Happiness, thought Blurtso, sitting on his haunches with his boxing-glove nose supported on his front left hoof. I see the others, he thought, moving here and there, sniffing and peering, obeying and straying, leading and following with a need on the pillow, a need that stirs them in the morning and settles them in the night. And somehow the reward emerges, from the silence and babble, from above or below, a series of notes rising, repeating in the sound of hoof after hoof after hoof.
Today’s question, said Harlan, is: “Where’s the door?”
The door? said Morton.
What door? said Frank.
There are lots of doors, said Chelsea.
You can’t swing a cat, said Frank, without hitting a door.
Maybe it’s a symbolic door, said Glouster.
An entrance door or an exit door? said Emma Lou.
Why do we want to find it? said Chelsea.
So we can get out, said Morton.
What if there’s no exit? said Frank.
Then we’ll have to stay here, said Morton, until we find it.
Or find an entrance, said Emma Lou.
An entrance? said Morton.
Yes, said Emma Lou, if we can’t get out, maybe we can get in.
Why do we want to go anywhere? said Morton.
That’s a good question, said Glouster.
To see what’s on the other side, said Chelsea.
The other side? said Morton.
Yes, said Chelsea, whenever I see a door, I wonder what’s on the other side.
Even when it says “do not enter”? said Morton.
Yes, said Chelsea, especially then.
Curiosity killed the cat, said Frank.
It did? said Morton.
If that’s true, said Chelsea, why arent’ there dead cats everywhere?
It’s an idiom, said Glouster.
An idiom? said Morton.
An idiom, said Glouster, is “a set expression of two or more words that means something other than the literal meaning of the individual words.”
Idioms, said Emma Lou, often have a basis in reality.
That’s true, said Frank, like the idiom, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Why would anyone want to skin a cat? said Morton.
It means, said Glouster, “There’s more than one way to do something.”
Or, “Who let the cat out of the bag,” said Frank.
Why would anyone put a cat in a bag? said Chelsea.
Lots of reasons, said Frank.
Like what? said Chelsea.
To stop cats, said Frank, from chasing birds.
Oh, said Chelsea.
I suppose birds aren’t fond of cats, said Morton.
No, said Frank.
What animals do donkeys dislike? said Emma Lou.
We like all animals, said Chelsea.
Except dogs, said Morton, when they’re nipping and yapping at your heels.
That’s true, said Chelsea, but some dogs are nice.
I don’t like crocodiles and alligators, said Glouster, they remind me of U-boats.
What’s a U-boat? said Chelsea.
A U-boat, said Glouster, is a submarine. The name comes from the anglicized version of the German word, “U-boot,” which comes from the word “Unterseeboot,” which means “under sea boat.” In World War II German U-boats plundered U.S. and Canadian merchant ships carrying supplies to allies in Western Europe.
I hate war, said Chelsea.
How does a submarine go under the sea, said Morton, without water leaking through the doors.
The doors, said Glouster, are air-tight. Nothing can get in or out.
There’s no exit? said Frank.
Not as long as the U-boat is underwater, said Glouster.
I don’t like to be trapped in closed spaces, said Frank.
Nor do I, said Glouster.
I don’t mind, said Emma Lou, as long as I can dig my way out.
“When one door closes,” said Glouster, “another one opens.”
Is that true? said Morton.
It’s an idiom, said Glouster, that means “When one opportunity is lost, another one presents itself.”
I’ve been in a barn, said Morton, that had two doors which were both closed.
What did you do? said Frank.
I stopped thinking about getting out, said Morton, and started thinking about something else.
You opened a door in your mind, said Emma Lou.
That’s right, said Morton.
Maybe that’s the door we should be looking for, said Frank.
The door in our mind? said Morton.
Yes, said Emma Lou, the door to imagination, to new perspectives, possibilities, and opinions.
I use that door all the time, said Chelsea.
It’s a very nice door, said Morton.
And it’s almost always open, said Emma Lou.
Almost? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Emma Lou, sometimes it’s closed by habits and prejudices we’ve adopted from those around us.
A Scottish journalist named Charles Mackay, said Glouster, wrote a book called, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
What’s it about? said Chelsea.
It’s a book about crowd psychology, said Glouster, and how individual delusion can become mass delusion.
Mass delusion, said Emma Lou, is called “reality.”
How can you tell, said Morton, if what you believe is a delusion?
That’s a good question, said Chelsea.
What’s the answer? said Frank.
I don’t know, said Morton, maybe that’s the door we should be looking for.
Hmm… it’s starting to rain. I wonder if I should go into a shop. If I do I’ll probably miss my bus, and then I’ll have to wait for the next one. And if it keeps raining I’ll miss that one and have to wait for the next one, and the next one… hmm… and then it’ll get dark, and the shop will close, and they’ll throw me out after the last bus leaves, and I’ll have to spend the night in the rain, and in the dark… hmm… unless I hitch-hike, but no one will stop for a wet donkey, not with a new car, unless someone does, someone with an old car that smells worse than a wet donkey… hmm… or someone who doesn’t bathe, or has bad intentions, or has a rifle, or owns a forced-labor copper mine… and I’ll be donkey-napped and flown to the mine on a private jet smuggling contraband, and military secrets, and I’ll be forced to work in the mine day and night, living on coca leaves and betel nut… hmm… knowing that the future of the world lays in my hooves if I can only escape and steal back the secrets, and I’ll have to bribe the guards, or sneak away while they’re smoking, and slip into the hills and build a raft, and sail it to the sea where I’ll board a steamer… hmm… and I’ll cross the Atlantic, until the ship hits an ice burg and sinks, and I’ll climb into a lifeboat which I’ll sail through the wreckage pulling out survivors… hmm… and they’ll all be grateful, all except one, the one who is a guard from the mine and has been following me, and is going to kill me the minute we reach Greenland…
Hey… it stopped raining.
Today’s question, said Pablo, is: “When is it too late?”
Too late for what? said Morton.
I didn’t do it, said Emma Lou.
Too late for planting? said Frank.
“Lateness,” said Glouster, is “arriving or remaining after the due, usual, or proper time.”
The proper time? said Chelsea. Who decides what is the proper time?
Your boss does, said Frank.
Or your teacher, said Glouster.
Or whoever makes the rules, said Morton.
Whoever has the power, said Emma Lou.
Michel Foucault, said Glouster, said: “The strategic adversary is fascism… the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates us.
Am I a fascist? said Chelsea.
I don’t think you’re a fascist, said Morton.
What’s a fascist? said Frank.
“Fascism,” said Glouster, is “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and stands for a central autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
That doesn’t sound like me, said Chelsea.
It can also mean, said Glouster, “a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control.”
Dictatorial control? said Morton.
A dictator, said Glouster, is “someone granted absolute power, often ruling oppressively.”
Do I have absolute power? said Chelsea.
Foucault goes on to say, said Glouster, “It is my hypothesis that the individual is not a pre-given entity which is seized upon by the exercise of power. The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.”
Seized on by the exercise of power? said Frank.
Does that mean, said Chelsea, that I’m a victim.
Both a victim, said Emma Lou, and a dictator.
Foucault adds, said Glouster, that “there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.”
Isn’t that a vicious circle? said Chelsea.
Yes, said Glouster.
How did we get caught, said Frank, in this vicious circle?
We were talking, said Emma Lou, about who decides what is too late and what is not too late.
Sometimes, said Frank, nature decides what is too late.
Yes, said Morton, like when it’s too late to plant pumpkins in order to have a good harvest in the fall.
Does that mean, said Chelsea, that nature is a fascist?
A fascist, said Emma Lou, that desires to be exploited by itself.
But I am a part of nature, said Morton. Does that mean I’m constantly exploiting myself?
Yes, said Emma Lou.
So if I grow a pumpkin, said Morton, then make a pumpkin pie, then eat it, I’m exploiting myself?
Yes, said Emma Lou.
In that case, said Morton, I should try to exploit myself more often.
When is it too late, said Chelsea, to plant pumpkins for a good harvest?
I don’t know, said Morton, I’ve never planted a pumpkin.
You haven’t? said Chelsea.
No, said Morton, I’ve always exploited the pumpkin someone else planted.
That’s shameful, said Chelsea.
Is it? said Morton.
What if, said Emma Lou, the person who planted the pumpkin derived pleasure from Morton’s exploitation of the pumpkin?
You mean, said Frank, the pleasure one gets from sharing with someone else?
Exactly, said Emma Lou.
That’s a good question, said Chelsea.
What would Foucault say? said Frank.
I’m not sure, said Glouster, I suppose he would say that the act of sharing is an act of exploitation, a disguised power-play designed to manipulate the recipient into a position of gratitude and subservience.
I think, said Chelsea, the world would be a better place if more of us went around exploiting each other by sharing.