The man with the cat on his head
He walked up the subway stairs and was temporarily blinded by the early summer sun still sitting low in the sky. He felt the cat adjust its back paws and lean into their ascent and then the sound of a little girl’s voice, excited. “Maman! Un chat sur la tete!”. He did not know French but he knew the word for cat. He guessed that he knew the word for cat in more languages than most anyone else on the planet.
Above ground tourists were buying hot dogs from street vendors and dipping in and out of stores. Some panhandlers were in the square but they were mostly ignored. He picked a shaded area close to the revolving doors of a department store and put a smile on his face. He reached up and gave the cat a light scratch under his chin. “Ready to go to work?”
A couple from the Midwest approached him. The wife asked if she could have her picture taken with the man who had a cat sitting on his head.
“What’s his name?” She asked as she moved next to him and pointed at the cat.
“Max.” He said. “He’s four years old.” That was almost always the next question and he’d learn that answering it beforehand helped things move along.
“He’s so cute, does he stay up there all the time?”
“Only when we go out, which we do a lot.” He paused and dropped the smile for just a moment. “I lost my job some time ago.”
She looked back at him, then at the cat. The cat seemed not to be paying attention. “I’m so sorry, I know things are tough these days.”
“That’s okay ma’am. But if you could help out with any spare change me and Max sure would appreciate it.”
The woman dug into her purse and found a dollar bill.
“Here you go”.
“Thank you so much.”
He pocketed the dollar and put the smile back in place. “Now how about that picture?”
He turned to face the woman’s husband and bent his knees just enough to get the cat in the picture. The husband took several pictures while his wife posed. They thanked him and walked off, looking back at the cat on the man’s head and talking about what a strange place the city was and what a great story this was to take home.
A group of Korean tourists had been waiting patiently. The cat was now watching a squirrel at the end of the square with mild interest. He asked them if they would like to have their picture taken with the cat and mimicked the motion of a camera with his hands. They all nodded enthusiastically and got into position. He smiled again and tried to remember what the word for money was in Korean.