Six toes

May 2017

Things have been hectic here in DC, and I needed a bit of a break.  So, I booked a flight, said goodbye to the boys, and headed to Key West, FL for my first-ever solo vacation.  I packed way too much into my long weekend, but I did what I wanted when I wanted.  I stalked all of the famous authors homes.  I ate frozen key lime pie dipped in chocolate.  I collected to-go cups frothy with adult beverages.  It was pretty glorious.

One of the reasons I picked Key West– other than the sun, people watching, and pirate history– is Ernest Hemingway.  Even more specifically, his cats.  He loved cats, and often professed that they were the most emotionally honest creatures living; Hemingway himself was not a particularly emotionally honest human.  He thought they brought luck.

Hemingway was given a white polydactyl cat by a ship’s captain passing between Cuba and Key West sometime in 1936.  This cat, Snow White, became the first six-toed cat on Hemingway’s property.


Hemingway’s sons with Snow White (a picture of a picture.  how meow-ta)

Polydactyl cats carry an extra gene that manifests as extra toes on both the front and/or back paws.  53 cats currently live on the Hemingway property, and they all possess the polydactyl gene although only (!) 17 of the cats have the extra toes.  So many mitten-feets!

The gates to the property are wide open during the da, and there are trees that stretch over the gates and walls that surround the house, but the cats stay where they are.  They’re born there.  They live there. They are buried there.


They receive food, treats, medical care and tons of love from visitors. Each cat is named after a ’30s or ’40s celebrity.  And really, they’re as attention-seeking as some of their namesakes:

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The cats are not up for adoption, although about 10 years ago a couple made off with F. Scott Fitzgerald, poor tom-cat.  Now the guides says they take a peek inside the handbags of crazy cat ladies who come through.  I get it.

I’m particularly fixated on polydactyls because of Athena, she of six toes, walking like a runway model because her thumbs get in the way.  I feel like I met her long-lost relatives.  Maybe she’s a descendent of the purloined F. Scott.  SHe’s certainly as surly as I suspect he was in feline-form.

Hmmm…. this bookish girl can hope.

a little crazy?

July 2014

I generally dislike the word “crazy.”  I don’t like how disparaging and dismissive it comes off.  I know it’s become one of those words, like “sick” or “bad” or “dude,” that means fourteen different things depending on your tone, word placement and angle of your hat.

But the amount of “crazy” that’s shown up in my inbox recently is startling.  Let’s stop calling women “crazy” (here and here) (also, yes, let’s, but that’s not my point here).  Let’s stop telling people a food-lifestyle choice is “crazy” (be gluten free, or paleo, or raw, or vegan.  I don’t care).

But animal people: for the love of Pete, let’s please stop calling each other crazy.  You like cats?  Have 20 cats, but only if you can properly care for them and feed them.  You want to dress your pig in a bathing suit and film her playing a keyboard?  Please send me a link.  You rescue or adopt or go to a breeder for your dog?  Fine, I’m not going to judge your choices; really, I’m not. Do the best for the animals you have.

I think we need to start letting ourselves off the hook.  If we don’t, then we get suckered into taking quizzes rating our craziness, and the outcome is like this:


I am an over-achiever.  This is Fact.  When my crazy result is “Slightly,” I covet the craziness of others and I go overboard.  And that’s not healthy for anyone.

So how about we just accept the love and affection and obsessiveness we have toward our furbabies at any extreme?