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Love the One You're With
Written August 26, 2013


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.

However, one member of the household remained aloof.  Sitting on a table out on the patio, watching us through the sliding glass door, a white cat stared down at the pup.

Until recently, this cat had ruled the house as its only pet.  But now the humans had brought home a new baby.  The humans were giving it all their attention.

The narrow-eyed cat despised the innocent wide-eyed dog, this trespasser upon her territory, this usurper of the affection that should belong to her alone.  She glared through the glass, never taking her eyes off the intruder.

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.  “Don’t you remember me?” I asked.  “We met a few minutes ago, you know.”

In my childhood, I didn’t 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 they’re real people.

UPDATE:  I'm wrong in this, of course.  Researchers spoke to 37 dogs using a normal voice and ordinary content, as I would.  Then they addressed them using a high-pitched voice and phrases like “Who's a good dog?  You are!”  The dogs overwhelmingly preferred dog-speak.

I speak in quiet, non-threatening tones to dogs and cats and others.  “Hello, Mr. Rabbit.  Nice morning, isn’t it?  I need to move my car, so I’m afraid you’re going to want to sit somewhere else.  Why don’t 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 I’m 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, it’s 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.  “How’s 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.  “Paul’s meet-the-coach show is coming on,” he said, “if you want to come watch it with us.”  “I think I’ll 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 it’s 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.



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