People Meowing on Voicemail

catphoneIt has been an eventful month. I’ve lost all track of time, but it was the beginning of October when I started this blog. After a frustrating few days trying to learn the WordPress language, I think I finally have a handle on things, and I am happy with how it is turning out.

I am grateful to everyone who follows the blog, and especially those of you who take the time to read some of my stuff and comment. Really, that makes it all worth doing.

I’ve put over a hundred pieces online in the last month, so I know some of you are sick of seeing the irobert emails telling you another new post is up. That madcap pace will level off now, but I still plan to post 4 or 5 pieces a week.

I was looking through the site stats, and I love how detailed WordPress gets with the figures; I know which country reads the most, what time of day is best for you, and what sort of works most catch your attention. The most interesting category, though, is ‘search word results.’

I was reminded of one of the old blogs I kept, or maybe the old site I kept. At the time I would look at the stats and one that struck me as curious was the search word results, and ‘igloos’ was always on the list. This means someone typed ‘Igloos’ into Google and somehow wound up on my site. I still don’t really get it, but it was the impetus for me to name a short story collection ‘Igloos’ in a sort of if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them mentality.

igloosSo that was years ago, and was mostly forgotten about until the other day when I was browsing through my stats here, and particularly the ‘Search Word Results’. Some of them are obvious; Fiction, Surreal, Songs, Chicago– all this makes sense and it’s easy enough to see the connection. But one stood out on its own, ‘People who make cat meow sounds on answering machines’.

Someone typed this into Google, and wound up here. It’s just so odd and random and strangely specific. I don’t quite understand, but if this is you, I hope you will speak up and let me know what you were actually looking for and what you think about what you’ve found. Curiouser and Curiouser.

I will not be naming my newest short story collection ‘People Who Make Cat Meow Sounds on Answering Machines’ mostly because it’s just a little long. But maybe I will make a point to write some more cat-centric stories, felines who have trouble setting up their cell phone voice mail settings or something like that.

It’s just a little odd, but unless this is the first post of mine you’ve ever read, you know I like things at least a little odd.

So, thank you all for reading, however you came upon my site, be it a link you found written on the back of a business card, or in a google search looking for cat impersonators for your outgoing message. Glad you’re all here, ecstatic that I write some things that people get a kick out of reading, and dedicated to spreading a whole lot more weirdness into all of your lives…

© Robert Emmett McWhorter


‘Unraveling’ by Robert Emmett. Now Featured at Eat,Sleep, Write.

Fezby was still here, working out and rewriting his memoirs for publication. He usually destroyed his surroundings with his mad writing process. He wrote his first novel, ‘An Unkillers Request for Weird Fruit’, in the home he shared with his wife and two children. It’s the reason he’s no longer married and forbidden to see the kids.

Shortly after completing the final draft, Fezby’s house was condemned, deemed a disaster area. In the course of six months and a hundred twenty thousand words of literary enlightenment, he had caused his house to rot in its frame and finally crumble inward like stardust scattering from his critically acclaimed manuscript.

Read the full story:

Barking Up the Ancestral Tree

391090_10150475755449595_1079669056_nI’m of the belief that each language has limits on what it can contain. I also believe the language we think in influence our attitude and outlook to some degree. We think about things differently in English than someone speaking French or Aramaic just because of the parameters set by the words we can use. Different definitions, but more- different nuance, subtle differences in connotation more than meaning.

I think every language we lose is another tool we no longer have for studying and understanding this wacky world around us. Math is the language of science and is able to describe many of the wonders of the Universe in definite and concrete terms, but Math can’t convey the wonder. It is not possible to write awestruck existential poetry in the language of quadratic equations.

One thing that makes us Humans stand out as a species is the complexity and sophistication of our linguistic systems. I don’t believe we are alone, but farther ahead. Few would argue that Dolphins and other intelligent animals do not have a language of their own. Audio signals meant to convey ideas, feelings and instruction.

The sounds made by domesticated animals were once considered crude and carrying very little meaning. This notion has recently been overturned, many scientists as well as dog and cat owners will acknowledge there are different meanings for the different sounds they make, although they do convey a good deal more non-verbally.

In the wild, dogs and cats and their immediate relatives do not use barks or meowing as a way to communicate with each other. These are, in fact, rudimentary languages our pets have developed specifically for humans, to be able to converse on a basic with their people.

Our own systems are intricate, refined by several thousand generations of evolution and adaptation. Sometime recently, in the grander perspective, we learned to convert our words into visual symbols, no longer must we draw a bird to conjure the thought of a bird. The written word has been around five to fifteen thousand years, depending who you ask, but again in the big picture it is a splitting of hairs.

The impact of the written word is probably comparable to the impact the first spoken language had on us and our intelligence. The written word seems permanent, and carries great weight. There is still, this late in our own game, a percentage of the population that will believe something true simply because it is written, rather than spoken. If someone took the time to scratch it into a recognizable combination of characters placed in specific order to convey the idea, it had to be true.

Writing is not the only adaptation we have made of our languages, only the most sophisticated and inspired. We have also learned to communicate through a system of raised bumps, for those who cannot see.

COHERERWe have used blinking lights to exchange information, smoke signals, flags held at different angles, electric pulses converted and read as dots and dashes, and indeed even primitive ritual drumming which became akin to a political broadcast for neighboring tribes and approaching enemies.

A selection of beats and rhythmic patterns, and subtle variations applied to each could inform anyone within earshot of our latest achievements or intentions.

I won’t be surprised when the Archeologists or Historians announce proof that the first attempts at mechanical reproduction of rhythm was invented by ‘primitive’ societies such as these, and indeed the very first drum machines were created as an early attempt at the answering machine.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Cat & Cockatiel

Today’s exercise in my Writing Group was ‘Pick one bird and show it to someone who has never seen a bird.’

Photo219I want to say it was a Cockatiel, but it’s been so many years; and never having seen a bird, the name wouldn’t mean much to you.

But it was a shocking color of white, brighter than Hector, my cat. And quite unlike the cat’s fur, which either juts out chaotically to do as it pleases, or lays against the skin soft and composed; the texture of the bird’s feathers, they rippled almost like a cloud might, or the foamy, overlapping of river rapids; my first impression of the bird was that it had been an attorney or judge in Victorian England, and still liked to show off its white powdered wig.

But there was an intelligence there, I could see it. Not like with a cat or a dog, that you can look on directly and get a glimpse of their empathy. The way the eyes are set on the bird, it had to turn its head sideways to get a good look at you.

And it kept its head moving, twitching to focus on something new every few seconds, probably just habit for this type of animal, but it reminded me of someone distracted, after too much coffee, watching the mailbox for their paycheck to arrive.

My cat, also, was quite taken by the bird, but in a different way. Hector was still mostly a kitten at a time. But she was a natural hunter, and the bird brought out something primal in her.

My neighbor had invited us up, and I felt bad when Hector started slowly stalking toward the cage. Of course, the bird was in no danger, it couldn’t escape, and the cat couldn’t get in. But you can’t explain details like that to bird or cat.

So Hector was slowly making her move, approaching the cage, her body crouched and quiet and preparing to pounce.

The bird turned it’s head sideways to look directly at her and said ‘Pretty Kitty’.

I have never before, probably not since either, seen a cat so shocked. She knew humans could talk, and she knew birds were for hunting. She was quite taken aback to hear this food, this prey, speaking to her. She remained curious, but completely gave up trying to eat it; and never really bothered with the bird ever again.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Advertising Animals

374112_10150475755354595_182892415_nPostcards from the End of the World (excerpt)
Fit 2 Whereabouts, Section VII

You are standing in the sundial garden. It is dark. Presently, you look about you and find that you are enclosed by walls and a high ceiling, you are underground.

You see now a dim, distant light, probably originating in the middle of the giant, horizontal clock. Intently listening, you hear whispering. Half inaudible, silence and rustling of leather, and… something gelatinous.

You are blinded by a sudden light. When you are able to refocus your eyes, you inexplicably find yourself standing in the parking lot of a supermarket, surrounded by shopping carts and cars. You compose yourself, deciding to legitimize your visit by going in and buying something.

“I’ll beat them at their own game.” you mutter under your breath, grinning at old frozen ladies drolly rolling past you with full carts, “I needed to go shopping anyway.”

Entering through the auto-let-in Transec X-ray carbonizing smell-o-vac system, you find yourself surrounded by large, colorful species of advertisements, jumping around their metal jungle, feeding on the weak shoppers; welfare prunes and food-stampers.

These strange animals (known commonly as Andees) are the result of scanning living organisms, such as rabbits and chimpanzees, onto a computer. The mad scientists and IBM jerks mess around with the animals digitized genetics to form new and peculiar animals whose main purpose is to catch your attention at any cost and sell you their clients product, whose name is usually spelled out, along with their logo, in the animals hide.

“Oh, look at the cute monkey! What does it say on his back? Oreo’s? Oh, let’s get some!” Also, some Andees talk.

Wondering around to the pay lanes, you quickly scan the headlines of the newspapers and magazines, only one catches your eye: a news article reporting the mad escapades of several gangs of dogs who, ex-domesticated and forced to earn their own keep, have taken to breaking into humans homes and stealing food and such.

You pause, not stopping but just barely walking with your head turned to read about how some of the dogs had adapted nicely, and were working government jobs, child care occupations, and tobacco farming.

Suddenly, a small green blobby melon-shaped cat catches your eye and immediately starts toward you. You veer to the left, picking up your pace as you head for the produce section. Almost directly behind you is the feline Andee, digitally intent upon making a sale. Vegetables are much safer.

“Hey, darlin'”, the cat purrs from behind you, “C’mon baby, gimme a chance!” On the cats back you see that against its green fur is a patch of purple that reads: “Instant Death brand cigarettes” with their world famous logo; a man intently and calmly contemplating a rather phallic looking cigarette while simultaneously being stabbed, hung, drawn and quartered, guillotined, axe-murdered, drive-by’ed and biochemically annihilated. The cat light up a smoke and offers you one. You decline with silent contempt.

“Have you ever even tried Instant Death brand cigarettes?” the cat looks away and purrs lithely, blowing out sensual blue smoke rings.

“Shut your hole and get outta my face! I’m not interested,” you quicken your pace.

“Aw, come on, you fachin’ hypocrite! At least give it a try before you piss on it and condemn it to hell! That’s all I’m Asking!”

You try to get ahead of it, heading for the onions and apples. More people are being harassed by a large group of dog-like Andees, which is gathering around them, barking and dancing, trying to desperately entertain. But causing the people to freeze in fear, screaming, shitting and pissing themselves.

“Isidro!” you shout, seeing the little man wearing the stores uniform, sweeping up the produce aisle, “Get me out of here!” You see the cat still approaching, but it is becoming nervous because of the ill entertaining dogs. Isidro smiles and nods at you in utter incomprehension.

“Um, uh…¡Necesito me voy!” you say.

“Oh… ¡oh, si!” he drops his broom, still smiling, and rushes over to the lettuce display. You walk up to him and see that Isidro has uncovered a secret passageway behind the bin that hold the lettuce. You stare at him, dumbfounded, as he gestures for you to climb up into the bin.

Quickly, you climb up onto the rack, over the desolate lettuce, crushed, and set yourself down the hole, sliding.

© 1993 Robert Emmett McWhorter