I saw a cat give birth today at my buddy Anthony’s apartment in Logan Square. Her name is Nezumi. Anthony named her. I found her and gave her to him. It was the dead of winter and me and my girlfriend, Rosa, were walking home from the semi-truck mechanic shop our bands practice in, down 18th Street in the frost.
Two cats were bounding towards us in the distance, one orange, one dark. The orange one ran off down the street. The dark one, a young calico, hid under a truck. I coaxed her out and she let me take her into my arms. She was covered in dirt and wet with snow.
I brought her into my building and kept her warm on the stairs while she purred relentlessly at my touch. I didn’t want to bring her inside the apartment because my girlfriend’s cat, Creepy, a tom cat tabby with patches and slashes of white fur, wanted to tear her to shreds with his claws. Eventually I brought her in anyway, so I could find a place for her to keep warm and sleep.
I sat on our couch and held her to my chest. The wooden couch was snapped and broken to shit from fucking on it too much over the years, and it was already old and creaky when Rosa bought it. And though it hurt my back to sit on that couch, the cat clung to me there for a good four hours while she purred and latched into my jacket with her nails. Before I knew it I had fallen asleep and woke up to growls and hissing in the sun rays of the early morning.
Nezumi was hiding in my closet among piles of dirty laundry. Creepy was stalking her. They hissed and exchanged blows. Nezumi refused to eat or drink and Creepy refused to calm down. I had posted a picture of my rescue kitten online and my buddy Anthony had asked to adopt her, so I told him to come by. Anthony brought over a carrier to pick her up in, but Nezumi dug her claws deeper into my chest and had to be pried off of me, crying, to be put inside the cage.
Two months later the vet had declared Nezumi ten months old and pregnant. I stopped by Anthony’s with my Minolta 35mm film camera and a roll of Kodak Gold 200 ISO. As I arrived she was pushing out the second kitten. One orange, one dark. She had her leg up in the air like a ham bone. The blind kittens slid around and squirmed back at her open vagina, like they missed the warmth of their mother’s womb. The remnants of their bitten off umbilical chords hung off their stomachs like exposed roots of a vegetable.
Anthony was bent over taking photos of the whole process with his ass up in the air and hanging out of his pants like a plumber. I reached over and let Nezumi smell my hands. She sniffed and blinked at me. I like to think she remembered. She looked fully grown then. Maybe the pregnancy forced that.
It was too dark for the ISO of my film. I watched the kittens blindly search for their mother’s nipples, mewing and screaming in high pitches while Nezumi breathed heavily and purred continually to comfort herself from the pain. Often she cooed to them or meowed to acknowledge us humans. Anthony set up a space heater. We stared at the miracle of life without much to say. I left after an hour and a half.
From there I went to Dante’s Pizza, then The Freeze ice cream stand. I took the Armitage bus east to Damen where I saw my friend Sara riding to work at her hair salon. We had just hung out drinking in a group at Reggie’s the day before for an art show Rosa was participating in. At the rooftop bar there is a basketball hoop surrounded fully by nets, overlooking the Green Line El Tracks by the State and Cermak station. I shot hoops non stop, ball after ball, practicing my form and slugging Old Style cans before going home.
Me and Rosa had been drinking for a solid six days straight at that point. The day before, Allie and her boyfriend, “SD Joe” came over to drop off some lighting equipment and an air fryer that they had stolen. They call him “SD” Joe because he was in the SD’s, a Chicago south side gang, the Satan’s Disciples. The guy was mangy like a dog. He talked to me about crimes he committed while I counted how many teeth he had left in his mouth.
Joe had been shot and stabbed in the head multiple times over his life. Many murder attempts had been made on his life. It was something he was proud to announce. He wasn’t scared but maybe he was too crazy to be brave. One summer the head gang banger put a hit on Joe. Anyone who could “whack” him would get a promotion within the gang. Joe invited the competition and spent most of his time around Pilsen in plain sight, getting attacked by thugs and kicked out of the local bars.
Joe was a dying breed. Last of the white gang bangers in Chicago. He was from Pilsen originally. A Mexican hood. But Pilsen was originally a Polish and Czech community, hence the name derived from the city of Pilzn and Pilsner beer.
He explained to us that he killed his first man at the age of eight years old. His family were criminals and murderers. He was born into it and went extra hard to live the lifestyle in attempt to scare his two brothers out of it. “It’s too late for me, “ he told me, “But I can still change them.”
“Aren’t you scared to die dude? Your practically throwing your life away,” Rosa badgered him.
“Dying is the only thing guaranteed to us in life. So why be afraid of it?”
The first guy he killed was running away from him and his family. He took the gun out of his father’s hand and aimed. The bullet went up his ass and out his stomach. Killing was natural for him. He confided that he would even kill his own mother. “Fuck that bitch,” he added. He bought her a house and moved her out of the neighborhood with his dirty money but he could never forgive her for his childhood.
Joe once killed a guy then casually explained the situation to the dead guy’s mother at her home the next day. “This is who we are. We’re thugs. This is how we die.” He paid for the funeral. She invited him to attend, so he did.
SD Joe wasn’t scared of cops. He beat them up on occasion. He tested them. He’d talk shit and smack their guns away, always fighting against their arrest. They had put him and Allie in a holding cell after a random arrest. He told the cop that he would get out of that cell and whoop his ass, and the cops just laughed in his face and told him “Good luck.” So Joe ripped down the sprinkler system off the ceiling and flooded the jail with water. They had to take the prisoners out while they fixed the issue. As they did so, Joe clocked the cop in the face and whipped his dick out to piss on him before being subdued.
The guy had pulled guns on some of my friends. On others he had pulled knives. Rosa thinks its his deranged way of bonding with other men. That night he was seemingly taking a liking to me. We were joking and laughing until it abruptly stopped. “If you ever hurt Rosa,” he said to me, “ I’m going to murder you.”
“Bitch! What if you hurt Allie? You know what I’m gonna do to you?” Rosa shouted in his face.
“Man, I punch that bitch in the face!” he admitted at the end of an incoherent drunken shouting match. Then Allie fell into a bunch of Rosa’s house plants, all wasted and drugged up. “Equal rights, equal fights” Joe kept repeating as justification between dropping rounds of “N-Bombs”.
“You’re a musician right man?” he switched his focus back to me, “I’m gonna cut off all your fingers and toes and break your legs so you can NEVER play guitar or drums again.” I didn’t say much, but I looked him directly in the eyes the whole night while he talked shit and threatened my life.
“I’ll choke Skater Joe to death if I see him around Pilsen without a camera!” SD Joe explained, while demonstrating a lethal choke on me. “See you gotta press your fingers here on the throat to make it a slow and painful death.” he added, pressing his thumbs into me. It was 3AM on a Monday and 80’s house music vinyl was blasting through the apartment on my stereo system way too fucking loud, while Allie and Rosa danced around shouting things that weren’t words. Joe kept pressing into my neck to test me. I sneered and looked into his eyes, unimpressed while I suffocated. I could see in his eyes he started to feel awkward about it and he let me go.
The other guy he wanted to kill, “Skater Joe” was Rosa’s abusive ex-boyfriend. It was another reason SD Joe was called SD Joe, to distinguish the two maniacs. A lot of people in general wanted to kill Skater Joe. He was a known motherfucker. A button pusher. I’d seen him jump people outside bars, but use the back door to escape at others when people called him out for a fair fight. SD Joe had eyes out for him on the streets of Pilsen.
At this point Allie kept falling into shit in the background of our droning conversations. That all stopped when she passed out shitting on our toilet. There is no light in our toilet room. I call it a “toilet room” because there is no sink and there is no shower. Just a toilet and darkness. And the door barely closed all the way on top of that. It let just enough light inside to see all the Rolling Stone and Thrasher magazine cut out pages of bands and skaters taped up all over the walls.
“I’m gonna kill yer ass when you least expect it,” Joe continued on and on, “Or maybe I’ll take you outside and just hurt you real good.” Joe was well known for his heavy hands and his one punch knockouts. He didn’t see himself losing a fight with anyone.
“Maybe I’ll lose,” I told him, “I don’t care. I’ll still fight you for the principal of it.” I don’t think anyone had said that to him before by the confused look on his face.
“Then you’re a real man,” he said, “But I’m still gonna hurt you.”
“I’m gonna murder you.”
“Understood.” I kept looking him right in the eyes. He turned his head away and muttered about the ways he would kill me. I just kept staring until he went back to the kitchen.
They left eventually after three goodbyes and headed up and down our front stairs and back into our apartment to piss two times. SD Joe had a gray wagon parked out in our hallway. It was one like you would put your kid in on a suburban 4th of July during the parade. He carried Allie down the stairs then threw her passed out in the wagon and wheeled her limp body away down 18th Street, holding Rosa’s bottle of cheap white wine up to his mouth to take long swigs. I slammed the door behind them. Back in our bedroom Rosa vomited red wine into a trash can for the rest of the night until she felt good enough to fall asleep.
The next day I got my Covid shot at the United Center, where the Bulls and Hawks play. I took a nap in the afternoon and woke up with twenty minutes to get there on time for my appointment. All the emotion I suppressed the night before came out in a rage of curses while I struggled to find a Lyft over there.
“Bus in two minutes,” Rosa informed me. I ran out the door and down the street. At 18th and Damen the bus had already arrived. I sprinted out into the middle of the intersection past zooming cars, shouting, and jumped in front of the moving bus before it could fully pull away. It screeched to a stop and drivers honked. I stood at the door feeling manic. It didn’t open. Then reluctantly, the bus driver conceded and let me on.
“You’re lucky I let you in after that stunt you pulled,” he grumbled.
“That’s cool,” I mother-fucked him.
“You’re a real jerk,” he frowned at me as I made my way to an open seat.
At Madison Street I pulled the chord but stayed in my seat until the doors opened, and sprinted out in case he would try and mother-fuck me back by skipping my stop. The Covid vaccines were being distributed in tents by the US military down the street in the parking lot across from the stadium. I followed the steel herding gates from check point to check point showing my pass alongside a horde of Chicagoans getting ready to be poked in the arm.
Eventually they sent us to a tent filled with medics sitting at tables with civilians receiving the Pfeizer shot #1. A lot of the military guys around there liked me and were getting real friendly. I had a shaved head exposing my forehead tattoo, and had visible tattoos on my neck, throat and hands as well. Over my shirt I wore a Danbury Trashers crew neck UHL hockey sweater. It was straight 50/50, I got compliments and conversation from the vets and curious stares from the civilians.
My brother had been a marine. It seemed a lot of his friends and other military guys enjoyed treating me like a little brother. They were a different breed of maniac. But there was a crossover to our mindset. I think they liked that I was also a crazy white boy.
The day’s experience had reminded me that I get into a lot of weird situations on the bus around town. For one, there is a guy who tries to fist fight me whenever he sees me heading North on the Damen or Ashland bus. He starts yelling then puts his fist up and tries to juke me out. Usually the driver has to get involved and diffuse everything. The guy seems mentally ill, but always remembers me and singles me out. It’s an ongoing problem.
A few weeks back, on the Ashland bus, an old man was talking some petty shit to the bus driver from his seat. Rosa had enough and started screaming at him. “Shut yo bitch ass up! He’s doing the best that he can!” The old man turned to her and started yelling back and it turned into a shouting match.
“I’m having a bad day! I’ve been riding the fucking CTA all day and it’s fucking bullshit!”
“You’re having a bad day! I’ve been riding the CTA too! Fuck you!”
He started calling her a bitch and getting threatening. I could tell he was getting ready to punch her out. So I jumped up on the bus seat and hung off the upper ceiling bars behind Rosa, like a monkey, with my right fist up and ready to pounce on him. He looked to me and back to Rosa and his voice grew quiet.
The people in the back of the bus could only hear cursing and see the words “WASTED YOUTH CREW” in sports block print on the back of my Blood for Blood varsity jacket. My mohawk was pulled back into my Scally cap and hung out the back like a gang banger “Latin Shag” haircut, so I kind of looked suspect. It wasn’t the ideal way I wanted to represent myself. I didn’t really think about that until after the incident.
The old man sat back down then got off at the next stop. I looked him in the eyes and raised my hand lazily in a wave. “Well I’m getting off here. Good luck brother. You gotta deal with that bitch,” he said in a defeated voice.
Then today, heading home on the Damen bus from the North side for the second time in one day, this time with Rosa, an old black lady saw too tiny light skinned Latina teens get on in Wicker Park and try and sit down behind her. “Get the fuck away from me, bitch! You can’t sit here! I need this space for my arm!” the old lady yapped at them. She was laying across two seats, had her arm extended across two other seats, and had a cart and bags across two others.
Every rider who got on she was talking shit too, yipping and yapping, barking curses and nonsense. Between stops she turned from person to person staring down the whole bus. Eventually another old black lady about her size got on and sat in the forbidden seat behind her. Instead of following through on all her stares and threats, the first lady got up and started slamming shit around in a little tantrum and pouted in the corner.
“That’s one big fucking baby!” I called out from two seats away, watching the sour old lady. Rosa slapped my hand and told me to keep my cool, even though she was trying to beat a girl’s ass for hitting on me at Liar’s Club the night before.
Us and the old lady got off at the same stop in Pilsen and she started mouthing off again, but couldn’t walk very fast. I took Rosa’s advice and walked away, leaving her in the dust with her cart and bags. “She’s gonna die soon anyway, acting like that,” I reasoned, “Life will take care of her…Actually, it already has.”
Now I’m getting all these Instagram messaged about the kittens and their mother, Nezumi, while I sit next to Creepy, the tom cat tabby cat, and play with his face and stroke the fur on his back. I’m looking at a photo Anthony sent me on my phone of Nezumi laying on her side while her four kittens, two orange, two dark, suckle on her protruding nipples with their eyes stuck shut.
I like cats. I like the way their fangs hang out of their lips under their jowls. I like the way their eyes grow round like marbles in obsession, and shrink from a psychedelic black, green, and yellow universe to an ominous unfocused slit when they relax. I like that cats know they can kill so they don’t need to be loud. It’s actually better for them when things are quiet. And I like when Creepy lays against my face in bed at night and his body gently purrs me into a deep sleep, transporting me far away from the bullshit of this rotten city.