Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What the Cat Saw

In November 1979, my brother and a neighbor purchased a small pet food and supply store in the Little Neck section of Queens. Sometime within the first few months of business, a very young stray cat wandered in the backdoor. Fortunately, we didn’t have to forage far afield for a square meal for this hungry feline. A new cat food was just on the market, too, with its then revolutionary pop-top cans. Not even a can opener was required to open up a can of Fancy Feast. This was big stuff back then.

The little shop—called Pet Nosh by the way—had a gravelly backyard parking lot that bordered on a leafy residential neighborhood. Initially, this rather cunning cat was a transient character—scurrying into and out of the place as customers came and went. We always fed her outside. But eventually, she managed to spend a full night in the store without our knowledge, and then another, and another one after that. It was soon official. Pet Nosh had a resident cat—a mascot. Co-owner Rich, a longtime cat person, affectionately named her “Creepy.” Renowned for carefully watching his pennies, he nonetheless afforded Creepy an awful lot of leeway.

Rich didn’t seem to mind that Creepy napped on merchandise for sale, including dog beds and cat furniture that fast became smothered in cat hairs. And Creepy naturally helped herself to cat scratching posts on display. It was Creepy’s home from that first winter of 1980 to, coincidentally, the store’s closing curtain. Creepy peacefully passed away just before the place was sold.

Creepy lived the good life in the store milieu. Even though she didn’t want for anything, the clientele regularly made purchases for her. Granted, not all of our patrons appreciated having Creepy omnipresent and with the total run of the place. She would regularly plop down on the countertop and, when cranky, lash out at little boys and old ladies alike. More than a few customers left the shop with visible scratches, and even one, as I recall, with some serious bleeding wending its way down her arm and onto our carpet.

As a sleepy commercial trade became a mega-billion dollar colossus, Creepy was witness to history. She did as she pleased and observed all sorts of comings and goings from managers to employees to customers to, yes, products. But at closing time during this fifteen-year odyssey, whoever was in charge and on the scene knew the routine: Before locking up for the night, check the store high and low for Creepy. If Creepy was unaccounted for and adjudged still in the great outdoors, cracking open a Fancy Feast can at the backdoor was in order. Never fail, its distinctive clicking sound was Creepy’s dinner bell. If she wasn’t already nestled in the store, she came running home for supper and lights out. Always in earshot, Creepy was a cat to remember.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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