This week, for National Pet Parents day, we bring you two stories of our relationships with our cats.
Part 1: In a battle over her apartment's air quality, cat foster mom Tracy Rowland discovers how to use her kitten's parasite as a weapon.
Tracy is a 3-time Moth StorySLAM champion who first appeared on the Story Collider stage in 2011, with a tale that tangentially had to do with monkeys. She's also part of the producing and hosting team behind The Liar Show, a long-running NYC institution. Tracy works days as a writer and video editor, where her promos and shorts have appeared on NBC, Cartoon Network, and Al Jazeera America. She won a local Emmy in 2010, but her mom still thinks it was the regular kind. Check out more at www.tracyrowland.com
Part 2: Gianmarco Soresi learns more about cats than he ever wanted to when his girlfriend adopts five.
Gianmarco Soresi is a New York based stand up comic, storyteller and actor. He’s headlined Carolines on Broadway, Stand Up NY, EastVille Comedy Club, DC Comedy Loft, and his work has been featured on Funny or Die, Fast Company, The Atlantic, York, SeeSo’s New York’s Funniest, George Takei Presents, and Netflix’s upcoming global series Bonding. He recently acted opposite Tracy Morgan on TBS’ The Last O.G., Tom Selleck on CBS’ Blue Bloods, ABC’s Deception, TruTV, and Comedy Central. More at www.gianmarcosoresi.com
Part 1: Tracy Rowland
It’s late at night and I’m standing alone in my living room and that’s a strange situation for me to be in because my living room is a social place. People like to hang out there. It’s 50 minutes from Midtown, my rent is cheap, I don't charge you a lot to stay, people come over.
Also, it’s located right by this row of bars and restaurants. I’m two blocks away and two blocks, turns out, is exactly as much space and time as a couple who’s fighting and are leaving a bar, they need two blocks to figure out that, no, you're the asshole. So they like to really work on that right underneath my window after closing time. So the restaurant below me has helpfully provided a bench outside so they can really settle in and work on their differences underneath my bedroom window after closing time.
But this night there is nobody inside staying at my place and there's nobody outside breaking up. It’s a quiet night. But I’m not actually alone because I am fostering a litter of adorable kittens, and they are right upstairs. I don't know if you know this about adorable kittens but they are disgusting.
This particular litter has brought with them a parasite. They always have parasites. If somebody says, “You want to foster a litter of kittens?” Just know that your life is going to be about poop forever.
And it depends on the parasite. You might get off lucky. You might just get a little bit of Coccidia. That’s fine. Or you might be me and these kittens, this group of kittens has arrived on your doorstep in a basket, looking cute, loaded to the gills with Giardia. And here’s what makes Giardia awesome. It’s when you walk in your front door on the first floor, they're on the third floor behind a closed door, your eyelashes melt off of your face because the smell emanating from them is so inhospitable. It is an inhospitable smell and that’s why I’m alone in my house, because people have said, “Hey, I'd love to come visit.”
“No. No, you're not allowed in my house.”
And, “Oh, I'd love to come stay with you.”
“Absolutely not.” I’m just going to be here alone at my super-fun site with these adorable things.
And what I've done in my house to try to mitigate this problem is, on the living room floor, I've got all my windows open and I've got box fans in the windows just sucking in fresh-ish air. I mean it’s Jersey City so it’s fresh air.
Then on the third floor I've got the windows open and the box fans facing out. I've got this fetid chimney effect just going, and it’s working. IT’S working and you can breathe in my apartment. You can’t come over but if you did sneak in you could breathe and so it’s good. I've got it under control. I only have five more weeks of this and then life will be back to normal.
But then, suddenly, my house fills with another smell that is the only other smell that could compete with kittens’ really terrible poop and it is a cigar outside my window that somebody is smoking and it is getting sucked right in with these box fans. This happens a lot because, thank you, bench, usually I'll get a smell of weed, which is actually welcome because you could probably tell that I need to chill out every once in a while. So that’s cool. And if someone is just smoking a regular cigarette, fine, because they'll be done in five minutes.
But cigar smokers, they're in it for the long haul. That scent is just so cloying and awful. And I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to walk downstairs and it’s going to be like some older white guy and he's going to have a little bit of an attitude, because I always figure the cigar is kind of it’s the tobacco embodiment of like a MAGA hat and a Fuck-Your-Feelings t-shirt.
And I’m going to go down and say, like give the same spiel that I always give which is, “Hey, you are welcome to stay here but this cigar has got to go.”
Then they'll give me a little push back, but not a lot because they’ve heard this before. Because the reason they're outside my window is because their wives have kicked them out of the house because they're not going to have that smell in their house. So here’s another old lady telling them absolutely not.
So they'll push back a little and then I always pull out the trump card which is, “Hey, I got a baby sleeping upstairs and it’s going right into the nursery.” And I glare at them, challenging them to argue about my advanced maternal age.
Inevitably, they'll grumble and they'll take their cigars and they'll leave.
So I head downstairs and I’m prepared for this argument but I’m not prepared for who I see sitting outside with a cigar the length of my femur. It’s this young kid and he's very hip. He's very nattily dressed. He's got a slim suit, highly polished shoes. He's an African-American kid who’s got like an old-school fade. He's got his laptop all ready and his phone. He's sitting down and he's got a night of business ahead of him and he's going to smoke his cigar.
And I thought, “Are you smoking this ironically? Like who are you?”
I give him the same spiel. I say, “Hey, you're welcome to stay here but your cigar has got to go. It’s going right into my house.”
He just takes a puff on it and he says, “No.”
That’s not part of the script at all. We have a social contract here. I don't really know what to do.
And he says, “This is a public space and I can stay here and do what I want in it. It’s not illegal to sit here with my cigar.”
I say, “Yes, it is a public space but you're in my space and your cigar is coming up and it’s going right into my baby’s room.”
And he sees right through that. He takes another long drag and he exhales and it’s just a big middle finger going right up into my fan.
So I do what you always do in these situations and I take a picture of him, because I’m going to shame him somewhere, and he doesn’t care. He's posing for Anachronistic Cigar Lovers Monthly and goes about his business and so I don't know what to do.
So I do what everybody does and I turn to the internet. I go serious and I get on my little community bulletin board. It’s a little group where we just complain about, “Why doesn’t anybody fill that pothole” or “It’s so noisy here”. Then you get the old-school guys going, “Well, why did you move to a city,” and then it becomes that argument. It’s the most unhelpful group on Facebook.
But I get on and I’m just like, “All right. They recommended a good plumber once. Maybe these guys can help me out.”
Also, I don't really know my neighbors. For as full as my house always is, this is like ten years in, in order to actually meet my neighbors I'd have to leave my comfortable house. Instead, I import old friends. So I don't know these guys but for this Facebook group and their dogs. I recognize their dogs on the street but my neighbors and I have never really yet clicked.
But I get on and I’m like, “All right. You guys have got to help me out with this.” And I explain the situation.
Then of course their first suggestion is, “Well, close your windows.”
I’m like, “I can’t. Don’t ask me to explain. But if I close my windows I will die.”
Then they say, “Well, call the police.”
I’m like, “Oh, no, no. I’m not going to be Barbecue Becky. I’m not calling the police on a black kid just living his life.” Even though the detritus from this life is coming up into my house and filling the lungs of my imaginary baby, still I’m not going to call the police on him.
Then somebody else helpfully points out that, “Well, if you call the non-emergency line, they're not going to show up because you've already stated that it’s not an emergency, and they barely show up for the actual emergencies.”
That is a good point. So the Jersey City Non-Emergency Police Line is basically a help desk. I should call them.
So I call them and the very first order of advice they give me, which is very useful, is close your windows. Then, meanwhile, everybody is kind of having a little conversation online. Somebody is like, “Oh, hey, you should pour some water on him out your window.”
And I say to the cop, “Hey, somebody’s suggesting I pour some water on him.”
And the woman on the other line is like, “Ma’am, that’s assault. We don’t actually recommend that you assault somebody in front of your house.” Then she says, “Well, is this your property?”
I say, “Well, no. I rent.”
She says, “Well, can your landlord… if your landlord contacts us then it’s different, because if somebody has put out a bench it’s kind of welcoming and you can’t then unwelcome somebody. Have your landlord call us.”
I was like, “Well, I know exactly where my landlord is. He's out in the garden smoking a cigar because his wife won’t let him inside. If I call him with this complaint, he's going to raise my rent to market rate. So he's not a resource at all.”
So I thank the woman for her time and I kind of log off and then I think, “Oh, wait. I might have a solution here.”
So I go up to the third floor bedroom and I walk in to the fetid kitten room and pick up a bucket with the lid on it and I’m so proud of myself that I thought of it. I go down, down and I go outside, and he's still sitting there and he's getting a lot of work done. I’m actually really impressed because it’s super late.
He's taking phone calls and so I go and I sit down next to him on the bench. I put my little bucket next to me and I just say, “Hey.”
He looks up and I take the lid off. And it’s like the Pulp Fiction suitcase but just glowing with kitten poop. It takes him just a second for it to just melt his face off and he leaps up off of the bench. He's like those little goats with those rocket feet. I've just never seen anybody leap so high.
He's like, “What… what is that? What are you doing?”
I said, “Hey, listen. It’s a public space so I’m going to sit here in this public space and enjoy it with my bucket full of poop.”
And he's beside himself. He doesn’t know what to do and he's talking to his friend, “You're not going to believe this…” then he just hangs up. He's kind of having a little mini freak out.
And I said again, “You’re welcome to stay,” and people are walking by as this is going down and they're wondering like, “Are they breaking up?”
Then he gets out his camera and he takes a picture of me and I put my arm around my bucket like I’m posing for the cover of Psychology Today. I wish I knew his name because I would totally make that my profile picture.
So he starts just packing up his stuff and he's grumbling and packing up and I’m just, “Again, you can stay but your cigar can leave.”
He's like, “Oh, you're crazy.”
Then so he storms off and I cover my little bucket and I go back inside. I fill in my little neighborhood group on what has just gone down and they're so impressed, very impressed. So what has happened there is that I've cleared my air of one contaminant and my neighbors now know who I am, so it’s all good.
Part 2: Gianmarco Soresi
Hello. I think I saw some of you recognize me from my college production of Cats. I was one of the cats. I was wearing makeup. Maybe that’s it.
But that’s not important. What’s important is that in the orchestra pit, which I like to call the litter box, there was this woman. I don't know if it was in spite of her tuba or because of it but I fell in love. Her name was Laura and she's an Audrey Hepburn with the mind of an Annie Hall with these big, thick glasses that magnified her slight hazel eyes that nearly disappeared whenever she smiled. And she smiled every time I walked in a room.
Then she would recreate an entire episode of This American Life or let me be a little spoon for three months in a row. We dated and our relationship lasted all four years of college up to graduation. Then we had that big decision to make. We had other couple friends, some breaking up, some getting married. We weren’t going to do that because one thing we had in common is both our parents were divorced. Her parents got divorced when she was seven. My parents got divorced when I was seven. Days old. Yes. So like most kids my first word was ‘Mama’ but my next five were ‘told me to tell you’.
So we kind of met in between. We moved in together in New York City to join an acting company just so I could waste a little more of my parents’ money. Things were going well. She was the first girlfriend I ever lived with, but I had lived with plenty of my dad’s girlfriends so I had experience. And whenever we felt frustrated, fortunately, we had a weekly pay-what-you-can yoga class, or I call it our ‘weekly free yoga class’ to get out all our tension.
Until one day we were walking home from a very relaxing vinyasa when we passed this older man on the corner. Older guy. He had a big beard. He was in kind of a crumpled suit the color of a tombstone and he was holding in his outstretched arms a cardboard box. In the box were five of the tiniest kittens I had ever seen.
He launches into the story that he's actually a funeral director. He was leaving a service that morning when he found the box with the kittens. No note. And he thought they were adorable but his wife was deathly allergic so he couldn’t keep them.
And as he's telling the story I see Laura start to pet the kittens. And I see her start to hold the kittens. Then I see her start to name the kittens.
I’m like, “We got to go. Now! We got to go! We got to get out of here.”
So I give her a quick pat down to make sure that she didn’t hide any in her pockets and we turned to leave when this guy says to no one in particular, but very clearly for us, he says, “Well, if no one adopts them by the end of the day, I’m going to have to drown them in my pool.” Because those are the only two options in that situation.
I try holding on to Laura but it’s like that thing when a mom lifts a car to save her child. She breaks through my grasp, she grabs the box, and she just gallops into the sunset like a lioness with her cubs. When I found her somewhere in the Heights, she swore to me. She swore she would have them in a shelter or adopted by the end of the week. And long story short, I had to drown them.
But that’s a joke. Long story short, I was living in an Upper West Side litter box. Real quick. I think you maybe have gathered I’m not a cat person because my earliest memory, like I've done a lot of therapy and hypnosis and sensory deprivation, and my earliest memory is my mom and I moving into her new boyfriend’s house. This boyfriend was actually my dad’s former divorce lawyer. Yes, it’s very complicated. He went from representing my father to filling in for him. Yeah, I know. It’s the plot of Hamlet.
And we’re moving in and he had this cat named Smoky, a black cat with a little white at the end of his tail. I went to pet Smoky and, as cats are apt to doing when you show any kind of affection, Smoky scratched my face, and there was blood. And I asked if I could live with my dad forever.
I was doing okay, though, with this box of kittens because they were too small to get out of the box. But a week passes and we still have five kittens, but they're a little bit bigger. Another week passes and still five kittens, a little bit bigger. Another week passes we now have three kittens, because two of them got out of the box with their claws. Now there are cats everywhere.
Their stray tails it’s like a booby trap. When I step on one, a claw comes out of nowhere. I feel like Indiana Jones going to the bathroom every morning.
I tried so hard to get along with these cats because I love Laura. I loved Laura more than I hated these kittens. And I even love that that was her impulse to adopt them, because I think it’s that same impulse that made her date me. In a lot of ways, I think maybe I don't like cats because, in a certain sense, I’m a cat. In the sense that I’m also an asshole.
And well, you know, this is not just my opinion, okay, Story Collider? This is science. Because you see, here’s the thing. The reason that dogs are so nice is because of un-natural selection. We domesticated dogs over 15,000 years ago and we bred them to help us hunt and snuggle and make YouTube videos.
And I know there's cat YouTube videos but they're very different, because I've tried to make cat YouTube videos. In dogs, the dog is your scene partner. Cats, it’s like wildlife. There's a lot of waiting and like baiting and someone can get hurt and that’s because cats, that’s why we have Toto and Beethoven and Air Bud and the dog from Frasier and Garfield. There's a reason. It’s because cats have only been domesticated for about 9,500 years. And, unlike dogs, cats chose us. They came to us because we had food, the food attracted rats, and the rats attracted cats.
And who did the cats attract? They attracted this parasite that lives in their poop. It’s called Toxoplasma gondii. And this parasite causes a disease called toxoplasmosis. This disease, if a mouse or a rat gets it, it changes their brain chemistry that makes these rats and mice attracted to the smell of cat urine.
Humans can get toxoplasmosis. It’s inconclusive if it changes our brain chemistry but, if it gets into a growing baby, it can be utterly lethal. Again, this isn’t the cat’s fault, I guess. It’s not like Laura and I were in a place that we were going to have a baby anytime soon. I’m just saying, between the rats and the mice and the Toxoplasma gondii, you are the company that you keep.
And cats are very arrogant. I used to try to talk to them and call their name and Laura would defend them. She said maybe their feline brains can’t understand our vocal patterns. But, no. There was a study. I did a lot or research on this.
There was a study called vocal recognition of owners by domestic cats that showed cats do recognize their owner’s voice. They can tell because their ears twitch and their heads move. But that’s it. Other than that they do nothing but just like, “Oh, it’s you.”
And we get fooled. We get fooled because the cat, whenever we get home, the cats will rub against our legs. And we’re like, “Oh, that’s love.” That’s not love. They are just rubbing their endorphins and pheromones all over you because they're claiming you as property. It’s like if I went up to you and rubbed my armpits on your face. That’s not love, that’s gross.
All this is real. When the show is done just Google ‘Why cats are evil’ and all of this will come up.
The only thing that got me through this time was there was one cat of the five named Baby. Laura named him Baby because Baby was the runt of the litter. Baby, actually, still had not left the box because he was so small. He was so small I could pick him up with two fingers. And I would just lie down and I would… I realize this is like the state I could enjoy cats in. It’s like when they're borderline comatose, really, or catatonic, if you will.
I would lie down and I would put Baby on my chest and I would just try to synchronize my breath with his for hours. But Baby, as babies do, got bigger and bigger. And one day I went to pick him up, with three fingers this time, and I put him on my chest. When I went to take him off, Baby scratched me, on my face, and there was blood.
That’s when I said to Laura, I said, “Look, this was not the plan at all. I can barely take care of myself, let alone five cats. We don’t have the money. We’re both artists. the cat litter and the food and the veterinarian bills are going to be coming up surely. And this is not what we’re doing. This is not the phase of life that we’re in. I love you but, baby, it’s either me or the cats.”
And I really miss Laura. She ended up finding a home for three of those cats. She kept two, Baby and another one named Posy. She moved to LA. She met a nurse, met a guy and they got married and they live together now. It’s them, the two cats and two beautiful children.
Me, on the other hand, I’m single, I have no cats, I have no children. I have two roommates that no one will adopt.
I've been working on this story, actually, and a good friend of mine named Alice who I run my stories by sometimes. She actually had a cat that somehow got pregnant and had five kittens. She knows how much I miss Laura and how I can be lonely sometimes, and she came. She knocked on my door. She surprised me. She came to my door.
And in her hand she was holding the runt of the litter then said, “Hey, how will you feel about adopting just one cat?”
I looked at that cat and I was like, “No! I hate cats. Have you been listening to anything I’m saying? What are you talking about? No way.”
But I do know now that I would live with a million cats if it meant Laura coming back. Thank you.