Say It Again, Sam

One of lower Manhattan’s busiest thoroughfares is Houston Street. Hold it, guys. New Yorkers pronounce it, HOUSE-ton Street. Recently, I was in the city of Houston (pronounced: HUE-ston) to attend the Cat Writers Conference and to see part of the great CFA International Cat Show, probably the largest in the world. Habit kept me saying HOUSE-ton instead of HUE-ston and it caused me a bit of local scorn. A lot of people in Houston know about NYC’s alleged mispronunciation and a number of them let me know it by saying, “Y’all from New York, aintcha.” I tried hard to remember to say HUE-ston if only to avoid getting that question, which sounded a lot like an accusation. I finally got it straight. Now that I am back in New York, I have a new problem. I keep saying HUE-ston Street and draw a blank from New York cab drivers.

Like any curious writer, I wanted to know about why we pronounce the same word in different ways in New York and Texas. After some research, I think I have the story. Everyone in Texas knows that the City of Houston is named after the great hero Sam Houston, the founder of the Texas Republic after defeating Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto. Everyone pronounces his name HEW-ston. Back in New York, HOUSE-ton Street was named after William Houstoun (later spelled Houston on street signs) who was the Georgia delegate to the Continental Congress of 1784. According to the New York Public Library he married a prominent lady from Manhattan and stayed on. HOUSE-ton was simply the way he pronounced it. Maybe it was a Georgia thing. So, sue me. Two cities, two pronunciations. Next time you get into a New York cab, try to remember this if you’re heading down to Houston Street.

For the second time in my life, I visited the city of Houston the weekend before Thanksgiving, attending the Cat Writers’ Conference, which celebrated the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Cat Writers’ Association. I am proud to say that I have attended eight of these great events and this was the best one yet. In other years, we have held the event in Anaheim, Atlanta and in Kansas City. We go wherever the CFA holds its great International Cat Show.

The Cat Writers’ Association was the brainchild and creation of writer Amy Shojai and CFA Executive, Michael Brim. It offers two days of seminars with a broad range of subjects for writers out of which I always learn something new and useful, even after a lifetime of plying the writer’s craft. Among the events are various cocktail receptions and parties; a dress-up awards banquet, and a beautiful Networking Breakfast on the last morning, preceding the annual CWA Members meeting. Of course, the cat show also has some entertaining and amusing events too. The friendships, the camaraderie, the socializing are worth the trip alone. This may be the most welcoming group of people I have ever met. It takes about ten minutes to feel like you know everyone, and there is more.

The CWA Writers’ Conference is a satellite event revolving around the CFA’s (Cat Fanciers Association) huge CFA International Cat Show, which is as good as it gets, assuming you love to see the world’s most gorgeous felines. CFA gives a great deal of support to the Cat Writers Conference, as does the Dog Writers Association of America, with many members, such as myself, belonging to both groups. CWA is even given a sizable booth at the cat show, which is used for a very useful book-signing event.

Many of my friends are exclusively involved with the cat show, which as I said before is a huge show in an enormous show hall. It could be a parking lot for 747s. That’s big. Like any cat show, there is the area set aside for the cats, their cages and their exhibitors sitting in front of them as well as an incredible number of rows of vendors with the widest variety of cat products ever assembled under one roof.

You wouldn’t believe what you can buy there for your beloved cat or your beloved self, from gold cat jewelry to something named The World’s Best Cat Litter. No kidding, that’s the name. The man demonstrating the stuff said it was made from organic, soluble corn and was completely edible. Never shying away from a challenge, I found myself standing around the largest cat show in the world eating cat litter out of the pan. I must tell you, it wasn’t bad. It tasted like a combination of popcorn, potato chips, and dry oatmeal without the salt. I finally came to my senses once the guy said it was completely flushable. I spit it out and walked away trying to clean my tongue on my sleeve as I muttered something to myself.

I was more impressed with the display of Hidy-Tidy Feline Furniture in which you can mask a cat’s toilet box inside a beautiful wooden cabinet with special swinging side doors for the cat. Your dinner guests would never suspect what it was. They were really beautiful … and expensive. You would never imagine it hid a litter box inside.

While roaming around the great show hall I walked by Ring One which was inactive and quiet at the time and watched CFA show judge, Kitty Angell, deep in concentration as she prepared her material for judging the kitten competition. She is an old, dear friend who everyone in the Cat Fancy knows and is very popular and admired not only for the quality of her judging but for her many accomplishments as a writer and feline expert. She is also famous for her flamboyant gowns and extreme makeup when she judges the big shows. “Now Mordecai, I’ve toned all that down dontcha know.” She may be the only person on Earth that can make the name Mordecai sound authentically Texan. It was fun watching her unnoticed. She had indeed toned down the gown thing but she stilled looked quite attractive, even in her sensible shoes.

Kitty Angell is one of the stars of the Cat Fancy even though she is much more involved as a judge than as a writer. Maybe that’s why she is a star. For years, she wrote a “Dear Kitty” column and numerous in-depth feature articles for serious cat breeders and exhibitors in CATS Magazine which is now in magazine heaven. She also wrote for CFA’s CAT FANCIERS ALMANAC, and a number of other serious cat publications both here and abroad. Currently she is the “Feline Expert” on the Hartz Mountain Corporation website: I brought it up the other day and she presents informative, highly useful pieces. She does an “Ask the Cat Expert” piece for them along with Chat Room appearances. She has been a winning breeder of Persians and Scottish Folds and is highly active in CFA affairs.

The lady is interesting and entertaining when working as a judge, smart as a whip, especially where cats are concerned, and is able to make me laugh any time. What is there about Texas ladies that make them so special? Amy Shojai, a prolific cat and dog book writer, is another one that just knocks me out when she purposely thickens up her sagebrush drawl for the fun of it. (Does anyone still say sagebrush?) Another one is Dusty Rainbolt and her buckskin outfits which I still cannot identify as either Native American or Cowgirl Western. These ladies have personalities that sparkle. I was married to a Texan for 29 years so I come by my admiration honestly.

The show offered twelve rings, twelve all-breed judges and a Best of the Best competition. This year’s line-up of judges included Larry Adkison, Kitty Angell, Gene Darrah, Diana Doernberg, Kim Everett, Wain Harding, Walter Hutzler, Darrell Newkirk, Diana Rothermel, Barbara Sumner, Wayne Trevathan and the much loved CFA President, Don Williams. The CFA International Cat show was great to see, as was the Cat Writers Conference. The best four days I’ve had all year, and that’s the truth.

Next year it happens all over again, and once more in Houston. I can’t wait. HUE-ston, HOUSE-ton, I’ll get it right next year.

Mordecai Siegal is the author of 31 books about dogs and cats. His most recent book is “The Good Life. Your Dog’s First Year (Simon & Schuster)” and the 10th Anniversary Revised Edition, of “I Just Got A Puppy. What do I Do?” He is a member of P.E.N., The Cat Writers Association, and President Emeritus of the Dog Writers Association of America.


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