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Kirsten D. Levingston’s family didn’t pick Oz. Oz picked them. (KIRSTEN D. LEVINGSTON PHOTO)

By KIRSTEN D. LEVINGSTON
For Montclair Local

At the end of 2008 we adopted a kitten from the Pound Animal Welfare Society of Montclair. We went to PAWS with a specific goal in mind. After seeing a critter scamper from under the dishwasher to under the refrigerator, we needed to find a mouser to handle the situation. 

The PAWS cat room, with a couple dozen felines milling about and meowing aloud, was overwhelming. How would we pick out the perfect puss from the crowd? 

Certain kitties were easy to rule out. The Savannah that leapt onto my daughter’s back and dug in her claws had mouser skills, but impulse control was a problem. The indifferent Pixie-bob lounging in the corner did not move an inch, clearly lacking the killer instinct our job required.

One cat approached and locked eyes, making his presence known. But he steered clear of the bunch crawling over our feet and gently pawing our shins, using distance to stand out — a ninja-like move. 

When I stepped away from the other cats and extended my hand down to his level, he gently rubbed his face against my palm. 

Our cat picked us. 

PAWS had rescued him from a home where the kitten-to-owner ratio was dangerously out of whack, and had named him “Dipstick” because his blackish tail had a white tip. 

Nah — that name would never do. After getting him home we renamed him “Oz,” inspired by Nishuane’s 2008 production of the L. Frank Baum classic, in which our daughter played the Scarecrow.

In the dozen years since we adopted him, except for a few unauthorized expeditions, Oz has been a house cat, bred to be homebound. The pandemic has turned us into house people, and the mouser has turned tutor, modeling lessons on the art of finding joy between four walls. These five lessons stand out:

  1. Nourish. The moment Oz hears someone moving about in the morning, he finds them and demands breakfast. Often, he doesn’t wait for us to wake up. He simply sits outside a bedroom door firmly demanding to be fed. This insistence isn’t always welcome, but he’s doing what he needs to do to nourish himself.  Lesson: Prioritize nourishing yourself no matter what.
  2. Exercise. After breakfast and dinner Oz works out. He does laps around the house, jogs up and down the basement stairs, and jumps up onto the window ledges. Without tights, yoga blocks or dumbbells, Oz maintains a consistent fitness regime using the tools he has. Lesson: With creativity, every part of the house can be part of a workout.
  3. Find the shine. As the sun skips across the sky, light shifts angles and location in our house. Oz finds the slivers of shine, the blocks of brightness, and lounges in their warmth. Even on gray, rainy days he finds the light. Lesson: Somewhere the sun is shining, find that spot, and luxuriate there.
  4. Reach through the window. Oz finds beauty, comedy and drama just outside the window. Out back, he finds intoxicating bird song wafting through the screen door and sees the squirrels leaping from tree branches and flopping to the ground in failed attempts to nab seeds from the bird feeder. From the front windows he watches municipal workers clearing mountains of recyclables from the curb while dodging impatient drivers whizzing past their trucks. Lesson: Even though we are distant from each other, we can be concerned and connected from afar.
  5. Get closer. Late each afternoon Oz enters cuddle mode, craving midday physical contact like some of us crave that serving of pretzels and hummus. During Zoom calls he’ll shimmy between me and the back of the chair I’m sitting in, rub his body against my legs under the table, or just leap into my lap in full view of those I’m Zooming with. Sharing the same house hour after hour is not enough for him. Even closer is even better. Lesson: We can become complacent in our closeness to people in our homes and lives, and can find ways to get even closer.
July 4th
KIRSTEN D. LEVINGSTON

Kirsten D. Levingston moved to Montclair in 2008. She works in the city and writes on the side. In “Welcome to Montclair” she explores the quirks of this special town. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Huffington Post and Baristanet. An essay of hers appears in “Of Courtiers and Princes: Stories of Lower Court Clerks and Their Judges.”