Monday, August 9, 2010

The cat and the art of manipulation

You may love cats, but I despise them – especially mine. She comes into my bedroom early in the morning, cries her pathetic cat cries until I get up and open the front door for her, then she’s off to hunt mice or whatnot without so much as a thank you, which makes me despise her even more.

But maybe it’s not the cat I despise. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I can’t stand the thought of being manipulated by a furry creature that licks itself, coughs up hairballs, then sleeps the day away like there’s no work to be done.

Maybe I despise the cat because it has no work to do. Or maybe I despise the act of manipulation.

We see it all the time: TV companies build bigger sets in the hopes of enticing us to buy one. Car manufacturers offer “killer deals” in the hopes of clearing their lots of unsold cars. Women manipulate their men into doing the dishes or painting the walls peach. And daughters manipulate their fathers into giving them money so they can buy vampire posters to put on the wall, freaking out the grandparents when they come to visit.

Men, of course, don’t know how to manipulate others. We are ignorant of such devices. To even give thought to the act is foreign to our minds.

Men are straight forward. We say what we’re thinking. If we want another cookie, we’ll ask for another cookie without a hint of subterfuge. If we crave another bowl of ice cream, we won’t revert to coercion or exploitation to get one – we’ll fix it ourselves. Yes, there is “man” in manipulation, but the concept is as foreign to us as is wearing pantyhose beneath our business suits – well, at least for most of us.

Manipulation is everywhere, and we see systemic examples of it every time we shop at a mall or grocery store.

For example: Company A is in the business of selling socket wrenches. They position their wares in artistic arrangements to attract attention. You, walking by, can’t remember the last time you used the socket wrenches you have, so you choose to purchase a new set, just in case you’ve lost your old set. Besides, can a person really have too many socket wrenches?

Another example: You’re in the grocery store buying chips and salsa. Before you get to the register, you come upon the display of Jiffy Pop Popcorn strategically placed and arranged to make you forget about chips and salsa, or for that matter, life in general. Now, the only thing on your mind is “Laverne and Shirley,” The Fonz, and the good old days before microwave ovens and strip malls. You leave the chips and salsa behind and walk out the door with a shopping cart full of Jiffy Pop.

When you get home, the “good woman” asks, “Where’s the money you were supposed to get for selling the cow?” And your response is, “I traded the cow for this shopping cart full of Jiffy Pop. It’s magic Jiffy Pop, made at a time when life was simpler, our needs fewer. The aroma of buttered popcorn and the sound of popping kernels will make us happier than we’ve ever been, even though it sometimes gets stuck in your gums and is the devil to get out.”

In other words, you lie. Not because you have an overwhelming urge to manipulate a fellow human being who just so happens to be your spouse, but because you went out for chips and salsa, and now she’s talking about “selling the cow,” and you’ve never even owned a cow – maybe a couple of goats, but never a cow – and you’re hoping the Jiffy Pop will elicit the same kind of response in her as it did in you (because she’s obviously crazy), but in the end it doesn’t because you’re a man, unused to manipulating others, and that, as they say, is that.

Most men think long and hard about getting rid of their cats, but don’t because cats rely on us to open doors for them, fill their dishes with cat treats, and empty their litter boxes. Manipulation? Probably. But then again, maybe we’re just well trained.

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