Felenemy.

1 Apr

Another stranger came to see the room in my apartment today. He was nice enough, and seemed stable and didn’t stink, so I showed him around. He marveled at the closet space, and the views, and the size of the room. It is a good deal. We sat at my kitchen table and I asked the questions one asks on a first date, the preliminaries more designed to eliminate than to secure a contender. “What time do you shower?” “Do you work?” “Are you armed?”

When he told me he would use fully one of the two enormous closets at his disposal simply to house his DVD collection, my hackles went up. I did not want a team of professionals in here in four years time, their heads scraping the ceiling while standing on mounds of broken fetid memorabilia, trying to pry an episode of I Dream of Jeannie out of his hand. When he told me he was a ‘gourmet cook’ I pictured cauldrons steeping on the stove for days, tangy spices singeing my kitchen drapes and nostrils. When he told me he was a personal trainer and made the distinct sound of disappointment having discovered my caffeine-free Diet Coke in the refrigerator, I heard long lectures in my head about lab rats and tumors. All of this I considered and carefully, but he was still in the ring. At the very end of an hour, he finally told me, “Oh. And I have a cat.” My, what a well-planned after-thought, I thought.

He launched into his prepared monologue about Smokey. Smokey had been left in his care and they bonded immediately. That was fifteen years ago, fifteen years that they have slept together every night, he confided wistfully, while Smokey lapsed into his golden years beset with all the things that will plague a cat living on borrowed time and well into its ninth life. I was weepy. Not from sentiment, but from the histamines my hyperactive auto-immune system was already pumping through my bloodstream at the very thought of a cat.

I feel for the pet-owners in search of a room. They are the single women on dates who have to choose just the right time to spring pictures of their two diapered toddlers on their potential partners. It is a mine-field fraught with rejection. However, it states clearly in my ad that I am allergic to cats, and that while I love animals, I simply cannot live with them. That this fellow thought I might be swayed enough by his charms to suffer hives and asthma and resentment and the effluvium of a litter box was deluded and deceptive. Still, I shook his hand at the elevator and said I would take his application under advisement while in my head it danced through the shredder. I’ve had a run-in with a cat before.

After a stint as an intern at a regional theatre in Pennsylvania over twenty years ago, I returned to NYC in search of a sublet. A friend knew of a room available in a shared apartment with two women in Long Island City, two women and their cat. I was actually less concerned about the cat than I was living in Long Island City which was nothing but a blight off the eastern shore of Manhattan in 1989. As people thrive off the toxic fumes of the Gowanus Canal these days, I’m sure bleak Long Island City has attracted a following of its own since then, but it still looks like Deadwood and tumbleweeds from the 7-train to me. I arrived at the building with a broken neck from looking over my shoulder.

The apartment was an enormous triangle over an Italian restaurant. Pythagorus trumped feng shui wherever one looked and roasting cloves of garlic somehow smelled like feet and armpits one flight up. Everything not nailed down was painted a deep blood-clot red like burned tomato sauce and the ceilings were so high that my vertigo pitched up a notch as soon as I crossed the threshold. The two very sweet women showed me to the one pleasant plane on the premises, the room that would be mine. A door opened into a lovely cozy pale yellow room with four walls and right angles and trappings for a monk: dresser, desk, and twin bed. It’s all I needed at a price I could afford.

I do not remember the cat’s name. I called it “Felenemy.” I saw it eyeing me with disdain from a kitchen counter and after a quick sneeze thought, “I will never even set a crust of bread on that counter.” I knew I was allergic to animals, but I was desperate and the women promised to keep the door to my room closed all day, that it would be off-limits to the cat.

I suspect Felenemy had previously loved my room, and her denial to its wide window with its perch of a sunny sill seemed to infuriate her. Every morning I would hear her scratching at my door like Death and her whine was the Siren’s sinister call of seduction and anger. To get to the shower, I would have to contort my body into impossible positions to keep the door from swinging wide enough to allow her access. The more successful I was, day after day, the more menacing her hiss became. The few times she got in, me chasing her out with my guitar like a mad Mariachi, the more her memory calculated the accumulated slights. And squared them.

I had three possessions of any value in those days. I had my late-Grandfather’s car that he had kindly willed me and that I willfully tried to keep on the mean streets of a forgotten neighborhood in a bad part of New York City. I had my guitar and would sing myself to sleep in the absence of a television set. And I had a comforter. I splurged and bought myself a crushed silk comforter of downy flake as I spent most of my off time on my bed in my room with the door closed and killing myself softly with my song and strumming to the pain of the scratching whining cat.

My commute was miserable. I had to take three trains to get to my miserable job waiting tables at lunch in a miserable restaurant way up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I made thirty dollars a shift if I was lucky and where the side-work involved “marrying the honey-bears.” For this, I had a Masters’ Degree.

I went about the business of setting myself up as an actor, getting head-shots and copying resumes and mailing both to nowhere and in bulk. The phone never rang. Before I knew it, seven weeks had gone by and I was tiring of the cruel game of New York City and the crueler greeting I was met with at the end of exhausting uneventful days by Felememy. She had it out for me; I could see it in her eyes.

On my last day, I snuck out of my room and slammed the door shut. I was headed for my shift and saw Felememy stalking me on top of a kitchen cabinet. We exchanged pleasantries, neither of us meaning them, and I left her there with her plots and plans. I walked to the subway station and descended the stairs and following me into the ground went my mood. After folding two hundred napkins and officiating at the marriage of forty honey-bears, I did the reverse commute and walked up and into the apartment.

I had become accustomed to locating Felenemy before opening my bedroom door, and if she were too close, I’d lure her away with a hat trick and leap into my room before she was any the wiser. But this evening, she was nowhere to be found. I looked under furniture and in the tub and through piles of clothing the kind but messy women were wont to leave about. The happy thought of stumbling upon her lifeless body danced through my head. But she was nowhere. Perhaps the women had taken her for a her first walk. The first walk of a house-cat must be a strange and fabulous affair was the thought I had in my head as I turned the doorknob to my room.

A thought was knocked right out of my head by the gruesome sight before me. On the ground was my guitar, assaulted and beaten. On the bed was Felenemy, looking right through me as if I wasn’t there, full of self-satisfaction and licking revenge off her chops. Cat magic. Before her, on my crushed silk comforter, was a pile of cat shit whose perimeter was outlined by the wider border of cat piss. Send me off to war or don’t my friends but I am a soldier who snaps. My eyes clotted with blood and all I saw was red in the only room where there wasn’t any. I sprung at that cat like it was a grenade and swiped its fucking head so hard it catapulted into the living room letting loose a scream whose echo reverberates in the reaches of my imagination to this day.

I was on a tear. I mournfully picked up my bruised guitar, threw all of my clothing into garbage bags, wrapped up my stinking defiled bedding and headed for my car without so much as a note to the women lately in my life. Into the trunk with everything except for the comforter that I tossed on a dumpster like a dead dream. I ran to the public phone on the corner and made a collect call to my parents. Apparently my mother was out as my Dad never answers the telephone unless compelled by her absence.

“Dad, I’m moving back home,” I wept at the poor man like a toddler through angry tears. “I can’t take it here anymore. The roommates are messy, I’m broke, and I just came back from work to find that the cat shit all over my bed.”

My father is a blessed man, not big on the details of the crises in his five children’s lives. He is a man of proportion. Anything can be solved with little to-do if we’d only listen to him.

“Just drive home,” he said calmly, “and be careful driving.”

Just drive home. The second three kindest words a dad can say to his son. I felt diffused.

A decade passed until the coda of this story revealed itself to me. My mother is unlike my father, but the perfect compliment. She is detail-driven and has the sharp and skillful mind of a prosecutor. When she arrived home that day, my father told her to expect me for dinner. I can only imagine the grilling the poor man got and how surprised he was to learn how much he forgot to ask me. My little brother Chris was still living at home at the time and bore witness but it wasn’t until 1999 that he finally relayed the end of this cat’s tale.

After not knowing any of the answers to her cross-examination, after not having heard me well enough to begin with, my father finally threw up his hands in surrender and side-swiped my mother with what he thought he heard:

“PAT! I DON’T KNOW! All I know is that he shit his bed and can’t pay his rent so the roommates kicked him out.”

For ten years, my father thought his twenty-five year-old son was incontinent, defecating all over other people’s property, shared that information with my mother and my brother, and not one of them thought to even bring it up to me when I dragged myself to their dinner table that night or during any of the next nine Christmases for that matter.

My father is eighty years old now. No, I will not entertain the thought of a cat. While I’m sure I can just drive home again just as sure as I know my own name, it would pain me too much to worry my Dad with diapers all over again.

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34 Responses to “Felenemy.”

  1. pouringmyartout April 1, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    Pythagoras trumped feng shui… awesome line!
    This is crankiness done right.

    • NC Coot April 1, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

      I’m leveled by such a compliment from a guy who can crank with the best of them.

      • pouringmyartout April 1, 2012 at 8:34 pm #

        I gave up crank…

      • NC Coot April 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

        Oh, I know! It’s so hard to find Sudafed anymore.

      • pouringmyartout April 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

        Right.

  2. Alison April 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    I loved this! It made me laugh and was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing!!

    • NC Coot April 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      Thank you so much, Alison! I’m looking forward to reading your blog from now on!

      • Alison April 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

        Thanks! I have two, the Happy Domesticity one is recipe based so might not be of interest, the other Musings, Happenings and Other Stuff is more writer orientated.

      • NC Coot April 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

        Send me the link to your other blog? I’d love to rad it.

      • NC Coot April 1, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

        Excellent. Oh look! We have the same taste in WordPress themes!

      • Alison April 1, 2012 at 9:01 pm #

        I’ve been reading back in your blog and love it! Mary sounds adorably eccentric and I am appalled that Dan Rather didn’t insist on taking you to the ER! 🙂

      • NC Coot April 1, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

        Oh, I only hurt my ego. The other two were a mess, though.

        Thank you, Alison!

  3. wheresmytbackandotherstories April 1, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    Coming from a household with five dogs, I cannot imagine myself taking care of a cat. Not that I didn’t try. I took a tabby once and named him Boris. He was neutered so he was not much of a problem. But it’s the ubiquitous, interminable scratching that annoyed me. One day he wandered, disappeared and never came back.
    This is an excellent read NC, as always. I read every word carefully like I would meticulously slice and masticate tender slivers of Angus steak. I want the flavors to last. In this case, I want the images to linger. I like the part about the ‘seeping cauldrons and fusion of spices’ I can almost conjecture what’s cooking. And I also like the part about your Mom and Dad. I like parents who probe, I like parents who do not probe. I like parents who love unconditionally. .
    I look forward to your every post.

    • NC Coot April 1, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

      Number one, Boris is just an hysterical name. Well done.

      Number two (if you’ll pardon that), your compliments are boxes of chocolate covered cherries. Valentines wrapped in dollar bills. I’m so moved. Thank you.

  4. transparentguy April 2, 2012 at 3:02 am #

    Really well done. You have a great ear for dialogue, too.

    You might consider submitting one of your pieces to this:

    http://www.glimmertrain.com/familymatters.html

    • NC Coot April 2, 2012 at 7:11 am #

      I just sent to them, and am grateful for the suggestion, as I always am to have you read me and comment so graciously. Thank you so much.

      • transparentguy April 2, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

        Good luck. Glimmer Train is pretty well respected. We’ll get you a book deal next and then you can teach creative writing somewhere.

      • NC Coot April 2, 2012 at 7:49 pm #

        I just wrote a friend how much I admire your blog and how honored and floored I am you’d take an interest in me. This is not puffed up humility. I’m really grateful.

  5. Fay Moore April 2, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    My computer is bobbing about as I am still laughing. Brilliant, belly-shakingly funny. Oops — I am hunting a diaper of my own as my urinary tract can’t hold up against the onslaughts of neuromuscular explosions in my gut.

    • NC Coot April 2, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

      LOL! What a great comment! Although I never meant to make you pee.

      Thank you, Faye, thank you.

    • NC Coot April 2, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

      I just saw you posted this piece on your wall. I felt like I won the lottery. Thank you, Faye. You made my day.

      • Fay Moore April 2, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

        You deserve the recognition!

  6. Dugutigui April 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    As I pass this page, I strangely feel this blog is imprisoning your clever, outstanding looking writing, as though the envelope were holding your wonderful artistic effort – and it’s author – in bondage. In truth, I’d love reading you in a book made of paper and much spent covers of reviewing it… time after time!

    • NC Coot April 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

      Kinda sucks when the comments have better poetry than the post. What lovely words, D!

      • Dugutigui April 2, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

        You inspire us …

  7. Ruth Mills April 2, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    oh, my God: that is so funny, and I have never heard you tell that story! Dad is hilarious…..

    • NC Coot April 2, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

      Thank you, Ms. Mills, for indulging my mood.

  8. Montserrat Mendez April 9, 2012 at 3:12 am #

    This has got to be my favorite one yet. Simply because I took a benadryl the very second I hit the first paragraph about the cat. My sinuses sympathize with yours. As they hate all of things feline.

    • NC Coot April 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

      LOL! Urban creatures, you and I.

  9. Amy Duncan May 23, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    I laughed and sobbed through this story!

    • NC Coot May 24, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

      Thank you, Amy. That is so kind of you!

  10. RockawayRose November 11, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

    Knowing you and your family as I do, NC, this story had me laughing so hard I peed a little. But not on your comforter.

    • NC Coot November 11, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

      High praise from a cat lover. Have at my comforters at will.

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