When Sam left,I felt detached from life at Big Gray. So much of the daily social interaction for me was among the old warriors of my tribe. Sam had become a trusted friend to Kim and me.While his leaving didn't effect our friendship, it did effect the inner life of the house. I was starting to feel the "communal movement" had past me bye. Increasingly, I felt a strong preference for how things ought to be done. And these were issues much more easily communicated to men of my own age group.. Even my ideas about having fun usually clustered either among certain wild people from Circles or Kim, Sam and me. I was turning into a male version of Carrie Bradshaw. With Sam gone, my connection to Big Gray began moving out too. Nevertheless, as we had many times before, we survivors announced ourselves to the readers of the Village Voice Classified..."Communal house in Bayridge, beautiful 15 room Victorian seeks male , non-smoker". I forget whether we stipulated " no cats", at that time. For a while, we had a "No New Cats" policy in the house. Not that it ever prevented us from taking someone , but it provided a way out of conversations with a potentially creepy person, "Oh! You have a cat? I'm afraid we have an iron clad rule. Too bad! We'll let you know when one of our cats die, ok?"
As far as history goes, I'm up to Bill's Generation. I'm rarely satisfied with my writing, so I guess with the exception of a few, you're all anxious to stop reading.Only, I feel I've only touched the surface of what the experience of 21 years was like for me. I guess I was hoping for a lot more feedback when I started writing But other people have advised me that this is my lonely process to complete. So, in that case, I'm not finished. There are still many details for me that form a more complete picture of life at Big Gray . Part of that picture is the story of the pets of Big Gray. I had never suffered from any strong allergic reactions before living at Big Gray, but Dr. H' daughter who ran an amateur animal shelter at the house laid the seeds of my cat allergies. By allowing cats (especially male, unfixed cats)to freely roam the house, she guaranteed that our baseboards would have a coating of cat spray. Although we painted over these sprays, future generations of cats always seemed to locate them and add their own signatures guaranteeing itchy eyes for me. And yes, for you feline defenders, I also worked in a dusty Manhattan bookstore that might have magnified the problem as well. In spite of this however, there have been members of that unpredictable species who have managed to crack through the tough male exterior I wore and win my heart. Here's their story.
Aacha was Silvia's. She along with The Cat I Killed were one of our original 7 cats. Like the spicy, Puerto Rican beauty who owned her, Aacha was a diminutive Persian with long black fur and a peppery nature. She was really fun to watch when she had her catnip. In contrast, Susan had two hulking overfed monsters who rarely left the third floor except to feed owing to their preference for her bedroom and the spring door which closed off the third floor hallway. Alan had twin Siamese that looked like sickly prison camp survivors. They had access to the rest of the house because he lived in the room off the third floor landing which is outside the third floor hallway door. There was another cat too, but I can't remember its name or who it belonged to. Then, there was the Cripple Family. Ma Cripple was another of Sylvia's cat projects. Like everything else in Sylvia's life, there was an accompanying drama with Ma Cripple, a tiny Siamese whose back legs were useless. She would haul herself up and down the flights of stairs that connected our floors dragging her useless back half behind her.The sight was shocking at first, but then you got used to it and the "thump, thump thump" sound of Ma's back half coming down the stairs became a part of the crazy fabric of our lives. Through some apparently cosmic intervention, she was befriended during what I call the Cat War of 1975, by Pa Cripple, a street cat one of Richard's friends had found. This cat had been terribly abused. It's front claws had been removed, and it was let out in the street- a death warrant for a male cat. He was spooked by any human contact other than from Sylvia. As if he was following some Disney screen script, he took to Ma Cripple and they had a litter before we realize that Ma C was even capable of littering. When their kittens arrived, the Cripples took up residence in the second floor hallway closet. (We used the closet door for some other project) House mates will remember the location of that closet at a key cat juncture in the house situated as it was between the front stairs and the back winding stair case leading down to the kitchen ,and at the foot of the hallway stairs from the third floor where Alan's ugly cats and Susan's monsters lurked. I witnessed Ma and Pa Cripple vigorously defending their tiny family at that now sacred to memory landing. Pa would attack any passing cat with teeth bared and Ma would ambush from the closet lurching herself into battle. Those famous battles ,outside my bedroom door by the way,were memorialized with the erection of the second floor chalkboard, a monument to free speech . Not everyone shared my amusement with the cats. (As the peace chief , I took everyone's side ). Jaime hated the cats, and spoke out against them at house meetings . He especially hated Susan's cats who were among the indoor sprayers. To be truthful, Jaime also had issues with Susan who was not the most fastidious of our membership and whose stone chips cluttered the floor of the front room which she used as a sculpture studio in the winter. That led to spirited debate within the house- a debate that lasted 21 years. Kim, by the way, though he rarely spoke out knew a lot about cats as many of my readers will attest. He could tell many cat stories if he wished.
We also had several of our prominent female wild cats fixed. Among the were Ma Orange, and Ma Black, a big female we inherited from the wild . She wound up with my ex-wife and kids in the suburbs of Connecticut where they lived the year before the kids moved in with me. I remember Jennifer at 5 years old trying to carry her around the house clasped to her chest . She was a good one too.
After that, we seemed to get a break in Cat Karma. Matt brought Larry with him when he moved in. He found him abandoned by his mother, and hand raised him. Because of that,Larry allowed Matt to carry him around and do things with him I've never seen a cat endure. For example, Matt would cradle Larry in his arms upside down while he smacked Larry's face with his tail, or he would hold Larry's two front paws in one hand and his back paws in another. Then, he would extend his hands so that Larry's body hung U- shaped between them.Larry would meow mournfully, but never tried to escape by using aggressive tactics like biting or scratching. Kim told me that was because he considered Matt to be his mother.
Another thing about Larry, he was always one of the guys. At that time, the Big Gray
Men's Club had it's largest membership consisting of Steven, Kim, Matt, John, Michael, the Professor (one of our "extended" family)and me. We usually met in the Library unless warm weather forced us to the backyard. Often, we sat on the floor in a circle for power ceremonies and pots of tea. Larry, if he was around would join us, situating himself in the center of our circle, content to just hang out. If no one was home, he liked to lie on our neighbor's lawn across the street.When he recognized one of our cars turning onto the block, he would race across the street greeting us at the end of the driveway (Barbara, a fierce pet lover, was always afraid one of us would kill him). Often, we would find there the decapitated bodies of mice Larry had hunted down and lined up in formation for our admiration. Matt took him with him when he moved. Ironically, after surviving years of Brooklyn traffic and our driveway, he was killed by a mail truck in a rural area of Maine. He's buried there.
After Larry, we had a few notable cats that lived at Big gray during Dan's tenure. I can't remember all of them by name. Dan and Kristin had one which was fairly unspectacular, and Becky had a little gray cat whose name I can't remember, but who had a great little personality. After Becky went back to England, Kim and Joyce wound up with her. She moved to Pennsylvania with them and lived a good life hunting in the country . Probably the most controversial cat at Big Gray was Kitty, a male Siamese that Joyce owned. He had several annoying habits like pissing in the plants that we had in our dining room, and spraying his noxious signature all over our walls. And like all Siamese, he had that annoying whine most of them make. We had a lot of meetings devoted to dealing with the cats and never were able to stop Kitty from smelling up the house. Joyce was a staunch defender of her cat. I hated him. That's why it was ironic that when Joyce went on vacation one year, she asked me to watch and feed Kitty. I reluctantly agreed since no one else could handle it. Don't you know that little SOB took off the day after Joyce left. I searched everywhere for him, and gave him up for dead in spite of signs we put up all over the neighborhood. Secretly, I was relieved to have this cat issue off the agenda of our meetings. Then, a day before Joyce returned from vacation, someone called us about a cat seen on Shore Road (blocks away from the house) We went to check out the call, and sure enough, it was Kitty. Sam started a rumor that I kicked Kitty out, but Joyce was grateful for the trouble we went through to find him. Then, to make it seem even more suspicious to Sam, a week after Joyce's return, the damn cat ran away again. This time, for good. Sam still asks how I managed to get Kitty to climb into the trunk of my car. "Come on Kitty, we're going to Bensonhurst for a picnic".
Our last cat was Temes who belonged to Bill. He was one of my favorites as he hid under Bill's bed all the time.
As opposed to unpredictable, temperamental cats, there were three predicable, loyal , good time friendly dogs at Big Gray. The first, like many other events and people connected with Big Gray, came to us out of a psychedelic experience. Burt or Bert as some liked to call him, was a scruffy gray and brown mutt with a terrier heritage. He followed Susan home from a walk in our neighborhood while she was tripping. While he was with us, he occasionally got out and wandered the neighbor's yards in search of his favorite meal, garbage. Burt had been a stray and a hobo too long . He needed a change of environment. He needed some land to roam. He wound up, like most of our adopted pets, a great success story. It was Susan and Jackson who found Burt a home on a farm out of state with a lot of space and a big friendly dog pal to roam with.
Our next dog was one of the best experiences I personally have ever had with an animal. Chelsea came to the house with Eddie and Martha. She was a small, pretty dog , a border collie mix with a herding extinct and a tremendous heart for play. I took her for long, long walks along the fields and paths of Shore Road which follows the curve of Long Island at South Brooklyn. On one side, you had the massive Verranzano Bridge, and at the other side of our neighborhood, New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. Many times Chelsea and I made that great mile and a half walk where she chased squirrels, ran with other dogs, always singling out the males who were far bigger than she, but unable to match her hair pin swerves in a chase.Chelsea also loved to roll in dead things which she would occasionally find-one of her few unladylike traits.
If I were minding her for Eddie and Martha, I would fill her food bowl in their bedroom on the first and second night. Once she decided Eddie and Martha weren't coming back , she would pad down to my room, and using her head push open the door and lie at the foot of my bed till the day they returned.
Our last dog at Big Gray was the giant, Dylan. He was a Lab mix ( with mastiff blood from the size of him). Dylan, at his advanced age was the most docile dog I've ever known. The cool thing was no one else knew that. When you were walking down the block with him, people would shrink out of the way, afraid Dylan might dispose of them with one bite. He was Vienna's dog, but we all took care of him. Like everything else at Big Gray, boundaries were often blurred.