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It's Nelly's World

Opportunity Knocks

alec vanderboom


By now you know that Nelly is not real. Of course, she is real--just ask the aforementioned dead creatures. Oh, yeah. You can't ask them anything anymore. Sorry. For there's nothing realer than being able to make something else cease to be real.

Nelly is quite real in that physical, warm, furry sense; the one that increasingly requires such nearness to the provider of her all-natural Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet (that's BARF to you) that she frequently issues no warning that she's about to spring into your lap, even as you stupidly hold a cup of hot coffee perilously near the keyboard and not uncoincidentally over said lap. She is very real in a whole host of ways. But she is also, here and elsewhere in my life, an excuse.

In this conceptual guise, Nelly exists as a changing series of notes on which to riff. She exists as the fulcrum against which one thought hoists another. She is a blank whiteboard awaiting the squeak and scrawl of colored pens. She allows me to think of myself. Because what is thinking of others, but thinking of oneself? Everything's relative, after all: relative to ME. People love to ponder the universe. But they seem to have perfected a way of pondering without actually thinking very much. I can't come up with any purpose to existence other than the purpose of thinking about the purpose. That's a very great privilege. It must needs include everything that's here, every single being.

I once had a friend who spoke so contemptuously of the "stupid, suicidal" deer who didn't know any better than to wait until the last minute to launch themselves on top of her car or motorcycle. So they were cunning enough to plot this malfeasance; but too stupid to care about not getting themselves killed.

Apart from the logical fallacy of her thinking--and here let me cram in another grand claim about myself, which is the one about logic being my uberdeity, above even biological determinism and operant conditioning!--there is a gaping absence here of soul, too. She could not reach beyond the gravitational pull of self to think for a second about deer themselves, animals evolved to flee from predators who chase, not from ones who move sideways to them in unwavering lines. Deer can't possibly want to die under the wheels of a car any more than they do in the teeth of mountain lions, but they cannot comprehend the action of this more formidable killer made of metal. My friend did not think anyone but her had a claim on a full life. And because she did not, I think she actually might have less.

It's easy to have sympathy for those who are just like us. To the point that maybe it's not really sympathy, even, but self-regard in another costume. But to feel it for the truly alien--that is the beginning of morality.

The reason the squirrels suddenly change direction, too, is their normal path of flight from those who wish a furry gray meal. Give them a brake, as they say.

So Nelly gives me an excuse to think about me, and nature; and me, and behavior; and me, and the meaning of the universe; and, well, me once again. She also gives me the excuse, which I might otherwise not take advantage of, to go out into the clear black night and thus the opportunity to look at the last vestige of the Milky Way still left after the efforts of us really smart humans to obliterate it. Of course, I'm not always so happy to escort her outdoors when it's 15 degrees and I'd rather be falling asleep on the warm wood floor in front of the woodstove. But in the aggregate, I'm happy indeed.

I was even pleased just now to be reminded that I am a real primate, on the occasion of realizing that I derive a deep and secret pleasure from picking ticks off her. I like being a part of a nature photograph in which one baboon is blissfully lost in an ancient ritual of chemistry and society, fingering through the hair of another. It brings us closer. And right into the center of the meaning of it all. Then I go crush the suckers with a rock.