Of Mice and Men and Natural Born Killers

We awoke to a terrible commotion at the foot of the bed. It seems Tramp, our eighteen pound Maine Coon Cat, was on the hunt and had something pinned down under the twin dressers across from our bed. I immediately got up and flipped on the light just in time to watch Tramp flip out, snorting and pawing and clearly blood thirsty….or so I thought. If nothing else he was definitely triggered, spurred into action by quick movement and scurrying feet.

Soon enough though he quieted down and the assumption made was that his prey got away. Either that, or there was a bloody mess under one or another of the matching dressers. Best to handle the cleanup in the morning light than to stumble and fumble around after midnight. I mumbled a mixture of bad cat and congrats to Tramp, killed the light and snuggled up to Mrs. Cog. It’s rather comforting having a natural born killer watching the border while I peacefully sleep. Who says I can’t handle the truth?

The next morning I rolled out of bed and headed to the bathroom, last night’s incident more like a bad dream than a recent memory. It was only when I passed the twin dressers on the way back that the memory crystallized, helped along by Tramp still standing guard at the foot of the bed, pitifully crying for his usual canned breakfast. I steeled myself, then grabbed the flashlight and peered under the dressers, expecting gore and guts and maybe even some blood. Alas my first supposition was correct for the prey, most likely wounded and bleeding, was nowhere to be found and had obviously made his escape.

Out of sight out of mind, I continued with my morning routine; last night’s feline stalking filed away for future reference, hardly the most important thing on my mind at the moment. But deep down inside I knew this wasn’t over, that the mice would continue to play while the cat was away…..or at least sleeping. Mouse hunting was clearly a midnight activity, just as clearly not midday. In all honesty I had no desire to scour the premises for mouse remains, correctly assuming if the prey could escape from under the dresser while the cat stood guard I was not going to be successful conducting my own personal search.

Sure enough the next night the commotion commenced just as we both fell asleep, only this time the activity was particularly intense. Fool Tramp once, shame on the mouse; fool Tramp twice, shame on Tramp. Already primed for the Friday Night Fights by the activity the night before, I first roused Mrs. Cog and then bolted from the bed to light the arena with the overheads. Sure enough Tramp was on the prowl, a whirling dervish of frenzied fur, snorting and pawing and wide eyed with excitement. While Tramp might be middle aged in cat years, tonight he was the heavyweight champ of the world and we had ring side seats with a view to the kill.

Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that a kill was not what I was viewing, but rather feline play time Tramp style, with the mouse the unwilling squeaky toy. Repeatedly Tramp would pounce and swat with his big snowshoe paws, then carefully pick up the mouse in his jaws. Each time when I assumed he was killing I was proven wrong, for he would deliberately release the mouse in order to promote more blood sports. Either I had an extremely bored cat on my hands, or I was severely mistaken about exactly what constituted a natural born killer. Or maybe there was a third option.

At one point Tramp had the brown field mouse cornered in the closet, the big sliding mirrored doors open to the entire bedroom. We were all comfortably gathered up on the bed, safely off the coliseum floor and out of the way so as not to impede the game board while watching the ritual execution. By now the teenage child unit had been roused from her slumber by Mrs. Cog’s alarmed cries, yelps and exclamations for me to do something, anything, and had joined the ‘rents at ringside just in time for round three.

At this point it was never more obvious to me that killing was at best Tramp’s secondary goal, with ‘play’ and the chase the primary purpose of his focused attention. Tramp was now crouched behind an old shoe of mine not more than 12 inches from the mouse (who was plastered to the wall, bug eyed and hyperventilating) waiting for the mouse’s next chess move while clearly enjoying his exertions. I had mistaken blood thirst for Tramp’s instinctually triggered play. Who says the artist can’t enjoy his bloody work?

Hannibal Lecter - Clean

If you think about this it makes all the sense in the world. Tramp is not food insecure, far from it in fact. He is fed his daily can of Friskies (lots of gravy please) along with the ever present bowl of dry food and a separate endless water dish. His nutritional food needs are most certainly met by me (he trained me well) so the mouse represented recreation, not sustenance. His natural born killer instincts, some might call it survival instincts, had been moderated and redirected towards ritual play rather than survival. While he is still triggered when a small rodent rapidly exits stage right, he has no real desire to eat the damn thing, just get it to play all night.

Sure enough the mouse made a desperate dash for freedom by way of those same matching dressers, and damn if he didn’t make it partway under when the hand of God, or in this case the paw of Tramp, came crashing down upon his head. But Tramp did not want play time to end and was careful not to kill, only contain. Several times in the next 5 minutes Tramp would scoop up his prey in his mouth, only to let it go in order to start the chase all over again.

How many times did the mouse see his life flash before his eyes I will never know, but I counted at least five and I assume there were many more. On at least two occasions Tramp leapt up onto the edge of the bed, mouse tail and rear legs frantically waving from his mouth. This of course exponentially escalated Mrs. Cog’s verbal exclamations, compelling Tramp to jump back down and once again release the mouse. We all love to show off our handy work to family and friends, so who could blame Tramp for doing the same?

At one point in the festivities the mouse made a run for the kitchen and, unbelievably, managed to secure temporary shelter under the fridge. Tramp, as patient as a saint, parked his butt two feet away and waited for the inevitable. The jeering crowd, having grown impatient by the lack of blood and guts, collectively decided to retire (again) for the night, quickly returning to dreamland despite the unsatisfactory end to the fun and games. You just can’t win them all I suppose.

No sooner did I doze off and begin to dream of old “Tom and Jerry” cartoons when I heard Tramp’s meow intrude upon dreamland. Once again I quickly awoke, although this time I did not need to wake Mrs. Cog who was slightly more skeeved by the night’s entertainment and thus unable to sleep. Grabbing the nightstand flashlight I searched for Tramp, who I could hear but not see. Finally I found him backed into the closet facing out, pitifully meowing as if he had been stranded at the altar, his bride-to-be anywhere but here.

I stood there a good twenty seconds trying to figure out what was going on, and it was only when Tramp reached out a second time and batted at something on the floor did I realize the mouse, now thoroughly deceased, was jammed against the door refusing to play, his lifeless body a mangled heap. Poor Tramp, no one wants to play with him anymore.

Finding pity in my heart for the field mouse, and more importantly not wanting Mrs. Cog to find Tramp’s soon-to-be abandoned and now squeak-less toy in the morning, I grabbed a dust pan from the hall closet and relocated the brown corpse to that happy hunting ground outside. Tramp somewhat reluctantly followed me, perhaps hoping I would revive or replace the mouse, thus starting the game all over again. Obviously I disappointed him, though his still full dry food dish awaited as a consolation prize. Tramp drowned his sorrow in dry and I dragged my butt off to bed……again. Game, set and match.

As one who subscribes to the adage that we can find inspiration wherever we look, my mind snapped to attention as soon as my head hit the pillow. My brain flashed with memories of a time long ago when I witnessed similar behavior in humans. Not killing per se, but more along the lines of deadly play. Those were the days my friend, I thought they’d never end.

Vito - Clean

I was in my very early twenties and most definitely running with the wrong crowd. His name was Vito and he was hired muscle, the man who did the dirty work when you wouldn’t pay, let alone play. For most muscle in his position it was just another job, perfectly suited for someone with more brawn than brains. But for Vito it was a calling and one most people thought he enjoyed just a little bit too much. This fact alone made Vito a force to be reckoned with; if Vito showed up on your doorstep you were in a heap of trouble and things were about to get decidedly worse.

The thing was he was paid a weekly retainer rather than on a per job basis since his very presence compelled nearly all to pay. It wasn’t nice to fool with Mother Vito, and nobody in their right mind would even dare. Thus his actual services were rarely needed, leaving him hungry to play but financially sated. During those rare occasions when he was finally given the green light to engage, Vito would play and play and play. In fact Tramp could take lessons on the art of extended game play from Vito, he being a real life pin ball wizard.

Vito’s specialty was allowing his prey to think they might just get away. He was even known to turn his back and take a few shots just to encourage this foolish notion. And who could blame the prey for not grabbing any opportunity, no matter how slim, when plastered to the wall, bug eyed and hyperventilating. To the best of my knowledge Vito never went all the way. After all, dead prey pay no vig. Sometime later I heard Vito had been dispatched to his own happy hunting grounds, having turned his back one time too many. Karma…….it is a bitch they say.

Several decades later there was Mel, the king of life insurance sales, quickly promoted to sales manager in order to inflict even more damage. Mel, a short fat guy with more brains than brawn, cared not who was hot and who was not in the local office since everyone else was just a flash in the pan compared to King Mel. All he wanted was for his junior sales associates to make the cold calls and set up that night’s prey. He would do the rest.

I will never forget one sales meeting attended by all the sales managers, including the latest office promotion, little ole me. While I had witnessed Mel from a distance, never had I the opportunity or desire to work under or with him. Now I was working side by side on his ‘team’. The district manager was reading us the riot act over last week’s dismal sales, then began running through a list of changes to the officially sanctioned sales practices that had just come down from corporate. You know……plausible deniability in case some rogue salesman or manager came along.

Mel sat next to me doodling the entire time, paying no attention what-so-ever to the meeting. As we were finishing up I leaned over and whispered so only he could hear my naive question, “Aren’t you worried about these new rules Mel”? Clearly startled he turned and looked at me as if noticing me for the very first time, then grinned and spat out, “Rules are for fools and rookies like you. While you’re wasting time figuring out how to color in the lines I’ll just be putting more distance between me and you.”

Disintegration Clean

And over the next several months that is precisely what Mel did. Never let a crisis, or a rules change, go to waste he would say. Not only did he break every sales record in the office that year, but in the state and region as well. And because he was making boat loads of money, so were his various ‘managers’ all the way up the line, each receiving a taste of Mel’s action, thus assuring that the top salesmen/managers remained fed and protected from the long arm of the law. Until, that is, they outlived their usefulness. Then they too were fed to the lions.

The funny thing was that while Mel certainly enjoyed the perks and rewards of his activity, in his case a beautiful home and trophy wife, new clothes, cars and various boy toys, those were not his primary motivation. For Mel it was the hunt, the chase, the score that mattered most. If Mel was holding court about his latest sales conquest it was never about the money and always about the technique used to get this fish to bite or that chump to sign. The more resistance he received from the prospect the harder he worked to get the signature. The only thing that would deter him was a prospect that simply could not pay, and he just chalked the loss up to the numbers game. You lose some, but most you win. Goodbye looser, hello next winner.

He would wax poetic about the look in the eyes of those he was selling to as they capitulated to his will and signed along the dotted line. He reserved a special place in his hell for those who signed, then tried to back out of the deal. While some of his winning ways could be attributed to salesmanship, technique and just plain old smarts, I suspect most of it had to do with pure force of will and that creepy feeling one gets when in the presence of a sociopath. I bet many ‘clients’ did not fully understand who or what was seated across from them at the kitchen table, but they sure as hell wanted him out of the house and would sign just about anything to accomplish that.

Mel would screen all his prospects in advance, grilling his sales associates as to the prospect’s personality and demeanor. He always said that the sale was won in the preparation, not in front of the prospect, and I tend to believe him. Even sharks do not blindly rush in to kill, but slowly circle in order to size up the risk while measuring the potential reward. Mel would say that a bad prospect not only wasted your time, but kept you from making a sale elsewhere, thus killing you twice.

He would always spend the first 15 minutes of any sales appointment in what appeared to be casual conversation with seemingly innocuous questions asked about home, work, family and friends. But under the surface he was examining his prey, sizing them up while he probed for psychological weaknesses. If he found one, and everyone has one if you look deep enough, he would immediately pounce, grind, claw and smack until the prospect relented. While I never directly witnessed his technique in real time, his young sales assistants would return from appointments with tales of sales magic. Some close questioning of his sales patsies usually revealed other clues to his methods.

I have had other close calls with sociopaths, but it all becomes redundant after a while. The genre has been extensively studied, examined and probed with always the same conclusion. As a predatory species they have very few qualms about exploiting their prey’s weaknesses, and for the most part they love to play with their food before grinding the prey’s bones to make their bread. Plopped down amongst a human race already controlled and conditioned to be passive and compliant, we mere humans stand little chance of survival when the Tramps of the world come stalking.

Shall we play a game?

 

05-11-2014

Cognitive Dissonance

Natural Born Killer - CleanTramp - Our Natural Born Killer

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6 thoughts on “Of Mice and Men and Natural Born Killers”

    1. @Pepper

      For all kinds of reasons. The cat, Vito and Mel were all playing games to one extent or another. The computer in “War Games” just wanted to play a game. The military plays war games all the time. Isn’t ‘play’ just a form a ‘real life’ practice?

      Can a computer be a sociopath? Can it be one if the people who program it are one? Why is a cat not considered a sociopath, but a human is?

      I could go on.

      Cognitive Dissonance

  1. Re: curiosity about predatory behavior links;

    Upon the reflection of my own brief sales history as being one of my exploratory forays into the shallow waters of acceptable social conformity from my early era of seeking the elusive answers to the “who and what am I to be”, I remember that somehow the message drifted down to me from my family hierarchy that the taking away of another person’s power of decision making, i.e., “sales”, was most importantly robbing that person of their own self respect. That it was, and is, disrespectful in a deeply meaningful manner anytime it is done, but most especially slimy when done for money or other momentary cheap thrills.

    I think that’s the difference between cats and humans. Cats don’t have that as a conscious choice that they can make, but people do, if only they would.

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