Monday, November 26, 2007

Drinking With Gusto

Zachary and Simpson - 2004

Yesterday, my son and I were watching Simpson, one of our cats, drinking from his water bowl. I commented that perhaps we should get him some fresh water, suggesting to my son that it might taste better to the cat. I dumped the contents of the bowl, ran some cool new water into it and then we watched again. Simpson sniffed the water, thought about what to do for a long moment, then proceeded to drink heartily. I explained to my son that Simpson was now drinking 'with gusto.'

Zachary had not heard that term before, so he asked me what it meant. Never one to pass up an opportunity to teach my son about some of life's riddles, I set out to give him an in-depth explanation:

Cats hate water, I said. When they step in water inadvertently, they look at their paws with disgust and try to shake the liquid off. They hate to get wet under any circumstance, and will always avoid water if they can -- except, of course, when they are thirsty.

Why is that, I asked my son. He didn't know.

The reason, I explained to him, is that cats large and small, wild and domesticated, have 'gusto sacks' in their cheeks. When they are thirsty and bend to drink from a water bowl, or from a puddle or stream, small amounts of gusto are secreted into the mouth of the cat, and the water then tastes good to the animal. The cat somehow doesn't have its normal aversion to water, now that it is drinking the liquid 'with gusto.' It's a marvelous evolutionary thing. Biologists are still trying to figure out the flavour of the gusto, so far with no success.

Is it fish flavour? Chicken? Cat butt? I'm afraid I don't have the answer.

Isn't this story amazing? Perhaps a bit hard to believe? I sure hope it is hard to believe, because it isn't true. I mean the story is true, but the gusto sacks part of the story isn't true. My son didn't believe me, and neither should you. Someone, somewhere, might believe this story if they thought that I had some sort of knowledge that they might not be party to, or if they didn't know what the expression 'with gusto' meant, or if they simply weren't very discriminating in what they believed or in whom they trusted to state things in which they could believe.

I have long tried to explain to my son that he should be very careful about what and whom he believes. All sorts of nonsense is spouted by all sorts of people. Some of this 'information' may have a smattering of truth to it, but it might have become corrupted via many re-tellings. Some might simply be lies designed to trick the gullible or have them believe something convenient to the teller of the tale. Whatever the reason, lies are lies. Whether they are told deliberately as falsehoods or whether they are held to be true by the teller makes no difference. The lies might be mostly innocent and of no particular danger to anyone, but it is important to be able to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

I have taught my son from the time he was but a tyke, to develop bullshit filters, to screen everything he hears, and verify, verify, verify. If something doesn't pass a smell test at first telling, it probably isn't true. And if it seems as if it might be true but is unusually harsh or unusually laudatory, check the motives and the agenda of the teller. That will help narrow things down as to whether there is any merit to an assertion.

Why do I tell my son such things? My mother, when she was alive, used to ask me that. Why do I spin these silly, and sometimes quite elaborate tales around my son. Well, part of it is that I enjoy a good joke and to me being able to deliver utter nonsense in a perfectly serious, deadpan fashion is in itself funny. Secondly, it gives me an opportunity to observe how my son parses information and how he applies the filters that I have tried to help him develop.

There is one problem with all this: my son is turning the tables and is now testing me regularly. He hasn't fooled me yet, but there will be a first time, won't there? I hope I will have the good sense and the grace to laugh at having been tricked, just as I expect my son to act after I have spun yet another tall tale in an attempt to trick him.

There is one good thing about this too. My son has developed a good sense of humour and an appreciation for the human condition, notably the foibles of an imperfect race, on an imperfect planet, in a chaotic universe.


  1. Everything you do indicates you have hyperactive gusto glands. Just a couple of days ago, while on my morning walk, I came upon a thoughtful tiny dog owner (not the owner, but the dog was about one hand long, and three fingers high. It was then I had a gusto attack and said to the guy who was trying to grap a mouse sized turd into a plastic grocery bag, "When the deposit is so insignificant, wouldn't it be better if you used a straw?"

  2. "Bullshit filters"...*LMAO*
    I used to use that phrase before getting my amateur radio license, when I was "down there" on the Citizen Band, and there were a good number of individuals on this primitive form of internet worthy of avoiding.
    I'd be talking with someone, and one such individual would try to cut in, and I would ignore them til the other party in my conversation would say "Can't you hear so-and-so calling you?" and I would reply "Ooops, I'm sorry. I got a new radio over here and the bullshit filter was turned on."

  3. I should have known that you were part cat. I seemed to have collected of number of these enjoyable hybrids. Why I didn't develop a fondness for the animal itself long before I did, I will never know.

    You're right - some day your son will nail the old cat blind-sided to the wall. And I know that you will then both laugh to the point of tears and joyous exhaustion. I enjoy little else more than a good 'comes-around' hitting me in dead-on in the forehead.

  4. Wildbill: your approach to picking up that 'mouse-sized turd' would surely work, but I for one wouldn't want to try it.

    Galt: I remember the CB craze. Everyone around here had one. And the ham radio thing, which required a deeper level of commitment was popular too. Now, it's the internet. I wonder what it will be twenty years from now?

    Lin: I am a fervid believer in the maxim that 'laughter is the best medicine.' Sometimes, I have been in situations, as I'm sure we all have been, where I had to make a choice of whether to cry because of some new disaster, or to laugh at the cosmic joke that is life on earth. I always chose the latter, and made it through yet another crisis. That's how we, as human beings cope. I think that cat's are a bit like that. They seem unflappable and appear to cope with the ups and downs in their lives with flair.

  5. From MotherPie at -- love your gusto story. Yes, we need bs filters on high alert. always. cute story.
    Hate Bloggers new comment system,btw.

  6. Hey, motherpie. Thanks for dropping in. I enjoy your site too!