can do it!

After a few days of avoiding the highly distasteful task of unclogging that drain, you have a few spare moments, so you have at it. So proud of yourself for buying that bargain-priced rodder! Alas, the tip of the rodder does not fit between the slats of the metal thing on top of that drain. You know, that thing that maybe prevents stuff like cat litter from going down there.

Well! The metal thing on top does not screw out; it is embedded right there in the concrete. You know because you stuck your hand in that water to feel for the nonexistent screws. You wore gloves! Good for you! But the cat-litter soup went right over the top of them and ran all the way down into where your fingers were. OK, toss the gloves.

You want to pry that rusty metal thing off the drain so maybe you could put it back over the hole after you clear out the gook. Tap! tap! Goes the mallet on the crowbar at the edge of the thing. Break! break! Goes the decrepit old metal. That drain is maybe 50 years old. OK, at least that rodder can go through now.

Down goes the rodder, and there you go, turning that wheel round and round as the rod flops around like a great metal snake. The effort takes a whole bunch of your elbow grease. But no worries; that rod keeps unfurling. Round and round and round you go. The unruly metal snake keeps flipping around like crazy.

Seems like it’s taking a long time though…your mind starts to wander. You wish Ragnar Lothbruk* would come over to massage your shoulders…mmm, those strong fingers on your increasingly knotted neck muscles… You finally look inside the wheel you are turning, and that metal snake is not growing shorter. That means that rod is not going down the drain…

So you pull it out. Well! It had gone down the drain maybe 3 or 4 inches and was now a smashed up, worthless piece of junk! Great! $25 down the drain…so to speak. By now you have spent the better part of an hour on this thing. Impatiently, you take your crowbar, and you jam it down the hole. The crowbar does not go any farther than the rod did.

So you shove your ungloved hand down there and discover the true nature of the beast. It is inches and inches of the aforementioned cat-litter plaster that can only be scooped out by…guess what? The oldest tool known to humankind. The hand! (They should sell those at Home Depot!) Well, it takes another hour or so to hand-scoop that stuff out. Your mind wanders again and you wonder…maybe you could use this stuff for crafting? Would Michaelangelo find cat-litter plaster a good sculpting medium?

Michaelangelo’s David. You and your Mom lingered awhile and gazed upon it when in Florence.

Meanwhile, the stuff you are dragging out of the drain is doing what clumping litter should do. It is clumping. All over your arms and legs, your clothes, every tool you have used, and everything in the vicinity of the drain. It leaves a chalky-gray residue on everything you touch. A shower after this ordeal is a no-brainer.

Much, much later, the drain finally cleared, your hand scraped and bleeding from the rusty old pipe, you try not to think about what germs might be inhabiting those bleeding wounds as you pour many bucketfuls of bleachy hot water down that drain. Nice and clean! Fresh even! But you are still a semi-mummy in your coat of kitty plaster.

You take a serious stance against clumping cat litter ever making its way down that drain again. Your plan mandates that the dehumidifier hose goes directly into the drain. Then a screen to keep air flowage going (Home Depot), then a plastic mat (Home Depot again!), then old Ozaukee County (WI) News Graphics spread out to catch the black kitten’s fallout. (The News Graphic is a Republican paper. You are filled with a sense of justice.) Finally, the cat-litter box goes on top. It occurs to you…maybe you should get a deeper litter box?

The Angel Cat
The Angel Cat

All the while, that black kitten has been underfoot, over your shoulder, digging around in wet litter, looking at you adoringly with his huge golden eyes, causing trouble. And, as always, your German Shepherd (your best friend) is right behind, gently wrapping her jaws around the kitten’s head while trying to herd him. The dog you believe to be smarter than you are perpetually tries to herd your two cats.

At long last, you clean your tools and your work is done. You corral that black kitten to kiss him. Then you kiss your German Shepherd (good girl.) Then you locate your little orange female, your Angel Cat, to kiss her, too. You head upstairs for a nice, long shower. You still wish Ragnar would show up…maybe riding a big white horse.

*As played by the erstwhile Calvin Klein underwear model Travis Fimmel on the History Channel’s Vikings. It is said that in HBO’s Sex and the City, Samantha’s long-term boyfriend—the “Absolut Hunk”—was based on Fimmel. OK, shift focus now, keep focusing on that cat-litter story…


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