I almost never do requests here. I think I’ve done three or four before now. This week, though, I have been talked into doing not one but two requests. Both requests come from Real Change reporter Ashley Archibald.
One of them was to review the currently playing “Cats” film. She hasn’t seen it, doesn’t think she’ll like it, and thought it would be nice to see me echo her own feelings by panning it. At first I thought, “No way.”
I hardly ever watch movies in theaters. In the 1980s I walked out of at least 50 movies 45 minutes or less into them out of sheer boredom. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I can watch a long movie if it has an alien controlling the bodies of dead humans and if Kyle MacLachlan is in it. That’s what I call a good story. Otherwise I can’t usually last much more than 20 minutes without thinking “When is something really going to happen?” and “Am I dead yet?”
I’m not going to see the film “Cats” in a theater. So writing a bad review is a challenge. But then I started thinking, “Hey, that’s right! It’s a challenge. Cool.”
The same way I am with movies, I am with writing. I’m not a marathon reader, I’m a sprint reader. I should like “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot, because it’s a string of stylistically related but otherwise disjointed poems about anthropomorphized cats that I can read one at a time and recharge in between.
But no, the little book of poems by Eliot, which the original musical was based upon, contains all the cat characters of the musical. Cat characters with names like Admetus, Demeter, Mistoffelees, Macavity, Munkustrap, Bombalurina, Jellylorian, Pennyanydots and Growltiger (“Woe to the weak canary, that fluttered from its cage, Woe to the pampered Pekinese, that faced Growltiger’s rage…”) are best recited while sipping on a martini with a daisy stood up in it.
Griddlebone, Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer and an entire gang called the Jellicles.
And on and on and all with personalities to match their names, and sometime in the 1970s Andrew Lloyd Webber made songs out of their poetic descriptions, because there were no internet cat memes in those days to keep him out of trouble. One misdemeanor led to another and “Cats,” the West End musical, was enabled, after which the Broadway version was foisted.
Now, I have to say I actually saw perhaps 20 minutes of a performance captured on film of one of these, so I must have been able to tolerate it that long. But I’m pretty sure I wasn’t really paying attention. I was probably in a self-medicated state.
It was bad enough I watched people dancing around and singing in skin-tight cat outfits for up to 20 minutes. Now I’m expected to stick through the same thing for 1 hour and 50 minutes of CGI designed to make the tails move realistically? And there’s still barely a plot?
Moving along to the other request, which is like unto the first. I’m to say what I think of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s homeless biometric tracking proposal, without having seen it work.
Other people have done this. The claim is that keeping track of homeless people using services will be made more efficient. Is this really the part of the homeless crisis that right now begs for the most efficiency? Would it not be more efficient to just take it for granted that there are too many people homeless without keeping track of them, and actually get on with doing something about the real problem?
Just before the end of “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the author makes up for the long procession of too-human feline characters by admitting that they are stand-ins for humans. Cats are “much like you and me.” “For some are sane and some are mad / And some are good and some are bad / And some are better, some are worse — But all may be described in verse.”
Then Eliot begins to get to a point: “How would you ad-dress a cat?” he says, now being blatantly metaphorical.
He correctly notes that a cat is a cat, not a dog. You wouldn’t walk up to a cat and say, “O Dog!” And he goes on to suggest some displays of respect like a saucer of cream, or caviar, should precede familiarities.
I don’t think it will surprise anyone that T.S. Eliot does not recommend thumb-printing the cat.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at drwes (at) realchangenews (dot) org
Read the full Jan. 1-7 issue.
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