the One You're With
We had worked all through Friday, setting up our audio and video equipment at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. We would return the next day to telecast our final college football game of the 1997 season.
Because we had Friday night free, our technical producer invited the rest of our TV crew to his home in the suburbs south of Memphis. Brett and Midge lived so far out that their house was actually in the state of Mississippi. But we had directions and rental cars.
Upon arrival, we were enthusiastically welcomed to the living room by an adorable new puppy. We all gathered around to see the little guy. I offered my fingers for him to sniff, scratched his ears, tickled his chest. Most of the rest of us did the same. Then we put him down on the floor.
Inside the house, the conversation turned to shop talk, of announcers and cameras and commercial breaks. Two of us sat on the floor playing with the puppy. Adele dragged a piece of cloth back and forth, and the dog doggedly followed it, climbing over Adele as necessary.
Eventually the puppy tired of this game. He turned and noticed a new person me! He romped up to me, tail wagging, sniffing and licking. I of course responded with petting and scratching. Dont you remember me? I asked. We met a few minutes ago, you know.
In my childhood, I didnt like to be addressed with baby talk like Hewwo there, you cute widdle boy. I preferred to be talked to like a real person. In my adulthood, therefore, I talk to both children and animals as though theyre real people.
I speak in quiet, non-threatening tones to dogs and cats and others. Hello, Mr. Rabbit. Nice morning, isnt it? I need to move my car, so Im afraid youre going to want to sit somewhere else. Why dont you hop over there?
There was one exception. A goose once hissed at me Stay off the grass! This riverbank belongs to us geese and I hissed back Oh, yeah? Well, this sidewalk belongs to us people! But I had no interest in a protracted argument with a territorial bird, so I kept on walking.
When Im petting an animal, I usually find that if I keep at it non-stop, the pet will sit there hypnotized, enjoying it non-stop, sometimes for ten minutes or more. But if I pause and take my hand away, the pet comes out of its reverie, looks around, and finds something else to do. That was the case with this puppy. He was soon off to another part of the room. Tired of sitting on the floor, I got up to stretch my legs.
To this point, this has been a true story. From here on, its fiction, as I imagine what might have happened next.
I wandered out to the patio, where the white cat was still on her table. I sat down in the adjacent chair to her left. Hi, I said. Hows it going? The cat I learned later that her name was Snowball never even turned to look at me.
We sat there for a time. Snowball was obsessed with the alien interloper inside; I was enjoying the mild autumn evening.
Todd poked his head out the door. Pauls meet-the-coach show is coming on, he said, if you want to come watch it with us. I think Ill stay out here for awhile, I replied. Okay, whatever, he said, and he was off to join the rest in the TV room. The pup tagged along.
That left me and the cat, sitting side by side on the patio. I guess its just you and me, kid, I remarked. Snowball, no longer feeling the compulsion to stare through the glass, gave me a quick glance and flicked her tail. I cautiously reached up to pet her. She seemed indifferent. I stroked the long fur on her back, gently scratched her ears, then rubbed the short stiff hairs on her forehead above her nose. She flinched at the puppy scent on my fingers, moved a few inches away, and resumed ignoring me. But then, closing her eyes, she allowed me to pet her some more.
I know not what we were dreaming, Snowball and I, as we sat there. I must have been stroking her long white coat for five minutes or more. Then she turned her head to look at me again. Mew, she said softly. I tapped my thigh. In a moment she was in my lap.
We cuddled there until the TV show was over. I was breathing the fragrant Southern air, and Snowball was softly purring.