LIVING WITH WILDLIFE
BY: JULIUS KLEIN
New York City is a bitch, we all know it although we try to remain optimistic for as long as we can. Living in Chicago, people would often say when I had made some music or painting or some kind of goofy theater thing that "you should move to New York". I always thought of it as a cliché' for an artist to move to N.Y.C. Were they giving me a compliment, or was that a subtle way of saying "get the fuck out of our city? Probably both. Now I've been here long enough for an infant to go through school and get pregnant, oh well .....
The queen ant that decided to colonize the trash can in my bathroom must have read on a insect/rodent bulletin board that there were cheap digs at the storefront on Second Ave. and First St., my shop, judging from the many varieties that I shared my existence with. Flies, small quick ones, big lumbering easy to kill ones and all of their prodigious magots. Mosquitos(mainly in the summer). Ants, small brown ones and big black ones. Roaches and big waterbugs with their cute antenie. Ticks from the lumber, termites in the lumber, spiders, our friends. Centipedes and millipedes scurrying here and there. Rats, mice and occasionally, crazed or sick and dying pidgeons.
In the winter rats ruled the roost. You could hear them in the ceiling and walls, carrying on their society with all the vigor one would expect of a species so evolutionarilly well endowed. In some ways I feel for them, always having to gnaw on things to keep their teeth from growing to long.
But let's face it, when I leave a piece of pizza on the table and go out to buy a pack of smokes only to return minutes later to find bits of pizza shredded in the most horrible of ways, scattered all over the place, it's time to throw down. We are now competing for the same food source.... And those turds all over the place? Hearing about that college kid who died a few years ago of some strange kind of bubonic fever from airborne, rat shit particules, inhaled while sweeping out his father's warehouse in Brooklyn or Queens made me kind of nervous.
It really started to bother me when people would be over, usually uptown types, pretending to be interested in my paintings, that's when the rats would really start whooping it up with their scratching sounds and fifty yard dashes inside the ceiling. Either the Armani clad Gent or the perfumed Dame would stop mid sentence and gasp "what's that?" "Oh just my hamster collection." I might respond or maybe my ingeniously built, low tech sound system, acting up. "RATS!!! egad" They would quickly leave. It' not that I totally hate rats, I just hold them personally or rodentally responsible for my failures in life.
My first defensive or offensive act was to set traps. Yea ,those comic ratsized mouse traps. SWACK! Your neck is broken or Ha! Ha! your stuck in the glue trap and will either be flung wholly into the garbage or you'll have to gnaw your front paws off and push yourself back to the disabled rats' hole where you'll surely be cannibalized by the young ones who don't give a fuck.
Trap placement and different varieties of baits began to obsess my thoughts "ooh yea, a piece of chicken held to the trap spring by a still attached tendon or a glob of delicious chopped liver from the deli or peanut butter, mooshed into a piece of cheese cloth so they'd get wacked tugging on it (sometimes it goes out on the rat news that traps are out, but if you lick gently you can cheat the reaper, hence the use of the cheese cloth, WHACK!). Maybe a glue trap placed at one end of a small crawl space, where a trap and bait setup lay unmolested, the critters having gotten hip to that setup. I could hear their ratty conversations.
"Oh he thinks we're gonna fall for that old chopped liver thing again. Hey Joe, looky over here, there's a puddle of sweet honey."
Yea STUCK, like Dino in theTarpits.
At one point I was working four snap traps and maybe half a dozen glue traps. It was becoming this grotesque rat freak show circus, every few minutes a snap and there'd be an even bigger and nattied coated one, one from deeper into their lair, it's back broken and it's head pulled up, mouth open, eyes bulging. Then a glue trap with legs would go running by.
Occasionally I'd hear a snap, and when I'd check it out I would discover the trap sprung and Mr. or Mrs. Rat just standing beside it, apparently stunned by the concussion. Time for the two by four. I'd aim for just behind the neck, then BAPP! Blood all over the place.
The bodies started piling up. In one two hour session I wasted twenty-three of them, proudly putting them in a mass grave in the open garbage can on the corner, under the streetlamp, me hanging around listening to the pedestrians passing by grunting with disgust and instinctual fear.
All this carnage started to take it's toll on my psyche. I was losing my appetite, withdrawing from normal social situations and as it seemed even with the ongoing massacre, that I still wasn't making much of a dent in their overall population, I decided to try poison on them. Poison! Skull and crossbones, chemical warfare. Hoping they'd ingest it and die on the street somewhere, trying to drink water from some puddle to quench the fatal thirst brought on by the poison's dehydrating properties.
Of course, as everybody knows, when you use poison the rats do a manja fest, last supper thing and end up dying and rotting in some totally obscure nook in the walls, floor or ceiling. The fetid stench grows and grows, eventually permeating every corner, every fiber. No incense, Glade, Renewsit, Lysol can mask that smell.
Noise in the walls persisted, the fifty yard dashes across the ceiling continued. Frequently, a drug-poisoned rat would stagger into my human zone and would make easy prey, scaring the shit out of whomever might be over. Me, being used to the routine, I'd do maybe a Daniel Boone thing and whack it with my wornout old straw broom.
Time to get a cat, I'd say to myself. The plan was to go up to the A.S.P.C.A. and rescue the biggest, notail, one-eyed scraggly tomcat. Give it a reprieve. Bring it downtown, treat it to a steak, or a big hunk of salmon. Let it know that it was the boss, The Shop Cat.
As in many aspects of my life, my thoughts/words were miles away from my thoughts/action. So for many weeks, maybe months, as I would interact with people, if the subject came up, as it frequently did, concerning rodent problems, I'd give my schpiel about going uptown to the A.S.P.C.A., the notail, one eyed cat thing as my next and final solution.
As it happened, word must have gotten out that I was looking for a cat, cause on one of my junk sale days, those being Sundays when it was relatively nice out and I was broke, I'd haul out various junk that I had collected along the way. Anyway this nice interracial couple that I knew walked in with a cat in a carry case, a cat poop house, litter and a large bag of food.
"We heard that you were looking for a cat and thought we'd give you ours, as we both work in the film industry and are seldom home, you know "bi-costal" bla bla bla".
What did I know about cats? Although my long time living companion has always had a cat, she always takes care of it, me finding their company little more than a nusance. Not only that, I had a bad childhood experience back in old Chicago.
One summer day I was sitting on the stoop, in front of our apt. probably picking my nose. This beautiful young lady with a cardboard box broke me out of my spell and said, bending down, looking into my face."Little boy, would you like to have a kitty?"
"Uh ok" I responded.
She placed the box on the sidewalk in front of me and left saying something about the film industry,"bi-coastal" bla bla bla".
The top of the box was held closed by that interlocking flap routine that was still almost certainly a mystery to me then. I opened it slightly and was startled to see two eyes starring back at me. No sounds, just a grey cat looking at me through the small opening at the top of the box.
I started to get excited as I climbed the stairs.
" I can pet my cat and we can play together, and he'll be my friend, and I'll take him to school with me, and he'll ride on my shoulder, and I'll teach him to do neat tricks, like fly and everybody will think I'm so cool."
No one was at home. I took the cat into my sister's room, it being off the kitchen and closed the door. I opened the box, he jumped out and started sniffing around.
"Better get him some milk." I thought.
"All kitties like milk, everybody knows that!"
Having brought back the milk, I sat down to enjoy my new friend. I reclined on the floor and petted the cat as he lapped at the milk.
Suddenly, he snarled and swatted at me, his claws tearing deep into my arm. I jumped up and screamed, fearing he might tear my eyes out. He ran and hid under the bed. Another "Leave it to Beaver" episode gone bad.
Later on when everybody was at home, me not mentioning our little incident earlier, it was agreed that I could keep the cat, even though I was secretly scarred of him. Strangely, my Grandmother, who lived with us at the time had a major phobia of cats, having evidently something to do with a bad childhood experience of her own. She would scream and I mean SCREAM that the cat was scratching her legs, even though he wasn't presently in the room. Later that evening, with a very quick and decisive move, my Father grabbed the cat by the scruff of its neck, walked out the front door with it and that was the end of it.
So, back to my adult life on Second Ave. and my second adventure in owning a cat. The cat came with the name "Polson" which seemed a bit awkward for a large, female black cat with big green eyes, white paws and a white tuff on the inside of her neck. I believe they're called "Tuxedo" cats. Whatever.
My first thought was that, "oh shit now I have to close the front door, so she wont' run away" But quickly decided that after a few days of her getting used to the place, that I would let her come and go, and if she didn't return, so be it. I let her sniff me and gradually, having learned from my old expierience, started to pet her.
Very quickly the first of her annoying needs became apparent. Whenever I would pet her, her ass would go strait up in the air and in my face as much as possible, this I learned later that for a female cat this is quite normal and is called "presenting herself" something I wish females of the human spieces would be more inclined to do in my presence, yea, yea, shutup. Her need for affection was constant and unending. I was always a bit relieved when other people were around to take some of the heat off of me. She'd do her rub up against their leg and most likely they would respond by doing that, pet the cat from the head, down the back and up the tail stroke, her going with the movement and "presenting herself" they being attention starved New Yorkers, would think it a compliment. Ha!
If I was hosting some kind of show, say where people were sitting in rows, she would work it row to row and back again. Usually the biggest retards would say to me "see, cats really love me". They thinking they had been singled out. I was happy that they were getting a little positive, invivo psychotherapy from my cat, whom I decided to rename Toemain.
Toemain, as of course in Toemain poisoning - poison - Death to the rats - rats be gone. The problem being she, owing to the fact that she had always lived in a nice apartment and was probably taken away from her mother before such skills could be learned, posessed little or no animosity or even curiosity towards the rats.
I had thought, owing to PBS nature programming, that the stalking and killing of prey would certainly be reawakened, instinctually. No way, the rats became her furry friends.I thought that maybe her scent would, at least keep them away. No.
One time I saw two ratties eating from her food bowl, the ultimate rat dis. Did she care? Did she respond? No! She was lounging on a pastel drawing that I was doing. I was so enraged that I threw her at them. Being a superior life form, I zeroed in and hit my mark. Everything went all over the place, rats scurried. She was cat mad at me and sure enough, she went into the back room of the shop and pissed all over my assorted footware collection.
She was right to seek retaliation, I had turned my frustration with vermin into violence towards her. The job was simply too big for her, the rats too large and numerous. Had she asked for the job? No. On the other hand, I have to admit that more than a couple of times when I very reluctantly agreed to let some drunk from the bar across the street pass out at my place. She would rise to the occasion and discreetly deposit a nice, partially mutilated rat, not a big one, but a disgusting dirty rat none the less, into their bedding. In the morning when I would come to open up, my hung-over guest would comment that "uhh, man you've got a rat problem," yea, like I didn"t know.THE END Julius Klein