I Am the Cat Whisperer

I recounted the Nugget saga without reservation. It was like proclaiming my love for "Valley of the Dolls" at a fraternity reunion all over again.

The continuing economic malaise is heightening even the average New Yorker’s innate urge to network as thousands of New Yorkers have been displaced from their workplaces, homes…or both. Whether it’s the perfect six-figure job or a two-bedroom co-op you seek, LinkedIn, Streeteasy or Craigslist can bring you closer to the kill.

Cats have scratched their way into the trend. I found this out one unusually breezy day on a lunchtime kibble run to the Union Square PETCO, thanks to one four-legger who also helped me realize some of my own natural talents as well. That’s where I met Nugget, one of about two dozen highly adoptables crashing at the store in between addresses, thanks to some caring “cat ladies” who’ve rescued and fostered them. The note card on his cage played to my longstanding, albeit misdirected fetish for all things abandoned—from Danish Modern headboards to boyfriends.

“I’m Nugget*, Age 7. Brought here by my owner, whose fiancée already has cats. Loving and in need of a great home.”

This was by far the most emotionally charged PETCO cat-adoption profile since last summer’s blind tabby with a tag that read: “really knows how to get around and is gentle and really playful with kids.” I know about that one, of course, because I’m a regular at “the cages,” manning the senior, handicapped and problem feline beats. But with two cats at home—Steve and Eydie—I simply couldn’t take the flying leap to three. Saying “Oh yea, and and I’ve got three cats” on a date when you’re a 45-year-old single gay creative professional guy in Manhattan ensures you nothing more than a lifetime of living with three cats. You won’t even get to anything “casual,” considering how many people are allergic to cat dander. Knowing all this, I just gave Nugget a nod, threw a few singles into the collection box, and started to head back for my 2 p.m. conference call.

“M’owww!” he snapped, swiping a paw against the cage grates. I re-approached, sensing a mission here. I looked around to ensure no one was watching, as I leaned in closer.

“I get the idea you really need out, eh?” What was I doing? Suddenly I felt like I was in an episode of “Bewitched,” after Endora once again turned Darren into some non-human life form.

“M’ow.” Nugget tilted his head and swiped again, eyes widened, as if to say “Well yeah, so how are you going to bust me out of this pity gig?”

As a big fan of the escape story (Think “Shawshank Redemption”) it was a challenge I couldn’t refuse.

“I’m on it,” I said. “I’ll be back.”

As I meandered up Broadway to the office, I caught my reflection in a few store windows. I was becoming one of them—a cat guy. Why was coming out so much easier than this? What was I to be? Shit, would I end up as “that guy on the sixth floor who gets like three Petco.com boxes a week?” But I don’t look like a cat person, I thought. Don’t they wear melon-colored cable-knit sweaters and hum their favorite arias as they work? “Cat people don’t wear boot cut Banana Republic jeans, Kenneth Cole eel-skin boots and Euro-cut Ben Sherman dress shirts, do they? No way. But whatever, I couldn’t worry about that now. I had some serious cat whispering ahead.

For days after, I told the Nugget story to co-workers, friends, and neighbors (but never dates) during lunches, dinners and chance meetings. “So there I was at PETCO, and this really sort of funny, wise-ass cat. It was like he was saying like ‘Get me out of here!’” I recounted the Nugget saga without reservation. It was like proclaiming my love for “Valley of the Dolls” at a fraternity reunion all over again.

A week after my strategy session with Nugget, I ran into Ally, our firm’s recruiter, in the kitchen at work. Ah, what a great prospect—this expert at placement could be Nugget’s fast ticket out. And, she was actually looking to adopt. Score! I thought I had her hooked. She hesitated about Nugget being somewhat elderly, though promised to consider it.

Ally called me a few hours later, hysterical, and told me to come down to her office now. I found her sitting with James, our tech guy. They both look like, well, they had just downed some canaries.

“James is adopting that cat you’re all obsessed with!” she blurted out.

“I heard you guys talking about a ‘Nugget,’” says James, whose office is next to the kitchen. He sighed, looking plaintive: “I knew he had to be the Nugget.”

Yes. This was the very same Nugget that had belonged to James’s ex-girlfriend. He knew of the engagement, and that this very special feline was going up for adoption. He had also understood the adoption would be a private thing, and never imagined that his old buddy would end up at Manhattan’s most popular retail orphanage. But very soon after he overheard me and Ally talking, he made the noble decision to go to PETCO and reclaim a very happy Nugget—despite sharing a studio with two cats of his own already. What’s more, Nugget remembered him even after three years. How awesome—I had engineered the reunion of a straight cat guy and his favorite feline. Quick, call the Gay/Straight Cat Lovers Alliance, we’ve got an Oprah moment on our hands.

James quickly contacted his ex to share the details. Nugget recognized her voice through the phone, and she covered all of the adoption fees.

Ok, so where does this leave me, the ambivalent cat man? I can’t help but think that an omniscient, four-legged seer fingered me as his ticket out from UnionSquareCatsCagedIn.com, as it were. Nugget landed a new crib, without even logging on. And I’m newly emancipated by the whole affair, having no problem being a cat guy, even though I don’t own a single cable-knit sweater and couldn’t tell a Callas aria from a leaky pipe in my ceiling. Today you’ll still find me stopping in at the cages, talking to the old cats, making a connection when I can and throwing a few dollars to the cause.

Hey, do you want to know more about the pouty old grey shorthair up at the 92nd St. store who got tossed onto the street because he mistook a coat closet for a litter box?

Writer’s note: James reports that he, Nugget and two other four-footed roommates are living happily ever after in Manhattan.

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