At half-time, the Forty-Niners comfortably ahead by a touchdown and a field goal, my cat leaps into my lap to let me know his food bowl has been empty for at least two hours. I brush the white hairs off my blue jeans and head into town for a bag of scrumptious kibbles, pondering one of the great mysteries of the universe along the way -- why, considering the incredible amount of hair my cat sheds, he's not bald.  
  Perhaps cats are hair-fusion reactors. Our sun, a fusion apparatus which has been producing light and heat for several billion years, appears to be in no danger of sputtering out any time soon. Cats have probably known the secret of the sun for millennia. The Egyptians seem to have been aware of this kitty gnosis -- the more hair cats shed, the more they have -- and worshipped them. The connection between the solar and the feline is obvious from the beatific smiles of cats sunning themselves on windowsills, absorbing the arcane formulas necessary for follicle fusion.  

In the golden days of Greece, when the Parthenon was in no danger of being eaten by the air of Athens, philosophers would repair to a shady grove on the city's outskirts to plumb such puzzling aspects of the cosmos. Academe, whoever he was, apparently didn't mind Plato and his cronies traipsing among his olive trees. Could be he figured they'd help keep the weeds down, trampling them with their sandals.  
  Here on the north coast, where the fog of summer and the wild storms of winter discourage open-air philosophy, the fruit and vegetable aisles of the supermarket have replaced the shady paths under Academe's olives. Bearded men in boots gather by the cauliflower to discuss the merits of high-lead logging, various political parties and quarterbacks. Housewives and ingenues sidle up to each other to debate the tragic and comic elements of eros, to fathom the behavior of errant teenagers and those perpetual adolescents, their husbands and lovers.  
  Pushing a shopping cart full of items I didn't know I needed towards the pet food aisle, I spy a local personality with a higher degree and dubious morals waving a banana in the air. He's conducting the Muzak drifting from the supermarket's cleverly placed speakers. Just beyond him, bent over the eggplants in such a way that the frilly black lace of her undies is visible beneath her skin-tight, red mini-skirt, is Misty.

  She used to be Mindy. She used to be Wendy and Cindy and Linda. Many people on the coast change their names when they go through a major change in their lives. Misty alters one letter in her name each time she chucks a boyfriend. As you might guess from her copious names and her sparce outfit, Misty is what the politically correct would no doubt call erotically challenged.  
  One thing is clear to me -- she's not going to be Misty much longer. In her shopping cart are skinless breasts instead of the two-pound beefsteaks I've seen her latest beau devour at barbecues.  

I took your friend, the cute professor's, advice, she calls out, leaving her cart behind to block the aisle. I read that Plato guy.  
  The supermarket is a dangerous place. You can go there for kibbles and get yourself locked in the half-nelson of a symposium. You can easily miss the kick-off for the second half.  
  Misty confesses that she doesn't really care for Plato. There's too much of the Puritan about him, the prig, and more than a tad of the dictator, the junta general. Besides, he banished poets from his perfect Republic, sticking them in a cave somewhere, and what's life like without Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? He didn't have to do that. The real poets would've left that perfectly ordered, perfectly bland, antiseptic and most unerotic kingdom of their own free will.  
  She did sort of like parts of the Symposium, though most of it was blather. Socrates was his usual quibbling self, splitting hairs as deftly as the slickest of sophists, those wandering dispensers of snake-oil wisdom. Not that she doesn't admire him, in a way. Any quibbler willing to drink hemlock over his quibblers deserves a certain amount of respect. Misty does find it hard, however, to forgive him for attributing his fleshless version of the true meaning of love to a woman. Diotima is clearly a fake, an invention. No woman would ever espouse a theory of love so rarefied, without wisdom of the blood, without the honey and salt of life, with so little boogie in it.

  The other members of the drinking part spout the sort of lame stuff bearded hepcats and pale, long-haired chicks in black turtlenecks used to bandy about the tables of coffeehouses along Bleecker Street back in the days when Misty started listening to Bob Dylan and stopped teasing her hair. The only participant who appeals to her is Aristophanes.  
  The story he concocts is so deliciously absurd, it has to be true. Misty is intrigued by the idea that we used to be doubles of ourselves, that we had two faces, four legs, four arms, and so on. The extra limbs, incidentally, were a great aid to locomotion. When we were in a hurry, we could go rolling across the landscape like wheels that are all spokes and no rims. Some of us acrobatic doubles back then were two males, some two females, some hermaphroditic.  
  It makes sense, she says. It explains a lot. Soulmates, being gay.  

So splendid were we, in fact, our existence challenged the gods. For folks who were supposed to be immortal and powerful, the gods are awfully touchy about upstarts. In any event, Misty is quite sure all her woes stem from the fact that the gods punished us by splitting us in two. We would've died, or at least gone through life as marred as Thalidomide babies, if it weren't for Apollo, who performed the first plastic surgery on record, gathering together our skin and sewing us up so we didn't look so bad.  
  She says it's no wonder we wander about, lovelorn, changing our names, in search of our other half. Our soulmates are also our actual fleshmates. Misty finds the situation unutterably sad. Aristophanes claims that when we chanced to encounter our other half, we clung together, embracing endlessly, often perishing of hunger, so happy that we forgot to water our gardens or fence them in against marauding deer.  
  Another thing. Back in those days our genitals were located differently on our anatomies, so even if an original hermaphroditic couple met, there would be no offspring. The male tandems, of course, were sterile, as were the female tandems. It looked as though the race might die out. But those gods who delight to punish us also delight to take pity on us. They relocated our genitals so we could reproduce.  
  The gonad adjustment reminds me of an old bar joke about an obese man who wants to lose weight fast, but if I get started on that, the game will be over by the time I return home. Telling Misty my poor cat is absolutely starving, I push my cart towards a check-out, troubled by thoughts of the Niners losing home-field advantage in the playoffs and of what America would be like if the classics had a wide circulation.