Animal Behavior

James David Cohn


He was burning the midnight oil, it was sizzling in the pan, in his brainpan, his fingers were dancing across the keys as fast as his hunt-and-peck allowed, well he’d always been a shitty dancer.

“Cats have no molars,” he typed, “which means they do not chew their food, they shred it. They tap the water with their paws before they drink from their water bowls. They paw the floor when they drink. Recent ultrafast videos with a high frame-per-second ratio, when reduced to slow-motion, reveal that cats’ tongues form a J when they drink, so they are not really lapping but rather scooping. In spite of the many explanations offered by scientists, much of the behavior of cats is inexplicable,” and he thought, just like mine.

He had paid thousands to many shrinks over the years, the PhDs and the MDs and the social workers, the family systems practitioners and the specialists in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and he was nowhere closer to understanding his behavior than he had been when he started. One time he had asked a CBT therapist if the therapist was familiar with the more commonly known meaning of the abbreviation CBT, which was Cock and Ball Torture, and was astonished that this helping professional had never heard of it. The topic had been his addiction to pornography. He had laughed and said “Addiction, that’s rich, one might as well say I was addicted to breathing.”

He was addicted to both.

He looked at the clock. 2:38 a.m. He typed. The chair at his writing desk was an ancient wooden one. His ass hurt but he’d found his writing suffered when he used a cushion and besides, this was the chair his cat disported herself on when she wanted a tummy rub and she wouldn’t go near it if it was cushioned. He would say “Mavis, tummy rub!” and she would circle exactly four times and then lie on her side on the hard wooden seat, retract her claws, and wait for him to rub her belly, extending her paws both fore and aft and stretching to the fullest extent the law allowed, this law being natural law which all things obeyed according to the eternal forms of necessity.

The whole while that he rubbed her belly she would look up at him and maintain eye contact. Eye contact was important in mammals, the higher and the lower, even a cornered mouse would look at your eyes. He had written extensively on this remarkable natural phenomenon, the universality of it and its uncanniness.

Mavis’s nipples were hard but they were also useless for she had been spayed because that is what you did, you spayed or neutered your cats because that is what you did. This was well established according to Best Practices.

The chair had been in his wife’s family for millennia but when she moved after the divorce she said “You can have the desk chair,” and he was grateful for this act of charity. Sometimes animal behavior can be altruistic.

Or maybe she just didn’t want the chair.

At 5:22 a.m. he went to an all-night diner. There he entered into a conversation about cats with the waitress. She was not a server as they call them in the high priced restaurants but a waitress, a waitress with a cat. They knew each other, for he went there with a causal frequency, and cats were the subject of their discourse in these hours between dawn and sunrise.

He explained, explaining, that cats have been domesticated for a much shorter period of time than dogs. They had not yet evolved, as dogs had, to mimic human behavior, dogs could even imitate the tones and melodies of human speech. Also unlike dogs, cats showed nothing in the expression on their faces. Natural selection had simply not caught up. Moreover cats did not blink, which made it appear that they were staring. You could tell people that cats do not blink and they would deny it, even those who had been cat owners all their lives. But a week later they would say, astounded, “Hey, you’re right, cats don’t blink.”

All of these things contributed to the human impression that cats were aloof. He himself had often been accused of aloofness by others, mostly women.

He didn’t want to sound didactic or pedantic but he did sound that way and worse to his own ears and, he assumed, to hers. When he and Jocelyn had been deep in the thicket of separating their possessions along with their trajectories, and it was agreed that he could keep the wooden chair, Jocelyn had said to him, “You are the chair,” and he’d thought yes she’s right, I am the chair, and he was still puzzling out this profundity when she continued, “of the Department of Sophistry.”

At the diner the waitress asked him as she poured his too much coffee, “Brian, how do you know so much about animals?” and he said, “That’s my job, Jeri,” but he thought, I don’t know anything about anything, no one knows anything about anything.

Nevertheless he went home at 7:12 a.m., sat in his hard wooden chair, and resumed his writing.

© 2018 James David Cohn