Immediately after work on August 14, 1985, I walked down Park Avenue to the corner of Thirty-eighth Street. I had planned to meet my boyfriend there; we were going to walk over to the Bide-A-Wee animal shelter to adopt a kitten.
It was stifling. He was late. Neither of these was a surprise. Bored, I pulled my hair up into a ponytail and wandered along the sidewalk, dodging other sweaty New Yorkers and chewing my right thumbnail. I idly perused the display in the window of the Hallmark store. I looked at my watch several times. If he didn’t arrive soon the shelter would close and my frail wishbone of opportunity would snap.
Finally, I saw him trudging up Park Avenue South. I grabbed his arm. “Come on! Come on! They’re gong to close!”
“They’re not going to close.” He looked at his watch. A quarter to six. They were going to close. We scurried along East Thirty Eighth Street, making it in the door just before the guard lifted his key to lock it.
“I came to adopt a kitten,” I announced brightly.
“Good for you. Got lotsa kittens down there,” he answered. “Go right over there to the Adoption Office.”
While I headed to the office to complete the paperwork, Jamie followed the guard’s chin jerk and walked downstairs to the cat and kitten room. By the time I joined him, he was already stopped before a cage. Inside was a howling black and white kitten; her little paw was stuck out between the bars and she had dug her claws into his Armani suit jacket and nearly into his wrist. He smiled goofily. “I think this one wants to come with us.”
She was tiny – a ten-week old domestic shorthair, black with white paws, a white bow on her face, and a white bib under her chin. She looked as though she was dressed for a formal occasion so we named her Tuxedo. We paid $15 for the kitten and $2.44 for a cardboard Bide-A-Wee carrier to take her home in and headed for the uptown bus.
Since we lived in a converted brownstone way up on Central Park West, we had to change for the cross-town bus near the Park. It was a long ride and the buses were like airless tin cans. The kitten was frightened and scratched at the box trying to escape. There were no seats together so Jamie took the quivering box and sat on the left side alone. I sat on the right next to another cranky commuter.
He put the box on the floor, near his briefcase, next to his feet. The scritching noise continued. There were a few plaintive meows, barely audible over the roaring, belching bus. Then the howling began.
New Yorkers tend to ignore each other on public transportation, preferring to sit rigidly, our body language telling everyone near us that no, they don’t actually exist, after all. This bus was no different. Through the shaking and the clawing, no one turned toward Jamie. Even the stifled mewing garnered no response. But, as we were turning onto CPW and he opened the box to comfort Tuxedo, a change occurred. Her head and shoulders popped up like a jack-in-the-box toy and she yowled with relief as she scrabbled up his pant leg to sit in his lap. The entire bus all but cried in unison, “Ohhhhhhhhh! A kitten! Look, a kitten! Awwwwwwwww.” The bus nearly tilted to the left as every rider rose from the seats and reached to pet her.
I have never seen anything like it, either before or since. I have watched television stars enter restaurants and no one looked up from his entree. I saw a bride ride the subway in a big, poufy, white dress and veil and no one cracked a smile at her. But a little kitten on a hot summer day melted every heart on the bus.
Jamie tucked her back into the box so we could exit at our stop. Total strangers, adults, called after us, “’Bye, kitty.” “You take good care of that baby, now.” “Bye, you have a good night.”
Tuxedo lived with us for the next fifteen years until kidney disease struck. I think of her every day, but mostly in August, when I remember the uptown bus ride with the winsome kitten who captured the commuters’ hearts.