WAITING FOR Emily Hahn the heart beats faster, for here is a woman who understands The Dog. And the Cat, and the tiger and the baboon and the kit fox and the human and all the others.
Because, of course, for a full half-century now she has been living and writing (her first piece on The New Yorker was 50 years ago) about the stuff of life, and now most recently about communication among animals.
You know, as you await her visit, the endless patient hours required to understand animals, or, of course, anything else, and you suspect the indignities to which she must (like any animal owner) have been subjected.
"I have a problem." said a woman, not remotely connected with Hahn - but who illustrates what I mean:
"People think I am very strange ever since they saw me crawling around under the azalea bushes on Reno Road," she said, "with a hypodermic syringe in my hand. As you know, my cat has diabetes and I give him insulin shots. Doesn't like them at all, and now he's learned to shoot out the cat door at shot time, and there I am running around the bushes after him, and . . ."
Hahn would understand.
Her new book, "Look Who's Talking," is a regular encyclopedia of the high signaling between beast and beast and beast and man. But she is not an easy woman to conduct an orderly inquiry with. She is much like a pup, who the minute you say something sensible to it, starts chasing its tail or abruptly takes off at 42 miles an hour through the lawn sprinkler:
"When I was an opium addict," she will say in passing, answering your question about the dog who learned to type on the typewriter - and there you are quite thrown off.
"Borghese," she says. "Thomas Mann's daughter. It was her dog. You remember when he typed 'a bad, bad dog', only he spelled dog with two o's. She was never sure if he really understood the meaning . . ."
"Ah, this opium," you venture, thinking she may never get back to that (and you are right to think so) and she explains patiently , as to a rather dull hound, for whom one must explain that to go up steps one must raise one's paws like this upsy daisy -
"Well, I was young and I thought it was romantic to smoke opium. I was quite determined. It took me a year or so to become addicted, but I kept at it.
"Then somebody told me, when I was heading for the interior, that of course I could not get opium there so I had better get off it. I went to a man who hypnotized me and sure enough, I then didn't want it any more."
"But it can't have been that simple," you say.
"They have very little success, over the long run, at that hospital for drugs at Lexington, and you say a mere hypnotic session did it?"
"Yes," she said. "The trouble was, I had all the symptoms, when you stop, except I did not crave opium to relieve them."
Well. Now about this shame thrush, you begin, getting back to an animal she has written engagingly about, and indeed you are on the verge of learning something when Hahn alludes to elephants and:
"Of course at that time people were offering me cigars like peanuts for a chimpanzee . . ."
"Yes. Time ran a picture of me once with a cigar, and everybody started giving me cigars I really like them. But I stopped when one day I saw this little white spot under my tongue and thought I had you know what (cancer).
"It turned out, eventually, the white spot was a fungus and it just went away. But by that time I had no further desire for cigars."
"That's what comes of virtue," you point out.
"Always. Such a mistake," she assents, with the sorrowful knowledge learned the hard way.
If you ask her how she got going on the baboons when she lived in Africa - "It is absurd for people to say I lived with the pygmies," she volunteers, "when in fact I lived in my town and they in theirs. Have you ever seen a pygmy house? It's just the size of pygmies, and moreover it only lasts a few days till next rain, then they build another. But I, of course, could never in this world have fitted myself inside one, so it gives quite the wrong impression to say I lived with them."
Exactly. Now this young baboon, how does one acquire a young baboon and learn to cherish it?
"It had been grazed by the arrow that killed its mother. Baby baboons cling. They must cling. So they brought it to me, thinking I might pay something for it, and I did. I nursed its wound and at night I slept with it, or I suppose I should say it slept with me. The nine other baboons in the house . . ."
"The nine other? But were going to tell me - "
"Yes. I didn't mean to digress. This baby baboon soon learned . . ." and she's off to the races again.
"I once wanted a boxer dog," she said, at some pause when that was a reasonable thing to say, "but never had the courage to write the kennel."
But whyever not?
"My husband's name is Charles Boxer. Somehow I could not see my way, as Emily Boxer, to write saying I adored boxers. All the guff I would take at the kennel.
"We wound up with a cocker spaniel."
In 1940 Emily Hahn was delivered of a baby though she was not married. Instead of hushing the thing up, which was the style in those days, she sat down and wrote a book about it.
"I don't think you can find it any more. 'China to Me,' except at the Salvation Army book shops, they always have it for a quarter, but you can't find it anywhere else."
There is a slight digression on subscription libraries, the difficulty of finding books you want, the peculiar nature of some words like "honeysuckle" to remain unchanged in the language for many centuries while others change out of all recognition every time there's a Norman conquest or something, and how many words there are in English spelled "ol" pronounced "el," like yolk, holpen (now helped) and whether the Oxford English Dictionary has given this problem its due attention.
Now the animals, to get back. Whitman used to say, somewhat patronizingly (all animal lovers think) that he could turn and live with the animals.
As if he were not one.
Will the day come, I asked, when the distinctions we now make between humans and animals are somewhat blurred. There was a time, after all, when women and blacks and Jews and Roman Catholics were seen as not worth the trouble of treating as if they were human. So what about the great apes?
"Will the distinction be blurred?" she repeated with relish. "Well, it has always been we who made the distinction sharp in the first place."
Of course there are differences, anatomical, intellectual and perhaps others. But there is no absolute wall, Hahn suspects, separating humans from animals.
She often wonders how dogs, for example, know it's time for a walk. How do they know you are going to take them, if you do it at some unexpected hour? But they often know.
And this business of chasing tails. Pups can occupy themselves happily for days, chasing their tails every few minutes. She has seen children wheel themselves about in dizzing circles, their arms out and limp, and has seen you chimpanzees do the same thing. This racing about in circles, is it a trifling coincidence, or does it mean something that various genera do it?
Of course it prepares one for life as an adult, but perhaps it has a grander meaning than that.
And why do animals sometimes take a dislike to some person? For no known reason. Dogs do it. Tigers do it.
"We ourselves do it," you might suggest.
"Yes, Most of our own communication is wordless, but we are always suprised when we see in animals," she said.
"Do you think it's a question of smell?" I asked."No. Animals can take a great dislike to someone through a glass wall, where there is no possibility of scent," she said.
She knew someone who taught a dog, but it could only manager three things. When they taught it the fourth, it forgot on of the earlier three.
She knows people who can greet tigers and he greeted in return, and of course ther is no doubt, never has been, that communications of a sort - love, after all, it is a rudimentary form of it - has always existed even between humans and animals.
But the world is now alert, in quite new ways, to possibility that animals are far more elaborately wired up for communicating than humans had thought.
Hahn regrets their lack of language. She is sure, if they could be taught language, a surprising number of barriers in intellectual development would collapse.
All we need, of course, is for the family cat to start arguing with you about the Phaedo or how the F Major Fugue really should be played.
Hahn is distressed, in a way, that animals are no smarter than people. It has always been such a joy to believe your dog despises the right people, but of course it is not true.
Hahn has known a dog to adore some of the cruddiest souls in the history of the West, and of course it is humiliating for a dog or a tiger or an elephant to take a dislike to oneself, splendid as one is.
She was late in life coming to the travel book of Herodotus, and is enchanted to think of those who stole gold (one of only many marvels in the least dull reporter the world ever produced) from ants the size of terriers. She is busy with Gibbon, too another late discovery. (As distinct from gibbons, which she has always loved.) At 73, new classics, new non-classics, still delight her.
She hates traveling by plane and has other sound attitudes. She drinks little, and only red wine. White, as everyone knows, rusts out the soul in no time.
She thinks of lunch, sometimes, quite late in the day. She has four small pieces of luggage, instead of one good-size suitcase, and sometimes puts one inside the other for efficiency's sake - do humans, like dogs, have trouble once they're past three?
She alludes to Lorenz - he who once wrote of the "sparkling" dog, how lucid, how precise, how fresh a summing up. She has no dogs now, not in Manhattan and not with her annual trips to England (where you cannot bring dogs in).
She speaks of - and it's time to go. Time, gentlemen. Hurry up please, it's time, as a fine poet once said. It's always hurry up, time, when you're happy.
Hold back, hold back the dawn, as an even greater poet said. Hahn piles in a cab, obedient to her publisher who says she must race all over the place to promote her book.
Herodotus, on the other hand, had time in his day to write at very considerable length on five kinds of mice in Egypt.
Wait, wait - the cab is pulling off - is it a sniff or a sneeze of a sort of whoosh (she never made this clear at the time) that you give if you meet a tiger?
A very gentle, very modest snuffle. Is there such a word as snuffle?