Passion Forward was created to give people an opportunity to discuss one thing that they’re truly passionate about. I’ve always been interested in why people love the things that they love and I will try to experience their passion as best as I possibly can.
Maybe you’ll learn something here or discover something new that you might like to try, but I really hope that you think about what brings you joy and spend more time doing that.
Naming this project was a challenge. All of my original choices were taken, but I was desperate for alliteration. I half heartedly settled on Joy Jam. Joy for talking about things that bring joy and jam for actually talking about the joyful things. Of course when I ran it by Harry, he dumped all over it by pitching it back to me as a personal lubricant with 28 flavors including tangerine, grape, lasagna and sea. As you can see Joy Jam is not the name of the project. You can thank Harry for that. I wasn’t sold on it anyway.
There’s a lot I can thank Harry for over the course of our friendship. We met thirteen years ago while I was working as a theatre usher at a comedy club in Boston and he was one of the MainStage performers. Without a doubt, he is the funniest person I know and probably ever will meet. So, of course it would be natural for Harry and I to talk about comedy. Instead, we sat down to talk about one of his other major passions: Zen Buddhism. Just kidding! (Although Harry is a practicing Zen Buddhist.)
Harry changed his mind when we arrived home to his kitty cats who came running to the front door to welcome him home. When he’s home, his primary passion are his cats. For the sake of this project, Harry wanted to discuss something else, but love conquers all, so cats it is!
Growing up in Montpelier, Vermont, Harry only had one pet as a boy – a Norwegian Elkhound named Erik the Red. He and his brother waited outside while his parents picked Erik out for the family. Harry came home from college one summer to discover his room had been taken over by his parent’s cat, Wesley, who was less than happy to have his space infringed upon. You would think this invasion of privacy and shit attitude would turn Harry off to cats, but he and Wesley developed an understanding and survived the summer.
Back in 2012 Harry moved into a bigger apartment and realized that he now had the space to adopt a pet. Initially, he thought about getting a dog, but his hectic schedule meant that he would rarely be home. He mentioned to me that he was thinking about getting some cats so I recommended that Harry check out Kitty Connection, a no killer shelter in Medford. They immediately responded to his email (or maybe it was my email? I was so excited about knowing more people with cats) with a picture of two bonded male cats – a grey tabby and a white and black short haired with an underdeveloped back leg (he bunny hops – it’s so cute!).
These guys were found on the steps to a vet office inside a cat carrier with a note saying that the owner could no longer care for them due to her children’s allergies. Every adoption origin story is heartbreaking and I know there is no easy way to surrender an animal, but I can’t imagine not leaving them physically in someone’s hands and know that they will be cared for. (If you ever need to surrender a pet, please bring them to a no-kill shelter during business hours.)
Most might think that cats all have the same personality. They’re selfish assholes who only want to be pet, fed and rubbed when they want it. And while that’s mostly correct, cats do have their own individual personalities. These two guys are very different from each other. The grey tabby, Huckleberry (formerly Sawyer – Harry has a friend named Sawyer and didn’t want to confuse them), is very chill and quiet. He’s usually sitting on the arm of the couch next to Harry which makes him “feel like a pharaoh.” While Finn, the white and black gentlemen, is more vocal and aggressive. He’s the first one in the kitchen when the sound of dry food hits the bowl.
In the beginning, Huckleberry hid behind the stove and in the cabinets while Finn was more brazen. “Finn is the alpha. He’s smaller than Huckleberry. If food or snacks are put down he’s the first person….,” Harry caught himself. “Yes, he’s the first sentient human being to vote in the morning.” That wasn’t the only time Harry referred to them as though they were people. He also spoke of “making Huckleberry his dinner.”
Some might argue that Harry’s cat’s have definitely inherited his comedic sense of timing. While discussing how incredibly affectionate his cats are, Finn jumps off of Harry’s chest and nonchalantly walks away. This type of aloofness is what Harry was concerned about when he first made the decision to adopt. He used to frantically call me every few days to describe some strange behavior the boys were exhibiting and my answer would always be: Because they’re cats. Harry thought I was being a pain in the ass, but it’s the truth. Cats aren’t always trying to tell you something, sometimes they’re just being cats. Thankfully, Harry’s own research led him to this conclusion as well.
There are times when “because they’re cats” isn’t the answer and you need to take seemingly bizarre steps to attempt to fix behaviors. Finn’s aggression towards his brother always worried Harry. While I said “…because they’re cats,” his vet gave him more concrete advice. “It’s insane what I do! I bought pheromones to put in an infuser to plug into my place that only cats can smell and it smells like their mother or some shit so it calms them down. I don’t know if it helped or not. I can’t really tell. But I also don’t want Huckleberry to live in fear.” Finn still attacks Huckleberry from time to time. First, he will demand that Huckleberry clean him and then make his move. Other times, he just attacks him from behind out of nowhere (because they’re cats.)
On a flight home to Boston Harry chatted up the woman next to him who happened to be a breeder of Burmilla cats (“They’re white with blue eyes, short hair and it’s a mix of a Burmese python and a chinchilla.”) She only feeds her cats raw meat because of all the crap the pet food industry uses in their wet and dry food. It’s best to start them on the raw diet as kittens, but it is possible to transition cats to the raw diet by mixing it with wet food. It doesn’t work with every cat, so don’t get frustrated if they don’t take to this like they don’t take to being toilet trained. (I’m convinced it’s impossible. Also, because they’re cats.)
If you’re thinking about adopting a cat, Harry has some advice for you. “Cats should not be allowed outside for several reasons. One, they’re communists and they may take over the country. They are supposedly responsible for the extinction of many bird species in North America and other parts of the world because they’re such proficient hunters. That they will kill billions of small animals all over this great land of us. Cats that go outside live much shorter lives because they’re fucking idiots who do dumb stuff.” Remember this as you try to decide if adopting a cat is right for you. Do you really want the communist blood of extinct birds on your hands? Do not take this decision lightly.
Having known Harry for as long as I have, it’s very evident how much of a positive impact these two guys have made on Harry’s life. When we talk on the phone, he tells me to hold on so he can “Yessssss Mr. Huckleberry. Good boyyyy. Yess.” them for at least a minute. I believe this is mostly to aggravate me, but there is sincerity and love in his voice. Harry is aware his love is reciprocal. “They don’t just want to sit on you or sit near you. They want to be rubbed, pet, scratched.” These cats love Harry just as much as he loves them. They’re so lucky to have an owner who will buy a $30 infuser of cat pheromones month after month to keep them from killing each other.
Because they’re cats.
You can listen to the full conversation about Harry’s passion for cats here. We also discuss magazines, Richard Pryor’s brother Pets Pryor and do (thankfully brief) Christopher Walken impressions.