Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dobby's Sermon on the Mount

It was Dobby's turn to wake me at the Point of Ridiculous Amount of Sleep today.  We've been poking fun at Dobby, relentlessly rubbing his soft white belly until he almost faints away in joy.  He gained half of a pound!  Fred reported, and I take umbrage with this statement, that the vet actually said, "That's about as much as you want him to gain." Our runt!  That Fred himself birthed because Marmy, frankly, was just done with this birth thing.  "I pushed out four, what more do you want?"  

"One more, Marmy, just one more!" And there was poor Dobby, half-here, half-there, as confused then as he is confused now.  So Fred became midhusband, gently drew him out, broke the sac, rubbed the non-breathing kitten until that kitten complained.

Marmy frequently would do unmotherly things, like get all pissed off at kittens that wished to suckle.  They'd all latch on (except Dobby, who went a long time without nourishment, as he preferred climbing to Marmy's head than searching out a milky teat), and she'd heave a sigh of exasperation, toss Dobby across the room with a flick of her head, then stand and stalk away, strewing mewling babies across the floor, eyes still closed, completely lost, and cold.  I lived in fear of rolling over those tiny yelling things with my badass power wheelchair, in fear that retrieving them with grabbers would mar their sweet perfection like a jackass obstetrician man with forceps.

Dobby has a tiny head.  But, yes, okay, maybe he now has a chin that was not there last year.  An Elizabethan ruff of sorts.  My theory of Dobby's success is that he strives, in this multi-cat environment, to remain steadily at Number Two.  Let Marmy and Buddy fight, challenge and re-challenge, for the rights to being Number One, Dobby is always right there, a sweet but ferocious Number Two.  Whenever we settle things, and it's rare, whenever there's a Number Three, an undisputed Number One, Dobby treads with care.  He does not offend in either direction and he gets to do one of his favorite things -- make and maintain peace.

But I think he has a near-primordial memory -- well, okay, maybe a pre-first-gasp memory, before he felt Fred's warm hands warm him -- of that terrible place of being half-here, half-there, which is very different from striving to stay Number Two, please understand.

Dobby panics when he cannot find my arms.  Dobby nears frenzy when I cover my face in a desire to be as much left alone as left unseen.  But Dobby throws his extra one-half pound around when I am gone away in sleep too long.  "Enough," Dobby cries, "is enough."

Fred had just taken one of the Haddock Corporation miniature submarines, stuffed with five of the genetically indentured Domestic Staff, who always get religion when Lent creeps into view, Bianca, whom we found (and who needs repentance badly), Sven, and Cabana Boy, who really just wanted to get off the grounds -- and descended carefully down the moat and into the physics-twisted time tunnels, all headed to what they call "church."

Dobby was left with me -- probably snoring, definitely yelling every few minutes (I do that when I sleep, because the Screaming Ninny CRPS Spasms are back, and I am in pain, even asleep).  My arms were hidden from the dear runt, which he considers worse than putting one's elbows on the dining table.  My head was graced with a lovely, light, soft, sweet-smelling quilt -- which suddenly was not so light (he's gained half a damned pound, youse guys), nor so soft, as he ventured forth a... clawed paw, basically into my open mouth.

My first thought was, weirdly enough, "Serial killer!"

I don't know.  Maybe it came from the bad novel I last read, when last I was conscious.

What would you think if so wakened?  A quilt being shoved in your mouth, eight and a half pounds sitting on your face, your left leg (Are you sure, prof?  Left leg or right leg?  Where the hell is the leg that is doing that Screaming Ninny CRPS Dystonia dance?  And who the heck gives a flying burrito, prof, when there's a serial killer on your head?) spasming to beat the band?*  You'll note my usual fascination with the origin of phrases, and I learned, in reading about "beat the band," that a better option, in this case, might be "beat the banshee" -- because, well, banshees are probably as loud as my snores and cranky sleep complaints, and "banshees in legend...wail loudly; but... they traditionally do so only when somebody is about to die..."

But Sweet Dobby quickly identified himself as my attacker and set about to help me disengage from the killer quilt.  He issued encouraging purrs, and used his talons to pull at the rude, rude covering that separated him from She-Who-Feeds-Me.

Finally eye-to-eye, he kissed me on the nose.

He put the Big Lovin' on me and then delivered his Sermon on The Mount (still pretty much my head).  "We don't care how you feel -- good, bad, tired, depressed, high or low -- you must still wake up and do your job, and in an outwardly happy and friendly way.  Got it?"

"Yes, Dobby," I croaked.  "And if you will kindly get off my head, may I go the bathroom, and then serve you in any way you please?"

He kissed me on the nose again, and whispered:  "A few reminders, Sleeper, The Walking Dead returns tonight, and you know how Fred loves his zombies, so prepare yourself.  Marmy had a hairball or two, so watch where you roll in the main salon, and Buddy is feeling neglected, so do whatever it is you do with him, sniff.  And we were all kinda wondering... do you feel like doing a little cooking after you clean the Quarters?  Something in a nice salmon sashimi or a delicately herbed roast chicken?"

I love Dobby the Runt, forever Number Two.

Dobby's beautiful star face, as he was being dominated by a sibling,
 back when his old soul weighed just a feather...

to beat the band.*

Q From Tracey: What is the origin of to beat the band, as in phrases like it was raining to beat the band. Is there any reason — beyond muddling one’s phrases — why one would use to beat the banshee instead of to beat the band?
A I’ve come across a few examples of to beat the banshee; it makes a sort of sense, banshees in legend being known to wail loudly; but as they traditionally do so only when somebody is about to die, it’s perhaps not a good analogy when you are trying to say that something is being done or is happening to a superlative degree. But you’re right, of course, to suggest that it’s a variation on the older to beat the band. There’s quite a history of attempts to explain this phrase.
Eric Partridge (whom several reference works follow) suggested it was linked to a yet older expression to beat Banagher, to surpass everything, which is known from 1830. Banagher is a town on the Shannon in County Offaly, Ireland; before the Great Reform Act of 1832 it was a rotten or pocket borough, one which sent two members to Parliament but which had a tiny electorate controlled by the local magnate, who therefore had the election “in his pocket”. It is said that when somebody referred to a particularly egregious example of a rotten borough, say one in which every voter was a man employed by the landowner, the reply might come back “Well, that beats Banagher”. The story sounds highly suspect, not least because there’s an entry in Captain Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue of 1785 which says: “He beats Banaghan; an Irish saying of one who tells wonderful stories. Perhaps Banaghan was a minstrel famous for dealing in the marvellous”. So it’s far from certain that the original had anything to do with Irish rotten boroughs.
Whatever the original form, and despite those who advocate it, it’s unlikely to be the true origin of to beat the band, for two reasons. Firstly, the American version of the Banagher story always seems to have been in the form that bangs Banagher, as here from The Living Age of 1844: “That bangs Banagher, and all the world knows Banagher bangs the devil”. Secondly, to beat the band appears only at the end of that century (it’s recorded first from 1897) and originally seems to have turned up in direct references to music making. As here in a story, The Transit of Gloria Mundy (ho, ho) by Chester Bailey Fernald in The Century magazine in 1899: “Then it was ‘The Sweet By and By,‘ with all hands going as ye please in the chorus, and she belting the little music-box to beat the band”. And here in a little skit of 1900 by Guy Wetmore Carryl,The Sycophantic Fox and the Gullible Raven, in which he humorously retells Aesop’s fable:
“Sweet fowl,” he said, “I understand
You’re more than merely natty:
I hear you sing to beat the band
And Adelina Patti.
Pray render with your liquid tongue
A bit from ‘Gotterdammerung’.”
I’m fairly sure that to beat the band originally meant that you sang or played or shouted louder even than an orchestra and so, by later extension, came to refer to anything superlative. Just for once, the common-sense explanation may be the correct one, and there’s no need to invoke Irish towns or Irish storytellers, let alone banshees.

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