Animals never did well in my home as a kid. Even before I was born. My parents had a German shepherd named Knappie (named for Napoleon Solo from The Man from UNCLE) who had an outright hatred of my mother. I’ve seen a picture, and he was basically the size of a horse. He LOVED my father, but my mother, not a chance. Apparently he knew when she was pregnant with me and turned on her. When my dad would leave for work he would stand eye to eye with her and stare her down. So….he went to live at a farm out east, or so they told me. I always wondered what happened to him.
My first REAL pet was Casey. Casey Paraguine Tuck. Apparently named for a character in The Hobbit, which was The Bible to my dad. I’ve seen the movie, but that is one of many books I have refused to read mostly to spite my father. Anyway, Casey was a Golden Retriever. Being 7 I didn’t have much say in the decision making process, but apparently at some point my parents thought a large dog in a small house on a main road in Brooklyn was a good idea. Well, it wasn’t. Oh, she was sweet, and a large beautiful dog…..but it was the classic case of the wrong dog for the wrong size house and the wrong lifestyle. Golden’s need exercise, and they need to be walked. I took her to the park whenever I could, but she was never happy with us. She wasn’t properly trained, didn’t behave well, and even turned on me after 3 years. Ceasar Milan would have been able to retire trying to train that dog. One afternoon I was sent to my grandparents for the weekend and Casey was sent to Bidawee. I’m told she was adopted right away by a family that had a home on Long Island with a large yard, who knows if that was true. I sure hope it was, it wasn’t her fault.
Following that, the animals got smaller and lived shorter and shorter lives. A goldfish or two, a parakeet or two, even a hamster that never liked anyone named Freodo, maybe he took that name personally? By the time I got to High School, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that pets and Trachtenberg’s don’t mix well. Maybe it was a vibe? Karma? Who knows, we just didn’t have luck with a pet of any kind. We barely kept plants alive. Many households survived just fine without pets and it was looking like ours would too.
One animal I always did love, however, were cats. Growing up, my great aunt and uncle had a lamp shade store in Brooklyn. Do those even exist anymore? An entire store for lampshades? I don’t think they even sold any lamps, just shades. The store was right around the corner from my grandparents, so visiting them meant a stop in Reismann’s Lamp Shade Store on Avenue U. This was a family visit I never minded, because it meant….cats. TONS of cats. There was a colony of semi-feral cats that lived in and out of the store. My uncle, the Frank Sinatra of my childhood, even went as far as building a cat door in the back of the store and stacking boxes with blankets for the cats to sleep in….and sometimes make more cats. I LOVED being there. My favorite cat was Tiger. She was literally as old as I was, and had very few teeth. When I came in she would run over to me and jump on my lap. She was just the sweetest cat, and my introduction to my love of cats. I just liked cats. Their style, their swagger, I liked that you had to earn it with a cat. A dog will just run up to anyone, well most dogs. Cujo might have something to say about that. A cat needs time, a cat is like a relationship. It takes patience, love, work, effort, and cats don’t like just anyone. When you earned a cat’s trust, you had that trust forever. You had that cat’s unconditional love, and nothing would change that. I know I had that with Tyler. Anyway back to Tiger. I would sit on the floor, cuddle with Tiger, and if another cat tried to come and see me, she would chase them away. I was HER human and that was it. It would take a lot of work to get me to leave that store. I wanted to take her home so bad, give her a loving life, but my parents wouldn’t have any of it. One day, when I was 13, I came in to visit Tiger, and was told by my great aunt Laurie, in her awful Brooklyn accent….”Tiger went off to DIE.” A nice way of saying she got nailed by a bus or another animal and didn’t come back. I was HEARTBROKEN. You mean cats don’t live forever?
Going to High School meant I had less time for the lampshade store and the cats, and the store was sold not long after that. Of the many cats that lived in the store, only Mini and Boy (my great aunt was never good at naming cats) went into retirement with them to Pompano Beach, Florida. Mini actually lived to the grand old age of 25, which in the cat world is quite a long happy life. Mini 2 succeeded her after my great uncle died, and as far as I know she is still alive at 15.
My desire for a cat rarely left me, and I vowed that when I ventured out on my own I would have one, or 2….or 20. Allergies be damned, I wanted a fucking cat of my own!
My first true experience with a cat happened in the summer of 1999. I had been in a relationship for nearly 6 years, and spent a lot of time at my then girlfriend’s house. I even had my own set of keys. Working in Brooklyn and living on Long Island, I would spend a lot of time at her little attached house on East 29th street. Her family lived in one of those houses that were attached from beginning of the block to the end, with the driveway sloping down. You know the type right? Anyway, one day, I was in their kitchen, eating them out of house and home, when I heard a meowing coming from their little backyard. Opening the back kitchen door……I was greeted by……..a cat! A large cat, I didn’t know it then but she probably had some Maine Coon in her. Then again I say that about every large cat, so who knows if it was true. She was in the backyard, at the foot of the stairs off their little back deck. I called to her, and she came right up to me! She had no collar or tag so I had no way of finding out if she was from a home or not. Did she get lost? Did she run away? Was she just a friendly neighborhood stray? Being the animal lover I always was, I immediately went to feed her. What the hell should I feed her? These people had a bird and fish…..should I? No, they’d never forgive me. Let’s look in the fridge. Leftover hamburger! That would work just fine. I broke up a little bit and put it in a bowl and she gobbled it right up. She either was a hungry stray or played the part quite well. No matter, I was hooked.
For the next few weeks I practically never went home. Feeding her every day, singing to her, spending countless hours outside cuddling with what turned out to be a sweet lap cat. She must have had a home and ran away. My then girlfriend Cheryl was allergic, so I knew they couldn’t’ take her in. I basically ignored her and spent time with the cat, who by that point in the relationship was far more interesting. I BEGGED my parents to let me take her home, and they wouldn’t have it. I even suggested she live in the garage, but….NOPE. No cats.
“Your father is allergic.” My mother said.
“But it’s a big house.” We were living high on the hog in those days. “I’ll keep her out of sight and vacuum every day.” I did anyway.
“Sorry, Daniel, no cats. It’ll mess up my furniture.”
I finally gave up and brought her to a local pet store, where they knew a nice old lady that took her in. Not having email at the time (this was 1999,) I never knew what happened to that big girl. I hope she lived a happy life……..
It’s amazing how breakups can alter someone. Not long after that experience, my 6 year relationship came to a crashing halt. It was in decline anyway, it was my first “love,” but you’re never really prepared. Anyway, my mother, who never liked anyone I ever dated, began to soften on the idea of bringing in a pet. In late 2000, we were sitting in the kitchen, having lunch and watching cooking shows (or the Golden Girls,) and I brought up the subject again. Now, being single, and nearing 28, I posed it less as a question and more as a demand. I had also read “Cats for Dummies” from cover to cover, so I was a budding authority on the subject.
“This house needs a pet.” I said.
“No it doesn’t. Daniel, a cat will mess up everything and you know your father is allergic.”
“Actually, yes it does, this house needs a cat. I’m going to adopt a cat. I’ll adopt one that is declawed, so it won’t ruin your furniture, and they are easy to take care of. “
“I understand…..” my mother said. “You need something to love.” Just like that, I had tears in my eyes.
You know something? She was right. I did need something to love. I have always considered myself a lover, not a fighter. I can defend myself, but I would rather laugh than quarrel.
It was settled. The Trachtenberg family will be adopting a cat. The long 17 year dry spell between pets was at an end.