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Short - In Favor of Cats

Short - In Favor of Cats

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Published by Benjamin Gross
Absurdly vain elected officials solve non-problem in favor of town's stray cat population.
Absurdly vain elected officials solve non-problem in favor of town's stray cat population.

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Published by: Benjamin Gross on Feb 03, 2012
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02/03/2012

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I arrive in Borough Hall exactly seven minutes late, missing the Well-Dressed Councilman’s pre-meeting flirtation with the mousy Assistant Recreation Director, the pledge of allegiance and items one through three on the agenda. The audience is close to full, and I sit next to an old bald man who, it appears from his cold stare, desires no small misfortune on the Well-Dressed Councilman. The agenda is long and dull but read by the Council President with awkward enthusiasm. I look around the chamber and count the number of civil servants in attendance. They are easy to spot, all sitting near the rear exit door, and appear variously bored with the proceedings, or alarmed when citizen complaints are parried in their direction. Agenda item six introduces the first controversy of the evening. “I’m not against cats per se,” the youngest councilman begins cautiously, “but...” “But you are against cats, clearly,” observes the Well-Dressed Councilman. “Cats live in this town too. We owe a duty. A duty to catlovers.” This exchange ends the clickety-clack of Blackberry texting in the audience. The youngest councilman senses one hundred percent of the eyes in the audience are focused in his direction. “It is not about cats. And do not interrupt, please.” “You just said it was about cats,” interrupts the Well-Dressed Councilman. “You can’t hide from that.” “Yeah, what’s wrong with cats?” spits the gum-chewing councilman. “You don’t care about cats!”

The Council President looks around the room and reddens. Two distinct factions were forming but he couldn’t yet judge whether the pro-cat faction held the majority. “Order, order!” demands the Council President. The Council President hated controversy, but even worse, hated being on the wrong side of a controversy. To him, it was no longer about cats, it was about displeasing a faction, especially the larger one. “Let Michael have his say.” Michael, the youngest councilman, was also the newest councilman. He had nothing, his brief public record would suggest, against cats. Last night he spent sleepless hours in mock argument about agenda item seven, not agenda item six. And he was acutely aware that if he continued to battle cats and the Well-Dressed Councilman he’d be labeled by the local press as anti-cat. Michael scans the audience. Several cat-lovers glare at him with cat-like menace. A few openly regard him with sympathy. The lone newsman pauses his scribbling and a grin forms under the thatches of his ample facial hair. “I’m not hiding from cats. It’s not about cats. But why should we fund a cat shelter in the old Saybrook mansion? The borough manager just said we are facing another deficit!” The audience erupts in a dissonant symphony of angry whispers and uncontrolled giggling. The borough manager appears to study a blank legal pad. The newsman scribbles. The Council President remains unsettled. “See, it’s about cats,” adds the gum-chewing councilman. “You don’t like cats. Why are you so negative about cats, anyway?” The Well-Dressed Councilman winks at the Assistant Recreation Director, smiles in the

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direction of the scribbling newsman and leans close to his microphone. “Michael, you are either tolerant of cats, or not. The good people of this town deserve well-treated cats. And I’m not going to let your cat hating stand in our way.” Two rows in front of me, a middle-aged woman with long, greasy hair rises in her seat. Her face betrays a grave expression suggesting partiality to Boonesdale’s unclaimed cats. “My cats – my cats have a comfortable home,” starts the greasy cat lady. “All cats deserve comfortable homes.” Deserving, unclaimed cats appear to shift audience sympathies. The Council President, nothing if not a barometer of human emotion, wastes no time. “Thank you. Thank you. Now busy meeting tonight.” Michael correctly sees defeat and slumps in his chair. Four to one. Cats win. The greasy cat lady glows triumphant and pulls from a large bag a limply structured sandwich which, from three rows away, smells like wet cat food, though I wonder whether my senses were unduly influenced by the just concluded debate. The Council President presently defers to the Well-Dressed Councilman to expand upon the merits of agenda item seven. Agenda item seven, we learn, will buck up the economy, reduce unemployment by exactly 17 and deter binge drinking within Boonesdale’s irregular 2 ½ mile square. The old bald man next to me betrayed no clear bias for or against cats. But whatever

restraints permitted neutrality to agenda item six are unbound by the Well-Dressed Councilman’s proposal. The old bald man’s heavy foot makes its unwelcome acquaintance to mine and he shoots out of his seat into the middle aisle. “Fifty cents? Fifty cents on e’vry beer, you say? It’d put me out of business!” The bald are less able to hide their more passionate emotions. This is true of my former neighbor, whose glossy crown is shading a deep red. “And fer what? A gubment run health club!” asks and answers the old bald man. The Council President tilts his head in conspicuous fashion toward the Well-Dressed Councilman. The Well-Dressed Councilman shifts his tie and smiles broadly toward his antagonist. “We did the math. Fifty cents a beer and we can keep our citizens healthy. For free, I might add. And reduce unemployment.” The Well-Dress Councilman is on a roll. “Government is not just our friend; it can be your personal trainer too!” This observation causes the old bald man to gargle and wave his arms wildly. “It’s my business and yer ain’t my friend. What? What do I have to pay for a buncha yuppies at the gym for? You outta yer mind?” The Council President adds that the old bald man will be fine, only his customers have to pay the Beer Tax. This clarification raises concern among a distinct bloc of the audience whose murmuring offends the greasy cat lady.

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Michael, with an apparent second wind, comes to the defense of the old bald man. “Seriously. We have two health clubs and a YMCA in town, not to mention four others within a few miles. We don’t need to be in the gym business! What…” The gum chewing councilman interrupts but for the purpose of forging a new alliance. “Tax beer? A beer tax?” chews the gum chewing councilman. “Are you outta your mind?” The previously silent councilwoman shifts uncomfortably in her seat with a noticeable thaw to her heretofore frozen smile. A heated discussion between the gumchewing councilman and councilwoman ensues, with the councilwoman stridently advocating for fitter constituents. This seems to inflame a private row among the rowdier components of the audience, which drowns out Michael’s rebuttal of the Well-Dressed Councilman. The old bald man joins the verbal scrum, shouting epithets at the entire council. The Council President’s preference for harmony amongst his colleagues heavily outweighs his interest in lengthy debate. “Alrighty then, all in favor of the Boonesdale Fitness Tax, say ‘aye’!” Three to two. The old bald man curses pungently and departs without retrieving his umbrella and, thankfully, without further endangering my feet. I leave too, eschewing an engineer’s report on stormwater management in favor of a few beers at Baldy’s, before the taxes go up.

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