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Title: It’s like this, cat
Author: Neville, Emily
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           It’s like this, cat

                            by Emily Neville
                        ILLUSTRATED BY EMIL WEISS



        [Cover: Dave standing on top step looking across street;
       Cat curled up below. Tall apartment building in background.]



                           IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT

                            BY EMILY NEVILLE
                          PICTURES BY EMIL WEISS



        [Title Page: City scene of park entrance and busy street:
            tall apartment building on left; car driving by;
               bike-riding boy behind running boy and dog;
               mailman handing mail to woman on sidewalk.]



IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT
Copyright © 1963 by Emily Neville



Printed in the United States of America. All rights reserved. No part of
this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without
written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in
critical articles and reviews. For information address Harper & Row,
Publishers, Incorporated, 49 East 33rd Street, New York 16, N.Y.



TO
MIDNIGHT,
“MAYOR” OF GRAMERCY PARK
1954-1962



CONTENTS


 1. Cat and Kate
 2. Cat and the Underworld
 3. Cat and Coney
 4. Fight
 5. Around Manhattan
 6. And Brooklyn
 7. Survival
 8. West Side Story
 9. Fathers
10. Cat and the Parkway
11. Rosh Hashanah at the Fulton Fish Market
12. The Red Eft
13. The Left Bank of Coney Island
14. Expedition by Ferry
15. Dollars and Cats
16. Fortune
17. Telephone Numbers
18. “Here’s to Cat!”



                          *IT’S LIKE THIS, CAT*



                                                                         1


           [Illustration: Dave holding Cat while Dad looks up
                       from reading his newspaper.]



                                                              CAT AND KATE



My father is always talking about how a dog can be very educational for a
boy. This is one reason I got a cat.

My father talks a lot anyway. Maybe being a lawyer he gets in the habit.
Also, he’s a small guy with very little gray curly hair, so maybe he
thinks he’s got to roar a lot to make up for not being a big hairy tough
guy. Mom is thin and quiet, and when anything upsets her, she gets asthma.
In the apartment—we live right in the middle of New York City—we don’t
have any heavy drapes or rugs, and Mom never fries any food because the
doctors figure dust and smoke make her asthma worse. I don’t think it’s
dust; I think it’s Pop’s roaring.

The big hassle that led to me getting Cat came when I earned some extra
money baby-sitting for a little boy around the corner on Gramercy Park. I
spent the money on a Belafonte record. This record has one piece about a
father telling his son about the birds and the bees. I think it’s funny.
Pop blows his stack.

“You’re not going to play that stuff in this house!” he roars. “Why aren’t
you outdoors, anyway? Baby-sitting! Baby-talk records! When I was your
age, I made money on a newspaper-delivery route, and my dog Jeff and I
used to go ten miles chasing rabbits on a good Saturday.”

“Pop,” I say patiently, “there are no rabbits out on Third Avenue. Honest,
there aren’t.”

“Don’t get fresh!” Pop jerks the plug out of the record player so hard the
needle skips, which probably wrecks my record. So I get mad and start
yelling too. Between rounds we both hear Mom in the kitchen starting to
wheeze.

Pop hisses, “Now, see—you’ve gone and upset your mother!”

I slam the record player shut, grab a stick and ball, and run down the
three flights of stairs to the street.

This isn’t the first time Pop and I have played this scene, and there gets
to be a pattern: When I slam out of our house mad, I go along over to my
Aunt Kate’s. She’s not really my aunt. The kids around here call her Crazy
Kate the Cat Woman because she walks along the street in funny old clothes
and sneakers talking to herself, and she sometimes has half a dozen or
more stray cats living with her. I guess she does sound a little looney,
but it’s just because she does things her own way, and she doesn’t give a
hoot what people think. She’s sane, all right. In fact she makes a lot
better sense than my pop.

It was three or four years ago, when I was a little kid, and I came
tearing down our stairs crying mad after some fight with Pop, that I first
met Kate. I plunged out of our door and into the street without looking.
At the same moment I heard brakes scream and felt someone yank me back by
the scruff of my neck. I got dropped in a heap on the sidewalk.

I looked up, and there was a shiny black car with M.D. plates and Kate
waving her umbrella at the driver and shouting: “Listen, Dr. Big Shot,
whose life are you saving? Can’t you even watch out for a sniveling little
kid crossing the street?”

The doctor looked pretty sheepish, and so did I. A few people on the
sidewalk stopped to watch and snicker at us. Our janitor Butch was there,
shaking his finger at me. Kate nodded to him and told him she was taking
me home to mop me up.

“Yas’m,” said Butch. He says “Yas’m” to all ladies.

Kate dragged me along by the hand to her apartment. She didn’t say
anything when we got there, just dumped me in a chair with a couple of
kittens. Then she got me a cup of tea and a bowl of cottage cheese.

That stopped me snuffling to ask, “What do I put the cottage cheese on?”

“Don’t put it on anything. Just eat it. Eat a bowl of it every day. Here,
have an orange, too. But no cookies or candy, none of that sweet, starchy
stuff. And no string beans. They’re not good for you.”

My eyes must have popped, but I guess I knew right that first day that you
don’t argue with Kate. I ate the cottage cheese—it doesn’t really have any
taste anyway—and I sure have always agreed with her about the string
beans.

Off and on since then I’ve seen quite a lot of Kate. I’d pass her on the
street, chirruping to some mangy old stray cat hiding under a car, and
he’d always come out to be stroked. Sometimes there’d be a bunch of little
kids dancing around jeering at her and calling her a witch. It made me
feel real good and important to run them off.

Quite often I went with her to the A & P and helped her carry home the cat
food and cottage cheese and fruit. She talks to herself all the time in
the store, and if she thinks the peaches or melons don’t look good that
day, she shouts clear across the store to the manager. He comes across and
picks her out an extra good one, just to keep the peace.

I introduced Kate to Mom, and they got along real well. Kate’s leery of
most people, afraid they’ll make fun of her, I guess; my mom’s not leery
of people, but she’s shy, and what with asthma and worrying about keeping
me and Pop calmed down, she doesn’t go out much or make dates with people.
She and Kate would chat together in the stores or sitting on the stoop on
a sunny day. Kate shook her head over Mom’s asthma and said she’d get over
it if she ate cottage cheese every day. Mom ate it for a while, but she
put mayonnaise on it, which Kate says is just like poison.

The day of the fight with Pop about the Belafonte record it’s cold and
windy out and there are no kids in sight. I slam my ball back and forth
against the wall where it says “No Ball Playing,” just to limber up and
let off a little spite, and then I go over to see Kate.

Kate has a permanent cat named Susan and however many kittens Susan
happens to have just had. It varies. Usually there are a few other
temporary stray kittens in the apartment, but I never saw any father cat
there before. Today Susan and her kittens are under the stove, and Susan
keeps hissing at a big tiger-striped tomcat crouching under the sofa. He
turns his head away from her and looks like he never intended to get mixed
up with family life. For a stray cat he’s sleek and healthy-looking. Every
time he moves a whisker, Susan hisses again, warningly. She believes in no
visiting rights for fathers.

Kate pours me some tea and asks what’s doing.

“My pop is full of hot air, as usual,” I say.

“Takes one to know one,” Kate says, catching me off base. I change the
subject.

“How come the kittens’ pop is around the house? I never saw a full-grown
tom here before.”

“He saw me buying some cans of cat food, so he followed me home. Susan
isn’t admitting she ever knew him or ever wants to. I’ll give him another
feed and send him on his way, I guess. He’s a handsome young fellow.” Kate
strokes him between the ears, and he rotates his head. Susan hisses.

He starts to pull back farther under the sofa. Without stopping to think
myself, or giving him time to, I pick him up. Susan arches up and spits. I
can feel the muscles in his body tense up as he gets ready to spring out
of my lap. Then he changes his mind and decides to take advantage of the
lap. He narrows his eyes and gives Susan a bored look and turns his head
to take me in. After he’s sized me up, he pretends he only turned around
to lick his back.

“Cat,” I say to him, “how about coming home with me?”

“Hah!” Kate laughs. “Your pop will throw him out faster than you can say
‘good old Jeff.’”

“Yeah-h?” I say it slowly and do some thinking. Taking Cat home had been
just a passing thought, but right now I decide I’ll really go to the mat
with Pop about this. He can have his memories of good old Jeff and rabbit
hunts, but I’m going to have me a tiger.

Aunt Kate gives me a can of cat food and a box of litter, so Cat can stay
in my room, because I remember Mom probably gets asthma from animals, too.
Cat and I go home.

Pop does a lot of shouting and sputtering when we get home, but I just put
Cat down in my room, and I try not to argue with him, so I won’t lose my
temper. I promise I’ll keep him in my room and sweep up the cat hairs so
Mom won’t have to.

As a final blast Pop says, “I suppose you’ll get your exercise mouse
hunting now. What are you going to name the noble animal?”

“Look, Pop,” I explain, “I know he’s a cat, he knows he’s a cat, and his
name is Cat. And even if you call him Honorable John Fitzgerald Kennedy,
he won’t come when you call, and he won’t lick your hand, see?”

“He’d better not! And it’s not my hand that’s going to get licked around
here in a minute,” Pop snaps.

“All right, all right.”

Actually, my pop sometimes jaws so long it’d be a relief if he did haul
off and hit me, but he never does.

We call it a draw for that day, and I have Cat.



                                                                         2


           [Illustration: Dave looking at Cat locked in cage.]



                                                    CAT AND THE UNDERWORLD



Cat makes himself at home in my room pretty easily. Mostly he likes to be
up on top of something, so I put an old sweater on the bureau beside my
bed, and he sleeps up there. When he wants me to wake up in the morning,
he jumps and lands in the middle of my stomach. Believe me, cats don’t
always land lightly—only when they want to. Anything a cat does, he does
only when he wants to. I like that.

When I’m combing my hair in the morning, sometimes he sits up there and
looks down his nose at my reflection in the mirror. He appears to be
taking inventory: “Hmm, buckteeth; sandy hair, smooth in front, cowlick in
back; brown eyes, can’t see in the dark worth a nickel; hickeys on the
chin. Too bad.”

I look back at him in the mirror and say, “O.K., black face, yellow eyes,
and one white whisker. Where’d you get that one white whisker?”

He catches sight of himself in the mirror, and his tail twitches
momentarily. He seems to know it’s not really another cat, but his claws
come out and he taps the mirror softly, just to make sure.

When I’m lying on the bed reading, sometimes he will curl up between my
knees and the book. But after a few days I can see he’s getting more and
more restless. It gets so I can’t listen to a record, for the noise of him
scratching on the rug. I can’t let him loose in the apartment, at least
until we make sure Mom doesn’t get asthma, so I figure I better
reintroduce him to the great outdoors in the city. One nice Sunday morning
in April we go down and sit on the stoop.

Cat sits down, very tall and neat and pear-shaped, and closes his eyes
about halfway. He glances at the street like it isn’t good enough for him.
After a while, condescending, he eases down the steps and lies on a sunny,
dusty spot in the middle of the sidewalk. People walking have to step
around him, and he squints at them.

Then he gets up, quick, looks over his shoulder at nothing, and shoots
down the stairs to the cellar. I take a look to see where he’s going, and
he is pacing slowly toward the backyard, head down, a tiger on the prowl.
I figure I’ll sit in the sun and finish my science-fiction magazine before
I go after him.

When I do, he’s not in sight, and the janitor tells me he jumped up on the
wall and probably down into one of the other yards. I look around a while
and call, but he’s not in sight, and I go up to lunch. Along toward
evening Cat scratches at the door and comes in, as if he’d done it all his
life.

This gets to be a routine. Sometimes he doesn’t even come home at night,
and he’s sitting on the doormat when I get the milk in the morning,
looking offended.

“Is it my fault you stayed out all night?” I ask him.

He sticks his tail straight up and marches down the hall to the kitchen,
where he waits for me to open the milk and dish out the cat food. Then he
goes to bed.

One morning he’s not there when I open the door, and he still hasn’t
showed up when I get back from school. I get worried and go down to talk
to Butch.

“Wa-a-l,” says Butch, “sometimes that cat sit and talk to me a little, but
most times he go on over to Twenty-first Street, where he sit and talk to
his lady friend. Turned cold last night, lot of buildings put on heat and
closed up their basements. Maybe he got locked in somewheres.”

“Which building’s his friend live in?” I ask.

“Forty-six, the big one. His friend’s a little black-and-white cat, sort
of belongs to the night man over there. He feeds her.”

I go around to Twenty-first Street and case Forty-six, which is a pretty
fair-looking building with a striped awning and a doorman who saunters out
front and looks around every few minutes.

While I’m watching, a grocery boy comes along pushing his cart and goes
down some stairs into the basement with his carton of groceries. This
gives me an idea. I’ll give the boy time to get started up in the
elevator, and then I’ll go down in the basement and hunt for Cat. If
someone comes along and gets sore, I can always play dumb.

I go down, and the coast is clear. The elevator’s gone up, and I walk
softly past and through a big room where the tenants leave their baby
carriages and bicycles. After this the cellar stretches off into several
corridors, lit by twenty-watt bulbs dangling from the ceiling. You can
hardly see anything. The corridors go between wire storage cages, where
the tenants keep stuff like trunks and old cribs and parakeet cages.
They’re all locked.

“Me-ow, meow, me-ow!” Unmistakably Cat, and angry.

The sound comes from the end of one corridor, and I fumble along, peering
into each cage to try to see a tiger cat in a shadowy hole. Fortunately
his eyes glow and he opens his mouth for another meow, and I see him
locked inside one of the cages before I come to the end of the corridor. I
don’t know how he got in or how I’m going to get him out.

While I’m thinking, Cat’s eyes flick away from me to the right, then back
to me. Cat’s not making any noise, and neither am I, but something is.
It’s just a tiny rustle, or a breath, but I have a creepy feeling someone
is standing near us. Way down at the end of the cellar a shadow moves a
little, and I can see it has a white splotch—a face. It’s a man, and he
comes toward me.

I don’t know why any of the building men would be way back there, but
that’s who I figure it is, so I start explaining.

“I was just hunting for my cat ... I mean, he’s got locked in one of these
cages. I just want to get him out.”

The guy lets his breath out, slow, as if he’s been holding it quite a
while. I realize he doesn’t belong in that cellar either, and he’s been
scared of me.

He moves forward, saying “Sh-h-h” very quietly. He’s taller than I am, and
I can’t see what he really looks like, but I’m sure he’s sort of a kid,
maybe eighteen or so.

He looks at the padlock on the cage and says, “Huh, cheap!” He takes a
paper clip out of his pocket and opens it out, and I think maybe he has a
penknife, too, and next thing I know the padlock is open.

“Gee, how’d you do that?”

“Sh-h-h. A guy showed me how. You better get your cat and scram.”

Golly, I wonder, maybe the guy is a burglar, and that gives me another
creepy feeling. But would a burglar be taking time out to get a kid’s cat
free?

“Well, thanks for the cat. See you around,” I say.

“Sh-h-h. I don’t live around here. Hurry up, before we both get caught.”

Maybe he’s a real burglar with a gun, even, I think, and by the time I
dodge past the elevators and get out in the cold April wind, the sweat
down my back is freezing. I give Cat a long lecture on staying out of
basements. After all, I can’t count on having a burglar handy to get him
out every time.

Back home we put some nice jailhouse blues on the record player, and we
both stretch out on the bed to think. The guy didn’t really _look_ like a
burglar. And he didn’t talk “dese and dose.” Maybe real burglars don’t all
talk that way—only the ones on TV. Still, he sure picked that lock fast,
and he was sure down in that cellar for some reason of his own.

Maybe I ought to let someone know. I figure I’ll test Pop out, just casual
like. “Some queer-looking types hanging around this neighborhood,” I say
at dinner. “I saw a tough-looking guy hanging around Number Forty-six this
afternoon. Might have been a burglar, even.”

I figure Pop’ll at least ask me what he was doing, and maybe I’ll tell him
the whole thing—about Cat and the cage. But Pop says, “In case you didn’t
know it, burglars do not all look like Humphrey Bogart, and they don’t
wear signs.”

“Thanks for the news,” I say and go on eating my dinner. Even if Pop does
make me sore, I’m not going to pass up steak and onions, which we don’t
have very often.

However, the next day I’m walking along Twenty-first Street and I see the
super of Forty-six standing by the back entrance, so I figure I’ll try
again. I say to him, “Us kids were playing ball here yesterday, and we saw
a strange-looking guy sneak into your cellar. It wasn’t a delivery boy.”

“Yeah? You sure it wasn’t you or one of your juvenile pals trying to swipe
a bike? How come you have to play ball right here?”

“I don’t swipe bikes. I got one of my own. New. A Raleigh. Better than any
junk you got in there.”

“What d’you know about what I got in there, wise guy?”

“Aw, forget it.” I realize he’s just getting suspicious of me. That’s what
comes of trying to be a big public-spirited citizen. I decide my burglar,
whoever he is, is a lot nicer than the super, and I hope he got a fat
haul.

Next day it looks like maybe he did just that. The local paper, _Town and
Village_, has a headline: “Gramercy Park Cellar Robbed.” I read down the
article:

“The superintendent, Fred Snood, checked the cellar storage cages, after a
passing youth hinted to him that there had been a robbery. He found one
cage open and a suitcase missing. Police theorize that the youth may have
been the burglar, or an accomplice with a guilty conscience or a grudge,
and they are hunting him for questioning. Mr. Snood described him as about
sixteen years of age, medium height, with a long ‘ducktail’ haircut, and
wearing a heavy black sweater. They are also checking second-hand stores
for the stolen suitcase.”

The burglar stole a suitcase with valuable papers and some silver and
jewelry in it. But the guy they were hunting for—I read the paragraph over
and feel green. That’s me. I get up and look in the mirror. In other
circumstances I’d like being taken for sixteen instead of fourteen, which
I am. I smooth my hair and squint at the back of it. The ducktail is fine.

Slowly I peel off my black sweater, which I wear practically all the time,
and stuff it in my bottom drawer, under my bathing suit. But if I want to
walk around the street without worrying about every cop, I’ll have to do
more than that. I put on a shirt and necktie and suit jacket and stick a
cap on my head. I head uptown on the subway. At Sixty-eighth Street I get
off and find a barbershop.

“Butch cut,” I tell the guy.

“That’s right. I’ll trim you nice and neat. Get rid of all this stuff.”

And while he chatters on like an idiot, I have to watch three months’ work
go snip, snip on the floor. Then I have to pay for it. At home I get the
same routine. Pop looks at my Ivy-League disguise and says, “Why, you may
look positively human some day!”

Two days later I find out I could’ve kept my hair. _Town and Village_ has
a new story: “Nab Cellar Thief Returning Loot. ‘Just A Bet,’ He Says.”

The story is pretty interesting. The guy I met in the cellar is named Tom
Ransom, and he is nineteen and just sort of floating around in the city.
He doesn’t seem to have any family. The police kept a detective watching
Number Forty-six, and pretty soon they see Tom walking along with the
stolen suitcase. He drops it inside the delivery entrance and walks on,
but the cop collars him. I suppose if it hadn’t been for me shooting my
big mouth off to the super, the police wouldn’t have been watching the
neighborhood. I feel sort of responsible.

The story in the paper goes on to say this guy was broke and hunting for a
job, and some other guy dares him to snatch something out of a cellar and
finally bets him ten dollars, so he does it. He gets out and finds the
suitcase has a lot of stocks and legal papers and table silver in it, and
he’s scared stiff. So he figures to drop it back where it came from. The
paper says he’s held over to appear before some magistrate in Adolescent
Court.

I wonder, would they send a guy to jail for that? Or if they turn him
loose, what does he do? It must be lousy to be in this city without any
family or friends.

At that point I get the idea I’ll write him a letter. After all, Cat and I
sort of got him into the soup. So I look up the name of the magistrate and
spend about half an hour poring through the phone book, under “New York,
City of,” to get an address. I wonder whether to address him as “Tom” or
“Mr. Ransom.” Finally I write:


_Dear Tom Ransom:_

_I am the kid you met in the cellar at Number Forty-six Gramercy, and I
certainly thank you for unlocking that cage and getting my cat out. Cat is
fine. I am sorry you got in trouble with the police. It sounds to me like
you were only trying to return the stuff and do right. My father is a
lawyer, if you would like one. I guess he’s pretty good. Or if you would
like to write me anyway, here is my address: 150 East 22 St. I read in the
paper that your family don’t live in New York, which is why I thought you
might like someone to write to._

                                                       _Yours sincerely,_
                                                          _Dave Mitchell_


Now that I’m a free citizen again, I dig out my black sweater, look
disgustedly at the butch haircut, and go out to mail my letter.

Later on I get into a stickball game again on Twenty-first Street. Cat
comes along and sits up high on a stoop across the street, where he can
watch the ball game and the tame dogs being led by on their leashes. That
big brain, the super of Forty-six, is standing by the delivery entrance,
looking sour as usual.

“Got any burglars in your basement these days?” I yell to him while I’m
jogging around the bases on a long hit.

He looks at me and my short haircut and scratches his own bald egg.
“Where’d I see you?” he asks suspiciously.

“Oh—Cat and I, we get around,” I say.



                                                                         3


        [Illustration: Dave, Cat, and Nick running on the beach.]



                                                             CAT AND CONEY



Nick and I have been friends pretty much since I can remember. Our mothers
used to trade turns fetching us from kindergarten. Nick lives around the
corner on Third Avenue, upstairs over the grocery store his old man runs.
If anyone asked me _how come_ we’re friends, I couldn’t exactly say. We’re
just together most of the time.

Neither of us is a real whiz at sports, but we used to roller-skate and
play a little king and stickball and ride our bikes around exploring. One
time when we were about ten, we rode way over to Twelfth Avenue at the
Hudson River, where the _Queen Mary_ docks. This is about the only time I
remember my mom getting really angry. She said Pop ought to take my bike
away from me, and he did, but only for about a week. Nick and I still ride
bikes a lot. Otherwise we sit and do our homework or play chess and listen
to records.

Another reason we’re friends is because of this creepy little kid who
lived down toward the corner, between me and Nick. He always tagged along,
wanting to play with us, and of course in the end he always fouled up the
game or fell down and started to cry. Then his big brother came rushing
out, usually with another big guy along, and they figured they were
entitled to beat us up for hurting little Joey.

After a while it looked to me as if Joey just worked as a lookout, and the
minute me or Nick showed up on the block, one of the big guys came to run
us off. They did little things like throwing sticks into our bike spokes
and pretending it was just a joke. Nick and I used to plot all kinds of
ways to get even with them, but in the end we mostly decided it was easier
to walk around the block the long way to get to each other’s houses. I’m
not much on fighting, and neither is Nick—’specially not with guys bigger
than us.

Summers, up in the country, the kids seem to be all the time wrestling and
punching, half for fun and half not. If I walk past some strange kid my
age up there, he almost always tries to get me into a fight. I don’t get
it. Maybe it’s because sidewalks are uncomfortable for fighting, but we
just don’t do much scrapping for fun. The only couple of fights I ever
had, I was real mad.

Come spring, Nick and I got restless hanging around the street, with
nothing to do but stickball and baiting the super at Forty-six. It was so
easy to get him sore, it wasn’t even fun. Cat stayed out of that basement,
but I wanted to get him really out in the open, where he could chase
squirrels or something.

One day we rode our bikes up to Central Park. I put Cat in a wicker hamper
and tied it on the back of my bike. He meowed a lot, and people on the
street would look at me and then do a double take when they heard him.

We got up to Central Park and into a place they call The Horseshoe,
because the parking area is that shape. I opened the lid a crack to look
at Cat. He hissed at me, the first time he ever did. I looked around and
thought, Gee, if I let him loose, he could go anywhere, even over into the
woods, and I might never catch him. There were a lot of hoody looking kids
around, and I could see if I ever left my bike a second to chase Cat,
they’d snatch the bike. So I didn’t let Cat out, and I wolfed my sandwich
and we went home. Nick was pretty disgusted.

Then we hit a hot Saturday, the first one in May, and I get an idea. I
find Nick and say, “Let’s put Cat and some sandwiches in the basket and
hop the subway out to Coney.”

Nick says, “Why bring Cat? He wrecked the last expedition.”

“I like to take him places, and this won’t be like Central Park. No one’s
at Coney this time of year. He can chase around on the beach and hunt sand
crabs.”

“Why do I have to have a nut for a friend?” Nick moans. “Well, anyway, I’m
keeping my sandwich in my pocket, not in any old cat basket.”

“Who cares where you keep your crumby sandwich?”

So we went. Lots of people might think Coney Island is ugly, with all the
junky-looking booths and billboards. But when you turn your back on them
and look out at the ocean, it’s the same ocean as on a deserted beach. I
kick off my shoes and stand with my feet in the ice water and the sun hot
on my chest. Looking out at the horizon with its few ships and some sea
gulls and planes overhead, I think: It’s mine, all mine. I could go
anywhere in the world, I could. Maybe I will.

Nick throws water down my neck. He only understands infinity on math
papers. I let Cat out of the basket and strip off my splashed shirt and
chase Nick along the edge of the water. No need to worry about Cat. He
chases right along with us, and every time a wave catches his feet he
hisses and hightails it up the beach. Then he rolls himself in the hot,
dry sand and gets up and shakes. There are a few other groups of people
dotted along the beach. A big mutt dog comes and sniffs Cat and gets a
right and a left scratch to the nose. He yelps and runs for home. Cat
discovers sand crabs. Nick and I roll around in the sand and wrestle, and
after a while we get hungry, so we go back where we left the basket. Cat
is content to let me carry him.

Three girls are having a picnic right near our basket. One yells to the
others, “Hey, look! The guy went swimming with his cat!”

Cat jumps down, turns his back on them, and humps himself around on my
sweater until he is settled for a nap. I turn my back on the girls, too,
and look out at the ocean.

Still, it’s not the same as it would have been a year ago. Then Nick and I
would either have moved away from the girls or thrown sand at them.

We just sit and eat our sandwiches. Nick looks over at them pretty often
and whispers to me how old do I think they are. I can’t tell about girls.
Some of the ones in our class at school look about twenty-five, but then
you see mothers pushing baby carriages on the street who look about
fifteen.

One of the girls catches Nick’s eye and giggles. “Hi, there, whatcha
watching?”

“I’m a bird watcher,” says Nick. “Seen any birds?”

The girls drift over our way. The one that spoke first is a redhead. The
one who seems to be the leader is a big blonde in a real short skirt and
hair piled up high in a bird’s nest. Maybe that’s what started Nick
bird-watching. The third girl is sort of quiet-looking, with brown hair, I
guess.

“You want a couple of cupcakes? You can have mine. I’m going on a diet,”
says the blonde.

“Thanks,” says Nick. “I was thinking of going after some cokes.”

“Why waste time thinking? You might hurt your head,” says the redhead.

The third girl bends down and strokes Cat between the ears very gently.
She says, “What’s his name?”

I explain to her about why Cat is Cat. She sits down and picks up a piece
of seaweed to dangle over his nose. Cat makes a couple of sleepy swipes at
it and then stretches luxuriously while she strokes him. The other kids
get to talking, and we tell each other our names and where we go to school
and all that stuff.

Then Nick gets back on the subject of going for cokes. I don’t really want
to stay there alone with the girls, so I say I’ll go. I tell Nick to watch
Cat, and the girl who is petting him says, “Don’t worry, I won’t let him
run away.”

It’s a good thing she’s there, because by the time I get back with the
cokes, which no one offers to pay me back for, Nick and the other two
girls are halfway down the beach. Mary—that’s her name—says, “I never saw
a cat at the beach before, but he seems to like it. Where’d you get him?”

“He’s a stray. I got him from an old lady who’s sort of a nut about cats.
Come on, I’ll see if I can get him to chase waves for you. He was doing it
earlier.”

We are running along in the waves when the other kids come back. The big
blonde kicks up water at me and yells, “Race you!”

So I chase, and just as I’m going to catch up, she stops short so I crash
into her and we both fall down. This seems to be what she had in mind, but
I bet the other kids are watching and I feel silly. I roll away and get up
and go back to Cat.

While we drink cokes the blonde and the redhead say they want to go to the
movies.

“What’s on?” Nick asks.

“There’s a Sinatra thing at the neighborhood,” the blonde tells him, and
he looks interested.

“I can’t,” I say. “I’ve got Cat. Besides, it’s too late. Mom’d think I’d
fallen into the subway.”

“I told you that cat was a mistake,” says Nick.

“Put him in the basket and call your mother and tell her your watch
stopped,” says the redhead. She comes over and trickles sand down my neck.
“Come on, it’d be fun. We don’t have to sit in the kids’ section. We all
look sixteen.”

“Nah, I can’t.” I get up and shake the sand out.

Nick looks disgusted, but he doesn’t want to stay alone. He says to the
blonde, “Write me down your phone number, and we’ll do it another day when
this nut hasn’t got his cat along.”

She writes down the phone number, and the redhead pouts because I’m not
asking for hers. The girls get ready to leave, and Mary pats Cat good-bye
and waves to me. She says, “Bring him again. He’s nice.”

We get on the subway and Cat meows crossly at being shut in his basket.
Nick pokes the basket with his toes.

“Shut up, nuisance,” he says.



                                                                         4


          [Illustration: Dave and Nick fighting on the ground.]



                                                                     FIGHT



I actually get a letter back from Tom Ransom. It says: “Thanks for your
letter. The Youth Board got me a room in the Y on Twenty-third Street.
Maybe I’ll come say Hello some day. They’re going to help me get a job
this summer, so I don’t need a lawyer. Thanks anyway. Meow to Cat. Best,
Tom.”

I go over to Nick’s house to show him the letter. I’d told him about Tom
getting Cat out of the cellar and getting arrested, but Nick always acted
like he didn’t really believe it. So when he sees the letter, he has to
admit Cat and I really got into something. Not everyone gets letters from
guys who have been arrested.

One thing about Nick sort of gripes me. He has to think up all the plans.
Anything I’ve done that he doesn’t know about, he downgrades. Also, I
always have to go to _his_ house. He never comes to mine, except once in a
coon’s age when I have a new record I won’t bring to his house because his
machine stinks and he never buys a new needle.

It’s not that I don’t like his house. His mom is pretty nice, and boy, can
she cook! Just an ordinary Saturday for lunch she makes pizza or real good
spaghetti, and she has homemade cookies and nut cake sitting around after
school. She also talks and waves her arms and shouts orders at us kids,
but all good-natured-like, so we just kid her along and go on with what
we’re doing.

She’s about the opposite of my mom. Pop does the shouting in our house,
and except for the one hassle about bike-riding on Twelfth Avenue, Mom
doesn’t even tell me what to do much. She’s quiet, and pretty often she
doesn’t feel good, so maybe I think more than most kids that I ought to do
things her way without being told.

Also, my mom is always home and always ready to listen if you got
something griping you, like when a teacher blames you for something you
didn’t do. Some kids I know, they have to phone a string of places to find
their mother, and then she scolds them for interrupting her.

Mom likes to cook, and she gets up some good meals for holidays, but she
doesn’t go at it all the time, the way Nick’s mother does. So maybe Nick
doesn’t come to my house because we haven’t got all that good stuff
sitting around. I don’t think that’s it, really, though. He just likes to
be boss.

One day, a couple of weeks after we went to Coney, he does come along with
me. We pick up a couple of cokes and pears at his pop’s store.

Cat is sitting on my front stoop, and he jumps down and rubs between my
legs and goes up the stairs ahead of us.

“See? He knows when school gets out then it’s time to eat. That’s why I
like to come home,” I tell Nick.

We say “Hi” to Mom, and I get out the cat food while Nick opens his coke.
“You know those girls we ran into over on Coney Island?” he says.

“Yeah.”

“Well, I got the blonde’s phone number, so Sunday when I was hacking
around with nothing to do, I called her up.”

“Yeah? What for?”

“You stupid or something? To talk. So she yacked away a good while, and
finally I asked her why didn’t she come over next Saturday, we could go to
a movie or something.”

“Yeah.” I was working on my pear, a very juicy one.

“That all you can say? So she says, well, she might, if she can get her
girl friend to come too, but she doesn’t want to come alone, and her
mother wouldn’t let her anyway.”

“Which one?”

“Which one what?”

“Which girl friend?”

“Oh. You remember, the other one we were kidding around with at the beach,
the redhead. So I said, O.K., I’d see if I could get you to come too. I
said I’d call her back.”

“Hmp. I don’t know.”

“What d’you mean, you don’t know?”

“How do I know if I like that girl? I hardly even _talked_ to her. Anyway,
it sounds like a date. I don’t want a date. If they just happen to come
over, I guess it’s all right.”

“So shall I tell them it’s O.K. for Saturday?”

“Hmm.”

“It’s nice you learned a new word.”

“Do I have to pay for the girl at the movies?”

“Cheapskate. Maybe if you just stand around saying ‘Hmm,’ she’ll buy her
own. O.K.?”

“O.K. But this whole thing is your idea, and if it stinks it’s going to be
your fault.”

“Boy, what an enthusiast! Come on, let’s play a record and do the math.”

Nick is better at math than I am, so I agree.

Saturday morning at ten o’clock Nick turns up at my house in a white shirt
and slicked-down hair. Pop whistles. “On Saturday, yet! You got a girl or
something?”

“Yessir!” says Nick, and he gives my T-shirt a dirty look. I go put a
sweater over it and run a comb through my hair, but I’m hanged if I’ll go
out looking like this is a big deal.

“We’re going to a movie down at the Academy,” I tell my family.

“What’s there?” Pop asks.

“A new horror show,” says Nick. “And an old Disney.”

“Is it really a new horror show?” I ask Nick, because I think I’ve seen
every one that’s been in town.

“Yup. Just opened. _The Gold Bug._ Some guy wrote it—I mean in a book
once—but it’s supposed to be great. Make the girls squeal anyway. I love
that.”

“Hmm.” I just like horror shows anyway, whether girls squeal or not.

“You’ll be the life of the party with that ‘Hmm’ routine.”

“It’s _your_ party.” I shrug.

“Well, you could at least _try_.”

We hang around the subway kiosk on Fourteenth Street, where Nick said he’d
meet them. After half an hour they finally show up.

It’s nice and sunny, and we see a crowd bunched up over in Union Square,
so we wander over. A shaggy-haired, bearded character is making a speech
all about “They,” the bad guys. A lot of sleepy bums are sitting around
letting the speech roll off their ears.

“What is he, a nut or something?” the blonde asks.

“A Commie, maybe,” I say. “They’re always giving speeches down here.
Willie Sutton, the bank robber, used to sit down here and listen, too.
That’s where somebody put the finger on him.”

The girls look at each other and laugh like crazy, as if I’d said
something real funny. I catch Nick’s eye and glare. O.K., I _tried_. After
this I’ll stick to “Hmm.”

A beard who is listening to the speech turns and glares at us and says,
“Shush!”

“Aw, go shave yourself!” says Nick, and the girls go off in more hoots.
Nick starts herding them toward Fourteenth Street, and I follow along.

At the Academy Nick goes up to the ticket window, and the girls
immediately fade out to go read the posters and snicker together. I can
see they’re not figuring to pay for any tickets, so I cough up for two.

Nick and I try to saunter up to the balcony the way we always do, but the
girls are giggling and dropping their popcorn, so the matron spots us and
motions. “Down here!” She flashes her light in our eyes, and I feel like a
convict while we get packed in with all the kids in the under-sixteen
section.

Nick goes in first, then the blonde, then the redhead and me. The minute
things start getting scary, she tries to grab me, but I stick my hands in
my pockets and say, “Aw, it’s just a picture.” She looks disgusted.

The next scary bit, she tries to hang onto her girl friend, but the blonde
is already glued onto Nick. Redhead lets out a loud sigh, and I wish I
hadn’t ever got into this deal. I can’t even enjoy the picture.

We suffer through the two pictures. The little kids make such a racket you
can hardly hear, and the matron keeps shining the light in your eyes so
you can’t see. She shines it on the blonde, who is practically sitting in
Nick’s lap, and hisses at her to get back. I’m not going to do this again,
ever.

We go out and Nick says, “Let’s have a coke.” He’s walking along with the
blonde, and instead of walking beside me the redhead tries to catch hold
of his other arm. This sort of burns me up. I mean, I don’t really _like_
her, but I paid for her and everything.

Nick shakes her off and calls over his shoulder to me, “Come on, chicken,
pull your own weight!”

The girls laugh, on cue as usual, and I begin getting really sore. Nick
got me into this. The least he can do is shut up.

We walk into a soda bar, and I slap down thirty cents and say, “Two cokes,
please.”

“Hey, hey! The last of the big spenders!” says Nick. More laughter. I’d
just as soon sock him right now, but I pick up my money and say, “O.K.,
wise guy, treat’s on you.” Nick shrugs and tosses down a buck as if he had
hundreds of them.

The two girls drink their cokes and talk across Nick. I finish mine in two
or three gulps, and finally we can walk them to the subway. Nick is
gabbing away about how he’ll come out to Coney one weekend, and I’m
standing there with my hands in my pockets.

“Goo’bye, Bashful!” coos the redhead to me, and the two of them disappear,
cackling, down the steps. I start across Fourteenth Street as soon as the
light changes, without bothering to look if Nick is coming. He can go rot.

Along Union Square he’s beside me, acting as if everything is peachy fine
dandy. “That was a great show. Pretty good fun, huh?”

I just keep walking.

“You sore or something?” he asks, as if he didn’t know.

I keep on walking.

“O.K., be sore!” he snaps. Then he breaks into a falsetto: “Goo’bye,
Bashful!”

I let him have it before he’s hardly got his mouth closed. He hits me back
in the stomach and hooks one of his ankles around mine so we both fall
down. It goes from bad to worse. He gets me by the hair and bangs my head
on the sidewalk, so I twist and bite his hand. We’re gouging and
scratching and biting and kicking, because we’re both so mad we can hardly
see, and anyway no one ever taught us those Queensberry rules. There’s no
point in going into all the gory details. Finally two guys haul us apart.
I have hold of Nick’s shirt and it rips. Good. He’s half crying, and he
twists away from the guy that grabbed him and screams some things at me
before darting across the avenue.

I’m standing panting and sobbing, and the guy holding me says, “You oughta
be ashamed. Now go on home.”

“Aw, you and your big mouth,” I say, still mad enough to feel reckless. He
throws a fake punch, but he’s not really interested. He goes his way, and
I go mine.

I must look pretty bad because a lot of people on the street shake their
heads at me. I walk in the door at home, expecting the worst, but
fortunately Mom is out. Pop just whistles through his teeth.

“That must have been quite a horror picture!” he says.



                                                                         5


       [Illustration: Dave and Tom lunching in meadow above river.]



                                                          AROUND MANHATTAN



By the next weekend I no longer look like a fugitive from a riot. All week
in school Nick and I get asked whether we got hit by a swinging door; then
the fellows notice the two of us aren’t speaking to each other, and they
sort of sheer off the subject. Come Saturday, I sit on the stoop and
wonder, what now? There are plenty of other kids in school I like, but
they mostly live over in the project—Stuyvesant Town, that is. I’ve never
bothered to hunt them up weekends because Nick’s so much nearer.

Summer is coming on, though, and I’ve got to have someone to hang around
with. This is the last Saturday before Memorial Day. Getting time for
beaches and stuff. I suppose Nick and I might get together again, but not
if he’s going to be nuts about girls all the time.

A guy stops in front of the stoop, and Cat half opens his eyes in the sun
and squints at him. The guy says, “You Dave Mitchell?”

“Huh? Yeah.” I look up, surprised. I don’t exactly recognize the guy,
never having seen him in a clear light before. But from the voice I know
it’s Tom.

“Oh, hi!” I say. “Here’s Cat. He’s pretty handsome in daylight.”

“Yeah, he looks all right, but what happened to you?”

“Me and a friend of mine got in a fight.”

“With some other guys or what?”

“Nah. We had a fight with each other.”

“Um, that’s bad.” Tom sits down and has sense enough to see there isn’t
anymore to say on that subject. “I start work Memorial Day, when the
beaches open. Working in a filling station on the Belt Parkway in
Brooklyn.”

“Gee, that’s a long way off. You going to live over there?”

“Yeah, they’re going to get me a room in a Y in Brooklyn.” Tom stretches
restlessly and goes on: “I suppose you get sick of school and all, but
it’s rotten having nothing to do. I’d be ready to go nuts if I didn’t get
a job. I can’t wait to start.”

I think of asking him doesn’t he have a home or something to go back to,
but somehow I don’t like to.

“Like today,” Tom says. “I’d like to go somewhere. Do something. Got any
ideas?”

“Um. I was sort of trying to think up something myself. Movies?”

Tom shakes himself. “No. I want to walk, or run, or throw something.”

“There’s a big park—sort of a woods—up near the Bronx. A kid told me about
it. He said he found an Indian arrowhead there, but I bet he didn’t.
Inwood Park, it’s called.”

“How do you get there?”

“Subway, I guess.”

“Let’s go!” Tom stands up and wriggles his shoulders like he’s Superman
ready to take off.

“O.K. Wait a minute. I’ll go tell Mom. Should I get some sandwiches?”

Tom looks surprised. “Sure, fine, if she doesn’t mind.”

I’m not worried about getting Mom to make sandwiches because she always
likes to fix a little food for me. The thing is, ever since my fight with
Nick, she’s been clucking around me like the mother hen. Maybe she figures
I got in some gang fight, so she keeps asking me where I’m going and who
with. Also, I guess she noticed I don’t go to Nick’s after school anymore.
I come right home. So she asks me do I feel all right. You can’t win.
Right now, I can see she’s going to begin asking who is Tom and where did
I meet him. It occurs to me there’s an easy way to take care of this.

I turn around to Tom again. “Say, how about you come up and I’ll introduce
you to Mom? Then she won’t start asking me a lot of questions.”

“You mean I _look_ respectable, at least?”

“Sure.”

We go up to the apartment, and Mom asks if we’d like some cold drinks or
something. I tell her I ran into Tom when he helped me hunt for Cat around
Gramercy Park, which is almost true, and that he sometimes plays stickball
with us, which isn’t really true but it could be. Mom gets us some
orangeade. She usually keeps something like that in the icebox in summer,
because she thinks cokes are bad for you.

“Do you live around here?” she asks Tom.

“No, ma’am,” says Tom firmly. “I live at the Y. I’ve got a summer job in a
filling station over in Brooklyn, starting right after Memorial Day.”

“That’s fine,” Mom says. “I wish Davey could get a job. He gets so
restless with nothing to do in the summer.”

“Aw, Mom, forget it! You got to fill in about six-hundred working papers
if you’re under sixteen.

“Listen, Mom, what I came up for—we thought we’d make some sandwiches and
go up to Inwood Park.”

“Inwood? Where’s that?” So I explain to her about the Indian arrowheads,
and we get out the classified phone book and look at the subway map, which
shows there’s an IND train that goes right to it.

“I get sort of restless myself, with nothing to do,” says Tom. “We just
figured we’d do a little exploring around in the woods and get some
exercise.”

“Why, yes, that seems like a good idea.” Mom looks at him and nods. She
seems to have decided he’s reliable, as well as respectable.

I see there’s some leftover cold spaghetti in the icebox, and I ask Mom to
put it in sandwiches. She thinks I’m cracked, but I did this once before,
and it’s good, ’specially if there’s plenty of meat and sauce on the
spaghetti. We take along a bag of cherries, too.

“Thanks, Mom. Bye. I’ll be back before supper.”

“Take care,” she says. “No fights.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll stay out of fights,” says Tom quite seriously.

We go down the stairs, and Tom says, “Your mother is really nice.”

I’m sort of surprised—kids don’t usually say much about each other’s
parents. “Yeah, Mom’s O.K. I guess she worries about me and Pop a lot.”

“It must be pretty nice to have your mother at home,” he says.

That kind of jolts me, too. I wonder where his mother and father are,
whether they’re dead or something; but again, I don’t quite want to ask.
Tom isn’t an easy guy to ask questions. He’s sort of like an island, by
himself in the ocean.

We walk down to Fourteenth Street and over to Eighth Avenue, about twelve
blocks; after all, exercise is what we want. The IND trains are fast, and
it only takes about half an hour to get up to Inwood, at 206th Street. The
park is right close, and it is real woods, although there are paved walks
around through it. We push uphill and get in a grassy meadow, where you
can see out over the Hudson River to the Palisades in Jersey. It’s good
and hot, and we flop in the sun. There aren’t many other people around,
which is rare in New York.

“Let’s eat lunch,” says Tom. “Then we can go hunting arrowheads and not
have to carry it.”

He agrees the spaghetti sandwich is a great invention.

I wish the weather would stay like this more of the year—good and sweaty
hot in the middle of the day, so you feel like going swimming, but cool
enough to sleep at night. We lie in the sun awhile after lunch and agree
that it’s too bad there isn’t an ocean within jumping-in distance. But
there isn’t, and flies are biting the backs of our necks, so we get up and
start exploring.

We find a few places that you might conceivably call caves, but they’ve
been well picked over for arrowheads, if there ever were any. That’s the
trouble in the city: anytime you have an idea, you find out a million
other people had the same idea first. Along in mid-afternoon, we drift
down toward the subway and get cokes and ice cream before we start back.

I don’t really feel like going home yet, so I think a minute and study the
subway map inside the car. “Hey, as long as we’re on the subway anyway, we
could go on down to Cortlandt Street to the Army-Navy surplus store. I got
to get a knapsack before summer.”

“O.K.” Tom shrugs. He’s staring out the window and doesn’t seem to care
where he goes.

“I got a great first-aid survival kit there. Disinfectant and burn
ointment and bug dope and bandages, in a khaki metal box that’s
waterproof, and it was only sixty-five cents.”

“Hmm. Just what I need for survival on the sidewalks of New York,” says
Tom. I guess he’s kidding, in a sour sort of way. If you haven’t got a
family around, though, survival must take more than a sixty-five-cent kit.

The store is a little way from the nearest subway stop, and we walk along
not saying much. Tom looks alive when he gets into the store, though,
because it really is a great place. They’ve got arctic explorers’ suits
and old hand grenades and shells and all kinds of rifles, as well as some
really cheap, useful clothing. They don’t mind how long you mosey around.
In the end I buy a belt pack and canteen, and Tom picks up some skivvy
shirts and socks that are only ten cents each. They’re secondhand, I
guess, but they look all right.

We walk over to the East Side subway, which is only a few blocks away down
here because the island gets so narrow. Tom says he’s never seen Wall
Street, where all the tycoons grind their money machines. The place is
practically deserted now, being late Saturday afternoon, and it’s like
walking through an empty cathedral. You can make echoes.

We take the subway, and Tom walks along home with me. It seems too bad the
day’s over. It was a pretty good day, after all.

“So long, kid,” Tom says. “I’ll send you a card from Beautiful Brooklyn!”

“So long.” I wave, and he starts off. I wish he didn’t have to go live in
Brooklyn.



                                                                         6


       [Illustration: Dave wheeling his bike across Belt Parkway.]



                                                              AND BROOKLYN



You can’t really stay sore at a guy you’ve known all your life, especially
if he lives right around the corner and goes to the same school. Anyhow,
one hot Saturday morning Nick turns up at my house as if nothing had ever
happened and says do I want to go swimming, because the Twenty-third
Street pool’s open weekends now.

After that we go back to playing ball on the street in the evenings and
swimming sometimes on weekends. One Saturday his mother tells me he went
to Coney Island. He didn’t ask me to go along, which is just as well,
because I wouldn’t have. I don’t hang around his house after school much
anymore, either. School lets out, and there’s the Fourth of July weekend,
when we go up to Connecticut, and pretty soon after that Nick goes off to
a camp his church runs. Pop asks me if I want to go to a camp a few weeks,
but I don’t. Life is pretty slow at home, but I don’t feel like all that
organization.

I think Tom must have forgotten about me and found a gang his own age when
I get a postcard from him: “Dear Dave, The guy I work for is a creep, and
all the guys who buy gas from him are creeps, so it’s great to be alive in
Beautiful Brooklyn! Wish you were here, but you’re lucky you’re not. Best,
Tom.”

It’s hard to figure what he means when he says a thing. However, I got
nothing to do, so I might as well go see. He said he was going to work in
a filling station on the Belt Parkway, and there can’t be a million of
them.

I don’t say anything too exact to Mom about where I’m going, because she
gets worried about me going too far, and besides I don’t really know where
I’m going.

Brooklyn, what a layout. It’s not like Manhattan, which runs pretty
regularly north and south, with decent square blocks. You could lose a
million friends in Brooklyn, with the streets all running in circles and
angles, and the people all giving you cockeyed directions. What with no
bikes allowed on parkways, and skirting around crumby looking
neighborhoods, it takes me at least a week of expeditions to find the
right part of the Belt Parkway to start checking the filling stations.

I wheel my bike across the parkway, but even so some cop yells at me.
You’d think a cop could find a crime to get busy with.

On a real sticky day in July I wheel across to a station at Thirty-fourth
Street, and nobody yells at me, and I go over to the air pump and fiddle
with my tires. A car pulls out after it gets gas, and there’s Tom.

“Hi!” I say.

Tom half frowns and quick looks over his shoulder to see if his boss is
around, I guess, and then comes over to the air pump.

“How’d you get way out here?” he says.

“On the bike. I got your postcard, and I figured I could find the filling
station.”

He relaxes and grins. I feel better. He says, “You’re a crazy kid. How’s
Cat?”

But just then the boss has to come steaming up. “What d’ya want, kid? No
bikes allowed on the parkway.”

I start to say I’m just getting air, but Tom speaks up. “It’s all right. I
know him.”

“Yeah? I told you, keep kids out of here!” The guy manages to suggest that
kids Tom knows are probably worse than any other kind. He motions me off
like a stray dog. I don’t want to get Tom in any trouble, so I get going.
At the edge of the parkway I wave. “So long. Write me another postcard.”

Tom raises a hand briefly, but his face looks closed, like nothing was
going to get in or out.

I pedal slowly and hotly back through the tangle of Brooklyn and figure,
well, that’s a week’s research wasted. I still don’t know where Tom lives,
so I don’t know how I can get a hold of him again. Anyway, how do I know
he wants to be bothered with me? He looked pretty fed up with everything.

So long as I got nothing else to do, the next week I figure I’ll get
public-spirited at home: I paint the kitchen for Mom, which isn’t so bad,
but moving all those silly dishes and pots and scrumy little spice cans
can drive you wild. I only break one good vase and a bottle of salad oil.
Salad oil and broken glass are great. In the afternoons I go to the
swimming pool and learn to do a jackknife and a backflip, so Pop will
think I am growing up to be a Real American Boy. Also, you practically
have to learn to dive so you can use the diving pool, because the swimming
pool is so jam-packed with screaming sardines you can’t move in it.

Evenings Cat and I play records, or we go to see Aunt Kate and drink iced
tea. One weekend my real aunt comes to visit and sleeps in my room, so I
go to stay with Aunt Kate, and I pretty near turn into cottage cheese.

I’ve about settled into this dull routine when Mom surprises me by handing
me a postcard one morning. It’s from Tom: “Day off next Tuesday. If you
feel like it, meet me near the aquarium at Coney Island about nine in the
morning, before it’s crowded.”

So that week drags by till Tuesday, and there I am at Coney Island bright
and early. Tom is easy enough to find, pacing up and down the boardwalk
like a tiger. We say “Hi” and so forth, and I’m all ready to take a run
for the water, but he keeps snapping his fingers and looking up and down
the boardwalk.

Finally he says, “There’s a girl I used to know pretty well. I didn’t see
her for a while till last week, and we got in an argument, and I guess
she’s mad. I wrote and asked her to come swimming today, but maybe she’s
not coming.”

I figure it out that I’m there as insurance against the girl not showing
up, but I don’t mind. Anyhow, she does show up. It can’t have been too
much of an argument they had, because she acts pretty friendly.

Tom introduces us. Her name is Hilda and a last name that’d be hard to
spell—Swedish maybe—and she’s got a wide, laughing kind of mouth and a big
coil of yellow hair in a bun on top of her head, and a mighty good figure.
She asks me where I ran into Tom, and we tell her all about Cat and the
cellar at Number Forty-six, and I tell them both about my Ivy-League
haircut, which I had never explained to anyone before. They get a laugh
out of that, and then she asks him about the filling-station job, and he
says it stinks.

I figure they could get along without me for a while, so I go for a swim
and wander down the beach a ways and eat a hot dog and swim some more.
When I come back, I see Tom and Hilda just coming out of the water, so I
join them. Hilda says, “Come have a coke. Tom says he’s got to try
swimming to France just once more.”

I don’t know just what she means, but we go get cokes and come back and
stretch out in the sun. She asks me do I want a smoke, and I say No. It’s
nice to be asked, though. We watch Tom, who is swimming out past all the
other people. I wish I’d gone with him. I say, “Lifeguard’s going to
whistle him in pretty soon. He’s out past all the others.”

Hilda lets out a breath and snorts, “He’ll always go till they blow the
whistle. Always got to go farther than anyone else.”

I don’t know what to say to that, so I don’t say anything.

Hilda goes on: “I used to wait tables in a restaurant down near Washington
Square. Tom and a lot of the boys from NYU came in there. Sometimes the
day before an exam he’d be sitting around for hours, buying people cokes
and acting as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Some other times, for no
reason anyone could tell, he’d sit in a corner and stir his coffee like he
was going to make a hole in the cup.”

“Tom was at NYU?” I ask. I don’t know where I thought he’d been before he
turned up in the cellar. I guess I never thought.

“Sure,” Hilda says. “He was in the Washington Square College for about a
year and a half. He lived in a dormitory uptown, but I used to see him in
the restaurant, and then fairly often we had dates after I got off work.
He has people out in the Midwest somewhere—a father and a stepmother. He
was always sour and close-mouthed about them, even before he got thrown
out of NYU. Now he won’t even write them.”

This is a lot of information to take in all at once and leaves a lot of
questions unanswered. The first one that comes into my head is this: “How
come he got thrown out of NYU?”

“Well, it makes Tom so sore, he’s never really told me a plain, straight
story. It’s all mixed up with his father. I think his father wrote him not
to come home at Christmas vacation, for some reason. Tom and a couple of
other boys who were left in the dormitory over the holidays got horsing
around and had a water fight. The college got huffy and wrote the parents,
telling them to pay up for damages. The other parents were pretty angry,
but they stuck behind their kids and paid up. Tom just never heard from
his father. Not a line.

“That was when Tom began coming into the restaurant looking like thunder.
The college began needling him for the water-fight damages, as well as
second-semester tuition. He took his first exam, physics, and got an A on
it. He’s pretty smart.

“He still didn’t hear anything from home. He took the second exam, French,
and thought he flunked it. That same afternoon he went into the office and
told the dean he was quitting, and he packed his stuff and left. I didn’t
see him again till a week ago. I didn’t know if he’d got sick of me, or
left town, or what.

“He says he wrote his father that he had a good job, and they could forget
about him. Then he broke into that cellar on a dare or for kicks.

“So here we are. What do we do next?”

Hilda looks at me—me, age fourteen—as if I might actually know, and it’s
kind of unnerving. Everyone I know, their life goes along in set periods:
grade school, junior high, high school, college, and maybe getting
married. They don’t really have to think what comes next.

I say cautiously, “My pop says a kid’s got to go to college now to get
anywhere. Maybe he ought to go back to school.”

“You’re so right, Grandpa,” she says, and I would have felt silly, but she
has a nice friendly laugh. “I wish I could persuade him to go back. But
it’s not so easy. I guess he’s got to get a job and go to night school, if
they’ll accept him. He won’t ask his father for money.”

“You two got my life figured out?” Tom has come up behind us while we were
lying in the sand on our stomachs. “I just hope that sour grape at the
filling station gives me a good recommendation so I can get another job.
The way he watches his cash register, you’d think I was Al Capone.”

We talk a bit, and then Hilda gets up and says she’s going to the ladies’
room. She doesn’t act coy about it, the way most girls do when they’re
sitting with guys. She just leaves.

“How do you like Hilda?” Tom asks, and again I’m sort of surprised,
because he acts like he really wants my opinion.

“She’s nice,” I say.

“Yeah.” Tom suddenly glowers, as if I’d said I _didn’t_ like her. “I don’t
know why she wastes her time on me. I’ll never be any use to her. When her
family hears about me, I’ll get the boot.”

“I could ask my pop. You know, I told you he’s a lawyer. Maybe he’d know
how you go about getting back into college or getting a job or something.”

Tom laughs, an unamused bark. “Maybe he’ll tell you to quit hanging around
with jerks that get in trouble with the cops.”

This is a point, all right. Come to think, I don’t know why I said I’d ask
Pop anyway. I usually make a point of not letting his nose into my
personal affairs, because I figure he’ll just start bossing me around.
However, I certainly can’t do anything for Tom on my own.

I say, “I’ll chance it. The worst he ever does is talk. One time he made a
federal case out of me buying a Belafonte record he didn’t like. Another
time playing ball I cracked a window in a guy’s Cadillac, and Pop acted
like he was going to sue the guy for owning a Cadillac. You just never
know.”

Tom says, “With my dad, you _know_: I’m wrong.”

Hilda comes back just then. She snaps, “If he’s such a drug on the market,
why don’t you shut up and forget about him?”

“O.K., O.K.,” says Tom.

The beach is getting filled up by now, so we pull on our clothes and head
for the subway. Tom and Hilda get off in Brooklyn, and I go on to Union
Square.

After dinner that night Mom is washing the dishes and Pop is reading the
paper, and I figure I might as well dive in.

“Pop,” I say, “there’s this guy I met at the beach. Well, really I mean I
met him this spring when I was hunting for Cat, and this guy was in the
cellar at Forty-six Gramercy, and he got caught and....”

“Wha-a-a-t?” Pop puts down his paper and takes off his glasses. “Begin
again.”

So I give it to him again, slow, and with explanations. I go through the
whole business about the filling station and Hilda and NYU, and I’ll say
one thing for Pop, when he finally settles down to listen, he listens. I
get through, and he puts on his reading glasses and goes to look out the
window.

“Do you have this young man’s name and address, or is he just Tom from The
Cellar?”

I’d just got it from Tom when we were at the beach. He’s at a Y in
Brooklyn, so I tell Pop this.

Pop says, “Tell him to call my office and come in to see me on his next
day off. Meanwhile, I’ll bone up on City educational policies in regard to
juvenile delinquents.”

He says this perfectly straight, as if there’d be a book on the subject.
Then he goes back to his newspaper, so I guess that closes the subject for
now.

“Thanks, Pop,” I say and start to go out.

“Entirely welcome,” says Pop. As I get to the door, he adds, “If that cat
of yours makes a practice of introducing you to the underworld in other
people’s cellars, we can do without him. We probably can anyway.”



                                                                         7


    [Illustration: Dave talking with veterinarian while holding Cat.]



                                                                  SURVIVAL



Cat hadn’t got me into anymore cellars, but I can’t honestly say he’d been
sitting home tending his knitting—not him.

One hot morning I went to pick up the milk outside our door, and Cat was
sleeping there on the mat. He didn’t even look up at me. After I scratched
his ears and talked to him some, he got up and hobbled into the house.

I put him up on my bed, under the light, for inspection. One front claw
was torn off, which is why he was limping, his left ear was ripped, and
there was quite a bit of fur missing here and there. He curled up on my
bed and didn’t move all day.

I came and looked at him every few hours and wondered if I ought to take
him to a vet. But he seemed to be breathing all right, so I went away and
thought about it some more. Come night, I pushed him gently to one side,
wondering what I better do in the morning.

Well, in the morning Cat wakes up, stretches, yawns, and drops easily down
off the bed and walks away. He still limps a little, but otherwise he acts
like nothing had happened. He just wants to know what’s for breakfast.

“You better watch out. One day you’ll run into a cat that’s bigger and
meaner than you,” I tell him.

Cat continues to wait for breakfast. He is not impressed.

But I’m worried. Suppose some big old cat chews him up and he’s hurt too
bad to get home? After breakfast I take him out in the backyard for a bit,
and then I shut him in my room and go over to consult Aunt Kate.

She sets me up with the usual iced tea and dish of cottage cheese.

“I had breakfast already. What do I need with cottage cheese?”

“Eat it. It’s good for you.”

So I eat it, and then I start telling her about Cat. “He came home all
chewed up night before last. I’m afraid some night he’s not going to make
it.”

“Right,” says Kate. She’s not very talky, but I’m sort of surprised. I
expected she’d tell me to quit worrying, Cat can take care of himself. She
starts pulling Susan’s latest kittens out from under the sofa and sorting
them out as if they were ribbons: one gray, two tiger, one yellow, one
calico.

“So what you going to do?” she shoots at me, shoveling the kittens back to
Susan.

“I—uh—I dunno. I thought maybe I ought to try to keep him in nights.”

“Huh. Don’t know much, do you?” she says. “Well, so I’ll tell you. Your
Cat has probably fathered a few dozen kittens by now, and once a cat’s
been out and mated, you can’t keep him in. You got to get him altered.
Then he won’t want to go out so much.”

“Altered?”

“Fixed. Castrated is the technical word. It’s a two-minute operation. Cost
you three dollars. Take him to Speyer Hospital—big new building up on
First Avenue.”

“You mean get him fixed so he’s not a real tomcat any more? The heck with
that! I don’t want him turned into a fat old cushion cat!”

“He won’t be,” she says. “But if it makes you happier, let him get killed
in a cat fight. He’s tough. He’ll last a year or two. Suit yourself.”

“Ah, you’re screwy! You and your cottage cheese!” Even as I say it I feel
a little guilty. But I feel mad and mixed up, and I fling out the door.
It’s the first time I ever left Kate’s mad. Usually I leave _our_  house
mad and go to Kate.

Now I got nowhere to go. I walk along, cussing and fuming and kicking
pebbles. I come to an air-conditioned movie and go up to the window.

The phony blonde in the booth looks at me and sneers, “You’re not sixteen.
We don’t have a children’s section in this theater.” She doesn’t even ask.
She just says it. It’s a great world. I go home. There’s no one there but
Cat, so I turn the record player up full blast.

Pop comes home in one of his unexpected fits of generosity that night and
takes us to the movies. Cat behaves himself and stays around home and our
cellar for a while, so I stop worrying. But it doesn’t last long.

As soon as his claw heals, he starts sashaying off again. One night I hear
cats yowling out back and I go out with a bucket of water and douse them
and bring Cat in. There’s a pretty little tiger cat, hardly more than a
kitten, sitting on the fence licking herself, dry and unconcerned. Cat
doesn’t speak to me for a couple of days.

One morning Butch, the janitor, comes up and knocks on our door. “You
better come down and look at your cat. He got himself mighty chewed up.
Most near dead.”

I hurry down, and there is Cat sprawled in a corner on the cool cement
floor. His mouth is half open, and his breath comes in wheezes, like he
has asthma. I don’t know whether to pick him up or not.

Butch says, “Best let him lie.”

I sit down beside him. After a bit his breath comes easier and he puts his
head down. Then I see he’s got a long, deep claw gouge going from his
shoulder down one leg. It’s half an inch open, and anyone can see it won’t
heal by itself.

Butch shakes his head. “You gotta take him to the veteran, sure. That’s
the cat doctor.”

“Yeah,” I say, not correcting him. It’s not just the gash that’s worrying
me. I remember what Aunt Kate said, and it gives me a cold feeling in the
stomach: In the back-alley jungle he’d last a year, maybe two.

Looking at Cat, right now, I know she’s right. But Cat’s such a—well, such
a _cat_. How can I take him to be whittled down?

I tell Butch I’ll be back down in a few minutes, and I go upstairs. Mom’s
humming and cleaning in the kitchen. I wander around and stare out the
window awhile. Finally I go in the kitchen and stare into the icebox, and
then I tell Mom about the gash in Cat’s leg.

She asks if I know a vet to take him to.

“Yeah, there’s Speyer. It’s a big, new hospital—good enough for people,
even—with a view of the East River. The thing is, Mom, Cat keeps going off
and fighting and getting hurt, and people tell me I ought to get him
altered.”

Mom wets the sponge and squeezes it out and polishes at the sink, and I
wonder if she knows what I’m talking about because I don’t really know how
to explain it any better.

She wrings the sponge out, finally, and sits down at the kitchen table.

She says, “Cat’s not a free wild animal now, and he wouldn’t be even if
you turned him loose. He belongs to _you_, so you have to do whatever is
best for _him_, whether it’s what you’d like or not. Ask the doctor and do
what he says.”

Mom puts it on the line, all right. It doesn’t make me feel any better
about Cat. She takes five dollars out of her pocketbook and gives it to
me.

I get out the wicker hamper and go down to the cellar and load Cat in. He
meows, a low resentful rumble, but he doesn’t try to get away.

Cat in the hamper is no powder puff, and I get pretty hot walking to the
bus, and then from the bus stop to the animal hospital. I get there and
wait, and dogs sniff at me, and I fill in forms. The lady asks me if I can
afford to pay, and with Mom’s five bucks and four of my own, I say Yes.

The doctor is a youngish guy, but bald, in a white shirt like a dentist’s.
I put Cat on the table in front of him. He says, “So why don’t you stay
out of fights, like your mommy told you?”

I relax a bit and smile, and he says, “That’s better. Don’t worry. We’ll
take care of tomcat. I suppose he got this gash in a fight?”

“Yeah.”

“He been altered?”

“No.”

“How old is he?”

“I don’t know. He was a stray. I’ve had him almost a year.”

All the time he’s talking, the doctor is soothing Cat and looking him
over. He goes on stroking him and looks up at me. “Well, son, one of these
days he’s going to get in one fight too many. Shall we alter him the same
time we sew up his leg?”

So there it is. I can’t seem to answer right away. If the doctor had
argued with me, I might have said No. But he just goes on humming and
stroking. Finally he says, “It’s tough, I know. Maybe he’s got a right to
be a tiger. But you can’t keep a tiger for a pet.”

I say, “O.K.”

An attendant takes Cat away, and I go sit in the waiting room, feeling
sweaty and cold all over. They tell me it’ll be a couple of hours, so I go
out and wander around a lot of blocks I never saw before and drink some
cokes and sit and look up at the Fifty-ninth Street Bridge to Queens.

When I go back for him, Cat looks the same as ever, except for a bandage
all up his right front leg. The doctor tells me to come back Friday and
he’ll take out the stitches.

Mom sees me come in the door, and I guess I look pretty grim, because she
says, “Cat will be all right, won’t he, dear?”

“Yes.” I go past her and down into my room and let Cat out of the basket
and then bury my head under the pillow. I’m not exactly ashamed of crying,
but I don’t want Mom to hear.

After a while I pull my head out. Cat is lying there beside me, his eyes
half open, the tip end of his tail twitching very slowly. I rub my eyes on
the back of his neck and whisper to him, “I’m sorry. Be tough, Cat,
anyway, will you?”

Cat stretches and hops off the bed on his three good legs.



                                                                         8


     [Illustration: Dave and Mary buying tickets to West Side Story.]



                                                           WEST SIDE STORY



The regular park man got sunstroke or something, so I earned fourteen
dollars raking and mowing in Gramercy Park in the middle of August.
Gramercy Park is a private park. You have to own a key to get in, so the
city doesn’t take care of it.

Real paper money, at this time of year especially, is very cheering. I
head up to Sam Goody’s to see what records he’s got on sale and what
characters are buying them. Maybe I’ll buy something, maybe not, but as
long as I’ve got money in my pocket, I don’t feel like the guy is glaring
at me for taking up floor space.

Along the way I walk through the library, the big one at Forty-second
Street. You go in by the lions on Fifth Avenue, and there’s all kinds of
pictures and books on exhibit in the halls, and you walk through to the
back, where you can take out books. It’s nice and cool, and nobody glares
at you unless you either make a lot of noise or go to sleep. I can take
books out of here and return them at the Twenty-third Street branch, which
is handy.

Sam Goody’s is air-conditioned, so it’s cool too. There are always several
things playing on different machines you can listen to. Almost the most
fun is watching the people: little, fat, bald guys buying long-haired
classical music, and thin, shaggy beatniks listening to the jazz.

I go to check if there are any bargains in the Kingston or Belafonte
division. There’s a girl standing there reading the backs of records, but
I don’t really catch a look at more than her shoes—little red flats they
are. After a bit she reaches for a record over my head and says, “Excuse
me.”

“Sure.” Then we catch each other’s eye and both say, “Oh. Gee, hello.”

Well, we’re both pretty surprised, because this is the girl I met out at
Coney Island that day with Nick when I had Cat with me, and now we’re both
a long way from Coney Island. This girl isn’t one of the two giggly ones.
It’s the third, the one that liked Cat.

We’ve both forgotten each other’s names, so we begin over with that. I ask
her what she’s been doing, and she’s been at Girl Scout camp a few weeks,
and then she earned some money baby-sitting. So she came to think about
records, like me. I tell her I’ve been at Coney once this summer, and I
looked around for her, which is true, because I did.

“It’s a big place,” she says, smiling.

“Say, you live out there, don’t you? How come you get all the way in here
by yourself? Doesn’t your mom get in a flap? Mine would, if she knew I was
going to Coney alone.”

Mary says, “I came in with Mom. Some friend of hers has a small art
exhibition opening. She said I could go home alone. After all, she knows
I’m not going to get lost.”

I say, “Gee, it’d be great to have a mother that didn’t worry about you
all the time.”

“Oh, Mom worries.” Mary giggles. “You should have heard her when I said I
liked _Gone With the Wind_  and I didn’t like _Anna Karenina_. I pretty
nearly got disowned.”

“What does she think about science fiction?” I ask, and Mary makes a face,
and we both laugh.

I go on. “Well, my mom doesn’t care what I read. She worries about what I
eat and whether my feet are wet, and she always seems to think I’m about
to kill myself. It’s a nuisance, really.”

Mary looks solemn all of a sudden. She says slowly, “I think maybe it’d be
nice. I mean to have someone worrying about whether you’re comfortable and
all. Instead of just picking your brains all the time.”

This seems to exhaust the subject of our respective mothers, and Mary
picks up the record of _West Side Story_ and says, “Gee, I’d like to see
that. Did you?”

I say No, and to tell the truth I hadn’t hardly heard of it.

“I read a book about him. It was wonderful,” she says.

“Who?”

“Bernstein. The man who wrote it.”

“What’s _West Side Story_ about, him?” I ask cautiously.

“No, no—he wrote the music. It’s about some kids in two gangs, and there’s
a lot of dancing, and then there’s a fight and this kid gets—well, it
isn’t a thing you can tell the story of very well. You have to see it.”

This gives me a very simple idea.

“Why don’t we?” I say.

“Huh?”

“Go see it. Why not? We got money.”

“So we do,” she says slowly. “You think they’ll let us in, I mean being
under sixteen?”

You know, this is the first girl I really ever talked to that talks like a
person, not trying to be cute or something.

We walk around to the theater, and being it’s Wednesday, there’s a matinee
about to start. The man doesn’t seem to be one bit worried about taking
our money. No wonder. It’s two dollars and ninety cents each. So we’re
inside with our tickets before we’ve hardly stopped to think.

Suddenly Mary says, “Oops! I better call Mom! Let’s find out what time the
show is over.”

We do, and Mary phones. She says to me, “I just told her I was walking
past _West Side Story_ and found I could get a ticket. I didn’t say
anything about you.”

“Why, would she mind?”

Mary squints and looks puzzled. “I don’t know. I just really don’t know.
It never happened before.”

We go in to the show, and she is right, it’s terrific. I hardly ever went
to a live show before, except a couple of children’s things and something
by Shakespeare Pop took me to that was very confusing. But this _West Side
Story_ is clear as a bell.

We have an orangeade during intermission, and I make the big gesture and
pay for both of them. Mary says, “Isn’t it wonderful! I just happened to
meet you at the beach, and then I meet you at Goody’s, and we get to see
this show that I’ve wanted to go to for ages. None of my friends at school
want to spend this much money on a show.”

“It’s wonderful,” I say. “After it’s over, I’m going back to buy the
record.”

So after the show we buy it, and then we walk along together to the
subway. I’ll have to get off at the first stop, Fourteenth Street, and
she’ll go on to Coney, the end of the line.

It’s hard to talk on the subway. There’s so much noise you have to shout,
which is hard if you don’t know what to say. Anyway, you can’t ask a girl
for her phone number shouting on the subway. At least I can’t.

I’m not so sure about the phone-number business either. I sort of can’t
imagine calling up and saying, “Oh, uh, Mary, this is Dave. You want to go
to a movie or something, huh?” It sounds stupid, and I’d be embarrassed.
What she said, it’s true—it’s sort of wonderful the way we just ran into
each other twice and had so much fun.

So I’m wondering how I can happen to run into her again. Maybe the beach,
in the fall. Let’s see, a school holiday—Columbus Day.

The train is pulling into Fourteenth Street. I shout, “Hey, how about we
go to the beach again this fall? Maybe Columbus Day?”

“O.K.!” she shouts. “Columbus Day in the morning.”

“Columbus Day in the morning” sounds loud and clear because by then the
subway has stopped. People snicker, and Mary blushes.

“So long,” I say, and we both wave, and the train goes.



                                                                         9


      [Illustration: Dave and Tom sitting on front steps with Cat.]



                                                                   FATHERS



That operation didn’t make as much difference to Cat as you might think. I
took him back to the clinic to get the stitches out of his leg and the
bandages off. A few nights later I heard yowls coming up from the
backyard. I went down and pulled him out of a fight. He wasn’t hurt yet,
but he sure was right back in there pitching. He seems to have a standing
feud with the cat next door.

However, he’s been coming home nights regularly, and sometimes in the cool
part of the morning he’ll sit out on the front stoop with me. He sits on a
pillar about six feet above the sidewalk, and I sit on the steps and play
my transistor and read.

Every time a dog gets walked down the street under Cat’s perch, he gathers
himself up in a ball, as if he were going to spring. Of course, the poor
dog never knows it was about to be pounced on and wags on down the street.
Cat lets his tail go to sleep then and sneers.

Between weathercasts I hear him purring, loud rumbly purrs, and I look up
and see Tom there, stroking Cat’s fur up backward toward his ears. Tom is
looking out into the street and sort of whistling without making any
sound.

“Gee, hi!” I say.

“Hi, too,” he says. He strokes Cat back down the right way, gives him a
pat, and sits down. “I just been down to see your dad. He’s quite a guy.”

“Huh-h-h? You got sunstroke or something? Didn’t he read you about ten
lectures on Healthy Living, Honest Effort, Baseball, and Long Walks with a
Dog?”

“No-o-o.” Tom grins, but then he sits and stares out at the street again,
so I wait.

“You know,” he says, “you give me an idea. _You_ talk like _your_ dad is a
real pain, and that’s the way _I_ always have felt about _mine_. But your
dad looks like a great guy to me, so—well, maybe mine could be too, if I
gave him a chance. Your dad was saying I should.”

“Should what? You should go home?”

“No. Your dad said I ought to write him a long letter and face up to all
the things I’ve goofed on. Quitting NYU, the cellar trouble, all that.
Then tell him I’m going to get a job and go to night school. Your dad
figures probably he’d help me. He said he’d write him, too. No reason he
should. I’m nothing in his life. It’s pretty nice of him.”

I try to digest all this, and it sure is puzzling. The time I ran down
that crumb of a doorman on my bike, accidental on purpose, I didn’t get
any long understanding talks. I just got kept in for a month.

Tom slaps me in the middle of the back and stands up. “Hilda’s gone back
to work at the coffee shop. I guess I’ll go down and see her before the
lunch rush, and then go home and write my letter.”

“Say ‘Hi’ for me.”

“O.K. So long.”

                                * * * * *

The weather cools off some, and Pop starts to talk about vacation. He’s
taking two weeks, last of August and first of September, so I start
shopping around for various bits of fishing tackle and picnic gear we
might need. We’re going to this lake up in Connecticut, where we get a
sort of motel cottage. It has a little hot plate for making coffee in the
morning, but most of the rest of the time we eat out, which is neat.

We’re sitting around the living room one evening, sorting stuff out, when
the doorbell rings. I go answer it, and Tom walks in. He nods at me like
he hardly sees me and comes into the living room. He shakes hands like a
wooden Indian. His face looks shut up again, the way it did that day I
left him in the filling station.

He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a letter. I can see a post-office
stamp in red ink with a pointing hand by the address. He throws it down on
Dad’s table.

“I got my answer all right.”

Pop looks at the letter and I see his foot start to twitch the way it does
when he’s about to blow. But he looks at Tom, and instead of blowing he
just says, “Your father left town? No forwarding address?”

“I guess so. He just left. Him and that woman he married.” Tom’s voice
trails off and he walks over to the window. We all sit quiet a minute.

Finally Pop says gently, “Well, don’t waste too much breath on her. She’s
nothing to do with you.”

Tom turns around angrily. “She’s no good. She loafs around and drinks all
the time. She talked him into going.”

“And he went.” There’s another short silence, and Pop goes on. “Where was
this you lived?”

“House. It was a pretty nice little house, too. Dark red with white trim,
and enough of a yard to play a little ball, and I grew a few lettuces
every spring. I even got one ear of corn once. We moved there when I was
in second grade because my mom said it was near a good local school. I
lived there till I went to college. I suppose he sold it, or got a loan,
and they lit off to drink it up. Soon’s they’d got _me_ off their hands.”

Tom bites off the last word. Suddenly I can see the picture pretty clear:
the nice house, the father Tom always talked down and hoped would measure
up. Now it’s like somebody has taken his whole childhood and crumpled it
up like a wad of tissue paper and thrown it away.

Mom gets up and goes into the kitchen. Pop’s foot keeps on twitching.
Finally he says, “Well, I steered you wrong. I’m sorry. But maybe it’s
just as well to have it settled.”

“It’s settled, all right,” Tom says.

Mom brings out a tray of ginger-ale glasses. It seems sort of inadequate
at a moment like this, but when Tom takes a glass from her he looks like
he’s going to bust out crying.

He drinks some and blows his nose, and Dad says, “When are you supposed to
check in with the Youth Board again?”

“Tuesday. My day off. And I wind up the filling-station job the next week,
right after Labor Day.”

“Labor Day. Hm-m. We’ve got to get moving. If you like, I’ll come down to
the Youth Board with you, and we’ll see what we can all cook up. Don’t
worry too much. I have a feeling you’re just beginning to fight—really
fight, not just throw a few stones.”

“I don’t know why you bother.” Tom starts to stand up. But while we’ve
been talking, Cat has been creeping up under the side table, playing the
ambush game, and he launches himself at Tom just as he starts to stand. It
throws him off balance and he sits back in the chair, holding Cat.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about,” Pop says. “Cat’s on your side.”



                                                                        10


            [Illustration: Cat jumping out of car on parkway.]



                                                       CAT AND THE PARKWAY



Cat may be on Tom’s side, but whether Pop is on Cat’s side is something
else again. I worry about this all the time we’re planning the vacation.
Suppose the motel won’t take cats? Or suppose he runs away in the country?
If he messes up the vacation in any way, I know Pop’ll say to get rid of
him.

I practice putting Cat back in the wicker hamper to see if I can keep him
in that sometimes, but he meows like crazy. That’d drive Pop nuts in the
car, and it certainly wouldn’t hide him from any motel-keeper. So I just
sit back and hope for the best, but I got a nasty feeling in the bottom of
my stomach that something’s going to go haywire.

Pop’s pretty snappish anyway. He’s working late nearly every night,
getting stuff cleared up before vacation. He doesn’t want any extra
problems, especially not Cat problems. Mom’s been having asthma a good
deal lately, and we’re all pretty jumpy. It’s always like this at the end
of the summer.

Tuesday night when he gets home, I ask Pop what’s happened about Tom.

“We’ll work something out,” he says, which isn’t what you’d call a big
explanation.

“You think he can get back into college?”

“I don’t know. The Youth Board is going to work on it. They’re arranging
for him to make up the midyear exams he missed, so he can get credit for
that semester. Then he can probably start making up the second semester at
night school if he has a job.

“Apparently the Youth Board knew his father had skipped—they’ve been
trying to trace him. I don’t think it’ll do any good if they find him. Tom
had better just cross him off and figure his own life for himself.”

You know, I see “bad guys” in television and stuff, but with the people I
really know I always lump the parents on one team and the kids on the
other. Now here’s my pop calmly figuring a kid better chalk off his father
as a bad lot and go it alone. If your father died, I suppose you could
face up to it eventually, but having him just fade out on you, not care
what you did—that’d be worse.

While I’m doing all this hard thinking, Pop has gone back to reading the
paper. I notice the column of want ads on the back, and all of a sudden my
mind clicks on Tom and jobs.

“Hey, Pop! You know the florist on the corner, Palumbo, where you always
get Mom the plant on Mother’s Day? I went in there a couple of weeks ago,
because he had a sign up, ‘Helper Wanted.’ I thought maybe it was
deliveries and stuff that I could do after school. But he said he needed a
full-time man. I’m pretty sure the sign’s still up.”

“Palumbo, huhn?” Pop takes off his glasses and scratches his head with
them. He looks at his watch and sighs. “They still open?”

They are, and Pop goes right down to see the guy. He knows him fairly well
anyway—there’s Mother’s Day, and Easter, and also the shop is the polling
place for our district, so Pop’s in there every Election Day. He always
buys some little bunch of flowers Election Day because he figures the guy
ought to get some business having his shop all messed up for the day.

Dad comes back and goes over to the desk and scratches off a fast note. He
says, “Here. Address it to Tom and go mail it right away. Palumbo says
he’ll try him out at least. Tom can come over Thursday night and I’ll take
him in.”

Tom comes home with Pop Thursday about nine o’clock. They both look pretty
good. Mom has cold supper waiting, finishing off the icebox before we go
away, so we all sit down to eat.

“Tom’s all set, at least for a start,” Dad says. “He’s going to start
Tuesday, right after Labor Day. Palumbo can use him on odd jobs and
deliveries, especially over the Jewish holidays, and then if he can learn
the business, he’ll keep him on.”

“Never thought I’d go in for flower-arranging.” Tom grins. “But it might
be fun. I’m pretty fair at any kind of handiwork.”

Remembering how quick he unlocked the padlock to get Cat out in the
cellar, I agree.

He starts for his room after supper, and we all say “good luck,” “have a
good time,” and stuff. Things are really looking up.

I get up early the next morning and help Mom button up around the house
and get the car loaded before Pop gets home in the afternoon. He hoped to
get off early, and I’ve been pacing around snapping my fingers for a
couple of hours when he finally arrives about six o’clock. It’s a hot day
again.

I don’t say anything about Cat. I just dive in the back seat and put him
behind a suitcase and hope he’ll behave. Pop doesn’t seem to notice him.
Anyway he doesn’t say anything.

It’s mighty hot, and traffic is thick, with everyone pouring out of the
city. But at least we’re moving along, until we get out on the Hutchinson
River Parkway, where some dope has to run out of gas.

All three lanes of traffic are stopped. We sit in the sun. Pop looks
around, hunting for something to get sore about, and sees the back windows
are closed. He roars, “Crying out loud, can’t we get some air, at least?
Open those windows!”

I open them and try to keep my hand over Cat, but if you try to hold him
really, it makes him restless. For the moment he’s sitting quiet, looking
disgusted.

We sit for about ten minutes, and Pop turns off the motor. You can
practically hear us sweating in the silence. Engines turn on ahead of us,
and there seems to be some sign of hope. I stick my head out the window to
see if things are moving. Something furry tickles my ear, and it takes me
a second to register.

Then I grab, but too late. There is Cat, out on the parkway between the
lanes of cars, trying to figure which way to run.

“Pop!” I yell. “Hold it! Cat’s got out!”

You know what my pop does? He laughs.

“Hold it, my eyeball!” he says. “I’ve been holding it for half an hour.
I’d get murdered if I tried to stop now. Besides, I don’t want to chase
that cat every day of my vacation.”

I don’t even stop to think. I just open the car door and jump. The car’s
only barely moving. I can see Cat on the grass at the edge of the parkway.
The cars in the next lane blast their horns, but I slip through and grab
Cat.

I hear Mom scream, “Davey!”

Our car is twenty feet ahead, now, in the center lane, and there’s no way
Pop can turn off. The cars are picking up speed. I holler to Mom as loud
as I can, “I’ll go back and stay with Kate! Don’t worry!”

I hear Pop shout about something, but I can’t hear what. Pretty soon the
car is out of sight. I look down at Cat and say, “There goes our
vacation.” I wonder if I’ll be able to catch a bus out to Connecticut
later. Meanwhile, there’s the little problem of getting back into the
city. I’m standing alongside the parkway, with railroad tracks and the
Pelham golf course on the other side of me, and a good long walk to the
subway.

A cat isn’t handy to walk with. He keeps trying to get down. If you
squeeze him to hang on, he just tries harder. You have to keep juggling
him, like, gently. I sweat along back, with the sun in my eyes, and people
in cars on the parkway pointing me out to their children as a local
curiosity.

One place the bulrushes and marsh grass beside the road grow up higher
than your head. What a place for a kids’ hideout, I think. Almost the next
step, I hear kids’ voices, whispering and shushing each other.

Their voices follow along beside me, but inside the curtain of rushes,
where I can’t see them. I hear one say, “Lookit the sissy with the pussy!”
Another answers, “Let’s dump ’em in the river!”

I try to walk faster, but I figure if I run they’ll chase me for sure. I
walk along, juggling Cat, trying to pretend I don’t notice them. I see a
drawbridge up ahead, and I sure hope there’s a cop or watchman on it.

The kids break out of the rushes behind me, and there’s no use pretending
anymore. I flash a look over my shoulder. They all yell, “Ya-n-h-h-h!”
like a bunch of wild Indians, but they’re about fifty feet back.

I grab Cat hard about the only place you can grab a cat, around one upper
forearm, and I really run. The kids let out another war whoop. It’s uphill
to the bridge. Cat gets his free forepaw into action, raking my chest and
arm, with his claws out. Then he hisses and bites, and I nearly drop him.
I’m panting so hard I can’t hardly breathe anyway.

A cop saunters out on my approach to the bridge, his billy dangling from
his wrist. Whew—am I glad! I flop on the grass and ease up on Cat and
start soothing him down. The kids fade off into the tall grass as soon as
they see the cop. A stone arches up toward me, but it falls short. That’s
the last I see of them.

As I cross the bridge, the cop squints at me. “What you doing, kid? Not
supposed to be walking here.”

“I’ll be right off. I’m going home,” I tell him, and he saunters away,
twirling his stick.

It’s dark by the time I get to the subway, and most of another hour before
I’m back in Manhattan and reach Kate’s. I can hear the television going,
which is unusual, and I walk in. No one is watching television. Mom and
Pop are sitting at the table with Kate.

Mom lets loose the tears she has apparently been holding onto for two
hours, and Pop starts bellowing: “You fool! You might have got killed
jumping out on that parkway!”

Cat drops to the floor with a thud. I kiss Mom and go to the sink for a
long glass of water and drink it all and wipe my mouth. Over my shoulder,
I answer Pop: “Yeah, but if Cat gets killed on the parkway, that’s just a
big joke, isn’t it? You laugh your head off!”

Pop takes off his glasses and scratches his head with them, like he always
does when he’s thinking. He looks me in the eye and says, “I’m sorry. I
shouldn’t have laughed.”

Then, of all things, he picks up Cat himself. “Come on. You’re one of the
family. Let’s get on this vacation.”

At last we’re off.



                                                                        11


[Illustration: Dave picking out fish while Ben and garbage-sweeper watch.]



                                   ROSH HASHANAH AT THE FULTON FISH MARKET



We came back to the city Labor Day Monday—us and a couple million
others—traffic crawling, a hot day, the windows practically closed up
tight to keep Cat in. I sweated, and then cat hairs stuck to me and got up
my nose. Considering everything, Pop acted quite mild.

I met a kid up at the lake in Connecticut who had skin-diving equipment.
He let me use it one day when Mom and Pop were off sight-seeing. Boy, this
has fishing beat hollow! I found out there’s a skin-diving course at the
Y, and I’m going to begin saving up for the fins and mask and stuff. Pop
won’t mind forking out for the Y membership, because he’ll figure it’s
character-building.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering if I can get back up to Connecticut again one
weekend while the weather’s still warm, and I see that Rosh Hashanah falls
on a Monday and Tuesday this year, the week after school opens. Great. So
I ask this kid—Kenny Wright—if I can maybe come visit him that weekend so
I can do some more skin diving.

“Rosh Hashanah? What’s that?” he says.

So I explain to him. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. About half the
kids in my school are Jewish, so they all stay out for it, and I always do
too. Last year the school board gave up and made it an official school
holiday for everyone, Jewish or not. Same with Yom Kippur, the week after.

Kenny whistles. “You sure are lucky. I don’t think we got any holidays
coming till Thanksgiving.”

I always thought the kids in the country were lucky having outdoor yards
for sports and recess, but I guess we have it over them on
holidays—’specially in the fall: three Jewish holidays in September,
Columbus Day in October, Election Day and Veterans’ Day in November, and
then Thanksgiving. It drives the mothers wild.

I don’t figure it’d be worth train fare to Connecticut for just two days,
so I say good-bye to Kenny and see you next year and stuff.

Back home I’m pretty busy right away, on account of starting in a new
school, Charles Evans Hughes High. It’s different from the junior high,
where I knew half the kids, and also my whole homeroom there went from one
classroom to another together. At Hughes everyone has to get his own
schedule and find the right classroom in this immense building, which is
about the size of Penn Station. There are about a million kids in
it—actually about two thousand—most of whom I never saw before. Hardly any
of the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village kids come here because it
isn’t their district. However, walking back across Fifth Avenue one day, I
see one kid I know from Peter Cooper. His name is Ben Alstein. I ask him
how come he is at Hughes.

“My dad wanted me to get into Peter Stuyvesant High School—you know, the
genius factory, city-wide competitive exam to get in. Of course I didn’t
make it. Biggest Failure of the Year, that’s me.”

“Heck, I never even tried for that. But how come you’re here?”

“There’s a special science course you can qualify for by taking a math
test. Then you don’t have to live in the district. My dad figures as long
as I’m in something special, there’s hope. I’m not really very interested
in science, but that doesn’t bother him.”

So after that Ben and I walk back and forth to school together, and it
turns out we have three classes together, too—biology and algebra and
English. We’re both relieved to have at least one familiar face to look
for in the crowd. My old friend Nick, aside from not really being my best
friend anymore, has gone to a Catholic high school somewhere uptown.

On the way home from school one Friday in September, I ask Ben what he’s
doing Monday and Tuesday, the Jewish holidays.

“Tuesday I got to get into my bar mitzvah suit and go to synagogue and
over to Brooklyn to my grandmother’s. Monday I don’t have to do anything
special. Come on over with your roller skates and we’ll get in the hockey
game.”

“I skate on my tail,” I say, because it’s true, and it would be doubly
true in a hockey game. I try quick to think up something else. We’re
walking down the block to my house, and there’s Cat sitting out front, so
I say, “Let’s cruise around and get down to Fulton Fish Market and pick up
some fish heads for my cat.”

“You’re a real nut, aren’t you?” Ben says. He doesn’t say it as if he
minds—just mentioning the fact. He’s an easygoing kind of guy, and I think
most of the time he likes to let someone else make the plans. So he shrugs
and says, “O.K.”

I introduce him to Cat. Ben looks him in the eye, and Cat looks away and
licks his back. Ben says, “So I got to get you fresh fish for Rosh
Hashanah, huh?”

Cat jumps down and rubs from back to front against Ben’s right leg and
from front to back against his left leg and goes to lie down in the middle
of the sidewalk.

“See? He likes you,” I say. “He won’t have anything to do with most guys,
except Tom.”

“Who’s Tom?”

So I tell Ben all about Tom and the cellar and his father disappearing on
him.

“Gee,” says Ben, “I thought I had trouble, with my father practically
telling me how to breathe better every minute, but at least he doesn’t
disappear. What does Tom do now?”

“Works at the flower shop, right down there at the corner.”

Ben feels around in his pockets a minute. “Hey, I got two bucks I was
supposed to spend on a textbook. Come on and I’ll buy Mom a plant for the
holidays, and you can introduce me to Tom.”

We go down to the flower shop, and at first Tom frowns because he thinks
we’ve just come to kid around. Ben tells him he wants a plant, so then he
makes a big thing out of showing him all the plants, from the ten-dollar
ones on down, so Mr. Palumbo will see he’s doing a good job. Ben finally
settles on a funny-looking cactus that Tom says is going to bloom pretty
soon.

Ben goes along home and I arrange to pick him up on Monday. I wait around
outside until I see Tom go out on a delivery and ask him how he likes the
job. He says he doesn’t really know yet, but at least the guy is decent to
work for, not like the filling-station man.

                                * * * * *

I sleep late Monday and go over to Peter Cooper about eleven. A lot of
kids are out in the playgrounds, and some fathers are there tossing
footballs with them and shouting “Happy New Year” to each other. It sounds
odd to hear people saying that on a warm day in September.

Ben and I wander out of the project and he says, “How do we get to this
Fulton Street?”

I see a bus that says “Avenue C” on it stopping on Twenty-third Street.
Avenue C is way east, and so is Fulton Street, so I figure it’ll probably
work out. We get on. The bus rockets along under the East Side Drive for a
few blocks and then heads down Avenue C, which is narrow and crowded. It’s
a Spanish and Puerto Rican neighborhood to begin with, then farther
downtown it’s mostly Jewish. Lots of people are out on the street shaking
hands and clapping each other on the back, and the stores are all closed.

Every time the bus stops, the driver shouts to some of the people on the
sidewalk, and he seems to know a good many of the passengers who get on.
He asks them about their jobs, or their babies, or their aunt who’s sick
in Bellevue. This is pretty unusual in New York, where bus drivers usually
act like they hate people in general and their passengers in particular.
Suddenly the bus turns off Avenue C and heads west.

Ben looks out the window and says, “Hey, this is Houston Street. I been
down here to a big delicatessen. But we’re not heading downtown anymore.”

“Probably it’ll turn again,” I say.

It doesn’t, though, not till clear over at Sixth Avenue. By then everyone
else has got off and the bus driver turns around and says, “Where you two
headed for?”

It’s funny, a bus driver asking you that, so I ask him, “Where does this
bus go?”

“It goes from Bellevue Hospital down to Hudson Street, down by the Holland
Tunnel.”

“Holy crow!” says Ben. “We’re liable to wind up in New Jersey.”

“Relax. I don’t go that far. I just go back up to Bellevue,” says the
driver.

“You think we’d be far from Fulton Fish Market?” I say.

The driver gestures vaguely. “Just across the island.”

So Ben and I decide we’ll get off at the end of the line and walk from
there. The bus driver says, “Have a nice hike.”

“I think there’s something fishy about this,” says Ben.

“That’s what we’re going to get, fish,” I say, and we walk. We walk quite
a ways.

Ben sees a little Italian restaurant down a couple of steps, and we stop
to look at the menu in the window. The special for the day is lasagna, and
Ben says, “Boy, that’s for me!”

We go inside, while I finger the dollar in my pocket and do some fast
mental arithmetic. Lasagna is a dollar, so that’s out, but I see spaghetti
and meat balls is seventy-five cents, so that will still leave me bus fare
home.

A waiter rushes up, wearing a white napkin over his arm like a banner, and
takes our order. He returns in a moment with a shiny clean white linen
tablecloth and a basket of fresh Italian bread and rolls. On a third trip
he brings enough chilled butter for a family and asks if we want coffee
with lunch or later. Later, we say.

“Man, this is living!” says Ben as he moves in on the bread.

“He treats us just like people.”

Pretty soon the waiter is back with our lasagna and spaghetti, and he
swirls around the table as if he were dancing. “Anything else now? Mind
the hot plates, very hot! Have a good lunch now. I bring the coffee
later.”

He swirls away, the napkin over his arm making a little breeze, and
circles another table. It’s a small room, and there are only four tables
eating, but he seems to enjoy acting like he was serving royalty at the
Waldorf. When we’re just finished eating, he comes back with a pot of
steaming coffee and a pitcher of real cream.

I’m dolloping the cream in, and it floats, when a thought hits me: We got
to leave a tip for this waiter.

I whisper to Ben, “Hey, how much money you got?”

He reaches in his pocket and fishes out a buck, a dime, and a quarter. We
study them. Figure coffees for a dime each, and the total check ought to
be $1.95. We’ve got $2.35 between us. We can still squeak through with bus
fare if we only leave the waiter a dime, which is pretty cheap.

At that moment he comes back and refills our coffee cups and asks what we
will have for dessert.

“Uh, nothing, nothing at all,” I say.

“Couldn’t eat another thing,” says Ben.

So the waiter brings the check and along with it a plate of homemade
cookies. He says, “My wife make. On the house.”

We both thank him, and I look at Ben and he looks at me. I put down my
dollar and he puts down a dollar and a quarter.

“Thank you, gentlemen, thank you. Come again,” says the waiter.

We walk into the street, and Ben spins the lone remaining dime in the sun.
I say, “Heads or tails?”

“Huh? Heads.”

It comes up heads, so Ben keeps his own dime. He says, “We could have hung
onto enough for _one_ bus fare, but that’s no use.”

“No use at all. ’Specially if it was yours.”

“Are we still heading for Fulton Street?”

“Sure. We got to get fish for Cat.”

“It better be for free.”

We walk, threading across Manhattan and downtown. I guess it’s thirty or
forty blocks, but after a good lunch it doesn’t seem too far.

You can smell the fish market when you’re still quite a ways off. It runs
for a half a dozen blocks alongside the East River, with long rows of
sheds divided into stores for the different wholesalers. Around on the
side streets there are bars and fish restaurants. It’s too bad we don’t
have Cat with us because he’d love sniffing at all the fish heads and guts
and stuff on the street. Fish market business is done mostly in the
morning, I guess, and now men are hosing down the streets and sweeping
fish garbage up into piles. I get a guy to give me a bag and select a
couple of the choicer—and cleaner—looking bits. I get a nice red snapper
head and a small whole fish, looks like a mackerel. Ben acts as if fish
guts make him sick, and as soon as I’ve got a couple he starts saying
“Come on, come on, let’s go.”

I realize when we’re leaving that I don’t even notice the fish smell
anymore. You just get used to it. We walk uptown, quite a hike, along East
Broadway and across Grand and Delancey. There’s all kinds of intriguing
smells wafting around here: hot breads and pickles and fish cooking. This
is a real Jewish neighborhood, and you can sure tell it’s a holiday from
the smell of all the dinners cooking. And lots of people are out in their
best clothes gabbing together. Some of the men wear black skullcaps, and
some of them have big black felt hats and long white beards. We go past a
crowd gathering outside a movie house.

“They’re not going to the movies,” Ben says. “On holidays sometimes they
rent a movie theater for services. It must be getting near time. Come on,
I got to hurry.”

We trot along the next twenty blocks or so, up First Avenue and to Peter
Cooper.

“So long,” Ben says. “I’ll come by Wednesday on the way to school.”

He goes off spinning his dime, and too late I think to myself that we
could have had a candy bar.



                                                                        12


     [Illustration: Dave holding up lizard for Ben by pond in woods.]



                                                               THE RED EFT



Ben and I both take biology, and the first weekend assignment we get,
right after Rosh Hashanah, is to find and identify an animal native to New
York City and look up its family and species and life cycle.

“What’s a species?” says Ben.

“I don’t know. What’s a life cycle?”

We both scratch our heads, and he says, “What animals do we know?”

I say, “Cat. And dogs and pigeons and squirrels.”

“That’s dull. I want to get some animal no one else knows about.”

“Hey, how about a praying mantis? I saw one once in Gramercy Park.”

Ben doesn’t even know what it is, so I tell him about this one I saw. For
an insect, it looks almost like a dragon, about four or five inches long
and pale green. When it flies, it looks like a baby helicopter in the sky.
We go into Gramercy Park to see if we can find another, but we can’t.

Ben says, “Let’s go up to the Bronx Zoo Saturday and see what we can
find.”

“Stupid, they don’t mean you to do lions and tigers. They’re not native.”

“Stupid, yourself. They got other animals that are. Besides, there’s lots
of woods and ponds. I might find something.”

Well, it’s as good an idea for Saturday as any, so I say O.K. On account
of both being pretty broke, we take lunch along in my old school lunchbox.
Also six subway tokens—two extras for emergencies. Even I would be against
walking home from the Bronx.

Of course there are plenty of native New York City animals in the
zoo—raccoons and woodchucks and moles and lots of birds—and I figure we
better start home not too late to get out the encyclopedias for species
and life cycles. Ben still wants to catch something wild and wonderful.
Like lots of city kids who haven’t been in the country much, he’s crazy
about nature.

We head back to the subway, walking through the woods so he can hunt. We
go down alongside the pond and kick up rocks and dead trees to see if
anything is under them.

It pays off. All of a sudden we see a tiny red tail disappearing under a
rotten log. I push the log again and Ben grabs. It’s a tiny lizard, not
more than two or three inches long and brick red all over. Ben cups it in
both hands, and its throat pulses in and out, but it doesn’t really try to
get away.

“Hey, I love this one!” Ben cries. “I’m going to take him home and keep
him for a pet, as well as do a report on him. You can’t keep cats and dogs
in Peter Cooper, but there’s nothing in the rules about lizards.”

“How are you going to get him home?”

“Dump the lunch. I mean—we’ll eat it, but I can stab a hole in the top of
the box and keep Redskin in it. Come on, hurry! He’s getting tired in my
hand I think!”

Ben is one of those guys who is very placid most of the time, but he gets
excitable all of a sudden when he runs into something brand-new to him,
and I guess he never caught an animal to keep before. Some people’s
parents are very stuffy about it.

I dump the lunch out, and he puts the lizard in and selects some
particular leaves and bits of dead log to put in with him to make him feel
at home. Without even asking me, he takes out his knife and makes holes in
the top of my lunchbox. I sit down and open up a sandwich, but Ben is
still dancing around.

“What do you suppose he is? He might be something very rare! How’m I going
to find out? You think we ought to go back and ask one of the zoo men?”

“Umm, nah,” I say, chewing. “Probably find him in the encyclopedia.”

Ben squats on a log, and the log rolls. As he falls over backward I see
two more lizards scuttle away. I grab one. “Hey, look! I got another. This
one’s bigger and browner.”

Ben is up and dancing again. “Oh, boy, oh, boy! Now I got two! Now they’ll
be happy! Maybe they’ll have babies, huh?”

He overlooks the fact that _I_ caught this one. Oh, well, I don’t want a
lizard, anyway. Cat’d probably eat it.

Ben takes it from me and slips it in the lunchbox. “I’m going to call this
one Big Brownie.”

Finally he calms down enough to eat lunch, taking peeks at his catch
between mouthfuls. As soon as he’s finished eating, he starts hustling to
get home so he can make a house for them. He really acts like a kid.

We get on the subway. It’s aboveground—elevated—up here in the Bronx.
After a while I see Yankee Stadium off to one side, which is funny because
I don’t remember seeing it when we were coming up. Pretty soon the train
goes underground. I remember then. Coming up, we changed trains once. Ben
has his eye glued to the edge of the lunchbox and he’s talking to Redskin,
so I figure there’s no use consulting him. I’ll just wait and see where
this train seems to come out. It’s got to go downtown. We go past
something called Lenox Avenue, which I think is in Harlem, then
Ninety-sixth Street, and then we’re at Columbus Circle.

“Hey, Ben, we’re on the West Side subway,” I say.

“Yeah?” He takes a bored look out the window.

“We can just walk across town from Fourteenth Street.”

“With you I always end up walking. Hey, what about those extra tokens?”

“Aw, it’s only a few blocks. Let’s walk.”

Ben grunts, and he goes along with me. As we get near Union Square, there
seem to be an awful lot of people around. In fact they’re jamming the
sidewalk and we can hardly move. Ben frowns at them and says, “Hey, what
goes?”

I ask a man, and he says, “Where you been, sonny? Don’tcha know there’s a
parade for General Sparks?”

I remember reading about it now, so I poke Ben. “Hey, push along! We can
see Sparks go by!”

“Quit pushing and don’t try to be funny.”

“Stupid, he’s a general. Test pilot, war hero, and stuff. Come on, push.”

“QUIT PUSHING! I got to watch out for these lizards!”

So I go first and edge us through the crowd to the middle of the block,
where there aren’t so many people and we can get up next to the police
barrier. Cops on horseback are going back and forth, keeping the street
clear. No sign of any parade coming yet, but people are throwing rolls of
paper tape and handfuls of confetti out of upper-story windows. The wind
catches the paper tape and carries it up and around in all kinds of
fantastic snakes. Little kids keep scuttling under the barrier to grab
handfuls of ticker tape that blow to the ground. Ben keeps one eye on the
street and one on Redskin and Brownie.

“How soon you think they’re coming?” he asks fretfully.

People have packed in behind us, and we couldn’t leave now if we wanted
to. Pretty soon we can see a helicopter flying low just a little ways
downtown, and people all start yelling, “That’s where they are! They’re
coming!”

Suddenly a bunch of motorcycle cops zoom past, and then a cop backing up a
police car at about thirty miles an hour, which is a very
surprising-looking thing. Before I’ve hardly got my eyes off that, the
open cars come by. This guy Sparks is sitting up on the back of the car,
waving with both hands. By the time I see him, he’s almost past.
Nice-looking, though. Everyone yells like crazy and throws any kind of
paper they’ve got. Two little nuts beside us have a box of Wheaties, so
they’re busy throwing Breakfast of Champions. As soon as the motorcade is
past, people push through the barriers and run in the street.

Ben hunches over to protect his precious animals and yells, “Come on!
Let’s get out of this!”

We go into my house first because I’m pretty sure we’ve got a wooden box.
We find it and take it down to my room, and Ben gets extra leaves and
grass and turns the lizards into it. He’s sure they need lots of fresh air
and exercise. Redskin scoots out of sight into a corner right away. Big
Brownie sits by a leaf and looks around.

“Let’s go look up what they are,” I say.

The smallest lizard they show in the encyclopedia is about six inches
long, and it says lizards are reptiles and have scales and claws and
should not be confused with salamanders, which are amphibians and have
thin moist skin and no claws. So we look up salamanders.

This is it, all right. The first picture on the page looks just like
Redskin, and it says he’s a Red Eft. The Latin name for his species is
_Triturus viridescens_, or in English just a common newt.

“Hey, talk about life cycles, listen to this,” says Ben, reading. “‘It
hatches from an egg in the water and stays there during its first summer
as a dull-green larva. Then its skin becomes a bright orange, it absorbs
its gills, develops lungs and legs, and crawls out to live for about three
years in the woods. When fully mature, its back turns dull again, and it
returns to the water to breed.’”

Ben drops the book. “Brownie must be getting ready to breed! What’d I tell
you? We got to put him near water!” He rushes down to my room.

We come to the door and stop short. There’s Cat, poised on the edge of the
box.

I grab, but no kid is as fast as a cat. Hearing me coming, he makes his
grab for the salamander. Then he’s out of the box and away, with Big
Brownie’s tail hanging out of his mouth. He goes under the bed.

Ben screams, “Get him! Kill him! He’s got my Brownie!” He’s in a frenzy,
and I don’t blame him. It does make you mad to see your pet get hurt. I
run for a broom to try to poke Cat out, but it isn’t any use. Meanwhile,
Ben finds Redskin safe in the box, and he scoops him back into the
lunchbox.

Finally, we move the bed, and there is Cat poking daintily with his paw at
Brownie. The salamander is dead. Ben grabs the broom and bashes Cat. Cat
hisses and skids down the hall. “That rotten cat! I wish I could kill him!
What’d you ever have him for?”

I tell Ben I’m sorry, and I get him a little box so he can bury Brownie.
You can’t really blame Cat too much—that’s just the way a cat is made, to
chase anything that wiggles and runs. Ben calms down after a while, and we
go back to the encyclopedia to finish looking up about the Red Eft.

“I don’t think Brownie was really ready to lay eggs, or he would have been
in the pond already,” I say. “Tell you what. We could go back some day
with a jar and try to catch one in the water.”

That cheers Ben up some. He finishes taking notes for his report and
tracing a picture, and then he goes home with Redskin in the lunchbox. I
pull out the volume for C.

Cat. Family, _Felidae_, including lions and tigers. Species, _Felis
domesticus_. I start taking notes: “‘The first civilized people to keep
cats were the Egyptians, thirteen centuries before Christ.... Fifty
million years earlier the ancestor of the cat family roamed the earth, and
he is the ancestor of all present-day carnivores. The Oligocene cats,
thirty million years ago, were already highly specialized, and the habits
and physical characteristics of cats have been fixed since then. This may
explain why house cats remain the most independent of pets, with many of
the instincts of their wild ancestors.’”

I call Ben up to read him this, and he says, “You and your lousy
carnivore! _My_ salamander is an amphibian, and amphibians are the
ancestors of _all_  the animals on earth, even you and your Cat, you sons
of toads!”



                                                                        13


       [Illustration: Dave and Mary in wind on boardwalk at beach.]



                                             THE LEFT BANK OF CONEY ISLAND



Columbus Day comes up as cold as Christmas. I listen to the weather
forecast the night before, to see how it’ll be for the beach. “High winds,
unseasonably low temperatures,” the guy says. He would.

I get up at eight-thirty the next morning, though, figuring he’d be wrong
and it would be a nice sunny day. I slip on my pants and shirt and go
downstairs with Cat to have a look out. Cat slides out and is halfway down
the stoop when a blast of cold wind hits him. His tail goes up and he
spooks back in between my legs. I push the door shut against the icy wind.

Mom is sitting in the kitchen drinking her tea and she says, “My goodness,
why are you up so early on a holiday? Do you feel sick?”

“Nah, I’m all right.” I pour out a cup of coffee to warm my hands on and
dump in three or four spoons of sugar.

“Davey, have you got a chill? You don’t look to me as if you felt quite
right.”

“Mom, for Pete’s sake, it’s COLD out! I feel fine.”

“Well, you don’t have to go out. Why don’t you just go back to bed and
snooze and read a bit, and I’ll bring you some breakfast.”

I see it’s got to be faced, so while I’m getting down the cereal and a
bowl, I say, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m going over to Coney Island
today.”

“Coney ISLAND!” Mom sounds like it was Siberia. “What in the world are you
going to do there in the middle of winter?”

“Mom, it’s only Columbus Day. We figured we’d go to the aquarium and
then—uh—well, fool around. Some of the pitches are still open, and we’ll
get hot dogs and stuff.”

“Who’s going? Nick?”

“Nick wasn’t sure—I’ll stop by his house and see.” I’d just as soon steer
clear of this “who’s going” business, so I start into a long spiel about
how we’re studying marine life in biology, and we have to take some notes
at the aquarium. Mom is swallowing this pretty well, but Pop comes into
the kitchen just then and gives me the fishy eye.

“First time I ever heard of you spending a holiday on homework. I bet they
got a new twist palace going out there.”

I slam down my coffee cup. “Holy cats! Can’t I walk out of here on a
holiday without going through the third degree? What am I, some kind of a
nut or a convict?”

“Just a growing boy,” says Pop. “And don’t talk so sassy to your mother.”

“I’m talking to you!”

Pop draws in a breath to start bellowing, but Mom beats him to it by
starting to wheeze, which she can do without drawing breath.

Pop pats her on the shoulder and gives me a dirty look. “Now, Agnes,
that’s all right. I’m not sore. I was just trying to kid him a little bit,
and he flies off the handle.”

_I_ fly off the handle! How do you like that?

I give Mom a kiss. “Cheer up, Mom. I won’t ride on the roller coaster.
It’s not even running.”

I grab a sweater and gloves and money and get out before they can start
anymore questions. On the subway I start wondering if Mary will show up.
It’s almost two months since we made this sort of crazy date, and the
weather sure isn’t helping any.

Coney Island is made to be crowded and noisy. All the billboards scream at
you, as if they had to get your attention. So when the place is empty, it
looks like the whole thing was a freak or an accident.

It’s sure empty today. There’s practically no one on the street in the
five or six blocks from the subway station to the aquarium. But it’s not
quiet. There are a few places open—merry-go-rounds and hot-dog shops—and
tinny little trickles of music come out of them, but the big noise is the
wind. All the signs are swinging and screeching. Rubbish cans blow over
and their tops clang and bang rolling down the street. The wind makes a
whistling noise all by itself.

I lean into the wind and walk up the empty street. My sweater is about as
warm as a sieve. I wonder if I’m crazy to have come. No girl would get out
on a boardwalk on a day like this. It must be practically a hurricane.

She’s there, though. As soon as I turn the corner to the beach, I can see
one figure, with its back to the ocean, scarf and hair blowing inland
toward me. I can’t see her face, but it’s Mary, all right. There isn’t
another soul in sight. I wave and she hunches her shoulders up and down to
semaphore, not wishing to take her hands out of her pockets.

I come up beside her on the boardwalk and turn my back to the ocean, too.
I’d like to go on looking at it—it’s all black and white and thundery—but
the wind blows your breath right back down into your stomach. I freeze.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t come on a day like this,” I say.

“Me too. I mean I was afraid _you_ wouldn’t.”

“Mom and Pop thought I was crazy. I spent about an hour arguing with them.
What’d your mother say?”

“Nothing. She thinks I’m walking alone with the wind in my hair, thinking
poetic thoughts.”

“Huh? What for?”

Mary shrugs. “Mom’s like that. You’ll see. Come on, let’s go home and make
cocoa or something to warm up, and then we’ll think up something to do. We
can’t just stand here.”

She’s right about that, so I don’t argue. Her house is a few blocks away,
a two-family type with a sloped driveway going down into a cellar garage.
Neat. My pop is always going nuts hunting for a place to park.

Mary goes in and shouts, “Hi, Nina! I brought a friend home. We’re going
to make some cocoa. We’re freezing.”

I wonder who Nina is. I don’t hear her mother come into the kitchen. Then
I turn around and there she is. Holy crow! We got some pretty beat-looking
types at school, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a beatnik
mother.

She’s got on a black T-shirt and blue jeans and old sneakers, and her hair
is in a long braid, with uneven bangs in front.

Mary waves a saucepan vaguely at us both and says, “Nina—Davey—this is my
mother.”

So Nina is her mother. I stick out my hand. “Uh—how do you do?”

“Hel-looo.” Her voice is low and musical. “I think there is coffee on the
stove.”

“I thought I’d make cocoa for a change,” says Mary.

“All right.” Nina puts a cigarette in her mouth and offers one to me.

I say, “No, thank you.”

“Tell me....” She talks in this low, intense kind of voice. “Are you in
school with Mary?”

So I tell her I live in Manhattan, and how I ran into Mary when I had Cat
on the beach, because that makes it sound sort of respectable, not like a
pickup. But she doesn’t seem to be interested in Cat and the beach.

“What do you _read_? In your school?” she asks, launching each question
like a torpedo.

I remember Mary saying something about her mother and poetry, so I say,
“Well, uh—last week we read ‘The Highwayman’ and ‘The Wreck of the
Hesperus.’ They’re about—I mean, we were studying metaphors and similes.
Looking at the ocean today, I sure can see what Longfellow meant about the
icy....”

I thought I was doing pretty well, but she cut me off again.

“Don’t you read any _real_ poetry? Donne? Auden? Baudelaire?”

Three more torpedoes. “We didn’t get to them yet.”

Nina blows out a great angry cloud of smoke and explodes, “Schools!” Then
she sails out of the kitchen.

I guess I look a little shook up. Mary laughs and shoves a mug of cocoa
and a plate of cinnamon toast in front of me. “Don’t mind Mother. She just
can’t get used to New York schools. Or Coney Island. Or hardly anything
around here.

“She grew up on the Left Bank in Paris. Her father was an artist and her
mother was a writer, and they taught her to read at home, starting with
Chaucer, probably. She never read a kids’ book in her life.

“Anything I ever tell her about school pretty much sounds either childish
or stupid to her. What I really love is science—experiments and stuff—and
she can’t see that for beans.”

“Our science teacher is a dope,” I say, because she is, “so I really never
got very interested in science. But I told Mom and Dad I was coming to the
aquarium to take notes today, so they wouldn’t kick up such a fuss.”

Mary shakes her head. “We ought to get our mothers together. Mine thinks
I’m wasting time if I even _go_ to the aquarium. I do, though, all the
time. I love the walrus.”

“What does your pop do?”

“Father? He teaches philosophy at Brooklyn College. So I get it from both
sides. Just think, think, think. Father and Nina aren’t hardly even
interested in _food_. Once in a while Nina spends all day cooking some
great fish soup or a chicken in wine, but the rest of the time I’m the
only one who takes time off from thinking to cook a hamburger. They live
on rolls and coffee and sardines.”

Mary puts our cups in the sink and then opens a low cupboard. Instead of
pots and pans it has stacks of records in it. She pulls out _West Side
Story_ and then I see there’s a record player on a side table. What d’you
know? A record player in the kitchen! This Left Bank style of living has
its advantages.

“I sit down here and eat and play records while I do my homework,” says
Mary, which sounds pretty nice.

I ask her if she has any Belafonte, and she says, “Yes, a couple,” but she
puts on something else. It’s slow, but sort of powerful, and it makes you
feel kind of powerful yourself, as if you could do anything.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“It’s called ‘The Moldau’—that’s a river in Europe. It’s by a Czech named
Smetana.”

I wander around the kitchen and look out the window. The wind’s still
howling, but not so hard. I remember the ocean, all gray and powerful,
spotted with whitecaps. I’d like to be out on it.

“You know what’d be fun?” I say out loud. “To be out in a boat on the
harbor today. If you didn’t sink.”

“We could take the Staten Island ferry,” Mary says.

“Huh?” I hadn’t even thought there was really any boat we could get on.
“Really? Where do you get it?”

“Down at Sixty-ninth Street and Fourth Avenue. It’s quite a ways. I’ve
always gone there in a car. But maybe we could do it on bikes, if we don’t
freeze.”

“We won’t freeze. But what about bikes?”

“You can use my brother’s. He’s away at college. Maybe I can find a
windbreaker of his, too.”

She finds the things and we get ready and go into the living room, where
Nina is sitting reading and sipping a glass of wine.

“We’re going on our bikes to the ferry and over to Staten Island,” Mary
says. She doesn’t even ask.

“Oh-h-h.” It’s a long, low note, faintly questioning.

“We thought with the wind blowing and all, it’d be exciting,” Mary
explains, and I think, Uh-o, that’s going to cook it. _My_ mother would
have kittens if I said I was going out on a ferry in a storm.

But Nina just says, “I see,” and goes back to reading her book. I say
good-bye and she looks up again and smiles, and that’s all.

It’s another funny thing—Nina doesn’t seem to pay any attention to who
Mary brings home, like most mothers are always snooping if their daughter
brings home a guy. Without stopping to think, I say, “Do you bring home a
lot of guys?”

Mary laughs. “Not a lot. Sometimes one of the boys at school comes home
when we’re studying for a science test.”

I laugh, too, but what I’m thinking of is how Pop would look if I brought
a girl home and said we were studying for a test!



                                                                        14


        [Illustration: Dave and Mary on ferry with other people.]



                                                       EXPEDITION BY FERRY



As we ride through Brooklyn the wind belts us around from both sides and
right in the teeth. But the sun’s beginning to break through, and it’s
easy riding, no hills.

This part of Brooklyn is mostly rows of houses joined together, or low
apartment buildings, with little patches of lawn in front of them. There’s
lots of trees along the streets. It doesn’t look anything like Manhattan,
but not anything like the country, either. It’s just Brooklyn.

All of a sudden we’re circling a golf course. What d’you know? Right in
New York City!

“Ever play golf?” The wind snatches the words out of my mouth and carries
them back to Mary. I see her mouth shaping like a “No,” but no sound comes
my way. I drop back beside her and say, “I’ll show you sometime. My pop’s
got a set of clubs I used a couple of times.”

“Probably I better carry the clubs and you play. I can play tennis,
though.”

We pass the golf course and head down into a sort of main street. Anyway
there’s lots of banks and dime stores and traffic. Mary leads the way. We
make a couple of turns and zigzags and then go under the parkway, and
there’s the ferry. It’s taken us most of an hour to get from Mary’s house.

I’m hoping the ferry isn’t too expensive, so I’ll have plenty of money
left for a good lunch. But while I’m mooning, Mary has wheeled her bike
right up and paid her own fare. Well, I guess that’s one of the things I
like about her. She’s independent. Still, I’m going to buy lunch.

The ferry is terrific. I’m going to come ride ferries every day it’s
windy. The boat doesn’t roll any, but we stand right up in front and the
wind blows clouds of spray in our faces. You can pretend you’re on a
full-rigged schooner running before a hurricane. But you look down at that
choppy gray water, and you know you’d be done if you got blown overboard,
even if it is just an old ferryboat in New York harbor.

The ferry ride is fast, only about fifteen minutes. We ride off in Staten
Island and start thinking where to go. I know what’s first with me.

I ask Mary, “What do you like, hamburgers or sandwiches?”

“Both. I mean either,” she says.

The first place we see is a delicatessen, which is about my favorite kind
of place to eat anyway. I order a hot pastrami, and Mary says she never
had one, but she’ll try the same.

“Where could we go on Staten Island?” I say. “I never was here before.”

“About the only place I’ve been is the zoo. I’ve been there lots of times.
The vet let me watch her operate on a snake once.”

This is a pretty surprising thing for a girl to tell you in the middle of
a mouthful of hot pastrami. The pastrami is great, and they put it on a
roll with a lot of olives and onions and relish. Mary likes it too.

“Is the vet a woman? Aren’t you scared of snakes?”

“Uh-un, I never was really. But when you’re watching an operation, you get
so interested you don’t think about it being icky or scary. The vet is a
woman. She’s been there quite a while.”

I digest this along with the rest of my sandwich. Then we both have a
piece of apple pie. You can tell from the way the crust looks—browned and
a little uneven—that they make it right here.

“So shall we go to the zoo?” Mary asks.

“O.K.” I get up to get her coat and mine. When I turn around, there she is
up by the cashier, getting ready to pay her check.

“Hey, I’m buying lunch,” I say, steaming up with the other check.

“Oh, that’s all right.” She smiles. “I’ve got it.”

I don’t care if she’s _got_ it. I want to _pay_ it. I suppose it’s a silly
thing to get sore about, but it sort of annoys me. Anyway, how do you
maneuver around to do something for a girl when she doesn’t even know you
want to?

The man in the deli gives us directions to get to the zoo, which isn’t
far. It’s a low brick building in a nice park. In the lobby there are some
fish tanks, then there’s a wing for birds on one side, animals on the
other, and snakes straight ahead.

We go for snakes. Mary really seems to like them.

She says, “The vet here likes them, and I guess she got me interested. You
know, they don’t really understand how a snake moves? Mechanically, I
mean. She’s trying to find out.”

We look at them all, little ones and big ones, and then we go watch the
birds. The keeper is just feeding them. The parrot shouts at him, and the
pelican and the eagles gobble up their fish and raw meat, but the vulture
just sits on his perch looking bored. Probably needs a desert and a dying
Legionnaire to whet his appetite.

In the animal wing a strange-looking dame is down at the end, talking to a
sleepy tiger.

“Come on, darling, just a little roar. Couldn’t you give me just a soft
one today?” she’s cooing at him. The tiger blinks and looks away.

The lady notices us standing there and says, “He’s my baby. I’ve been
coming to see him for fourteen years. Some days he roars for me
beautifully.”

She has a short conversation with the lion, then moves along with us
toward the small cats, a puma and a jaguar. She looks in the next cage,
which is empty, and shakes her head mournfully.

“I had the sweetest little leopard. He died last week. Would you believe
it? The zoo never let me know he was sick. I could have come and helped
take care of him. I might have saved his life.”

She goes on talking, sometimes to herself, sometimes to the puma, and we
cross over to look at two otters chasing each other up an underwater
tunnel.

“What is she, some kind of nut?” Mary says. “Does she think this is her
private zoo?”

I shrug. “I suppose she’s a little off. But so’s my Aunt Kate, the one who
gave me Cat. They just happen to like cats better than people. Kate thinks
all the stray cats in the world are her children, and I guess this one
feels the same way about the big cats here.”

We mosey around a little bit more and then head back to the ferry. I make
good and sure I’m ahead, and I get to the ticket office and buy two
tickets.

“Would you care for a ride across the harbor in my yacht?” I say.

“Why, of course. I’d be delighted,” says Mary.

A small thing, but it makes me feel good.

Over in Brooklyn I see a clock on a bank, and it says five o’clock. I do
some fast calculating and say, “Uh-oh, I better phone. I’ll never make it
home by dinnertime.”

I phone and get Pop. He’s home early from work. Just my luck.

“I got to get this bike back to this kid in Coney,” I tell him. “Then I’ll
be right home. About seven.”

“What do you mean _this_ bike and _this_ kid? Who? Anyway, I thought you
were already at Coney Island.”

I suppose lawyers just get in the habit of asking questions. I start
explaining. “Well, it was awfully cold over in Coney, and we thought we’d
go over to Staten Island on the ferry and go to the zoo. So now we just
got back to Brooklyn, and I’m downtown and I got to take the bike back.”

“So who’s ‘we’? You got a rat in your pocket?”

I can distract Mom but not Pop. “Well, actually, it’s a girl named Mary.
It’s her brother’s bike. He’s away in college.”

All I can hear now is Pop at the other end of the line, laughing his head
off.

“So what’s so funny about that?”

“Nothing,” he says. “Nothing. Only now I can see what all the shouting was
about at breakfast.”

“Oh.”

“O.K. Now mind you get that girl, as _well_ as the bicycle of the brother
who goes to college, home safe. Hear? I’ll tell your mother you narrowly
escaped drowning, and she’ll probably save you a bone for dinner. O.K.?”

“O.K. Bye.”

Him and his jokes. Ha, ha, ha. Funny, though, him worrying about me
getting Mary home safe, when her own mother doesn’t worry any.

We start along toward her house slowly, as there’s a good deal of traffic
now. I’m wondering how to see Mary again without having to ask for her
number and phoning and making a date. Something about telephoning I don’t
like. Besides, I’d probably go out to a pay phone so the family wouldn’t
listen, and that’d make me feel stupid to begin with.

Just then we start rounding the golf course, and I whack the handle bar of
my bike and say, “Hey, that’s it!”

“What’s it?”

“Golf. Let’s play golf. Not now, I don’t mean. Next holiday. We’ve got
Election Day coming up. I’ll borrow Pop’s clubs and take the subway and
meet you here. How about ten o’clock?”

“Hunh?” Mary looks startled. “Well, I suppose I could try, or anyway I
could walk around.”

“It’s easy. I’ll show you.” The two times I played, I only hit the ball
decently about four or five times. But the times I _did_ hit it, it seemed
easy.

We get to Mary’s house and I put the bikes away and give her back her
brother’s jacket. “I guess I’ll go right along. It’s getting late. See you
Election Day.”

“O.K., bye. Say—thanks for the ferry ride!”



                                                                        15


        [Illustration: Cat eating turkey neck from bowl on floor.]



                                                          DOLLARS AND CATS



Wednesday night before Thanksgiving I go down to the delicatessen to buy
some coke, so I can really enjoy myself watching TV. Tom is just finishing
work at the flower shop, and I ask him if he wants to come along home.

“Nah. Thanks. I got to be at work early tomorrow.” He doesn’t sound too
cheery.

“How’s the job going?”

“O.K., I guess.” We walk along a little ways. “The job’s not bad, but I
don’t want to be a florist all my life, and I can’t see this job will
train me for anything else.”

That seems pretty true. It must be tough not getting regular holidays off,
too. “You have to work all day tomorrow?” I ask.

“I open the store up at seven and start working on orders we’ve already
got. I’ll get through around three or four.”

“Hey, you want to come for dinner? We’re not eating till evening.”

Tom grins. “You cooking the dinner? Maybe you better ask your mother.”

“It’ll be all right with Mom. Look, I’ll ask her and come let you know in
the store tomorrow, O.K.?”

“Hmm. Well, sure. Thanks. I’ve got a date with Hilda later in the evening,
but she’s got to eat with her folks first.”

“O.K. See you tomorrow.”

“Right.”

Mom says it’s all right about Tom coming, so I go down and tell him in the
morning. Turns out Mom has asked Kate to have dinner with us, too, which
is quite a step. For Kate, I mean. I think she would have turned the
invitation down, except no one can bear to hurt Mom’s feelings. Kate’s
been in our house before, of course, but then she just came in to chat or
have tea or something. It wasn’t like an invitation.

She comes, and she looks like someone from another world. I’ve never seen
her in anything but her old skirts and sneakers, so the “good clothes”
she’s wearing now must have been hanging in a closet twenty years. The
dress and shoes are way out of style, and she’s carrying a real old black
patent-leather pocketbook. Usually she just lugs her old cloth shopping
bag, mostly full of cat goodies. Come to think of it, that’s it: Kate
lives in a world that is just her own and the cats’. I never saw her
trying to fit into the ordinary world before.

Cat knows her right away, though. Clothes don’t fool him. He rubs her leg
and curls up on the sofa beside her, still keeping a half-open eye on the
oven door in the kitchen, where the turkey is roasting.

Tom comes in, also in city clothes—a white shirt and tie and jacket—the
first time I ever saw him in them. He sits down on the other side of Cat,
who stretches one paw out toward him negligently.

Looking at Kate and Tom sitting there on the sofa, both looking a little
ill at ease, I get a funny idea. My family is starting to collect people
the way Kate collects homeless cats. Of course, Kate and Tom aren’t
homeless. They’re people-less—not part of any family. I think Mom always
wanted more people to take care of, so she’s glad to have them.

Kidding, I ask Kate, “How many cats at your home for Thanksgiving dinner?”

She stops stroking Cat a minute and thinks. “Hmm, Susan’s got four new
kittens, just got their eyes open. A beautiful little orange one and three
tigers. Then there’s two big kittens, strays, and one old stray tom. Makes
eight, that’s all. Sometimes I’ve had lots more than that.”

“Doesn’t the landlord ever object?” Pop asks.

Kate snorts. “Him! Huh! I pay my rent. And I have my own padlock on the
door, so he can’t come snooping around.”

We all sit down to dinner. Pop gives Cat the turkey neck to crunch up in
the kitchen. He finishes that and crouches and stares at us eating. Kate
gives him tidbits, which I’m not supposed to do. I don’t think she really
wants to eat the turkey herself. She’s pretty strictly a fruit and yogurt
type.

After dinner Tom leaves to meet Hilda, and I walk home with Kate, carrying
a bag of scraps and giblets for her cats. While she’s fiddling with the
two sets of keys to open her door, the man next door sticks his head out.
“Messenger was here a little while ago with a telegram for you. Wouldn’t
give it to me.”

“A telegram?” Kate gapes.

“Yeah. He’ll be back.” The man looks pleased, like he’s been able to
deliver some bad news, and pulls his head in and shuts his door.

We go into Kate’s apartment, and cats come meowing and rubbing against her
legs, and they jump up on the sink and rub and nudge the bag of scraps
when she puts it down. Kate is muttering rapidly to herself and fidgeting
with her coat and bag and not really paying much attention to the cats,
which is odd.

“Lots of people send telegrams on holidays. It’s probably just greetings,”
I say.

“Not to me, they don’t!” Kate snaps, also sounding as if they better
hadn’t.

I go over to play with the little kittens. The marmalade-colored one is
the strongest of the litter, and he’s learned to climb out of the box. He
chases my fingers. Kate finishes feeding the big cats, and she strides
over and scoops him back into the box. “You stay in there. You’ll get
stepped on.” She drops Susan back in with her babies to take care of them.

The doorbell rings, and Kate yanks open the door, practically bowling over
an ancient little messenger leaning sleepily against the side of the door.

“Take it easy, lady, take it easy. Just sign here,” he says.

She signs, hands him the pencil, and slams the door. The orange kitten has
got out again, and Kate does come close to stepping on him as she walks
across the room tearing open the telegram. He doesn’t know enough to dodge
feet yet. I scoop him back in this time.

Kate reads the telegram and sits down. She looks quite calm now. She says,
“Well, he died.”

“Huh? Who?”

“My brother. He’s the only person in the world I know who would send me a
telegram. So he’s dead now.”

She repeats it, and I can’t figure whether to say I’m sorry or what. I
always thought when someone heard of a death in the family, there’d be a
lot of crying and commotion. Kate looks perfectly calm, but strange
somehow.

“Has he been sick?”

Kate shakes her head. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in twenty years.”

There is silence a moment, and then Kate goes on, talking half to herself
and half to me. “Mean old coot. He never talked to anyone, except about
his money. That’s all he cared about. Once he tried to get me to give him
money to invest. That’s the last time I saw him. He has an old house way
up in the Bronx. But we never did get along, even when we were kids.”

“Did he have a wife or anything? Who sent the telegram?”

“He’s had a housekeeper. Just as mean as him. She’d buy him day-old bread
and dented cans of soup because they were cheaper. She suited him
fine—saved him money and never talked to him. Well, she’ll get his money
now, if he left any. That’s what she’s been waiting for. She sent me the
wire.”

Twenty years, I think. That’s a long time not to be speaking to your own
brother, and him living just a ten-cent phone call away. I wonder. She
couldn’t just not give a hoot about him. They must have been real mad at
each other. And mad at the whole world, too. Makes you wonder what kind of
parents _they_  had, with one of them growing up loving only cats and the
other only money.

Kate is staring out the window and stroking the old stray tomcat between
the ears, and it hits me: there isn’t a person in the world she loves or
even hates. I like cats fine, too, but if I didn’t have people that
mattered, it wouldn’t be so good. I say “So long” quietly and go out.



                                                                        16


     [Illustration: Reporters and photographers crowding in on Kate.]



                                                                   FORTUNE



“I always wondered if the poor soul had any relatives.” That’s what Mom
says when I tell her about Kate’s telegram. “And now she’s lost her only
brother. That’s sad.”

“I think it’s sad she never talked to him for twenty years. All these
years I’ve wished I had a brother,” I say.

“If it’s her only brother, she’s going to have to do something about his
estate,” says Pop. That legal mind, it never rests. I guess he’s got a
point about this, though. How is Kate going to deal with lawyers, or
undertakers, or anyone? She can’t hardly stand to _talk_  to people like
that.

“What’ll she have to do?”

“Maybe I better go see her tomorrow,” says Pop. “There can be lots of
things—see if he left a will, if he owes any taxes, if he has property
that has to be taken care of or sold. You can’t tell.”

“Kate said he was a miser. Maybe he left her a million. Say, that’d be
great!”

“Don’t be a dope!” Pop snaps, and he really sounds angry, so I pipe down.

The next morning Pop tells me to go over and see how Kate is. “The way she
feels about people, I don’t like to just barge in. I’ll come by in ten
minutes, like I was picking you up to go to a movie or something.”

I saunter round the corner onto Third Avenue and stop short. There are two
newspaper cars pulled up in front of Kate’s building, one red and one
black, and a sizable knot of people gathered on the sidewalk. I move in
among them.

“That crazy cat lady ... he musta been a nut too ... left her about a
million ... a lotta rich cats, how d’ya like that....”

So I guess he did leave her money, and all of a sudden I see it isn’t
“great.” It’s going to be trouble. I push through the people and go
upstairs without anyone stopping me. When I open Kate’s door, old stray
tomcat shoots out. He’s leaving, and I can see why.

Kate’s room is tiny, and it looks like it’s filled with a mob. Maybe it’s
only half a dozen guys, but the photographers are pushing around trying to
get shots and the reporters are jabbering.

Orange kitten sticks his head out of the box. Then out he comes, into the
sea of feet. I drop him back in and try to get across to Kate. She’s
pretty well backed into a corner and looking ready to jump out the window.
She has her arms folded in front of her, each hand clenching the other
elbow, as if to hold herself together. A reporter with a bunch of scratch
paper in his hand is crowding her.

“Miss Carmichael”—funny, I never even knew her last name before—“I just
want to ask one or two questions. Could you tell us when you last saw your
brother?”

“No, I couldn’t,” she snaps, drawing her head down between her shoulders
and trying to melt into the wall.

“Watcha going to do with the money?” a photographer asks. He picks up a
cat, one of the big stray kittens, and dumps it on Kate. The cat clings to
her and the photographer says, “Hold it now. Just let me snap a picture.”

He takes two steps back.

At the first step the room is silent. At the second step a shattering
caterwaul goes up. He has stepped on the adventurous orange kitten.

The scream freezes us all, except Kate. She shoots out of her corner,
knowing instantly what has happened. The kitten is jerking slightly now,
and bright, bright blood is coming out of its mouth. With one violent,
merciful stroke Kate finishes it. She picks the limp body up and wraps it
neatly in a paper towel and places it in the wastebasket.

The room is still silent for one congealed instant. Kate seems almost to
have forgotten the crowd of men. Then two of them make hastily for the
door. The photographer shuffles his feet and says, “Gee, m’am, I didn’t
mean ... I wouldn’t for the world....”

Kate whirls and screams at him: “Get out! Get out, all of you! Leave me
and my cats alone! I never asked you in here!”

At that moment my pop comes in the door. Of course he doesn’t know
anything about the kitten, but he takes in the general situation and herds
the two remaining newspapermen to the door. He gives them his card and
home address and tells them to look him up a little later.

My knees suddenly feel weak and I slump onto the sofa, and my eyes swivel
round to the little package in the wastebasket. It would be the strongest
one. I really never saw anything get killed right in front of me before.
It hits you.

Pop is trying to calm Kate down. She’s facing him, grabbing each sleeve of
his coat. “What am I going to do? What can I do? I don’t want his money. I
don’t want anything from anyone. I just want to be let alone!”

“Take it easy, Kate, take it easy. You don’t have to let anyone into your
apartment. About the inheritance, well, I’ll have to look into that.” Over
his shoulder Pop signals to me to go home and get Mom.

I go home and explain the situation to Mom, and she comes back with me.
One photographer and a couple of reporters are still hanging around, and
the guy snaps a picture of me and Mom at the door. Mom scoots on up. Bad
as I feel, I still get a charge out of getting my picture taken for a
paper.

“Hey, kid,” one of the reporters shoves in front of me, “about this Miss
Carmichael. Does she act pretty strange, like talking to herself on the
street and stuff?”

I see the story he’s trying to build up. While it’s true in a way, if you
really know Kate it’s not. Anyway, I’m against it. I say, “Nah. She’s all
right. She’s just sort of scared of people, and she likes cats.”

“How many cats she got?”

There have been up to a dozen on a busy day, but again I play it down.
“She’s got a mother cat with kittens. Sometimes a stray or two. Don’t get
sucked in by all that jazz these dumb kids around here’ll give you.”

“She gets all that money, you think she’ll buy a big house, set up a home
for stray cats?”

I shrug. “I don’t know. She doesn’t want the money anyway. She just wants
to be let alone.”

“Doesn’t want the money!” the photographer chips in. “Boy, she must be
_really_ nuts! I’m going back to the office.”

The reporter says he’s going to wait and talk to my pop, and I go on
upstairs to see what’s doing.

Kate is sitting on the sofa, sniffing and wiping her eyes and muttering,
but looking calmer. Mom is making tea. Pop is looking out the window,
scratching his head.

Kate gulps and draws a big breath. “Tell them I don’t want his old money.
Tell them to give it to someone else. Tell them to leave me alone. I just
want my own place and my cats. They can’t make me move, can they? I’ve
lived here thirty years. I couldn’t go anyplace else.”

She gulps and sniffs some more, and Mom brings her a cup of tea. The stray
kittens jump up to see if it’s anything good and nuzzle into her lap. Kate
takes a sip of tea and asks Pop again, “They can’t make me move, can
they?” This seems to be what worries her most.

“No-o,” says Pop, “it’s only....”

He’s interrupted by a knock on the door, and I go open it a crack. A guy
says he’s the landlord. As soon as Kate hears his voice, she yelps at him,
“I paid my rent, first of the month like always. Don’t you come bothering
me!”

“It’s about the cats,” he says. “People outside saying you got a dozen
cats in here. There’s a law, you know.”

He’s a seedy-looking, whining kind of a man, and he looks real pleased
with himself when he says there’s a law about cats.

Kate jumps right at him. “I’m not breaking any laws. I know you. You just
want to get me out of here and rent the place for more money. You leave me
alone!”

The man whines, “There’s a law, that’s all. I don’t want no violation
slapped on my building.”

Pop comes over and tells the man there’s just a mother cat with kittens.
“There’s a couple of strays here, too, right now, but I’ll take them home
with me.”

“There’s a law, that’s all. Also, I got a right to inspect the premises.”
Pop shows no signs of letting him in, and he shuffles and grumbles and
goes away.

“Lock the door,” Kate snaps. “I keep it locked all the time.”

Pop says he’s going home to make some phone calls and try to figure out
what’s going on. He takes down the name and address of Kate’s brother and
asks her if she’s sure there are no other relatives. She says she never
heard of any. Pop goes, and Kate insists that I lock the door after him.

She gets up and starts stirring around getting food out for the cats. She
buys fish and chicken livers for them, even though she hardly eats any
meat herself. She listens at the back door a moment to make sure no one’s
out there, then opens the door and puts out the garbage and wastebasket.
There goes the adventurous kitten. You got to hand it to Kate. She has no
sniffling sentimentality about her cats. Kitten’s dead, it’s dead, that’s
all. She doesn’t mope over the limp mite of fur. In fact, anything to do
with cats she’s got sense and guts. They’re her family. I don’t know that
I could have put that kitten out of its misery.

Just as long as the world doesn’t throw any stray fortunes at her, Kate
does fine. But when people get in her way, she needs someone like Pop.

Mom says she’ll stick around a while and tells me to take the two stray
kittens home, just in case the landlord comes back trying to make trouble.

“O.K., great—Cat’ll have some company!”

Kate sniffs. “He’ll hate it. Cats don’t like other cats pushing into their
house.”

She’s right, of course. I put the kittens down at home, and Cat hisses at
them and then runs them under the radiator in the kitchen. Then he sits
down in the doorway and glowers at them, on guard.

Things simmer down gradually. Mom and I and sometimes Tom, who’s right at
the flower shop on the corner, take turns checking on Kate and doing
shopping for her, or going with her so she doesn’t get badgered by people.
But pretty soon everyone in the neighborhood forgets all about her and her
inheritance. They see her buying just the same old cat food and cottage
cheese and fruit, and they probably figure the whole thing was a phony.

It wasn’t though. Pop finds out her brother did leave a will. He lined up
his funeral, left something to his housekeeper, something to a little
restaurant owner way downtown—apparently that was his one big luxury, a
decent meal twice a year when he went down to buy more stocks—and the rest
to Kate.

Pop says it may take months or years to clear up the estate, but he says
Kate can get her share all put in trust for her with some bank, and
they’ll take care of all the legalities and taxes and just pay her as much
or little as she wants out of the income. And she can leave the whole kit
and caboodle to a cat home in her will if she wants to, which will
probably make her tightwad brother spin in his grave. I asked her once,
and she said maybe she’d leave some to the Children’s Aid, because there
are a lot of stray children in New York City that need looking after, as
well as cats. She’s getting to think about people some.



                                                                        17


         [Illustration: Mary calling from phone booth at Macy’s.]



                                                         TELEPHONE NUMBERS



There are some disadvantages to not getting a girl’s phone number. This
sort of date I had with Mary for golf on Election Day fell through. In the
first place, I was sick in bed with the flu, and Mom wouldn’t have let me
out for anything, and secondly, it was pouring rain. Without the phone
number, there wasn’t any way I could let her know, and I didn’t even know
a street address to write to later.

By the time I got finished with the flu, we were into Thanksgiving and
then all the trouble with Kate. Time passed and I felt rottener about
standing her up without a word, and I couldn’t get up my nerve to go out
to Coney and just appear on her doorstep. I could have found the house all
right, once I was out there.

The first week of Christmas vacation the phone rings late one afternoon
and Pop answers it. He says, “Just one minute, please,” and I know right
away from his voice it isn’t someone he knows.

“Young lady on the phone for you, Dave,” he says, and he enjoys watching
me gulp.

“Hullo?” a rather tight, flat little voice asks. “Is this Dave—uh,
Mitchell—uh, I mean, with Cat?”

I recognize it’s Mary, all right, even if she does sound strange and
scared.

“Oh, hi!” I say. “Sure, it’s me! I’m awfully sorry about that day we were
going to play golf. I was in bed with the flu, and then I didn’t know your
phone number or....”

“Oh, that’s all right,” she says. “I wondered what happened.”

There’s a slight pause, and I see Pop grinning and pretending to read his
paper. I turn around so I won’t see him.

“Where are you now, out in Coney?” I ask Mary.

“No, as a matter of fact, I’m in Macy’s.” Her voice trails off a little,
but then she starts in again. “As a matter of fact, that’s why I called.
You see, I was supposed to meet Mom here at five, and she hasn’t come, and
I bought all these Christmas presents, and I forgot about the tax or
something, and this is my last dime.”

She stops. I see now why she sounds scared, and I get a curdled feeling in
my stomach, too, because what if the dime runs out in the phone and she’s
cut off? I’ll never find her in Macy’s. It’s too big.

“Pop!” I yelp. “There’s this girl I know is in a phone booth in Macy’s and
her dime is going to run out and she hasn’t anymore money. What’ll I do?”

“Get the phone number of the booth and call her back. Here—” He gives me a
pencil.

What a relief. Funny I never thought of that. You just somehow don’t think
of a phone booth having a number.

Mary sounds pretty relieved, too. I get the number and call her back, and
with Pop making suggestions here and there we settle that I’ll go over to
Macy’s and meet her on the ground floor near Thirty-fourth Street and
Broadway at the counter where they’re selling umbrellas for $2.89, which
Mary says she can see from the phone booth.

“O.K.” I say, and then I sort of don’t want to hang up. It’s fun talking.
So I go on. “Look, just in case we miss each other at Macy’s, what’s your
phone number at home, so I could call you sometime?”

“COney 7-1218.”

“O.K. Well, good-bye. I’ll be right over. To Macy’s, I mean.”

I grab my coat and check to see if I’ve got money. Pop asks if I’m going
to bring her home for dinner.

“Gee, I don’t know.” I hadn’t given a thought to what we’d do. “I guess
so, maybe, if her mother hasn’t come by then. I’ll call you if we do
anything else.”

“O.K.,” Pop says.

I go out and hustle through the evening rush-hour crowds to the subway.
The stores are all open evenings now, for Christmas, so the crowds are
going both ways.

I get to the right corner of Macy’s, and I see Mary right away. Everyone
else is rushing about and muttering to themselves, and she’s standing
there looking lost. In fact she looks so much like a waif that the first
thing I say is, “Hi! Shall we go get something to eat?”

“Yes, I’m starved. I was just going to get a doughnut when I found I’d run
out of money.”

“Let’s go home and you can have dinner with us then. But what about your
mother? Won’t she be looking for you?”

Mary shifts her feet and looks tired. “I don’t know. Probably if she came
and I wasn’t here, she’d figure I’d gone home.”

I try to think a minute, which is hard to do with all these people shoving
around you. Mary starts to pick up her two enormous shopping bags, and I
take them from her, still trying to think. At the subway entrance I see
the phone booth.

“That’s the thing,” I say. “Why don’t you call your house and see if your
mother left a message or something?”

“Well....” Mary stands by the phone looking confused and in fact about
ready to cry. I suddenly decide the best thing we can do is get home and
sit down where it’s quiet. Waiting fifteen minutes or so to phone can’t
make much difference.

We get home pretty fast and I introduce Mary to Mom and Pop. She sinks
into the nearest chair and takes off her shoes.

“Excuse me,” she says. “I just bought these heels, and it’s awful wearing
them!”

She wiggles her toes and begins to look better. Mom offers her a pair of
slippers and Pop passes some potato chips.

Mom says, “Poor child, did you try to do all your Christmas shopping at
once?”

“Well, actually, I was having fun just looking for a long while. I have
two little cousins that I don’t really have to get much for, but I love
looking at all the toys. I spent quite a while there. Then I did the rest
of my shopping in a rush, and everything is so crowded, and I got mixed up
on my money or the sales tax and only had a dime left, and I missed my
mother or she forgot.”

She stretches out her toes to touch Cat, who is sitting in front of her.
“I couldn’t think what to do. It’s so hard to think when your feet hurt.”

“It certainly is,” agrees Mom. She goes out to the kitchen to finish
fixing dinner, and Pop suggests Mary better phone her home. She gets her
father, and her mother has left a message that she was delayed and figured
Mary would go home alone. Mary gives her father our address and tells him
she’ll be home by nine.

We must have hit a lucky day because we have a real good dinner: slices of
good whole meat, not mushed up stuff, and potatoes cooked with cheese in
them, and salad, and a lemon meringue pie from the bakery, even.

After dinner we sit around a little while, and Pop says I better take Mary
home, and he gives me money for a cab at the end of the subway. When Mary
gives the driver her home address, I say it over to myself a few times so
I’ll remember.

Suddenly I wonder about something. “Say, how’d you know _my_ phone
number?”

“I looked it up,” she says simply. “There’s about twenty-eleven Mitchells
in the Manhattan phone book, but only one in the East Twenties, so I
figured that must be you.”

“Gee, that’s true. You must have had an awful time, though, standing in
the phone booth with your feet hurting, going through all those
Mitchells.”

Says Mary, “Oh, no. I did it one rainy afternoon at home, weeks ago.”

Well, what do you know.



                                                                        18


          [Illustration: Raised champagne glasses toasting Cat.]



                                                          “HERE’S TO CAT!”



The two stray kittens gradually make themselves at home. Somehow or other
Cat has taught them that he’s in charge here, and he just chases them for
fun now and again, when he’s not busy sleeping.

As for keeping cats in my room, that’s pretty well forgotten. For one
thing, Mom really likes them. She sneaks the kittens saucers of cream and
bits of real hamburger when no one’s looking, and she likes talking to
them in the kitchen. She doesn’t pick them up, but just having them in the
room sure doesn’t give her asthma.

The only time we have any trouble from the cats is one evening when Pop
comes home and the two kittens skid down the hall between his legs, with
Cat after them. He scales his hat at the lot of them and roars down the
hall to me, “Hey, Davey! When are you getting rid of these cats? I’m not
fixing to start an annex to Kate’s cat home!”

“I’m sure Davey will find homes for them,” Mom says soothingly, but
getting a little short of breath, the way she does any time she’s afraid
one of us is losing his temper.

In fact, one thing this cat business seems to have established is that me
and Pop fighting is the main cause of Mom’s asthma. So we both try to do a
little better, and a lot of things we used to argue and fight about, like
my jazz records, we just kid each other about now. But now and then we
still work up to a real hassle.

I’ve been taking a history course the first semester at school. It’s a
real lemon—just a lot of preaching about government and citizenship. The
second semester I switch to a music course. This is O.K. with the
school—but not with Pop. Right away when I bring home my new program, he
says, “How come you’re taking one less course this half?”

I explain that I’m taking music, and also biology, algebra, English, and
French.

“Music!” he snorts. “That’s recreation, not a course. Do it on your own
time!”

“Pop, it’s a course. You think the school signs me up for an hour of home
record playing?”

“They might,” he grunts. “You’re not going to loaf your way through school
if I have anything to say about it.”

“Loaf!” I yelp. “Four major academic subjects is more than lots of the
guys take.”

Mom comes and suggests that Pop better go over to school with me and talk
it over at the school office. He does, and for once I win a round—I keep
music for this semester. But he makes sure that next year I’m signed up
all year for five majors: English, French, math, chemistry, and European
history. I’ll be lucky if I have time to breathe.

I go down to the flower shop to grouse to Tom. It’s after Valentine’s Day,
and business is slack and the boss is out.

“Why does Pop have to come butting into my business at school? Doesn’t he
even think the school knows what it’s doing?”

“Aw, heck,” says Tom, “your father’s the one has to see you get into
college or get a job. Sometimes schools do let kids take a lot of soft
courses, and then they’re out on a limb later.”

“Huh. He just likes to boss everything I do.”

“So—he cares.”

“Huh.” I’m not very ready to buy this, but then I remember Tom’s father,
who _doesn’t_ care. It makes me think.

“Besides,” says Tom, “half the reason you and your father are always
bickering is that you’re so much alike.”

“Me? Like _him_?”

“Sure. You’re both impatient and curious, got to poke into everything. As
long as there’s a bone on the floor, the two of you worry it.”

Mr. Palumbo comes back to the shop then, and Tom gets busy with the
plants. I go home, wondering if I really am at all like Pop. I never
thought of it before.

It’s funny about fights. Pop and I can go along real smooth and easy for a
while, and I think: Well, he really isn’t a bad guy, and I’m growing up,
we can see eye to eye—all that stuff. Then, whoosh! I hardly know what
starts it, but a fight boils up, and we’re both breathing fire like
dragons on the loose.

We get a holiday Washington’s Birthday, which is good because there’s a TV
program on Tuesday, the night before the holiday, that I hardly ever get
to watch. It’s called _Out Beyond_, and the people in it are very real,
not just good guys and bad guys. There’s always one character moving
around, keeping you on the edge of your chair, and by the time it all
winds up in a surprise ending, you find this character is not a real
person, he’s supernatural. The program goes on till eleven o’clock, and
Mom won’t let me watch it on school nights.

I get the pillows comfortably arranged on the floor, with a big bottle of
soda and a bag of popcorn within easy reach. The story starts off with
some nature shots of a farm and mountains in the background and this
little kid playing with his grandfather. There’s a lot of people in it,
but gradually you get more and more suspicious of dear old grandpa. He’s
taking the kid for a walk when a thunderstorm blows up.

Right then, of course, we have to have the alternate sponsor. He signs
off, finally, and up comes Pop.

“Here, Davey old boy, we can do better than that tonight. The Governor and
the Mayor are on a TV debate about New York City school reorganization.”

At first I figure he’s kidding, so I just growl, “Who cares?”

He switches the channel.

I jump up, tipping over the bottle of soda on the way. “Pop, that’s not
fair! I’m right in the middle of a program, and I been waiting weeks to
watch it because Mom won’t let me on school nights!”

Pop goes right on tuning his channel. “Do you good to listen to a real
program for a change. There’ll be another western on tomorrow night.”

That’s the last straw. I shout, “See? You don’t even know what you’re
talking about! It’s not a western.”

Pop looks at me prissily. “You’re getting altogether too upset about these
programs. Stop it and behave yourself. Go get a sponge to mop up the
soda.”

“It’s your fault! Mop it up yourself!” I’m too mad now to care what I say.
I charge down the hall to my room and slam the door.

I hear the TV going for a few minutes, then Pop turns it off and goes in
the kitchen to talk to Mom. In a little while he comes down and knocks on
my door. Knocks—that’s something. Usually he just barges in.

“Look here now, Dave, we’ve got to straighten a few things out quietly.
Your mother says she told you you could watch that program, whatever it
was. So O.K., go ahead, you can finish it.”

“Yeah, it’s about over by now.” I’m still sore, and besides Pop’s still
standing in my door, so I figure there’s a hitch in this somewhere.

“But anyway, you shouldn’t get so sore about an old television program
that you shout ‘Mop it up yourself’ at me.”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm, nothing.”

“Well, I don’t think you should turn a guy’s TV program off in the middle
without even finding out about it.”

Pop says “Hmm” this time, and we both stand and simmer down.

I look at my watch. It’s a quarter to eleven. I say, “Well, O.K. I might
as well see the end. Sorry I got sore.”

Pop moves out of the doorway. He says, “Hereafter I will only turn off
your TV programs before they start, not in the middle.”

Just as I get the TV on and settle down, the doorbell rings.

“Goodness, who could that be so late?” says Mom.

Pop goes to the door. It’s Tom, and Hilda is with him. I turn off the
television set—I’ve lost track of what’s happening, and it doesn’t seem to
be the grandfather who’s the spook after all. It’s the first time Hilda
has been to our house, and Tom introduces her around. Then there’s one of
those moments of complete silence, with everyone looking embarrassed,
before we all start to speak at once.

“Hilda came to the beach with us,” I say.

“I told Tom we shouldn’t come so late,” says Hilda.

Pop says, “Not late at all. Come in and sit down.”

Hilda sits on the sofa, where Cat is curled up. He looks at her, puts his
head back and goes on sleeping.

Mom brings coffee and cookies in from the kitchen, and I pour the rest of
the popcorn into a bowl and pass it around. Tom stirs his coffee
vigorously and takes one sip and puts the cup down.

“Reason we came so late,” he says, “Hilda and I have been talking all
evening. We want to get married.”

Pop doesn’t look as surprised as I do. “Congratulations!” he says.

Tom says, “Thanks” and looks at Hilda, and she blushes. Really. Tom drinks
a little more coffee and then he goes on: “The trouble is, I can’t get
married on this flower-shop job.”

“Doesn’t pay enough?” Pop asks.

“Well, it’s not just the pay. The job isn’t getting me anywhere I want to
go. So that’s what we’ve been talking about all evening. Finally we went
up to Times Square and talked to the guys in the Army and Navy and Air
Force recruiting office. You know, I’d get drafted in a year or two,
anyway. I’ve decided to enlist in the Army.”

“Goodness, you may get sent way out West for years and years!” says Mom.

“No, not if I enlist in the Army. That’s for three years. But I can choose
what specialist school I want to go into, and there’s this Air Defense
Command—it’s something to do with missiles. In that I can also choose what
metropolitan area I want to be stationed in. I can choose New York, and we
could get married, and I might even be able to go on taking college course
at night school, with the Army paying for most of it.”

Pop says, “You sound like the recruiting officer himself. You sure of all
this?”

“I’ll have to check some more,” says Tom. “The recruiting officer, as a
matter of fact, tried to persuade me to shoot for officers’ training and
go into the Army as a career. But then I would be sent all over, and
anyway, I don’t think Army life would be any good for Hilda.”

“I can see you have put in a busy evening,” says Pop. “Well, shove back
the coffee cups, and I’ll break out that bottle of champagne that’s been
sitting in the icebox since Christmas.”

I go and retrieve my spilled bottle of soda. There’s still enough left for
one big glass. Pop brings out the champagne, and the cork blows and hits
the ceiling. Cat jumps off the sofa and stands, half crouched and tail
twitching, ready to take cover.

Pop fills little glasses for them and raises his to Tom and Hilda. “Here’s
to you—a long, happy life!”

We drink, and then I raise my glass of soda. “Here’s to Cat! Tom wouldn’t
even be standing here if it wasn’t for Cat.”

That’s true, and we all drink to Cat. He sits down and licks his right
front paw.



_Format by Jean Krulis_
_Set in Linotype Baskerville_
_Composed and bound by American Book-Stratford Press_
_Printed by The Murray Printing Co._
*HARPER & ROW, PUBLISHERS, INCORPORATED*





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