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August 16, 2012

Hamlet news; plus cat-patting


— I’d like to report some good news in the hamlet of Fly Creek — properly called a hamlet, by the way, not because it is small, but because it doesn’t have its own civil government: Fly Creek has no mayor and council, no police or taxing authority, etc.

This is in contrast with the nearby village of Cooperstown, which is defined as a village, not because it is larger, but because it has a full system of governance. As my friend Cathy Ellsworth would say, we trust that is now clear.

But back to that local news. You know that Reid the Fly Creek barber fled the hamlet for the fleshpots of Cooperstown. He’s now located on upper Main Street in a delightful building designed, I think, by Dr. Seuss, who didn’t go in for straight lines and right angles. Stop by, admire the building and get a great haircut.

But we’ve picked up a Cooperstown exile to fill Reid’s empty shop. Kim’s Cut and Styling, formerly of Beaver Street, now is at The Four Corners, Fly Creek. And, just as Reid’s clients are finding their way to the Dr. Seuss house, so Kim’s are trekking to Fly Creek and her new shop. Good luck to both, I say.

I’m glad to announce that, next door to Kim’s new digs, the Stock Yard Restaurant is now licensed to serve wine and beer with their meals: two great whites and two great reds by the glass, and a good range of my favorite (i.e. excellent) beers. I’m already in love with Joe’s fish and chips there, but now I’ll be able to complement the lightly battered filet and crisp chips with a tall Yuengling. With absolutely no transition, I’ll not shift to a question raised on Facebook by Owen Good, a very talented man who once wrote for the Crier and now is living in North Carolina. Always given to imaginative whimsy, Owen wrote that he’s “seeking information on how to pet a cat like a criminal mastermind. Full palm? Or just three fingers?”

Well, the first criminal mastermind leaping to my less-than- mastery mind is Ernst Blofeld of the James Bond films. Dead-eyed, expressionless, Blofeld is usually seated, stroking a white, blue-eyed Turkish Angora. The softness of his stroking puts a special edge to the creepiness of the brilliant but totally amoral character. That same juxtaposition is carried into the Austin Powers parodies of the Bond film, where the reptilian villain Dr. Evil holds a lap cat named Mr. Bigglesworth. No Angora, this Bigglesworth; he’s a sleek gray Persian.

I’m sure that Owen Good’s query alludes to these two villains and their cats (though don’t I remember a malicious Sidney Greenstreet stroking a cat as he chortled over an impending disaster?) If these are you models, Owen, then you must first gain a lot of weight. Greenstreet, for instance, was about 290 during his brilliantcriminal film series. But then, yes, you master the gentle, chillingly sinister stroking.

I’ve patted a long series of cats in my life. The first one didn’t much care for it. Felix, a tough little tom, would sit by the twelve-year-old me as I fished for yellow perch. If I pulled in a small sunfish instead, that was fine with Felix. I’d toss it ashore, and he’d take over from there. If, as we fished, a neighborhood dog charged onto the dock after him, Felix’s reaction was amazing. He’d bound to the end of the dock and hurl himself out and into the creek water, then swim under the dock and sit on its crosstimbers. More than once a pursuing dog couldn’t brake in time and fell, tail over dog tag, on its back in the water. I always enjoyed that. I think Felix did, too.

No time for cats when I was a monk, but back in Annapolis after thirteen years, I soon had another sidekick. Paulinus, skinny and sharp of features, shared my bachelor’s digs and moved in with Gwen and me after our marriage.  Sadly, the two of them never really struck it off; and since I wasn’t bound to Paulinus by vows and an exchange of rings, it was Paulinus who had to find a new home, and did. Gwen adored Dilys, our next cat and named for an  especially catty aunt of hers. Our Dilys, an affectionate calico, was with us through our eighteen-year marriage and spent hours lying on Gwen’s bed during her last illness. And the cat, quite old, died shortly before I moved to Fly Creek. I came up here alone.

But Owen soon joined me, and then my dear Anne; and we shared a happy life here until his death five years ago. I’ll bet you remember Owen; he was in this column a great many times. And now there is Simon, a gray-and-white domestic shorthair and the most talkative cat I’ve ever known. The cat has a comment on everything; and, lacking an audience, he’ll sometimes sit soliloquizing. And Simon, like most cats, loves to be stroked along the back: with   slightly curved palm, the juncture of fingers and palm sliding along his backbone. That’s the way to pat a cat.

But, Owen, you must study those filmic super villains more closely! By my observation, most criminal masterminds pat their lap cats very slowly, maybe four seconds per stroke. And do note if there’s a change in rate, and weigh it against the dialog. And remember that the cat is not just a prop but also a cast member. Watch its face. Are its eyes closed or open, and, if open, is it looking toward the hero? If it is, does it slowly blink — a cat’s equivalent of  a smile? And is it a malevolent blink or perhaps a conspiratorial one? (The cat, after all, may be like the villain’s tender hearted seductress who wants desperately to get out of his clutches.)

And, Owen, don’t forget the most  important possibility. That cat may be the real criminal genius, and the bald, fat cat-patter may simply be his stooge!

If you need further advice on this, old buddy, don’t hesitate to write. I’ll be glad to make up some more.