blind cat hearing
Friday, December 24 2004
This morning I had a housecall in Woodstock at a house occupied by a single father and his thirteen year old boy. I've been making housecalls regularly at this place for over a year and, since it has all taken place in the most change-filled year of the boy's life, I feel like I've watched him grow up from a kid in a room full of toys to a teenager who likes to hang out in the basement with his friends playing videogames. Today he had plans to meet up with some girls and his father was on the horn with one of the girls' mothers trying to hammer out the details, none of which had been articulated by their increasingly independence-declaring children. The mother was concerned that all the scheduling and location details be arranged beforehand because "a thousand people" would be convergin on Woodstock tonight to see the village's annual Christmas spectacle: the arrival of Santa Claus. Supposedly every year the passively-aggressive physics-defying altruist finds a unique way to "arrive" on Woodstock's triangular village green, and people come from miles around to see him do it. While this conversation was taking place over the speaker phone, I was sitting there twiddling my thumbs, having already been paid but having been asked a "quick question" just before I made it out the door. So there I was, waiting for this overprotective mother to negotiate the terms of the evening with my client, a decidedly more laissez-faire father. I hate waiting, no matter for what, no matter how briefly. When I'm waiting, I always find myself hating the cause of my wait. This has caused me to hate many through the years: Microsoft programmers, Greyhound logisticians, anonymous handyman plumbers, and grocery store schedule managers. In this case I hated the overprotective mothers of Woodstock's many teenage girls. What the hell is wrong with these women? Give your daughters a fistful of condoms and let them make their own mistakes!
This afternoon Gretchen and I went to the Ulster County SPCA to pay a visit to Pitunia, the Pit Bull puppy who closely resembles Eleanor. This time we brought three dogs for her to play with: Sally, Eleanor, and our houseguest Carlos. Carlos didn't react well with Pitunia, growling viciously at her whenever she attempted to play with him. I've come to the conclusion that Carlos is an emotional wreck of a dog, but not really in a way that makes him a bother. He's extremely needy, whimpering relentlessly on the many occasions when he feels he's not getting all that he is owed. But when cats or other dogs try to be affectionate to him, he often reacts with non-violent hostility. It shouldn't come as big surprise that Carlos is this way; before he ended up in his present happy situation he was found tied to a fence and abandoned somewhere in Brooklyn.
This evening Gretchen and I went to a Christmas Eve dinner party in Woodstock (on the road with the fiercely-defended name "Hill 99"). Normally Gretchen isn't a big Christmas party enthusiast, but the people throwing this party were a bunch of photogenic vegan Buddhists. So, though the seasonal playlist was kind of irritating, it wasn't played very loud. And the people were fun.
Several people in the kitchen were introduced to us as singers in an ensemble, and inevitably they were called upon to sing. I had no idea what kind of singing they did but naturally assumed it would be some sort of quaint barbershop quartet sort of thing. But no, when they broke into song it was all wordless Tuvan-style throat singing, the kind that sounds sort of like an Australian digeridoo. (Despite all the fawning tonight over their singing and all that I've read about how wacky and exotic Tuvan throat singing is, I have to tell you that I've impressed by how easily I can do it myself with no practice whatsoever. I've never really understood what the big deal was.)
In addition to the intertesting people there were also a couple cats. One of these was completely blind; she actually had no eyes at all, just pink slits where eyeballs would be. But that cat was far from helpless, proving by her actions that a lot of cat behaviors can be coordinated by hearing alone. For example, you could crumple a ball of paper and roll it across the floor, and the blind cat would stalk it patiently, as though she could see it. There'd be a typical cat-like pause full of melodramatic tail thrashing and then she'd pounce, getting the paper every time. Sometimes she'd miss by a little and correct herself at the last instant. This made me wonder what kind of picture she had built of the world around her using nothing but sounds. Perhaps she could hear things even when they didn't move; maybe her hearing was acute enough that she could hear the whistling of lazy air currents as they passed over every sharp edge in the room.
Towards the end of the evening Gretchen and I found ourselves sitting on a couch with a Jewish couple who identified themselves as such after I jokingly wished some departing people a "mazel tov Christmas." Then, after learning we'd lived in Park Slope (Brooklyn), they told us about how they'd met at the Park Slope Food Co-op back in the bad old days when it was run like a Central American police state. She used to make eyes at him when he'd be bagging her groceries. And then one day she found out he was a lawyer. (A food coop is one of the few places in the solar system where lawyers bag other people's groceries.) So they ended up together and were a hot item until he announced that, due to some fame he expected from a soon-to-be-published article in the New York Times, he probably wouldn't have enough time for her. By any measure that was a bad thing to say, unless (of course) he was trying for the most asinine way to break up. But no, he didn't even want to break up, and so he had to spend the next two years digging himself out of a hole he fell into with a single ill-considered comment. That's how life can be. But now they're together, married, and well into their happily ever after.
Another day by the fire. From left to right: Eleanor (with red rubber ball), Clarence, Carlos (with toy sheep), and Lulu. This picture is a couple of days old.
Pitunia (left) and Eleanor playing today.
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