"I told him he could finger-bang me for a B+."
When those words reached my ears, I was sleeping on top of a series of books about figure drawing in NYU's Bobst Library at NYU and trying not to shed too much. I was in what I think of as my natural form, to all appearances a young, healthy Russian blue tom cat. It was how I spent the first ten years of my life and, if I always knew I was different from the other cats that lurk in the shadows and the basements of the Washington Square area, I didn't and still don't know what exactly makes me different.
All right. My understanding of human language was a tip-off. Other cats refer to human speech as growling and assume it has no semantic content. To a stray, humans are always something to be wary of, even when they're feeding you. If you let them get too close, they can turn mean or worse - try to domesticate you.
We've all seen the indoor cats - fat, pampered, and indolent, watching the birds outside their windows like they might do something about them one day. As is commonly said among the strays, that's the life, but it's not the life for me.
Before I give the impression that I'm a stray, I'm not. I was born in the New York Public Library at forty-second street and fifth avenue back in 1999, but eventually found that the old book museum cramped my style, so I moved downtown to the Bobst. It's a cushy life with a low carbon footprint. NYU students are a constantly self-replenishing renewable resource and they bring with them an infinite supply of pizza, sushi, cold cuts, and beer. Most of the time, they don't even know I'm around and, when they do, they usually don't realize I'm a cat.
Oh, yeah. That's the other thing. When I choose to, I can turn into a human. I guess that sets me apart, too.
I discovered this trick a few years ago. I was prowling the stacks in search of any critters foolish enough to enter my demesne. As long as I keep to the shadows and the places between things, I can usually do so unobserved. But, a keen-eyed observer will occasionally pick me out and I might have to lay low for a few days while the librarians again assure everyone that there are no cats in the library.
This time, I must have been particularly inattentive, focused on some odd scratching noise that often presaged either a good meal or at least the chance to scare a mouse badly enough that it turns white. To a cat raised on Lombardi's and Toto Sushi, mice aren't a very appealing meal, but they do make awesome toys.
Anyway, like I just did now, I got distracted then and the next thing I know, I hear a girl's voice calling out "Hello." I look up to see who's spotted me and I see a freshman girl sitting on the floor in the French poetry section and it's obvious she's been crying - not in the way French poetry can make you cry either. Her face is blotchy, her eyes rimmed red and she looks just like a girl whose heart has recently been broken. Only, she's smiling to see me.
One always hates to see someone of such discerning taste so obviously sad and my own heart reached out to her. I desperately wished for a moment that I could talk to her, comfort her, and find out who'd made her so sad so I could shred his ears and crimp his tail (human anatomy was still a little vague to me at the time.)
As soon as I made that wish, I was human. I opened my mouth to ask her what was wrong and realized I should have wished to be a human with some clothes. Her eyes widened. She screamed and ran for the door. I quickly turned back into cat form and hid under the reference section.
I never did find out who she was or why she was crying, but at least I'm pretty sure she stopped once she started screaming. So, mission sort of accomplished. And I learned a new skill.
I spent the next several days sneaking into neighborhood stores like American Apparel and Banana Republic at night and stealing what I needed. I say stealing now, but I had no concept of theft at the time. Cats have one verb for stealing, taking, and buying and its most literal translation is "making should-be-mine mine."
I would eventually learn about both money and taste enough to replace my purloined wardrobe with a couple of Brooks Brothers suits and a tasteful collection of pieces from Abercrombie & Fitch, but that's another story. For the time being, all I really needed was enough clothes to pass for human when I returned to the library.
The first time one of the librarians informed me that there were definitely no cats in the library, but there might be a naked guy jumping out and scaring people, it was very hard to keep a straight face.
I spent the next semester hanging around the NYU dorms pretending to be from Moscow and studying in the United States. I had always been curious about people and this was a golden opportunity to meet some.
As fascinating as humans are in general, I find their sex lives really interesting. Cats are superior in most ways, but our love lives are usually wham-bam-wait-for-my-barbed-penis-to-shrink-enough-to-pull-out-of-you-thank-you-ma'am. Humans make sex needlessly complicated, but in the process they also make it endlessly fascinating. Cats don't have to deal with monogamy, in-laws, jealousy, or nationally televised paternity tests, but we also didn't come up with threesomes, fellatio, Craig's List, or fellatio, so I'd say we're about even.
Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed sex, as a cat, I enjoyed a challenge more and my first human form didn't provide much of one. I was as glorious a human as I am a tomcat and it was as easy as stealing fish at Fulton Street. One smouldering look from my piercing blue eyes and most coeds would fall on their backs with their legs open like it was a trick they were particularly proud of.
So, I graduated. If you were one of the people who met Tomov, the Russian guy with the blue hair, I had fun and I love you all, but he won't be answering any Facebook friend requests. Tomov doesn't exist anymore. My new human form is a bit older, a bit grayer, and a bit less wholesome all around.
If you've ever seen a dirty old man hanging around Washington Square Park trying to lure NYU freshmen into his van with locally-sourced organic cookies, that's me. The new persona and the van have really cut down on the number of girls who will talk to me, but they've greatly improved the quality. After a semester of being Tomov, I have all the stories I need that start with, "So, I went to this party and got really drunk and..." As entertaining as those stories are, they represent a limited subset of human sexual experience. Young women who have the audacity to follow an older man in a Brooks Brothers suit into a van and a lifetime of good advice be damned generally have the best stories and don't need to be drunk to acquire them.
In the van is a kitchenette where I provide the aforementioned cookies, a hot beverage, and occasionally other substances on request. Once I've fulfilled my duties as a host, I eventually explain that I'm an author and ask them if they have any good stories to tell me.
At no point do I specify that these should be sex stories. I may lure young women into my van, but there's no need to be creepy about it. Most of the best stories are about sex whether you specify or not.
I've written some of those stories down, changed the names and any identifying details, and posted them on StoriesOnline.net with some degree of success. Sometimes, I take the core drive behind a story and change all the details until even the original teller may not recognize herself. A few thousand people have read my stuff and seem to like it overall. The goal is to turn my hobby into a career and stop doing some of the odder odd jobs that currently keep me in suits, organic cookies, and tea.
Possibly as a result of my obsession, I have developed a keen sense of when people in the library are talking about or occasionally even having sex. I can be sound asleep in the literature section, but if somebody says the words "blow job" all the way over in philosophy, my ears perk up and I'm leaping from stack to stack to try to catch the rest of the conversation.
So, when I heard a woman say, "I told him he could finger-bang me for a B+," my attention was immediately piqued. Was a professor trading grades for sex and, more interestingly, was he using a sliding scale of increasingly better grades for more involved acts? Surely, there was a story there. But, the moment I glance over the edge of the books I'm perched on, I realize my mistake. The speaker is not, as I assumed, a dewy-eyed freshman with a keen negotiating skill, but a professor speaking to another woman I don't know. Suddenly, the story has gotten much more interesting.
The other woman laughs. "Why would you tell him that? You don't even like men?"
The professor, a woman past her prime, but hardly someone you would expect to have to negotiate for sex shrugs. "An orgasm's an orgasm. And besides, he already has a B-plus."
In the time it takes me to sneak into the men's room, change into Tom Frost, retrieve my clothes from a vent, and get dressed, I assemble the story - a piece called "Extra Credit." I sit down at one of the library's computer terminals and type out a broad outline in Google Docs, making sure to note the phrase, "An orgasm's an orgasm." If it doesn't make it into this story, it will show up somewhere.
Satisfied, I power down and head out, still in human form. Now that I've put on the suit I kept in the ducts, it will have to be dry cleaned and a replacement suit put back in the hiding spot I use. The librarian gives me a nod and a faint smile. She has, without my having said anything on the subject, decided that I must be a professor and that I belong in the Bobst.
Outside, I sit in the park and think about other plot elements I can combine with "Extra Credit" to make it a better story. I already like the story. The gender-reversal thing is good. Who says only female students ever try to earn better grades on their backs?
My thoughts are interrupted by a rustling in the high grasses. At this time of night, the rats come out in force in Washington Square. I like to look up and make sure they're not of the crazy shithouse variety that don't know well enough to stay away from humans or human-shaped cats.
What I see are two gray shapes streaking through the grass, a small one in pursuit of a bigger one. The bigger one Is running as if a pack of demons were on its tail.
My nose catches what the smaller one is a second before my eyes do. The little gray ball of claws and teeth is a kitten maybe a third the size of the rat it's chasing. Whatever instinct makes the adults of a species look out for the young grips me and, as they break free onto the path, I catch the kitten by the spot on the back of her neck that will paralyze any cat and pick her up, her legs still pumping for several seconds as she comes to realize she's no longer moving forward. She may have the rat on the run, but if it ever figures out what's chasing it and their relative sizes, the kitten could be in real trouble.
The kitten can't move, but she glares at me. I hold her up to look her in the face and get my next surprise. This isn't a little gray kitten at all, but a white Persian who's gotten so filthy I couldn't tell the difference. There are twigs, burrs, and bits of leaves in her coat along with some other items I'm afraid to identify. Whatever is going on here, I decide I don't want to deal with it out in the open. Still holding the kitten by its scruff, I tuck her into a coat pocket and walk quickly to my van. Only after I've climbed into the driver's seat do I pull the kitten out of my pocket and place her carefully on the passenger seat before releasing her.
"I almost had him!" she protests immediately.
"And what were you going to do with him?" I mutter. I'm speaking English, clearly to myself. I'll have to change if we're going to talk.
"I was going to eat him!" wailed the kitten. "I'm hungry!"
For a few long seconds, I don't answer. I've never met another cat that understands human speech. Finally, I blurt out, "You understand me? Can you turn human, too?"