For me, the statute of limitations on not feeling stupid about a purchase is never. Many is the time I have ordered plumbing parts online or electronic do-dads on Ebay, only to find out they were close but not, in fact, compatible. One purchase, however, soars high above the rest in provoking a shattering sense of self-loathing, buyer’s remorse to the twelfth power, or as Edith Piaf never sang, “Oui, je regrette.”
Back when Otis was a little kitty, my spouse Mary and I were wandering a pet store when a curious contraption caught our eyes. It was a kit that promised to teach the cat to use the toilet, meaning the actual toilet bowl. If this thing worked there would be no more cat litter, no more scooping, just a dainty flush now and again. This, of course, would be the answer to a dream.
I remember Mary being appropriately skeptical but game to give it a shot. She figured at $19, or whatever it was, the purchase would be worth the risk. I, by contrast, was all in, fully convinced this was the $19 that would change everything.
Inside the plastic wrap of this kit we found two items: a step-by-step instruction sheet and a stiff piece of cardboard the size of a toilet seat, embossed with a series of concentric circles like the elevation lines of a low-resolution topographical map. The concept was this: we were to lay the cardboard flat on the toilet and in the initial phase of training, place a cluster of kitty litter in the middle of the platform so Otis would get the idea. Over time, once the cat got used to doing his business on this cardboard and porcelain perch, we would tear out the inner-most circle of cardboard to make a hole. Next, we waited a few more days and as kitty got more comfortable, we were to progressively enlarge the hole by stripping out ever-widening rings of the cardboard. Eventually, like the grin on the Cheshire cat, all the cardboard would be gone, leaving just the maw of the toilet upon which kitty could balance, let ‘er rip and be done.
Here was the problem: the cat was having none of this. When we tried to gently place him on the cardboard, he flailed in that “Are you out of your freaking mind?” way that cats get. When we finally lulled him into giving it the old college try and he accomplished the initial leg of his mission, we celebrated. This just might work.
Then I made an error that put the word “cat” into “catastrophic.” With Otis still nosing about the bathroom, I hit the handle on the commode. It was one of those high-pressure, low-flow toilets that goes beyond flushing and seems to detonate with pyrotechnic ferocity. The cat was alarmed. I was alarmed. The cat would forever associate the toilet with the explosion of flushing and that was that.
Perhaps with a different toilet, different humans or a different cat, the experience would have been different. I sincerely hope that others have found success with the kitty kit. But to this day and every single day, we are reminded of this one purchase. The memory is triggered every time we clean a cat box, enveloped in the acrid stink of buyer’s remorse.
- David Brancaccio, Host of Marketplace Morning Report