Following the well-choreographed footsteps of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, a suburban field cat from New Jersey makes his way to the city of lights, love and fashion, exploring and exploiting all that France has to offer the jet set cat brimming with joie de vivre.
He sat on a windowsill looking out on a courtyard in the 16th arrondissement a few streets from the Champs Elysées. He was perched at one oh those floor-to-ceiling windows that opens out onto a small wrought-iron balcony suitable for the likes of only plants and cats. He watched as women with big hats and small dogs made their way home to his apartment building toting heavy bags of Parisian staples – Chanel, Valentino, Leger and Gualtier. The women cooed to their petits chiens – Lulu, Fifi or Coco. Reflecting on his year abroad, he closed his eyes and happily purred; what looked like a simple housecat was anything but.
Caramel Asher Tattinger, aka Cutes McGee, was decidedly not French by birthright. His beginnings were Hepburnesque: a cat without a name, a poor snob who didn’t belong to anyone and to whom no one belonged. He had spent earlier days in fields alive with poison ivy, pricker bushes, wild strawberries and honeysuckle, in soccer-mom suburbia. These fields encircled a 1970’s style development, Warhol-like structures in Crayola colors, each a variation on the other – in split level, ranch and colonial. Although the houses were colorful soup can clones, they differed as to the homeowners’ aptitudes for gardening and productivities for plastic lawn ornament – gnomes, frogs and flamingos.
During these vagabond days Cutes would hunt regularly in the fields but as a treat every Tuesday morning he would binge on the discarded snacks and peek at the Victoria’s Secret catalogues in those delightful tin cookie jars conveniently found at the end of each driveway.
How did this simple rogue migrate from the fields of New Jersey to an Ooh-la-la Right Bank apartment? One very memorable day a cartoon-like couple whom he had named “Big Hands” (the wife) and “Andretti” (the husband) for their most identifiable characteristics, had captured the curious fellow as he lingered too long at the trashcan. They had swept him into their lives, off to a New York City pieds-à-terre. There they lived happily for several months before the adventure was to take a new twist.
Getting into a Cruisin’ with Susan yellow cab, Big Hands exclaimed to her newest family member, “Cutes, we are moving to Paris – the City of Light, the city of love!” Her face crumpled a bit at her new typical stream of consciousness thought – “Now, I don’t want you to take up smoking!” Cutes, once in a bit of a rebel, fancied himself lounging in a street café, sporting a ginger goatee, smoking a Pall Mall and entertaining the patrons with repartee. Perhaps a titillating sneak peek into the Crazy Horse? It was true, sometimes Cutes forgot that he was neutered.
As the cab pulled up to the international departure terminal there was a moment of panic. Cutes could see Big Hands hesitate for a bit, looking back at the yellow cab. But this was it. Andretti, who had left several weeks before with Cutes’ Himalayan brother and sister – Little Brown and Little Blue, would be waiting for them at the other end. The cat trio had spent only a month together in the Big Apple, but they had become fast friends – family even. Cutes, who thought that he had loved and lost those two flat-faced felines to the allure of Paris, was now brimming with excitement.
Big Hands, glassy-eyed, walked slowly into the terminal and approached the counter with Cutes’ papers and the tickets. Without looking up a too heavily made-up woman with an unflattering frock cooed, “Mr. McGee, you will be sitting in seat 12A.” “Oh, there must be some kind of mistake,” said Big Hands, surprised. “No, no, there has been no mistake. Last seat on the plane and it’s yours,” she beamed at Cutes.
Big Hands knew they liked little dogs in France, but cats? This was unprecedented! So many other airlines certainly would have stashed him in the cargo bin. Cutes and Big Hands were thrilled with the prospect of a comfortable flight to Paris. They boarded the plane, took their respective complimentary copies of “Madame Figaro” and settled in for the long ride ahead.
Seven bags of peanuts, two soggy vegetarian meals, a handful of cat chow and several turbulences pockets later, they landed at Charles de Gaulle. Big Hands, now Grandes Mains, practically ran off the plane with Cutes in her arms. With smiles of anticipation the pair burst through the doors searching for the familiar face. Sure enough, there was Andretti, coolly awaiting their arrival on the other side of the gate. They embraced with Cutes flat in-between them.
They all piled into the car, which was barely big enough to fit them. It was a SMART, a tiny and colorful car, the result of a joint venture between Swatch and Mercedes, with a couture tag. The SMART was one of the trendiest rides in the city. There was clearly no place for the luggage, but Andretti had taken care of that. He had sent the bags ahead in a taxi, so that they might enjoy the tiny vehicle, a ‘mini-me’ of cars that whisked them away to the 16th arrondissement.
They screeched to a halt on the Rue de Bassano and parked perpendicularly with the two wheels on the sidewalk, a French parking technique perfected by Andretti. They then pried themselves from the car and proceeded through an iron gate and a courtyard before cramming into a pint-sized elevator. The tiny lift exhaled them on the third floor and Cutes came whiskers to wood with the double doors of his new apartment. Andretti produced an oversized key and click, click, voilà – Cutes found himself in his new home. Little Brown (Petit Brun) and Little Blue (Petit Bleu) scurried to greet Cutes with a typically French two-cheek air kiss.
Cutes was ecstatic that he would have companions, natives, (well close-enough) to explore the city and absorb the culture. He was anxious to hear about the glamorous life of a Parisian cat but, alas, the deux petits had not a story to tell, except about the explorations of the kitchen, sofas, and closets, where they liked to spend time nesting on black pants.
Disappointed, Cutes decided to investigate the cuisine, which he imagined was brimming with baguettes and fromage, Nutella and crêpes, good Bordeaux and fine Champagnes. Espying the typically American stash of Oreos, spray cheese and pop tarts, he muttered, “You can take them out of the country, but you can’t take the country outta them!”
Grandes Mains and Andretti bid the three chats au revoir and retreated to a sidewalk café for a tête-à-tête. Meanwhile Cutes caught up with the others and asked again, “but what do you do for fun around here?” Sadly enough, he learned their entertainment consisted of a few TV shows, American sitcoms, seasons behind, dubbed into French – Claire de Lune (moonlighting) and La vie de Cinq (Party of Five), to name a few.
“But besides TV, what else?” he persisted.
“Well, we play with our new catnip Jacques Chirac”, which replaced their worn and torn Bill Clinton and ‘Toss’ Perrot dolls), continued Little Blue. There was no doubt this bunch was politically savvy.
“But what of Paris?” Cutes implored the deux. The deux looked puzzled as if they had already answered the question. Cutes recalled an earlier heart-to-heart that had taken place in New York – these cats wanted to see the great outdoors but they had been so pampered, they had never ‘lived’. And they weren’t going to on their own!
Cutes, ever the organizer, decided to initiate an excursion, an awakening. That was the least he could do. They had provided him with an instant family and friendship; they had accepted him into their home. He would show them what they had missed – blue skies, green grass, concrete sidewalks and together they would stroll the streets of Paris, and indulge themselves in the restaurants, clubs and shops for which the city was so famous.
Cutes impulsively ordered, “Come on!” Noting a window slightly ajar, he did his best McGuyver impression and pried it open for a clean escape. He squeezed onto the thin windowsill and prepared for his next move. Cutes beckoned to the others and Brown and Blue tentatively followed until the three sat side by side, staring down at the courtyard. Cutes knew the pair was not about to shinny down the side of the building so another plan was in order. Responding to the light-bulb-shaped idea hovering above his head, he dashed beck into the flat and returned with one of Grandes Mains’s silk ball gowns, pilfered from the closet. He knotted the straps around the wrought iron rail. The three would be able to get their claws in and glide down like a pair of pantyhose, only with more resistance. It was better than testing the ‘4 leg theory’ on the two shaking fur balls, although there was that peaky problem of unsalvageable silk formal wear. Cutes hoped the Cyndi Lauper look would come back in! Safely down to the rez-de-chaussée the three bolted from the courtyard and sucked in their bellies to squeeze through the narrow bars of the iron gate.
On the sidewalk Brown and Blue suddenly stopped short, stricken like two deer in headlights. Their confidence had vanished. Inside they were accustomed to prancing on oriental rugs and posing on embroidered pillows, but now there were out. Cutes had to pinch both of them to get them moving. “Ouch,” they yelped unanimously and snapped out of the trance, ready to start the adventure.
The three ambled along the street looking in every direction… oops! Eeeewww!! Except down! No one had warned them of the indelicate practices of French canines. Parisian pet owners turn a blind eye to that kind of thing. It seemed almost absurd that one could be gazing into the Christian Dior or La Croix in the fashion capital of the world, and suddenly find oneself paw deep… French authorities address the problem by employing teams of time green – garbed workers with brooms who attend to the messes.
They turned the corner and found themselves on the Champs-Elysées in the shadow of a large Louis Vuitton store. Tourists were lined up with money in hand anxious to purchase the costly bags. Blue tried to join the throng but before she could blink. Cutes and Brown had buried her along down the avenue. The three steered clear of Italian leather shoes, trendy New Balance sneakers and sleek sidewalks scooters. The busy avenue could clearly be hazardous to the health of a cat.
Little Blue was the first to spot the famous eating establishment Fouquets on the next corner. Here they were certain to find scraps of foie gras, pâté and other entrails viewed as French delicacies. Blue’s eyes lit up, she exchanged glances with Brown, and they followed behind Cutes, who charged ahead under the big red awning.
Cutes took them on a circuitous path under chairs and between legs to a choice table, not yet cleared off, where they could feast on a plate of leftovers. They lapped the dregs in a wine glass and enjoyed lettuce saturated with dressing, remnants of chèvre chaud, real French fries, crevettes, and buttery haricots verts. Brown even mustered up his courage and sped off to a recently vacated table where he had spotted a lone profiterole, which they shared for dessert. They chatted the whole time, mouths full, and made plans to see by night the sparkling Eiffel Tower and to ride the Millennium Ferris wheel on some future excursion. The cats were relaxing, tired and full, when a menacing waiter in tails flew toward them holding a stale baguette like a bat! It occurred to them then that whereas animals are welcome in French restaurants, this invitation may not pertain to unaccompanied animals. Their meal was over, and these cats, who knew wall the reputation of French culinary genius, wanted to avoid the fate of the frog. The three dashed out and headed home, content in the knowledge that their first journey around the block would not be their last.
This fictional account, culled from a longer version contains an element of truth. A stray country cat, who in his formative ears subsisted on trash and the occasional field mouse, was spirited off to Paris. Today Cutes McGee lives comfortably with his family in Lower Manhattan.