CareerT.E. Lawrence wrote:
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.
Unaccountably, T.E. did not include my own category, those who sleep at night, and then go to work by day and get plenty of sleep there as well. I find that taking cat-naps four or five times a day helps to keep me in the pink, and the ivy-covered halls of academe, with their windy faculty meetings and frequent seminars, have long provided an ideal venue for this practice.
I first understood that I was well suited to the academic life back in college when I attended my first academic seminar. It was a veritable epiphany: the room was warm, a speaker at the front was doing the equivalent of counting sheep for me, and then the lights went out for the first slide; I settled back comfortably in my chair, and knew no more until the lights came back on after the last slide. I realized then that I had discovered a true calling, like Paul on the road to Damascus.
My career of sleeping through seminars continued in graduate school. One time, I was seated next to the Associate Director of our institute, a tough-talking biochemist who was reputed to have mob connections. Everyone referred to him as Big Al.
Realizing that I was seated in a sensitive location, I fought to retain consciousness as the speaker droned on and on, and actually made it to the third slide before I retired to never-never land, slumping sideways at the same time so as to use Big Al for a pillow. When the seminar ended I awoke, refreshed as always, and looked blinkingly around. Turning to my left, I made eye contact with Big Al, who was fixing me in a stare that would freeze helium. "Ya feel bedduh now?" he growled.
Fortunately, Big Al was not on my Ph.D. thesis committee, and in due course I earned that key of entry into the academic world. It has been a long and rewarding career since then. Several years ago, I underwent a medical procedure on one eye. I was told I must sleep sitting up for ten days or so. No problem. I had already had thirty-five years of practice.
Beginning grad students regularly marvel at the ability of us veterans to spend an entire seminar, qualifying exam, or thesis defense in the arms of Morpheus, and then rouse at the end to ask a seemingly relevant question. Little do they suspect that this ability is the secret, the kernel, the very Zen of the professorial vocation. I have practiced this form of Zen, which is also known as Cheyne-Stokes breathing, at innumerable seminars and conferences all over the civilized world. My long career, which might appear arduous from a superficial viewpoint, has actually been extraordinarily restful.
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Reviewing this career, I cannot help but be reminded of that old New Yorker cartoon in the form of a recruiting poster: "Join the Cat Navy and get to sleep in ports all over the world." Could this be the reason for my lifelong feeling of kinship with the feline community?
As things have worked out, I no longer enjoy the services of a full-time cat at my home. However, I do have two visiting cats who come to work part-time. Sarge, whose official residence is a couple of blocks away, is an orange tabby with polydactyly of his forepaws and a winning manner. We have a special cat entrance for him at a back window, loosely covered by a cloth flap. Sarge can be relied upon to come in this way several times each day, and immediately ask to be let out at the front door.
In addition to providing this service, he also does a complete inspection tour of the house, at least if he is not let out too soon. There is no warm nook or soft spot in the house too obscure for him to overlook; in fact, he spends more time testing these spots in my house for their sleep-worthiness than he spends at his official home. Occasionally, Sarge's owner telephones to leave a message for him.
As a back-up, I employ Dusty, a fluffy, grey-blue Russian who patrols the front porch most of the day. His official headquarters is across the street, and unlike Sarge, he never sleeps, but always keeps watch. Perhaps the Russian Blue breed has some kinship with the NKVD, or the earlier Okhrana, the Tsar's secret police. In any case, Dusty always moves with the stealthy air of a secret agent, perpetually looking around for enemy operatives. He accepts being petted or offered some food on the front porch with elaborate wariness, always poised for flight.
Dusty occasionally sneaks into my domicile to photograph classified documents, incidentally filching a little of the food left for Sarge. His stealth is such that I have never caught him in the act of slipping into the house. But I have discovered him already inside on a few occasions, at which times he escaped with the speed and agility of a four-legged Agent 007. All I have ever seen of his departure is a blue blur heading toward and through any exit available. Sometimes it is not at all clear how the blue blur exits the house [is it able to pass through walls?] but out it gets, after which Dusty no doubt assumes another identity for a time.
As a result of communing with these creatures, I have arrived at a theory to explain why cats are so appealing. They are soft, furry, cuddly, and the right size to pick up: exactly like the stuffed animals we all played with as children. They are, in short, animated stuffed animals, stuffed with themselves. But then, the question arises of why stuffed animals were so appealing to us when we were children. The answer must be that they are like real animals, such as, for example, cats. But cats, we just concluded, are appealing precisely because they are like stuffed animals. We seem to be caught in a loop.
I see that continuing on this line of thought could be dangerous for my diminished supply of grey cells. Perhaps what I need is a cat-nap. I have been taking even more cat-naps of late, since I came down with an academic condition called Emeritis. Now that I am Emeritus, I no longer have to ask all those seemingly relevant questions at the ends of seminars. All I need to do nowadays is to stretch, blink, look around, and discover that everybody else has already left, sometimes an hour or two earlier. When not enjoying these restful seminars, I can generally be found in my University office these days, handling the weighty academic responsibilities that remain to us Emeritii.
First, of course, there is the academic mail: I take up one University notice after another, and painstakingly fold each one into an Origami bird-shape. This is a demanding project, not to be undertaken lightly. Next comes processing the day's e-mail, which calls for the careful judgment in deciding among the tons of spam for elimination. On some days, after these projects are complete, there is still a little time for a bit of web-surfing before my mid-morning pre-nap nap. In short, Emeritusness is rather like the earlier stages of my brilliant career, or life in the cat community, only more so.--- Dr. Phage