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ANIMALS

For a Song

January 19, 1986|VICKI HEARNE

We know Carol Connors mostly through her songs, and that is how she knows her cats, Minstrel and Maestro. They are Abyssinians, and still young--born May 14, 1985--but already they are practicing their music. Abyssinians are not particularly talkative, but they sing, making variations on a kind of meow-chirp or whirl-chirp or twirl. (Although I must confess that Maestro has added an unmusical growl he learned from keeping company with some leopards.)

There was a time when Connors hadn't made it. Virtually no one but her creditors knew her name, and she was preoccupied with questions about whether she would be able to eat or to fix her car. At the time of her first encounter with an Abyssinian, she was standing at the end of a dock on the bay in San Diego, listening to the songs she wanted to write.

She became aware that there was someone singing behind her--"one of the loveliest sounds on the planet," she says.

Turning, she saw a creature as exquisite as the song it made. Initially, Connors says, she was frightened, despite the creature's beauty--or perhaps because of it.

She followed him home (the first instance in my ken of a human following a cat home) and met his owner, from whom she learned that the cat's name was Pharaoh and that he was an Abyssinian and that Abyssinians are expensive. She immediately conceived a desire to have an Abyssinian, which, she says, was like other people having an ambition to own a Mercedes or fly first class to Paris.

She loves these cats because they are not like her. "They are contained in their regality in a way I am not," she says.

Eventually she got her first Abyssinian, named Songbird. She said to herself, and probably to most of her friends, awe-struck, "Can you believe it? I own an Abyssinian. I must have arrived." This isn't what people usually mean by "having made it." She was still poor and had to choose between buying Songbird and having repairs done on her car.

I am used to stories about people spending the grocery money on fine dogs, or on a horse. There is even the expression "horse poor," so common is the latter phenomenon. This is the first case I have encountered of someone being cat poor. I can understand it easily enough, though. All cats contribute to domestic harmony. Abyssinians do it by making room in the house for music.

Consider Minstrel and Maestro. Despite the fact that they are half-grown males and therefore share a certain endearing clumsiness with the adolescent males of every species I know of, nonetheless one or the other or both of them will suddenly move into poses as graceful as the trills they make, which sound to my ears like lace turned into liquid sound. Their songs, though, form only the most obvious instance of a psychic consonance that led Connors to name one of their forebears Harmony. "This was not for her music per se," she says, "but because when I got her, I was in discord with myself. Harmony put harmony back into my life."

Minstrel is the larger of the two, and the one who doesn't have the show points that his brother has. Rather, like the minstrels from whom he got his name, he is a charmer--the one visitors are taken with. Maestro, more majestic in name and in markings, is smaller than Minstrel and has taken Napoleon as his hero. He practices authoritative poses.

You might think, now that she can afford to repair her car, that Connors has become sensible about Abyssinians. Not so. When she heard of a litter of kittens, she drove 110 miles--in the dead of night, with her boyfriend, Martin Kraus--to look at them. I assume that the breeder was used to this sort of behavior on the part of Abyssinian admirers.

Connors tried to be sensible and get just one of the two kittens, but Kraus is from Brooklyn, so he said, "You don't break up brothers." Connors protested. She had, I guess, been too long without an Abyssinian and was getting into a discordantly practical frame of mind. Fortunately, her Brooklyn knight said: "Tell you what; if you'll take both of them, I'll buy one of them for you. But if you only take one, I'm buying the other."

So the Brooklyn visionary prevailed, and here are Minstrel and Maestro, making room in the house for songs.

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