Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Ooze

Tim Anderson

New York, NY--Nolita
May 1992
1-bdrm apt, occupied by me

I've never been much of a subletter. It takes so much energy, energy that I'd much rather devote to watching "cute baby tiger" videos on youtube. Yes, though nosing up in other people's business is a definite thrill, there's really nothing like being in one's own home, looking through one's own underwear drawers, delving deeply into one's own deeply buried secrets, uncovering one's own private porn stash.

But sometimes one must sublet. At least for a day or two. Like when one has to come to NYC for a job interview. Back in the early 90s, in the era before craigslist and downloadable booty taint, I found a place listed in the Village Voice by a cute aging Italian lady named Mrs. Gigante. She showed me all around her tiny one bedroom on Mott Street, pointing out the clean silverware, the flushable toilet, and the black and white television that got really good reception from channel 13. We agreed that I would be one of several people to stay at her place (me for one night and two days) for a really cheap price while she was away visiting family on Long Island. I would water her plants, clean anything I dirtied, and sleep on the couch. Easy peasy. I would pick up the key from the super and leave the key for the next person upon my departure.

When I arrived late on a Tuesday night, I dropped my bag on the floor and opened the curtains to reveal a stunning view of a concrete alley. As I stretched my neck out the window to see what other earthly delights awaited my eyeballs, I couldn't help but notice the blood-curdling shriek of a lonesome kitty-cat wafting through the air. But it wasn't echoing up from the alley three floors down or tumbling out from a neighboring flat. It was coming from inside the apartment!

Now I love cats. Truly. Any animal that is emotionally unavailable and oozes entitlement needs to sit next to me. But kindly old Mrs. Gigante didn't say anything about a cat. Surely she would have.

I followed the sound of the wailing feline, looking through cupboards and drawers, opening the closet, and checking under the bed, at no time feeling like I was getting any closer to the source of the screaming. I became convinced that the cat was trapped inside the wall and worried that I'd have to tear apart the apartment in order to save it.

Then I opened the French doors leading out to the truncated balcony and there, trapped between the doors and the storm door, was the oldest, crotchetiest, ugliest cat I'd ever seen in my life. It was orange and clearly had eye herpes. It sat hunched over and scowling, its two snaggleteeth standing like sentries at the gates of what appeared to be a mouth most rotten. It rubbed its nasty ears on my leg and emitted spittle onto my jeans as it purred. I melted.

I immediately named him (I decided he was a he) Oozy and, seemingly enamored with the moniker, he began following me around as I moved from the bathroom to the kitchenette to the settee, all the while screeching out a weathered and leathery meow that was utterly blissful in its ignorance of its own glass-shattering volume.

So had Mrs. Gigante simply forgotten to tell me about the cat? Or had I been her chump? On the floor of the tiny kitchen sat a full bowl of dry catfood and a twin bowl of water, neither of which--I swear to God--were there the day I'd come to look at the place. Oozy, in an adorably disgusting pantomime of what a cat should look like while eating, perched himself at the food bowl and started awkwardly gnawing on the nuggets, attempting to negotiate them down his dried-out throat and into his stomach, spitting and drooling all the while.

Oozy kept me up all night with his shrieking. But he wasn't shrieking out of pain or anger, at least as far as my dull eyes and ears could tell. He was shrieking because it was about all he could do to prove that he was still alive, snuggled on the couch next to me as I stroked his greasy, probably diseased tummy, rubbing his eye boogers and ear emissions onto my desperately sleepy body.

Finally giving up on the possibility of sleep around 4 a.m., I wandered the tiny apartment in search of a magazine or crossword puzzle to pass the time as I counted the seconds between the arias of Oozy's death opera. I went to the bathroom and sat down on the toilet to search through the wooden magazine rack next to it. Sighing at the lack of good prospects, I looked up to see a Post-It note on the shower curtain directly ahead of me with a message scrawled on it:

"Please put the cat back where you found her before you leave."

I fell asleep some time around six that morning and slept through my interview, my dreams assaulted periodically with the piercing mortal lamentations of Oozy as he attempted to claw his way into them. I woke at nine with Oozy on my face, shouting into it. Jumping from the couch, I quickly called the office to lie and say I'd had an insulin reaction and could I please reschedule for the afternoon.

I dressed myself and gathered up all of my things in preparation for the rescheduled interview. As I did this I realized it had been a few minutes since I'd heard from Oozy. I looked over at the door to the balcony and there he was, waiting patiently to be let out into the tiny sliver of space between the two doors, the place where I’d found him. I opened the door for him, he slid into the space, laid down, and immediately fell asleep, purring and gurgling and blowing tiny bubbles with his nostrils. Closing the door behind him, I slid on my blazer, visited the kitchenette sink one more time to clean the cat drool off my new pants and the yellow and green mucous off my shoes, and walked out, hoping that the Oozy was getting some well deserved rest. He'd had such a long night.

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