That was a terrific episode, and clarified a lot; I feel like the readings about empathy (Sonya's having it, Crane's lack), and about the story as a fable — you didn't spell it out, but presumably a warning to the granddaughter (to borrow Marc Arimini's reading) not to end up like *that*), were both great. The discussion was quite illuminating on many points. (And always bonus points for a Big Lebowski reference.)
At the same time,I can't help feeling like you're missing something — as is Marc, and as am I. So let me point out a few things:
1. Reading the story as about empathy leaves unexplained Wolfe's remark on the *liberal* politicians. You suggest at the podcast's end that politicians don't understand the plight of people like Sonya, which I suppose is narrowly true (if they think she's not making it), but it seems like what is going on with the liberals can only be called an *excess* of empathy. Why would the story, about empathy, point to excess as well as insufficiency? (Perhaps it is a typical—for later Wolfe, anyway—curmudgeonly "pox on both houses" comment, meant mostly as a joke. But if it's meant as meaningful it's puzzling.)
2. How they met: you point this out, and I have no ideas (unless it is to further highlight Crane's insufficient empathy: he doesn't even notice nothing's wrong), but it still puzzles.
3. Harlan Ellison: you pointed this out too. (And seriously, huh? Weird failure of tone.) But also combine this with not only the Debbie Reynolds/John-John reference... but *also* the casual allusion to Boswell. That is *not* something a celebrity-struck youngster would know. So is *that* the failure of tone? Or are we missing something?
4. What did Sonya say to the partner's wife? (Something about her being sick?) It's made a bit too much of to mean nothing, but what does it mean?
5. Tudor house, gas lamps, "estate"... does that all mean something?
6. Why is the apron *backwards*?
7. There are two, separate, young "men" (friends) described. The first is described in the exact language used to describe Kittee herself: "high cheekbones and an unexpressive face" (and they're both good looking). So a relative, from the same gene-line? But that's *not* the one CW points at when he suggests he's going to buy Kittee a friend after he dies. Why have two?
8. "the fine lines had spread across his face and the way his hand shook" — just a descriptive detail?
9. "Then, Sonya felt, he looked at her in a most significant way; but the last time she went he seemed to have forgotten all about it...". What was he implying? (That she was to be his executor, if he bought the friend for Kittee? Something about her emotional state? What?)
10. "mouton Sainte-Menehould": just a fancy dish? "Sainte-Menehould" is, according to Professor Google, where Louis XIV was recognized on his flight to Varennes; "mouton" is sheep, which has all sorts of connotations.
11. Is the small legacy just the pet to care for, i.e. a friend? Or is it more? (Is she going to eat Kittee? Have sex with her? Sell her?)
12. Are we sure we can glean nothing from Wolfe's introductory comment? If the prettiest things in the ads are the models — which in general are *not* sold — does that imply that the dog magazines were in some sense selling the people in them? Perhaps that was just the germ of Wolfe's idea. But is there anything to the idea that the friends are sold, but in some sense the people who buy them are being sold (people do work for their pets; and CW does end up as meat...)
Some of these points are probably overreading. But I don't think *all* of them are. I think this story is, as yet, unsolved.
Thanks again for the episode.
PS: Bonus 13th question, this time about the episode: why did you claim that the then-recently killed RFK's death would be a big blow to Wolfe, given his politics? RFK was a liberal icon, never more than in that last run for the Presidency. (Somewhat less before, I grant you, but that's what he had come to stand for.) I don't get that sense from Wolfe's politics at all, which seem to me to veer between fairly standard conservative and a particular form of Catholic-influenced politics, which tends to be traditional about (eg) gender roles, but shows some concern for the plight of the poor. Neither way does RFK seem like Wolfe's politics (although maybe he liked him — he was popular with catholics, for obvious reasons.) Anyway, I was curious about that.