When the waitress returned with two identical plates of biscuits and gravy, Richmond was well into describing the superiority of dogs to cats.
He’d taken down three cups of coffee since we arrived, and there were great spots of brown slobber on his otherwise crisp white shirt – the products of careless gesturing and over-caffeination. The newest and consequently darkest splotch came as he was detailing the timeline which unfolds when a pet owner dies alone in their home. According to Richmond, when the body cools below ninety degrees Fahrenheit, a dog covers its master with its body and waits for help. This is in stark contrast to a cat which – again, according to Richmond – begins to eat the body. This vicious fact was his crowning evidence and was met with a large gulp of dark roast, some of which escaped his mouth and soaked into the cotton above his right breast pocket.
The waitress – a deeply tanned Cuban girl who may have been nineteen – dropped the plates in front of us, and hurried off to refill coffees elsewhere. Richmond had deemed her “fuckable” upon entering the restaurant, but hadn’t said more than fourteen words – his order and his thanks in advance – since sliding into the booth. After a brief pause to tuck his napkin into the front of his shirt, he took to the pepper shaker with a vengeance and returned to his meditation on dogs.
“See dogs consider us equals, Douglas – emotionally and physically,” he said, “they mourn us in their own way when we are gone. It’s not grief exactly, but they stay loyal, see? Cats just use us as they see fit. Nasty little bastards.”
I nodded and doused my breakfast in hot sauce; I owned neither a cat nor a dog.
“They’re useful, too,” he hadn’t even taken a breath, “dogs, I mean. Not cats. Because it goes both ways, right? We see dogs as equals as well. Why the hell do you think we give them names and let them sleep in our beds?”
At this, he shoveled a massive forkful of biscuit into his mouth, going silent for the first time in half an hour.
“People let cats sleep in the bed, too, Rich,” I said, taking advantage of his chewing.
“Sure they do,” he said through a mouthful of pepper gravy mush, “but it’s not the same. People love their dogs, man. They can faun over their cats all they want, the savages, but they’ll never love them the same way they love dogs.”
The waitress returned to refill our coffees – my second and his fourth – and smiled without showing her teeth when I mentioned how good the biscuits were. She asked if we needed anything else, then turned and made her way to the front of the restaurant with Richmond’s eyes boring into her backside.
“Man alive,” he said, “you could build a house on that ass. You know? Like in the bible?”
Richmond was always concerned with my understanding everything he said, regardless how innate. I ate in silence for a while as he tore into a tangent about biblical parables and the current luck of the Florida Marlins. I chimed in occasionally to answer one of his leading questions, and twice attempted to change the subject to something more manageable. But he would not be deterred, and eventually the conversation circled back on itself.
“Here’s another example,” he said, “you know those sexy little mamas who carry little dogs around in their purses?”
I nodded again, and launched into my second drowned biscuit.
“Well, why do you suppose it is they pack those little mutts around?”
I continued to chew my food, only noticing after several seconds of silence that the question had not been rhetorical.
“Geez, Rich. I don’t know, maybe they just think they are cute.”
He laughed hard at this, sending bits of food flying into the neutral ground between us.
“Well, of course they think they are cute! But it goes deeper than that. See, a hundred years ago, these girls would be married with a couple of kids to look after. But now, they are all caught up in playing the game – dating around, having their fun. They get to be twenty-five, thirty years old with nothing to show for it but a tight body and some nice clothes. So, they snatch up these little critters to lug around and care for like a baby so they don’t feel like such whores. It’s maternal, you see.”
He said the word with an edge in his voice, leaning forward over his plate and catching a dollop of gravy on the second button of his sleeve.
“I don’t know, that’s a pretty broad statement, Rich.”
He shrugged, resting his case and finishing what was left of his breakfast. The Cuban girl returned with our check, and I reached for it instinctively, but Richmond was quicker on the draw. I insisted I pay at least my half but he would hear none of it, suggesting sincerely I save my money and take my wife somewhere nice.
Outside the restaurant, we shook hands on the sidewalk and took the time to promise each other it would not be so long before we saw the other. He had come from the south, and I from the north. As he disappeared around the corner of 17th avenue, I wondered – not for the first time – what kind of man worries about a cat eating his corpse.