The Moral of the Mercer Madame (5/18/16)

It’s easy to believe what we hear sometimes, especially if it’s something bad.

In fact, it’s easier to believe the bad stuff than the good stuff.

And, if we aren’t exactly crazy about the person, it’s almost delightful.

So was the case when I was in college. I can’t remember the class exactly, I just recall it was one of my criminal justice courses.

My professor liked to tell us about his position working for the state – he was never very clear on what he actually did, but he wanted us to know he had some power.

Or, maybe not that he had any power but he worked for someone who did. Or sat near them or something.

Either way, this man was nursing a power complex and for some unforeseen reason, he hated me.

I am not sure why, but he did not like me and he didn’t really try to hide it.

I knew it and my friends knew it.

So when I was late one day, he made it a point to make a comment about it.

My friend Ron, never one to miss an opportunity to mess with me, approached the professor with a possible explanation.

“She was probably taking care of some business with her cat house,” he told him conspiratorially.

“Her what?” the professor asked. Not only was I late, but apparently I took part in illegal activities.

“Her cat house,” Ron repeated. “You didn’t know she had a cat house?” He dropped his voice down an octave lower. “She’s the Mercer Madame; you really should ask her about it. She can get you the hook up with the cat of your dreams.”

When I made it to class, I noticed the professor glaring at me even more than usual, unbeknownst to me, that Ron had told him this elaborate tale.

Ron just sat in the back, chuckling to himself.

As we headed to our break, the professor told me he wanted to speak with me for a moment. Ron, being the good friend that was he, decided to hang back to observe the little situation he had created.

Thinking I was about to be reamed out for being late, I immediately offered an apology, but my professor cut me off abruptly. “I want to hear about your, how do I put this? Your…cat house.”

I was confused and I am sure my expression was one of horror. My Granny always said my uncle and I were going to get in trouble one day.

“Who told you about that?”

“Don’t worry about that. I want to know what kind of cats you have in there. How do you find them?”

“I don’t find them. They come looking for me.”

Well, it was true. They did.

“I see. So they know where to go, I suppose. How do they find you? Is it word of mouth?”

“We just figure there’s some underground network, letting them know where to go to get fed, get them out of the rain, and stay warm.”

My professor took a deep, accusatory breathe, staring me down with daggers.

Ron tried to conceal his growing laughter in the back of the room.

“So, there’s a network that helps them find you. OK. And all you offer them is food and shelter? How much of a cut are you taking?”

“A cut? What are you talking about?”

“How much do you make?”

Oh, God? What was he thinking?

“We don’t make anything – if anything, we are losing money. You should see my credit card debt just keeping them up to date on their shots!”

“Who’s this ‘we?’” my professor demanded.

“My uncle and I. Bobby helps with most of them, taking care of them. Mama was helping but she has her pick and doesn’t really want to deal with the rest of them.”

“So – you’ve got your uncle in on this! It’s a family affair then?”

My professor was growing more and more adamant about this issue. I had no idea why he was taking such a deeply personal stance with it but he was.

“Now, tell me. If I was wanting to visit your cat house, what could I expect?”

“I don’t know.” And I didn’t. What the heck was he expecting?

“What kind of girls do you have exactly?”

“I don’t just have girls, I have boys, too,” I began.

“What!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, there’s boys in there. And I don’t know what you are looking for…we have some tiger striped, some solid gray ones, some tuxedos with white paws. And I am not really sure why you seem so angry about this. We normally don’t try to adopt any of them out. Maybe you should check with your local shelter?”

“What in the devil are you referring to?” my professor asked.

“I thought you were looking for a cat and I just wouldn’t feel comfortable letting you have one of ours. We’re real funny about who we let have one of our babies.”

“Cats? So your cat house really has….cats…”

“Yes, what did you think it had?”

The sound that came out of Ron was beyond hysterical. It was somewhere between a howl and a pig snorting. I gave him a sideways glance that let him know I would maim him later.

“So you don’t run a house of ill repute…” my professor was actually disappointed.

“I probably have enough cats to make me look like a crazy lady, but nope, sorry. No house of ill repute; just an old empty house on our property with about 20 strays we have rescued and vetted.”

My professor shot Ron an unforgiving glance that probably dropped his grade down a letter.

As I headed out to salvage the remaining minutes of my break, Ron skipped alongside me. “You know, for a second there, I had our old teacher thinking you were the Madame of Mercer. Kind of funny, don’t you think, that someone would believe that? You, little Miss Type A, gotta make an A – a lady running a house of ill repute! He almost believed it!”

He almost did.

So maybe the moral of the Mercer Madame is to never believe everything you hear, even when all the evidence makes it look like it may be fact.

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