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Saturday, March 31, 2001

JAPAN LITE

The gift from kitty that never stops giving


If you travel enough, there is going to be a day when your cat pees in your suitcase. It's something that only happens if you have gone out of town and left your cat behind so many times that the cat becomes determined to accompany you in the most odorous way. Basically, your cat's message is: I love you so much, I'm going to let you carry my urine sample with you.

One of the down sides of living on an island is that if you're leaving for an international flight and your cat pees in your suitcase just before you need to catch the ferry, all you can do is close the suitcase and go. At the airport, I checked my bag and didn't see it again until I arrived in New York City.

It has always surprised me that cat urine cannot be found on the Periodic Table of Elements. Cat urine is powerful stuff. When allowed to ferment in a Samsonite for over 24 hours, the odor it emits can assault people with the force of tear gas.

As the airplane sped through the night sky, hurtling passengers and cat pee toward America, I realized I had the ultimate gift from the Sharper Image catalog -- a Samsonite litter box. Fill it with an Armani suit and a couple of your favorite T-shirts, and your cat will be in heaven.

I didn't see my suitcase again until baggage claim at John. F. Kennedy airport. At first, I didn't recognize my suitcase as I had mentally wrapped it in hundreds of PET bottles filled with water, the way people use them around their plants to keep cats away. I expected to see a giant PET suitcase arrive on the baggage carousel. Instead, a small, unobtrusive suitcase appeared.

Carrying a suitcase full of lethal cat urine can make you paranoid. It's a bit like walking around a big city with a lot of cash on you -- you're sure everyone is looking at you and knows your secret. At baggage claim, I got an uneasy feeling that everyone was smelling me. It was as if they knew I was carrying the missing element from the Periodic Table.

Then the police dogs came. Noses to the ground, the two dogs ambled over in my direction. These dogs are trained to sniff out drugs, not cat urine, I said to myself. I'll be fine, I thought, although in the back of my mind I could see myself in court pleading, "Really, it was just cat urine, Your Honor."

The dogs came closer--sniffing, sniffing--and stopped in front of my suitcase. Sniff, sniff. Pause. Sniff, sniff. Tail wag. Sniff, sniff, sniff. Wag, wag, wag. There was just one thing on these dogs' minds: Score! Lookie, lookie what I found. Score! Barney, get over here and snarf on this! Do you think she's still in there?

The police officer mumbled something to the dogs and waved me on.

After a day of scrubbing, soaking, deodorizing, bleaching, chlorinating, sun-drying, and using Zen tactics such as becoming one with the suitcase, the result was astonishing: a suitcase that smelled of fragrant cat urine.

It was very hard to properly get rid of such an offensive suitcase. If I left it at the hotel, they might think I had forgotten it and try to track me down. If someone opened it, they might have thought I was smuggling illegal elements. So, I packed up the suitcase and put it on the plane home with me.

I didn't see my suitcase again until baggage claim. As I took it off the baggage carousel, an amazing thing happened: I noticed a crack in the suitcase. The airline had damaged my suitcase. Score! I went to the airline office, received a reimbursement for the cost of the suitcase, and thought to myself, now ain't that the cat's pajamas!

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com


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