So I have an African Grey Parrot called Tookie and a Canary (which the kids called puffer because Canaries need names too). And birds, such as they are, inherently and by there nature, spread their food and seed everywhere that they can. Diligently, we try to vacuum the carpet around the cages twice a day, but like many things particularly sensitive to the first law of thermodynamics, such as socks in the laundry, and beach sand in your car, no matter how much you try to account for every seed, some just manage to escape to be lost within the fibers of the carpet, the cracks of the walls, or just under foot, feet away from the cages.
At the time, we lived in a private house whose backyard abutted the train tracks of the Brighton Line in Brooklyn. In of itself, the train was never a problem as we never really were bothered by the low rumble of the trains, because this was not an elevated line which rattles windows on raw winter nights, but the tracks themselves, which had a barrier of trees between the yard and the subway line, like all train lines, is a great hiding place for mice, possums, and even an occasional racoons. This, of course, also means that a great community of cats can be supported up and down the block, keeping nature in check to the relief of many of the residents, who to make matters even worse, also feed the yearly lot of kittens that appear every spring.
Overall, everything was fine. Although the house was nearly 90 years old and impossible to make mouse or insect proof, only when the weather snapped from warm to cold did we see an occasional mouse which we laid out some glue traps for and poof they were gone for the rest of the year. It was easy to trap them because the mouse couldn't resist the dendrite falling from the bird cages as a constant rate.
So one year, everything changed. While the trains outside, and the possum and mice, the raccoons and the cats all remained the same, the mice that found there way into the house that fall dramatically changed. These mice suddenly became very smart and very reluctant to get themselves stuck to glue traps and suddenly we found ourselves in a guerrilla war against the onslaught of brain augmented super mice. And just when I thought we were getting the upper hand, I wake up one night, barely able to see without my reading glasses, to see something moving in my canary cage, and within its food cup. As soon as I turned on the light two mice jumped out of the cage hopped over two glue traps and disappeared into the menagerie of chair, wires and furniture that were across the living room. I decided right there that I can't win this war be conventional means, and the birds were being threatened. I was going to need a cat.
So, no problem. Brooklyn has become full of single 20 somethings who love animals with all there hearts. Animal rescues are everywhere. We go to Craigslist and start calling them up. They all want $200 up front and have a 20 page application that wants a complete history of your last 5 cats, a credit report not covered by the fee), proof of residence, a first born child for security, and your country club status. Those people were completely nuts, and nobody was willing to give us a cat.
I'd say, look, my last cat was in 1974 in Florida. he brought home dead lizards and birds. They'd say, well what happened to him? I'd answer, how the heck do I know? I was 11 years old. Ask my dead mother. This tactic didn't work. So then I'd say, "Look. i have an African Grey parrot for 20 years and he is still alive." They'd say, "well, if you want you can have our Cockatoo." I answered, "I don't want a Cockatoo, I want a CAT to protect my Canary". They said, "Umm, cats eat canaries. Sorry, we can not give you a cat".
Finally I found one old lady in Brighton Beach. She asked why I want a cat and I explained it too her. She said, what has happened for your last cat? I said, look, I'm 45 years old and raised six kids. I think I can handle a cat. She said, yeah probably. Come over and pick one. So my daughter and I did just that.
Brighton Beach is located on Coney Island. The Brighton Line subways goes through it curving east on Coney Island Avenue and traveling as an elevated line through Brighton Avenue. It has an enormous beach which during the summers is packed with locals and people who come from all over the city attempting to escape the heat and to enjoy the boardwalk. Aside from the enormous crowds, both Brighton Beach and Coney Island proper are 2 of the great waterfronts in the world..At the turn of the century until the depression, Brighton was built on a great many small lots with bungalows. People brought these bungalows and often rented them out during the summer as summer cottages. When you go to Brighton, you find streets like Brughton 1st, Brighton 2nd street and so on. Less obvious is that these blocks are carved up with alleys and lanes, with hundreds of houses, former bungalows, buried off the street down Brighton 1st Lane, Brighton 1st Alley and so on.
The neighborhood at one time was a solid Jewish community. In fact, my grandfather told many wonderful stories of his childhood through the depression, growing up in Brighton, with the beaches and the colony. And in addition to the colony , later they built classy buildings along the boardwalk. But by the 1970's, Brighton started to suffer the urban blight such that swept up many of the older communities of Brooklyn. The Jews were slowly growing old and dieing, and other minority groups started to make their way into the community, accompanied with a rising crime rate, which was exasperated by all the little alleys and lanes. Even cock fights could be found in the community.
At this same time, the USSR started to ease the Jewish emigration into the US and Israel. The Jewish agency found itself needing to place thousand of Russian refuseniks and refugees. Since the elderly in Brighton were being threatened, the UJA decided to solve both problems by locating nearly all the Russians into Brighton until it became known as Odessa by the Sea. Never the less, most of the private housing stock, especial those houses within the colony, suffered from aging and dilapidation. Trees were overground, vines grew wild everywhere, and the entire area started to return to its natural state. In other words, it became heaven for cats.
Within this cat paradise lived the old women who was willing to give us a cat. My 19 year old daughter and myself hopped on the train, get off at Brighton Beach, and make our way to the adress we had, within the colony, on one of the main streets. We get there and we are looking at a 2 story brick house with an old leaning oak tree in its tiny front garden and vines growing up the wall of the house and covering even some of the windows. The windows themselves had obviously not been cleaned for a decade The roof looked iffy at best. And the stoop was very uneven with misplaced bricks throughout.
We carefully climb up the stoop and ring the doorbell. There is no answer. We ring again, and there was still no answer. I climb down the staircase and look up at the house and down its side, spying a side door. I walk to the side door, but there is no bell. I walk to the front and double check the address, but at least according to what I wrote down, it was correct. So we climb back up the stoop and ring the bell again. This time we hear a women screaming, "Hold on a minutes – Jeeze. I'm coming!" A moment later, out of the side door with a handful of keys pops a spry gray haired women who looked approximately in her mid-fifties.
"Hello, are you here for the cat" she asked. I said "Yup. My name is Ruben and this is my daughter Shani." She looks at me and unlocks the front door. A stench comes out of the foyer that was hard to believe. We look in and inside the 12 foot foyer to a scene of about 40 cats, some in cages, some running free, some hanging on the widow stills, some on top of cabinets, some sleeping and many fighting.
It was total chaos.
There were Black ones, and gray one, tabbys, and siamese, nearly every kind of cat imaginable. She chatters about the stories of the cats, and how she trapped them and the help she got from rescue organization and the free feed she get. She goes on to tell us how each one has been spaded and had their shots, etc etc etc, for about 30 minutes before she finally asks me which cat I wanted. I pointed to a brown tabby curled up in a ball, in the corner of a cage. She says, OK, and she fights to get the cat out, puts it in a box, chatters some more and then files through all the health records and hands me the cats shot record. I look down at the record and realize the cat had lived almost 4 years in that cage. She then asks why I wanted the cat, and I repeat the story of the birds and the train and the mice, and she says, "Well, I don't know what kind of mouser she'll be but she is familiar with birds, She was a stray." I give a $100 which she was very grateful to receive. She puts the cat in a box, and then advises us to put the cat into the bathroom for a while until the cat adjusts. So we take the cat in the box and make our way to the subway and ride home, cat in hand.
Taly at the Brooklyn Seashore
Esther at 90
Early Summer Sidewalk Scene
Talyah Leah Safir's Poetry
Ruben Safir's personal website