The Beauty is a Beast

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08/17/2006

210 W 10th St, New York, NY 10014

Neighborhood: West Village

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I saw him first. He was lounging; a big grey parrot perched above him while lizards slunk and swaggered in a terrarium nearby. Our eyes met; his were big and dark and luminous against pale coloring. He yawned. Stretched one arm up in a dramatic arch. There was another fellow right next to him, but it was he, Clovis Stirling, that made, to quote Kipling, my “heart-strings crack.”

We met upstate. After spending two nights at a friend’s house in Roscoe, he drove back with me to Manhattan and moved in. We didn’t sleep together right away—respectfully he staid in the living room for the first few weeks. But after we picked out an appropriate bed, he moved into my room.

I thought that he was gorgeous and had a sort of Cary Grant savoir-faire, and I soon realized that I wasn’t the only person who found him debonair. Shortly after he arrived chez-moi, I took his headshot with my Rolleiflex. Passa, and an officemate with connections saw it. Before I knew it, he was making his television debut on Nickelodeon wearing a smart fedora. Everyone who saw him felt his charisma. Kimberly, an author, had thirty-nine-cent postage stamps made with his portrait. Elizabeth, a photographer who also designs books for The Brooklyn Botanical Garden, was inspired to Photoshop his face interacting with an exotic (erotic) tubular flower (Ceropegia carnosa). A lawyer/writer who saw his photo stopped by with three charming gifts, a documentary filmmaker brought him a large, plush gag toy, and a movie star sashayed over with Rose, her baby Chihuahua, to meet him. En route to brunch in the West Village, two Scandinavian tourists asked to videotape him. (Well, he does have an amazing coat.) A friend at The New Yorker called him a real “climber.”

The first thing you need to know about Clovis, though I confess to be leaving out one large detail, is that he’s a Leo. Notables of this sign include Napoleon, Robert Mitchum, Robert Redford, Robert DiNiro, Mick Jagger, the athletic Singing-in-the-Rain dancer, Gene Kelly and Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon.

“Leo’s get more attention,” says Dalia, the starlet Leo in my office. “They are more adored. They have more friends. They have a big ego and when they get an idea that they want something, they go after it. If they don't get it at first, they figure out a way.”

I don’t mind that Clovis garners more attention that I do, that he gets gifts from visitors while I am denied even a small rosebud. But then again, I’m smitten.

And I must be head-over-heels. It’s because of Clovis that I have a freezer full of dead animals that I think make better pets than food; I’m a vegetarian and he is a carnivore, but I cook all kinds of meat for him (chicken, cow and rabbit, lightly seasoned with rosemary, garlic and parsley). He’s open to new things, however, and indulges in my favorite beverage, Itoen green white tea, scarfs down my homemade vegan curry, and he’s mad about black-eyed peas, especially hoppin’ John.

Because I’m in love, I overlook his bad habits. He takes all the CDs from their shelves and never returns them, “borrows” items from my purse (fountain pens, keys, pencils, bottles of my favorite green white tea) and wakes me up in the middle of the night. Clovis, and I find this most annoying, is obsessed with my feet. At three, four, five, whatever, in the morning he will nuzzle up to my toes and give them a little love bite or two.»

We are, to put it mildly, an odd couple. I’m the shy, poetic Pisces and he’s the gregarious sign. But there are bigger differences. Its true Clovis is much smaller than I am, and much younger, and he is in fact, a sort of illegal alien in Manhattan. But this is all due to the fact that we are different species. Clovis Stirling is a Mustela putorius furo, otherwise known as a domestic ferret.

This, however, does not diminish our love. I’ve been reading up on love, and everyone from Gandhi to Plato to Marilyn Monroe has something to say, but right now it’s Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving who speaks to me: “Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving…the problem to them is how to be lovable…While we find love, or the equivalent of love in animals, their attachments are mainly a part of instinctual equipment… man is gifted with reason.” Fromm goes on to say primitive man identified with animals to escape separateness; man ran amok with animal masks and totems. I guess “modern” man has animal companions, and Clovis’ instinct, though I prefer to call it personality, is to be adorable, loving and lovable.

“There is something about Clovis,” mused my neighbor Jason. “Something about the way he looks at you. He seems part human.”

I wonder if Clovis watches old black-and-white movies while I’m out, movies with dashing leading men—he’s been known to operate the remote and was enraptured by March of the Penguins.

Clovis is a true gentleman. Kisses me hello and good-bye, sees me to the door whenever I leave and he never uses the telephone when I’m around. Though he’s fond of standing on his hind legs and banging out discordant tunes on the miniature baby grand piano I bought for my nephew.

He does not smoke and is a teetotaler—turns up his nose at Champagne and Chartreuse. This is refreshing after knowing so many wasted, rock-and-roll characters. He’s into my clothes. Literally. He appreciates them all. He nods out on my elbow-length cashmere gloves, crawls up trouser legs, burrows in Italian lace undershirts and curls up on silk chiffon nightgowns. He’s got Fred Astaire’s agility, and Gene Kelly’s athletic prowess. He can jump through a hoop of fire. (Just kidding, though he will jump into bags presented at heights.) What I love and admire most about Clovis, more than his cuddly nature, the pop in his step and sweet face with sort of harlequin teardrop-markings beneath his eyes, is that he’s a good role model and a source of constant inspiration. He is a climbing weasel. Whenever I feel defeated, I see his go-getter attitude and I’m instantly heartened. Nothing, for Clovis, the Leo, is impossible.

He had his heart set on getting up to a windowsill well beyond his reach, and he figured out a way to get there. The dining room table was his next goal and by golly, he reached it, eventually, knocking off the little arrangement of decorative objets. Later he scaled over four feet to the pinnacle of a tall stack of research materials by climbing up an antique folding screen. Lately he’s been eyeing—and leaping for—the Chinese chandelier over the bed. Two days ago he reached the pull chain. I know that one day I’ll come home and Clovis will be swinging from it. And I’ll love him all the more.

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