Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Commercial for Science Diet Cat Food

I took my first walk through the new neighborhood today with my friend Christine. It was warm and breezy and adventure was calling. About two houses, away a boy with a voluminous, red fro tousled the fur of some sort of animal. Upon closer inspection, that animal was a cat.

“Hey kitty,” I called out in a high-pitched voice to the cat, who was more interesting to me than the person.

“My friend is going to get her some food,” the boy announced. I took a few steps back and stopped in front of the boy and the purring black cat. “Is that your cat?”

“This is a stray. We found him right here,” he said.

I was stricken with jealousy. However intense the cat lady vibes I emit may be, I have never been approached by a stray on the street, nor has a skinny tom ever appeared on my doorstep. This boy was living my dream.

“Why don’t you love me?” I thought, hoping the cat could telepathically hear my thoughts. The cat was receiving an intoxicating belly rub and did not concern himself with my dreams.

Soon another young boy sprinted down the street with no food to give the cat.

“If you need some cat food, I have some in my apartment,” I said.

“You have cat food at your house? Do you have a cat?” the fellow with the fro asked.

“No!” the other boy said. “That’s why she has cat food!”

“I’ll go back and grab a couple of cans,” I said.

Christine and I returned to my apartment, where I stuffed my purse with a few cans of Science Diet and a Ziploc full of cat treats. We walked back to the yard two houses over. The boy was still tending to the cat, which had retreated under a thorny bush.

“Did you bring food?” the boy asked. “The cat is hiding now, but I think I could put a can in there.”

The boy with the fro opened up the can of turkey giblets and slid it under the bush. The cat devoured the gravy with relish.

“I think that cat belongs to the lady across the street,” the boy’s friend said. He had picked up his bike and rolled it back and forth on the pavement.

“That cat is awfully friendly for a stray,” I said. “He might be right. You should ask your neighbors if they’re missing a cat.”

Just then, a woman in purple sweatpants came outside. I assumed that she was the boy’s mother.

“What are you guys doing?” she asked.

“He found a stray cat,” I said.

“That’s not a stray. That’s my cat, Jake.”

And there was the switch. What kind of game were they playing?

“I can see why you might think Jake is a stray,” the woman continued. “He never eats and he’s so skinny. Did you feed my cat?”

“She brought us some cans of food,” the boy said.

“Well, that’s nice of you. Jake never eats anything, but he seems to like whatever you gave him.”

“It’s Science Diet turkey giblets,” I said. I was blushing now and Christine and I started to back away from the stranger’s yard. The boy with the fro and his friend both ran off to their own houses.

“He’s only eating the gravy. Jake loves gravy. He doesn’t usually like cat food.”

“Well, now at least you know that he likes Science Diet,” I said, laughing nervously.

A man in a suit emerged from the house and headed towards the car with his briefcase.

“Look, Paul, some kids fed our cat. They went out to the store and bought him canned food,” said the woman.

“I didn’t buy them,” I said, backing towards the sidewalk. “I have a cat. That’s her food.”

A teenage boy came out of the house.

“Look, Sam, this girl was feeding our cat.”

“Well, bye,” I said, starting down the street with Christine. The two boys rode by on their bicycles.

“You can come over and feed our cat whenever you like,” the woman called out.

This is a strange place.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Mysterious Tenant

Tonight I am writing at a desk. I am not hunched over a glass coffee table with a whale full of truffles, nor am I using an Indian food cookbook balanced on my thighs as a makeshift table. It feels great. When we moved into our new apartment, the landlord kindly bestowed upon us a dresser missing one drawer, a forbidding metal table, a 1970s lamp, two TV stands, and this desk.

“I don’t know about the two TV stands,” I told the landlord, an older Italian man fresh out of a black and white crime film. “We don’t even have one TV yet. But I’ll take the desk.”

I’m sure that I’ve seen this same desk on Craigslist since November. Perhaps this is what destiny feels like. The wood is light-colored and the sides are silvery metal punctured with air holes. It’s marked with marker and blotted with something that could either be nail polish or driveway tar. I don’t know who the previous owner of this desk was, but we can draw some conclusions.

When we first saw the apartment, we were instantly sold on the tacky waiting room wallpaper and the green 1970s toilet.

“You seem like two nice, attractive young people,” the landlord told us. Then we asked him if he would allow a cat.

“Eh,” he said. “I had a bad experience with cats in this apartment. I can’t have a cat spraying on the carpets.”

The last tenant had an unneutered male cat that marked every gym sneaker, couch cushion, and spider plant as his territory. We explained that Olive is female and therefore biologically incapable of spraying, that she is far too well-behaved to ever spray anything, and that we would never keep an unneutered male cat in our home in the first place. Dave offered to pay a pet deposit if necessary and the landlord caved to our attractive youthfulness.

Yesterday we moved in. While everyone else was lugging heavy boxes, Dave’s mom recruited me to help her clean the kitchen and she began wiping down the contact paper inside of the drawers and cupboards.

“What’s this?” Dave’s mom said, reaching into the back of a drawer. She pulled out a tiny black thing. “What is this?”

“That’s a pipe,” Dave explained.

Then, for some reason, everyone smelled it. Curious noses swarmed the pipe, attempting to detect a particular odor from the residue.

My mom told the story of how our neighbor found fifteen thousand dollars in her ceiling when she was renovating. We all had a good laugh because we weren’t nearly so fortunate.

I moved towards the futon, ready to sit down for a long time and leave work irresponsibly incomplete. My goal was to shut off my entire body and stare at one point on the wall like an android for couple of hours, but it was not to be.

“What is this?” said Dave’s mom, emerging from one of the cupboards. “Is this…? Is this a…?”

“Is that a syringe?” I asked, frowning at the brownish tube in her hand, with even lines up the side like a science class beaker. There wasn’t a needle attached, but otherwise it looked an awful lot like a used syringe. “Don’t touch that. Put it down somewhere and don’t touch it. Just throw it away.”

Great, I thought. The drawers are full of pipes, the cupboards are full of syringes, and we haven’t even gotten to the bathroom yet. There is probably a fully functional meth lab in the green 1970s bathtub. We could never walk barefoot in the apartment because there are used needles everywhere and there is a 90% chance of contracting blood borne pathogens from the contact paper under the silverware.

A police siren blared outside. And now we’re going to be arrested, I thought wearily. I washed my hands about six times even though I didn’t even touch the syringe, imagining little AIDS monsters swirling down the drain.

I remembered this dream I once had where someone stabbed my skull with a needle full of heroin.

“Hey! What did you do that for?” I moaned, rubbing the top of my head. “Now I’m going to get a venereal disease and a lifelong addiction.”

I stomped around for the rest of the dream slamming doors, flipping tables, and frowning mercilessly.

Now I’m piecing together the results of my investigation. Due to the scribble of blue marker on the TV stand that Dave accepted from the landlord, the previous tenant had a young child with an unschooled artistic flair. 

Our apartment also has an adjoining nursery that the landlord has claimed as a storage room, which bolsters my speculation.

“Addicts don’t clean themselves,” my mom explained to us from under a Mexican blanket on the futon. “They think bathing ruins their high.”

I’m not sure who provided my mother with this little tidbit, but she seems to think the mysterious former tenant was a bit smelly. Based on the unneutered cat spraying all over the bedding, I cannot argue.

And my desk belonged to this person. Who knows what seedy business came to pass on this very keyboard tray, what terrible things that this manufactured pine surface once witnessed? Beyond this laptop is an aura of mystery that I shall penetrate, right after I wash my hands.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Crunch Time

Having endured five separate leaks in this little sinkhole of an apartment, Dave and I are looking for a new place to live. We have seen twelve apartments to date and still haven’t found a keeper.

Dave started calling real estate agents and on Memorial Day we took a drive to visit one at her office. We arrived first and sat down at the desk. She burst through the door of her office in an American flag T-shirt and introduced herself as Elaine. She shook my hand and held onto it for a long time. Elaine stared at me intently through her darkly shaded sunglasses.

“Oh my god. Do you know who you look like?” Elaine asked. “You know, that girl that everyone says you look like.”

I shrugged. I supposed she was probably thinking of Cindy Lou Who or the flying nun.

“You know who I mean. Come on. That cute little country singer girl,” she prompted, waving her hands.

Clearly we would not be seeing any apartments at all until I produced the name of a cute little country singer.

“Taylor Swift?” I guessed, wincing. The last time I saw my sister she spent hours trying to Swift-ify my hair. I don't want to talk about it.

“YES. You look just like Taylor Swift. Don’t people tell you that all the time?”

“No,” I said.

Dave and Elaine began discussing apartments, but she was quickly reminded of a con man who had been plaguing her all month long. He called her house phone addressing her as a senior citizen and told her that she had won a brand new car. All she had to do was pay the taxes on it and he would deliver it to her house. 

She played along and said that she couldn’t possibly take the car today because she was recovering from hip replacement surgery. The next day he called her back. And the next day.

“Can you believe that this man calls poor senior citizens and takes advantage of them like that? He’s conned more than four hundred senior citizens in this area. You’d think the law would step in, but I called the sheriff myself and do you know what he said? He said that he’d been trailing this guy for weeks and he knew exactly where the con man is: he's sitting pretty in a big house in Jamaica, but there’s nothing they can do. The United States police can’t reach him there.”

Then she turned to me.

“Do you sing?” she asked. I shook my head. “What about dancing? No? Acting?”

“No, I’m a writer,” I said.

“You know what? You should enter a Taylor Swift lookalike contest. Have you ever considered entering a Taylor Swift lookalike contest?”

I admitted that I had not.

“I think you’d really have a chance. You should think about that,” she said. “She is the sweetest girl. She’s just so genuine. I was watching this talk show the other day and Taylor Swift was the guest star. She was talking about how she was driving along in her car and she saw a girl with a Taylor Swift concert T-shirt walking down the street to a record store. So Taylor had her driver pull around and drop her off in front of the record store. She came up behind the girl and just tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘Thank you. Thank you for being a fan.’”

After listening to more of Taylor Swift’s merits, we took a ride in Elaine's SUV and checked out some apartments. The first one was on the second floor, but somehow had a small, two-tiered yard reminiscent of the ruins of Machu Picchu.

“You could clean this up really nice and put a little patio table right here,” Elaine said.

Inside there was a slight paint odor. The floorboards were warped and lumpy due to the age of the building. I don’t recall there being a bathroom.

The next apartment was in some sort of British estate house that had been transplanted into New York. Elaine presented it as a train car-style apartment. You entered in the bedroom, walked through a door to the living area, and the kitchen was all the way in the back. It was very stupid.

Elaine drove us to the last apartment and we lingered outside of the building.

“I don’t know if you’re going to like this one, but we’ll take a quick look at it. Why not?” Elaine said. “But first I want you to meet some friends of mine…”

Elaine flung open the door to the hair salon on the first floor.

“Hey girls, look who I brought you. It’s Taylor Swift’s sister.”

All of the hairdressers stopped foiling their clients and stared at me, nodding. I waved and scooted away from the door.

The last apartment we saw was occupied by an elderly Greek couple ready to move into their daughter’s house. We barged in just as the woman was frying some fragrant Greek food. They lived in the apartment for thirty-five years and it was actually quite nice. Everything was peach and frilly and smelled like food.

“I could imagine us living here,” Dave said.

I closed my eyes and imagined myself in the kitchen curing olives with the Greek woman. I imagined myself on the couch checking my emails as an old Greek man beside me watches reruns of Married with Children. It was impossible for me to imagine myself living in the apartment without the Greek couple cohabitating with us like the Greek grandparents I never had. But I didn't mind.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Candy Castle Keep

Lolly sits in the keep of Candy Castle with her candies-in-waiting. On the other side of the keep, Queen Frostine drinks chocolate milk from a long-stemmed glass. A stern-faced gingerbread man stands beside her with a jug of Moo Milk. She calls to Lolly.

Come here, my little crumpet. (To the gingerbread man) Pour another glass.
(She goes to the queen)Yes, my lady?
Sit down. Have a drink.
I’m… not thirsty.
If you were thirsty, I wouldn’t have offered you milk. Drink.
(Takes a glass from the gingerbread man) Thank you.
I would rather face one thousand armies then be trapped in Candy Castle with these trembling truffles.
But the candies-in-waiting are under your protection!
I’m just doing what is expected of me. I can’t just let them melt in the heat of the battle. You will have to live up to certain expectations, too, if you marry King Jellybean. (She guzzles the rest of the chocolate milk and hands the glass to the gingerbread man) If my little brother somehow manages to win the battle, the kingdom will sing songs of my inspiring bravery.
But what if Candy Castle falls?
You would like that, wouldn’t you? If anyone but Lord Starburst were attacking us, I would appeal to his natural cravings, so to speak. Are you shocked, my little crumpet? Here’s some advice: the best weapon is your creamy center. (To the gingerbread man) Pour Lady Lolly another drink. (To Lolly) If Candy Castle falls, we’re in for a bit of a rape. When those Wonderballs roll in from battle, even the stalest morsel looks sweet. Why, you’ll look just like a slice of cake. You can be sure that there will be a special prize hidden inside of each of these ladies by morning. Then you’ll be glad for your cordial cherry filling.

Lolly takes a glass of chocolate milk from the gingerbread man and gulps it down in one shot.

You can read the epic conclusion of the battle here.