A cat by any other name
It’s funny to me how apt a name Camus was for our cat. While perhaps only in stereotype was our cat an absurdest existentialist cat. He hardly qualified as warm and friendly. Really, if you imagine a cat named Camus, you’d probably be pretty spot-on.
But he wasn’t always called Camus. When I first met him, his name was “Match.” I don’t know what, exactly, inspired me to give Carolyn a cat for her birthday in 1995. I just knew she loved cats, and I didn’t have a better idea. And I mean loved cats. Like we’d be walking along a street having a conversation, and she’d interrupt it to stop and say “Hi” to a cat she saw. And I don’t mean a cat that came up to the sidewalk and asked for attention, I mean a cat crouched away in the bushes. So I decided to get her a cat. Like any proper geek at the time, I check usenet. Sure enough, someone has listed a “free to a good home” kitten on uva.want-ads.
I went to check him out, and sure enough, he was a kitten. He was cute in the way kittens are cute. After passing whatever screening the owners were doing (“Yes, I’d had cats as a kid.”), I agreed to take him and provide said “good home” and made arrangements for my return to pick him up.
I tell Carolyn that Saturday that we’re going to pick up her present. “Where are we going?” she asks, bursting with curiosity. I tell her we’re going to Schuyler, VA to pick up her present figuring she’d have no idea where exactly Schuyler (pronounced skyler) was, much less what one might procure in Schuyler. Eventually, we leave the main drag through town, “Oh, this is my work exit, I took it out of habit.” We stop in front of someone’s house, “Oh, I just need to pick up something for work since we’re here.”
I come out carrying a copy-paper-box supported by a litter box. I put the whole thing in Carolyn’s lap in the car. Match peeks his little kitten-head out, and Carolyn cries with delight. We take him home.
During this time, we have a roommate in graduate computer science with me. We’ll call him “Stoakes”. Carolyn doesn’t know what she wants to call the kitten, but she knows “Match” isn’t it. A couple of days go by, still no name for the cat. Finally Stoakes says “Fay, I’ve named your cat.”
Carolyn dubiously responds, “Uhm, OK. What have you named my cat?”
Stoakes: “I’m not going to tell you. You have to guess.”
A pointless guessing game then ensues. After a while, Carolyn asks for help. A category, some way to narrow down the possible pool of names. Finally, Stoakes gave in. “Authors” he said. Carolyn offered a flurry of names, none correct. Over the course of the next couple of days, this quizzing continued. Another hint was required. Gender? “Male” came the reply. More incorrect guesses. Nationality? “American”. Still more incorrect guesses. Living or dead? “Deceased. And, get this: he died by his own hand.” Fewer guesses forthcoming, all failing to hit their mark. Any other distinguishing characteristics?
Stoakes: Yeah, he only had one name.
Fay: Only one name, you mean like “Cher” or “Madonna”?
Fay: So, Author, Dead, Male, American, Suicide and Only one name?
Fay: I so can’t believe you know an author that I don’t.
Fay: I give up. You’ve bested me. What’s the name of my cat? Who is this author?
Stoakes: Camus. Duh. He wrote The Stranger
So, Albert Camus (yes, he had a first name) was, in fact, a dead male. He was, however an Algerian-born French writer who wrote Lâ€™Ã‰tranger before his (non-suicidal) death in an automobile accident.
But after a story like that, how could we call the cat anything else?