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Eat the World

Posted Feb 09 2012 10:59am

When we were little, my brother had a picture book he loved, by Jack Kent, called The Fat Cat. It's about a cat who's asked to watch a pot of gruel while it cooks, only he winds up eating the gruel and then the pot and then the old woman who asked him to watch it in the first place. And then he goes along his way and meets people, and they all say things like, "Oh my, cat. You are so fat," and he winds up eating them, too, eating just about everyone he meets, including a couple of characters called Skalinkenlot and Skahottentot and five birds in a flock and a bunch of dancing girls and a lady with a pink parasol and a parson with a crooked staff...

I was thinking about that book this morning because we have a dog like that. His motto is, "You never know, it might be food." Or in the alternate translation: "If in doubt, eat it." Whenever he goes on a walk around the neighborhood, he treats it like one long last pass at the buffet table. Whenever we come home after being out for many hours, we say to one another while ascending the stairs, "Let's see if he ate the world this time." And whenever he and I are having an especially tender snuggle, and he is gazing with his limpid brown eyes lovingly into my own, I have the unpleasant suspicion that what shines in his vision is not my own true image, but, à la the cartoons, a large, vaguely human-shaped steak.

As a teenager, I started my college application essay by quoting from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
"Do I dare/Disturb the universe?" ... "Do I dare to eat a peach?"
I had no idea I might one day find this embarrassing, no idea I was being anything but terribly original and profound. And yet - the notion of creating disturbance, and of linking disturbance with appetite and pleasure, was profound for me, in ways I could not begin to articulate. (And, indeed, did not: I have no memory of the rest of my college application essay, but feel confident it went downhill from there.)

Sometimes, when the dog has been particularly voracious on a walk, attempting to devour not only the breadcrumbs one neighbor routinely scatters on the lawn for the birds; not only the odd piece of chewing gum, half-frozen to the sidewalk; not only the broken bits of eggshell and coffee grounds sprinkled as fertilizer beneath a row of shrubs; not only the ambiguous mound of yellowish damp stuff that might be either sodden corn chips or else vomit - but even another of his own kind, another dog - then I come home feeling very glum. Why oh why, I wonder, did I wind up with a dog of such rampant and egregious appetites?

And I look him despairingly in the eye, and stroke his seal-like crown, and he wags his bottom half and sits, front paws close placed together, almost demure, and he cranes his black nose searchingly, earnestly, inquiringly toward my own, and I think, "Are you my teacher, then?" And I think, "So teach me. Teach."
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