Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cheers to Bruce!

Last Sunday, I lost the great love of my life.

He was a complicated soul - shamelessly affectionate at times, willful and temperamental at others, clever, shockingly agile, obsessive and loyal. He also possessed a sharp sense of humor.

I get it. Everyone thinks their cat is special. But Bruce really was.

I found him, or perhaps it’s more apt to say he found me, on a chilly night in March, 2001, moments after my husband and I decided to call it quits on a 10 year relationship following a disastrous dinner out with friends. (It’s not that the straw finally broke, it shattered and then choked on its own vomit.) Walking on First Avenue in a daze toward the F train, I spotted this little tabby crouched on the sidewalk of First St. I’m not a Seinfeld fan, but no one can argue that First and First is indeed the Nexus of the Universe. He immediately came up to me and started doing little figure eights against my legs, finally settling on one of my feet, purring away, fixing to take a nap! Just then a woman approached and asked me if I was going to rescue this cat. She lived around the corner and could lend a carrier for the night.

I looked down at him nestling against my legs, such a strange act of familiarity considering we hadn’t even been formally introduced. I sighed. “Yeah, I guess I am,” I replied. I took him back to Brooklyn, returned the carrier the next day and put up “HAVE YOU LOST ME?” posters. No one claimed him. Guess I owned a cat now.

Allan and I managed to live together another two weeks after that. Mostly out of habit. He was actually the one who named the cat “Bruce” because he had this way of pouncing out of nowhere, tapping our ankles and disappearing under or behind something. Kung Fu kitty. Bruce Lee.

If I had one wish in life it would be to have one conversation with Bruce to find out what he was doing out on the street that night. He was already house trained and neutered, but also had that badass East Village feral edge to him. He liked meat, and would fight us for every scrap on our plates, jumping back on the table the second we attempted removal. If we gave in and set something down on the floor, he would hide, stalk and attack the dish before allowing himself to chow down. (He did this for months until, I guess, becoming too lazy to “hunt” before the reward.) His markings, such as a leopard-spotted tummy, ringed tail and bushy ears indicated he might have some wild cat in him. No one could guess his age for certain - he could have been anywhere from 6 months old to a year.


  1. He lived in a nearby bodega and escaped. They weren’t looking for him.
  2. He wandered out of someone’s apartment window onto a fire escape, climbed down and got lost. They didn’t see my poster. Or maybe they thought, “He’s all yours, honey!”
  3. He is the bastard lovechild of a manx or lynx from the Bronx zoo, who was impregnated by a domestic cat that wandered into the enclosure, and was eventually turned out once weaned.  
  4. His avid curiosity landed him on a plane from Sub Saharan Africa and after escaping authorities at JFK, found himself, like many adventurers, wandering the streets of New York City.

Hide and Seek Fail
Bruce and I soon moved to the wilds of Connecticut where I exiled myself to make an attempt at a new life and career as a jewelry designer. Which meant, at the age of 30, moving back in with my very generous parents, who lived in Manhattan during the week to work. I could use that apartment on weekends. Half of their garage became a metalsmithing studio, where I worked with the door open for ventilation. Bruce loved being in the country, swatting at butterflies, climbing trees, taking naps in the bushes. He would often show up with a half dead chipmunk, his favorite prey, and drop it at my feet while I worked, looking up at me presumably to see if I’d like to finish the job or perhaps prepare him some Chipmunk Tetrazzini. Lovely.

The house had textured wallpaper that covered a large part of the upstairs foyer and hallway. Bruce liked the way it felt in his claws and had taken to climbing it. If you glanced down the hallway, you would often see his tail disappearing behind the wall above the entryway as he scampered all the way up. It was not uncommon to hear blood curdling screams from upstairs after a sudden, unexpected dismount. My parents’ affection for Bruce seemed to far surpass their consternation at the damage he was causing to the decor.

Moving Day Silliness 
After two years, a shredded hallway and severe “editing” of the fabric-covered dining room chairs, we moved back to Brooklyn, at first to Fort Greene, where I had room for a jewelry studio. I was afraid of yanking this dear beast out of his element, but he surprised me with a relatively easy adjustment to indoor apartment living. The strange thing was, this was when he began to grow! For the previous two years, he remained sleek and tiny, all of maybe eight pounds. Suddenly, in what seemed like just a matter of weeks, not only did he fill out, his whole body expanded from head to tail! It was as though the Brooklyn water made his whole metabolic structure react.  “Fuhgeddaboudit!” it seemed to say. Within a few months he easily weighed 15 pounds. At one point he weighed between 25 and 30 pounds, but he didn’t seem fat, exactly. Big boned. Stocky. A real bruiser. He had a habit of lying on my chest when I would read before bedtime. There were moments I did struggle for breath.

Typical Lazy Sunday
He could still leap to really high tables and shelves, and never lost that agility with age, jumping back down again with an incredible thud! that I am sure my downstairs neighbors must have been less than ecstatic about. In CT my father would share pieces of roasted deli turkey with him, and this became his favorite snack. He began to expect a slice of it every day around 11, complaining bitterly if it was late. At Thanksgiving extra turkey was prepared just so he would have his share of leftovers. One Thanksgiving I came home with it and in his fervor, ran so fast and took such a massive leap onto the kitchen table that he skidded off the other end, fixing me with an “I meant to do that” expression from the ground that wasn’t fooling anyone. A friend once came over for a stewed chicken dinner and even though I thought I had covered the pot on the stove tightly, in the midst of lively conversation, there was Stealth Bruce dragging a chicken leg, leaving a saucy trail from the stove, down the cabinets and across the floor.

Chicken Thief
After two years in Fort Greene, we moved to Cobble Hill, where I all but abandoned jewelry for my next incarnation in the booze industry. This was when it was apparent that transporting him outside the home for any reason was going to be a massive challenge. Not only was he heavy, he was all but impossible to capture. Luckily the garden apartment neighbors in my new building are veterinarians. They sometimes wore those gloves reserved for birds of prey to capture him before sedating him for an examination.

He sounds vicious, but that was only when strangers did anything against his will. With me, he was shamelessly affectionate. Lying on the couch to watch TV, he would place his head on my chest with the entire length of his body, which stretched from my shoulders to my knees, completely slack, purring loudly as I rubbed his belly and under his chin. If I had to be somewhere in the mornings, I had to be sure to allow at least 10 minutes for the wake up cuddle. On the rare
For years he adopted a box this shape, lined with
tissue paper, as his "bed." 
occasions that I could sneak in a nap, he would join me with his head on my shoulder. He also did this if he sensed I wasn’t sleeping well, perhaps hoping to purr me to sleep. It often worked too. While he recovered from a wretched skin infection that actually nearly killed him a few months ago, one of the only places on his upper body that could be reached around the Cone of Shame was his face. He had taken to positioning himself so our noses could touch. He continued to do this after he didn’t need the cone anymore, rubbing my nose with his face, especially as a greeting.

I’m so thankful he lived as long as he did, and I am forever grateful for his companionship and love, brought to me when I needed it most. There are huge holes in my routine now, scenes missing. I don’t know how I will ever get used to the 11 o’clock hour without Turkey Time, or waking up without that cuddle or even fighting him off to enjoy my dinner.

The unofficial back cover of his novel. 
I’d like to thank everyone who cat sat for him over the years and put up with his shenanigans. Apologies for any swipes taken. He could be rude about indicating when to stop rubbing his ears. It’s been incredibly moving for me to see how far his personality reached, even to people he never met. I’m glad I was able to convey just how majestic, funny and special this animal was.

Rest in peace, buddy.

You wanted to read that NOW. No, meow!

One of many photobombed booze pics. 

Best. Tummy. Ever.

Actual Size.

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