Mr. Moto Thinks Fast
By Ed Staskus
Even though Mr. Moto didn’t know how to think, he still did a lot of thinking. There was no sense of getting on the wrong side of long-haired. It was a breezy sunny morning. He squatted on the platform of the fire escape, looking out on Hell’s Kitchen and wondered, why is there something rather than nothing?
There was a lot of everything in New York City, as far as he could see. It was true he slept more than not, sometimes sixteen hours a day, but between sitting around in windows on stoops on the roof and prowling the land, he saw enough. Where did it all come from? Where was it all going? What was it all about?
“To be or not to be.” Where had he heard that? It might have been the junkie in the alley who was always mumbling to himself. Was that what it was all about? Was it all just something and not nothing and never mind in between? It was the simplest explanation, and the one he liked the most, but there was something about it that nagged him. He never knew his dad, but he remembered his mom. That was where he came from. He came from her. Everything had to come from something. He flopped on his side, raised a rear leg, and started licking his butt. He was a clean cool cat.
As far as he could tell, even though he couldn’t read, there were five top concepts that philosophy revolved around, language, knowledge, truth, being, and good. He couldn’t talk, so it got whittled down to four in his world. The truth was always up for grabs, leaving three. There was no need wasting time arguing about what was right and wrong. He knew good and evil when he saw it.
When it came to knowledge, he knew what he knew. “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” That left being, and being a cat, he was solid with that rock solid gospel truth. He was always being, no matter what he was doing. That’s what life was all about. Be true to yourself.
It was about eating and drinking, too. He was a stickler for fresh water in his bowl. He got cross if it was stale. Stan gave him canned fish in the morning, he ate all of it every day, and the rest of the day nibbled on dry food.
Mr. Moto didn’t like “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates was full of bull. If what he said was true, most life of all kinds wasn’t worth living. Who had the time to examine everything they did all the time?
He never examined his own life. He didn’t know a single other cat, nor had he heard of any, who did. He didn’t believe animals ever did. He didn’t think many people did, either, at least not in his neck of the borough. Who was Socrates to say their lives weren’t worth living? No wonder they poisoned him when they got the chance. He must have been a pain in the ass.
Mr. Moto lay on his stomach with his front paws stretched out. He looked like the Sphinx. He felt like Buddha. He purred deep in his throat like Felix the Cat.
He didn’t like Kant, either. The man could never just come out and say what he meant. “A categorical imperative would be one which represented an action as objectively necessary in itself, without reference to any other purpose.” What did that even mean? If it meant what he thought it might mean, it was all hot air. One thing always led to another. He knew that for sure.
He thought it might mean something like, it is never right to lie. Should that idea be universally applied? If everybody lied, trust would disappear, so lying is wrong in all cases. What a lot of more bull! Kant was worse than Socrates. Mr. Moto distrusted almost everybody, and it stood him in good stead. He was able and willing to lie to anybody he didn’t trust, who might be a menace to him. Whatever works was his motto. He only tipped the scales at fifteen pounds and had to watch his step. There were plenty of rats in NYC bigger than him.
His chief goal was survival. “We must all cultivate our own wisdom.” Voltaire was more like it, more to his liking.
He was taking the air on the fire escape, the wrought iron stairs bolted to the front of the building. It was where he did his best thinking. It was also where he stayed abreast of the street’s comings and goings. The World Series, whatever that was, was on everybody’s lips. Everybody was saying it was the Subway Series. It was starting tomorrow. He heard Dottie say she was going to be on the picture box, talking to one of the big men, although he was a small man, somebody by the name of Pee Wee Reese. Somebody sitting on the stoop next door was reading Sports Illustrated. Micky Mantle a bat in his hands was on the cover.
When he looked down at the sunlit pavement, watching Dottie come out the front door and start off to school, he didn’t like what he saw. A black 1955 Chevrolet panel truck was parked at the curb. Two men in dark suits, not overalls, wearing fedoras pulled down over their eyes, were getting out of the truck. They weren’t in the trades, that was for sure. They were guinea gangsters.
When they blocked Dottie’s way and reached for her, clamping a sweet-smelling wet handkerchief over her mouth, Mr. Moto his ears pinned back sprang into action and raced down the steps of the fire escape. He whirled on the sidewalk and ran straight at the struggle. Dottie was kicking furiously at the men. Leaping he jumped over the back of the man holding her from behind, over Dottie’s head, and on to the face of the man facing him. The man screamed as Mr. Moto raked his face with his razor-sharp claws.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Sports Illustrated on the stoop yelled, standing up.
The hoodlum grabbed at the cat, got hold of him and flung him away. Blood gushed from his face and one eye. Mr. Moto pivoted and went at him again, coming up short but landing on his chest, and grabbed with all his claws digging in at the man’s shirt. The goon flung him off again, bellowing. The cat landed on all fours and glared.
Dottie went limp from the chloroform on the kerchief and the men dragged her to the back of the panel truck, tossing her inside, and slamming the doors shut. An empty bottle of Sneaky Pete rolled into the gutter. Mr. Moto went after them again but had to dodge bullets from the soon-to-be-Scarface, and dashed behind a trash can, more bullets ripping through the thin metal and ricocheting off concrete.
The man on the stoop threw himself flat, cradling his head with his arms.
When the truck started pulling away, heads appearing in windows, and shouts that it was gunfire, not backfire, he ran after it. When he jumped at one of the rear wheels, hoping to puncture it, all he got for his efforts was two ripped-out claws and bruised ribs when he was flung off the spinning steel belt to the curb.
He looked up at the disappearing truck and instantly memorized the license plate number. Back on the sidewalk he pulled a scrap of paper from the overturned trash can and wrote the letters and numbers on it in his own blood. Even though he didn’t know how to write, he could recreate symbols. He didn’t know what the symbols meant, but they had to mean something. Stan would know.
He heard a whistle. A patrolman was running up the sidewalk. A woman yelled out her window, “They grabbed the Riddman girl!”
“I don’t know, two guys were dragging her. She looked like she was knocked out. They threw her into their truck and raced away.”
“Did you see their faces?”
“How about the plates?”
“Which way did they go?”
It wasn’t any better sledding with anybody else. Everybody had seen what happened, but nobody knew what the trail looked like. The patrolman wrote down what he heard and waited for the plainclothes car.
On the sidewalk Mr. Moto felt bad. If he wanted to be honest with himself, he didn’t feel up to scratch at all. He had stanched the bleeding by licking his paw, but he was having a hard time breathing. His chest hurt like hell. When he tried to walk, he felt like he had strained a tendon or a ligament or some damned thing in his right back leg. He was a mess. He limped when he got going. There wasn’t any way he was going to be able to scurry up the wood trim to the awning to the second-floor platform and back to the open window of the apartment. He waited at the front door until the woman in 1A came running out, slipped into the foyer, and through the quietly closing inner door.
He dragged himself up to the fourth floor, to the hallway window, and gingerly hopped up on the sill. He went out to the fire escape and back into the apartment through the living room window.
The apartment was a living room dining room kitchen and two bedrooms. He went to his water bowl first, caught his breath, and lapped up enough to slake his dry mouth. He staggered to Dottie’s room, stopping inside the door to catch his breath again. His chest hurt something awful. He clawed his way up onto the bed, let the scrap of paper fall from his mouth, and lay there until his wheezing tapered off.
He fell into a dreamless one more life gone dead sleep.
Excerpted from “Stickball” at http://www.stanriddman.com