Wednesday, February 03, 2016

They're sometimes there when you need them, they're sometimes there when you call them

To get through the slog of elliptical machine sessions at the health club, I periodically rediscover old musical favorites that I can use for a few days, until I once again need something fresh. Most recently it's been early Talking Heads, and especially my favorite of their albums, Fear of Music. I consider this a great comedy album, except that it's also lifted into something stranger and more unnerving by its weird intensity.

Great disquisitions, for example, on:

--Air ("Air can hurt you too / Some people say not to worry about the air / Some people haven't had experience with air")

--Cities ("London ... dark in the daytime / People sleep in the daytime / If they want to")

--Heaven ("Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens / There is a party, everyone is there / Everyone leaves at exactly the same time")

--And of course, animals ("Animals are laughing at us / Don't even know what a joke is / They're never there when you need them / They're never there when you call them / They think they know what's best / They're making a fool of us / They ought to be more careful / They're setting a bad example").

David Byrne is the only rock lyricist in history who would worry about someone needing to be more careful or setting a bad example.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about cats, as they are certainly among the main species as to which his  charges might ring true more broadly (although they certainly don't live on nuts and berries).

People less crazy than Byrne's character in Fear of Music might say that cats don't care about their "owners" (or should I say caretakers), but this is not true, certainly as to friendly and socialized cats. They can be very affectionate, want attention, and find what you are doing very interesting.

What they almost always don't have, in the slightest, is a desire to please you, or any concept of doing something because you want them to do it.  And it's not that they don't understand intention.  They can learn all too well, for example, that you don't want them on the counter, or grabbing items of your food that they like. So they won't do it if you are nearby, and will jump down if you approach.

This gap in their social schema, relative to that of humans and dogs, can be frustrating if you actually need them to do something in particular.  (The Coen brothers apparently vowed, after Inside Llewyn Davis, never to use cats again, even though they had three with distinct temperaments available to play the one role.)  But perhaps this makes it seem all the more an honor when they show affection - you know that it's sincere, perhaps I should even say disinterested, in the sense that they aren't trying to get you to reciprocate so as to boost their own self-regard (a potential motivation that I'd attribute to dogs as well as people).

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