by Steffie Nelson

There's a new cat in town who's not exactly new—she's just been "discovered." Ask anyone—she's "it," and all that, too. She's sweet, sexy, sparkling, serene, sly, sleek, and, in a word, sassy. You've seen her winking at you from cars, guitars, lunch boxes, laptops, T-shirts, toll booths, at least one violin, and basically any surface that you can slap a sticker on. Who is this one-eyed wonder? Where did she come from, how did she get so popular, and can she teach us a few lessons? I think she can.

Widely available as a prismatic, or sparkly, sticker found in supermarket gumball machines since the 1970s, our feline friend was originally designed by a North Carolina screen printer named George Smith as part of a winking animal line that included a rabbit, a fox, and a snake. According to Al Mosiello, owner of a sticker-distribution company in the Bronx and a close friend of the now-deceased Smith, the cat has always been the most popular of the line, and is especially favored by "young females."

Schwa!Rob Reger, co-owner of Cosmic Apparel, a major supplier of T-shirts that have our puss's puss on them, doesn't know quite what it is about "sexy kitty" (as they call her), but he does know that she sells like mad. "Girls love cats?" he offers.

"Tasty" is another clothing line that has brought this kitty closer to our hearts—and other body parts.

But if any company or person can be credited with the reincarnation of this cat as the virtual goddess that she is now, it would have to be Heathyr Lawrence, self-described "cat-obsessed" owner of the L.A.-based Mantrap. Mantrap's line of clothing and accessories includes rhinestone-Pussy Power!studded cat collars, cat ears, cat-nap eye masks, and T-shirts, underwear, bags, and stickers, all bearing her slightly-altered variation of the kitty emblazoned with the words Pussy Scented. Heather and I spoke by phone at the end of a "long day" in Kitty Land, and the conversation was both stimulating and downright confounding. Here's an excerpt:

"So, I'm wondering when the first time you saw this cat was?" Pause.

"It's my cat!"

"Huh?"

"It's my cat!"

"Yeah, but it's an image that has been in gumball machines and stuff."

She sighs. "This is where it gets really confusing."

"Do you remember seeing it as a kid?"

"No."

"No?"

"No!"

"So are you saying that you didn't take this preexisting image and alter it?"

She sighs again. "So confusing. Okay, let me start at the beginning...Ummm, let's talk about...ask me something else!"

Eek.

Eventually Heathyr told me that she first saw "Sparkly Kitty" on "a gee-tar...I thought she was just beautiful." I think her evasiveness had to do with the fact that Mantrap has been in negotiations to secure a patent on the image (which was never copyrighted) and evidently her lawyers hadn't advised her on what to say regarding the original design. Whatever!

Heathyr promises that there will soon be Mantrap sticker vending machines, with a line of ten winking animals, including a bunny and a snake. I mention that the original designer also did a series. "Of other animals? Wow! I haven't seen 'em!" I don't think I'll touch that one.

What really matters here is that this woman has encouraged other women and girls, via a traditionally sexist medium, fashion, to celebrate their genitalia and in particular, that aspect of it which has most often been the subject of insults and a source of deep-rooted shame: its scent. I ask Heathyr if she feels that anything has shifted in the way girls represent, or feel about, themselves today versus five years ago. "It [having a pussy] isn't such a taboo thing anymore, it's not something you have to say under a whisper...We all have 'em! Boys all like 'em! It's okay! It makes the world go 'round." And if you take one look at "Sparkly Kitty"—who, in her Mantrap incarnation, is slightly more mischievous and confrontational than the original—you know that she is digging every minute of her proud, pussy-perfumed existence. One thing to keep in mind about Pussy-Scented products, though: "You have to scent them yourself."

However, even with all the T-shirts and the merchandise and the patents, our Kitty's still a humble gal at heart. It was about four or five years ago at a semidive bar that I first realized just how much she had goin' on. The Dambuilders were playing, and I noticed that violinist Joan Wasser's beauteous golden instrument was adorned with that unmistakable puss on the back. I immediately made a connection between the fancy feline and the totally in-control vibe emanating from this kick-ass musician. In other words: she is woman, hear her rock.

Joan, also "cat-obsessed—especially with the big kind, that don't fit in your house," distinctly remembers purchasing her first Kitty sticker for 50 cents in the supermarket gumball machine. "I was immediately drawn to her winking at me," she recalls. "First of all it's so obviously female, with the eyelashes and the beads...and yes, it's a cartoon, but it's very self-confident, without being boastful, but also, like, foxy....She's just completely at peace with the fact that she's powerful."

Joan has since had that first violin stolen (boo, hiss), but her new violin also sports the sticker—and I'm not the only one who's noticed. "People have given [stickers] to me after shows...or people say, 'yeah, my girlfriend has that on her bass.'"

Other rock 'n' roll devotees to the cult of Kitty include Hollis Queens of Boss Hogg, members of Moist, Juicy, the Demolition Dollrods, and John Taylor of Duran Duran, who I guess counts as an honorary girl for all his associations with prepubescents. I think it is more than appropriate that Alanis Morissette, Miss Powerful Female herself, should prominently display not one but three Kitty stickers on the suitcase from which she pulls yet another billowy satin shirt in the video for her intolerable breakthrough smash "You Oughta Know." Her stylist oughta know...

I can't deny that there's something twisted about the idea of a sticker as a feminist icon. But if you think about it, this kitty is a far more healthy 1990s role model than Morissette or Courtney Love, who were recently touted by New York Magazine as "the real daughters of Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem." While these two superstars have, in theory, made the concept of uncensored female self-expression more acceptable to the general public, most likely enabling a lot of "chick bands" to get heard, if not signed, I don't find much in their music that resonates with Germaine Greer's pronouncement of 1970: "Lady, love thy cunt." Our puss wins that one hands down (or otherwise occupied). Which leads me to the point that, although she's undeniably sexy, this kitty cannot be objectified because she's entirely self-possessed (not to mention that she doesn't have a body). And while she projects more enviable qualities than any pop-culture icon I can think of, she incites no jealousy; all you wanna do is give her l-u-v. She's like a Buddha. She is a living, (almost) breathing definition of sisterhood. Now, you may be finding this a bit over the top, like, "Hello! it's a sticker!" But if you're hearing where I'm coming from, more power to you! Plaster this pretty Kitty all over the place; let's start a movement! We'll call ourselves the "Lick Me" feminists—and you know just where they can lick us.   </end>

Steffie Nelson is the proud owner of a sweet, fluffy pussy that she pets every day.

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