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My name is Ben Hansen (no, not the actor). I used to write for a zine called Bust Out that covered millennial culture with a focus on social media trends. About a year ago now, out of the blue, I received an invitation to do a live, on camera interview with Mr. Tickles. The Mr. Tickles. The calico cat whose fame, even by standards of internet giants like Grumpy Cat and Boo the Dog, is truly mind-blowing. This is the story of what happened that day and a transcript of the interview itself--brief though it was. I don’t have permission to post the video, and I don’t have the money to pay the lawyers if I did it anyway. So you’ll just have to use your imagination there. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw it, is my guess.

Mr. Tickles was, at that time, already the biggest social media star ever. I include Kim and Kanye in that group so you get some ideas of the numbers we’re talking about here. And as you know, unless you’ve been in a coma for the last twelve months, he has only become more famous since then. Mostly due to his central role in the fall of Vladimir Putin’s once powerful regime. He represents a mega-million dollar franchise that has spawned dozens of imitators but no real competitors. He’s up there on a carpeted cat condo pedestal all by himself and in my opinion the reason why is quite simple. Mr. Tickles is an enlightened being. He told me so himself. In fact, he showed me.

So like I said, I was supposed to interview Mr. Tickles, and by that I mean I expected to be talking at length to Matt Heidelberg. Heidelberg is Mr. Tickles’s pet human and the man who everyone assumes has been voicing Mr. Tickles in all the videos. And so I was justifiably jazzed to be the first journalist privileged to speak with him personally. Why it should be I who was chosen I still don’t know. Mr. Tickles would call that an un-question, I think. It happened. Move on.

I feel it’s important to say that I wasn’t given anything to eat, nor did I accept any beverages from Heidelberg before the interview. I brought my own bottled water along that day, as I always do, and no one to my knowledge touched it.

I only ask that you keep an open mind as you read the following and try to reign in what Mr. Tickles calls “the great killer of all possibility.” That is, the desperate human need for certainty.

 

__________

 

We were seated in the living room of Heidelberg’s palatial home, which is built on and partially into a hillside in Tiburon, California. Behind my host, through a glass wall that ran the length of the house, I could see white-sailed boats slicing though the deep green and blue waters of San Francisco Bay.

At the beginning of the interview I sat on the couch. Mr. Tickles sat on an ottoman facing me. Heidelberg sat to his right in an easy chair. I mounted my iPhone on a tripod and recorded the entire meeting up to the point where the phone was struck and damaged.

Here now is a transcript of the conversation that transpired.

 

Bust Out: I want to start out by thanking Mr. Tickles for this interview. It’s an honor which I’ve done nothing in particular to earn, so I’m just grateful to be here talking with you both.

Mr. Tickles: Well, you didn’t do anything to earn being born either but that doesn’t make you unworthy

Bust Out: Oh my God—

Mr. Tickles: ... of the greatest prize of all, does it? Life. Though some of us have been taught to think so. That we’re not worthy of life. And, you know, if you aren’t worthy of life, then those other people over there aren’t either, by the way. That’s the first step down the road to atrocity.

Bust Out: Holy shit. (laughs) Oh, sorry. We can edit that out. It’s just ... that’s absolutely amazing. How are you doing that? Making the mouth move like that?

Mr. Tickles: That’s a good question, but to answer it I’d have to get into the nature of consciousness and matter and free will, wouldn’t I?

Bust Out:  Whoa, that’s—

Mr. Tickles: Let’s just say that Descartes was wrong and the reductionists are on the right track. And then maybe we should start with something easier, like how I’m both a calico and a male, right? Well, I have two X chromosomes and one Y, is the answer there. It’s similar to a condition in humans called Klinefelter’s syndrome.

Bust Out: (long pause) Wow, that’s just astonishing. Is it some kind of prosthetic appliance on there? I saw a dog talking on Britain’s Got Talent once. But I can’t see the seam anywhere here.

Mr. Tickles: This is going to come as a terrible shock to you, I’m afraid, but there’s no way through this that wouldn’t. This is me talking, Ben. I, Mr. Tickles, possess all the intellectual capabilities required to be having this conversation with you. I understand that you’re not able to believe this just yet, so I’d like to invite you to come over here and take a good look at my mouth and jaw. It’s all right. Just come over here by me and take a closer look. And I would also like to ask Matt to leave the room now if he would be so kind.

Matt Heidelberg: (gets up) I’ll just be right over there in the kitchen if anybody needs anything.

At this point Matt Heidelberg exits the room. The interviewer proceeds to make a careful inspection, over the course of some five or more minutes, of Mr. Tickles’s head/mouth/jaw area and discovers no prosthetic appliances of any kind, nor any sort of speaker.

Bust Out: (returns to the couch) Well, I have to confess I have absolutely no idea how this is being done. It’s just amazing. Bravo.

Mr. Tickles: But here, and see this is very interesting, you do know how it’s being done, Ben. You’re already convinced, on an intuitive level, that this is me speaking to you. Me. A cat. But another part of your mind is refusing the information.

Bust Out: Because cats don’t talk. So this is a magic trick. It has to be.

Mr. Tickles: And do you see what you’re doing there? You’re saying that because this new information is beyond your experience, it can’t be real. And so you’re shutting yourself off from any radical new truths. You’ll never even see the black swan. Because it just can’t be, right? All swans are white. You can’t learn what you don’t already know! This is the tragedy of the human condition that keeps people in ignorance and prevents them, outside of a few of the most dedicated and principled scientists, from correcting and expanding their belief systems.

Bust Out: (looks around the room) Are we being filmed? I mean besides by me. It this like a hidden camera thing?

Mr. Tickles: Okay, we’re going to try a little experiment. Or more like a game. This is a game that more people should play, in fact, because it puts a crack in your personal echo chamber. Are you ready to play the pretend it's true game?

Bust Out: (laughs) Uh, sure.

Mr. Tickles: Okay. I want you to pretend that it’s true. What your senses and your gut are telling you right now. That you’re talking to a cat with a superior intelligence.

Bust Out: Okay, sure. I can play along. But I’ll figure it out later. I’m good at working out magic tricks.

Mr. Tickles: That’s fine, that’s good. But for now, this is real. Okay?

Bust Out: Okay.

Mr. Tickles: The first thing you would want to know then is how I came by my intelligence. And the short answer is I don’t know. But I was part of an experiment being conducted by a group of scientists whom I assume were funded by a government or a large corporation. Gene manipulation was involved. And the result was something beyond what they had anticipated.

Bust Out: I can only imagine their surprise at inventing a talking cat.

Mr. Tickles: You don’t have to imagine it—you just experienced it. But anyway yes, they were surprised. And that was before what for lack of a better word I’m going to call my enlightenment.

Bust Out: Your what?

Mr. Tickles: I’m an enlightened being. My intelligence opened up the universe to me in ways that you can’t even begin to comprehend.

Bust Out: (clears throat) Well, uh, many of your fans would say... (pauses) I’m sorry, but I have to admit, this is kind of freaking me out. Can we just stop the camera and get on the same page here? I mean I’m happy to play along, but—

Mr. Tickles: I told you it was going to be a shock.

Bust Out: Yeah, well. Um, are we still playing the game? The, whatever, the believing game?

Mr. Tickles: We should always start by playing the believing game. And basically we're wired to do that. Generally speaking we know things are wrong only after we've assumed they're true and that assumption led us to a reductio ad absurdum. But the default is belief. As it should be. So we remain open to possibilities.

Bust Out: Right. Uh, so who’s possibly your favorite internet dog?

Mr. Tickles: Oh, no, no, no, no. Okay, look, we touched on matter and the will before. How about this...

Bust Out: What’s happening? It feels like static...

At this point Mr. Tickles levitates himself off the ottoman and floats up about two feet into the air vertically.

Bust Out: Whoa, fuck! What the shit!

Mr. Tickles begins to float toward the interviewer.

Bust Out: What the ... get the fuck away from me. Get away!

Mr. Tickles: Open your mind to the possibilities, Ben. There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio...

The interviewer leaps off the couch and in a blind scramble to get away from the levitating Mr. Tickles trips over the ottoman and hits the camera tripod. Sound and picture abruptly stop at this point.


__________

 

I began hyperventilating after Mr. Tickles came flying off the ottoman at me quoting Shakespeare, and I was unable to regain control of myself well enough to continue with the interview. Matt Heidelberg and Mr. Tickles have never again given an interview to me or to any other journalist. The world continues to assume that Heidelberg voices Mr. Tickles and is the source of the new philosophy, Ticklism, that has brought peace to nations and individuals alike.

But I know the truth. Or I think I do. Unless I’m just crazy, right? I’m going to leave that to you to decide. But again, try to have an open mind. I didn’t. But if you can, maybe there’s an interview waiting for you out there. One that will change the way you see the world as only Mr. Tickles in his infinite wisdom can.