THE CALICO CAT
Sam adopted me in 1988 or so. At the time she was living in the lot behind the building that I lived in, and I started feeding her.
At the time she was pretty messed up, apparently having been living on the street for an entire New York winter before I met her. After I saw how totally fucked the animal was I snatched her with the idea of first taking her to a vet, and then finding her a home. For some reason I just didn’t see myself keeping her.
But it didn’t work out that way, and we were together over ten years later. I’m a loner by nature; I really don’t like to hang out with lots of people, preferring to write stories, make art, sling code and play my fucking CDs LOUD!
So the cat and I spent a lot of time together, and it was during that time I learned Sam’s story. Of course since she could only speak to me by purring, scratching, pissing, biting, meowing, kneading and playing, I had to piece her story together and that took time.
But it soon became very clear to me.
At one time she’d an owner; that’s why she didn’t resist when I first put a flea collar on her. The owner had been abusive; that’s why when I first got her if you moved too fast to pick her up she’d flinch as if you were going to strike her. More evidence of abuse was the permanent limp this young animal had in her right rear leg. It was clear to me her last owner had been a real class act.
And she’d probably just had enough shit from her last owner to get the hell out as soon as she got the chance; I soon learned that this was one stubborn animal, and I easily could see her doing something like that.
She’d been poorly fed while she lived with this idiot; that’s why she always wolfed down any and all food put in front of her. Given enough food, she’d eat until she puked and then would eat more. This was a habit she didn’t lose until many years later.
Her previous owner didn’t care enough for her (and for cats in general, for that matter) to get her fixed. When she adopted me she was very pregnant, and in fact had three healthy kittens a couple of months later.
Sam was great company, I taught her lots of tricks, and her and I got along real well. In fact if it wasn’t for my job, her and I would probably still be together.
I work for a German Investment Bank, and began spending a lot of time in London starting in 1996. At first I’d be over for the odd week – no big deal.
But as time went on I got more and more wrapped up in a project over here, and that culminated with the summer of 1997 when I made 27 round trips between New York and London in about five months.
All that transatlantic travel might sound exotic, but when it’s a weekly thing it sucks. Big time.
I was always jetlagged, I would wake up at night not knowing where I was, my girlfriend was more than a little put off by my absence, and worst of all Sam would spend a lot of time ignoring me when I was in New York.
The cat – my companion of almost ten years - would sit with her back to me, refusing to acknowledge my existence when I first returned home from a trip. She wanted me to apologise. She didn’t like being alone. She was unhappy. And I didn’t like that.
I told my boss I’d had enough, and that I wanted to be reassigned to New York based project. He countered with “Well I need someone in London and you’re already there - how about this ex-pat offer to relocate?” The wily bastard already had the contract written up.
I looked over the offer, and thinking I was being slick ("I'd make myself too expensive!") bumped the numbers up a fair amount. He took a quick look and said “Ok”. Now I had a problem.
I knew enough about the firm and Investment Banking in general to realise that I was in an awkward position. It was either move to London or find another job.
I had three immediate concerns, and in this order; my cat, my girlfriend and my flat.
I could tell the girlfriend and she already knew this was a possibility, and the flat presented no problem at all as the landlady hated my guts anyway. But Sam was a big problem.
There was absolutely no way I was going to be able to tell her, to make her understand. The poor animal already had a rough life before I’d met her, and now she was going to lose her home and companion. So I did the best thing I could for her - I set out to find her the best possible home.
Now as it turns out my girlfriend knew a guy who had relocated from Wisconsin about six months earlier. Growing up on a dairy farm he was accustomed to having cats around, and it just so happened that he was in the market for a pet.
I met with him briefly and Sam interviewed him at length (sniff, sniff, rub, rub). He made his mind up on the spot and I agreed to let him take her when I left New York in early January 1998, roughly eight weeks away.
Perfect! That was a load off my mind!
THE WHITE CAT
About five weeks later I was preparing to leave the United States. The bank gave me time off to take care of personal business, so I spent my days carefully packing stuff away and preparing shipping manifests. My evenings were spent at a family owned restaurant I that I’d frequented over years.
I’d lived on the Lower East Side for about twelve years. I’d owned two art galleries, published a few underground magazines (Hype) and just hung out; I knew lots of folks there. One of my favourite places to eat and drink was a little restaurant owned by a Dominican family on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton, El Sombrero.
I knew the entire extended family and they were wonderful people; they encouraged and corrected my broken Spanish and I’d watched their kids grow up. They called me “Seis seis seis” after the 666 on the front of my cap, and I generally felt at home there.
I spent a lot of time there my last few weeks in New York, drinking margaritas and saying goodbye to friends.
The latter part of December that year was really frigid. I grew up in rural Western New York state, and have a high tolerance for the cold but it was even getting to me. I was even wearing gloves, and that’s something I almost never did while living in Manhattan.
One evening I’d been at Sombrero until late and was coming home. It was probably 20F out, with a brisk wind so I was in a hurry to get back to my flat and my cat. We didn’t have too many more nights together.
I was passing a parking lot when I saw a flash of white moving against the chicken wire fence. “What the hell was thought?” I thought. I stopped to take a closer look, and didn’t see anything so I moved on. I saw it again.
“That can’t be a cat?!??” I thought to myself. But it was.
He was a really tiny little white kitten, maybe six months old and he rushed up against the fence and stood up on his hind legs looking right at me
“Wheeeew” he squealed, a very un cat-like sound. “wheewwwww” he was almost yowling. Its hard to describe, but it was a very unsettling sound.
“Hey kitty” I greeted him, approaching the fence. I poked my gloved fingertip through the chicken wire, and he rubbed his cheek against it.
“Wheew” His yellow eyes looked at me intently. “Shit!” I remember thinking to myself. I looked around but all I saw was a parking lot full of folks hurrying to and from cars. It was fucking cold.
All of a sudden he rushed away from me to some other people who stopped to pet him. “I think he’s a stray” I shouted over to them.
They stood up and hurried off. The kitty ran back to me and rubbed his face against my finger again. Then he was off to some other folks.
“Get the fuck away cat!” one shouted, as the little kitty stood up on his hind legs, patting desperately at their calf’s. One kicked at him roughly, and laughing, they were on their way.
He rushed back to me. This entire situation sucked. I was freezing my ass off, I was leaving the United States permanently in less than three weeks time and I had a cat at home. Fuck! But I knew what had to be done.
Removing my gloves, I took a Leatherman pocket tool from its sheath, and using the pliers I slowly created a small hole through the chicken wire. The little white kitty watched intently, and when I was finished slipped right out without prompting. He instantly began patting my legs as I knelt at the fence. Opening my jacket, I slipped the cat inside, zipped it up and stood up.
He settled back against my chest and I headed home. As I crossed the streets I swear could feel the little guy shaking; as cold as I’d been I guess with his smaller mass he felt it even more.
I got home and all hell broke loose!
I believe that I forgot to mention that Sam, perhaps because of her background as a stray, was insanely jealous of other cats. I deposited the little guy in my bathroom and closed the door. It was pretty small – just a toilet, a heater and a shower, but it would be enough room for him. All this time Sam stayed about ten feet away from the bathroom door, hissing and loudly yowling constantly.
I hoped she would get tired of it soon because it was not pleasant to listen to.
I grabbed some old t-shirts and filled a bowl with water. I went back in the bathroom and dropped the shirts under the heater, making a crude bed for him. I put the water bowl in the shower, and came out to get him some grub.
The household rule for Sam was “dry food all the time, canned food as a treat once a week”, and I didn’t see any reason to treat him better. So I made him a large bowl of dry food, maybe as much as Sam would eat in one day.
I took food into the bathroom, and by that time he’d finished the water!
He probably smelled what was in the bowl because he began pawing at my calves. I put the food down and he started crunching away. I gave him another bowl of water, brought in a shoe box filled with kitty litter, and sat on the john as I watched him eat and drink.
About five minutes later he came up to me, and pawed at my calves. “What’s your story?” I asked him softly as we looked into each others eyes.
He was a beautiful animal, mostly white with a pink little nose and bright yellow eyes. He had a patch of black fur on his chest that caught your attention, but it was those eyes that really captured you.
He would look intently at you, all the time making his high pitched “Wheewww”, although over time he relaxed and emitted more cat like noises.
I telephoned my girlfriend, who lived three blocks away. She came over and was simply stunned by this guys beauty. We both resolved to either find this guys owner, or a home for him as soon as possible.
Over the days that followed, in between packing, changing mail addresses, closing bank accounts, on and on and on with the petty bullshit details involved in rebooting an adult American life in Europe I took care of my number one priority: the Little White Cat.
Even though I walked carefully through the neighbourhood, I never saw a missing cat sign for this animal. And since my own time was running out, I immediately changed goals and started trying to find a home for the little guy.
But that wasn’t easy.
Bid-A-Wee, Being Kind and all the other humane organisations that my girlfriend and I could think of were full, and couldn’t take in another animal. My girlfriend already had two cats, and they were far more territorial than Sam; she couldn’t give him a home, even for a short time.
This was beginning to be a problem.
And worse, even though Sam hated my guts now, the Little White Cat was rapidly bonding with me.
He followed me around my flat, and was generally in my way all of the time.
He’d found an old pair of my socks and refused to give them up, carrying them around the flat in his mouth. Even though I took the socks away from him twice, each time he found them again. I finally just gave up and let him keep them.
He slept with me, almost on my head, and if I rose in the middle of the night to use the bathroom would accompany me back and forth. He was quite a nice animal.
Every evening while I wrote he would climb into my lap and demand to be petted. He’d fix those yellow eyes on mine and while he purred I’d ask him “What’s your story?".
And being a cat he answered me the only way he could.
This little kitty was bold and brash and really adventurous. He wasn’t afraid of anything, and Sam quickly learned not to mess with him. Even though she was three times his size, the first time she swung at him was the last. He jumped right at her, yowling and hissing and she fled in about two seconds.
Poor Sam! I really felt sorry for her but it was an impressive display from the little guy, I laughed out loud!
And one day I left the flat door open too long. Now Sam would NEVER go outside; being a stray, she had a horrendous fear of not being in her space. In fact when people didn’t believe me about this, I’d take Sam out in the hallway and set her down. She ALWAYS beat me back to the flat, her nails desperately scratching against the floor as she ran.
But the Little White Cat was different. I left the door open too long once while I swept the flat and quick as a flash he was gone! Out in the hallway. Down the stairs. Moving like a little white blur. Faster and faster.
I couldn’t believe how quickly he moved, and it was difficult for me to sprint down the stairs fast enough to catch him. Him and I were both lucky that nobody had come through the street doors into the building, else he probably would have fled outside.
It was then that I knew : he hadn’t been mistreated, but he’d unwisely escaped. Unlike Sam, this guy probably had a good owner, someone who cared for him but he’d gotten out somehow. This was his story; as far as I could see, there was no other explanation.
In any case, I was down to about one week left in the US. Time was running out. I had one last hope, Roger, an Arab guy who ran a string of businesses on first avenue, including a Deli (Rogers Gardens) and a Pet Store (Animal Crackers).
I explained the situation to Roger, and he readily agreed to help me find the little guy a home. I returned home and without much trouble got the little guy in my cat carrier. He was alright until I hit the streets and then he started to yowl.
I can’t tell you how bad I felt. I sensed that somehow he knew I was removing him from the home he’d made. This sucked.
I took him to the pet store over on the east side corner of first avenue and second street, and we put him in a back room. The little guy desperately tried to follow me when we shut the door, and I heard him wailing. This fucking sucked.
I went back to the front of the shop with Roger, and slowly started picking up cat food and other stuff. I'd promised Sam’s new owner a bunch of supplies, and was preparing a package for him. She was leaving me tomorrow.
Roger rang up my order and this older rocker I’d seen around the neighbourhood came in.
“Michael, how are you?” Roger greeted him. The exchanged pleasantries, and as I packed my bag Roger started his pitch.
“You still looking for cat?” Roger asked.
“No, I was thinking about it but I’ve got the dogs. I’m ok now”
“Nice cat! Beautiful cat! At least you should look!”
“I don’t know Roger…” Michael trailed off uncertainly.
“Come! Come!” Roger closed the cash register.
“See ‘ya Roger” I departed feeling much better. I knew Roger really well.
He had come to New York from Palestine in 1980, almost broke. Eighteen years later he owned several businesses on First Avenue, and three apartment buildings in Brooklyn. I had no doubt that this old boy could sell when he wanted to.
I never saw the Little White Cat again, and although he comes to me in my dreams, I don’t worry about him either. I know he’ll be ok.
THE TORTISE SHELL CAT
Fast forward almost three years to October 2000, and I’m living in Camden Town, London. I don’t own a cat because I’ve been really busy with work, and I’ve also been attending University over here, taking a Masters degree in Quanitative Finance.
But I haven’t missed owning a cat because it seems lots of folks let their animals roam outside here. And I make it a point to know something about all of them.
For example, there is the Big Black Tom across the road. I see him every morning when I leave for work. An elderly woman lets him out at about 6:30AM, and he climbs up onto the garage roof. A cat can get some sun and rest way up there.
And there is his buddy, an even larger Orange Tom. I’m not sure who owns him, but I see him and the black cat hanging out when I come home from work. They're good friends and clean each other often.
Then there is the White Persian that lives around the corner from me.
She is next door neighbours with a Small Black Kitten, who wears a bright red collar and even has his own cat flap.
Something is going on with those two, since I’ve seen both of them using the flap. I think he invites her over for a meal. I certainly would if I were lucky enough to be a cat; she’s a fine looking animal.
And finally there is the construction site down the road. I think they’ve run out of money, since they’ve been working on it as long as I’ve been here and haven't made much progress. It’s a mess.
But about six weeks ago I was out seeing a show, doing a little slam dancing and its maybe one AM, a brilliant full mooned clear night here in London when I see a dark shape moving in the construction site.
I freeze, and I see the tell-tale JUMP of a cat hunting and going in for the kill. I was curious, but didn’t want to interfer so I left quietly.
But even though its out of my way, I made it a point to go by every day from then on, and sure enough, there is a beautiful Tortoise Shell coloured cat living there.
I’ve seen him during the day, and he’s definitely a stray. His fur is matted, he doesn't have a collar, and he’s more than a little distrustful.
But we’re making progress, and now he’ll sit about ten feet away from the fence and take in the afternoon sun as I make PSST PSST PSST noises at him.
He relaxes enough to partially close his eyes in the sunlight. I take this as a compliment.
And no, I don’t know his story yet.
But I’m going to find out.