Let me start by pointing out that this is NOT the myth of the unfulfilled ghost cat of Hartsfield-Jackson. I’m not exactly sure what would make a ghost cat feel unfulfilled, or what would make one feel fulfilled for that matter. Maybe some type of ethereal catnip or a ghoulish scratch post, or if it’s like my very-much-alive-and-at-home corporeal cat, perhaps a sink faucet turned just slightly on, to drink from directly.
That being said, this is rather a pondering about a ghost cat that could have ended up wandering Hartsfield-Jackson (airport in Atlanta) for eternity... but likely that ghost cat didn’t come to be. Thus: an unfulfilled myth.
Yesterday, I was going through the TSA manueverings at Hartsfield-Jackson, making my way to a flight to New Jersey. This last bit isn’t a critical detail, but what is critical is that when I looked across the various machines while waiting for my bags to make their way through scanning, I saw a cat.
Now, you always hope your bags make their way through scanning without incident and aren’t pulled aside, whereby you then have to pull yourself aside and over to the little platform where some poor TSA professional only doing his or her job proceeds to unpack half of your packed items and look at you inquisitively upon coming across something likely innocuous but potentially hazardous such as too large a tube of toothpaste or a packet of diet shake powder mix or a small can of pepper spray (oopsies!) or the jar of homemade strawberry preserves Aunt Lulu secretly tucked into the bottom of your backpack.
As I was saying, I looked across the machines to the next lane and saw a cat. More specifically, I saw a woman holding a cat in her arms, all snuggled up against her. It was not in a cat carrier. It had on no harness or leash. Loose. Cat. In. Arms.
I’m not a veterinarian or a cat researcher, but as someone who has had cat companions relatively consistently since 1980, I believe I may have around a master’s to doctorate-in-training level of understanding of cat behavior. With this expertise, I can tell you two things:
- There is always a limit to the length of time a cat will allow you to hold it without turning into a fat snake with claws that wants out.
- Once said fat snake with claws terrifies you into dropping it and it lands on the floor, or table, or in this case potentially the end platform of a baggage scanner, it will revert to its original feline form and, amid the kind of heavily trafficked chaos found at Hartsfield-Jackson’s TSA “lounge,” it will run and vanish. Not just hide... vanish.
Cats have an astonishing ability to disappear while still being physically proximate. I recently scoured my relatively small home, top to bottom, looking for my cat Homer, who is an indoor-only cat. Where did I eventually find him, hours later? He had apparently flattened his body to approximately the width of a 3 Musketeers bar, slithered under the couch, and crawled up INTO the inner workings of the couch (it seems that at some point he destroyed the material underneath), where he’d spent the day asleep, dreaming of slightly drizzling sink faucets.
Now, imagine that level of cunning and hidecraft in a space as large, loud, and full of random nooks and crannies as the busiest airport in the world. That cat would be lost for the rest of its remaining lives. And not knowing anything about that cat, it could still have a full tank of 9 lives or could be drained down to 2. There’s no telling. After those lives dwindled away, and our feline escape artist made its final escape - from its physical bonds - we would then be left with The Myth of the Ghost Cat of Hartsfield-Jackson.
Alas, I will never know if that kitty made it safely to its final destination, and by final destination I mean Ohio or Wyoming or wherever was the originally intended trip. I only hope that if it did escape and start the journey to become the as-yet-unfulfilled myth, it comes to say hi sometime in the future when I’m hanging out at a gate, waiting for a flight. I’ll be sure to keep some ghost catnip with me for just such an occasion.