There was a time in my life when everything was upside-down — quite literally — my mother was once heavy into crack and heroin, and never knew which way to wear her housecoats. Sure she may be sober now, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I had to explain to my friends that the shoe she intently bobby-pinned to her head, was actually a fashionable bun. It was how she preferred to look while cleaning the kitchen.
Drugs made my mother a little more than eccentric…she was plain ole’ nuts. When she wasn’t out chasing the rock, she was out chasing pebbles, which was rather odd since pebbles — at least in my opinion — can’t run very fast. When she wasn’t high and had no IOU’s to spare, she loved to take long, lifeless naps…standing up. For one reason or another, she kept her mattress firmly placed against a wall.
Otherwise, Mom was often glued to the television, which was easily remedied with a little nail polish remover.
It was during one of these very distant, incredibly messy afternoons, that I found myself rather hungry. Not hungry enough to eat a horse, of course, but hungry enough to eat something more sensible…like a pony perhaps. It wasn’t that there wasn’t any food around to eat, there was plenty. Mom just never found the time enough to go out and purchase any. Many people may not know this, but it is terribly time consuming, and difficult, to both clean up a big kitchen and grocery shop with your eyes closed.
With mom comatose and no one else around, I decided to take a little stroll around our neighborhood — which back in 1989 — was nothing but Brooklyn tenements as far as the eye could see. And if you looked close enough, you were about to be robbed.
“You should’ve been watching your back instead, you nosy bitch,” said the man who ran off with our case manager’s purse.
The case manager, who was there to make a home visit but couldn’t quite find her way around, never made it upstairs to see my mother, which was perfectly fine by Mom— she was still far too busy dreaming about cleaning the kitchen.
Outside, a slight ricochet of bullets grazed the inspired blue sky. An occurrence as normal as the pigeons that flew beside them. If you were lucky enough, it was a stray bullet that came plummeting down towards you and not the noxious, gooey-green smut that frequently escaped a dirty-bird’s keister. These aeronautical creatures that also called our hood their home, were well known for eating syringes for breakfast. On the bright side, the sun itself was unprejudiced, and gleamed just as luminous above the public houses of Brooklyn, as it did over the pearl-wearing housewives of Central Park West. Even grander, I eventually caught a glimpse of our case manager driving off in her used, maroon Plymouth Voyager, with her purse-snatcher seated comfortably on the passenger side. It was love-at-first-sight-of-a-holdup.
While skipping about during my excursion (I was still very capable of being a happy, gay child), I just so happened to stumble upon a small, stray, white kitten. I was always fond of animals, and there was yet any major Sarah McLachlan, ‘Save-These-Sad-Furry-Beasts’ campaign to advocate for them, so I innately understood that the life of this very kitten, rested solely on my shoulders. Had I left it stranded outside, it could’ve been killed. Kitten or not, ‘Whites’ weren’t exactly welcomed into our proud, predominantly all-black hood!
The poor, snowy feline was in really bad shape, and even sported a bum eye. So I did what any other starving child in my situation would do — I exploited it! Taking full advantage of its poor health, I put the battered kitten into a box, and decidedly used it to safeguard a newfound, small fortune. I went door to door, and while lifting the cat high in the air — Lion King style — solicited from anyone who had the gumption to give us a moment of their time, a small portion of their hard-earned money.
“Help me, help this very sick stray,” I begged.
It was harder back then — without today’s technological capabilities of instant-streaming— to pull people away from their regularly televised programming, so I was particularly grateful to those who left their tube unattended for the few moments that they did. It was also by chance that a very pertinent commercial would play just as I had pitched my kitten’s life story: Sally Struthers with the Christian Children’s Fund. In fact, I was taught a very valuable lesson that day, and that was that people aren’t as affected by a starving Ethiopian child, as they are by a cat who is.
Luckily, it didn’t take too many rides within pissed-in elevators, before I amassed enough coins to purchase a savory lunch. It was a blessing that this poor little kitten would happen to appear when it did, almost as if the universe gifted it to me exclusively, along with expedient marketing tactics. It was that sacred, alignment of the stars that afforded me the opportunity to disrupt my stomach’s anguish with something to eat. Even the cat had the pleasure of gorging on a meal, and it was the saddest rendering of The Last Supper ever. Especially since that what I ended up feeding the poor, pintsized feline, was some of my leftover Chinese food. And we all very well know what goes into the making of Chinese food, don’t we?…MSG.
Kitty and I surely had a lot of fun begging and noshing together, yet, in due course, I had to get rid of it. My mother had a hard enough time as it was, trying to stock our hollow fridge, and there was absolutely no way she was ever going to agree to not remember to feed another mouth. I had no idea what I was going to do with my new, momentary pet, and the only rational thing I could think of was to panic. If I were to have left it back out on the streets, it could have gotten seriously injured — or worse — led a life of petty crime. Instead, I placed the kitten back into a box (because woven baskets are for bunnies), and secretly stashed it in the safest place I could find: down the incinerator. Actually that’s an exaggeration — I tossed it (gently) down the safest place I could find.
It was awful. It was terrible. In fact, it was the most impolite thing an underfed eight-year-old boy could do to his new best friend. I imagine other eight-year-olds would have given it away or taken it to the pound for someone else to do the snuffing-out instead. Yet, somehow I am still hopeful that that lowly kitten landed its delicate paws on top of a billowing pile of soft, fluffy garbage.
This story admittedly, is one of my most humiliating tales. Not only has it tarnished my reputation with my Yorkshire — who thinks she is a cat — but many of her animal friends have removed me from their birthday-party guest lists since learning about such offense. If you’ve ever been to a dog’s birthday jamboree, then you know how much of a loss this is to me. I have eaten so many slices of pooch-birthday cake without ever bothering to check if I could. Or should.
Now, before I get flour-bombed by animal activists in the near, foreseeable future, I would like to reiterate that I was only a child then. I feel incredibly guilty about the entire affair, and it has taken no less than two Community-College, student therapists to properly counsel and therapize me.
Without a question (unless you have one), my biggest regret is that I never even got a chance to give that tiny, impecunious kitten a name. Even till this very day, when it comes to eerily haunt my dreams with its one, good red-eye, all I could say to it is…“Hey — — — — you?”
So, if by any chance there are generous readers out there (presuming there are any at all), who feel inclined to do so, please help me redeem that small part of my childhood that’s taunted me ever since, and send me your suggestions for a name. One that is suitable enough for a kitten, that may, or may not have survived a five-story, free-fall down a cold, unfriendly incinerator in the ghetto. Names are terribly important, and I am a firm believer that all dumpster-babies are deserving of one.
My e-mail address is:firstname.lastname@example.org.