In 1951, science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote a short story titled “The Pedestrian”. In the story, Leonard Mead enjoys walking through the night, when everyone else is glued to a screen in the television-centered world of 2053. Since television is so addictive, he never sees another person during these walks. One day, a robotic police car stops him and asks why he is walking. Mead explains he is a writer and he is getting some air, but the robotic police car doesn’t understand his answer. Mead is arrested and the police car delivers him to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.
I sometimes think about this story when I go for walks around the quiet neighbourhoods of Creston. There is seldom anyone around, and the blue glow of televisions light up living rooms as Bradbury imagined. Not everyone is inside – teenagers in their silly trucks still rev their engines down Canyon Street – but as soon as I head down 18th Avenue and take a left on Elm Street – it is quiet and I can hear the wind shake the autumn leaves.
Sometimes I pretend I’m house hunting as I walk along, and sometimes I stop and take a moment to look up at the moon and stars. My mind wanders and I think about the future, or I try to work through a section of writing that is giving me issue. If I’m lucky, I come across one or two neighbourhood cats. They come to say hello, and together we sit on the curb and enjoy the quiet of the night.
Many cats enjoy filling their lungs with cooler evening air when the world is enveloped in darkness, and I appreciate the break from the cadence of my walk. I don’t linger long – enough time to say hello and give the cats a bit of a scratch. Sometimes they flip over on their backs and I’m invited to feel their soft belly fur. Cat owners know this is often a trap, so I approach tentatively, but the quiet streets serve as a proverbial demilitarized zone and not once have I been attacked or maimed.
Fiercely independent, cats do what they want when they want. They’ve been stealing our best chairs for 12,000 years, and it is said that they domesticated us rather than the other way around. Ancient Egyptians worshipped cats; an ancient Chinese myth tells of gods appointing cats to oversee the running of the world; and they traveled with the Vikings. With nearly eight million cats in Canada today, it is estimated that 38% of us have at least one pet cat – and for good reason: cats reduce stress and anxiety, and provide companionship without having to worry about constant responsibilities.
I have my own at home, and I’m sure neither Molly nor Bella appreciate me gallivanting with the other cats. I can tell they’re not impressed when they smell these other cats on me, and quickly proceed to rub their cheeks on me (or bunt) – not because they are happy to see me, but because they are claiming me as their own. They say dogs have masters, but cats have servants. Nevertheless, it’s nice to feel wanted.
Several non-cat people complain that outdoor cats destroy entire species of birds and dig up gardens, but these accusations don’t bother me. In a world consumed by video screens, it is nice to know that there is still the possibility of running into another living creature when I go for a walk and get some air.
Time: 9:57 p.m.
Place: The quiet streets of Creston