Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Intuitive Jog in the Sidewalk

On a Saturday evening, back in the summer of ’02, I took a quick trip to the corner market with my friend and neighbor, Julie. The hot August day had cooled off, and the stoop in the courtyard was beckoning. To accompany the stoop, Julie and I had picked up some beer, and with our six in tow, we began to head back up the block.

This little part of Los Angeles is on the cusp of everything: Los Feliz, Hollywood, Thai Town, Little Armenia. Separating the corner market from the stoop are ten or so buildings that run the gamut. There's the large rental property that (at the time) had been abandoned since the Northridge earthquake. There's a beautiful, new complex that was built by a housing development corporation for low-income families. And there's a halfway house, which (at the time) was allowing a lot of rabbit copulation. (It seemed that every two months or so, a new generation of bunnies was hopping around the front yard.) Describing my block (even today) is difficult. Eclectic is too limiting a word, really.

There's also the sidewalk itself and the not-so-straight route it takes up the street. Tree roots have buckled the cement in several places – creating rises, angles, and tripping points. At a certain spot, about three or four buildings up from Hollywood Boulevard, the sidewalk takes a distinct jog to the left, and a rather large plant leans toward the street. The jog therefore creates a pedestrian’s blind spot.

That summer night in '02, Julie and I were at that blind spot, and so we were both surprised when we found ourselves face-to-face with a neighbor-friend. “Nick!*” Julie said, enthusiastically, when we saw him.

(I didn’t say anything, but something in my head spoke. Something in my head said, “Maybe it’s time for Nick.”)

He was on his way to the market, also in search of beer, and he invited us over to watch a movie he had rented, as well as a home movie he had shot with his teenage daughters earlier that day. We agreed to the plan, and once he had returned from his errand, we went over to his place – a small, cluttered, studio apartment in the building just north of ours.

We watched the first movie, which was feature length, and then we watched the home movie. Then, when Julie made indications that she would be heading back to her place, I decided to stay. What ensued was awkward (in my memory and in my opinion), but it was something Nick and I had to get out of the way. It also was worth it to experience that initial clumsiness. Because for the three years that followed, he and I enjoyed one of the best intimate relationships I have had in my life.

Had our relationship not unfolded, I might not have remembered hearing what I heard. I might not have remembered the "voice" that said, “Maybe it’s time for Nick.” I might not have come to view that particular location as The Intuitive Jog in the Sidewalk. But: I did hear that message. I heard it loud and clear. Its power fueled me with the audacity to remain in Nick's apartment after Julie headed home.

Was there something pre-destined about what happened that night? Nick had been a neighbor for several years. I always had felt an attraction to him. Until that night, though – until it was “time” for him – I didn’t know what to do about the attraction. Apparently, that night, I did the right thing. Anyway, it all worked out for as long as it could.

Fast Forward, April 2009: Having just returned from a week in Virginia, where I visited family and did a speaking gig regarding my first novel, I’m returning from a trip to the corner market. It’s Monday or Tuesday. I am passing the Intuitive Jog when I notice a beautiful cat crossing my path, heading from the street toward grass and shrubbery. I look to my right, and I see a few adults standing beside a double-parked car. Something in my head says: “Those people just dumped that cat.”

I turn from noticing them, and I gaze at the cat, who is looking at me. “You’re beautiful!” I say to the beast, admiring its tabby markings and large, engaging eyes. “You are so beautiful!”

A part of me wants to pick this cat up immediately and take it home, and I know that’s an odd reaction for me. I see beautiful cats all the time, but that doesn’t mean I want to bring them home. Besides, I have two beautiful cats at home.

I keep walking, and after I enter my apartment and greet the pre-existing feline conditions that grace my one-bedroom, the brief encounter is forgotten...

Thursday of that same week, I have to run a quick mid-day errand. I have to meet a client nearby and pick up some documents. We are both pressed for time, and because we are meeting in a rather low-income neighborhood (he has just done a workshop with an elementary school class), our rendezvous has all the markings of a shady deal. He barely slows his car, hands me the envelope and drives on. I then return to my car and drive back to my apartment, where I’ve got about ninety minutes to kill before I need to head out the door for my weekly gig in West Hollywood.

I climb the stairs to my apartment door, put the key in the lock, and look down. There’s a cat – a beautiful tabby cat – with its eyes wide and its arms stretched up, leaning against my door. He is indicating that he would like to come in.

I know cats. I’ve known them all my life. And one of the things I like about them is that they don’t do this sort of thing. They don’t implore. They don’t ask. They just expect. (And, generally, their expectations are met.) But this cat is asking for something (rather imploringly). It is asking to be allowed into my home.

I stop. I look at the cat. And then I say, “Hold on a minute. Don’t go away.”

I enter my apartment and shut the door on the big-eyed tabby. I scoop up girl-cat Vesta, who is napping in the living room. I put her in the bedroom, where boy-cat Griffin is already lounging on the bed. I then bring food dishes and one of the litter boxes into the room. “See you guys, later,” I say, as I pull my bedroom door shut.

I then return to the front door and open it. The big-eyed tabby cat is still there.

“Come on in,” I say.

The cat makes his entrance.

“So here’s the deal,” I tell him then. “I gotta leave in just over an hour. I’m going to keep the front door opened until then, and if you want to move on, you can. But: if you’re still here when I have to go, then this is where you’re going to be for this afternoon and evening.”

...The cat was still in my apartment when I left for my West Hollywood gig. The cat is still in my apartment today. I named him Lotto, and he’s my buddy.

The Intuitive Jog in the Sidewalk. Strange. Was that Lotto I saw that night? And was I correct in assuming that the people standing by that car had “dumped” him? Could be. If they paid more than $6.00 for their shower curtain, they probably weren’t pleased with what he can do to that particular part of bathroom décor. If their home was absent of people throughout the day, I don’t even want to think about what they returned to in the evening. Lotto needs a person to hang around. Lotto needs a person to taunt. Lotto needs, every now and then, to be told (kindly and lovingly), “Stop it, you brat!”

And maybe I needed a brat. (Vesta and Griffin are both 13.)

Here’s the other weird thing: before I left for my April trip to Virginia, I had begun a new novel. It takes place in my neighborhood and features a protagonist named Martin. In the first chapter, a tabby cat climbs in through Martin’s bedroom window (which is on a fire escape). Eventually, Martin accepts that he has been adopted, and he names the cat Dude. The part I can’t remember, though, is this: does Dude like tummy rubs because Lotto does or… vice versa? I can no longer recall the chronology.

I am sure, though, about the order of some other events. About 10 days into Lotto’s and my cohabitation, I was sitting at my work corner, reading the novel pages I had written the night before. “Something needs to happen,” I thought.

In response to this narrative need, I decided that, while Martin was on a business trip, I would have Dude fall out of Martin’s fifth-floor window. (When I lived in New York, my cat, Mort, fell out of my fourth-floor window, so I knew the drill.) I made a few notes on that score, and I put away my novel pages for the night.

The next morning, after I got up, I counted cats. Vesta: check. Griffin: check. Where’s Lotto? I looked everywhere, and then I applied some deductive reasoning. From observing his habits and interests, I had ascertained that (at the time) he liked to retreat occasionally behind the floor-length bedroom curtains. So I walked to the far side of the bedroom and pulled back the curtains. That’s when I noticed the window screen on the ground below.

Racing downstairs, I berated myself for coming up with that “fall out of the window” idea. Why did I think of that? Damnit! I walked around the building. I called his name (though, it’s a name I had only given him about three or four days before; how was he to know?)

No sign of the cat.

I came upstairs and felt despondent. I called my neighbor Debbi. “I thought he was happy here!” I told her voicemail. “Damn!”

I had brought the window screen back upstairs with me, and when I noticed that it wasn’t bent, I got more concerned. I wondered if maybe he had leaned into it, and that’s when the fall occurred. I knew, from a New York friend’s experience with a cat who had fallen a short distance, that sometimes short distances are more dangerous. With short falls, cats have less opportunity to make the aerodynamic corrections that allow them to land on their feet.

I went back outside.

This time, I looked more carefully under every shrub in the area. I checked to make sure none of the grates leading to the building’s bowels were accessible. I knew that if he were hurt, he would have crawled somewhere. He would have crawled somewhere possibly far from my grasp.

I was relieved to see that there was no way he could get underneath the building. Still, though, no sign of the cat.

I returned to my apartment, and as I prepared my first coffee of the day, I felt sad. At a loss, really. I mean, what would the sign say: “Found Cat Lost”? He wasn’t even mine. (Are cats ever “mine?” Or “yours?”)

I sighed and shrugged and thought, “Well, that was nice for a minute. Oh well.”

My coffee was ready, but I wasn’t. Not ready to give up, anyway. So I thought, “I’ll just go down to the stoop and drink it there. Maybe something will happen.”

I opened the door to my apartment, stepped out onto the small landing at the top of the stairs and looked down. Just then, coming around the corner, was that face. Beautiful tabby markings. Big eyes. Looking up in my direction.

“Get up here!” I said, with a certain degree of playful authority.

And he did.

He hasn’t left since.

I’ve begun some good relationships at The Intuitive Jog in the Sidewalk. With any luck, this one will last for more than three years…

+++

*not his real name

2 comments:

dondo said...

love this story too...

janerubinsky said...

What a great story! CLEARLY Lotto knew he had found a good thing and wasn't going to be "lost" again that easily. He is one lucky cat. Wonderful writing!