Occasionally the phone rings and it is Mrs. Dr. Bill, fretting about her cats. Mrs. Bill is Okinawan born and despite having lived here most of her life speaks with a light accent and quaint grammar, but she has been asking me cat questions for so long that I don’t have any real trouble following her.

“What happen, Ashleigh, she catch little field mouse? I think it field mouse. Maybe Ivan catch it.” She consults me frequently about the cats’ diet, vaccine frequency, and litter box habits. Granted that it isn’t a strange assumption, but I am often humbled by how certain she is that I have every answer there is about cats.

We have lots of field mice around here.

“So do your cats catch them?” Yes, they do. “They ever eat?” Not unless you count some mouse pups with gorily nibbled heads caught by the blessed Patricia Twinkle nigh a decade ago, a wholesale cleanout known in this household as the Saturday Night Moussacre. “Because Ashleigh I think she eat part of neck. That bad for them?”

I assured her that cats had been eating mice since the dawn of time and throve upon them, even pointing out, as a past vet of mine once mentioned, that taurine, a critical nutrient for cats, is in nature most richly sourced from mouse brains, small as those must be.

“I think maybe I should get some of those D-Con? Lots of mice getting in this winter, this third time I find.”

I talked her down.

“You already have the best mousetraps available,” I said. “Efficient, humane, ecologically sound. Let them do their work.”

I guess I am the Madonna of the Cats and I just have to roll with it. Goes with a yard full of herbs and a bare-hands fixit shop for busted cranky people. I will end up as the Baba Yaga.


10 thoughts on “Dial-A-Cat-Lady

    • I had to explain to my friend and financial manager Izzy, one of the most brilliant men I know, that this was the case. City boy. Of course he had not had a cat, but how can anyone not know they kill and eat things?

      Mrs. Dr. Bill is almost as Internet resistant as Dr. Bill himself. He owns a computer but won’t turn it on. He once asked me in all seriousness if I “had a search engine on my computer.” He thought it was something you installed, like a floppy drive.

  1. I initially assumed Mrs Dr Bill must have been Hispanic. You mentioned a few times you have a few Hispanics in your neighborhood. But as I went through it again, I thought… Hell, I’ve been playing Civilization all my live and I’d swear Okinawan doesn’t sound Spanish to me. Google it… Oh, she’s Japanese!

    I like to think I’m not bad at English for someone who was born a dumb French. Except that “a light accent” is an understatement (woohoo! second time I find a use for that word in two weeks). But I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for someone of Asian origin to learn English. It’s not like there were some similar roots. It must be like a plumber suddenly deciding to learn computer programing — none of what he’s learned before will have any purpose anymore.

    So, cats can be hurt by eating a mouse now. For sure, she never lived out of a city.

    (Totally unrelated — Remember I said your Live Traffic Feed identified me from the right city a few months back? For a few weeks now, I notice it does give my city correctly. So now you know, these people are monitoring your blog lol.)

    • I have been told you should never call someone from Okinawa “Japanese”! Though not by Mrs. Bill. Very strong local identity apparently.

      I am always fascinated by the way that different languages come across in the mouths of non-native speakers. I’m a dub in any language other than English (crap French, spotty German) but I know enough about the structure of various European languages to appreciate where the grammar variations come from — the terminal verb from German, the omitted article from Russian. Japanese, not so much, though I notice there is a minimal use of “an,” “the,” etc. there as well.

      My favorite music teacher was from Tokyo by way of a German music education and spoke flawless German but very halting English. I tried to study a little Japanese out of books while I was working with her and it was staggering how unfamiliar all the constructions were. I hear that you can actually see the difference in a brain PET scan when native speakers discourse in the two languages.

      • Thanks for the tip regarding Okinawan people. Judging from the pictures that showed up on Google, I wouldn’t want to make that mistake if I meet one.

        I was never interested in learning another language per se. But I like to study languages for their structures, differences, etc. I once studied Lakota, the Native American language spoken in the movie *Dances with Wolves*. I sure wouldn’t talk that, but learning how they structured their sentence and what kind of words they used was cool. To you, a river is a river. For us French, we have two different words, depending of the size of the river, not unlike how you wouldn’t call a stream a river. The Lakota people had several different words, to distinguish rivers of different types and sizes, because that distinction was useful for them in their daily speech.

        You are right regarding the omitted articles. I really need to force myself in removing many of these that I would naturally type, because in French you can’t omit any. Recently, Spiders remarked that I was “less then comfortable with contractions”, meaning I didn’t use them enough. In French, a contraction (not an official structure) is a cheap way of talking, and you wouldn’t do that in formal speech and even less in writing. I have a hard time teaching myself that contractions are actually a normal rule of English and that my sentences are just as good and rich when I use them.

        Since you don’t really speak too languages, and since I like to learn by observing even myself… I am totally convinced that different languages are worked out in different areas of the brain. When I moved in Montréal (from a much smaller city) four years ago, I had to adapt to the fact that English and French are just equally used here (officially more French, but you meet with English speaking people almost everyday). It is not rare to see two people, one French and one English, talking to each other in their own native language. I got used to that now, but the first few times I had to participate in such a discussion my head hurt! Like really badly. You can talk to me in English all day and that’ll be fine. But one person speaking French and the other speaking English, at the same time, at each other… That’s how I figured I used two different parts of my brains, and that (until I got used to that) I couldn’t switch fast enough to follow both people. I normally just answer in whatever language the person is talking to me. Switching language mid-sentence (which is terribly common here) just doesn’t work well for me.

        Now if we go back to the Asian people who also speak an European language, I can totally get that they must have totally different and independent parts of their brains working out each language. At some point, my two parts must be linked to each other, the difference between English and French is very little when compared to any Asian language. Hell I make mistakes because I accidentally bring one word from one language to the other (usually at the level of using the wrong spelling), that means I somehow link the languages. They just can’t make such link.

        I totally can’t get how I’ve known people who can speak fluently and with no discernible accent more than two languages. I’ve known a girl that spoke English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. She had no perceptible accent in any of these (according to others, I couldn’t tell for two of these languages) and she could write just as well in any of these. Mind blown.

        • Some people are language savants. I used to think such a talent was a convenience of novelists (for an example look up the works of George MacDonald Fraser author of the Flashman books). But then I met one of my very first clients, a woman who could speak five languages at the Embassy level when I met her — French, Spanish and Russian were three of them, memory fails. Later she set up a business in Eastern Europe, coaching people who had grown up under Communism in the methods of operating a private enterprise. In two weeks she could manage almost anywhere, though she had to have courage about her mistakes. So many were obscene. She once ordered a pound of penises in a grocery, and in Romania she could not think of the word for beef in a butcher’s shop, and had to point to the meat case and say “Mooooo.” She married a Slovakian and when I heard the couple talk together, I could not distinguish the rhythms and accents of the native speaker and the learner.

      • On a related topic… It just came to mind as I hit Reply… I once read something about a man that became a curiosity to scientists/linguists/whatever. During his life, he spoke fluently 16 languages or so. But after an accident, he could only speak and understand 8 languages. They were curious to find how he totally lost half of his languages after the trauma, while being just as comfortable as before with the other half.

      • An aside re language fascination: I’ve always been impressed during some of our meetings between people in different geographies. We will have someone in Penang and someone in Bangalore and someone in Haifa and everyone’s speaking English and I can barely understand any of them yet they all seem to understand each other just fine.

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