Guest Commentary

Scientifically observe as Randy talks with his cat

Lately, I've been reading about these scientists who say that animals can talk. Big controversy. Foremost among them is this guy who has catalogued the vocalizations of prairie dogs, claiming that they are able to communicate with each other in such detail that their sounds amount to words and speech.

Well, duh! This is news? Leave it to scientists to start a big debate about something that's freakin' obvious, just because none of them has published the perfect peer-reviewed opus and out-argued all of their cohorts on the great battlefield of academia.

More like acanemia. Leave it to modern humans to forget what the ancients always knew. Take Edgar Allen Poe. He understood that raven so clearly, he wrote it down. Never mind that "nevermore" was all it could get out. It was a particularly stubborn raven, bent on the psychological destruction of its observer.

I bet if that raven had been in the mood, it would've talked a black streak. "So, ya fancy yerself a writer, eh? Why don'tcha get a real job?"

But hey, no need to dwell on dusty old history. (Don't even get me started on Dr. Doolittle.) These confounded eggheads need look no further than my own house to settle their debate: My cat can speak. In fact, my cat can talk an orange streak when he's in the mood. He's not only capable of thousands of vocables (exponentially more than those stoopid prairie dogs); he's capable of such linguistic subtleties as innuendo, insinuation, insistence, interrogation, instigation, incrimination and indignation (at which he excels).

Just this morning, at the butt crack o' dawn, he informed me that I had forgotten to fill up his food trough the night before. Oh, the righteous, closed-mouthed indignation! The low, pseudo-growl, rising to a veiled threat, tailed off into a resentful diphthong at the finish: rdrdrggrrnnHHRRNNnnrrruh. (Forgive me, cat spelling is very difficult.) Unfortunately for Mr. Puma, I am generally nonverbal at that hour, or at best, incoherent. But a few more injunctions and we were officially conversing.

"Whassa madda liddle buddy. Din' feed you las' night?"

"You know damn well what I'm talking about. Git yer lazy, skinny ass outta bed and fill 'er up."

"I don't need your judgment first thing in the morning, Mr. Puma."

"And I don't need you to starve me all night long."

"Yes. You are starving, and I am inert. Somewhere in this conundrum lies a compromise ..."

A note of clarification: In these conversations, I speak English, since my cat understands it perfectly (much better than my understanding of Cat). I've tried speaking Cat, but it doesn't work too well. Mr. Puma generally gets pissed, like I'm making fun of him or something. Or sometimes he just looks at me like I'm insane. If I had meowed at him this morning, it probably would've come across as, "Well, just grab the keys, and take the car to Lucky Wishbone. What the fuck do you want from me?" At which point he probably would've replied, "It's not open yet, you moron."

That's another thing: I'll wager that my cat can say more with his body than those prairie dogs can with their whole language. Mr. Puma specializes in aloofness and neglectedness. He is adept at a wide range of passive-aggressive expressions, from the pouting, stretched out, chin-dangling-off-the-stool "You never play with me," to the squinty, semi-reclined, oblivious-to-the-overture "I know you don't really want to play with me." I guess it's no surprise that he has mastered these manipulations. He learned them from an expert in passive aggression (according to various editors and ex-girlfriends).

I know--I'm taking this too far. I'm reading too much into the context, right? Well, language is all about context. I could stand up in front of 14,000 people at McKale Center and scream, "Come ohn, Hot Sauce, take it to the rack!" and appear perfectly normal. If I stood over my barbecue and exhorted my chicken chunks in such a way, I'd be institutionalized.

Science be damned. I know my cat can talk, just like the dolphins, the whales, the birds, the wolves and, yes, even the ratty little prairie dogs that I used to see slumming along the highway when I was living up in Holbrook. Only those guys couldn't say much more than, "Hey! You done with those fries?"