Tuxedo was one of John’s cats who lived with him and her sister, The Evil And Ever-Cranky Dahka, in Clinton, MA, before moving to NYC with John in 1995. (By then, Dahka had mercifully gone to meet her maker, Bastet, in what would have to be the equivalent of Little Kitty Hell.)
They lived in Clinton on the third floor of a sweet Victorian house on a street right out of ’50s television. On my first visit to Clinton I had arrived in the dark so I didn’t get to see much of the town or the surroundings. In the morning when I awoke I went to the window for a first look-see.
Pulling back the dotted Swiss I leaned over and peered down the three stories for my first look at a street-sans-sidewalks and couldn’t help but exclaim, “Oh my God: It’s Mayberry!”
Life for Tux on the third floor was pretty sweet. There was a strange little double-hung sideways window that stayed open most of the time, through which Tux could exit to a roof. From there she managed to get down to the next level and from there to the yard below. Getting back in seemed to be as easy for her just by reversing the steps back up to the roof outside the sideways window and back into the apartment. Unless she decided to splay out on the roof for a while, enjoying the warmth that emanated from the sun-warmed shingles. It wasn’t uncommon for John to get a phone call from a neighbor, “Hey, John, do you know there’s a cat on your roof?” “I do.”
The Park Avenue apartment was a neat one-bedroom cum-small-terrace and Tux loved going out there—here, a small hopper window that remained open all the time gave her free entry and exit—to eyeball the house finches, sparrows and the occasional black-capped chickadee that flitted around out there. On one occasion I found a half-dozen small feathers on the living-room carpet, but mercifully nothing else, nor did Tux subsequently egest anything untoward and birdlike.
A few years passed and Tux heard Bastet calling her, too. She withered slowly but luckily rather painlessly, so there wasn’t a lot of suffering for any of us, especially her.
Before she popped off, however, John and I had planned our first-ever real vacation: a week at the Cape. Never having taken a real away vacation (all the others were to a family home in RI, where everything that we needed was already there, so packing meant throwing a change of underwear—if we thought of it—into a paper bag and grabbing a bottle of water for the train ride) we kind of maybe over-packed for this week away. Somehow we ended up with ten bags, backpacks and other assorted satchels in our collection of away-stuff.
Tuxie went to her reward just before the vacation, so a few changes were necessary. First, call Janet and call off her house-and-cat-sitting week at our place. Next, what to do with Tux…
We were planning to stop at the home in RI on the way, and the expansive yard there would surely provide a final resting place for Tux, so that was the plan. The few days before we were to leave posed a problem, however, but luckily our freezer provided the solution. Into a classy Lord and Taylor box she went, tissue paper and all, and we apologized to her posthumously for having to seal such an elegant container with shiny gray duct tape, but a serious seal was needed, so that we did and into the freezer she went.
It seemed forever before: Saturday morning! Vacation! Okay, we’ve never done this before, so we need to be sure we count all the bags! every time we move somewhere: to the cab downstairs, to the train station, onto the train, off the train and into the waiting car in RI. Okay, let’s head out. Bags? Ten of them, right? One-two-three, etc., up to ten. Got it!
Into the trunk of the cab they went, all ten; into the back seat we went, the two of us, and off on this adventure. About three blocks. That was as far as we got. The traffic was ridiculously heavy for that time of the morning, and down Park and around the corner was as far as we got before we bogged down.
Still, we sat comfortably, and we griped only half-heartedly about how long the ride would take, until, as one, we turned to each other wide-eyed and blurted “THE CAT!”
Drat! The little uncounted eleventh item, the duct-taped L&T box, was still reposing chillily in our freezer at home. Could we leave it until we… Oh, lord no.
Always ready to take charge and solve problems, (a boon, but also at times a bane), John said “I’ll meet you at Penn Station!” and jumped out of the cab before I could even get out the words, “But… but…” and he ran off back toward the apartment.
“But… I have ten bags to manage… ” I whimpered softly, to no one. Oh, maybe there will be a Red Cap at Penn, and even though they’re ridiculous rip-offs, this time I would have to avail myself.
Wrong. No Red Cap. And no John yet, with or without dead cat. I had no choice but to start strapping bags and such onto whatever parts of my body could hold them and I gotta tell you the process was no easy deal, but I finally managed, and having turned myself into a walking luggage rack I made for the entrance to Penn Station.
Slowly. Very slowly. And arduously. But I made it to the doorway and when I got there I wondered why the automatic doors didn’t open. I didn’t see it as an omen portending a series of failures of modern technology, but it was. Getting the doors open turned out to be easy though: leaning into them slightly, I found the weight of what felt like 800 pounds of luggage open them without a problem.
The next failure was waiting for me at the top of the long descent (long? ridiculously long) down into the station: the escalator wasn’t working. As, in my mind, I saw myself plunging helplessly to my death under some tonnage of bags and backpacks down the thirty feet of stairway, I took to them very carefully. I had only gotten down two steps when a “gentleman of a certain Penn-Station demeanor” who was leaning idly against the wall hollered, “Y’want help witcha bags?”
Now, I’m no naif: I know about guys who offer to help tourists and other easy marks with their “stuff” who bolt off suddenly, carrying away your best belongings, but even so, I contemplated ever so briefly taking him up on his offer: stealing some of my stuff would mean less for me to carry.
“No, thanks,” I said, as I cursed the street-smarts that kept me from letting him have at it.
Did I mention this was in July? Did I mention July in NYC is most often very hot and way too sticky-humid for human comfort? It was. Arriving at the bottom of the stairs I had to take several moments to ferret out my handkerchief and wipe my brow, an effort that became futile in a heartbeat, as the hanky was soon sopping wet.
Some passersby stared, as if wondering if I were maybe some poorly thought-out performance art. One or two of them even stopped to watch, the way you do when you have the time to enjoy the entertainment provided by subway buskers and the like. When I eventually shuffled off, I didn’t care one bit about their apparent disappointment at a “bad show.” At least it was free.
I turtled over to the departure board, at the same time looking hopefully but futilely for John. The board showed an on-time departure for our train, a miracle in itself, so I was obliged once again to make my way down another staircase, to the lower level. Oh, there are escalators that span those levels, too, and these were working, but of course they were all working upward to accommodate arriving passengers.
The train having arrived at last, I trudged on board and managed to find two seats together, which I quickly took ownership of by dropping onto them two of the myriad containers that had by now almost become part of me. Stowing the remaining eight was no easy task, as the overhead bins were already pretty full, so I had to spread out the rest of our booty, hoping my efforts to remember where each of them was would pay off.
Finally—finally!— I could sit, and dropping in a lump onto my seat, I continued to wipe my face with a handkerchief that needed frequent wringing-out.
A-a-nd, enter John, one second later. “Oh, you got two seats together!” “~no comment~” mostly because I still couldn’t talk. He, too, had to hunt for a spot in the overhead rack for Our Beloved Tuxedo, and having found one he returned to his seat.
“I had to run all the way here!”
Eventually, I cooled off both physically and mentally, and the spirit of adventure returned, as all seemed well. For a time.
As the train approached Westerly Station, we began gathering our belongings. Westerly is a small station and not all the doors open there, so you sometimes have to traverse several cars to get to an open door. Dragging the bags through two cars to the only door that would open, we made sure once again to count them: One, two, three, the rest. Small sigh. We stood in the doorway as the train slowed, getting really excited now: the first leg of our trip, the train, was nearly completed and it was usually the most difficult.
Slowing; slower, slower — train whistled as it neared the station — we’re smiling, we’re happy, we’re—Oh my god! “THE CAT!”—once again in unison. And once again, John is off, running back through the train to retrieve Our Poor-But-Beloved Tuxedo, who had been about to be abandoned on a train. (Most likely until the train reached its final destination, Boston’s South Station, at which time some nefarious crony would probably see the duct-taped L&T box and grab it, thinking it was full of $100 bills or something. We decided it might have been worth leaving Tux, just for the joy of contemplating the face of such a would-be thief, after he struggled to get through the duct tape to find, by then, a well thawed and probably partially decomposed cat.)
You can probably guess who has to deal, once again, with shuffling ALL TEN BAGS off the train. And was I really, really hoping John wouldn’t make it off the train in time and end up in Providence? No, not really. Big sighs were hove all around as John made it off the train and back to me and our stuff.
Back at the house, a small hole was dug with reverence and sadness, into it went Tux and over her went a sweet little rose bush in lieu of a grave marker. We couldn’t think of a better resting place for a wonderful friend.
I am pleased to say the rest of the vacation went by astonishingly swimmingly, both literally and figuratively.
A year went by and we were back at the RI house when one morning John noticed a rather nondescript gray bird perched in Tux’s rose bush, singing gleefully. “I wonder if that bird is driving the spirit of Tuxedo crazy.”
“Nah. It’s a catbird. It’s having a little chat with Tux and she’s loving it.”