Hello! As you can see from the byline (look up), today’s newsletter was not written by me. It comes from Lela and her cat Eloise. In the year since I started this newsletter, I’ve done a couple of interviews with the second dog of the sport, my beagle mix Lizzie. She has shared her thoughts on wolf turns, Tatiana Nabieva, and what floor music she would use in her floor routine. (Unsurprisingly she chose food-themed songs for both her elite and college floor routines.)
But I want Unorthodox Gymnastics to be welcoming to all species; I don’t want to present a dog-centric worldview here. And there are many cats active on the gymternet. (Hi Theo.) But it is difficult to schedule an interview with a cat, what with their demanding sleep schedule and their general disdain for humankind. Fortunately, Eloise agreed to sit fur an interview for this newsletter and I cat even.
As always, if you’re enjoying the newsletter and wish to support it, please subscribe!
I’ve been copyediting this newsletter for about the same length of time as the pandemic, which is to say, 500 years. My eye is pretty sharp, but no mere human eye is as sharp as that of my cat, Eloise, under whom I do all of my best work.
Some background on Eloise: She is a domestic shorthair (aka cat mutt). She is all white but for a pair of gray eyebrows. She is approximately 12 years old, but she has owned me for just nine of those. She came from a cat hoarder’s house before being whisked out of the ASPCA kill shelter and brought to a rescue in Brooklyn, where I found her. Eloise rejects most human contact, particularly if initiated by small children (which is unfortunate as she shares 850 square feet with a 3-year-old who adores her). She tolerates being petted only by adult human feet, preferably enclosed in fresh, fetid running socks; eats a special diet, because of course she does; and makes angry biscuits on fleece blankets. She has a moderate degree of Instagram fame under the hashtag #whitecatproblems. And yes, she is named after the famous literary sprite who resides at the Plaza. IT’S ME, ELOISE. (Eloise, like most cats, speaks in caps a lot.)
Eloise can also leap six feet in a single bound and nimbly sidestep a toddler’s graspy hands, and thus has many a hot take on her favorite sport, gymnastics.
These questions and answers have been edited for clarity, with most sniffs of her disdain and my yelp of pain when she kneaded her claws into my leg during the editing process removed.
Lela: Eloise, it’s been a long year without gymnastics. And you know, global pandemic and stuff.
Eloise: Imagine how it’s been for me. You came home one day in March, and then YOU NEVER LEFT. I am supposed to nap AT LEAST 18 hours a day and I have been averaging, at best, 17.
Lela: I did buy you extra treats.
Eloise: They are DENTAL treats. You can’t fool me with that Savory Salmon flavor. I know the vet is behind those things.
Lela: Moving on. If you were a gymnast, who would you be?
Eloise: Aly Raisman. She likes to nap. And Laurie Hernandez recently spoke about how she used to make fun of Aly for napping, but now, during her comeback, she has embraced naps. Welcome to the sleepy side, Laurie.
Lela: But Laurie has a dog. Did you know that?
Eloise: That doesn’t mean she’s anti-cat, silly. The youth, they’re a lot more openminded and progressive than your generation. They appreciate cats and dogs.
Lela: How exactly do you know this?
Eloise: I watch videos on TikTok.
Lela: Have you tried to do any of the dances yet?
Eloise: No. I may lick my own butt on your Zoom calls, but I still have some dignity.
Lela: Don’t do that again. But speaking of dance, let’s talk about the cat leap.
Eloise: A cat leap is neither a cat nor a leap. Especially the way gymnasts do them.
Lela: I think it was devalued in the code.
Eloise: So the Code of Points is anti-cat, yet the hideous wolf turn from the canine family is worth so much that some gymnasts do two (!) in their beam routines. I bet you Nellie Kim is behind this.
Lela: Which event do you think you’d be best at? I’m guessing beam so you could show off your cat leap form.
Eloise: I actually think I’d be great at vault. Cats have great blocks. When I stretch my paws overhead, there’s, like, no shoulder angle. I’d hit the table perfectly and then I’d ping right up. I could get the triple twisting Yurchenko named for me. But maybe also balance beam. I do have impeccable balance, even for a cat. Remember that time I escaped your old apartment through a broken window screen and ran across the gutters to that rooftop a few houses down?
Lela: You did that on my birthday.
Eloise: That is the purrrfect time to be reminded of your mortality. See what I did there?
Lela: Yes, you’re the first to ever use that pun.
Eloise: You’re being sarcastic because you’re bitter that you have but one life and I have nine and I’ve used up maybe half of one. LOOK OUT WORLD.
Lela: Looking out at the world is all you can do, since I now check our window screens religiously.
Eloise: [Yawns] How much longer did you say this would take?
Lela: In just a few more minutes, you’ll be free to return to staring out of the window, contemplating your remaining eight and a half lives.
Eloise: Time moves so slowly and yet so quickly. Have you ever really thought about that?
Lela: Let’s not go there. This is supposed to be a lighthearted newsletter to distract readers from the horrors of this week/month/year.
Speaking of 2020 things, what do you think about Chellsie Memmel’s comeback? She is arguably the best thing to come out of this trash year.
Eloise: Oh yes. I’ve been following her comeback closely. She only trains three days a week! I bet she naps on the other days.
Lela: I think she does conditioning on those days. And she has two kids.
Eloise: You must find her particularly impressive, especially as a mom.
Lela: I really do find her-
Eloise: Even if your greatest athletic success as a mom was 11th place in the Coney Island Turkey Trot.
Lela: Hey, I did great in that race.
Eloise: Did you win a turkey?
Lela: Well, no.
Eloise: I like turkey. I might like you more if you had won a turkey.
Lela: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you turkey-flavored cat food.
Eloise: And if I do, what are you going to do about it? Let me escape out a window? FACE IT LADY, I OWN YOU.
Lela: Then why do you have a microchip embedded in your shoulder that brings up my phone number when scanned?
Eloise: So whoever finds me knows to call my servant to come and get me. I thought that was obvious.
Lela: Can we get back to Chellsie? I mean, finding time AND motivation to train at the elite level, while raising little people, is a real feat. Add in that she’s parenting and making a comeback during the pandemic and it’s even more impressive.
Eloise: And here I thought it was impressive that I let your child touch me the other day.
Lela: Aw, you and Ned are forging a detente. See, the pandemic’s not all bad.
Eloise: Ned needs to learn how to nap again. He’s very loud when he doesn’t nap. Children should be sleeping, not heard.
Lela: Finally something we agree on! So before we wrap up and you go back to sleep, is there anything you’d like to discuss that I forgot to ask about?
Eloise: I can’t believe you forgot to bring up the most important gymnastics-related cat story—the one about the Dutch gymnast who dressed up like one of us and did her routine to my favorite musical “Cats!” They banned her!
Lela: Technically, they only banned her makeup. And then she retired. But you’re right, it was an injustice.
Eloise: Did Nellie Kim also do this?
Lela: I don’t know. I’ll have to check. But can we talk about you liking “Cats”? Why have you never told me this before?
Eloise: [Looks as nervous as, well, a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs] Sometimes, I sing “Memory” late at night, all alone in the moonlight.
Lela: Is THAT what you’re doing? I mean, it sounds very elegant, not at all like caterwauling.
Eloise: The makeup in the movie looked like an actual cat did it. Like, without opposable thumbs. Except Judi Dench, who apparently got to keep her opposable thumbs until they edited out her hand. But the story always gets me, as a shelter cat who got a new life.
Lela: Aw, Eloise. I didn’t realize that you felt this way. You’re a real-life Grizabella!
Eloise: Wait, why do YOU know so much about “Cats”?
Lela: That is a very long story involving mandatory seventh-grade dance and high school glee club. Probably also Nellie Kim.
Eloise: I’m still mad about poor Celine Van Gerner. If I ever saw other cats, I would have organized a strike against the FIG. Hey, do you think Lizzie would join me? This movement would really be stronger if it crossed species.
Lela: I’ll be sure to ask her the next time I see her.
Eloise: Can you also ask her what it’s like to feel the dewy grass under her paws? I know I’ve felt it before, but now it’s just a faint memory.
[singing] Memory, all alone in the in the moonlight!
It me, Dvora, again. In keeping with the cat theme, this newsletter is dedicated to Katharine Graham, Diana Moskovitz’s cat who passed away a few months ago. (Diana is one of my former Deadspin colleagues. She is also the unnamed Defector editor who, per last week’s newsletter, forgot to give me a word limit for the 2000 Olympic all-around vault clusterfuck story.) Katharine was a very special lady who deigned to let me pet her when I stayed with Diana in LA. She was also a fearsome slayer of insects. But most significantly, she was the steadfast companion of Diana, one of the best sports reporters in the biz, for 14 years.
And like Eloise, Katherine Graham had opinions on gymnastics. According to Diana, her favorite event was the balance beam because she was a cat who “prided herself on her ability to jump over whatever her humans had left strewn on the back of the sofa or the various photos on top of the bureau to get her (imaginary) birdie.” Katherine also had some hot gym takes. For instance: she felt that the gymnasts should perform more, not less, difficulty in their beam routines. Before you get up in arms about this take, consider this:
“She believed today’s gymnasts are up for the challenge,” Diana told me. “There will be little debate about this as she was a cat and, therefore, always right.”
Kind of hard to argue with that logic. We’ll miss you, Katharine Graham.
Lead image: Sarah “Slothnova” East
Photos courtesy of Lela Moore