Recently I became aware of an alarming trend in the pet world which shows signs of spiraling out of control unless stopped immediately.
The trend first came to light when I visited my friend Bob, who has the misfortune to own a cat.
In his defense, Bob inherited the cat through marriage, which always struck me as excellent grounds for an annulment or divorce.
There is not a judge in the land who would rule against a husband if he cited a cat as the reason for wanting out of a marriage.
Mental cruelty, irreconcilable differences . . . you can lob any charge you want at a spouse if she insists on keeping a cat.
Anyway, as soon as I walked into Bob's living room, the cat stopped clawing the drapes and --ed to the couch.
Naturally the little monster decided to sprawl on the center cushion, effectively hogging the entire piece of furniture.
"Get down from there!" Bob shouted.
Of course, the cat didn't budge an inch.
Instead, he just kept staring at me with his evil little cat eyes, no doubt waiting for that moment when he could spring and tear into my thorax.
That is the ultimate goal of every cat, of course, to strike at the warm, fleshy neck of a human being. Some are simply more discreet about this than others.
"I'll, uh, just sit on this chair," I said.
"No, no, he'll move," Bob said.
Then he shouted even louder: "VINCENT VAN GOGH, GET OFF THE COUCH!"
This time the cat climbed down grudgingly, fixing me with a malevolent look that said: "OK. I'm moving. But you . . . you're a dead man."
Badly shaken, it took me a moment or two to realize what had just happened.
"Did you call that cat 'Vincent Van Gogh?'" I asked.
"Yeah," Bob said. "Neat name, huh?"
"Well, I . . . guess so," I replied, fighting off the customary wave of nausea that always engulfs me upon hearing a cutesy name for a pet.
Naturally, my first thought was: Vincent Van Gogh?! What the . . . what kind of name is that for a cat?
Whatever happened to Fluffy? Whatever happened to Snowball? Whatever happened to Midnight and all those other good, solid, cat-type names?
What would possess a person to name her cat after a deceased post-impressionist painter who sliced off one of his ears in a fit of insanity?
Beats me. Unfortunately, Bob's wife was not home, so there was no way to explore the bizarre reasoning that had led to the naming of the cat.
My own theory is this: The woman had some sort of breakdown shortly after the cat arrived.
Perhaps it was the stress of her impending marriage to Bob, or some other traumatic event in her life that triggered the illness.
Whatever the case, in a moment of complete psychosis, she somehow decided that Vincent Van Gogh was an appropriate name for a cat. (Not only appropriate, but terribly clever, too.)
Obviously, the woman failed to consult anyone else about this choice of cat names.
Because if she had walked up to any rational person and said: "Hi, I've just named my cat Vincent Van Gogh," the result would be predictable.
Any rational person would have wrestled her to the ground and held her down until an ambulance arrived and powerful sedatives could be administered.
(I don't pretend to be a physician. But in a case like this, where the woman is so acutely agitated, you're probably looking at a minimum of 2 cc's of Haldol, delivered intra-muscularly.)
Of course, if this were just an isolated incident, there would be no great cause for alarm. But it seems everywhere you look, people are taking leave of their senses and naming their pets after obscure former U.S. presidents, Welsh poets, rap stars, astrological signs, etc.
The dog world is hardly free of criticism in this regard. Unlike cat lovers, dog owners tend to be solid, upstanding citizens, amiable, selfless and very good to their mothers.
Nevertheless, far too many of them have forsaken classic dog names such as Rover and Spot for, ahem, Zodiac, Millard Fillmore and (gag) Marky Mark.
Cat people, though, insist on pushing the envelope a bit farther, as evidenced by this Vincent Van Gogh business.
Anyway, as we sat there at Bob's watching the ballgame on TV, the cat was never very far from my thoughts.
Every once in a while, he would wander in and glare at me for several minutes, making tiny slashing motions with his claws as if to say: "Tick, tick, tick . . . time is running out on you, pal."
You don't want to confuse the animal now, but Manson might be a more appropriate name.