Ken Harrison 1:30 p.m., Dec. 6
I love walking the path in Ocean Beach that runs from the end of the stairway on Orchard Street to the pier. This particular path is a microcosm of Ocean Beach life at its finest. There are kids cutting school and getting stoned, then jumping off the rocks into the water. People sneaking their dogs down for walks, even though there are the stupid no dogs allowed signs posted. Transients holding the walls up, drinking out of tall cans covered in brown paper bags. The little Mexican kids and their moms collecting miniature crabs in big white plastic buckets. The occasional cop walking their beat, but pretty much leaving well enough alone. All while the surf crashes into the rocks and drowns out the sound of everything but the ocean. Then up Newport Avenue, with its crazy bars and shops, hoping to get a glimpse of Star Trike parked in front of Cheswick's.
Three summers ago, I took my stroll along the surf, and was winding my way down to the little park before the lifeguard tower. This area is ground zero for the homeless, the drifters, the indigent of our community. They don’t bother me, I don’t bother them. I saw a group of young people, maybe four or five, and noticed that one of them had a kitten. This kitten was tiny, maybe four weeks old at most. I walked over to the young man holding it and asked “what’s your kitten’s name?” His response was “Promise”. This young man was probably about 20 years old, but was already achieving the grizzled look of the homeless, with sunburned skin and scabs on his nose. I wanted to know how he got the kitten. “A lady was down here with a box of them and I took one”.
My blood began to boil. The irresponsibility of having an unwanted litter of kittens was one thing, but to be giving them away at the age of four weeks to HOMELESS people was unbearable. We talked a little more, and I gave him a few pointers on how to care for his new pet, all the while the wheels in my head turned.
I decided that I would check on the kitten until I was comfortable that it was being taken care of. I would go for my walk, and see my homeless friend and his kitten sitting on the sea wall, him enjoying all the newfound attention bestowed on him from passersby who stopped to coo and ooh and aah over the cute little kitten. I also noticed that there was no food or water for the kitten. This went on for three days. Day four happened to be the day before the fourth of July, and if any of you know much about OB, the fourth of July is a high holy day in this community. I took my walk, and there they were, sitting in the little park, surrounded by other young scrappy kids, taking turns holding the kitten and trying to feed it bits of burrito. I walked a block away, called my husband and instructed him to “grab my purse and meet me in front of the Bank of America on Newport”. “Why?” he reasonably asked. “I’ll tell you when you get here. Just please hurry.”
The kitten at this point was lethargic and had been out in the full sunlight in the middle of the summer for almost a week. It was too small to be handled so much. I walked up to the B of A, and my husband pulled up and parked. I had told him about the kitten, but he was unaware of what I was doing at this point. I took my bank card, made a $100.00 withdrawal from the ATM, and walked back to the circle of youngsters. My husband kept asking “what are doing?” and I told him “watch”. I still can’t believe what I did next.
I walked up to the group and addressed the young man with the kitten. “Hi, how are you today?” I asked the sunburned fellow. He did not recognize me as the lady who stopped by every day to chat with him and check on the kitty, because I disguised myself with a hat that was in the car and large sunglasses. “Fine, thanks” he responded. " How's your kitten? I'm a little concerned about its health”. He looked crestfallen. I proceeded to ask him some questions about the kitten, how was he feeding it, did he have water for it, did he know about cats and how they need shelter and a litter box? His eyes were getting misty. Oh my God, what was I doing?!? I will stop at nothing to get this kitten at this point. My focus was laser sharp.
Then I played my trump card. “You know tomorrow is the fourth of July around here, don’t you?” I asked him. “Yes, I know” was his feeble reply. “If you have that kitten down here with ten thousand people lighting fireworks and having bonfires, what do you think the odds of it surviving are if you lose it for even a minute? Tell you what. You give me the kitten, and I will take it home with me tonight and bring her back on Sunday, after everyone has cleared out.” He pondered this, and hugged the kitty closer and said “no, I can’t!” I peeled a couple of twenties off my original five and told him I promised I would bring her back, and maybe this money would help him get a room for the night and maybe get cleaned up. I was completely prepared to part with the entire Benjamin. With tears in his eyes, he took the money, gave me the kitten, and asked “do you promise to bring her back?” “I promise”, I lied.
I ran back to the car, speechless husband in tow, and said “I'm sorry, but I had to. We will figure this out later”. I got her home and settled in the spare bedroom, with a little litter box and some water and food, and stayed the night with her. She was the cutest little thing, prone to boxing her own reflection in the closet mirror and sleeping a lot. She ate an enormous amount of food for such a little thing, so she had this round little belly.
During this time, my assistant at work was breaking up with her boyfriend, and had moved into her own place. She was lonely and was thinking about getting a kitten. Well, guess who happened to have a kitten? She came over and met the kitty and fell in love. We made arrangements for her to take the kitten after about a month, when it was stronger and the vet gave her a clean bill of health. You can all guess what happened. Upon introductions to the elder kitties of the house after a week of them pacing in front of the spare room door and them pronouncing her part of the tribe, she was family. She would literally sleep on my cat Tiger’s back, with her paws wrapped around his head. She was still so little, and my husband took to calling her Pee-Pee.
Eileen, my old assistant, would make frequent visits and check on her progress, but I think she knew I was beyond attached, because one day she said to me “you don’t want to get rid of her, do you?”. “I don’t think I can, she’s attached herself to us” I mustered. She was very understanding, being an animal person herself. It worked out in the long run because a few weeks later, the ex-boyfriend called her to tell her he was moving and would she take his cat, who she was very fond of and who adored her while she was living with them. She still has him.
Our little kitten has grown into a beautiful cat. She is still on the small side, weighing about nine pounds, but she is perfectly proportioned. Even our vet comments on her “good genes”. She is simultaneously skittish, a bully to the poor de-clawed cat, affectionate (she sleeps next to me every night and I believe she thinks I am her mother), and funny. She loves to chase her tail, chew newspapers, and play in the tall grass out back - she thinks she is a hunter, and stalks anything that moves. She also still likes to sleep – a lot.
Initially, I had a bout of guilt about the manner in which I acquired my little kitten, so I told my vet the story of my ill-begotten newest family member. She laughed and said I did a great thing. Oh, and after all my broken promises, I couldn’t very well keep the name “Promise”, now could I? Pee-Pee became Peanut, and the final member of our trilogy.