By the bright feathers clutched in their hands. By the tell-tale wisps of fur clinging to their shoes. They're the Twin City Cat Fanciers, and they recently met up for a local feline beauty pageant.

          "There are seven ancient mutations that account for nearly every sort of cat you might recognize," explained Judge Patty Jacobberger. "Brown mackerel tabbies are the prototype cats, Felis Libicus." The other mutated cats are the fancy ones--long haired, blue-eyed, solid colored, or unusually colored, like smoke, cameo, calico, or blue. These ancient mutations lined the aisles set up in an ice-hockey rink, the Aldrich Arena, in Maplewood. Burmese mewed, with lapis-lazuli eyes and fur like golden smoke; Persians stared, as flopsy and fluffy as chiffon dusters; Devon Rex--the Chihuahuas of the feline kingdom--wrinkled and bug-eyed, tore around their cages, batting their paws between the bars.

          Jacobberger slipped cats in and out of their cages, placing them on the judging platform, ruffling their fur, examining their faces, dancing her pouffy wand before their faces to capture their attention. Whenever she finished with a cat, its owner rushed up to rescue it from its judging cage, cuddling it, kissing it, murmuring into its ears. Girls at the sidelines, like ball-boys at Wimbledon, sprang for the newly emptied cages, windexing and toweling them out. No little boys wiped out cages. Kim, one of Jacobberger's young cage-monitors, explained. "Guys like dogs because they can control them, but cats they can't control." Amy, Kim's partner, clarified. "Girls are right."

          Right or not, there's something especially girlie about cat fanciers' accoutrements. Barbeedoll Cattery owner Bill Barbee is a large man, and macho enough, but sitting in a row of cat's cages, he looks like a refugee in a war between Dolly Parton and Vanna White. Gold lamé abounds, looped and draped in astonishing curtain poufs, diamond-crusted medallions, bows, gauze, sequins, and fringe spill all over, camouflaging the plain wire cages and concealing cut crystal kibbel bowls. Barbee stands watch over Cybil, who lives in an elaborate upholstery of bubble-gum pink satin trimmed with seed pearls. A series of framed color portraits of Cybil rest atop her cage, and a pink feather boa curls among them, coyly reveals business cards. A cattery indeed.

          Cybil is a 9-month-old dilute calico--a foggy dream of creamy ivory, shell pink, and abalone gray. Cybil looks exactly like a cloud, an angel--or a cartoon character whose face was squashed dead flat by a falling anvil. Persians' heads are supposed to be utterly round, and their noses are not supposed to break the plane of their faces. Cybil's face is so smushed that it's made her a Grand Champion as a tender 9-month-old virgin. Which is extremely good for Bill Barbee, because cat-fancy cash is all in the kittens. According to Twin Cities Cat Fancier President Linda Berg, the offspring of top cats sell for $2,500 to $3,500. And cats, frankly, breed like rabbits.

          Cybil is a top show cat, a cat fancier's wet dream. "When I die I want to come back as a top quality show cat," joked Jacobberger to Cybil. "As a Persian. And I want to be a calico, or a dilute calico. I'll be carried everywhere I go. My feet will never touch the ground." She turned to face the cat, whose liquid eyes have a fullness that looks uncannily like pleading. "And awl the judges will wuv me."

          But all is not cream and mackerel snacks for Cybil. She hardly ever leaves her cage. She never goes outside--her feet literally have never touched God's brown earth. Barbee says she stays in her cage in a private room in her house, and doesn't mix with the rest of the household, to guard against infection. (When Barbee mates Cybil, her intended will be isolated for three months in a separate room, again, to guard against infection.)

          When Cybil's not in isolation, she's washed, conditioned, blown-dry, trimmed, powdered, styled, eye-droppered, nose-moisturized, and restrained. She wears a lace ruff to prevent her from licking her own fur, which would make little un-brushed looking curls. (Other cat fanciers put coffee-filters around their cats' heads.) If Cybil isn't sleeping or being groomed, she's flying around, winning awards, lounging in hotels. Judge Evelyn Prather's highest praise for a cat that won an early round? "It must be a joy to take this kitty and go with her into motels and just be with her."

          Just being Cybil--so cute, so docile, and such a perfect example of ancient mutations--Cybil conquered all. She racked up more points than any other adult cat, and winged home to Memphis to await her precisely picked prince charming--the fanciest cat at the cat fancy. *

--Dara Moskowitz


          You hear more and more about Minneapolis's Big City problems these days. But for evidence that we are still just a little company town, you need look no further than the front page of the Star Tribune where it was recently announced that DAYTON'S HAS BOUGHT THE CHRISTMAS CAROL and the GUTHRIE THEATER for its holiday advertising campaign. A brand-new adaptation of the Dickens's classic will take the Guthrie stage this year, funded by Dayton's and by Xerox Corporation: "The new production will be presented by Dayton's, which is giving the Guthrie $300,000 over the next five years to help pay for it." Tier two of the marketing strategy includes Dickensian shopping bags and advertisements. And for its "lavish animated show in the Minneapolis store's auditorium," Dayton's has retained the original Guthrie set and costume designers. To us, the marriage suggests an array of product tie-ins for the season--great holiday gifts for the Scrooge in your life. We offer the following:

          The Marley Knocker

          This handsome door-knocker, made from butternut with brass accents, features a holographic image of old Ebenezer's dead partner, Marley. For an additional $9.99, substitute the image of a dead loved one. Guaranteed to give a jolt to the skinflint in your family! $79.99. Some assembly necessary.

          The Ghost of Christmas Past VideoMemories Kit from Xerox(TM) Scrooge needed a ghost to record his precious family memories. But you can create your own handsome video journey through the past with this unique gift. The Ghost of Christmas Past VideoMemories Kit turns family snapshots into a Victorian-style slide-show you can view on your home entertainment center. $29.99. VCR not included.

          The Bob Cratchit Dayton's Gold Charge Account

          Let's face it, if everyone had to hold off on the Christmas goose while their miserly uncles experienced revelations about themselves, there'd be a lot of hungry people during the holidays. Fortunately, we've come a long way from the days of debtor's prison! In fact, we encourage you to owe us money! As long as you make regular monthly payments that just cover the fees, interest, and a tiny percentage of your principal, we're happy to charge you for carrying a debt with us--for years if you want. It's our special way of saying "thank you."

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