He looked at me. I looked at him. He looked at me again. And then he jumped.
My cat’s leash and harness, I realized then, were conveniently in my hand instead of on his small furry frame (yes, I said cat leash), crappy flip-flops were on my feet, and I was flying through the air over six brownstone steps, certain of several things including the incredulous stares from our neighbors and the likelihood of a sprained ankle in my very near future. But above all, I was sure of one thing: my fiancée would become my ex and they’d never find my body if I let our cat run away during one of our thrice-weekly “crazy walks.” And to think, I was always the dog person in our relationship.
Under normal circumstances on a normal day—because all of this is clearly quite normal—I’d put the thin blue leash and miniature black Velcro harness on Tanner before actually leaving the apartment. But this was early September 2012, a few days after launching Narratively, and I was, shall we say, a bit distracted.
So, leash and harness sailing through the thick summer air like a pathetic kite behind me, I pursued our tabby-Bengal mix down our street, him darting left then right and peering over his fluffy shoulder as if this were all a game, or a blessed getaway—I couldn’t quite tell. When I saw Tanner hang a left toward what can only be described as a feline favela, I felt what any parent must when his child flushes his life down the toilet and into a cauldron of cat sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.
We live on a perfect block in a perfect stretch of Fort Greene in an all-too-perfect part of Brooklyn. Oysters and wine are consumed on front stoops, a vintage knife-sharpener crawls by in his vintage knife-sharpening truck on weekend mornings, dogs frolic in the park and lap up water from the courtesy bowl outside the artisanal coffee shop. But the neighborhood cats—gangbangers, really—avoid this bourgeois business at all costs, instead gathering in the grassy, weedy alley behind the quaint brownstones. We hear them at night, screeching and cavorting. Tanner doesn’t seem to mind; he came from back there, issuing a squeak for help from halfway up a pine tree when he was a four-month-old kitten. He hasn’t been back since. He’s a privileged kitty now. He eats canned duck. SAT prep wouldn’t be out of the question. I’d make a joke about orthodontia but Tanner’s teeth are damn flawless.
But here was our beloved cat, sprinting toward this dark, forbidding place. If he ever emerged alive he’d have a teardrop tattoo under his eye and an awful case of the clap. I was sure of it.
I know what you’re thinking, and the mailman thought the same thing the first time he saw Tanner and me own that little stretch of sidewalk in front of our apartment. “Really?” the mailman said, cocking an eyebrow and staring over his reading glasses at the cat dragging the man around on a leash. “Really?” There was also that time a teenage girl pointed at us, shrieked, and exclaimed with delight, “Oh shit!! I gotta get me one of them leashes for Fat Boy!” Our walks have gotten me invited to an underground restaurant in Clinton Hill and inspired a neighbor to tell me that our block was once home to Walt Whitman. And single men with dogs think they’rethe cat’s meow? Wrong. Tanner, it’s clear, is a genuine conversation starter.
But he’s also a living, breathing being, so why should he be kept inside all the time like a…well, like a cat? After our first walk together, he meowed at the door for hours. I knew it was the start of a very embarrassing routine for my fiancée. But Tanner and I don’t mind. We’ve become quite popular in our neck of the woods. Recently, an Asian man, short on English and pushing a cart heavy with cans, broke into a broad grin when he walked past. “Awwwww!” He nodded vigorously and gave us the thumbs-up.
So when Tanner slipped through a hole in the fence that September day I thought it was all over. He would never survive back there, where Calicos roll (and chase) dice and Siamese drink milk out of paper bags. But then Tanner stopped and quite literally smelled the roses growing in the brush. Turns out he just needed a little afternoon in the grass like the rest of us. I frantically scooped him up, scratching my arms on the fence’s auburn rust, but I felt no pain.
A few days later he did it again, leaping from my arms when a garbage truck pulled up. He gets scared sometimes. But instead of running toward the kitty crack den, he made a beeline for our apartment, back to his stuffed toys and his stash of green beans—yes, the cat eats green beans—straight back to his sugar-free cereal and his D.A.R.E. t-shirt. Tanner was home. And what a lovely, boring and safe place that is.
Read more tales from New Yorkers and their pets here.