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Cat Food and the Color Blue

Normally, when I am away, I leave my apartment empty and my landlady, who lives upstairs, feeds my cat, Fellini. She pushing tins of food, both wet and dry, through his cat door, so that her cat doesn't eat all of Fellini's food. At eighty years old this maneuver is a bit much for La Señora. However, some neighborhood kids, to whom she teaches English, assist her in this and most anything else with which she needs help... happily.

Recently, because I was going to be away for a longer time than usual, I had someone house-sit for me. This young lady, immediately enamoured of my little savage feline, took over the task of feeding and giving him affection, such little affection as he deigns to receive. Returning from my absence the three of us, Fellini, the young lady and I shared my place for a few days. She continued to feed and give cariño (affection) to Fellini.

Her way of feeding him was different then mine. Like many cat owners, she left out a relatively large quantity of kibble in the cat´s bowl. Fellini would eat some of that and leave the rest. Later he would demand fresh kibble, gazing hopefully whenever anyone came within range of his bowl. The house-sitter, eventually giving into his demands, would sprinkle a little fresh kibble atop the old. Periodically she would empty his bowl, throwing out the stale kibble, which had sat there since who knows when.

I let this go on. I have learned to pick my fights, to be careful trying to educate anyone who is not asking to be educated.

Hyper-vigilant, perfectionist and controlling that I am, I have learned that being right doesn't count for much. Life, particularly life here Mexico has been a great teacher for me in this regard. I've learned that most everything doesn't matter half as much as I might at first think it does.

At the risk of being labeled politically incorrect, at this juncture I would assert a difference between the sexes. (Mao Zedung, the greatest mass murderer in history, coined the term "politically correct.") I contend that, generally. men don't recognize as many tones of color as do women. Take blue as an example: Generally, lost upon us men are cerulean, teal, cornflower, aquamarine... Generally, we men lack the subtlety to name those. When asked to identify these tones, many of us respond, generically, "blue." We can't name them and often can't tell them apart.

Linguistic anthropologists report that if a culture does not have a word, a name, for the thing or concept, then, for the people in that culture, that thing or concept does not exist. Take bedroom design here in San Miguel.

The workers, who laid the tiles around the base of the wall in what would years later become my girlfriend's bedroom, did something odd. They started laying those tiles back in the corner of the room. This meant that, unless they were very lucky and the wall happened to be just the right length, that when they got to the bedroom door the last tile would need to be cut to fit in. They weren't that lucky. The short tile sticks out like a sore thumb, for me anyway. Now, up north that would just be the wrong way to do it. You start laying those tiles where things ought to look prettiest and whole, in the most visible part of the room, right along side the door. You do this so that the last, ugly, fragmentary, cut tile will be hidden in the back corner behind the bed.

A woman here in town told told me a similar story. She instructed the man, who was laying her wall-to-wall bedroom carpet, to use the full piece up front. She knew that he would have to use some smaller pieces to cover the entire floor and she wanted those necessary cuts towards the back of the bedroom. There those seams, which occasioned a subtle, but noticeable change in the pattern of the carpet, would not be as visible. There they would be mostly covered by the bed. She left. When she returned, contrary to her instructions, those seams were all front and center.

In defense of this poor craftsmanship, the fault is not the craftsmen's laziness. After all, it's no extra work to start laying the tile from the front of the room or lay the cut pieces of carpet in the back where they are less noticeable. Rather, I think, it's that the craftsmen don't have the concept, don't have a name for that tone of blue. They don't recognize how or why anyone would want the imperfections towards the rear. For them those things are not even imperfections.

There is nothing wrong with making mistakes. The problem is making the same mistake over and over again. Imagine trying to make a Hollywood movie without making any mis-takes, recording each scene in one and only one shot.

Sometimes it is obvious that we are doing something wrong, because we don't get the results that we want. Sometimes it's harder to recognize our error. We are told that doing the same thing while expecting different results is a sign of insanity. Blaming others and expecting them to change is usually a sign of neurosis, of a psychological blind spot.

I blamed my house-sitter for the way she fed the cat, but I didn't voice the blame or expect her to change. Now that he and I are bachelors again, here's how hyper-vigilant, perfectionist, controlling me feeds the cat, and why.

Ignoring the little bit of kibble in his bowl, Fellini yet rushes in whenever I add to it. With a ferocious eagerness he thrusts his head forward into the bowl and begins eating, making it hard for me to shake more than a little new kibble into his bowl. This is because, almost more than he loves to eat, Fellini loves to be fed. He adores receiving food into his bowl. Maybe he likes the caring attention.

Towards sunset I mix that little bit of kibble left over in his bowl in with his daily ration of wet food, resulting in zero waste, a happy cat and a happy cat owner.

As much as she liked Fellini, my house-sitter didn't fully understand him. She was missing a name for a tone of his blue. She overlooked a subtlety of the process. She got the food, but she missed the feeding. (And she was throwing away kibble.)

Of course, seeing other people's mistakes is easier and more fun than seeing our own. I keep reminding myself that I am forgetting things. My mantra in this regard is, I know now what I didn't know then, but I don't know yet what I don't know yet. This hyper-vigilant self doubt is paying off. I'm seeing more of my own errors and finding ways around them. The things of my life and my relationships with others are smoother and more meaningful.

Now that he is enjoying both receiving and eating his food, Fellini's life is also more meaningful. Which reminds me, now, with the sun going down, I've got to go feed the cat.


Dr David is looking for authors to contribute to San Miguel Sunday. He is also looking for people who want to add more meaning to their lives. See his new website below.

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