by Cris Shell, student assistant at the Institute for Human Science and Culture, and graduate student pursuing the NEOMFA
Of all of the weird postcards in the David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, I often find myself being pulled towards one of my absolute favorite things, cats! I implied that cats are some sort of oddity, but they’re not really. In fact, they are only an issue in quantities of more than three, and even that may be either too few or too many depending on who you ask. Anyway, I started where you would expect, in the binder “Cats Volume 1.”
What a day, multiple binders of cat postcards! All that was missing was a reclining chair, a stormy evening, a fireplace crackling, and a drink or two. I don’t have any of those things, and that is a lot of missing elements, but I can still enjoy a few pages of cats without those necessities, post card binders are basically like proto-Instagram posts.
I’m a dozen pages into the book and then this mug catches my eye, number 45. (I wasn’t counting, its digitized here.)
Look at that cat! I make a mental note to get a basket so, hopefully, I can find my kitty like this, surrounded by flowers, that would be cute. This cat is not a cutie. It looks like the soul of a man trapped into the body of a cat who has been cursed to travel across the planes alone. It looks like he has seen hundreds of years of time pass by in an instant. Somewhere in that time, this cat gained that thousand-yard-stare. I notice he is surrounded with forget me nots, as if I could ever forget those heartless beady eyes.
This cat looks strange to me, and I love it, but it also drives me crazy. Let me explain. One thing I really enjoy about postcards is when the message doesn’t fit the image on the front.
The sender of this cat of the apocalypse wrote, “I got what I was looking for from snyder come down to underwood Friday I will be in if it does not storm. your son Geo.” A perfectly normal message I suppose. I could point out that it seems redundant to write both “your son” and your name, as if your parents don’t know you by your name. The sign-off isn’t what stands out to me. Geo here doesn’t mention the cat. They don’t say,” Oh, look at this freaky mannish cat” or “P.S. Have you ever seen a cat like that!” Can Geo see? Am I the only one who can see this beast for what it is? Is it possible that I am the one who is cursed, not the cat? Maybe those who stare into his blank stare are doomed to take his place, like some fabled prophecy I heard and forgotten long ago.
I guess this is my fate now, doomed to become this fiend, cast out and forced to walk a lonesome road, destined to become like this man-cat. There are worse ways to go to be fair. What’s that thing Harvey Dent says? “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the