Cats Are Prisoners



Upper East Side, East 87th Street, 10023

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

Little yellow post-it sticky notes were posted all over the apartment. “Help yourself” was on the refrigerator, “coffee’s here” was posted on the silver Gevalia canister. In big red letters atop the post-it note was, “Warning- Caffeinated” and a postscript, “I know how you are on caffeine,” all this accompanied with a little bewildered looking take on a smiley face.

After coming from a long twenty-four hour bus ride across Middle America in order to sight see and learn what it means to travel on a budget. I was fortunate enough to stay with friends in Manhattan. You can’t get any better than that.

My friend Dana, who used to be my co-worker years ago, would be out of town with her children (a “mini vakay,” as she would say) but her husband would be home, within reason, after working at the office. “He’s a lawyer, you know, he’s not home much. You and Jay will practically have the whole place to yourself. The only catch,” she warned, as she gulped loudly into the phone, “is that Ryan is really anal and really O.C.D but he is also a lot of fun.”

Anal and O.C.D? Those are the only two things we’d have to worry about? For a free place to stay in Manhattan for two full weeks, with no nagging and annoying kids running around, and no one to answer to but a somewhat anal and O.C.D lawyer? Wow! We had it made.

“Ryan will be there to let you in and show you around. He’ll give you our spare key so you guys can come and go as you please. Just make sure, above all else, anything he may tell you, take care of the cats.”

“Cats? No problem,” I assured her even though I never had a pet in my life, I liked cats. I liked pets, I just never had one. Coming from a military upbringing, all the constant traveling and moving, pets were a luxury and my mom never allowed them in the house. She was afraid we wouldn’t be able to give them all the love and proper attention they deserved. She’d always say, “If you love the pets so much, love them at a distance. They don’t need the turmoil of moving constantly. We don’t want the dogs chained the fence or the cat locked in the bathroom all day.”


The day of our visit Ryan was busy at work and texted a message that he wouldn’t be home to show us around but he left a key with the super and a list of instructions on the coffee table.

We arrived to apartment of sticky notes. It was a monochromatic collage of confetti, “Do not answer the phone.” “Let the fax run.” “Bagels are in the bread box” and a particularly odd one in bold, blocked letters, “CATS ARE PRISIONERS.”

The two little fur balls that I assumed would be no problem were not your average cat. They were huge like Mancoons. They looked to be about twenty to thirty pounds each and were full of hair and very active. As soon as we entered the apartment, the cats rushed over to greet us. They jumped on us, smelled us and purred as we petted them. “Nice cats” I said to them. “Very nice cats.”

We made ourselves comfortable, unpacked our clothes, and followed the instructions that were placed on the coffee table; READ ALL THE STICKY NOTES. We grabbed a bagel, made a pot of coffee, and fed the cats. Both of the cats’ bowls had sticky notes with their name and type of food preference; Binky: Wet food; Science Diet, Slim: Dry; Physician’s choice. I didn’t know what to think, for a minute I realized I had to figure out which cat was which and have them adhere to their strict dietary guidelines. I hoped for just a minute that the cats could read the sticky notes and eat accordingly.

I looked for a name tag collar on the cats and only found that they had been monitored for rabies, neither of them had their name on their collar. They were both boys, both furry and both trying to eat each other’s food. “They’re gay cats,” I remember Dana saying, “Very close.”

We decided we wanted to explore the city. Having fed the mancoon-like cats without adhering to their dietary needs (we couldn’t figure out which was which), we opened the blinds as indicated by a sticky, “Please open the blinds for the cats when you leave.” And when we got ready to leave, the door had a sticky note that read, “Remember-CATS ARE PRISIONERS,” and another sticky note underneath, “They must never get out,” and yet another, “EVER.”

I rushed around the apartment trying to find them and found them nestled in their large five foot kitty condo. Perfect timing, I thought. We opened the door and as soon as the door opened, the cats bolted out the door like jack rabbits in the wild.

‘No problem, I can handle this,’ I thought to myself. There is a main door and they won’t get outside, if I can just catch them at the building entrance everything will be fine and Ryan and Dana will never know.

A large shipment was coming in; the main door was propped open with a tiny rubber door jam. The cats maneuvered themselves around the assortment of boxes, the dolly and the delivery man. They got outside and ran around aimlessly. They were free. No longer imprisoned by the anal lawyer and his obsession with sticky notes.

At some point I thought I spotted one of them. But it was a stray, a skinny gray homely looking cat with a persistent meow. Poor thing looked homeless and hungry. I walked up and down East 87th street. I looked in and out of the dry cleaners, laundry mats, door crevices and even panicked and started looking under cars and behind planters.

After a two hour search of the area, we decided to go back to the apartment. As we walked back, we thought of a variety of excuses “the super let us in and the door stayed open” or “the door was open when we arrived.” All the excuses, weak and unacceptable and we were left to face our fate.

We got back to the apartment, opened the main door and saw two large fluffy cats lying in front of the apartment door. Blinky and Slim looked tired and worn as they had their adventure in the city too. We quickly unlocked the apartment, shooed them in and decided to call for take out. Ryan may never know the cats had their day in the city, and we would never tell…but it would rest easier on our conscience if we could at least have dinner waiting for him when he arrived home.


Lesley Clark, author of The Absence of Colour, is obsessed with reruns of Seinfeld and all things New York. She is currently at work on a novel.

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