T.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 35 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 to ask a seemingly relevant question at the end. Little do they suspect that this ability is the very secret, the kernel, the Zen of the professorial vocation. I have practiced this form of Zen, which is also known as Cheyne-Stokes breathing, all over the US and at innumerable seminars and conferences in many other countries.

§     §     §

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 feeling of kinship with the feline community?

I no longer enjoy the services of a full-time cat at my home, but 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 residence 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 James Bond. All I saw of his departure was a blue blur heading toward and through any exit available. Sometimes it is not even clear how the blue blur exits the house, but out it gets.

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: in short, 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 cats. But cats, we just concluded, are appealing because they are like stuffed animals.

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 nice cat-nap.

--- Dr. Phage

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