Back to the phone. I tell her that my cat and I had decided to take a break from all this strenuous life. We needed some rest so we lowered the blinds and enjoyed a long, refreshing sleep. Aunt Lyla is shocked. Now? When the world is about to teach its citizens the ultimate lesson of respect? I'm puzzled. Back to the TV.
We watch the speech of a well-known politician in silence. Apparently, after centuries of social and political turmoil, the International Law of Censorship has finally been passed. Unanimously. I catch his last words: "The world welcomes a new era. An era of respect for each other, an era of understanding and everlasting social unity."
A couple of commercials promoting rye bread and mustard follow.
I look at my cat. Maybe she can explain to me what this is all about.
Of course she can. She's a female. She has intuition on her side. According to the new law, we're not allowed to express ourselves just like that, tell whatever comes to mind and offend other citizens. Every word has to be weighed, measured, polished, and only when we are absolutely sure it will generate unanimous, spontaneous approval, shipped to its addressees. What are the consequences of breaking this new law? Oh well, fines, imprisonment or both. Not counting the lawsuit the offended party can follow up with. Wow! We are indeed witnesses to a new world.
We're happy. This means no one will dare to call me crazy anymore. Unless they're ready to sponsor our vacation in Tahiti, he he.
My cat brings the champagne. We toast for an insult and offense-free future. Just in the middle of my sophisticated mental toast a raw revelation cracks my skull open. I realize that, while I can enjoy my days without being called crazy, mental and retard, I, too, cannot return any compliments anymore. We are bound to silence. We can no longer let our inspiration flow. I have to be very careful with my cat who has a very nasty habit of expressing her dislikes. She's also very opinionated. Whenever asked about something, she delivers the most outrageous, social and political feline perspectives. Right now, we need to cool down and watch the other people's behavior. We also need bread.
We go to the bakery in fear, avoiding looking people in the eyes. I see they started implementing the new law already. At the store a clerk makes some unorthodox remarks about the height/weight proportion of one of the customers. He tells the woman she's skinny enough to eat every day five muffins without gaining weight. The woman is offended. She doesn't think she is skinny. She thinks she's just fine. Police are called in and they bust the rude citizen right away. I ask respectfully about his immediate fate. Three years in prison and a substantial fine. As we pass the woman, we hear her crying on the phone and making a pledge to sue the clerk for at least a million. She is so offended. Will she ever be able to recuperate from this traumatic experience?
My cat looks at me. I know what that look means. I stuff her mouth with pretzels and stick her face in the bag. In the car I take her out and allow her to repeatedly call the woman "bitch." She also calls me various names. I agree with her, but she has to get it. If Daddy goes to prison, who will be here to look after her?
We have to understand how this new law works. We were sleeping when they passed it, for God's sake! Now, we have to wake up.
We go straight to Aunt Lyla. She is watching a short documentary that teaches citizens how to express themselves politely while preserving the initial meaning of their thoughts. It's not easy but she can see some progress already. I tell her about the bitch at the store. She tells me about a fuck up she met at the butcher's shop. I learn that we cannot use the term "fuck up" anymore. Instead, we can safely use "disoriented citizen."
There are a few things she likes about this new law though. I snap. Like what? How can one like this? I call her crazy. She calls me an idiot. We decide to call the police and sue each other. My cat hisses at us. Who's going to take care of her if we start this sick game? The cat calls us both "severely disoriented citizens." Aunt Lyla and I turn around and look at her. Can we sue a cat? We have to read the new law, word by word.
We part ways filled with anger. I feel like the blood in my veins has been replaced with boiling lava. I need to understand this. I am happy we got some sleep already, because I do not see too much sleep for us in the near future.
A gallon of coffee and eighty-nine cigarettes later, the sun shines upon me again. Aunt Lyla calls. She agrees to drop the charges for the "idiot" if I take back my "crazy." We make peace. Resourceful as she is, she managed to get two invitations to a very select, unique meeting with Ishmael Popcorn, the father of the concept of the censorship coming from inside out, as a citizen initiative. For more than a decade, he has actively promoted the idea of a society where the censorship – read: good citizen's manners – is no longer imposed from outside by the government but, by repeated educational measures, it becomes a citizen's initiative. The current law is actually based on his theory.
My heart starts beating faster. We better get ready; the meeting starts in less than an hour. I give my cat a bath. She hates baths, especially when she gets shampoo in her eyes. I show her The Law. I try my new daring prêt-a-porter. I ask her if I'm hot. She doesn't say a word. I ask her again. Nothing. Now I get it! She wants to tell me that I look like crap. Really? Why don't we sit down for a minute and quickly review the main aspects of...The Law? She starts purring and she tells me I'm hot.
We leave the house. On our way to the meeting I sue two neighbors. One called my cat "food aggressive" – it's "resource protective" idiot, read The Law – another one called my fancy prêt-a-porter "outdated" – Really? Who are you, moron, the fashion police? If you want to enforce the Law, read it first! Ha ha!
Caught in my fresh unexpected lawsuits we get there later than we planned. We know we are "disoriented citizens." We apologize to Aunt Lyla who, in order to save the seat for me, put on three sweaters and pretended she was pregnant. Nobody dared to question her extreme desire to give birth at the tender age of sixty-seven – The Law, Art.23, Par.4. We sit down in silence and position our antennae in the direction of the great speaker.
Prof. Ishmael – ageless face, mummified body, shaky voice – appears to be at least one hundred years old. Aunt Lyla corrects me. He is actually ninety-eight. I politely apologize – The Law, Art.9, Par.2. His discourse is simple and meaningful. He gives the example of so many societies that failed to gain absolute control over their citizens.
So much useless pressure, dictatorships, anarchy. With such poor results. The idea of the ultimate censorship came many years ago while having coffee with a couple of select dictators. He just couldn't watch them struggling to eliminate the free-thinking using such brutal inefficient methods. Why use so much pressure coming from the outside? Why not place the pressure inside the citizen and then watch it grow? He knew he was on to something big. Seventy-nine years later he authored his glorious study, Censorship Like a Seed. According to his theory, the censorship lives inside the human brain.
It's like a seed, planted and watered by a loving parent – government. Once the plant is mature and vigorous, and most important, can sustain and reproduce itself, it doesn't need help from the parent anymore. The parent rests while watching his children grow, living their own lives, producing offspring.
Another advantage of this theory is the low cost of the law enforcement. The law is based on eternal human features: poor self- assessment skills, lack of competitiveness, and, of course, the almighty smallness. The great thinker estimates that after the initial phase, the police will gradually step down and let the citizens themselves enforce the law. Human smallness is eternal.
We express our gratitude to Aunt Lyla for bringing us here. We start walking towards home, muted and respectful. We pass a gray, tall building. The street is narrow, and so are my thoughts. My cat points at a tiny cross hanging on the door. The gray building is actually a monastery and according to the wall plate, it hosts the Carthusian Order. I knock at the door and a reluctant monk gives me, in a few words, all the information I need. What makes the Order so special? The monks are taught to cultivate the spirit of the exterior silence – speaking only when truly necessary. Solitude and silence are the keywords. I look at my cat. She approves. We step into great silence. We both feel we will be here for a while. There is nothing for us out there.
The Healing Session in Self-EvaluationI've never been aware of the fact that a small incident, like being late for dinner, can be a life-changing event.
Naturally, I try to avoid the consequences and I sneak into the bedroom quietly, but when I try to get to the bathroom I step on her toy and a horrifying squeaky sound fills the air. Here she is, frying pan in paw, glossy eyes penetrating the darkness. After a stormy argument, we decide that the dinner incident is not an isolated case.
Something is not right in our relationship!
We need to get counseling! I promise her to call the well-known counselor for couples, Prof. Wilhelm Blueberry, first thing in the morning. Prof. Blueberry – bags under his eyes, coarse hair, huge listener's ears – is more than happy to listen to our problems and to facilitate the exchange of ideas between us.
We sit down in front of him waiting for a sign. He points at my cat, curious to hear her complaints. My feline partner pulls out a small diary. I didn't know she was so organized. She starts reading. I'm shocked to discover that she kept track of all my missed dinners, unanswered phone calls, as well as my inability to provide her with fresh fish upon request. I almost start snoozing listening to the never-ending list of complaints.
However, one of them catches my attention. She complains about the fact that, when I went to pick her up at the pet resort, I was unable to tell her apart from other black cats. This is ridiculous!
This unjustified complaint reminds me of a black friend who grew up in an all black community and never saw white people until he started college. He met this white girl, and they decided to get together the following day in the same place. A small problem, though. Once there, he could not identify her. All the white women around him seemed pretty much alike. He started walking around and shyly approaching all the young blonds – "Mary?" – until he finally addressed the right one. Although funny, my old friend's story has nothing to do with my cat problem. I went to the pet resort and I called her. It is not my fault that ten other cats rushed to get the salmon crackers. I wish women were like cats!
I look her in the eyes. I need not put my unhappiness on paper. I recall every detail of her mean actions, designed to curb the significant other's pleasure. Little things like peeing on my freshly built snowman two years ago in Colorado. Or scratching my hand when I wanted to play with her – mood swings. Or telling people what we think about them, without obtaining consent from me – social embarrassment.
My cat pulls out a second, smaller diary. Prof. Blueberry and I have to listen to another long, boring list of complaints, including, among others, constantly refusing to take her out to cool, exotic places; abusing her verbally and emotionally; refusing to cover her grooming expenses. And last, but not least, giving her a $10 Christmas gift card in exchange for her $20 gift card. Now, how cheap is that!
Prof. Blueberry listens to both sides with compassion and understanding. He gives us his famous You Have To Change brochure and invites us to read it thoroughly and work on ourselves. He suggests that we should emphasize the activities we both enjoy and create a daily ritual around them, gradually adding other exciting activities. This will help us rediscover each other, rekindle the romance, and eventually step into new territories of togetherness.
Prof. Blueberry informs us that we will resume our counseling session in a week and shows us out with a graceful smile. I do not smile. Neither does my cat. Actually, we are pretty concerned. Why do we have to change? We don't like the idea. We were the same when we met, why do we have to change now?
However, we both have a deep respect for Knowledge and we decide to follow Prof. Blueberry's advice. After all, if we didn't trust him, we wouldn't be here. At home we spend time in separate rooms, reading the precious guide to a perfect partnership, making notes, and then getting together in the living room to analyze them carefully. We start having short sessions, during which we politely emphasize certain events in our relationship that triggered negative emotions along with resentment. I recall one such painful memory.
It takes me back in time two years, when I had packed twenty pounds on my belly and I was fat and miserable. I finally decided to cut down on fats and sweets and start a diet the following day consisting of seafood, rice, potatoes, matzos, and such. No chocolate. Unfortunately, before I made the decision, I got a huge, nine-inch-wide fruit tart. Because I couldn't function properly, knowing that "the enemy"was hiding in the refrigerator, I decided to eat "the enemy" that very day, so there would be no temptations in the future, as my fridge would gladly host only fat-belly-friendly foods. Then, I felt remorse. And guilt. What did she do? Was she supportive of me? Was she there for me? No. She laughed at me. She took pictures of me in my bathing suit and emailed them to our friends. How can I possibly forget this? My cat apologizes, although she admits she hardly remembers the fruit tart incident.
She, too, has a major complaint to make. It's not an isolated incident, but an ongoing, unpleasant experience. I learn that I seem to have a major communication problem lately. She doesn't recognize me anymore. In the shortest conversation or announcement I feel the urge to describe a series of facts or situations that are absolutely irrelevant to the message itself. The partner cat is pissed. Where is the straight-to-the-point man she once knew? Why do I have to give so many details when there is no end to it? Why do I put her and others through this ordeal? I admit I have no answer. I just use more words lately, so what? Do I have to undergo separate counseling in order to socialize the way I want to? Are there any guidelines for free expression that I have to follow? My cat says yes.
I call Prof. Blueberry right away and I ask for an additional session. He would love to help, but his expertise in communication and socializing is very limited. He kindly offers to call his friend, Prof. Strawberry, who is a leading expert in verbal communication. Five minutes later we have an answer from Prof. Strawberry, via Prof. Blueberry. He tells me that every message that needs to be conveyed to our counterparts consists of three basic elements: introduction, the message itself, and conclusion. For example, "Hey" – introduction, designed to catch the attention of my counterpart; "yesterday I went to the movies" – content; and "the movie I saw was bad" – conclusion.
Okay, I can tell you right now, I hate this! I politely thank my counselor and hang up. Then, I turn to partner cat. I want to tell more. I want to say a few words about the construction workers who snored through the entire movie. I also want to bring up the dirty restroom. And the fact that my pants were too tight and I felt discomfort during the show. However, I want to nurture my relationship. I will work on my ways of expressionless expression and take it to new levels! My cat smiles. In return she will practice along with me, ready to intervene whenever I'm in danger of giving too much off-base information. We spend a lovely day practicing and correcting each other respectfully, as a part of our "You have to change" strategy.
We also practice the small, innocent lies Prof. Blueberry taught us. Before we sought counseling, we thought lies would only damage a relationship. However, Prof. Blueberry suggests that a tiny lie now and then would only reinforce our desire to be safe and looked after. I agree. Our favorite lies are "I love you" and "Who, me?"
Since we decided to change, we both have plenty of time on our hands. I had to give up beer at the small neighborhood tavern, for my cat never approved socializing with the boys at the cost of the activities meant to make us a better couple. She had to give up playing with other cats early Sunday mornings when I indulge in my weekend sleep.
She protests as I try to limit her outings. She does not want to lose her freedom. Really? Who leaves the house whenever she wants and shows up at midnight with dust and spider webs in her coat? Not me! I am here, glued to the house, waiting with food and water. And by the way, whose food is more expensive? Some sessions are fruitful, some are scary. We end up sleeping in separate beds.
A week later we meet in Prof. Blueberry's office, both deeply disturbed, carrying bags of diaries.
Prof. Blueberry looks a little bit scared. He asks us to bring out the most relevant moments and disagreements of the past week. I look at her. She licks her paws gracefully for about five minutes, and then delivers yet another outstanding sample of femininity.
I learn that I'm cheap with her but a very irresponsible spender when it comes to my pleasures. Prof. Blueberry sanctions me with a parental gaze. What did I do this time? The counselor advises me to remember humble beginnings or to look in my past for an event that would trigger respect and appreciation for modesty. This will make me a humble, modest human being, and a wise spender. Is there any moment in my life when I was forced to cut down on costs and just live on a budget?
I'm pissed. Why do I have to re-live those moments instead of those when I was rich and money was plentiful? What kind of sadistic counseling is this? I'm taken back in time, against my will. When I was a kid, my cousin and I used to play different roles and make up silly games. One of them was that of a very poor widow – played by my older cousin, Eliza, who had a young kid – played by me. We were sitting in an improvised tent, made of branches and we were eating nothing. We were too poor to afford food. This was the game. I used to hate it and I protested a lot. I didn't want to be poor and eat nothing even if it was only a game! Why would I embrace a humble, modest lifestyle now, just to please my partner cat?
It strikes me that I do not want to change. At all. After all, when we met I was the same person. She was the same cat. She had her bad habits but I loved her anyways. I had mine and she didn't seem too bothered by them. I realize that neither of us has changed; maybe we were just immature and unable to see ourselves and each other for who we were. I write a generous check for Prof. Blueberry.
Do we wish to delve deeper into the misshapes of our relationship? We decline politely. We are who we are. On our way out I show my cat a painting on the wall. It's a girl with a fresh smile holding a big bunch of wildflowers. I want to tell her that I like the painting, but instead, I spontaneously create a story about flowers, femininity and freshness.
My cat smiles. We go home happy, aware of the flaws of our relationship.