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Sunday, August 28, 2011

My Furry Prisoner (aka Animal Companion)

I have a cat named Blaze. I never thought I would own a cat—call me a sucker for the obdurate loyalty of the canine, which trumps almost any ephemeral human connection—yet here I am, and I love the little guy.


He’s a zestful fellow who, in his short year-length span on earth, has managed to see half of North America, albeit flashing by through the window of a car. An ex-girlfriend, who was driving with me from Alaska at the time, owned him. When that didn’t work out, he ended up mine. And he’s a great companion for the secluded scholarly sort, the kind of creature that adores privacy and a good nap. If dogs are perpetually extroverted, the cat is introverted, and scrupulous and practical regarding his selection of companions.  The gateway to a kitty’s heart isn’t a free-for-all. One has to earn it.

Anyway, I’m in a quandary. Blaze used to be an outdoor cat. Due to a pretty bad injury resulting in several teeth marks and a large open wound on his leg from an angry neighborhood dog, I decided to wean him off the great outdoors and keep him inside from here on out. Indoor cats live longer and are less expensive to keep around than an adventurous Zorro-cat seeking nightly duels with other local felines.  Budgets matter when you make 12k a year as a graduate teaching assistant.

However, I’ve since noticed a tad bit of melancholy creeping in. While before he was a blur of furry excitement, he’s become a tad mellower, collapsing lazily on the carpet, watching to see when I’ll go to the kitchen and thus be near enough to his food to beg in the form of inquisitive meows. I’ve bought him several electronic and non-elextronic toys that spin and bounce and squeek and even mimic the movements of actual prey, but he gets bored of them quicker than it took for me to spend my hard-earned money on them. I’ve found him clawing at the posters on my wall, possibly thinking they are avenues for escape.

I catch him gazing longingly to the outdoor awesomefest he once had a daily dose of. A squirrel occasionally comes onto my porch in search of bird seed, and Blaze makes his typical predatory sounds and lion-like movements, but quickly gets discouraged when he realizes his efforts will always be deterred by a thick pane of glass.

It would be different if he had never experienced the outside world. One doesn’t miss what one doesn’t know. But he has, and I cannot avoid the icky feeling that I get when he pines for his outdoor prey-fest…the feeling like I’m a prison guard, keeping my furry inmate from living the life he was meant to.

On the other hand, I also get more icky feelings at the thought of letting him out to kill helpless birds and rodents and whatnot. This is what a cat’s meant to do, yes, but I feel like somehow harnessing the beast within is the most humane approach. Let’s face it: they’re adorable little Ted Bundys, people. I saw a documentary once where some documentarians filmed neighborhood cats National Geographic style. Despite the fact that most of them had full stomachs, they still proceeded to rip the heads off of a few dozen baby chicks the crew had placed in certain locations.

I don’t know what to do. I want him to be happy, and I guess he’d be happier if he weren’t dead and had a nice meal and a warm bed, right?  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hyperreality


Recently I witnessed an apartment complex burn down across the street from my own. The first thing I remember thinking was that it looked like the set from a movie. If you’re so cocooned in cinematic tragedy, to the point where you forget what real blood or real auto accidents or real flames look, feel and smell like, the real thing is likely to shock you—not for the sheer sensory immediacy of the experience, but the fact that this “real” event cannot potentially be divorced from the visual panopoly of “fictional” experience streaming out of our glass screens every second.  

Hello, Baudrillard.

I don’t have to tell most people reading this blog that the news is probably just as much entertainment as reality. News itself is gathered and read off Teleprompters by handsome or pretty talking heads, and clips of the event are possibly intercut with them, albeit sanitized for general audiences.

The “news” itself is fiction—you need to look elsewhere to find the actual images of the brutal consequences. If you hear about an accidental stealth bombing of a noncombatant’s building in Afghanistan and hear the reporter rattle off numbers—4 children, 5 adults killed—you’re left to imagine the scenario (perhaps a dim flash of nine whole bodies lying in circular fashion in the midst of a crumbled building, charred and battered but still somewhat photogeneic) deem the military’s actions as a tragic but unavoidable consequence of war, and move happily on with your day. But if you go to an a obscure site that publishes all the stuff CNN won’t display on its screens and see the mutilated body parts and the horrible screaming of the gathered relatives, maybe you’re not so ready to let Uncle Sam off the hook.

Perhaps this explains the dumbfounded look of some of the gathered pedestrians who watched with me as the building burned down. Some tweeted on their smartphones, some took pictures, others just stared and gaped. A few uncomfortably chuckled and, believe it or not, asked others “if there were any dead bodies.” Gawkers clogged the streets with their fat-ass SUVs, impeding the ability of the ambulances and firefighters to maneuver around them. I jokingly told a few friends afterward that this kind of behavior makes me actually wish the world would end in 2012. Hope you were right, Mayans…or, rather, contemporary non-Mayans interpreting a cyclical event as an ending date rather than a temporal rebirth.

Anyhoo, there were a few of my ilk amongst the crowd, trying to convey their sense of shock to people on the other ends of cell phones. I imagined the people receiving the information on the other end in the same fashion they hear the news delivered every night: “Wow. You’re seeing a building burn down right now, huh?....(pregnant pause) What else is new?” And the almost palpable nervousness in the voice straining with exigency would be lost due to the fact that their friend is lost in a sea of dim images, "Backdraft" –esque Hollywood sets alight with controlled, pre-programmed bursts.

My point, if there is one, is that it is occasionally refreshing to realize that one is mortal, after all. Hyperreality often masks the disturbing, raw “real” so that it becomes a dim figment of our imagination, something beyond the pale. Every once in a while, you have to be reminded how fragile and exposed we really are. This is uncomfortable, yes, but it gives you the ability to appreciate every living second.