Tuxedo on the Uptown Bus

BideaWee

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.

Entering the Walkstreet

IMG_3299We had been living in Beverly Hills for three years when Jamie decided that he wanted to move. I wasn’t surprised. While appearing outwardly glamorous in some ways, it is really just an overly-populated, rich people’s small town, and to us, coming from Manhattan, it was a very small town, indeed.

Frankly, I wondered why it took him so long to grow restless. After all, we had seen designer stores before. We had seen Rolls and Bentleys before. We had seen gawking tourists before. And we had seen more movie stars in New York than we ever saw in LA. I think because he spent long weekdays at work and generally returned to New York at the weekends, he had very little time to grow bored; however, when I arrived for holidays or at the end of June and we spent every moment in a town of 5.71 square miles, it didn’t take long for us to weary of it.

One night just before Christmas, Jamie announced that he intended to begin looking for a house. Since I was in New York, he viewed the available ones with a real estate broker after work. After he had seen many and narrowed the field to four, he sent me links to the Google Earth pages so I could participate in the final decision. Benedict Canyon. Hmm. Nice but I did not drive so what was I supposed to do with myself all day besides sit alone at the pool, something I had been doing in BH for years? The same for Coldwater Canyon. Venice? Great, but was that a drug rehab clinic next door?  Oh, no, no, no, not that one. The final choice, in Santa Monica, however, was different.

The late nineteenth century house in the walkstreet was charming. Judging from the photos, it had neighbors, a park, Main Street down the hill, and the ocean two blocks away. There were coffee shops, salons, clothes stores, and a branch library. It wouldn’t matter that I didn’t drive.

Jamie had put off closing on the house until late January, just before the Oscars. I was coming to LA for the long weekend’s festivities; from the gifting suites to the Academy Awards themselves, we had a lot of time already committed, but I wanted to see the house first.

I arrived on Saturday morning. We drove the short distance from LAX to Santa Monica in a wobble of anticipation. I had been to Santa Monica before but, as we had always stayed at the beach hotels, I had no clear idea of its topography.   This time we didn’t go near Loews or Shutters or the Third Street Promenade. We didn’t even get that far. Turning off Ocean Park Boulevard, Jamie pulled into a short driveway and hopped out of the car. I followed. The air was cool and salty. I liked it already.

Jamie tapped the residents’ code into the security gate’s keypad and we entered the walkstreet. I had never seen a more charming place. Two rows of historic bungalows faced each other as the sidewalk joined the postage stamp-sized front gardens. No one was about. Heads swiveling to take it all in, we trotted up the rise to our house. It was sage-green with eggshell trim. It had wide steps and a wider wooden porch with two huge glass picture windows, one in the living room and one in the dining room. Gazing from the house to the west, I could see the Pacific from the rise of the hill. We tiptoed up the steps, excitedly, and peered in the windows. Hardwood floors, open space, a new kitchen. . . I was unbelievably excited, even more than I had been when we bought our first home together.

We stayed only a few minutes. I had hair and nail appointments to begin the long process of getting ready for the big Night Before the Oscars party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We sauntered back along the walkstreet and re-entered the car then drove back along Ocean Park to eat a quick lunch at Jamie’s favorite burger restaurant, The Counter.

Many years later, I can still feel the excitement I felt that day as, although I didn’t know it, this day was the beginning of so many things – living near my niece, Vikki, and her cat, Finn, again; meeting Debbie and Glenn, who ultimately became among our dearest friends; learning about rats and the proximity of movie star neighbors; and, finally, finding the stray kitten who became our Spencer.

It’s often said that a life’s path is determined with a single step. I think it’s true. My Santa Monica time was among the richest and happiest of my life so far. And it started with the keypad  entry on the walkstreet.