It was a routine appointment with my dentist. I was ensconced deep in his chair, and he had just finished putting in my mouth all the encumbrances that were supposed to keep it wide open. With the drill in his trusty hand he approached my face, and asked, "And how is it with you, have any grandchildren already?" Just before the noise started deafening me from inside I managed to answer "o, a a a a." As the good dentist is an expert at his handiwork, he is also an expert in deciphering strange noises emanating from his patients mouths, so he understood that I meant to say, "No, I have a cat."
Having uttered it, I immediately understood that seldom had I spoken something further from the truth. No, it is not I who has a cat. It is the cat, his feline majesty Rufus, who has me. I have written already in these pages about his eating habits, and how once I advised him that when bored he should try to read a book.
Recently I found out that he had taken my advice. One day when he ceased scratching at the small, flat and oblong object which his furry body hid from my eyes and went to check what was new in his feeding bowl, I peeked and saw that he was perusing a booklet entitled "One Hundred Ways for a Cat to Train its Human," by Celia Haddon, published by Hodder & Stoughton, London.
That made me wonder. Not the fact that he can read; I have long suspected him of being literate incognito. But the fact that he was reading that book of all books. I'm the proof positive (somewhat scratched) that he does not need guidance in training his human. I've always thought that he had authored such a book. It could be, of course, that Celia Haddon is a pen name of one of his nine lives, used for tax purposes.
As Rufus' repast was longer than usual this time, I had enough time to leaf through the book, and found there, as expected, in the first chapter, "Understanding your human," the well-known adage, "Dogs have masters. We cats have staff. Keep this in mind for a happy cat-human relationship." The next chapters made it clear that cats have mastered the literary device called "estrangement" - there are those who think it is the soul of literature - when by describing a familiar scene in a different light you show a new facet of a routine reality.
Since I know from experience that it is wise to follow the cat who walks his own way, I tried to use the "estrangement" technique on something else with which I have intimate relations; namely books. In other words, I tried to write a guide for books that wish to train their owners. I know that it is not that I have books. My books have me (where they want me).
I skipped the irrelevant chapters ("Mealtime manners for humans", "House training your human"), and worked hard on the chapter "Obedience training - rewards and punishments." Here is a word of advice for a beginning book: "Take control of your human and never let it initiate an action. If your human walks toward you, turn your back. Any reading or leafing through should be at your timing, not its choice." Or "Be unpredictable. One day be present and visible, the next day disappear. Inconsistency trains better then reliability."
From the chapter "Claiming your purrsonal space," I adapted the following: "Don't be selfish. Allow your human to use the armchairs when you are otherwise engaged on the shelves. Just make sure it gets off when you want to lie there." Or "Some books feel it is bad for discipline to let humans up on the bed. But be generous and share. They do so love sleeping next to you."
The chapter "Attention, purrlease!" contained a word of advice tying together cats, books and humans: "Place your bottom firmly on the reading material your human is reading, being careful to cover the area scanned by its eyes." At that moment something soft and furry covered the rest of the text.
I gave up and went computing. While clicking and typing furiously I suddenly remembered something I saw in the booklet: "Walk over the computer keyboard, being careful to press down the keys. Use your body to shield the interesting additions to the screen. Stand on one key so that a character repeats itself endlesslyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy%&*!