The Austin City Limits Festival has come and gone in a haze of dust and alcohol, and as my time in Austin was drawing near an end, my biggest anxiety of the trip began to loom closer: picking up Gina’s cat, Rex and getting him back to New York. Not only would it be tough to feed a cat a sedative for the plane, and then stuff him into a carrier, but Rex is a flighty animal by nature. Add that to his being used to the freedom of a backyard for a few months and it means an unpleasant experience for me.
It was decided long ago that it would be better for Rex to not come along as we made our week-long exodus to New York. He’d have to endure long car rides, various hotel rooms and however long we’d have to stay at a friend’s place until we found our own. Even then there’d be the unpacking and painting for him to deal with. No, it would be so much better for him to be put through just one day of torture rather than two months of it.
On the fretful day that my host, Chad graciously accompanies me to go pick up Rex from Gina’s mom, I’m well beyond any initial anxiety and moved into suppressed dread. I had already sought the advice of Gina, other pet owners and even the internet for some secret trick that would make feeding the pill to a feline a breeze. Oh, so you just tilt his head back until his mouth practically swings open, toss the pill down his throat, stroke his neck, blow on his nose, nothing to it!
So Chad and I venture into the garage where Rex is holed up. It’s my hope that he remembers me from living together for over a year and the fact that I fed and pet him everyday. Spotting him behind a tool box, I crouch down and start calling him to come over to me. My hopes are raised when he steps out and then my hopes are quickly dashed when he completely ignores me and starts breaking for the door that we just walked through.
The next thing I know, Chad and I are both wrestling the cat into submission. Chad, who I forgot was allergic to cats, was bravely leveraging his weight onto Rex to keep him in position, while I was holding Rex’s head in one hand and using my other hand to pinch a pill in my index and thumb and pry his mouth open with my middle finger. After fifteen minutes of him trashing and growling at me, Chad and I look at each other exasperated. I let out a long breath and hold up the pill to see if Chad wants to give it a shot. He lets out a weary laugh and says "No way!" which is probably a lot more polite than how I would’ve responded if our roles were reversed.
Somehow after more thrashing, more growling and much more cussing, I manage to catch Rex by surprise and he swallows the pill. After that battle, getting him into the carrier was no problem so Chad and I celebrate our triumph with a McDonald’s breakfast.
It was my hope that Rex would immediately conk out and I wouldn’t have to stress for the rest of the trip. No such luck, he’s still darting his head around and letting out periodic meows. I deduce that A. the kitty valium is taking longer to kick in. B. the kitty valium is weaker than expected. Or C. Rex was being sneaky and kept the pill in his mouth long enough to spit it out when Chad and I weren’t looking. I’m trying to be optimistic that it’s A, worried that it’s B and really hoping that it’s not C. But it can’t be C because we held him for a while, and I stroked his throat and he did the licking his nose thing when I do the blow on his nose thing and the cat has to swallow when I do that. Right?
Well, whatever it is, all I have to do is get him past the security check, past the boarding people and onto the plane and make it through unscathed. All the while, I try to be discrete that I have a live animal in a big bag. I actually get onto the plane but while waiting for the people in front to get their bags in place, a seated woman spots Rex and coos, "Awwww! Whatcha got there?" I chime "A kitty!" in a sickeningly sweet tone to try and get on at least one person’s good side in case Rex starts wailing in flight. The woman lets out another "Awww!" and then her jovial face plummets into a suspicious glare and asks "Is she sedated?"
The plane takes off and lands in Houston without any incident. But the connecting flight to LaGuardia is delayed 90 minutes. Normally I’d just be annoyed, but today I’m more worried about any extra time I’m having to keep the cat locked up in a cramped carrier with sedatives (that he may or may not have ingested) rapidly wearing off. So I sit in the farthest corner so not to draw attention to Rex but also to keep away from the human traffic as much as possible to keep Rex calm. This provides the perfect view to observe a 40 year old man in a suit pick his nose while reading his USA Today. I crinkle my face in response as he gets his index finger past the first knuckle. I glance towards the CNN on TV just in time for him to scan around to see if he’d been caught in the act. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see that he’s satisfied that he’s in the clear and inspects his finger for any boogers. I spend the rest of the delayed time trying to get a view of his boarding pass and praying that he doesn’t wind up next to me.
As we finally board, Rex is definitely more animated. He meows at any jostling so it’s my hope that his calls get drowned out by the aircraft engines. He’s faint, but anyone near me will clearly hear him. I keep my eye on the people sitting around me hoping they pull out iPods or headphones to watch Jennifer Lopez’s hilarious dilemma in "Monster-in-Law".
After two hours, and the start of our descent, Rex has had enough. He starts meowing continuously but we’re close enough to landing that I don’t care to apologize to anyone. I get into the terminal and it’s shocking how loud an airport is when you hear it with new ears. Aside from the jets taking off every few minutes and the dull roar of people in the background, an airport is disturbingly noisy. Luggage wheels rumble on the tile, carts with loose wheels rattle on the asphalt, baggage claim buzzers drone on, and then there’s this one child who finds a way of entertaining himself by throwing a tin can onto the tile to hear the loud clanging as it bounces and rolls around. This is irritating enough to people, but I just wondered how many times Rex recoiled in terror as the kid tossed the can again and again. We’re beyond restraining the child, the parents need to be locked up and beaten.
Now that I’m at LaGuardia, my next task is to get to the apartment in the East Village. My weariness is begging for a cab. But my responsible side is telling me that I just spend over $200 in the last three days and I don’t even have a job. So I trudge over to the shuttle bus waiting area. Twenty minutes pass and no shuttle. Meanwhile, cab after cab goes by, laughing, just laughing at me. A man in a uniform comes out and one of the waiting travelers asks if the shuttle is coming. He gives a not very reassuring "Oh, yeah. It’ll be here in five to ten minutes." I pass the next few minutes by studying to shuttle sign and notice that the shuttle stops running at 8 pm, which is in ten minutes. In my head I start calculating whether or not that means that it’ll make rounds while it’s still in mid-route and what my chances of being in mid-route are. Just then another man in a uniform walks up and asks "You all bought your tickets yet?" Everyone shakes their head. He asks everyone where they’re headed. I say "Grand Central", another asian says "Port Authority" and a guy who looks like Paul Walker from the "Fast and the Furious" says "LaGuardia". When confronted with the fact that he said "LaGuardia" he laughs and says "No wait, I meant Grand Central." The uniformed man tells us to follow him and we all do, thinking that this is another helpful attendant who found a shuttle. Instead, he leads us to an unmarked, large extended-cab van with a black guy in a bandana at the wheel.
Now I don’t think I’m being racist by pointing out that he was black, since the uniformed man was black and I didn’t mention that. It’s just that the situation was getting surreal and not a little bit sketchy. Paul Walker nervously asks "This goes to Grand Central?" The uniformed man replies "Yeah, it’s faster than the shuttle." Ding, that’s all we needed. We all climb in. The driver starts the engine and proceeds to pull out five feet and stops. The uniformed man hops out to wrangle up more suckers and we sit in the van which smells like my uncle’s car that he had in the 80’s. That stale dusty smell. The silence and stillness gives me time to look out and ponder this situation. I’m seriously ready to make a break for it by jumping out of the van. Then the actual shuttle picks up the people at the spot we were just standing at and drives off. Paul Walker and I exchange worried glances. The scene with Ving Rhames and Bruce Willis in "Pulp Fiction" all tied up pops into my head. I start hysterically wondering if we all just wandered into something strange and dangerous and hope there’s no gimp involved. I shake my head thinking "Nah, that’s crazy. Not in real life." But then I remember all the News of the Weird stories that I ever read over the years. Crazy shit still happens. I’m sure the farmer who blew off his brother’s nuts was thinking that nothing crazy would ever happen to him.
Another five minutes passes and the uniformed man comes back with another unfortunate soul. We start to move out of the parking area and I can’t decide whether or not to be ecstatic or really worried. We drive in the rain. Since I don’t know my way into Manhattan, I concentrate on timing the trip in order to calculate what cab fare would be for the next time I end up in this situation. Then Paul Walker leans toward the driver and asks "What way are you getting into Manhattan?" Everyone else in the van looks up sharply. The uniformed man is clearly annoyed and retorts "What way do you get into Manhattan? We’re going the fastest way." Rex lets out a faint whimper and I think "I feel you, buddy. I feel you."
We make our way onto the bridge and everyone is visibly relieved. The man in the rear row is on the phone and mentions that we’re about to make it to Grand Central. The asian guy looks around and asks "Grand what? I’m going to Port Authority." The driver replies "Yeah, Port Authority. Same thing." and lets out a sarcastic cackle.
We arrive at our destination and hop out as fast as possible. The asian looks confused, and starts arguing with the uniformed man. I suppose I should’ve helped the guy out. But I wasn’t even sure what train to take from where we were at, and Rex had at that point taken up to meowing again. The trains were out of the question for me and I take the luxury of a cab the rest of the way.
In the end, Rex makes it safely to our apartment and has adjusted much more quickly than we had hoped. It feels good to have him here. It makes the place feel more like home. But I’ll be damned if I ever get on a plane with a pet again.