After 23 years, we are leaving our third floor apartment on Degraw Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn — move out date is February 1, 2012. Our landlord, who is elderly and ill and has become legally blind, is selling the building, and has very generously given us a reasonable time to vacate. The almost 4-month window (we found out he was selling in October) is both positive and negative: positive because it’s giving me time to reflect and reminisce, and negative because it’s giving me lots of time to reflect and reminisce.
4 — Cats (and Neighbors)
After I’d been in the apartment for about four months I decided I wanted a cat. (I still couldn’t afford a clock, but a cat isn’t a luxury.) So, I put the word out to Angie, my landlord’s sister, who lived a couple of doors down. I figured if anyone knew who had an extra cat on the block, it would be Angie. Sure enough, she told me that her next door neighbor, Cecilia, had taken in a pregnant stray a few weeks ago, and by now there were probably kittens. She said she’d ask Cecilia the next time she saw her in the backyard.
A week later I was sitting with Cecilia (who was also pregnant, and wearing a brown corduroy jumper) in her basement, looking into a basket of kittens.
“This one is really rambunctious,” she said, petting a one-month old gray kitten with a wide face.
“That kitty’s got some long whiskers,” I said. Cecilia laughed.
“So funny you said that, because I’ve been calling it ‘Whiskers’! I think it’s going to be a real personality!”
That’s the one I took. Cecilia gave me a couple of cans of Old Mother Hubbard cat food and a card for Beastly Bite on Court Street because they were the closest pet supply store (in Brooklyn Heights!), and they delivered — a new concept for me. I carried the little critter down the street wrapped in a towel — it was Memorial Day weekend, 1989. Carl named the kitten Willie because we thought it was a boy, but a visit to the vet (also in Brooklyn Heights) for shots cleared that mistake up. I changed her name to Willie Bird.
Willie Bird was definitely rambunctious, and she had a lot of personality. She’d sit on my pillow in the mornings and wake me up by batting my head with her paw (I still didn’t need a clock). I decided to find a friend for her, because I was out of the house so much, with school and work, and so about a month later I was walking past a vacant lot on Bergen Street near Pintchik’s and saw four kittens in a vacant lot. Two ladies were standing there talking, so I asked them to watch my purse and book bag while I went in there to try and get a kitten. The cats had gone to ground behind a bush, and so I just stuck my hand into the bush and when I touched fur I yanked it out — a tiny black kitten. I put it in my book bag, stopped at Key Food for some extra food and a flea collar, and presented the kitten to Willie Bird, who was sitting on the kitchen table. When Willie Bird gave the kitten — named, at first, Mr. Squeak, and then when we found out it was a female, Squeaky Bird — a head bump, I knew all would be well, as that’s how she communicated affection: by giving head bumps. That’s how we communicated with each other all day long: by giving each other head bumps.
About a year later I ran into Cecilia. She’d had her baby, and I asked her what she named him.
“Will,” she said. “So how’s the kitten? What did you name it?”
“Willie,” I said, and we both laughed.
Epilogue to Willie’s story: Willie passed away in 2004, at the age of 14. As the vet (in Park Slope now, of course) put her to sleep she gave me one last head bump before she stopped breathing, as if to say, “This will be the bridge between us, until we meet again.”