Winston Churchill: “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
Two lifelong interests emerged early in my life, and they were sports and mathematics. I wasn’t much good at the former, but I seemed to have an easy time with the latter. Perhaps in an effort to prop up my sagging sports savvy with my natural numbers knack, I looked for ways to combine the two. And so, during my mid-teen years I bought my very first magazine subscription to “The Sporting News,” and immediately after each weekly arrival, I would sprawl across the couch and slowly sift through statistics that had no intrinsic value, yet were fascinating to me. Back then, TSN arrived in a brown paper sleeve, but not to disguise its contents as might be the case with subsequent subscriptions. Rather, the sleeve was needed to protect the flimsy newsprint on which TSN’s contents were displayed, tabloid style … and for a box score junkie like myself, what mesmerizing contents they were. The pages of “The Sporting News” were filled with stories of baseball teams and features on ballplayers at all levels, but best of all, you could find every single Major League ballplayer’s stats, updated weekly, a veritable treasure to an incurable sports nerd. I devoured “The Sporting News” from the first page to the last, and it was due to this habit that I encountered a strange sports story that has stayed with me for a long time – a story that was about cats, not stats.
Though “The Sporting News” predominantly focused on baseball during my early association with that magazine, it did allot some pages to other major sports. Thus, I remember reading an article about a running back on a football team, either college or pro, who spent his off-season trying to develop better moves by studying his cat. After all, if a cat could sneak through three inch high grass while stalking a robin, or turn on a dime at full speed during a chipmunk chase, then imagine how elusive a running back with those same talents would be when confronted by a lead-footed, 350 pound behemoth. To someone like me, who had grown up in a virtually pet-free household (do parakeets and turtles count?), this was a revelation. In the abstract, this seemed like a logical proposition, but one huge question remained unanswered. Was it possible? Could you actually learn how to run from a cat?
Fast forward about 15, 16 years or more. I had driven over the Berkshires transporting Elizabeth R’s most prized possessions preparatory to our setting up household in the Hudson Valley as husband and wife. What were those possessions? A pair of black and white cats that never once stopped howling during the entire length of the trip from Boston, some three hours that seemed more like three months. And so, in that week that marked my last as a single man, I did learn one important thing about cats. They can be very, very annoying. But was it possible to learn anything useful from them?
Now fast forward another 35, 36 years or more. I retired several years prior to my wife on the theory that wives tend to outlive husbands, and I didn’t want to get shortchanged in this part of our partnership. Well, maybe there were other reasons, but this one will do for now. The result of this decision was that I got to stay home while Elizabeth R went to work, and with our sons having long since fled the coop, that meant that my only companions during the day were her cats. Not the same cats, mind you, but a pair of cats nonetheless, because if there is one thing Elizabeth R will never be, it is “without cats.” It wasn’t long after this new arrangement was established when I hearkened back on that long ago article about the football player who analyzed his cats in an effort to run smoother and more effortlessly. Could it work? After more than forty years of pavement pounding, my stride had been getting shorter and my gait stiffer, so could I find the secret of better running by cavorting with our cats? Could I, simply by staring at glaring pairs of yellow-green eyes, suddenly become nimble and quick? Would I, like Jack, be able to jump over the candlestick? No, I would not and I could not, but I did discover something else. Cats are experts at napping, and that revelation was an epiphany of equal importance to the Ol’ Philosophizer. You see, folks, taking catnaps had by now become the favorite of my more inactive activities, and I have picked up some great tips from a pair of usually inert fur balls.
“What d’ya say, when we get done lyin’ around, let’s go annoy the Ol’ Philosophizer”
I guess I must concede that in the hierarchy of the animal kingdom, I will always rank well below the felines in the naptitude department no matter how much I emulate our listless lumps of sun drenched fuzz. Their superiority in this skill is unquestioned, and intent observation will only allow me to close the gap just so far. That conclusion does not bode well for my prospects of learning anything slightly more animated by observing them during the rare occasions when they are actually in motion. If I cannot improve on innate indolence through observation of two meowing masters of lassitude, then what are the chances that I can learn to be light on my feet by studying them during their intermittent moments of movement? Not very good. Now, after all those years of wondering, I must concede that it just ain’t gonna happen! I have given up on the prospect that cats hold the secret to flying down the highway. Maybe it’s time for more parakeets – I’m pretty sure that the turtles won’t help.