When someone gives you a gift that has a name, you should pay close attention to what they say. This happened to me—my not paying attention—when a dear friend named Jenny was moving to Boston and gave me her cat. I assumed that the cat was French because when Jenny told me his name I thought she said “Simone.” Now I spell it “Simone” with an -e because in English, if I spell it Simon, we would say “Simon” as in “Simon says,” even though in French it would be “Simone” as in “Simon dit.” And that is why I thought he was French, because his name was not Simon but Simone, with the emphasis not on the penult but on the ultima.
And thus, I spoke exclusively French with the cat. Now admittedly, my French isn’t perfect, but presumably neither was his; in fact he knew no French at first, as his real name wasn’t Simone but rather “Sumo” because he walked like a Sumo wrestler. But, as I said, I hadn’t paid proper attention when I was given him as a gift and, because Jenny moved to Boston, there really wasn’t much follow up conversation about the cat, besides, “How’s he doing?” “Has he adjusted?” once or twice by telephone. And the answer was, “Yes,” and “He seems to know quite a lot of French,” to which she didn’t really respond; by her tone, she sounded a bit perplexed, I think, by what must have seemed to her a strange statement; but, she made no real response, and thus for a season I remained in the dark about Simone’s actual ethnicity.
It was, in fact years later that I learned that Simone had been spuriously named and, what is more, spuriously enfranchised as a Frenchman. But he learned French even though he had to start from scratch. And he did so because he was smart, genuinely so. For he also learned to use the toilet. He did that by watching our children stand in line for the bathroom on a school day. Each would use the bathroom as quickly as possible and then the next, and so forth (seven children, all pretty patiently waiting). And then, far back at the end of the line was Simone, the spurious Frenchman. Il a attendu patiemment, et il est allé au W.C. faire la même chose que les autres. He would climb up on the toilet seat to relieve himself directly into the commode. This was an amazing way to save money on kitty litter (litière pour chat), and made for no messy clean up (tout propre).
And so it went, year in and year out, until the children all left the house. Simone was, without doubt, the most intelligent cat we ever had. He didn’t like to be petted for very long, but did like it more than Piazza. He spoke only French, liked only dry cat food, and was the only cat I ever had who really deserved to be arrogant, for he earned it.
If you want a cat like Simone, my advice is this: speak exclusively French to the cat. It will lead him or her to believe he is smart and sophisticated. Then, let him observe your children in the morning. And then, of course, give him full access to the bathroom or spa. And, voilà! You’ll have a super sophisticated pussy who deserves to be treated like French royalty, and you’ll never have to change your kitty litter.
As Simone would have said, jusqu’à la prochaine fois…