Why you should care
Because if self-interest is a virtue, then Ayn Rand’s beloved cat Frisco was a feline saint.
Frisco laughed. The 13-year-old cat stood naked at the edge of the fire escape. The New York apartment building’s garden lay far below him. He stood rigid. He felt his shoulder blades draw together, the weight of the blood in his paws.
He laughed at the domesticated scene he saw below him — his fellow felines waiting like beggars on stoops for their dinners to be doled out from the communal cupboard, currying favor with their guards in hopes of a softer pillow or a bigger handout. Their incentive for independent action destroyed, he thought, corruption was inevitable.
In Their Voice: This is the first in a series featuring stories about famous writers told in their own voice. In this episode, philosopher-author Ayn Rand’s cat Frisco struggles for self-actualization against the forces of domestication and collectivism. Based on true events.
These helpless creatures, he mused, they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal. They have no way of knowing how it feels to be surrounded by inferiors. Hatred? No, just boredom — the terrible, hopeless, draining, paralyzing boredom.
Frisco was different. He was a cat who had never accepted the creed that others had the right to stop him — even his so-called “owners.” Frisco was not house-trained, nor had he been neutered or declawed. Frisco pissed where he wanted, when he needed to. If it was on a human’s favorite Persian rug, so be it; they had left it on the floor with a wild animal, after all. He hunted birds, mice, anything small that moved and had a life to be taken. The other cats in the neighborhood glared at him through the windows of their padded cells. But he didn’t mind. Do you know the hallmark of a second-rater? Resentment of another cat’s achievement.
Frisco had been expelled from his first home for his unwillingness to follow its backward traditions. They didn’t understand his refusal to wear a tag around his neck and be branded as chattel, or his utter disinterest in channeling his feral instinct toward a scratching post or cloth mouse. Frisco had started his life with a single absolute: that the world was his to shape in the image of his highest values, no matter how long or hard the struggle.
* * *
“Frisco, here kitty,” Mrs. O’Connor called in her thick Russian accent from inside the apartment. “We have a surprise for you.”
Frisco turned to go inside, not because he was bade to do so but because he did indeed derive pleasure from a good surprise. He had adopted Mrs. O’Connor and her husband, Frank, a few years ago. Unlike many in the bloated ownership class, they did not believe in neutering a cat’s sexual urge, or his resolve. Mrs. O’Connor, a writer who was occasionally referred to by her pen name, Ayn Rand, had once been asked why she had not fixed Frisco. “Cats cannot choose to go against nature or mold it to their wishes,” she responded, “and I would not interfere with them or force them.”
He was a cat who had never accepted the creed that others had the right to stop him.
Which meant that Frisco, named after Francisco d’Anconia, a playboy industrialist in one of Mrs. O’Connor’s novels, pretty much had the run of the joint. Once, a visitor to the house had scolded Frisco for scratching the furniture in Mrs. O’Connor’s presence. “Bad cat,” the churlish guest had called him. “No,” his owner quickly retorted, “good cat who took a bad action.”
Frisco wasn’t sure about “bad” anything, but he liked Mrs. O’Connor. She adored cats and was a lioness in her own right with a philosophy approaching Frisco’s own, though not quite as pure. At times, he thought, she could be too soft and sentimental: She adored Morris, that orange monstrosity that shilled for 9Lives cat food on television, and one of her favorite magazines was Cat Fancy, a monthly paean to feline slavery that had become a frequent target of Frisco’s unfettered micturition.
Frisco came inside. The O’Connors’ surprise was named Thunderbird, a beautiful female kitten that two of Mrs. O’Connor’s students had delivered in a hat at the end of her lecture that day. She did not normally accept gifts, but this one had been too cute to resist. Frisco felt an immediate and passionate attraction toward Thunderbird as well.
* * *
A cat’s sexual choice, he had discovered, is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. He will always be attracted to the cat that reflects his deepest vision of himself — the highest type of cat he can find, the strongest, the hardest to conquer. Frisco pursued Thunderbird with the moral conviction of a cat half his age. One day a friend of the O’Connors noted how fond the two cats were of each other and lamented that Frisco was too old to be a father.
“I wouldn’t put it past ol’ Frisco,” Mr. O’Connor mused.
A week later, Thunderbird gave birth to four kittens, one the spitting image of Frisco.
His self-interest quenched, Frisco again grew bored and aloof. His thoughts turned to another purpose: his dream of going feral. He liked the O’Connors, but he knew deep down that what separated him from the other house cats lounging in apartment windows was a matter of degree and not kind. Free-roaming cats, he knew, are only truly feral if they live completely independent of humans. He realized that, as an autonomous animal with the moral right to pursue his own happiness, it was time for him to leave. It was time for him to stop being part of his owners’ moral calculus and start being part of his own.
* * *
Unfortunately, the bacteria in Frisco’s kidneys were already on their own journey toward self-actualization by the time the O’Connors got around to taking Frisco to see the vet. Dr. Higgins informed the couple that Frisco had chronic interstitial nephritis, and his inflamed kidneys were failing.
“But why Frisco? Why my cat?” Mrs. O’Connor’s philosophical resolve had dissolved into the disbelief of a child struck by a bewildering turn of events. Nephritis or not, Frisco, for his part, could hardly mask his contempt for his underachieving organs.
What followed were weeks of intensive treatment. Frisco lost weight and was constantly nauseous. Even more painful than the treatment itself was the humiliation of depending upon another creature’s care and benevolence.
One evening, Frisco stepped on the ledge of the fire escape and looked out at the skyscrapers of the city. He felt the whole struggle of his past rising before him and dropping away, leaving him here, on the height of this moment. Rationality, he thought, is the recognition that nothing can alter the truth. And the truth was that Frisco had become a parasite, incapable of living fully.
Cats exist for the achievement of their desires. And what Frisco desired more than anything else was to die as he had lived. On his terms. Frisco leaped from the edge and in that moment, hovering over a void of darkness, without uncertainty or fear, he at last felt fully in charge of his life.