Pappy works as a parking attendant and when not parking cars plays with his friend kitten. Kitten is a sentient whirlwind that Pappy plays with by feeding her streamers torn from newspaper. Pete is a newspaper reporter whose favorite subject is the corrupt mayoral administration of his town. The concept of a living whirlwind is a bit much for him; however Pappy proves kitten has a mind by giving her Pete’s hat and then having her return it. Pete accepts this as evidence of her sentience. Pete is writing a column about the inadequate trash collection service provided by the mayor’s brother in law, nepotism you know, and comes up with the idea of finding a piece of old newspaper that has been blowing around the streets for at least a year. Kitten does one better by providing him with one of her toys; a fifty year old front page from 1898 entitled DEWEY INVADES MANILA. Pappy is arrested when he tells kitten not to give the police the headline but is released when Pete points out how silly they look claiming that he has committed a crime by talking to a whirlwind. After that the police try to capture Kitten with a street cleaning vacuum and failing at that set up to destroy her with a bazooka. They desist when Pete points out that they are planning to use high explosives in the middle of town. Pete prints his column and takes it to show Pappy. Pappy is missing but kitten knows where he is which she communicates to Pete by throwing a paper with a hotel room number on it. Pete rescues Pappy but the kidnappers try to escape by car. Pete and Kitten give chase which ends when Kitten throws a load of trash on their car. Pete, knowing that the local cops are crooked calls the local FBI office. Federal agents arrive and arrest the kidnappers who turn in the corrupt mayor as their employer in this crime. The story ends with a celebration honoring the new mayor and for Kitten who has been made an honorary citizen.
As mentioned in my previous post I am reviewing Heinlein’s short fiction first. This story and the previous are from a book entitled 6XH. The others are The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, The Man Who Traveled in Elephants, All You Zombies and He Built a Crooked House. Two of these I loved, three were good reading and one I still haven’t figured out yet.
This one was good reading, but it lacked any real substance. A little bit of a diversion and not much else. It is a Heinlein story though, and I am used to looking for a message within, so what could have motivated him in this, what was he thinking other than to earn his living. So I started looking at what made this story unique and obviously it was Kitten. I don’t believe that a whirlwind could truly be alive nor do I think the author expected his reader to believe. But what if? What if such a thing could be? I won’t try to claim that we humans are the only intelligent species on earth, which would obviously be false. My dog Ananda is very smart, that’s her in the picture with me. We do not however exist on the same level. Still, she is a person to me, with her own moods and her own perspective. A woman I dated some time ago had a dog named Freddy. He was a cute little mongrel that had at least some poodle in his family tree. I think her opinion of Freddie’s intellect was slightly higher than her opinion of mine. One morning Freddy had urinated in the house and was appropriately punished, the mess was cleaned up and she went to work. As she was relating this incident to me she said that she had intended to punish him again when she got home but refrained because she loved him so much. I tried explaining to her that dogs have only the ability for short term associations and that punishing him again would only be confusing. Her response, Freddy would understand. Anthropomorphization; it’s my favorite big word. It is defined as ascribing human characteristics to a non human. Freddy had been anthropomorphized. People who talk to and name their cars are doing this as well. And they will imagine that the vehicle does in some way recognize them. Many children have invisible friends, I know I did, his name was Charlie and he was a ghost who lived in the attic. He was that special someone to whom I could tell anything without fear of scorn. And that’s what we are all looking for, my friend the car, the dog, the tree, the house, the ghost, the whatever. Even, I think, the book or the whirlwind. In Heinlein’s novella The Man Who Sold the Moon the central character D. D. Harriman talks of what it would mean to find people on other planets. Of how we would no longer be alone in our self awareness. Of how we could gain different insights on everything that we have had to think of for ourselves. Ah, what a grand dream. But in the meantime we will continue to invent our own friends with those characteristics which we find most appropriate.
The rational anarchist