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Best of Breed

01/11/08 7:55AM By Philip Baruth
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(HOST) Commentator Philip Baruth is a novelist who teaches at UVM. Recently, over a two-day stretch, he took in a Burlington Cat Show - and spent time in a hotel crowded with national media in New Hampshire. Only eventually could he make out any difference at all between the two.


(BARUTH) If you ever have an opportunity to go to a cat show, let me warn you: cats are notorious for marking their territory, and when you get 450 of them in a single hotel ballroom, there’s a whole lotta marking going on. I know because I took my daughters to the Cat Fanciers Event at the Sheraton in Burlington last weekend, and from the minute you hit the door that scent rang out like an alarm that only your nose could hear.

Row after row of cat after cat after cat, Persian, Siamese, hairless Egyptian Sphynx, each in its little nylon tent, all of them being meticulously groomed and fluffed and pampered with tidbits to make them pliable and coquettish in the judge’s hands. Because it turns out that cat shows are nothing like dog shows, where all the dogs prance around in the ring together: no, the cats are put in numbered cages and the judge pulls them out one by one, then places them on what looks like a vet’s examining table.

In one hand the judge constantly flicks a little cat wand, with shiny plastic dangling from the end, to mollify the cat and make it stretch up for inspection. Between each examination the judge sprays down the table with disinfectant.

In other words, at cat shows, everyone knows the boundaries of their place, and they know that you do whatever it takes to keep the talent happy, if you value your fingers. Excellent preparation for the spectacle I attended the next day: Primary Eve at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire.

By 5 pm, Elm Street in Manchester was bumper to bumper, and the Radisson wasn’t much better. But the amazing thing is that no matter how thick the crowd, the national media had no trouble creating space for itself. Out on the street they’d just pull out neon yellow police tape, and tape off random sections of the public sidewalk.

But the biggest operation of all was MSNBC, which had simply roped off and taken over most of the first-floor lobby, and turned it into a revolving set for Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson.

From the second floor, you could look down on the whole MSNBC set and see it purring effortlessly along: sound technicians clipping and unclipping things from Matthews, as makeup people stabbed fingers at his silky silver hair, then sprayed the elevated follicles into place. Matthews himself seemed almost drowsy under the attention, until the lights came up, and he began shouting at the camera. When he was done shouting, all of the various attentions to his person were accomplished in reverse, and he walked down the hall to the hotel restaurant, people reaching out to touch him all along the way.

It was a wonderfully odd place to be - Tim Russert lumbering by, Pat Buchanan hissing into a cell-phone and karate-chopping the air for emphasis outside the Men’s room - but finally not quite as satisfying as the cat show.

For one thing, when we got home from the cat show with a new catnip ball, our own cat Rich-Boy was loving and grateful, and we were reminded exactly why we like these strange animals in the first place. But when I got home from the eve of the New Hampshire Primary, there was no tiny Tim Russert or Chris Matthews to greet me, just their flickering images on the television, selling poll results that would turn out to be absolutely, historically 100% wrong.

And I had to ask myself: Why exactly do I let these people have the run of my house again?
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