Monday, October 11, 2004

In Japan The Subtitle Would Read Nyaa Nyaa, in Albania Mjau

Writing about cats is every columnists', any columnist's, big trump card because as far as cat lovers are concerned the important thing is not the verve and wit of the writing but the fact the writing takes place at all. They guzzle the words, almost without tasting them.

It's the cats, stupid.

Except I can't play that trump card in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Oakland in particular. Carroll of the Chronicle has sucked up all the air in the room when it comes to writing about cats. All the time he writes about his cats, Pumpkin and Little Radish, and I'm sure it's all very nice, good stuff, Strunk and White all the way.

I just know it's about fuzzy darling winsomely neurotic little cats. And that is all it needs to be. If Carroll bothers to make it more than that, he is expending energy as he sits at the heart of the sun if you know what I mean and I know that you do since if you were not a connoiseur of fuzzy darling winsomely neurotic little cats you would not have read this far.

Abandon hope all ye dog lovers who enter here. This is not for you. Go back to your collection of the Best of Marmaduke.

Why should I then write about cats? The images of Pumpkin and Little Radish are burned into that synaptic tangle of yours that passes for a brain, and even if you find pleasure in my writing -- not my writing per se but the fact it's about cats -- three minutes from now Carroll will get all the credit and I will have fueled the legend of Pumpkin and Little Radish instead of our fuzzy darling winsomely neurotic little cats -- though in each category Popcorn and Oliver stand against all comers as the fuzziest the darlingest the winsomest the neurotickest -- so I am not going to waste my time.

That doesn't mean I can't write about Uncle Michael Tola, who stays with our kitties when we are on the road. He gives Popcorn her insulin twice a day, and he coaxes Oliver out of the shadows. Oliver has the wounded soul of a poet (a fuzzy darling winsomely neurotic poet) and trusts only us and Uncle Michael Tola and good for Oliver because some people are such bastards when it comes to cats.

It's one of the things I want a Hell for.

This is not about that. Any moment the misunderstanding will clang shut and someone will be writing Carroll asking him about his cat sitter, Uncle Michael Tola, and how UMT takes care of the perfectly acceptable though somewhat short of excellent Pumpkin and Little Radish. Which Uncle Michael Tola does not, more's the loss to Pumpkin and Little Radish.

This is about how Uncle Michael Tola stayed with our cats while we were coaxing Eydie's 93-year-old mama around Scandinavia last month and how he fell afoul of the subtitle machine. It is not so much a machine as it is a device, a button on the secondary remote control -- for who in this age of cable boxes and VCRs and CD players does not have a primary, secondary and tertiary remote control, some functions duplicated (or triplicated), others unique to the particular remote control?

One of our remotes allows you with a push of the finger to call up the "closed captions," or subtitles, for those shows that have been captioned. For so many TV shows I call up the closed captions. I can't understand Bernie Mac half the time. I can't understand most kid actors with their high-pitched voices. I can't understand most of the shows on BBC America since posh accents have been pushed aside and a hundred regional dialects have been allowed to blossom.

It's democracy, it's cacophony.

Let's say it as it is. I can't hear any damn thing anymore. I'm SICK, OLD AND STUPID with all that that entails. And it never stops entailing.

When we left for vacation, I left the close captioning on. It drove Uncle Michael Tola nuts. Because he hears the murmur of thought and the rustle of the blood in the veins and for all I know the sweet sad music of the spheres -- and not through the fillings in his teeth but through his own noble ears -- he felt deeply cheated and offended by the third of the screen consumed by the captioning.

Of course, he brings women in while we are gone. We aren't running a monastery here. One of them -- he said it wasn't one of his doxies but I know it was, I know it as I look under the bed (and on the sofa and against the wall and in the foyer and up the stairs) for strange pubic hair and I know my cats and that is not from my cats it is from some red-headed tramp....

In your dreams, my wife says. You cannot continue to live vicariously through that nice Michael Tola you just can't.

Anyway, one of Tola's visitors inspected the secondary remote control and turned off the closed captioning. That's what he told me.

Really, I said. I didn't know it was on. Why would it be on?

No wonder the cats are neurotic, though in their case it really is winsome.

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