My search for a new couch has been driven primarily (maybe even solely) by concerns of the feline sort. When I moved into my apartment just over two years ago, I bought a couch through Craig’s List. It was an old couch — what I guess you would call a “mid-century modern” design if you are someone who wears tight-fitting merino wool sweaters and displays his casual, laid-back side by wearing Camper brand adult sneakers — and it was in nearly perfect condition. Apart from a small, almost imperceptible tear along the bottom edge, the upholstery (aquamarine, with a neat silver thread woven through it) was pristine. It was also the exact texture of a scratching post. The first time I witnessed one of my cats getting a claw caught in the sofa’s loose weave, the moment passed between us in a quick series of flashes, like that drug abuse montage from Requiem for a Dream: Ble’s claw, snagged; close-up of my worried eyes; Ble’s cat eyes, rapidly dilating, and glazing over with a “holyshitihavefoundparadise” expression; the claw, flexing; threads pulling free; me shaking my head, woefully; liquid boiling; a syringe filling; my pupils dilating; etc.
Within six months, the couch looked like a middle-aged prostitute–and not one of those high-class ones, either. The kind of prostitute that make lots of mistakes on the job, forgetting to tell johns to pay cash up-front, picking a mean pimp, walking over subway grates in heels, and so on. Now, nearly every edge of the sofa is torn beyond repair and its stuffing exposed, except in certain places where the stuffing has been completely removed and secreted away in various cat hiding spots around the apartment. The frame is visible through giant tears on the sofa’s arms; you can slide your arm inside and press it against the fabric to make it look like the couch is breathing. And these days, when the cats drag their claws across the couch, they do so joylessly, like they’re just going through the motions. It’s not quite as sad as coming home each night to a couch that would look more at home in an underground compound inhabited by mole people than a Brooklyn apartment inhabited by an effete snob, his wife, and a pair of lousy cats.
In an attempt to avoid a similar outcome with our new couch, precautions were taken. Lisa and I did a lot of research. We tried “no claw” sprays — some kind of bottled mist that is supposed to smell like farts to cats, which is a pretty incredible thing considering how much cats enjoy the odor of “salmon and liver”-flavored cat food and each other’s anuses. Unfortunately, it seems my cats equally enjoy the smell of farts because that spray prevented nothing except a repeat-purchase.
Next up: Soft Paws. Soft Paws are kind of like Lee Press-On Nails for cats and come in an assortment of colors, including special holiday-themed mixes. Lisa and I had some disagreement about whether these would be a viable solution; I thought applying and maintaining them would require as much, if not more work than just cutting their nails; Lisa thought they’d look really hilarious. We were both right.
Soft Paws are actually kind of fun, providing your idea of fun is participating in weeks-long scavenger hunt, collecting the ruby red plastic sheaths your cats have chewed off their nails and deposited all around your apartment. But as an alternative to worrying about our next couch purchase, they were kind of a big, fat failure. (Coincidentally, I think “Big, Fat Failure” is also the title of the 37th Garfield Comics Treasury.)
As a result, shopping for a couch has not been the fancy experience I’d hoped it would be. I haven’t even bothered visiting nice home furnishings stores like Conran’s, ABC Home and Carpet, and Design Within Reach. Instead, I’ve been spending most of my time on cat-related message boards, where cat owners share helpful advice about cat-resistant fabrics. I read a lot of arguments for (and, frustratingly, against) leather, microfiber and microsuede, but I also found a lot of advice like this:
“…to keep my twelve feral cats from wrecking my furniture, I simply drape my IKEA futon in a couple of old mismatched bed sheets, then and wrap hotel bath towels around the arms using electrical tape. Works like a charm!”
“I bought a couch upholstered in sisal. BIG MISTAKE! I learned my lesson real quick, and got rid of that thing. These days, when I want to watch my stories, I just stretch out on a pile of saved-up plastic grocery bags. The cats still claw at them and sometimes the noise can be unbearable, but at least the bags are easily replaceable. So I guess you could say we’re all living happily ever after!!”
“There is only one foolproof way to keep your cats from trashing your furniture: mittens.”
“Hi. I’m wrapped in a hand-made afghan covered in cat fur, and waiting for a mail carrier, Chinese food delivery person — anyone, really — to ring my doorbell and become part of my life, even for a few precious minutes of human interaction.”
When we finally settled on a couch — a model that was neither outrageously expensive nor upholstered with chain-mail — and found a few fabrics we liked, Lisa assessed the various colors against our apartment’s decor. I, however, had my own ideas about what to do with our fabric swatches. I arranged them in a small grid on one of the couch cushions and had Lisa transport one of our sleeping cats from the floor to the couch, directly on top of the swatches. I wanted to test the various colors and materials for their respective properties of Fur Magnetism and Ease of Removal. After a few hours, I lifted the cat’s belly and removed the swatches to examine them for hair distribution. This is what it’s come to, I guess.
The whole experience made me feel a little like a sad shut-in — the kind of person who posts hundreds of photos of himself on a European vacation, and you can kind of tell, usually by the distance of the camera to the subject, the angle, or the presence of tensed shoulders in the frame, that all of the photographs were self-portraits. But necessity is the mother of shut-ins, and these measures were necessary. I’m just grateful that, in 10-12 short weeks, we’ll have a brand-new couch to replace the tired prostitute we sit on these days. And just to be safe, I’m probably going to buy some filthy bed sheets and electrical tape, too.