Why CatCon Just May Be The Best Place To Find True Joy In Dark Times

These days, It’s feels criminal not to open any piece of writing without a brief accounting of all the world’s ills. No post about a new deal at Denny’s is complete without a reminder that the tides are rising higher every day. “Soon, probably before Christmas, we will all be dead,” is how I opened a draft of a post about coffee ice cubes a few months back. When I send a friend a text to tell them that something good has happened to me — it’s rare, but such events do occur— I always feel like I have to follow it up with a reminder that, “I’m definitely monitoring the situation with North Korea, though. Lots of bad stuff happening these days. Terrible times.”

In fact, right now I’m stifling the urge to remind you that there’s bad shit in the world — both because it’s ultimately useless to scream your frustrations into the void and because I’ve pledged to stop feeling guilty for experiencing joy (something that I’m not the only one guilty of feeling guilty for). And I did find joy one Saturday in August, when I spent six hours at a convention squarely aimed at every cat lover in the galaxy. (Including cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, who was there.)

I don’t have a cat, and that’s probably for the best. Because aside from my husband (who’s scared of felines on both a practical and theoretical level), I live with a rabbit and two guinea pigs whom, an acquaintance once pointed out, “a cat would rip right up.” Point being, I like cats, but I don’t know if I like-like cats.

What I love is CatCon, because for the price of a ticket, you get way more than a chance to attend panels and meet The Vampire Diaries’ Ian Somerhalder and original Catwoman Julie Newmar. You get a weekend of unbridled, unfettered, unapologetic cat-bliss that you’ll agree we all desperately need.

“We need to tune out and take a break from the four horseman of the apocalypse,” says Susan Michals, the con’s founder. “We need a mental respite. We need an escape.”

Mental respite is exactly what you get as soon as you enter the convention’s exhibition floor. I’d had a bad week before CatCon: I’d almost missed my flight due to an emergency, accidentally misplaced a friend’s car keys, and, only hours before, spilled an entire drink all over myself due to the fact that after 33 years on this earth (which, I must remind you, heating up at an alarming pace!) I still haven’t mastered the art of walking and talking at the same time.

I arrived in a mood that was as sour as the smell I assumed I was giving off — the drink I’d spilled on myself was a mimosa — and wasn’t expecting it to be buoyed by any earthly delight. But then I heard someone speaking seriously about the religious experience they’d had the last time they met Lil Bub; A woman walked by with a cat painted on her face to match “the fierce kitty I am inside”; and by the time I reached the building where the human celebrities were sequestered, the jovial mood had infected me like some kind of blissed-out virus. I wasn’t beaming yet, but I figured it was only a matter of time.

There’s no gate-keeping in the world of cat adoration. No mockery. No snark. There is no learning curve. If you don’t know who Pudge is, someone will patiently explain. If you don’t understand why everyone’s going crazy over an illustration of cats freaking out over a cucumber they’ve summoned from the very depths of hell, someone will helpfully point you to videos of cats being terrified by the vegetable in real life. Cat Con is the only place that it’s acceptable to stop someone and compliment them on a t-shirt that reads “Show Me Your Kitties.”

It’s where you’ll wander up to a booth, ready to giggle over some ridiculous product or another and find that the proprietor won’t just snicker and agree with you — “cats sure are fucking weird, aren’t they?” one vendor said to a customer as I passed — but then hunker down and explain exactly why your own cat needs a brush that will mimic a mama cat’s tongue.

Even though more than 15,000 people streamed through the Pasadena Convention Center during this year’s con, no one was rushed or hurried. No one was complaining about their sore feet. Every few moments you’d hear someone exclaim “Maybe I am a cat person!” with all the zeal of someone who’s just been baptized in a font of catnip wine.

One such cat person is Moshow, whom you may remember from when his cat rapping videos went viral. He was at CatCon with his partner, MC (who he’s been with before there was fame — or cats), and Ravioli, one of his many feline co-performers (who’s in and out of a space-age carrier).

“I’m a stay-at-home cat dad,” Moshow told me. “I rap, travel the world and do shows and do meet and greets. Kick it with all the cat people.”

Moshow’s meet-and-greet earlier that day had been so popular that the line had to be cut down. And he can’t believe his good fortune.

“Cat people show support,” he says. “They show love. They come out to your shows. They drive across the country to come see you. Cat people are awesome. I know what it’s like to not have support so thank you so much to all the cat people out there that are rooting for me. That means a lot.”

What is a cat person, anyway? One of Michals’ most idealistic goals in creating the con was changing the way that cat ladies (and by extension, all cat people) are perceived. And while there are those who will still picture Eleanor Abernathy from The Simpsons any time someone calls themselves a “cat lady” or a “cat dude,” entertainers like Moshow are making it easier and easier for people to identify themselves as cat enthusiasts without being seen as strange or reclusive or perpetually single and starved for human affection.

“I just stand true to myself,” Moshow says. “I never thought I was breaking stereo types. You want to be the example that you want to see. I’m a positive guy. I grew up in the projects of Baltimore City — eighteen years of my life. Always been doubted. Always been looked down upon. I was that kid — you would see me and you would say he wouldn’t be anyone. Through hard work and dedication, I put myself through school. I was able to graduate through college and I now stand before you here as The Cat Rapper and I just tell people they literally just have to be themselves. So if that can inspire someone else to get off the corner or to push forward, I’ve done my job.”

The only other thing that Moshow wants is for people to know that even though his life’s been transformed by cats he’s about more than just rapping with them. “I like to ride my bike. I like to go to the library. I like to stay home and chill with my lady,” He says.

“You like hiking, too,” MC adds.

“Yeah,” Moshow says. “We like hiking.” And then, just because he’s in the moment, he drops a freestyle.

Tess Holliday also went to CatoCon to break stereotypes. The plus-size model extraordinaire struts the convention hall in a glittery shrug. She’s flanked by an entourage which includes fans, a PR person, and her children. At other cons, fans might have mobbed her and demanded photos, autographs. Here, Holliday’s privacy is respected. Someone nearby taps a friend and says “That’s the one from the magazine,” but the two women keep a polite distance and shuffle off towards the adoption area, where the cats on display are the real stars. Some people wait for over an hour in hopes of playing with a cat in simulated apartments, an encouraging reminder that cats can fit into your life.

“Adopted” signs hang proudly on cage doors. Everywhere, people are laughing.

“I feel like people that are cat people get made fun of a lot, and they shouldn’t because it’s like a totally normal thing,” Holliday says when we speak. “Because people are obsessed with their dogs, so of course, people are gonna be obsessed with their cats.”

“And there’s also the stigma of people being like Crazy Cat Ladies and all of that,” she adds, ”which isn’t really a thing either because everyone loves something. I always tell people that make fun of me or my size in the media that everyone has the thing that they love or the thing that helps them get through life, which can really be crappy sometimes. And some people just have ten cats. And some people smoke two packs a day, so who’s to say which one is good or bad? It’s just kind of what gets you through.”

CatCon has grown in the three years that Michals has been running it. This partly due to good advertising — Michals is both a kind human being and a freaking PR machine — but I think it’s mainly because we really need it. We need something, as Holliday says, to get us through life, which can feel like it’s getting crappier and crappier every day and it’s why I’ve come to Cat Con every year. It’s why I allowed my friend to convince me to get in line for the main event — a giant wheel that grants any number of wishes, from cat toys to a follow on Instagram by a major cable network. And it’s why I expend a great deal of effort when it comes to actually spinning the wheel, using muscles that have been lying dormant for years to reach up and pull down as if my entire life depended on winning a cat toy called, ominously, “The Marinator.”

Later, after I’ve won my own choice of prize and handed the difficult decision of choosing over to my friend, I wander the convention hall alone, passing men, women, and children dressed as cat and cat-adjacent creatures. One woman is a cat ballerina. Some guy is purring loudly. In any other situation, I’d stop and judge, maybe text a friend about how strange the situation is. But here, it makes a lot of sense. And more importantly it’s fun.

I’m not going to purr, but when I walked up to the booth of my friend Laura Keenados — whom I met at the Cat Art Show (also created by Michals) — and find a woman playfully agonizing between different colors of cat bandana, I join in, gasping and laughing right along with her, treating it as if it’s the biggest decision of her life, grateful that it’s the biggest decision we’ll have to make for at least the next few hours.

CatCon’s coming back next year, bigger and better than ever. But why should cat people have all the fun? Michals is debuting DogCon next year. Get ready: October 20 and 21, 2018 are coming up fast!