Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Cat Story

I’m a cat man. I realize and freely admit it now. Wasn’t always so. I didn’t pick up my first cat (two, in fact) till 1990, the Fall of, I think. A girlfriend led me to the basement of the old Gouverneur Hospital on Water Street on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan to show me a clutch of kittens, new to the world and likely not long for it. I was at that time a Manhattan bachelor, newly installed in a one-bedroom apartment in Stuyvesant Town, that complex of 35 red brick buildings of lower-middle-class normalcy on 80 acres of the Eastside from 14th to 23rd Streets, First Avenue to the East River. Her idea was that I take one home. I was not sold on the idea.

As I walked into the basement, I saw four of them huddled together in a  cardboard box on the concrete floor. The mother sat sphinx like alongside the box like a chaperone. I just managed to avoid stepping on a tiny tiger-striped creature squeaking up at me as it scuttled back and forth seemingly intent on barring my forward progress. Its body looked bent at a 30% angle. Its mother remained an unconcerned, motionless observer.

So I picked it up—she—and as I held her in the palm of my hand, I swear she gave me that steady gaze of hopeful expectancy cats have mastered (I’ve noticed in the years since). I was sold. Went over to the box then and scooped up a dozing orange-and-white male, the biggest of the litter, to keep her company.

My first stop was the Vet. His verdict on my female’s bent spine?  “It’s either permanent or  she’ll straighten out in time.” So encouraging. But that’s what happened. After three or four days of  feeding my two cats by eyedropper as they rode around their new home on my shoulders, they settled in and ate from their respective bowls. I named her ‘Quasimoda’ (appropriately, I thought) and her brother, ‘Bullet’ (for Detective Frank Bullet in the Steve McQueen movie). He was a sweet-natured, slow-moving, bathwater-bewitched companion to his sister ‘Quasi’, who was  mercurial, inquisitive and fearless.  They were house cats who never ventured further than the hallway outside our apartment door, first in Manhattan then in Jackson Heights, Queens. (Cats, unlike dogs, do not like to travel.) We had Quasi  for 16 years and Bullet for one more year after.

What I remember?  Quasi sitting on the couch in our living room, opposite myself and Rose in our recliners, her head swiveling between us depending on who was talking. As I watched her listening, I  expected her to join in at any moment.

Cats are special people.

--Robert Knightly

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