Friday, September 30, 2011

I Don't Get It

Human beings are truly a strange species with many seemingly contradictory behaviors.

One of the first things parents do after the birth of a child is buy him/her a stuffed animal. Teddy bears probably predominate but farm animals (soft fluffy piglets, calves with embroidered smiles, and adorable yellow ducklings) are destined to become part of the toy menagerie.

Early reading material includes The Three Little Pigs, The Golden Egg Book, Chicken Little, and The Little Red Hen. After that, we move on to classics like Charlotte's Web and Babe.

All the time we are doing this, we are encouraging our children to dine on something we refer to as meat.

My daughter nailed this dichotomy at an early age (five or six, I can't remember). Shrewdly eyeing the Sunday pork roast, she demanded to know "What animal is this?" "Who killed it?" and finally, "How many pork chops would Wilbur be if you cut him up?" Shortly after, she announced that she was a vegetarian and remained one until her late twenties.

I am reviewing all this because one of the family ducks somehow acquired a broken wing and, after a serious discussion among the adults, was summarily slaughtered and prepared for consumption. This delighted my son-in-law who perhaps was not brought up  on stories of talking farm animals. My oldest grandson, whose emotions take a back seat to logic and scientific curiosity, was also fine with this. My middle grandson was distraught, however, and believes that eating one's former pet is an act of sacrilege.

My youngest grandson (age six) has the same sensibilities as his mother. As of this writing, his strategy re the transformation from barnyard pal to tasty entree is simply not to talk about it. He is upset, though, and may even be on the path to vegetarianism. Last night he wanted to know what animal provided the meat he was eating.

In theory, I have no problem with people raising animals for food. After all, that is how nature is set up to operate. You are either prey, predator, or savanger unless you decline to participate and opt to become Vegan. I do have a problem with the way most domesticated farm animals are raised -- jammed into cages, pumped with hormones, etc. I am a hypocrite, though, and continue to let myself be fooled into thinking that packaged meats are somehow unrelated to tortured animals.

What intrigues me most, though, is why we present our children with toy ducks and stories of talking animals. Perhaps it is a tendency that harks back to hunter-gatherer days when an animal was hunted and eaten yet simultaneously revered and ceremonially thanked for providing sustenance.

We are a long way gone from that time. I mean, can you imagine saying a prayer of thanks for each genetically modified chicken before you slit its throat, or for each steer in a long line of steers before you conk it on the heard?

Are "civilized" human beings programmed to use their children as foils against cognitive dissonance?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the Subject of Cats

Is there such a thing as a normal cat? This is not a rhetorical question. I am trying to determine whether there is something about me (some dark, pernicious influence) that has caused each and every one of my feline companions to turn psycho.

My childhood cats were clearly suicidal. They demonstrated this from time to time by "making a mess" (to use my mother's euphemism) on the couch in my father's study. My father's study was his sanctuary, on a par with the Forbidden City. Furthermore, he HATED cats. So why, I ask you, was my father's study the ONLY place in the house where this act of feline atrocity was committed?

My first adulthood cat was named Bear-Bear because, as a kitten, she resembled a small fuzzy black bear cub. She was supremely affectionate and I loved her dearly. At some point, though, she began to appropriate articles of clothing (odd socks being a favorite). She would carry them out from the bedroom in her mouth, lay them carefully on the living room floor and massage them with her front paws making odd little bleating noises as she did so. Sometimes she would switch from socks to bathroom sets -- towels, washcloths, even an occasional bath mat. On one occasion she dragged out a pair of my husband's jeans.

Pretty Paws, a stray acquired by my animal-loving daughter, spent the entire day on the roof of our house which, in time, became decorated from corner to corner with dried cat turds. This same cat perfected a quite credible imitation of human speech. "Hrrrow!" she yowel, "Hrrrow, hrrow, hrrow!" Her preferred time to practice this talent was three a.m. or thereabouts, thus waking the entire household with her eerie monologue.

Pasha was a fluffy, cream-colored cat with blue eyes, slightly crossed. He adored my mother and would perch on the back of her reclining chair tenderly licking her hair. If someone other than my mother occupied the reclining chair, Pasha would wander in circles, meowing piteously, stopping only to gaze in bewilderment at the chair with its alien occupant. Pasha also permitted himself to be captured and molested, on a regular basis, by my daughter's French lop, even though he could have easily escaped either by clawing his way to freedom or jumping out of reach. In the history of cognitively-challenged cats, Pasha stands out as a stunning example. He was friendly though and welcomed all kinds of strange cats into our yard and into his presence. I once discovered him seated companionably beside a scruffy tom. It was raining steadily at the time and the two of them were occupying a large flower pot that was gradually filling up with water.

My current feline companion is a tuxedo female who, when I purchased her, seemed not only normal but notably calm and sociable. Consequently, I named her Serenity which turned out to be a misnomer. Serenity perceives my family, especially my youngest grandson, to be true descendants of Attila, the Hun and rushes to hide behind the stove the minute they cross the threshold of my door. Like Pasha, she is a licker, but a licker with a vengeance. Thus I am often awakened at three or four in the morning with the sensation of a small, sandpaper tongue scraping lovingly against my ear.

My daughter, who has never had a normal cat either, is the current owner of a long-haired, ginger-colored male called Marmalade Lion. M. Lion is prone to climbing on people's laps where he perches tenuously purring and waving his tail simultaneously which means (1) that he is please and agitated at the same time, or (2) that he hasn't yet decided whether he is pleased OR agitated and is currently entertaining both possibilities. At some point he is apt to nip you on the arm prior to jumping down as if he'd suddenly decided you were to blame for his cognitive dissonance. M. Lion has a particularly unpleasant-sounding meow which sounds like someone with a megaphone whining in a New York accent.

My son-in-law appears to believe there is such a thing as a normal cat and that he is uniquely qualified to choose one. I  find this position somewhat arrogant but I'm open to any possibility...