Previously on Real HouseCats....
Discontent with his upbringing as a bottle-fed orphaned kitten, no siblings with whom to cut the rug, and fed up with his deathly dull family, 4-year old Jack is waging constant war on boredom. With fanatical zeal, he enforces a strict ban on sleep. He has sophisticated equipment that senses alpha brain waves. If he catches you dozing, the repercussions are swift and severe. His nightly raids include siren calls, canon-balling the floors, dive-bombing ankles and general shock and awe tactics.
Julie, a sweet, smiling, peaceable angel, wants only to lie in a sun patch, chew a blade of grass, and be left alone. And for this complicity in Jack's boredom, she is routinely punished with ambushes at every corner and displays of dominance. Her only escape is the co-op's garden. She waits at the apartment door, her mint green eyes gaze imploringly over her shoulder asking, "can we go out now?" Her right to be in the garden has only recently been restored after a dog fight got all the co-op's pets banned. Her usual saintly patience can expire if Jack gets too brazen in his attempts to bully her, for instance, when he steps over her, one big, slow, rude leg at a time, dragging the last hind paw obnoxiously across her face. Why should a dignified lady have to tolerate such disrespect?!
Their beleaguered guardian, the creator of this cartoon, has made it through two years as a guest house hostess and trustee of 18 inherited cats. The vacation rental home, conceived as a magic bullet for The Pride's problems, has had 51 guests. It does 90% as well as it should to stay afloat. With the whole kitten caboodle at risk, and no time to devote to their art, by the skin of their collective teeth the Pride steer a slowly sinking Titanic through iceberg infested waters primed to bring them down....
And now.... OUR GRIPPING JULY 2012 EPISODE:
Dog Days, House Cats
a.k.a. The Real HouseCats of Queens County: On Vacation
Meet The Young and the Feral: Still Here, Still Hungry
When it's over, if they haven't been choked to death with Raid, eaten by pit bulls, burned up by sun storms, or blown to smithereens in a Mayan cataclysm, the Summer of 2012 may turn out to have been a pivotal moment for The Real HouseCats.
When they say the Dog Days of Summer make people crazy, the Real HouseCats know this first-hand. During the record heatwaves and news-breaking sun storms of early July, their neighbors (a seriously kooky bunch without astronomical help) all simultaneously went off their peanuts.
The one with the pathological fear of bugs routinely empties entire cans of Raid into the garbage room. We know that. But the first day of the sun storms, she opened fire until the room was literally dripping wet and billowing with poison fog, unbeknownst to the asthmatic next door, Real HouseCats guardian, Jane. Me! After a ten second visit to the recycling bin, my arms and face were blistered up with hives, throat was raw and lungs were swelling. Only Benadryl, cortisone and albuterol kept me out of the ER.
The next day, while in the side yard trying to yoga the Raid away, Julie peacefully lounging at my side, into our midst burst a wild dog pack. A person barely 5' tall flew behind them like a kite in the wind just barely attached to their leashes. You may guess that this is the same pit bull/dog pack/kite combo that was responsible for the melee that got us all banned from the yard last year. And you would be right. A week later, having only just gotten my pulse back to normal, I don't care to replay the nerve shattering scene in which Julie and I were almost eaten alive, but it was exactly as furious, as loud, as terrifying and filled with expletives as you can imagine. And not from us! From the kite! Will wonders never cease.
But dog packs and chemical warfare are only background to today's episode, two of countless reasons that in the future, The Real HouseCats may be spending more time in their guest house than guests. We recently took a month's vacation there, the first since it's been ours, and thereby lies the real tale.
The rental house was empty during the month of June. And there was a lot of work to do to prepare for the coming guest season. Also, in an effort to continually improve the comfort of the house for our guests, I bought two new memory foam mattresses. These came on a 30-day trial basis. But with no guests there to try them out, how would I know if we liked them? So I packed us all up and we went to stay at the house for a month.
Jack, of course, grew up in this house when it was still mom's and she and I shared the duty of raising him. So it was peculiar that he needed a full day under the sofa to acclimate. Perhaps it was the traumatic memory of being locked in the linen closet as a kitten by his cousin, Sandra Piranha.
As for me, I deliberately avoid spending time at the house for fear of liking it too much. After 7 years in a hellishly noisy apartment, the quiet of a private house is too easily addictive. I can't afford to lose the rental income but it would be very easy for me to jump ship for the wrong reason and move. So, it's very aggravating to have to report that I liked it!
But the really fascinating story is Julie. She acclimated immediately. Without a moment's skulking or creeping or hiding, or unease of any kind. She walked out of the carrier, looked around, and said, "I like it. Where's the yard?"
Just as the cat psychic predicted! Rewind the MP3!
At the height of her grief over losing her garden privileges in the co-op last year, Julie was miserable. Not surprisingly, she and beastie boy Jack were not getting along. He was pounding her unmercifully day and night hoping to persuade her to play. Of course violence does not win hearts and minds, and she shunned his advances. But now, she had nowhere to go to escape for a minute's peace. There was a skirmish a minute.
What to do. For Christmas, I bought them a consultation with a renown cat psychic. I hoped to communicate to Julie that the catastrophe of being banned from the garden was not my doing (certainly not hers) and to penetrate Jack's thick skullbone that he may not disrespect his elders.
Well, the lady awed us by, among other things, predicting two events that were entirely unlikely to come true: #1- That the yard situation would change. Julie, she foretold, would soon regain her garden privileges in the co-op. And indeed she did. By February my lobbying of the co-op board won her back her rights. The board would not restore privileges for all the building's pets - after the pit bull attack, they felt dogs were just too risky. But they made an exception for Julie who is 18 lbs, slow as a possum, sweet as a sticky bun and clearly will never be the cause of angst or friction. #2- That in the meantime (and this is verbatim), "She says there is some place else you can go."
Me: "Oh, you mean the front garden.." (Which we had tried. She wasn't really into it.)
Cat Psychic: "No, it's not that."
Me: "Oh, yea, the park..." (We'd tried the park a few times too... She wasn't really into it.)
CP: "No, it's somewhere else. Someplace you go a lot.... not too nearby."
Me: (long pause as I wondered, 'what can she mean...' before) "Whoa. She's not talking about... the house.....?!" Whereupon I had to tell the cat psychic about the house, mom's passing, +/- 18 inherited cats, yadda yadda yadda...
CP: "Yes that's what she's showing me. A private yard."
Me: "WHAT?! She wants to go over there? With all those feral cats? She doesn't know what she's saying."
CP: "She does know. She says,'That's ours. It belongs to us. We can do anything we want there.'"
Me: "Shut the front door. She wants to go in that yard full of feral cats?!" My mind was filling with visions of howling, snarling feral cats surrounding and descending on her, cyclones of flying fur. "oooooo.... I don't know. That sounds like a mess."
CP: "Nah, easy as pie. You'll see. One day when you go, take her with you. Just pop her in the car. She's all ready to go. Her bags are packed."
Me: "wh- i- hoo - anyway, how does she even know about that?!"
CP: "Because she knows you, silly! She lives with you. She hears you talking about it all the time!"
Me: "Well... I'm.... speechless. That is the most amazing thing I've ever heard. Alright, if that's what she wants, we'll try it. But she really shouldn't get her hopes up. It's first of all a 15 minute car ride. She won't like that. Then, it's a foreign place she's never been. No cat likes that. And the yard, which is the whole point, is absolutely crawling with feral cats that think it's theirs. I think it's a terrible idea. But I'll see how I can work it out."
It didn't happen right away, but I kept it in mind, and six months later, having seen the first prediction (a wholly unlikely thing) come true within 60 days, plus the month of June being unbooked, plus two new beds to try and a lot of work to do, I said, "Ok, this is the time to test the cat psychic's second prediction." We packed up our stuff and went to the house.
Can I stop here and fly my Julie flag? Have I told you how fantastic this girl is? How much I love this cat? This cat is awesome. She's an exalted being. She's Yoda. Buddha. A saint in a cat costume. And I don't know what I did to get so lucky that she's mine. I have never known a cat with such a serene and agreeable personality. She's game for anything. She walks all over the building with me. She rides the elevators. She does the laundry with me. She knows every neighbor. She's right at the door to receive FedEx or pizza (especially pizza). She'll talk to anyone, male, female, child, adult, cat, dog, squirrel, bug. She doesn't discriminate and she's afraid of nothing. She's just the most amazing, wise, confident, fearless, awesome cat I ever met. And I am telling the 100% truth when I say we were in the house, unpacked and walking in the back yard within an hour.
The next day, we were walking out front (on a leash, of course). Julie did a full surveillance sweep of the front lawns, the sidewalks, and the grass before the curb for a span of two houses either side of ours. She inspected Sissy's lawn. She examined Gustavo's lilies. She peeked under the safety partition of the development property next door (she was not impressed). When she was done exploring, she walked home. She wiped her feet on the mat.
The day after that, we sat in the yard together all afternoon. Julie sat in her lawn chair. I sat in mine. She had catnip. I had tea. Ruby, the tortoise shell grandma of the outdoor gang, appeared at the far end of the yard. She eyed Julie for some time, expressionless. Julie blinked - an expression of peace, harmlessness. Ruby blinked back. All was well.
Shortly, Ruby and her grand cats, Penny and Peach, came to the center of the yard. They weren't sure if they were safe to eat their lunch with this tabby newcomer in the shrub just 8' away, but they were made comfortable enough by the previous exchange to try. Julie blinked again, and turned her attention to a stone under the rosebush. She rubbed her chin playfully on the stone, and then used it to scratch her ears - showing she was not only harmless but pleasant. Ruby and her grand cats ate their lunch at ease.
The following afternoon, Julie skipped down the back steps to come face to face with (dramatic music... buh buh buhhhhhh!) The Alamo. Alamo is a large, fierce looking, red tabby male. The first time I saw him he was bloody; a chunk was missing from the right side of his face. Each time I see him, he has some new battle scar or open wound. He looks like the remains of something two warring factions had shot each other to death over. Thus the name. But he wants no help.
Julie froze. I froze. Alamo froze. Behind Alamo were Smudge and Hahn, the Swirl Twins, flanking him like wing men. Everyone was rigid. Stink eyes were exchanged, but not yet growls or snarls. I was prepared at any moment to scoop Julie up and run, but feared a sudden movement would ignite the powder keg. After a tense, minute-long standoff, Julie broke the ice. She looked Alamo square in the eye. She put her nose a little higher than his. She stretched her neck toward him. She took a step forward... and...
........ can you guess what happened?
...... you won't believe it.....
.... wait for it.....
He backed off! The Swirl Twins backed off with him! OMG that was unbelievable! Julie stared down the Alamo! And his posse! Without a single blow, a Real HouseCat chased off a Young & Feral! She shoots, she scores! The crowd goes berserk... confetti.... parade... John Phillip Sousa marches!
I told you she was Yoda. The force is very strong with her.
Shortly, we went about our business. Julie sunned herself. I pulled some weeds. I chatted with the aide of my elderly neighbor over the fence. She's growing spinach. She gave us some marigolds. I was only half paying attention. Julie's words were ringing in my ear:
"That yard is ours. It belongs to us."
Man, she really meant that.
"We can do whatever we want there."
... want there."
... want there."
The girl has a point. And after the dog days of this Summer, it may be time I listened to her.
Did Julie really seize Young & Feral turf? Will The Real HouseCats move to a real house? Will Alamo and The Swirl Twins come back for dinner? Stay tuned to The Real HouseCats of Queens County...
UPDATE: In January 2013, a constellation of circumstances converged to make it a)- impossible to stay in my unbearably noisy apartment, and b)- necessary to be near Aunt Betty and the ferals, so we moved in to the house. The Real HouseCats' lives were revolutionized by having their own yard, especially Jack who was starved for action in our large but boring 1 bedroom apartment. He made friends (frenemies if I'm honest) with all the cats in the yard (who are his family, I keep telling him, "That's your grandmother! Don't be rude!") He loves watching the whole colony dive over the fence when he chases them out. He doesn't care that who he chased out is his cousin Peach, his Aunt Cindy and his uncle Hahn.
Julie loves being able to walk down two steps into an outdoor space where no one tells her what she can and can't do. If her good behavior was the only variable, I could leave her out with the door open all day and not worry. Sadly, dangers abound for a sweet, round kitty sitting alone in a NYC backyard.
Me? I've given up caring how much work I put in to the co-op that made me miserable. Now, I sleep at night. That's all I care about.