On the surface, Moriarty Shitebag Casablanca is your standard hipster. He surrounds himself with the typically offbeat talismans one finds in San Francisco’s trendy Mission District: Batman pillows, scientific posters detailing the human anatomy, a carefully arranged pile of mystical rocks. He’s delved into many forms of art, including dance and performance, while stalwartly refusing to make money off any of them. He also has yet to pay rent.
In fact, Moriarty, or “Mo,” as he is called, has been couchsurfing (on the same couch) for the past year. His average day involves lolling around the apartment (usually in various boxes or baskets), playing with baubles, and pooping in a miniature sandbox complete with scent crystals that are designed specifically for him to defecate on. He can balance on the windowsill, jump very high, and even occasionally fetch — if the tossed object is beautiful enough to strike his fancy.
Hate him yet?
When I arrive for our interview, he greets me by throwing himself across the hardwood like a runner sliding headfirst into home. At first I think it’s some kind of conceptual choreography, but then he starts chasing my feet as if they were two unwanted visitors — by which point I can only conclude that he has taken drugs.
Indeed, it turns out that Mo recreationally dabbles in catnip, and has been known to partake of it in such large quantities, or “piles,” that he is able to literally roll in the contraband while using. Much like James Franco, his lanky frame and pale face can appear either sexy or strung out, depending on the light.
“So,” I say, “What bands do you like?” No music is playing, but a banjo is conspicuously laid out on one of the armchairs. Mo stares at me intensely, his eyes the color of lobster guts, and curls his tail into the shape of a question mark.
He then leaps easily onto a nearby breakfast table, where he stretches out between a Smith-Corona typewriter and a retrofitted globe. A breeze sweeps through the screened window, animating his splayed hair so that it resembles the restless legs of a centipede.
I search for something — anything — to fill the silence.
That’s when I remember the blue crate of Fiona Apple records resting near my foot. I ask if he likes Fiona Apple. He flashes me a look that says, “If I were 300 pounds heavier, I would eat you.”
Life hasn’t always been banjos and baskets for Moriarty Shitebag. Last year, he was found among a stray litter, and promptly delivered to a kill shelter in San Francisco. Although his scraggly hair and skinny frame now lend themselves to an unorthodox chicness, these same attributes once made Mo the least adoptable of his brothers and sisters.
Enter Ceri and Sarah, married Irish expats. Ceri is a Facebook employee who works long hours; Sarah is a writer who works from home. New to the Bay Area, they longed for something, or someone, to fill the space in their otherwise bare apartment.
“So we went to this shelter, and we saw Moriarty,” Sarah explains, shrugging over her Irish breakfast tea. “There was something about him from the very beginning — something vaguely evil. But we like complexity.” She grins. “We offered him our couch indefinitely. I suppose we got roped into a rather unhealthy relationship right then and there.”
Indeed, Moriarty has never expressed appreciation for being rescued, nor is he satisfied with residing on the couch. Instead, he’ll sneak into the couple’s room throughout the night, pouncing on them while they try to sleep, and often leaving scratches that raise eyebrows at Ceri’s office.
“Sometimes I wish he would simply tell us what he wants,” Sarah laments. “You know, instead of head butting us at 4 a.m.”
The rings under her eyes are visible, and when I point them out to Mo, he seems apologetic, pouncing purringly into her lap. “He likes to be held like a baby,” she explains.
But sporadic displays of affection aside, if Mo is such a difficult roommate — needy, untidy, unpredictable, not to mention abusive — why not kick him out?
“Because we love him,” Ceri says firmly.
“He placates our homesickness,” Sarah adds. “You switch countries and there’s this heartache. He eases the Big Loneliness.” She looks down at Mo, who’s now jerking slightly in her arms. “What do you see, Shitebag?” His eyes dart back and forth — glimpsing what?
Perhaps he is watching the Big Loneliness itself, closing in on the couple like a storm perceptible only to him.
“Grrr,” Mo says, attacking my feet. Then he climbs inelegantly into my handbag.
I can’t help but be touched by the gesture; Mo’s attempt to insinuate himself among my wallet, keys, and tampons is one of the only indicators that he has truly noticed my presence. Perhaps he does not want me to go.
I nod graciously, tipping him out of my purse, and look toward the exit, noting the Disney princess dolls lined up on the entry table. Wood-carved letters — F, U, C, and K — hang by strings from the arched doorway.
“Well,” I say, flashing Mo one last knowing smile. I want him to understand that I appreciate his struggle to stow away in my bag: Not many men have tried so desperately to halt my exit; not many careless men have cared.
But when I finally rise to leave, Moriarty leaps from the back of the armchair, and wordlessly knocks the dangling F to the floor, as if to say he does not give a flying fuck.