by: Ben Seeder
It’s become clear they’re growing less and less afraid of me, if they ever were. Whatever fear I once induced in them has been replaced by familiarity and total lack of consequence. There are dozens and dozens of cats that live all around my apartment building and I can’t stop them. I can barely contain them. They flock to my building because the elderly Hispanic woman who lives above me has made it the mission of her last few years on Planet Earth to make sure all of the stray cats in the Westlake/MacArthur Park area of Los Angeles eat like kings, placing large aluminum trays of cat food at a consistency somewhere between liquid and solid on the ground eight small steps from my front door. Because neither of us have regular jobs, I get to observe all her daily machinations first hand. They consist of waking up, hosing any residual cat excrement off the steps and walkways of the building entrance, collecting any dead rodents that may or may not have been ceremoniously placed in the walkway, retreating back to her room in hot anticipation of Meals On Wheels, and the rest of the day is devoted to feeding the cats, with a possible diversion to search the garbage for glass bottles. She recently seems to have acquired a new boyfriend. He’s old, and very quiet.
Any window I look out of from my apartment will provide me with a no-holds-barred view of any number of cats. It should be clarified that these are not shelter cleaned and combed cats but rough around the edges ghetto strays who have been to the rodeo. Their fur is coarse and filthy. They trust no one. One of them, who a girl in my building has nicknamed “Stumbles”, has a broken wrist and due to him walking on it continuously a gigantic callus has formed obliquely around the wrist bending his paw inwards and he uses it as a makeshift crutch to walk around with. It has been pointed out to me that since Stumbles is a stray the option of taking him to a Vet who would surgically re-break his wrist and consign him to a small cage alone until his wrist has healed properly is an impossibility, as he would lose his mind.
When I open the front door to leave my apartment the first thing I can count on is at least two cats bounding in either direction, startled by this abrupt change in their time and space. From there it’s a short walk to the building’s front gate where various cats will scurry back and forth, near my ankles. When I arrive at my car there is most likely at least two cats comfortably perched on the hood of my car, sunning themselves languidly. Upon noticing my arrival one jumps off immediately but looks back right away to see if I’m serious while the other stays put glaring at me as if to say “What are you doing here?” but I’m like “Fuck that, what are YOU doing here? You’re just a cat!”. After the final cat rockets himself off my property I get in, sit down and take a moment. My windshield is dotted with paw prints and as I look through the glass I notice an additional cat perched on the corner of the garage roof above my car staring down at me. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure this is what the Army refers to as “having the upper hand”. Once I came out to my car and the aluminum tray they feed from was resting on my hood and that’s where I draw the god damn line.
I can’t blame the old woman for needing a hobby as the sun sets on her twilight years, she’s certainly nice enough. She refers to me as “Pappa” which pleases me immensely. Where the whole thing gets a bit arrogant is the assumption that there’s no way other hardworking people who pay the exact same amount of rent wouldn’t also want to live in a stray cat fantasia. Where it gets unpleasant is that when it’s known amongst the animal kingdom that there’s a bottomless supply of free food handed distributed on a daily basis, you’ll never believe this, but it ends up attracting not only stray cats but also raccoons and possum, often in broad daylight. I’ve seen how the cats respond to the possum lurking about and if they were one tenth afraid of me as they were this possum I’d really be in business. I threw a glass of water on a possum once and it was pissed but it didn’t step to me. I have a clear and distinct memory of looking out my front window during a conversation with my manager who was informing me I wouldn’t be getting a job I was under the impression the contract of which would be coming in that morning. While I’m listening to this alarming news I’m watching a raccoon greedily stuffing his hands into the aluminum tray of cat food and subsequently pawing the food into his mouth, all the while glancing over his shoulder, in broad daylight. As it turns out, raccoons fingers are long and adept. There was undoubtedly a connection between the raccoon’s thievery and the news I was receiving but I’m not interested in exploring it.
But back to the old woman. I have an image of her also frozen into my mind from weeks ago that I use liberally in cases of total emergency when I must instantly rid myself of an unwanted erection and that’s the image of her smiling at me, maniacal and toothless with chunks of cat food clumped into her unkempt hair underneath the bright glare of the Godlessly punishing sun of Los Angeles.
Cats are like the shadiest girl at the bar, and everyone knows it. I’ve hated them for years. The best cats act like chilled out dogs. Girls love cats. That’s no secret. They buy cat sweaters and put pictures of cats as their profile pictures and purchase as many cats as their roommates, loved ones, or fear of being made fun of allow. “Oh my God, you’re a total cat lady”, “No bitch, YOU are!” they say to each other. They send each other emails of cats dressed in human clothes or as popular characters from TV and Film. My own deep mistrust of cats was cemented over eight years ago, when a girl I was dating requested I periodically check in with her two cats who were treated better than most human beings while she went back home to Memphis. As she had state of the art machines that automatically dispensed food to these monsters at carefully timed intervals, my job was primarily to change their water, spend some time with them, make sure they weren’t dead, etc. The first time I dropped by they were on relatively good behavior, though sitting side by side and carefully watching every move I made with their heads tilted slightly to the left. I was about to go out for the evening and was having some drinks while throwing on a mix CD that would have blown anyone’s mind. I may or may not have danced, but I do remember them sitting there, barely moving. Just watching me. Cut to three days later when I stop by to check in on them again. I open the door and immediately notice various clothing items carelessly strewn across the floor. Not a big deal, but they’d clearly gotten into something. I notice that both cats are seated next to each other across the room from me, gazing vacantly out the sliding glass door that overlooked the skyline. I sit down and am instantly hit with an unpleasant smell. I walk into the girls room, awkwardly groping around in the dark in search of the light switch, eventually meandering my way into the bathroom adjacent to her room. Upon turning on the bathroom light, I notice that one of the cats has taken a dump on her bath mat. I lift the bath mat by the edges and angle the dried out dump into the toilet where it is promptly flushed, all future cleanings and bath mat sanitations safely labeled as “Not my problem”.
Confident I have adroitly identified the cause of the smell, I sit back down and try to relax yet the smell persists. The cats remain seated with their backs to me. After giving a once over to the rest of the apartment, I return to the bedroom to investigate, this time successfully locating the main light switch to her room. When the lights come on I’m horrified to discover that these cats had no joke taken turns taking dumps on this girls bed literally thirteen different times. After staring expressionless at all of the mounds for several seconds the deeply disturbing psychological implications of what had happened began to dawn on me. These cats absolutely knew where their litter boxes were and knew how to use them. This was a deliberate, clear and calculated message. This was them saying “This is what we think of you leaving town without us” and “This is what we think of the boner you brought in to check on us”.
It’s a vulgar story, I know, and I feel awkward telling it to people but this actually happened and I’ll never forget it. It’s one of the most fucked up things that’s ever happened to me. I ran out of the room to go look them in the eye and there they were, with their backs turned to me, looking out the window, just staring. They knew what they did. I’ve tried to wash my hands of cats completely since that day. Yet here I am.
The cats around my building watch me just as much as I watch them. When I leave my door open for a while to air out my apartment, inevitably I’ll catch one of them trying to creep into my home, but slowly, because they know they’re about to get flexed on. These cats know all my secrets and failures. I know for a fact these cats hook up with each other. During the day they rest, bathing themselves and laying about but never not paying attention. A lot of times they’ll fight each other, and the only thing crazier than the sound is watching it happen. Have you ever seen two cats fight each other? It’s the oddest thing. One of them will swipe at the other and then the two cats will engage in the most intense staring contest you’ve ever seen, their faces inches apart and this lasts for seconds or minutes at a time. They don’t move. They just stare directly at each other, daring the other one to make the next move. It’s crazy. They don’t fight too much though, as they all mutually understand they’ve got a good thing going on here with this old woman. After God knows how many years on the streets, it would be pretty stupid to fuck up now, and above all cats aren’t stupid. They’re smarter than me. I know that now.
At night I dream I’m being lead through the ocean to my execution by several armed military officers with cat heads. The sky and the water and everything else is tinted purple. Even though it’s the middle of the ocean, we all tread comfortably on some kind of sand bar. The cats are armed with rifles and machine guns and they’re leading me to my execution as the purple sun is coming up. My arms and legs are bound in well-chained cuffs. The sun is slowly coming up and everything is purple. Knowing these cats are about to execute me, I decide to make a dash for it, but the slack from the chains only goes so far and I quickly trip and fall to my knees. Just as one of the cats is swinging the butt of his rifle directly down into my face I wake up and start over again.