Bad News: Cat Ranchers in the Sky.
The “cat rancher.” If you’re a flight crew member, you know who I’m talking about–because you’ve been on a crew with one or more of them before.
They have a different mindset than normal folks. Somehow, they’ve confused their pet with an actual meaningful sentient relationship and worse, they’ve confused their cat with a pet. It’s not like the cat or worse, cats, really give a damn, and yeah, they may look “cute” not giving a damn.
But somehow, maybe through the lack of actual interpersonal connections, maybe they’ve moved beyond a parenthood or a spouse-hood–or possibly both of those things moved on from them. Could be a bad experience with a scoutmaster or weird uncle–I don’t know.
Thus the cat rancher: keeper of one or more “babies,” gushing over them whenever a conversation drifts to children or family. They don’t notice that others in the conversation are internally going, “my god: a cat rancher.”
That’s actually just a symptom, too, cat rancherhood, of a “damaged goods” brand that then explains the spillover of such arrested development into other areas. In the flying biz, we tend to be a little out of the mainstream. Our work interactions occur on the road with an ever-changing combination of crewmembers in varying locations around the country and the world.
We tend not to have much direct or face-to-face accountability to a boss or an organizational hierarchy. Rather, we’re on our own all over the globe, making chit-chat (that’s where they drop “the cat bomb” and seem to not notice the mainstream doesn’t normally include the feline-philia). They have a different set of valuations when it comes to both attitudes and behaviors related to both two and four-legged creatures.
In fact, they do better with the latter, sadly, than the former.
Let me give you an example. Mr. Boeing didn’t give us too much extra room in the cockpit. After a recent flight, as passengers were deplaning, I attempted to heft my suitcase out of the cockpit in a break in the passenger line. The First Officer and I had another flight to fly and we were late.
The cockpit door, when it’s open, covers the forward lav door. You can’t open one while the other is open. Unbeknownst to me–how would I know, actually?–one of our senior citizen flight attendants had chosen that moment to use the lav. And she fought to open the lav door just as I pushed my bag through the cockpit doorway, pinning my bag to the bulkhead.
“Can you let me out? Can you let me out?” She said it at least three times, very irritated, almost as if I’d let the air out of her cat. “Not until you close that door a little because–”
“Let me out! Let me out!” She squeezed her portly self out through the narrow opening, haranguing me the whole time, adding, “You can tell the lav is occupied by the red sign there.” Duh. But if it’s behind the door, how the hell could I see that?
My F/O, laughing, said it first with a knowing glance: “Cat rancher.” Which I suppose is a more pleasant term than the equally accurate characterization, “social retard.”
“I hope you don’t talk to your cats that way,” I said as we both skeedadled to our next gate and jet. And actually, I can only imagine what a tale she must have told her cats in her 1980s vintage condo over a shared can of tuna and Tivo’d “Golden Girls” reruns–or what they may have said in return.
Fig. 1 Cats vs. hotness: tolerance has it’s limits. Courtesy of fellow pilot Marlo C.
So, the profile of the cat rancher is over forty, usually fifty, sometimes sixty, cranky, weird from living alone and having no direct supervision at work. And a flight attendant. Right?
Not so fast.
Sadly, they’re on both sides of the cockpit door.
Flew with First Officer “X” (not his real name–and I know you already know “X” is not his “real name,” but I always wanted to try that goofy “not his real name” device and it really does feel as inane as it is). Anyway, he immediately tipped me off to his cat-rancher potential within minutes of meeting him on the flight deck.
“Hi, I’m Chris,” I said as usual, extending my hand before putting my flight gear into place at the captain’s position.
A brief hello was within minutes followed by, on his part, some pictures from Mars that he’d downloaded and printed.
More pictures followed of his Sheltie, who he said he had to rock to sleep, then tuck in. Strike two and three.
He tried to show any flight attendant who made the mistake of coming to the cockpit his Mars pictures. And he explained to me how after his most recent first date with a flight attendant, he waited a respectable day before calling her again–and she’d already put call blocker on him.
Really? Guess she didn’t have any interest in Mars. Or pets elevated to human stature, at least in certain peoples’ minds.
They’re everywhere, even–no, especially in the sky. It’s an artificial world of transient connections, no supervision, no real accountability for propriety and reality because anything goes: you’ll never see the cat rancher again, so what point is there in telling someone, “you really need professional help–you’re losing it over your pets.”
So when it comes up–and it will, eventually, on a crew–how someone’s pet has become a defacto “person” in someone’s world: be patient, relish the fact that it does seem weird to you, which is confirmation that you haven’t lost your marbles as they clearly have.
Just nod, say “Mmm-hhmmm” as necessary, a pray for a short flight. That, and call blocker are your only only real hope.