Welcome to Gaston

Audrey Thompson

Welcome to Gaston

Having Gaston in the house is like living with a delicately balanced hybrid of hurricane, paper shredder, and head cheerleader. He is nothing if not enthusiastic. When the doorbell rings, Harley hides behind the couch, while Gaston rushes to the front door to be first in line for greetings, licks, and general celebration. When he comes into a room, he arrives energy first, all great expectations and boundless joy.

He looks innocent, but he is not innocent.
Not so innocent Gaston

Gaston would have made a good cop, provided that all you needed was somebody to show up and meddle in things. If you wanted help, then that would be another story, because he would be bound to make things worse. But you couldn’t ask for someone to arrive more instantaneously whenever things are happening. The moment he hears anything going on, he bounds happily into the room, prepared to leap into the fray like a bumbling superhero. “It is I, Gaston!”

There is usually not enough going on for him, so he has to make his own trouble. The shredding of toilet paper and paper towels is a given, along with the tearing up of any photos or cardboard boxes that you might happen to have left lying around. When convenient, Gaston rearranges Ivan’s computer wiring. In addition, there is the frequent chasing of Harley, to satisfactory outrage. When nothing else offers itself, Gaston leaps at the refrigerator magnets, knocks them off, and skitters them across the floor. While making the bed, I close the door to the bedroom so that I do not get cats inside the bed; as I am making the bed, Gaston is hurling himself against the door. Then there is the frantic and delicious tearing-into of bags of dried fruit bits, and chomping up of the resultant shreds of dried fruit and plastic, neither of which cats even like. There is the shredding of any other bags of, say, salt or powdered sugar, for the hell of it, since cats definitely do not want to eat those. Then, while I am sweeping up the fiasco, Gaston is chasing and catching the broom. Finally, for his grand finale, just as I have got everything off the floor and into the little dustpan (the open, not the closed kind), and am raising it off the floor, Gaston comes galloping up, does a slam dunk on the dust pan, successfully launching everything off the dustpan and onto the floor again, and gallops off again. That is why it is not restful around here.

Much of the time, he is chewing on shoes, tangling himself up in cords, fighting with the bed clothes, jumping into tall wastebaskets, and ripping up the velcro straps on my sandals with a satisfying RRRRIPPPPPP sound. It is hard to concentrate. When the APA Manual says that metaphors are distracting to the reader, I hardly think that they knew what distracting really looked like. There is no way that any metaphor, no matter how inept, could have you on your feet every two seconds shouting, “NOW what?” While I was writing this, it dawned on me that we do have an acceptable outlet for this energy; he can’t stay focused on the stationary toys for more than a second or two, but I got out a new feather ball (a bead-filled, noisy golf-size ball with a feather attached, that he uses as a mouth handle), and he has been happily playing with it the whole time that I have been writing this paragraph, which, in Gaston terms, is a pretty full day right there.

Unlike Harley, who only likes cat food and the occasional people-type meat, Gaston likes pretty much all people food, as long as it does not include onions. He adores tofu and beams at Ivan whenever Ivan has any raw tofu handy, following him around and purring about his Bliss. Ivan did not give him tofu in the expectation that he would like it; he gave him tofu hoping that Gaston would hate it and would stop bothering him. None of the things that would work with other cats work with Gaston. Gaston is a happyhappyhappy boy. It is nice that life is so unquestionably and absolutely good for him. It does not trouble him that we yell at him to get down off things or anything like that. Nothing troubles him. All is good. He especially likes eating — we have picked up on a certain enthusiasm there — but all in all pretty much everything about life seems great to him. For the rest of us sullen folk, it is a little awe inspiring. Of course, some of us have reason to be sullen, what with the constant crashing of things he is flinging to the floor or stumbling over.
Gaston asprawl Gaston asprawl

Gaston is like a cartoon but he only occasionally looks like a cartoon; mostly he looks like a regular cat. The one cat I know who looks like a cartoon is Mr. White. Mr. White is one of Phyl and Rick’s cats. When they found him, he was a stray with his fur all matted up. They took him to the vet’s to get the matted parts trimmed off. Instead, the vet gave him a shave and said, “Don’t let this cat out of the house till the fur grows back or he will get sunburnt.” So they had to keep Mr. White in the house, and by the time his fur grew back he had bonded with them and did not at all care to go back to being an outdoor cat.
Mr. White
Mr. White
Phyl and Mr. White
Phyl and Mr. White

Cris and Stephanie have animals that look like a painting. This sublime portrait shows Fey and one of the cats, Stan, in what Stephanie told me is the only real context they have for a relationship, “the emotional register of jealousy.”
Fey and Stan, as if by Vermeer

Also, not incidentally, it is a photograph that shows how gorgeous they are. This is why cats and dogs expect to be waited on. They know that you couldn’t pay to get that much gorgeousness in your life and we are lucky to have them.

Probably because they are not exhausted by indoor wildlife, Cris and Stephanie have much more commerce with outdoor wildlife than Ivan and I do. If they lived with someone like Gaston, things might be different. Then again, their outdoor wildlife seems strangely domesticated. I have mentioned before Cris’s complaint about the squirrels on their garage roof eating pancakes, pizza, and muffins, and dropping the crumbs on her car. Stephanie sent me the true facts concerning this phenomenon, but Cris told me to ignore Stephanie’s explanation, which she considers implausible. She did not specifically say that it was untrue.
Cris with Spike, the squirrel
Cris with Spike, the squirrel
Cris with raccoons Raccoons following Cris

Cris with raccoons

You will notice that the person in the picture with the animals is always Cris. It is not that Stephanie is the only one who takes photos. Cris takes pictures of Stephanie with animals, too, but Stephanie deletes them while supposedly engaged in downloading them. Cris has mentioned that in all the pictures of Stephanie with deer that she has taken, you never can see any deer. Still, you could see Stephanie till she was deleted. I would pay serious money for a picture of Stephanie with wild animals, but they are not to be had. Stephanie will give me all the pictures of Cris that I want for free.

The main reason that there are no pictures of me with wildlife is that I have hardly ever been near any wildllife except for birds. It is easy to be near birds. There are lots of birds in the back yard and a family of quail underneath my car. It is true that it would cost you millions of dollars to get me in a picture with the quail, but only because quail rarely pose with humans.
Quail under the Nissan Quail under the Nissan

The only real way to get me into a picture with quail is through my brother. If you are willing to settle for an only slightly fake picture of me with quail, Chuck might make you one of those for free.
Quail on my shoulder

Sometimes the quail are under Ivan’s car, but usually who is under Ivan’s car is Emmett. Emmett is the cat who lives kitty corner with two other cats. Every day he leaves home, walks past our house to check on the birds and hang out under Ivan’s car, and then goes to sit on the Dykes’ porch till they let him in. He likes to hang out with Woody and the girls. Kanyon either puts ribbons on him or drags him around like a small tree trunk. At night, he goes home.
Emmett is patient
Emmett is patient
Emmett gets impatient
Emmett gets impatient
Emmett visits Gaston
Emmett visits Gaston Emmett visits Gaston

We have never seen any evidence that having Emmett under one car and a family of quail under the other has led to encounters, maybe because the quail startle easily but more likely because Emmett usually is in a hurry to go find Woody.

Other times, he sits on the chimney in our wall, surveying the back yard.
Emmett visits Trillin Emmett visits Trillin
Emmett visits Trillin

The main wildlife I see is in our back yard or driveway, and it is always birds or raccoons or mice or occasionally squirrels. In the summer time, when Frank and I take walks in City Creek Canyon, we see at least two rattlesnakes a day. Quite often we see tarantulas too. That is pretty much the extent of the animals I see who do not know me personally. Frank and Donna see moose practically every time they leave the house, and deer without even stepping foot outside, but I never do. Even if I were to see a moose, however, I couldn’t take any pictures of them, because Frank doesn’t like me to take the camera on our walks. It interferes with walking at a dead run, which is how we mostly walk. Last week when I went for a walk, I took Woody, who will let me take as many pictures as I like. I still didn’t see any wild animals, though. These were the only animal-related pictures I was able to get.
Danger: Rattlesnakes
Rattlesnake sign
Woody in the snow

I did get these cat pictures at an antique store in Portland last summer. The cats were not allowed on the sidewalk and therefore sat on the exact threshold. One cat’s paw dangled in the air over the edge, but there was no physical touching of the sidewalk. That kind of obedience is unknown in our household. I had asked the owner of the antique store if I could take the cats’ photo, and later my brother remarked, “A friend of mine from Mexico took a picture of some guy’s dog without asking permission, and the guy yelled at him, saying, ’It’s illegal to take pictures of people’s dogs without permission!’” Chuck’s friend laughed and laughed. “To think that I know the laws of your country better than you do!” he said.
Cats on the edge Cats on the edge

Most cats you see in bookstores and antique stores are mild-mannered and placid. They spend most of their time sleeping in cozy circles of catness. All normal cats sleep curled up.
Trillin Trillin and Harley

Gaston sleeps full length, either draped over things or leaning back comfortably.
Gaston asleep Gaston asleep

Lately he has taken to sleeping upside-down, with his forepaws crossed over his eyes. I have tried to take a picture of him like that, but he wakes up as soon as he hears the camera go on. I got these photos of him when he was younger and didn’t yet know about cameras.
Harley and sleeping Gaston Sleeping Gaston

Before he figured out the camera, he used to pose like a glamorous movie star.
Cleopatra boy

Gaston is extremely can-do and does not hear or respond to any variant of “no” except when Trillin was the one saying it. He has no concept of “not mine.” Ivan calls him a criminal. I pointed out that at least Gaston has not illegally declared war on other countries and that, even if he did, he would not send anyone else’s kids into battle. He would run the whole battle himself. If he were Congress, things would be different. Ivan says, “That is not the same as better,” but I say that, things being what they are, it could hardly not be better.

Other than squirting him with water, the only effective way to stop Gaston from doing something now is to take photographs of him while he is doing it. He stops for the camera, but not for “no.” When he is doing his Cleopatra-boy sprawl on the middle of the kitchen table and I tell him “No, no!” firmly, he looks casually but politely perplexed, as if I were a stranger trying to strike up a conversation by asking him his personal thoughts about the Peloponnesian War.

In the face of sheer, outrageous illegality on the part of one cat, the other cats do not say to themselves, “I, at least, will show Mommy that I am a good girl” or “Let me be the one to set the moral tone for this household by offering a fine example.” They say, “Damn, if he can lounge on the kitchen table like Cleopatra, there is no reason I shouldn’t stroll over it like Elton John.” The legality level around here has gone down to almost zero, plus it is noisy, what with so many opinions being expressed.

Occasionally, Gaston interprets “No!” to mean, “You can’t do that now, but it is okay to start doing it as soon as I am in the other room.” I suppose that is a conceptual breakthrough of sorts, though wrong in almost every particular. If Harley says, “No!” it is the same as an open invitation to do it again immediately. Only Trillin is able to put the force of authority into “no.” Ketzela used to be able to do that. When Ketzela said “no,” it meant, “Under no circumstances.” There was no sense in arguing. Gaston did not know Ketzela, but he did not argue with Trillin. Of course, he doesn’t argue with Ivan or me either. He just doesn’t do what we tell him. He is a happy, happy boy, and it is not possible to get across to him that certain things are beyond Gaston boundaries.
Trillin ignores Gaston
Trillin ignores Gaston
Trillin ignores Gaston

As I say, the only effective way to stop Gaston from doing something now is to get the camera out while he is doing it. Ivan hung his cane up out of the way, where Gaston supposedly could not get to it and chew on it. If the cane will not come to Gaston, though, Gaston must needs go to the cane. I heard the clonking of the cane as Gaston batted it about, and when I got there, I watched him for a couple of seconds before going to get the camera. I did manage to get several pictures, but he soon stopped batting and chewing on the cane and has not played with the cane since. I am going to try this method when he is burrowing his way into the cat food cabinet.

As soon as Gaston arrived and found out where the cat food was kept, he wiggled his little body behind the six-pack of beer we were using to block the door closed, pushing it out of the way so that he could get the door open. Suzanne and Larry Rice once sent us a picture of their kitten under the kitchen cabinets, but that kitten is clearly being innocent and kittenish.
Suzanne and Larry’s kitten

Gaston’s interest in the cabinets has never been kittenish. He considers the cabinets to be “walk-in” cabinets. Long ago, we put a childproof lock on the cat food door, but Teddy weakened it over time, and Gaston finished the job. Ivan took off the useless catproof lock and didn’t put a new one on right away.
Investigations Investigations

Now there are catproof locks on all the cabinets, including the overhead cabinets, since Gaston got into one of them and knocked a wine bottle onto the ground.

When, as happens most days, Ivan and I hear ripping and shredding sounds in the other room, we sigh and ask ourselves whether it is worth investigating. For a while now, we have been getting rid of stuff we realize that we don’t truly need. It is good that we are learning to let go, frankly, because Gaston is rapidly shredding most of what we have left, and it is better not to feel too attached to things. Buddhists are not supposed to be all that attached to things anyway, but Ivan is far from being a Buddhist poster child. Still, I do not mean to complain. He is definitely getting rid of stuff. Then again, there is a lot to get rid of.
A lot to get rid of

One garbage and recycling day I said to Ivan, “Can you go through one of your piles and give me fifteen papers to throw away before the garbage truck gets here?” Fifteen pieces of paper does not seem like much, but Ivan was aghast. Holding out both his arms, elbows down and hands in fists, as if to give blood, he said, “Fifteen papers! Why not fifteen pints of blood?!” We are never hurting for drama around here.

When Steve came to visit us shortly after the new year, he helped us take eight or nine boxes of Ivan’s books to Sam Weller’s. It was not long after all our snow fell, so he also helped me shovel and move branches out of the yard to where the backhoe could get to them. When I go to visit Steve and Hallie, I never have to do a thing, but Steve seemed to think it was perfectly normal to be kept busy at all times.
Ivan grilling in the snow
Ivan grilling in the snow
The road to Frank and Donna’s
The road to Frank and Donna’s
Gaston surveys the scene
Gaston surveys the scene

Ivan was far from pleased at having snow, even though we need it rather desperately. He said that we can have snow in the mountains, but not in the valleys. Ivan is annoyed at the whole business of weather. When he was growing up in Illinois, he dreamt of a future without weather and here it is the future and it’s snowing. “Some future!” he says bitterly. “We still have weather.” As always, he takes the weather very personally, even when he does not go outside in it. I do mention, occasionally, that this does not seem like the best way to be a Buddhist, but he assures me that this is exactly how Buddhists are supposed to react if confronted with cold weather, which they are not supposed to be.

It was Steve who gave us Gaston’s name. Years ago, I asked Steve to sign a friendship tablecloth for me, and he asked, “Can I sign it ’Gaston’?” I told him that he had to sign it “Steve,” but when I met Gaston this past fall, that exchange came back to me. Gaston seemed to me the kind of cat who would say, “Can I sign it ’Gaston’?” only this time I could say yes, since the only name he had been given in foster care was “Orange Intake Kitten 39.” He could actually be called Gaston. When Steve came to visit after the new year, he and Gaston hit it off immediately. Like Steve, Gaston is an appreciative kind of guy.
Ivan and Steve Steve, Gaston and Audrey

Also like Steve, Gaston keeps busy. As vases and candlesticks crash to the floor around us, and tremendous ripping sounds are heard in the next room, Ivan and I try to keep the accent on the positive. “Well,” we say, “he’s a self-starter, anyway.”

Ivan has also made the point that there is something to be said for tearing and shredding and ripping that is not metaphorical. At some length, the other day, he recounted a resentful story of having been stuck behind the world’s slowest driver only to have her stop altogether to let the world’s slowest walker cross the street. “What difference does it make if she was the world’s slowest driver, if she was stopped anyway?” I asked. I didn’t mean to be unsympathetic, but stopped is stopped. It doesn’t matter if you are the world’s slowest driver or the fastest if your car is not moving. Ivan was outraged that I could so have misread his point. “You are missing the point of my story,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it a story, exactly,” I interjected. “It is a story,” he told me. “It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.” Even this seemed to me a significant exaggeration. The beginning, middle, and end were all the same: there was a slow driver, and she stopped. Just as I pointed this out, we heard tearing sounds from the next room. “At least Gaston only makes tearing sounds, not cutting remarks,” Ivan said approvingly.

Gaston does indeed not make cutting remarks. He is not a brooder, either, lacking both the morbid disposition and the attention span necessary for fixating on grievances. He is a happy boy and I get many, many kisses every day. He is a very affectionate guy. Also, life is good and we must celebrate.

But though sunny-natured, Gaston is not good. He is magnificently destructive, especially of anything that can be put in his mouth. The main things in Gaston’s world are eating, playing, eating, disobeying, eating, playing, sleeping, eating, loving, playing, and eating. He has a very fine attunement to when I might possibly feed him.

In December, my sister wrote and asked whether we had put the beautifully wrapped presents she had sent us under the Christmas tree. There was no question of that, of course. We hid them in the study. Gaston would have chewed up any tree, wrappings, and gifts left carelessly in the living room. He is ripping up newspaper as I type. When I wrapped Ivan’s gifts, Gaston ripped the wrappings off the packages I wasn’t actively working on. Seconds after I’ve swept, there are little shreds of cardboard, toilet paper, paper towels, and newspaper all over the house. It is like living in a house filled with confetti. Admittedly, it would be more colorful confetti if we left gift-wrapped items out.
Gaston and Audrey play string Gaston opens a package

It is not all play. Gaston is on hand to open any box that needs help being opened.
Gaston opens a box with Ivan’s help Gaston opens a cereal box

When not otherwise occupied, he chews on books, plastic, and cardboard. “Cats do not eat books, Gaston,” I tell him. When I remove the book, he chews on my fingers.
Gaston eats a box Gaston eats a box

If you saw Love Serenade, you will remember that the solution to the problem of why the heterosexual man in the movie is not in love with the two main female characters is that the man is a fish in disguise. One reviewer commented that the film-maker did not really try all that hard to understand men, and I suppose that is one way you could summarize a film like this. The fish moral was not one for which I initially saw a lot of application in my own life, but later I realized that Gaston is a puppy in disguise. In the movie, finding out that the man was a fish in disguise was the solution to the whole thing. In our life, it is not much of a solution to know that Gaston is a puppy in disguise — not in the sense that it solves anything, I mean. It is just something to know.

One of the great things about dogs is that you can give them the same toy over and over again, and they are just as pleased with it the thirtieth time as they were the first. In mirror fashion, you could say the same thing about cats, who are just as likely to be as bored with a new toy the first time they are given it as they will be the thirtieth time, with the exception of toys that Phyllis finds them. Phyllis knows what cats like, and they always like it far better than any knock-off version Ivan or I might give them. When Phyllis’s toys wear out, it is no use replacing them, because the cats won’t touch the replacements.

It’s true that kittens like toys. When Harley was a baby, she had a pet sock on a leash that she dragged everywhere with her. She was also fond of Lego and she liked balls and balsa wood butterflies. But she was not a toy maniac.
Harley with her sock baby

Gaston is a toy freak. There is no toy, no non-toy even, that is not as blissfully wondrous to Gaston the thousandth time as it was the first. Every ball, every scrap of paper is as amazing and exciting upon rediscovery as it was upon initial discovery. He loves his feather balls, his cardboard boxes, his gym, his newspapers, his paper bags, his furry mice, his shoes, his chairs, his cane, his strings, his papers, his photographs. Doris commented that it was interesting that Gaston plays with the same toys that Quanah does, but presumably this is only partly true. I have not seen Quanah playing with any feather balls.
Gaston plays with his beads Gaston plays with his beads
Gaston plays with his beads Quanah plays with toys and a dog

Gaston is extremely pleased with all the toys he has, and is amazed that a whole house could contain nothing but toys, although we do keep saying, “That is not a toy, Gaston.” We know that Gaston is a puppy because he is the only cat we have ever had who is passionate about toys, never loses interest in a toy, considers all toys his own, and passionately desires more. In addition to the hundreds of balls and springy things, catnippy things, and chewy things that we have bought him to play with, there are all the things that he has adapted to his needs, like boxes, books, the window shades, newspapers, shoes, dust, Ivan’s cane, apron strings, toilet paper, and shoe laces. It is no use trying to brush him because the plastic cat brush is also a toy. When he is awake, he gnaws on the cat brush blissfully, and when he is asleep he hugs the cat brush close to him with his paws.
Gaston disembowels a paper towel tube Gaston disembowels a paper towel tube
Gaston chases dust
Gaston chases dust
Gaston talks business with the brush
Gaston talks business with the brush

After Trillin died and Harley was so lonesome for her, I looked up both older and younger cats at the Utah Humane Society, to see if there was someone who could be a gentle companion for Harley but still be sturdy enough to deal with Gaston. I checked the descriptions carefully to see if the cats got along with dogs as well as other cats. It was only after several readings that I remembered that Gaston is not in fact a dog.
Harley, the normal cat
Harley is our only normal cat

But it was too soon to bring home another cat, and Harley and Gaston are dealing, albeit with extreme suspicion on Harley’s part.

She was alarmed from the first.
Gaston arrives on the scene
Gaston arrives on the scene
Harley is not sanguine
Who invited him? Harley finds Gaston disturbing

Now they play with one another under the footstool, with only a tinge of hostility.
Harley and Gaston play with the footstool Harley and Gaston play with the footstool
Harley and Gaston play with the footstool Harley and Gaston play with the footstool
Harley and Gaston play with the footstool Harley and Gaston play with the footstool

Gaston’s success in sharing sleeping quarters with Harley, however, has been confined to one hour three months ago.
Harley and Gaston on the bed

Gaston is a happy boy and he does not remember any bad things that have happened to him, although I happen to know that his early months had some rough spots. He is not a boy to see a glass as half empty, though. He is not really a boy to see the glass as empty at all.
Gaston drinking Gaston drinking

Teddy also liked to drink out of my water glass, but only if it was full.
Teddy drinking

Gaston is not even remotely interested in obedience. I have complained to Glenn, who studies behaviorism. I have tried behaviorism on Gaston and it makes no impression whatsoever, possibly because he is not really paying attention or possibly because he does not care what Skinner and Watson thought. I told Glenn, “I thought that more or less the whole point of behaviorism was that it worked on animals.” “Yes,” he said, “all animals except cats. Behaviorism does not work on cats.”

I have figured out one reason for this. Most cats are aloof. I would scold Ketzela, and she would look at me as if she were the queen and I was a mere thirteenth cousin twice removed. But Gaston is a different story. It is hard to give someone negative reinforcement if nothing counts as negative reinforcement. In Gaston’s case, this is a matter of jollity. It is not always like that. We were at a fancy restaurant with Suzanne and Alan the other night, and were inundated with a waiter who was at once condescending and boorish. Nothing, unfortunately, counted as negative reinforcement for him either. “Quit saying ’thank you’,” Suzanne told me sotto voce; “you’ll only encourage him.” This was irrelevant, though, because everything counted as encouraging him. Alan and I spent a good part of the evening trying to come up with adjectives to describe him. Ivan decided at once to write a mystery about him and either kill him off or feature him as the murderer. He did not deign to dabble in adjectives; he was working on character. “It’s okay,” we said. “We’ll handle the adjectives. You can sign it ’Ivan Van Laningham, adjectives by Alan and Audrey.’” “What about adverbs?” Ivan asked. “We’ll do those too,” we said recklessly. We were feeling a little possessive about the whole thing.

“Could you call him perky?” Suzanne asked. She confided to me, “Perky is a bad thing. I was perky when we went to Australia and there were issues.” “You were perky,” said Alan scoldingly. “But you can’t call the waiter perky. Perky is feminine.” “What’s the male version, then?” asked Suzanne. “Jerky,” said Alan. But that didn’t capture the full macho splendor of our waiter. We tried various adjectives: officious, supercilious, not to mention clueless. None of them satisfied. There is just a limit to what adjectives can do. Personally, I thought of him as an airport cowboy, one of those loud men in brown polyester pants, pointy-toed boots, and spotless white Stetsons, but it turned out that this image, which I thought would be universally recognized, was not recognized even by Ivan. “You mean Russian tourists?” asked Ivan. “Houwwdy, paaerdhnher.” “No, I do not mean Russian tourists. I mean our waiter,” I said. I explained the whole spotless hat and loud voices business. I don’t know a lot about cowboys, but I assume that they are not the kind to talk your ear off. There is no sense in annoying the cows. But my powerful imagery was lost on Ivan, who had probably already settled on the final agonies of the death scene in any case.

I should just mention that Ivan does not personally know any Russians, although he probably will claim to have known thousands back in the day. The only Russian I know is Eugene, whom I know just well enough to say that he is probably not the type to wear a white cowboy hat. Cris describes Eugene as Supreme Commander of the PIGgies, PIG standing for Professional Inquiry Group. Not satisfied with that acronym, his group recently started up a specialty area called SCARE: Sociocultural and Communal Approaches to Research and Education. I have little doubt that Eugene would wear a cowboy hat if he could think of something useful that COWBOY could be an acronym for. Eugene’s theory is that philosophers are just psychologists without any research money. If COWBOY stood for Cultural Ontologies with Bundles of Yen, for example, we could almost certainly get a picture of Eugene in a cowboy hat.
Cris and Eugene with international mascot
Cris and Eugene with international mascot

They say that cowboys are laconic, although this is rarely true in airports. Trillin was no cowboy. She had a great many things to say on every subject and rarely entered a room without announcing it. For Trillin, her entry was the event. There was no assumption that something else might be going on. Gaston always enters as a cheerleader for whatever is already going on. Anything will bring him rushing in — the swish of a broom, the opening of a door, the crackling of a bag, the tearing of an envelope, the clatter of Lego. “The game’s afoot!” he exults, streaming in like the head cheerleader and the whole squad in one. “All right, all right! What’s up?! We’re about to have some fun! This is going to be great!”

Not surprisingly, he is no fan of the telephone, which does not recognize his centrality. Ketzela did not care for the phone either. If I talked on the phone for more than about ten minutes, she would get on my lap and yell. There was not to be any talking that was not directed at her. I could talk to Ivan, as long as I did so in a normal voice. When his back was out so badly that he couldn’t rise from a horizontal position, I read aloud to him. Rather than sit more or less on top of him, or shout, I projected my voice; horrified, Ketzela peered into my mouth and yelled into it. It was easier to sit three inches from Ivan to read to him, as that didn’t annoy the other occupants.

When I am on the phone, Gaston argues vociferously with the cord. When I am not on the phone, he knocks the receiver off the hook. One morning, Marty tried to get hold of me on the phone for hours before finally emailing me and asking me to walk up to Frank and Donna’s and give them a message, as their phone was busy too. When I got there, Donna had just gotten off the phone and John and Marlia had arrived. I explained my errand and added the rider about Gaston knocking the phone off the hook, thereby keeping me incommunicado for hours. “Good kitty!” said Marlia.

If you need cardboard boxes torn up, that is also a specialty of Gaston’s. He sits inside them, vigorously chewing off portions and flinging them in the air. Of course, everything with Gaston is zestful. He is not an aloof, brooding type of cat. You could compare Gaston to the Cat in the Hat, except that he does not clean up after himself. He is really more like Noisy Nora, always back with a monumental crash.
Gaston eats another box Gaston eats another box

Around here our main crafts are shredding cardboard (Gaston), picking up the cardboard bits (Audrey), fussing at Gaston for reducing everything to tatters (Ivan), and hiding from Gaston (Harley). We are a rather accomplished family and are wondering if we aren’t worthy of our own reality show. Not that I have ever seen one, but I have heard about them. It seems to me that our lives are as real as anyone else’s and why shouldn’t we get paid for being alive through the whole thing? I am a little surprised that people would pay to watch reality — my own feeling is that it is over-rated and that fiction is not only more satisfying but harder to come up with and therefore should cost more, not counting government fictions, which are already overpaid — but if people are paying, I am up for receiving payment. Please send your checks to me, not to Gaston.
Mr. Innocence Mr. Innocence


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