Meet 5 of the Bodega Cats Defending Ludlow Street [PHOTOS]
One of the greatest parts about being in the city with someone who WAS of legal age to drink was what we dubbed “The Deli Tour.” This form of partying involved sending an adult emissary into a bodega, where that person would purchase the appropriate number of beers in brown bags, always with a straw. Widely available and around the clock beer in the good State of New York is one of its many potentially damaging but fabulous qualities. And take advantage we did.
Moreover, having a sweet bodega cat to lavish my inebriated attentions on is one of the main triggers to a psychological condition of the post-teenage stupor: Deli Deja Vu.
My first full-blown bodega cat friendship started in Jersey City during my time as a broke college dropout. She was all black, had no name, and guarded the meager liquor and tropical soda selection at that shoddy establishment for as long as I stopped in for my cheap fifth of Jack Daniels to power the party commute to Manhattan. Times were recessionish back then, and she was a little thin, but I had already adopted the first friendly feline to follow me home from the train (Rest in Power, Chewbacca), and having a second was out of the question. I began to occasionally bring her treats and toys. This delighted the shop’s owners, who started to feed her enough to fill her out better, as I suspect the rodent fare was a bit too scarce to supplement her diet. I left Jersey City as personal matters deemed it too small of a lake for such a fish as my self.
Deli Deja Vu is a far less common phenomenon once you set about being a real grown up who doesn’t A) Drink on the street or B) Frequently consume enough alcohol to deem something as uneventful as going in a store as a profound mental manifestation. Most shops where this was observed are based around 1st and 7th avenues, respectively. Now as a sub-Houstonite, the delis are less of a place to embarrass oneself (in my case) and more of an opportunity to engage with its staff and kitties. Bodega cats don’t always have to reside in a proper bodega, and Ludlow Street is one example of a kitty family tree that has a long lineage of working cats.
Bodega cats are more than crazed rodenticidal security guards, they are beautiful beings with crates of love to give to the right patron. Some will scoff as these guys climb hither-nither over the celery and bags of onions, only to leave behind a trail of fuzzy dander. But when the head of celery was attached to dirt and earth itself, did creatures hirsute or bare skinned not touch its ribs? Get some fruit and vegetable wash and call it a day. Give them a light pat if they will accept it, and don’t bring your dog to a known cat territory. I love my dog, but she is not interested in conversing with these neighbors, as they always resort to hissing their negotiations.
Suspected father of the Ludlow Cats is one I have deemed “Elvis.” Elvis and I met about 4 years ago (one drunk night/morning, yadda yadda) when he was patrolling his grounds in the Hester Street area. He works for the Chinese baking company, who puts their pies out on milkcrates on the sidewalk to cool, where Elvis keeps dogs, rats, and other cheeky mammals from touching them. He is fat and orange and white, and the suspected chief tomcat of the block. He also guards the school across the street, and thanks to him, the heinous piles of school cafeteria garbage don’t have the complementary problem of rats scurrying to and fro around them. Elvis is a ham for attention, and can often be seen sprawled outside of Ludlow Studios with his friend, the Chinese man who plays the flute in the evening. He loves a good pet sesh and will follow you to the end of the block if you do not oblige his attentions.
I suspect his sons and daughters are a group of 4 kittens who were given to different businesses in the neighborhood. Ginger, the black and white gatekeeper of the 1 Essex bodega (aka Snowman Fruit Stand) is still around, but his brother who was a bit of an adventure cat took off a long time ago. Ginger has a loving family and enjoys a thorough scratching, but does not like dogs, so if you see her sleeping on the mangos, do not engage if you have your pup. Some friends of mine from the 7th precinct were horrified to learn that I buy fruit there with the cat who lays on everything, and I usually take their food advice- like never EVER eating at Roma Pizza, but Cops are notorious dog-lovers, and this reeks of “Catscrimination” and species profiling to me.
Lesser known but miles more friendly: Dirty Gaga. Dirty Gaga is the half indoors guard cat of a food distributor towards the end of Ludlow street, and he is absolutely adorable and a sweet soul. Dirty Gaga got his name for his vocals, which are as frequent as they are hilarious. Upon hearing the specific jingle of my 30-lb dog’s collar and harness, he runs outside to greet us, headbutting the dog and accosting me with face rubs. Three languages are spoken at this business – Chinese (not sure which dialect), Spanish, and English, and it is always remarked how much this cat loves my dog and me. They told me they called “her” Lady Gaga for all the singing, but I explained to them that mostly all orange cats are boys, and they had a good laugh. The “dirty” portion comes from this guy’s penchant for rolling in the dust and dirt on the sidewalk, muting his orange stripes with a fine coat of dust. He is my obvious favorite.
Though he only ventures as far as #19, nicknamed “The Eggman” by the block, is home to another suspected offspring of Elvis, the one with all of the skittish bones that Elvis and Dirty Gaga are lacking. I call this lil bub Cupcake, though he is not very sweet. I have never pet him, and he only comes out to hang out with his best buddy, the really nice Chinese man who drives the forklift and wears a red baseball cap. He is the only human I have ever seen touch Cupcake, and they have a special bond. Cupcake could be so skittish due to his co-worker: a fluffy Maltese mix who barks at everything that moves, ever, who resides in the office with Miss Shirley. Miss Shirley’s office in The Eggman warehouse is like an unofficial UPS store, as most package carriers forgo ringing buzzers for the entire strip of buildings in favor of leaving them with Miss Shirley, and placing a notice on our doors with a note that says “EGGMAN” on it. She sweetly keeps our amazon prime boxes safe and sound, and so does Cupcake, who has earned my respect, though I do not think I will ever succeed in petting him.
Being one of those people who fawns over the animals of complete strangers, I enjoy my VIP (Very Important Petter) status with the neighborhood cats. I never in my dreams thought I would consider the attention of a few charming street cats to be such a wonderful part of a day in the hood, but after Sandy and worrying about losing them all, I know that the little things are what makes each person’s experience so memorable. Bodega cats have always been keeping a little box in my heart warm and rodent-free, and I can always afford the time to give them a little scratch.
-Written by Danielle Guercio