from Ides of March, 2004
Dear Orville Slack IV,
Recently I moved into a wonderful neighborhood. What makes it wonderful is that there are no families with teenagers. Most of my neighbors are widows. Most of these widows keep pets for companionship reasons. Most of these pets are cats. Most of these cats are amateur tree-climbers.
I am the only male on our block. In the eyes of these wonderful widows, I would make a perfect husband except for the fact that I am a young, struggling artist. Unfortunately I am not a trapeze artist, though my widows have it in their minds that there is no difference between an artist who paints pictures of animals and an artist who climbs trees to retrieve cats posing as amateur acrobats.
Am I making myself clear?
—Exhausted in Emporia
You are making yourself perfectly clear. Slack gets many letters similar to yours, though few are written with such pathos.
No neighborhood is complete without the member who collects animals. For reasons that have never been made clear, the pet of choice is the common household cat. Cats have an uncanny ability to climb up trees. Strangely, however, most of them are deficient in the skill of climbing down. Equally strangely, a majority of their owners have no idea how to retrieve them.
This is where you come in.
Slack has simple, straightforward advice for those, be they artists or persons of a lesser calling, who are confronted with the desperate neighbor, often a widow, who seeks aid in retrieving her cat.
When she comes to your door with her problem, Slack suggests the following steps.
—Calm her down.
—Cite statistics that show how seldom a treed cat will plunge to its death.
—Remind her of the number of lives a cat is said to possess.
—Assure her that this legendary sum has a basis in fact.
—Gently inform her of the existence of professionals who specialize in the retrieval of treed animals.
—Advise her that she, as a taxpayer, is eligible for their free service.
—Lead her to your telephone.
—Present her with the number of the local fire department.
If you follow this simple procedure, advises Slack, everybody will end up happy.