My cat woke me up the other night. I’m not sure what time it was, probably around 3 am. I don’t think she has any concept of time at that level of granularity. She knows day from night and that is about it. Even if she could tell time, she wouldn’t care. She is a cat. Her schedule is set by the needs and wants of the moment. My schedule is unimportant.
I’m usually awake for at least a little while during the wee hours of the morning. I don’t even consider it insomnia unless it takes me more than two hours to fall back asleep. I try to dedicate a little of that time to giving the cat scritches. On this night, I was quite literally sleeping on the job as far as she was concerned so she kept batting my face with her paw until I came to.
I’m sure she likes me best at this hour. I’m not the mean dickhead who drags her off to the bathroom to give her medicine. I’m just a harmless space heater made from human meat who, through sheer repetition, has mastered the art of scratching her behind the ear or under the chin.
She will be 16 this summer and has been my cat for all of that time except for the first half year or so as a feral kitten in the backyard. When I adopted her (perhaps it was the other way around) at the end of 2001, I dubbed her Acoustic Kitty. I got the name from a recently declassified CIA experiment where they sewed a transmitter into a cat and sent it to spy on the Soviets in their embassy. The cat got run over by a taxi before she completed her first mission. I liked the story because it was gruesome and felt fine giving the cat that name because I knew she didn’t give a shit. Day to day, I just call her “Kitty,”but her full name is on file at Mission Pet Hospital where I’m sure they’ve seen a lot worse.
Kitty won’t be around for too many more years so I appreciate her while she’s still here. Sure she’s moody, self-involved, and criminally insane, but if those qualities bothered me I wouldn’t own a cat.
I idly petted her, listened to her purr, and let my mind wander in a pleasant direction. Too often I’m looking forward with worry and back with regret. It’s nice to let the brain head off sideways toward some topic of zero real importance. On this occasion, it was a celebrity impersonator from Vietnam whom I just made up.
There is an attitude among many Americans that our pop culture is the envy of the world and this person taking shape inside my head played into that notion. It couldn’t have been an American who impersonates a Vietnamese entertainer, mostly because I don’t know of any and was too lazy at this late hour to research them online. So instead of coming up with something refreshingly different, I stick to the trope of the star-struck foreigner whose object of emulation is where else but in the good ol’ US of A. To make this Vietnamese fellow extra quaint and adorable, he chooses an old-school Vegas performer and gives himself the stage name Hue Newton.
I didn’t share this play on words with Kitty. She wouldn’t care. She was happy with her cat thoughts, whatever they are, while resting her head on my outstretched hand and purring away.
My mind turned back to Hue Newton and the hostility he received on social media from both the left and right. It was a terrible misunderstanding that could have been avoided if more people knew that “Hue” is pronounced like “way.” Or perhaps it’s more like how Stewie Griffin pronounces “whey.” I’m not sure on that. The important thing was that it was not pronounced “Huey.”
Hue’s critics knew nothing about him or his act, but decided to go damn the facts and full speed ahead anyway. Conservatives thought he was glorifying Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, which they considered to be a terrorist organization. Progressives held Newton and the Black Panthers in much higher regard and assumed that whatever Hue was doing had to be some mix of crass commercialism and cultural appropriation. Hue repeatedly tried and failed to convince them that he was not Huey. After all, why would he take the name of the type of helicopter that killed his grandfather in 1968?
This was all riveting stuff, I told myself. It laid out American exceptionalism as a given while simultaneously elevating it above the stink of politics. I was proud of myself, proud of how unabashedly full of shit I was.
I wanted to share this moment with the cat as much as was possible, which pretty much meant giving her scritches while I basked in my smugness. Alas, she was gone. She had bailed while I was off in Daveland and was probably in the kitchen having a late-night meal.
I knew she’d be back before long. I was still her meaty space heater and a real pushover whenever she wanted attention. When she returned, it would be a beautiful thing just like when Hue and Wayne would finally meet in Las Vegas. There the impersonator and the real-life Sin City legend would look each other in the eye and say the two perfect words that were in a language foreign to them both: