Up The Valley: Fuzzball

September 27, 2012

Those of us who live with pets share a dark, well — often light actually — secret. Read today’s column in the Star:

One of the great things about living here in the Napa Valley is the number of months each year when you can entertain guests outdoors. There is nothing quite like the summer party on a warm evening out in the garden, with friends admiring the landscape design while nibbling your cherry tomatoes off the vine. Toss some light strings in the trees, and the backyard becomes a grand ballroom — one that you have only to mow and blow once a week.

But eventually, guests will want to come into your house — to use the restroom, to make a phone call, or to verify whether the manufacturer of your window treatments is the name brand or a cheap imitator. And that’s where it gets dicey for me.

You see, my house hides a terrible secret, and fear of discovery prevents me from inviting friends over on a more regular basis.

It’s not anything scary, like a refrigerator full of human heads, a sex dungeon, or a Gingrich for President poster. But it is something undesirable, insidious and inescapable. Something that can make guests uncomfortable, bother them long after they’ve left, and even discourage them from returning.

I’m talking, of course, about pet hair.

I live with two dogs and a cat, and they collectively produce more fuzz than your average sheep farmer shears in a year. Despite my best efforts at housekeeping, loose fur seems to live freely and multiply unchecked. Both dogs are breeds that blow their coats periodically, which means that they molt like birds. Twice yearly, giant chunks of their fur spontaneously detach and deposit in clumps on the furniture, the walls, or whatever unfortunate object or person they happen to brush past.

Still, the prime offender is my cat: a white fluffball with wispy Angora fur that utterly defies capture, except by the grates on my black Viking range, where the combination of grease and grit provides a welcoming pet hair preserve. The cat’s strands are so stealthy, they even get under the stick-um on Post-it notes, causing important reminders like “Buy more vacuum bags” or “Shave cat” to become unstuck and lost forever.

Whenever company is coming, I go into full furradication mode. Out come the vacuums with attachments, the sticky rollers, the miracle brushes, the 3M-Scotch Fur Fighter and the Pledge Fabric Sweeper for Pet Hair. With sufficient advance notice, I attack the source, applying special shampoos, grooming gloves and Furminators to slow the shedding. One final quick lick with a wet mop, and a last minute touch-up with the Swiffer, and my home is pronounced sufficiently defurred. Then the front door opens or a ceiling fan turns on, and suddenly random globs of dusty fuzz pop out from wherever they were hiding, congeal to form balls, and roll down the halls like giant tumbleweeds traversing the prairie.

Returning guests know that visiting my house involves two things: selecting an outfit in a light color, and pairing the evening’s alcohol consumption with a nice decongestant and antihistamine chaser. I rarely wear black anymore, so if I wear hot pink to your funeral, it’s not because I’m happy. It is just too demoralizing to extract the black dress from its protective plastic sheath, don and dash for the door, only to find that pet hair has already inextricably woven itself into the garment’s DNA.

Sometimes wisps of hair will spontaneously waft toward me while remaining invisible, so that my wild gesticulations to brush them away make me look like a deranged Tippi Hedren swatting at imaginary birds. According to my calculations, I spend 180 hours per annum trying and retrying to remove fur from my contact lenses and unwinding pet hair from the wheels of my electric toothbrush. I fear that my eventual autopsy will reveal the cause of death to be a hairball the size of a basketball.

I dream of a fuzz-free life, luxuriating in my sleek marble-floored palace of leather, steel and glass where I stroke my hairless Chinese Crested dog while a Sphynx cat purrs on my lap. I’ll be dressed head-to-toe in slenderizing black jersey and shod in spotless dark velvet slippers.

Of course, in the real world, I could fashion a fine pair of slippers out of the pet hair sticking to the bottoms of my feet. And much as I curse their coats, I would miss my furry family. So I will resign myself to a lifetime of picking pet hairs out of newly applied nail polish, extracting it from my mascara brush, and trying to figure out precisely how it seeps through the refrigerator door and into the vegetable bin. And for the foreseeable future, I’ll be entertaining outdoors whenever possible.