Well, the last time we checked in with the feral and stray cats of St. Marks Avenue, Brooklyn, there was snow on the ground. Since then, spring happened, the snow melted, and contrary to my previous commitment, I kept feeding the stray cats who come by my kitchen window while I’m making coffee.
One day, Calico Lady showed up at the window with two little kittens. I was pretty sure the kittens weren’t hers. It seemed like she was using the kittens to beg for food, like a feline Fagin.
As it turned out, those were not her kittens. They were the kittens of the Black and White Tuxedo Cat, who belongs to the neighbor two houses down
So apparently yes, Calico Lady was just pimping their fluffy cuteness to beg food.
While that was hella clever, one thing I noticed about the Backyard cats was that their ability to manipulate objects in space was more limited than other cats I’d known.
Being lazy, I tended to toss their food out the kitchen window in what should be, for enterprising mammals with claws, an easy -to-open aluminum foil packet. I soon realized that unless I left a part of the food package open, the cats would not be able to figure out how to find the food inside. They would poke it with their noses once or twice, but without some small direct access to the contents, they would soon grow frustrated and wander off. As long as I left a small part of the packet open, they would get into it no problem.
In addition, if the open part of the package landed upside down, instead of manipulating the object so that the opening was right-side up, they would leave the container upside-down and try and wedge their faces under the package to eat. It seemed to me, not really being much of a cat person, that they should be smarter than that.
I soon noticed that there was one cat who was in fact smarter than that. This handsome fellow earned the moniker Genius Cat for his unique ability to rotate foil-wrapped food packets with his front paws for easy access to the food inside.
I was impressed with his pretty coat and apparently singular intelligence, and started making sure to have food at hand for him when he came by. My one concern though was that I wanted to make sure he wasn’t scaring off Calico Lady.
Luckily, I was able to observe that Genius Cat was in fact a perfect gentleman. In fact, the way it went most often was like this: Genius Cat would come beg food:
I would give him some food, and then Calico Lady would come and share the spoils.
Once Calico Lady showed up, the food was hers to do with as she liked. If she wanted both cans of food, that was her prerogative. Genius Cat’s gentlemanly behavior was more important now than ever, because something had happened to Calico Lady’s head — all the hair on the upper right side of her head was gone. It almost looked like she’d been scalped. We were worried about her, but it seemed to be healing and there wasn’t much we could do about it anyway. While she no longer ran out of sight when we opened the window, she was still definitely skittish and not interested in closer human contact. In this picture you can sort of see how the fur on the side of her head is gone.
We didn’t have to worry. Every time she showed up, Genius Cat would let her eat first.
Then she would let him share. Often, he would eat his full and she’d still be eating. So he would stand guard while she ate.
Joe and I wondered where they slept but, as we had last Winter, we figured they were perfectly fine sleeping either in the neighbor’s garage or in the wrecked car in the other neighbor’s backyard. Plus, it was an unusually warm fall, so we figured they were fine sleeping wherever they had been until now.
Then one night in early October, a cold rain blew in. While I was making dinner, I heard a plaintive meowling at the window. I looked over, and saw this:
It was wet and nasty out, so I put a bowl of food just inside the window, since he was already halfway inside. He took one step inside, and looked up at me before tentatively placing first one paw and then the other around my neck and curling in for a hug.
From that day on, we were more than Magic Window and Stray Cat to one another. We were friends. He liked this whole Inside concept, and came back to the window the next night. As much as I liked having a new buddy, I’m allergic to cats, so letting him stay inside as a permanent member of the household was impossible. Even letting him hang out in the kitchen regularly wasn’t that great an idea. But it was obvious that wherever he’d been living, it wasn’t working out any longer. So instead Joe put a cardboard box and some rags in the yard. Genius Cat was immediately enamored of his new home.
He even went over to the neighbor’s yard and brought Black and White Kitten over to check it out. Having a box was making Genius Cat feel pretty, pretty good. After the hug, he became a very affectionate, if occasionally bitey, cat. He didn’t do it to be mean, but sometimes petting just got him too excited with overwhelming love and he’d grab the petting arm with stunning force, pull it to his mouth, and chomp. I quickly learned that his tail was the key. If the petting stopped as soon as his tail started twitching, he’d calm down and not bite. Most of the time.
Somehow, other neighborhood cats started to get the message that I was a Sucker for Cats. I was on my way to writing class when this beautiful little black cat stopped me.
She marched right up to me and started meowing hungrily. Of course, I went to the bodega and bought a can of food. Because she was right, I am a Sucker for Cats. Especially pretty, friendly black ones.
It was October already and I didn’t like the idea of leaving a black cat on the street. However, I wasn’t sure if she was really a stray, and I was in a rush, so I left her and the food and vowed to come back and try to rescue her later.
I came back the next day with a can of food and a Whole Foods bag, thinking I could get the cat into the bag and bring her to out backyard. I got the cat into the bag headfirst…
However, the cat did not appreciate my efforts scoop her up and get her into the bag ass first. She jumped out of the bag and into my arms. I tried to carry the cat about halfway up the block before she squirmed out of my arms and I never saw her again.
If she didn’t want to come with me it was just as well as I was about to have plenty of cat problems of my own.