cat arrives unnoticed. It settles quietly on the old fire escape beneath the fourth
floor's windows, where it stays put and waits.|
Unaware of its existence, Bunny is spending the afternoon doing her vocal exercises. "I'm eeeeeveeery womaaan..." The sounds travel through apartment 4B up to 5B, down to 3B, out the door, into the corridor, and back again. Bunny takes a deep breath and continues full volume: ''It's aaaaall in meeeee..." When the last of the echoed sounds comes back she swears she can hear wailing. She tries once more, "I'm eeeeevery womaaaan." Again, she can hear a high- pitched cry on top of the last note. "That ain't me, I never sound that bad!" Bunny reassures herself. She moves into the inner sanctuary of her windowless bathroom where, hopefully, she can carry on being all woman without the noise.
She takes a deep breath in front of the bathroom mirror before starting on 'Love and Happiness', her favourite song. A real show stopper if ever there was one. The other numbers are all crowd pleasers, renditions of old Aretha, Billy and Smokey classics, but 'Love and Happiness' is where Bunny can really let go. It shows her range. She feels every one of its notes, experiences every emotion. She perfected it with every show until Desmond, her keyboard player, complained there was nothing left for the other songs. "You put so much soul into it girl, we got nowhere to go from there..."
He often urged her to write other songs, hoping for enough material to record a demo tape. But it wasn't easy. Nothing she ever wrote sounded as good or came remotely close to 'Love and Happiness', and soon Desmond gave up on asking. 'Love and Happiness' is her only song. It comes from within. Sure, she may have silicon breasts, weaved on hair and the stick on nails, but beyond all that there's a part of her that's for real. And with 'Love and Happiness' is as real as she gets.
Bunny belts out the song's first few bars then suddenly stops. The piercing sound is coming through again from somewhere outside. She rushes into the bedroom and leans from the window facing the back of Henry St. On the old iron staircase a small black cat is arching its back. Bunny backs off from the window. Out of sight, she starts humming. A cat's piercing cry begins to accompany her.
The evening's first booking is at the Q-Bar down on 7th, where Bunny has to struggle with feedback from the mike and the drunks are too drunk to tip. Still, it is a Tuesday night, and nobody ever expects anything good to happen on a Tuesday night down on 7th. Desmond seems to think there are worse places to play, although both agreed the list would be small.
The night's second booking is at 'Mr. Lin's Happy House', a Chinese joint on Bleeker Street. There is the take-away area at the front, a dining area in the middle, and a cabaret area in the back below the staircase, leading to what must be the cards-playing area, thinks Bunny. "Good use of space," she tells the harassed looking waiter whose path is now blocked by Desmond bringing in their equipment. "I'm not sure how well soul music goes with Chinese food," she tells Desmond. "It goes down well with soul food, Jack Daniels and black coffee, I ain't never tried it with soy sauce." She sometimes feels sorry for Desmond who, unlike her, is unable to see things in context, and never gets the whole picture. The mostly male clientele dine noisily throughout the set, occasionally stopping to ask if she knows any Madonna songs. "Junk music for junk food," she explains to Desmond in the cab on the way back.
The following morning the cat is still there. She tries not to look. When she finally does, the cat stares at her with a challenging 'what-are-you-looking-at?' look she has been known to use herself. She runs down the four flights of stairs. There is no need to knock as the door at 1B is always open. Mrs. Johnson is sitting in her hallway watching the people come and go.
"Know anything about a black cat?" shouts Bunny (you have to get straight to the point with the hard of hearing).
"No," says Mrs. Johnson, "And don't go feeding it, you ain't allowed no pets."
"As if," says Bunny.
"And don't think you can go out there , breaking your leg or somethin' on that old fire escape, thinking you can sue the landlord. It won't wash." Mrs. Johnson is now raising her hand signalling she had spoken.
Their Wednesday night gig is at a midtown bar on 48th St., generally a safe bet. Bunny, who by now is taking no chances, does her 'vocals' in the ladies' room where no cat can hear her. The after-work crowd is already dwindling by the time a drunken Desmond arrives, asking Bunny for money to pay the cab. A few numbers into the set, Desmond is hitting more wrong notes than right ones. Bunny decides to brave it no longer, opting for a quick finalé. Management seem rather understanding, switching the Karaoke machine back on.
When on Thursday morning the cat is still there Bunny despondently climbs back into bed, where she lays flat and stares at the sky painted on the ceiling. She picks a star and tries to focus. She begins to think the cat's ominous presence might be the deliberate act of an enemy. She runs through her list of potential suspects. Most of whom are not together enough to cast a spell this strong, she concludes. Although Mrs. Johnson cannot be ruled out.
By midday, she is desperate enough to call her Aunt Emilia who lives in Chicago. "Now don't go freaking out like ya always do, they can smell fear you know." Aunt Emilia goes on to recall how the Reverend James would always say the best way to beat the devil was to look him straight in the eye, calling the Lord's name for inner strength. Bunny isn't sure she's got enough inner strength to enter a staring contest with the cat-from-hell so early in the morning, but she does think there might be something in her aunt's smell theory.
"Now Patrick who'd ya look like nowadays?" enquires Aunt Emila by way of good-bye. "You lookin' hot?"
"Foxy Brown, you heard of her?"
"Sure, she rocks!" says Aunt Emilia, who in her time has been known to sport one of the largest proudest afros ever seen south of Brooklyn.
Bunny gets dressed up in no time at all, then walks purposely the four blocks from her house to Lexington St., singing 'Love and Happiness' all the way. She decides to overlook Tuesday evening's Chinese experience and swallows her pride as she ring the bell on 'Mr. Fu's Chinese Medicine' shop door. A notice in the window reads: "SMILE! YOU'RE ON VIDEO SECURITY CAMERA" and she quickly obliges with a sweet smile.
"I'd like some of your foulest, stinkiest, most overpowering incense please," says Bunny, once inside, to the young Chinese girl with a bleached-blond short haircut wearing a "MR. FU CAN HELP U" T-shirt. "...the kind that can make cats run away."
"Our products aren't tested on animals, but I believe this one to be particularly strong." The girl offers Bunny a bunch of incense sticks tied in a ribbon printed with the "MR. FU CAN HELP U" house motto.
"I'll take two," says Bunny, "Cool hair," she adds as she waves good-bye to the girl in the shop.
Back home, the little red light flickers on the answering machine. There is only one message, the Bar on 48th St. cancelling tonight's booking due to "unforseeable circumstances". Bunny is almost grateful, except she could sure do with the fifty bucks plus tips she would have made. She quickly lits her entire stock of incense sticks (this is no time for half measures), then waits until the white smoke gets so dense she can no longer watch the TV. She flings open the bedroom window, then flees outside. "Pest control!" Bunny shouts at a worried looking Mrs. Stavinsky coming out of the elevator, and presses the ground floor button.
The next hour is spent at the coffee shop across the street, waiting for the smoke to do its thing. When she gets back to the flat, the pungent smell is everywhere and the smoke has all but cleared. Bunny goes to the bathroom and sprays herself generously with Canal St.'s own version of C&G before entering the bedroom. Finally, she glances out of the window. The cat is still there. Two stories up, a small cloud of white smoke is gently drifting past Mr. Isaac's windows.
"Damn! I ain't never gonna get rid of that cat!" cries Bunny. Then she tries to focus once more and picks another star. Twenty minutes later, she is scribbling away furiously on the back of a "Bardin St. Housing Action Group Newsletter" she has yet to read.
When the man in the photocopy shop starts filling out an order form Bunny politely points out that this is unnecessary. No financial transaction is about to take place, she explains. She is trying to save an innocent animal. If he cares at all about nature, which quite frankly she doubts , considering the amount of dead trees his photocopy joint consumes, he'd be willing to help her out. Does he realise the damage caused by his environmentally-unfriendly shop? she continues, only this time louder. The man, knowing she is prone to repeat her views to the other customers, concedes defeat, "OK lady, I won't be charging ya, but this is absolutely the last time I'm doing this." He has previously been bullied by this fierce looking lady into printing the show's flyers for free in the name of "helping community arts". He hands her a set of copies, printed on the back of some documents. Bunny holds them up high for all in the shop to see. "Recycled paper, this is sooo neat!" she informs the assembled crowd. "Oh yeah, and the service here is great, too."
By four o'clock that afternoon every tree between Lexington and Henry St. proudly displays one of Bunny's notices: "ONE SMALL, BLACK CAT FOUND ON MONDAY IN THIS AREA, OWNER PLEASE RING: 789-5532, (urgently!)" written in thick, large rounded letters. "Printed at CopyLand 196 15thSt. ,Photocopying, faxing & helping the environment." added at the bottom in a different handwriting.
The next few days yield nothing but people trying to sell her insurance over the phone and a couple of heavy breathers. It isn't untill Sunday when progress is made.
"Hi." The man's voice is soft.
"Hi," says Bunny, donning her best voice. "Whom am I speaking to?"
"Jacob O'Reilly, I'm ringing about your ad."
"Your kitten's sitting outside my window waiting for its Papa."
"I could come over and collect Rio straight away, Ma'am."
He doesn't sound like a brother, thinks Bunny, and he could be a weirdo. His cat is weird enough, and what kind of a name is Rio for a cat anyway? What if it is more bad luck knocking on her door?
"Listen Jacob, this ain't nothing personal but you could be anybody, know what I'm sayin'? How about I bring Rio over to your house? Now, where d'ya live?"
"Corner of Mission and Fifth mostly."
"We'll be there Jacob, now don't go away..."
She leans out from the window, calling the cat's name: "Rio! Rio come here baby! come to Mama!" But Rio seems rather oblivious to having her name called out.
A plan has to be devised. There is no way she is going out there on the old fire escape to fetch the cat. A leg cast in plaster would seriously hold back her career even further, which was probably the Rio creature's intention all along. She asks herself who would be foolish enough to go out there? She is about to reach for the phone to summon Desmond over a.s.a.p. when she realises that a Desmond in plaster wouldn't exactly do much to enhance the act either. She'll have to ask someone in the building. Since no such thing as neighbourly love has ever existed at 38 Bardin St., she decides to delve deep into her handbag where she knows there is still a ten dollar bill waiting for a worthy cause. She grabs the ten dollars plus a couple of bucks in loose change (prices tend to escalate at 38 Bardin St. once people know you are in a tight spot) and heads over to the Murphy's flat on the top floor.
A Murphy kid answers the door and Bunny can see that Mrs. Murphy, who is holding the latest Murphy baby, is busy watching 'Oprah' on TV whilst the other Murphy kids are running wild all over the place. Bunny asks the kid at the door to fetch the two eldest siblings. Murphy kids one and two say they are up to it, but payment would be required in advance. Bunny waves the ten dollar bill in front of them, maintaining it is payment on delivery or no deal. Murphy kid one and Murphy kid two then close the door for a private consultation. When the door reopens, Murphy kid one says they would need a dollar each as retainer, and Murphy kid two said Bunny would also have to supply a cardboard box. Then they all shake hands.
It's a simple plan: Bunny is to divert the cat's attention by singing from her window, while Murphy kid one climbs from the Murphy's window to the top of the fire escape. At the same time, Murphy kid two is to go down the backyard guarding the bottom of the stairs, thus blocking all the cat's escape routes. 'Operation Rio' goes extremely well. As soon as Bunny starts singing ("looove and haaaapiness, thaaaat's aaaall I neeed...") the cat is crying along. It is still wailing when the Murphy kids grab it, although less so once it is shoved inside a 7-11 cardboard box. "You've done this before!" says Bunny. "Ten dollars, now!" says Murphy kid one, and Murphy kid two hands her the box on which a big damp patch is beginning to appear.
The spell is about to end, she tells herself. Everything will soon be back to normal. She'll be able to do her vocal exercises. They will get bookings at more upmarket joints. They will get reviewed in the Village Voice. She will get inspired to write enough material for 'Love and Happiness: The Album'. This was just the bad patch she had to go through in order to be able to fully appreciate the good patch which is surely just around the corner . Now all she has to do is get the cat over to the corner of Mission and Fifth St., where the flake who called claims to reside.
Bunny doesn't have to search amongst lower Fifth's street life for too long, before she spots Jacob O'Reilly or rather she spots three cats napping on a tatty bit of carpet. A thirty-something, hippyish, white guy holding a saxophone is sitting cross-legged on the pavement nearby. "Jacob?" she says and the man smiles.
Bunny puts down the cardboard box with the holes in it. Jacob O'Reilly then opens it to let his cat out. Rio doesn't leap out or anything, just stands in the box. Then, paw after paw, she emerges, rather elegantly notices Bunny, before settling down on the bit of carpet where her brothers or sisters are sprawled. All this time she never even once looks at Jacob O'Reilly. 'That cat has a serious attitude problem,' thinks Bunny.
"Thank you, this one is for you," says Jacob O'Reilly, ready to play.
Bunny notices there are some coins on the bit of cat-infested carpet.
"No really, it's my pleasure," she replies, as she is glad she had managed to dump the cat.
'I hope he doesn't expect me to give him anything. It's supposed to be the other way round. It's usually the finder who gets a reward. Trust my luck...,' She waves her good-byes as Jacob O'Reilly starts playing his sax. Then she freezes.
"Daaaah dee Daaaah, Deee dah Daaaah..." The familiar sounds continue and Bunny cannot believe her ears. "Deeeaaaaah de Daaaah..." This isn't really happening to her. It can't be, she tells herself.
"Dum dee dum Daaaah..." He's playing 'Love and Happiness', he sure as hell is playing it, she keeps repeating to herself.
"Stop!" she finally yells, tears now rolling down her cheeks. "How do you know this song?"
Jacob O'Reilly puts down his saxophone looking somewhat confused.
"Where did you hear that song?" cries Bunny.
"Just somethin' I wrote myself. You dig it, uh?" says Jacob O'Reilly in his gentle voice.
Bunny, who has met plenty of bullshitters in her time, looks deep into Jacob O'Reilly's blue eyes yet she already knows he isn't lying. His is an innocent face. She looks at his cupid-bow full lips and she can just tell no lie had ever passed them.
That's what it was all about! The cat came over to reclaim the song she tells herself. It was never her song, that's why she could never write anything as beautiful! She never had it in her. She must have heard Jacob O'reilly playing it from a street corner while she was just kidding herself all that time. Desmond was right. She is destined to sing other people's songs. Bunny brakes down in tears and Jacob O'rielly helps her sit down on a bus bench.
"How 'bout some coffee?" says Jacob O'Reilly, now back with a styrofoam cup. "Thank you," she takes a long sip, hands still shaking, then swallows hard. "I've written lyrics to your song. Would you like to hear them?" and before Jacob can reply, Bunny cues him on. "Please start playing." She stands up to sing 'Love and Happiness' accompanied by Jacob O'Reilly's saxophone sounds. Bunny has never heard herself sing it as beautifully as on that afternoon. Frenzied shoppers now stop in their tracks. Once the tatty bit of carpet is full of coins, she takes a large bow and thanks the crowd.
"We need to get you some new clothes," she tells Jacob O'Reilly. "Image is everything in show business."