Toddlers and Meowers
September 6th, 2011

Of all the weird social customs documented by the so-called Learning Channel, none is weirder than the prepubescent beauty pageant. What is it that drives suburban mothers with eating disorders who are married to equally overweight, emasculated men to frog march reluctant little girls from one pageant to the next in an unrelenting quest to acquire still another trophy, an ill-fitting tiara and a fistful of flowers? And what will become of these spoiled rotten, high-maintenance tarted-up children wearing rictus grins rendering them unsuitable for future employment save as pitchwomen for useless gee-gaws on the Home Shopping Network?

It pains me to admit it, but I was once one of them. Not a prepubescent beauty queen but one of those overbearing enablers. I craved—in addition to food—recognition and adulation. And when it became evident that I myself would never be recognized nor adulated, I decided to enter my cat Ursula in a beauty contest. And guess what? She won!


No question Ursula was beautiful, but then, isn’t that what every cat owner would say about his or her cat? In fact, some people complained. How come my standard issue shorthair tabby won? Shouldn’t the prize have gone to a more exotic breed?

Well, for one thing, pageant was sponsored by Tabby brand cat food, so maybe the fix was in. Had the sponsor been Fancy Feast, no doubt the judges would have raised their sights. But in this case, perhaps they were looking for the Cat Next Door.

All this happened over forty years ago, so I’m a big hazy on the details. I remember that shortly after the press release went out, a newspaper columnist called to ask for details, and I may have made up something—the part about the swimsuit competition, for instance. Did Ursula really pose in a five-piece bikini? Um, probably not. At least I don’t remember such an article of clothing. All that remains from that exciting episode is an embroidered patch and a medal.

The honor also included store coupons good for a year’s supply of Tabby brand cat food. Unfortunately, none of the local stores stocked Tabby, so what I did was carry those coupons with me everywhere I went, and whenever I came to a faraway town—let’s say Billings, Montana—first thing I would do is head for the nearest supermarket. Eventually I was able to redeem all the coupons, the downside being that, when presented with a bowlful of booty, Ursula turned up her bewhiskered nose. Now that she was a certified beauty queen, she had become PETulant.

Ditto all the other cats in the neighborhood. Was there something wrong with Tabby cat food? Well, maybe so. The brand has long since vanished, as has my beloved cat Ursula, along with my dreams of winning recognition and adulation, however vicariously.

-Richard Menzies