Recently, my wife and I went to Panera Bread. This is one of our favorite lunch spots, but we have to get there early, as not only do other adults enjoy eating there, but also a nearby high school lets out before noon, and then teens flood the restaurant. But with the kids out of school, and their choices of lunch hangouts less restricted, Panera Bread has gotten quieter and less busy.
|Enjoying our Ham & Cheese on Rye|
(Hold the onions).
It’s pleasant to share our sandwich without having to talk loudly to hear each other, and we can actually enjoy the background music for a change. But on our recent visit, we heard a new sound: that of a cat meowing. Now, occasionally I’ll hear a cat meowing outside my house, or issuing a challenge to a cat in another yard. But this was different. The meow was loud and insistent, yet it never varied in tone or volume. Each meow sounded too identical to its predecessor, and was so quickly and regularly followed by another, that I wondered if someone had recorded a cat’s meow, and was replaying it again and again, as if for a practical joke. I also wondered if it might form an underlying part of the background music. Had the recording artist been experimenting with different sounds, and decided that a repeated meow would enhance his song?
Then I noticed a couple that had just taken the table across the dining room. The man kept reaching down toward his feet, and his movements suggested he was stroking something. I wondered if he had brought a cat into the restaurant, so I leaned over in my booth a little, and peered down at his shoes. By this time, my wife was also wondering where the meowing was coming from, so she turned around, and lifted her head above the booth. But neither of us saw a cat, just this man regularly reaching down beneath the table and stroking something near his feet.
It was such a novel experience I really couldn’t be annoyed. I was too curious about the cat. How did he keep it by his feet, if it was meowing so insistently? Was it in a cage or fabric holder of some kind, or did he keep it on a lead? The man and his wife talked loudly and ate quickly, and--somewhat irregularly for Panera Bread customers--soon rose and left the restaurant. (On their way out, his wife asked him if he wanted a drink refill, and he barked “No,” as if he couldn’t wait to leave). Again, I tried to look, while not appearing too obvious about it, but saw no sign of a cat. Still, he must have had one with him, as after they left, the meowing stopped.
|Another reason to get there early: coffee cake!|
I almost missed the meowing, and hoped the man hadn’t noticed my squinting, and thought I was annoyed with him. After all, he and his wife were probably just traveling somewhere, and decided to bring their cat in with them instead of leaving it in the car.
The next day, I heard something drop into my mailbox. I knew it couldn’t be the mail, as the postman had already stopped by. I found this inside.
|Hey, what'cha lookin' at?|
It’s a real estate paper, dropped off by a local agent, advertising houses for sale in the neighborhood. Yet someone took the time and effort to transform it, and many like it, into the face of a cat. Like our recent lunch at Panera Bread, it was such a novelty that I decided to hang onto it for a while. I keep waiting for it to start meowing, but so far, nothing.