I knew something odd was going on when I awoke early in the morning and heard strange women quietly talking in the living room.
Some will point out, given the fact my wife married a newspaperman, that there is always a strange woman in our home, but this wasn't her voice. I didn't recognize any of the voices out there in the living room.
"I never knew what he saw in Elsie," one of the strange women said.
"I think it's the sex," the other strange woman said.
I donned my robe and crept to the living room door.
"Well, nice to see you again," the first strange women said, "but I've got to run."
"Nice to see you," the other strange woman responded.
They obviously heard me coming and were preparing to split. I pushed the door open a crack and peered into the room.
There sat Sterling, our cat, watching television.
In truth, I don't know that he was actually watching television. But he was the one who had turned it on. I found the channel changer on the couch beside him where he had stepped on it.
Accidentally, cynics would say.
Deliberately, say we who know Sterling.
I should have realized it was the television set. Strange women hardly ever sneak into our living room early in the morning for a conversation, especially one as insipid as that one.
However, if Sterling was deliberately watching television, he was doing a lousy job of it. He hadn't turned on the set to a real channel. He had stupidly pawed the buttons for channel 67, which is no channel at all. The conversation between the strange women was from something being broadcast by a local station that was leaking into all the empty cable channels. The sound wasn't bad but it was a lousy picture.
I realize we attribute too much intelligence to animals. In truth, cats have a five-word vocabulary which consists of variations on the standard "Meow."
One of those four words means "Food!"
One, delivered at the door, means "Out!"
One, delivered from the other side of the door, means, "In!"
One, said while a paw is trapped under a clumsy giant's foot, means "Ou-u-u-u-ch!"
And one is a cat swear word meaning "dog derriere," customarily delivered in combination with the other four words when the response from the big stupid giant you live with is too slow.
Nonetheless, it does get your attention when the television set comes on early in the morning and you know the cat turned it on and you see him sitting there facing the set as the screen flickers and strange women carry on a conversation.
Worse, he has always had that look of dwindling intelligence that you see on the faces of people who watch too many soap operas. I think this was some kind of early-morning soap opera he was watching. And it makes sense that a cat would watch such programs because soap operas are written simply so they can be understood by people with a five-word vocabulary.
And while it is true that Sterling turned on the set to a station that doesn't exist, that doesn't mean that it won't exist one day soon. The cable companies add another half dozen channels every year. That's why television sets now come ready for something like 340 channels.
So Sterling may merely be ahead of his time in turning on Channel 67. That may be the future location of the cat channel.
It's only a matter of time because that is the way of cable television. We have ended the era of three huge networks attempting to provide sports and sitcoms for a general audience. Specialization is the very nature of television today. In the future, there will be one channel for each person on earth tailored to his interests and his alone.
Today, the cat channel. Tomorrow, CBS Customed By Sterling.
Meanwhile, I have started putting the channel changer away at night. I no longer hear the sounds of strange women in the living room unless my wife gets up early.
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