Sunday, 15 June 2008

Intellectual Limitations

I have a painful admission: my cat isn't smart. I have had literally dozens of cats during my lifetime, so I know.

Here is the merest sampling of the smart cats I have known or encountered in my life:

1) My Aunt Irene in Florida had a big bruiser aptly named Bearcat who could open the screen door. Bearcat weighed at least ten pounds and he would leap onto the screen door, climb up to the handle, and manipulate it until the door sprang open. Yes, I personally witnessed this myself and I guarantee you, it was something to see.

2) My cat Dagmar could fiddle with the cold water tap in the bathroom until she got a trickle of water to drink (sadly, she could never be trained to turn it off).

3) In Mexico once, a very skinny cat my friends and I had been feeding suddenly leapt onto our picnic table, seized our remaining half a loaf of bread after watching us closely for a few minutes, and disappeared lickety-split into the brush with it. The sheer speed and audacity of the deed combined with the cat's obvious scheming impressed me almost as much as the fact that this cat was so desperately hungry it was prepared to steal bread.

4) A woman who lived in my apartment building in New York had four cats; three of them had been trained to use the toilet. She almost never had to buy cat litter for them, though she admitted that they did not flush.

Yep, cats can be very smart, no doubt about it.


The cat who lives with us now is indisputably beautiful. She is graceful and sweet and affectionate. But pour her a bowl of food and she will take one greedy mouthful, then run off. Minutes later, she will come back and demand more food. Until I physically place her in front of it, she will not partake -- and once she has had her snout thrust into her dish, she devours it, so I know it's not that the taste has gone off.

In other ways, too, she has shown herself to be a dimwit. Open the door to let her out and she'll stand there staring until you finally boot her out. Sure, all cats do this to some degree; they can't make up their minds to go out or stay in, but my cat takes it to an extreme; it's as though she doesn't realize I've opened the door. If I'm eating cheese, she will hop up onto my lap and after a wholly gratuitous show of affection, she will eagerly begin to look for it, following her nose. So I move the plate of cheese from the computer table to the shelf -- and so help me, for the next few minutes, she studies the spot on the computer table where it last rested and looks utterly mystified. Never does she look further than that spot -- not even when I reach to take a piece of cheese from the relocated plate. I've had cats who would track that cheese as if it were a mouse and have it off me in seconds.

My poor cat. There are times I look at her and wonder how she ever manages to catch a mouse.

I have another painful admission: I've got a thing or two in common with her.

For the last year, I've had the good fortune to belong to an online writing group. Every week we meet via our computers, texting our writing discussions back and forth. I'm a reasonably fast typist, but I've found it a real challenge to post my comments as quickly as some of the others manage this.

Last week, I accidentally hit the return key and sent a message I hadn't finished composing. That's right, folks: until last week I had no idea that you sent messages by hitting your return key. I was so astonished, I admitted this and the obvious question came back to me: How have you been sending your posts? I had no choice but to admit it: for each and every message, I've been using the mouse to click over the 'send' button. If you aren't familiar with texting, this is the equivalent of putting in eyedrops from five feet away.

Poor me. There are times I wonder how I've managed to get this far in life.


Kelly said...

Aw, Mary :)

Re: the cat. Our cat Norbert is dumb too. Our eldest, Zoe (18 and fading fast), has always been a genius. But Norbert? He does the same thing with food. You can walk in the kitchen and he'll ask for food every single time. Even though you've just fed him. Even though he's just been at his bowl.

Every winter he forgets there's an outside too.

C.R. Evers said...

If it makes you feel any better, I accidentally sent an e-mail to my critique groups mail box that was intended for my husband. And the content was somewhat ~ahem~ private. ;0)

Guess I should recheck the To: box before hitting send. :0)


Tigermama said...

I`m always, and let`s call it, "Making Discoveries" on my computer. It took 2 weeks for me to figure out how to switch from Japanese to English on my keyboard....and I can`t write in Japanese.

Barbara Martin said...

Mary, your cat may have vision problems.

Before I found out as a teenager that I was allergic to cats, we had a dark sealpoint Siamese male named Chow Ling Poo given to us. His claim to fame was nailing a burgler one afternoon, by leaping off the top of a wooden door (where he liked to look down on the world) and hooking one of his fore paws around the guy's neck. Needless to say, Chow also sunk his claws and teeth in. I had returned home from College to find the man and the cat on his upper back on the persian carpet. One of the policemen who came to investigate had to put on gloves to get Chow off his "kill". It was a big joke for the police for a cat to nab the burglar. The burglar, fortunately, managed to serve his sentence later.

Don't concern yourself with any limitations you may have: mine is not being able to figure out how to link an URL into a blog post. It would make my posts on My Town Monday so much easier.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I saw cats in Spain in eating bread, so it can't be that unusual.

Mary Witzl said...

Kelly -- What a coincidence that you're the first person to comment on this! I told my kids about my amazing discovery after our meeting and they both insisted they've pointed out my unnecessarily circuitous way of posting comments. Sigh.

I'm glad to know you've got a dumb cat too. I'm sure he has his compensations!

Christy -- Thank you for commenting on my blog!

It does make me feel a little better when other people do stupid things, but in your case, your writing group now knows you have a hot relationship with your husband. What does my writing group know about me?

Tigermama -- Me too! Every day brings a fresh discovery.

I used to have one of those pocket dictionaries that help you find the meaning of kanji combinations. I showed it to a friend once, lamenting the fact that I could not look up individual kanji on it. He looked at me as though I was crazy and said "Of course you can!" and proceded to show me how to do this, punching in the stroke number for each radical. I'd had the thing almost a year and had not realized it had this function.

And I can't write in Japanese on my computer either! (I can write in longhand if I don't mind all the titters and outright laughter my prose elicits.)

Barbara -- That is an incredible story and the fact that the police actually came and witnessed this -- and that your burglar did time -- is just the icing on the cake! I'll bet the local press had a field day with 'cat burglar.'

My cat Dagmar was Siamese, and I've have many other Siamese cats too -- and they can be pretty territorial. A Siamese cat belonging to a family I was babysitting for once sank her teeth into my palm and I had to do the old mandible squeeze to get her to let go. Good thing your burglar didn't know that one!

We did wonder at first if our cat was blind, but no: her senses are fully intact.

GB -- Come to think of it, I've seen a cat in Spain eat bread too. But it was white bread, and it had been mixed with milk and fish. The Mexican cat lifted half a wholemeal loaf, almost as big as she was. I will never forget the look of intelligence on her face. Sigh. Obviously, the cat matches the cat custodian. That little Mexican cat took care of herself.

A Paperback Writer said...

Very funny.
Sometimes I feel the same way about myself. I recall that I'd mispronounced the word "respite" for about the first 2 years of my teaching career (it's one of our vocab. words) -- until I was corrected by a student. sigh.
Don't feel too bad about not knowing how to do everything on your computer; most of us ordinary folks don't. I've had the one I'm using now for nearly 4 years, and it still does all kinds of things that I have no clue how to use. For example, I could form a band and record and remix my own music -- if I knew how.
Oh, and as for cats, I had one years ago that thought it was a dog. We trained it to fetch small cotton balls. very amusing.
My neighbors have a very stupid cat, however.
And one of the teachers with whom I work has a habit of telling her students on easy math problems, "This one's so easy my cat could do it!" Her cat has become famous in the lore of the school, and former students often ask about it.

Tabitha said...

You're not stupid, Mary. Not even close. :) You simply lacked certain knowledge. Stupidity is the incapacity to learn said knowledge.

But it sounds like your cat is truly incapable of learning where you've moved the cheese or that the food dish really isn't empty. :) So, personally, I see many differences between you and your cat. :)

I had a less-than-smart cat once. He was a leap first, then run from the consequences later kind of cat. And he never did learn that maybe he shouldn't bite his sister's tail, because she'd beat the crap out of him every time. :)

Kim Ayres said...

But your saving grace is you tell us about it so beautifully...


Charles Gramlich said...

I've had a couple of dumb cats, but a lot of smart ones. I've also had a lot that weren't truly dumb but were very stubborn.

Mary Witzl said...

APW -- I've had trouble with "respite" myself. And while I'm at it, the pronunciation for "Edinburgh" used to stump me too. Nothing thrills me more than listening to Brits mangling American place names.

We once acquired a cat that had obviously been raised with dogs. He was very dog-friendly and did not see them as rivals or enemies. The problem was that many dogs took advantage of this and chased him. I felt so sorry for him; he wanted to be buddies and they kept forcing him into the role of adversary. Wish I'd thought of teaching him to fetch, and how cute that your cat could bring back cotton balls! How is your neighbors' cat stupid, by the way? And are these the people who pose their little girls with animal heads when they're in their Sunday best? (The little girls that is.)

Tabitha -- True: in this case I was merely ignorant. But I have plenty of the other, too. In fact, I was rather sly, only telling you about the return key problem. If I told you about my geometry background, that would have been more honest. Then you might see what I can -- that my cat and I have plenty in common. For her it's where the cheese is, for me it's theoroms.

In Japan, we had a mother/son pair of cats. The mother was smart as a whip, while the son was a right dullard. He used to bite her tail, too.

Kim -- Just think -- if my cat could talk! You've seen her, though; you know that she makes up for her lack of smarts in many ways, even with her shedding and salivating problems.

Charles -- I know what you mean about stubborn cats! I've got scars on my hands to this day from handling determined cats. This one is weirdly malleable and actually lets you put her into her cat box. I still can't get over that and hope it isn't further evidence of her dumbness.

debra said...

Interesting how different cats' personalities are: all of ours are rescues. One, Cloudy (because he looks like a cloudy day), used to do Halloween kitty every time he saw a dog. Now he rolls his eyes and goes to sleep. Dylan (as in Bob) loves to play with Lily the toy poodle.
Sophie is Queen (period).
But they're all pretty savvy cats. Maybe because they live in outside?
Our children are computer natives; we are immigrants. It takes time to understand this new (to us) culture.

Carolie said...

Cat personalities really are funny. I used to have a cat named Buster, with long white hair, a mincing gate and a high-pitched, pitiful little "mew." His partner, Cathy, was less than half his size, but she was definitely the lean, mean boss of the relationship, whereas he was more the overblown Zsa Zsa Gabor (and dumb as a box of rocks!)

My cat now, Koimo, acts dumb, but I think she's dumb like a fox. Last night, I was sitting on the floor (from which I am NOT particularly quick at rising!) and I saw the world's biggest, hairiest spider about three feet away from me. My eyes widened, my heart stuttered, and I carefully tried to shove the furry pile in my lap towards the spider, thinking she'd chase it the way she chases her little acrylic mice (and yes, she brings those to me to throw for her!) Rather than chase the spider, Koimo went limp, refusing to allow me to roll her out of my lap, looking up at me as if to say "you've got to be kidding me! YOU chase it!"

The spider escaped, unharmed. I, on the other hand, had nightmares about spider feet touching my face. *shudder*

As for the smarts, Mary, you've got your share and that of others as well. (Trust me, I think I know those halfwit others!) I admire your wit and your wisdom, and the grace with which you laugh at yourself. I aspire to be like you.

Carole said...

Sam, our cat of many years, was pretty smart. He would only do his business outside and never used a litter box. He scared both large and small dogs away and never backed down to any. He never jumped on counters or scratched furniture.

But one day, we had company with two little ones and the two-year-old girl was making sport of Sam, pulling his tail, stabbing him in the eye with her pudgy fingers and generally making him miserable. He tried to get away on several occasions but she gripped his fur in and wouldn't let go. Sam's patience was wearing thin. I eyed the parents, hoping they would come to his rescue and tell her to leave him alone. No such luck. Finally Sam took matters into his own paws. (keep in mind, Sam in not declawed.) With one swift movement he stood on his hind legs, grabbed her head between his from front paws, opened his mouth as wide as it could go and gently pressed his teeth against her skull. She couldn't move. He growled at the parents, looking them straight in the eyes, and then gently relased his teeth and claws, leaving no marks. Then he walked away, his dignity intact. The little girl was fine, but her parents soon left.

Ello said...

I can relate to your cat beacause I am such a dimwit these days!

Mary Witzl said...

Debra -- I love hearing about other people's cats. I am always amazed by cats' personalities and how incredibly varied they are. A lot of people assume that cats behave in a certain identical way, but this is utter nonsense.

And I like what you said: kids are indeed natives in Computerland and most adults of a certain age are bumbling immigrants who make ridiculous mistakes and mispronounce everything.

Carolie -- You've obviously had multiple cats, too, and I really love hearing these stories! You had a great one about a cat who could catch bats, didn't you?

One of my special skills is spider catching. I'm a little nervous of black widows and other venomous spiders -- and I know they all sting -- but I've handled tarantulas and plenty of other spiders and I'm generally okay with them. If we ever meet, I will happily get rid of any spiders for you -- consider that a given. Our cat here catches spiders; I suspect that Scotland doesn't have particularly dangerous ones and she knows this. My cousin in New Orleans used to have a cat who woke me up every morning crunching down cockroaches...

As for laughing at myself, what else can I do? I figure I'm beating everyone else to it. But I cherish the notion of greater halfwits than myself wandering about.

Carole -- I am in love with your cat Sam! I have known cats like him who could obviously tell the difference between children and adults and treated kids with real gentleness. Nothing makes me angrier than parents who smile indulgently while their child plays too aggressively with an animal. If ever there is a time for a lesson, that is it.

The cat we have now is incredibly gentle; we've had kids over who have played too rough and she just waits it out until I rescue her, growling mildly, but almost never biting or scratching.

But what a great story that is about Sam.

Ello -- Maybe we should start a Dimwits club! I think I should get to be leader, though. As long as someone else does all the computer stuff...

A Paperback Writer said...

Well, there is an Edinburgh, Texas (pronounced "ed-in-burg"), so if you've ever said it that way (I did -- ONCE, in 1996. I learned.), you can claim you were just talking about Texas.
Occasionally, I say "Ed-in-burrow," by mistake -- and I've been corrected just about every time I've said it. One of the porters who worked at the halls of residence where I lived used to make me pronounce the word every time I'd see him.
Fortunately, I can speak Spanish, which has a flap-R, just like Scots does, so I actually CAN physically pronounce "Ed-in-burra" correctly, once I switch into Scots mode. (One does not pronounce this word correctly in the Utahnese mode. It's impossible.)
As for the neighbors with the cats, they're the arrogant doctors up the street (as opposed to the nice doctors next door) who avoid everyone. They do, however, have a nice med. student named Holly living in their basement.
The hillbilly neighbors have two huge dogs (one is mostly black lab and the other is mostly chocolate lab) which bark all the time and leave poop everywhere. (The neighbors through the poop over their back fence into the public property behind them because --hey, that's what classy hillbillies do, right? And I'm not making this up; I've SEEN them do it.)
My only current pets are stuffed and acrylic. They're very quiet and easy to care for. :)

Say, how's it going with being a beta reader for me?

A Paperback Writer said...

Uh, sorry.
That would be "throw poop" not "through poop."

Eryl said...

Your cat sounds like a philosopher. I bet, when the cheese gets moved, she's debating the nature of sense data, it's not the cheese she's really interested in at all.

Alice said...

We have two cats, one normal-ish and the other is HUGE. He is a social eater meaning that whenever someone comes into the kitchen, he immediately goes to his foodbowl and eats. People always ask if he's pregnant. He's suprisingly nimble for such a huge beast and still gets the occasional bird.

Kara said...

i'm afraid you spend too much time examining cats. i'm worried about you. we need to start finding you other, more worthwhile things to shoes.

ok, maybe i just like an excuse to bring up shoes. there's nothing wrong with that.

Mary Witzl said...

APW -- Oh please let me live long enough to go to Edinburgh, Texas with a Brit someday! Then I can have the pure pleasure of listening to him or her GET IT WRONG. Think I'm going to warn whoever it is ahead of time? Guess again!

When I read your 'through' for 'throw' the first time, I never noticed it! I studied error analysis in graduate school and I am fascinated by this one. I think it slipped in there because of our discussion about how to pronounce the 'urgh' of 'Edinburgh.'

Your hillbilly neighbors continue to fascinate and amuse me too. And how lucky you are having doctors, plural, on your street -- at least four by the sound of it -- AND a medical student! If a couple of them AREN'T arrogant, you've already beat the odds!

Eryl -- Maybe she's wondering whether the cheese would still smell good if she weren't there. I do sometimes get the feeling she's musing that if she were a human, she'd stick to cheese and give the onions and carrots a miss.

Alice -- Your big bruiser sounds like ours! Whenever anyone gets up to go TOWARDS the kitchen, she takes that as a cue to follow, doing her weaving-between-legs thing all the way. My husband, not a cat person, is greatly unnerved by this. It can be irritating when you're just after a quick snack and have already fed her three times.

Love the image of a great, hulking cat managing to bring down a bird. I always feel sorry for the bird, but amazed at the cat's skill.

Kara -- Okay, here's a great shoe and cat story just for you! One winter morning my husband went to put on his shoes and found a dead mouse in one, courtesy of a certain dimwitted feline who probably figured he'd be pleased. His yells almost brought the house down.

A Paperback Writer said...

Yes, it is odd to have TWO married sets of doctors living next door to each other.
I grew up in a neighborhood with many doctors, but none of them were women. I'm so pleased to see some female doctors -- but, of course, these two women neighbor/doctors aren't from Utah.