WHEN YOU welcome someone new into the family, it's always a risk, especially when the new family member has a sketchy background.
To be blunt, the newest Jones isn't exactly part of the 1 percent. In fact, she was pretty much homeless. She slept under discarded couches, sheltered under outdoor decks and dodged wild animals while trying to make her way in this world. I know she probably doesn't want me to tell you this, but she ate from garbage cans, roamed the streets and did unspeakable things to score meals.
Some of us aren't made for that kind of life, and when we get tired of being sick and tired we inevitably come in out of the cold. I understand that better than most. That's why I gave in when she hustled us like the streetwalker she was, and wormed her way into our house.
That was nearly a year ago. But now that our cat, Styx, has food, heat and shelter at her disposal, she's getting that itch to hit the streets again, and she's using every trick in the book to do so.
Sometimes I come home and I can spy her watching me through the security door. Decorative flourishes and sparkling white paint aside, that door has bars. Styx knows it, so she treats it like her prison cell, and views every day as a jailbreak opportunity.
At first I thought I could bargain with her. I thought if I opened the door and let her roam around outside for a few minutes she'd be satisfied. Over time, though, it's become clear to me: Styx doesn't want to go out the easy way. She wants to get out the same way she got in - with a plan. In fact, if I didn't know any better, I'd think her desire to go outside had morphed into a feline version of "Mission: Impossible."
It always begins innocently enough. While the kids watch TV in the living room, Styx sits on the floor pretending to watch, too. In actuality, she's there to receive secret messages from the PlayStation on the shelf beneath the television:
"Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to get past the bald guy, go under the giant door and find freedom. When you do, you must tell no one. This message will self destruct in 10 seconds."
OK, maybe the PlayStation doesn't actually say that, but Styx is obviously getting direction from somewhere. If she's not hearing the call of the wild, she's definitely hearing the call of the streets, and I can only imagine what it sounds like.
I bet it begins with a rap introduction by the cat from the old Meow Mix commercials. There's a hip-hop soundtrack complete with rump-shaking bass in the background. There's a group of line dancers doing the "Wobble" on either side of the stage, and catnip is being served liberally to the meowing masses.
Yep, that's the call of the streets. It tells cats like Styx that the days of garbage-pail eateries are over. It tells them they can go outside to a land of milk and honey, where gourmet cat food is ever present and pleasure is the order of the day.
Of course, the call of the streets is a lie, but Styx doesn't know that, so she plans crazy capers in an effort to get out to the party.
Some days I swear I can see her hanging from ceiling wires like Tom Cruise, expertly beating our alarm system while clad in her black fur spy suit. Other days I can almost spot her pulling a secret door key from beneath her food bowl. But her favorite tactic is dependent on the Global Positioning System she's using to track me.
I know it's GPS because her timing is impeccable, and so is her technique. On the days when I come home exhausted, Styx is sitting there behind the glass door, positioned at an angle where I can't quite see her black fur. Her eyes are closed to slits, her hindquarters are poised to pounce, and her intentions are clear. She's planning to run past me as soon as I open the door.
On the days when she's successful, her sprint to the streets is a thing of beauty.
There's just one thing about it that confuses me: Why go to all that trouble just to run right back inside?
I guess she must like it here after all.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books,including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.