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By Pam Burke 

The only thing as strange as cats


I wonder about people. I wonder so much that sometimes I think a childhood accident must have stunted the growth of that brain part that reads body language. I can read animals better than I can people.

Except cats. Cats make me wonder, too.

Like when my cat sees a bird he’d like to snack on but knows he can’t get to, he drops his mouth open into a stiff, gap-faced smile, emits a raspy chatter and twitches his face so hard his whiskers bounce, all while staring at the birds with crazy eyes. I don’t know why he does this.

He looks like he’s been hitting a secret stash of high-end, pharmaceutical-grade lab rats and needs to be sent into detox in a little kitty straight jacket. But I know that’s not true, so I just wonder about his baffling behavior.

I have wondering thoughts about people, wonders that could be classified as big.

Why, for example, would someone embezzle money from a charitable fund, like children’s organization? How is it that the person saw the tykes out there screwing up the courage to sell candy bars and raffle tickets to gain a dollar here or there to beef up their budget, and that swindler thought: “Ha-hah! My minions are raking in the dough for my next trip to the steakhouse and casino!” Instead of: “Here, cute little tyke, here’s a fiver for one raffle ticket and the promise you won’t come back for a week.”

And what’s up with murderers and serial killers? Sure, we’ve all talked about doing it — what? Oh, please, you’ve said, “I could just kill (insert name of aggravating person here)!” — but who really does that sort of thing?

Experts say these people often look just like us. I’ve seen some of the mug shots and would, respectfully, say not always. Sometimes they look like they are capable of murderous intent.

But whether they look the part or not, I wonder what is going on upstairs that they say, “I could just kill that guy! Ah, what the heck, I got time before lunch.” or “I keep saying I’m going to do it, but then I don’t get it done. I’m gonna go do something for myself, for a change.”

But mostly I wonder about the little things.

What does that facial expression mean? Why did you say that? What makes you smile? How can I annoy you? Why did you ask that? What makes that of value to you? Why would you drive a car that color? How in the world did you get to be so smart? Were you born with that? How is it you can make me laugh every time? Why are you looking at me like that? What? What?!

Most of the time I would walk a mile in someone’s shoes just to understand them. Well, OK, you caught me. Yes, my feet are really big so I would have to duct tape some people’s shoes to the bottom of my feet to make it work, but I’d still go the mile … and, of course, apologize for the condition of their shoes when I got done.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how people make me wonder-full because I’ve been doing a lot of interviews for work.

The idea of interviews terrifies me because they involve interaction with people, but I have to admit, the actual interviews go pretty OK, in general. I manage to make some of them painful, but generally people are nice and generous with their time and expertise.

I just have to get past the first wave of terror when initiating the interview and tap into that thing in my brain that makes me wonder, then ask those questions.

Where I trip up usually is when I take that moment to mentally duct tape their shoes to my feet and wonder what they are wondering. The next thought I have is always something like: I wonder if you are looking at me and thinking “why does she stretch her mouth into a stiff, gap-faced smile, emit a raspy chatter and twitch her face so hard ... while staring at me with those crazy eyes?”

(I’m not a cat, but I played one once in a school play at pam@viewfromthenorth40.com.)


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