Ted Burke It has been said that “drying the cat” means mispronouncing the names of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman in a Telegraph Avenue methadone clinic. “Drying the Cat By Hand” is a variation heard in the Tenderloin and up to North Beach, meaning that you announce to Amiri Baraka that Boots Randolph played better sax than Coltrane or Shorter.
Barry Alfonso I've also heard that it is a derivation of the old blues expression “shave 'em dry," meaning to cut off the head of a glass of beer with a straight razor before attacking someone in the solar plexus over a Stetson hat.
Ted Burke I've heard tell of that as well, and it makes me wonder if that is related to the practice of ordering a shot and beer and a dry towel twisted into a rat tail and snapped cruelly to the back of the drinker's bare neck by everyone in the bar named either "Earl" or "Ondine".
Barry Alfonso A lot of this has been lost and confused over the years, I suspect—a “dry cat” used to be slang for a guy with a flat top and bad dandruff. It was a custom to rub scalps like that for luck before a dice game or before rubbing spices into a jerk chicken leg, or both. It also relates to martinis and obscene gestures while sinking a putt.
Ted Burke There was the habit among dairy farmers of rubbing their bovines with mewing kittens for no real reason; "drying the cow" became "drying the cat" over time, an understandable conflation, and the implication of the phrase is that one is standing around irritating another living creature for no good reason. But since when does anyone need a good reason to irritate someone?
6 hours ago ·
Barry Alfonso That's right! Now I remember. Will Rogers did a bit about this and in fact got arrested in Tulsa for demonstrating how it was done. There's a famous photo of Junior Samples from Hee Haw "drying the cat by hand" behind Stringbean's back when he thought the cameras were off.
6 hours ago ·
Ted Burke *Absolutely! This in turn inspired Pynchon's famous opening line of his magnum opus 'The Crying of Litter Box 29". "A dry cat came screamng across the sky..."
5 hours ago ·
Barry Alfonso Right, that was a literary in-joke for many years standing. Hemingway took a swing at Frank Yerby after he wrote that Papa had been drying the cat with both hands for years...
5 hours ago ·
Barry Alfonso Well, I do remember Gore Vidal giving Buckley the hairy eyeball on TV during the '68 Democratic convention and saying, "You really are drying the cat by hand a little hard tonight, old boy" while Buckley let something slip that Al Gore was a monster on the congas at a nephew's confirmation party . Seems that the band turned out to be GWAR who suddenly became a Santana cover band. Nothing was the same from then on, though the quality of the monotony hadn't changed a bit.