Before my husband and I got married, we spent six months living in Kansas City, Missouri. We lived in a neighborhood that was, ah, un-gentrified. Sometimes we would sit on the porch of our awesome 1930's Craftsman bungalow (the 1930's being the era when this neighborhood was up and coming) and watch the neighborhood moms get in a fist fight in the middle of the street. One time, helicopters hovered over the neighborhood for hours, looking for a missing kid who turned out to be under his own bed. When he was found, another fistfight ensued as neighbors blamed each other for the panic.
One night when we had some distant KC-area cousins visiting, we were all surprised to see an ice cream truck come trundling down the block. The cousins, who lived in the nice part of town, were too polite to say what everyone was thinking: "Huh. You would think this neighborhood was too sketchy for an ice cream truck!" The truck--close up, it was decidedly maintenance-challenged--rolled to a stop in front of the house where the kid had hidden from the police under his bed. Kids came running from up and down the street. Then the ice cream man appeared in the window: wild haired, unshaven, and not wearing a shirt, he grinned at the kids with perhaps four teeth, and started taking orders. Abe and I and the cousins were pretty much speechless. My cousin finally said, "You would think the ice cream man would have to wear a shirt. " We all nodded agreement. You would think!
Also in this interesting neighborhood (which was undoubtedly the most diverse I have ever lived in, with every ethnic group, and everyone from new immigrants to families that had lived there for generations), I was one time solicited while jogging. The guy who invited me into his truck for a good time had the grace to be really embarrassed when he saw the look on my face, which expressed plainly: "Holy sh*t dude, do you really think I am a hooker running around the park in these ugly sweatpants?" He was like, "Oh, hey, ah, sorry, sorry, man!"
One thing we liked about this neighborhood was that since hardly anyone appeared to have a job, they kept a good eye on our house while we were out during the day, and the neighbors were reasonably friendly, with mostly presentable homes and yards. One family, however, was in a class by themselves. Our landlord, Steve, who lived next door, cautioned us to never have contact with the family in the house two doors down.
"And I mean, never," he said. "They make their living by suing people! They'll accuse you of anything. Don't even set foot on their property, and don't ever let their grandson Anthony into your house."
This seemed odd advice, until we met Anthony. He appeared at the kitchen door one evening asking what we had to eat. Forewarned by Steve, I physically blocked Anthony from coming into the kitchen. (He was probably between 6 and 9 years old--it was hard to tell because this poor kid's growth seemed stunted, his hair grew in different colors, and his eyes didn't always look the same directions.) I gave him some fruit, as suggested by Steve. The next night, we were sitting on the porch and heard Anthony announce to a group of urchins--"Hey guys, I know where we can all get some FREE FRUIT!"
One day, an ambulance came to take Anthony's grandmother away (she was perhaps 42 years old, but looked about 112). We later learned from another neighbor that while Grandma was hospitalized (after receiving a beating from Anthony's grandfather) she "fell" out of the hospital bed, broke her arm, and was now suing the hospital. Another day, the dog catcher came and removed a pack of tied up dogs from the back yard. The dogs jumped delightedly into the van--possibly, death was preferable to staying tied up in that back yard. Steve told us that the family let chickens inside their house and often didn't have electricity or running water. He and his brother tried to buy the house--but found out that for $30,000, it would be a complete loss.
Thus, one day when returning from a walk after work, I was completely horrified, but not very shocked, to see Anthony out in front of his house, throwing a live kitten against the side of his garage. He lobbed the kitten into the crumbling stucco wall, watched it fall to the ground, and would catch it again when it tried to run away. It was absolutely pitiful. I stood and watched the kitten--it was a little gray tiger cat with no tail--as tried desperately to get away from Anthony, darting in a new direction each time. Each time, he would catch it, laughing, and whip it at the garage again.
From my place on the sidewalk--warnings from Steve ringing in my ears--I yelled at Anthony: "Anthony, stop it! Let that cat go!"
Anthony turned around and stared at me, the kitten dangling in his hand. He grinned right at me, turned, and threw the cat again.
"Tiger likes it!" he said. The kitten stared at me, frozen and terrified, its eyes begging get me out of here. I stared at Anthony. He smirked, raised his hand, and threw the cat again.
I realized Anthony would keep doing this for my benefit--all I could do was walk away and hope he would get tired of it. I went home, but I kept returning to the window to check on Anthony and the cat. In a little while, Anthony moved to the back yard, where he continued to toss the cat in the air. I went to the back steps once and yelled at him again across Steve's backyard. He turned toward me, gave me the finger, and proceeded to shake the cat as hard as he could.
I went in the house and called Steve in tears. He warned me once again to not go over to Anthony's house or make any contact with the grandparents and said he would call the SPCA. I agreed, and stayed inside where I couldn't see Anthony or the cat.
Many hours later, I was sitting on the couch while Abe studied--totally distraught about the kitten--when I heard a noise. A tiny mew--it was coming from the front porch. I ran to the door and opened it. There, on the wide stucco wall of Steve's porch, scarcely 5 feet from our own, was the little tail-less kitten. He faced me, squeaking, trying to make the leap from Steve's porch to our own.
Without a single thought as to the consequences, I ran down the steps in my pajamas, crossed the driveway, grabbed the kitten, and brought him inside. I looked at an astonished Abe and said, "We have a cat now."
We had him for sixteen years.
We named him Indy, after Independence Boulevard (my ill-chosen jogging route!), which was the red-light district in Kansas City, MO--so we would always remember that eventful six months.
A few days after I snatched Indy off Steve's porch, Anthony appeared at our front door. I hid Indy, who followed me everywhere, behind my back as I opened the door.
"Hi," said Anthony. He had a black cat in his hands.
"Hi, " I said, peering through the crack in the door.
"Have you seen Tiger?" he asked. "I can't find Tiger."
"Nope," I said, while the cat-formerly-known-as-Tiger squirmed behind my back, "Haven't seen him."
"Oh, " said Anthony, "Well, do you want this cat? He's Tiger's brother, Killer."
"Uh--" I said confusedly, as Anthony shoved the cat at me. I looked desperately at Abe, who then darted in behind me and grabbed Indy out of the way.
"Thanks." I took the black cat.
Anthony said, "Can I have some fruit?"
I have often wondered what happened to poor Anthony, and have reflected on the fact that the dogs and the cats all fared better than he did. I would place money on him being in jail, a serial killer, or dead. If he is alive, he would be nearly 30.
We kept the black cat, too, and named him Puck. As it turned out, Indy was a pure Manx cat--we assumed his tail had been sadistically cut off, and perhaps eaten, by Anthony's family, but this was not the case. Manx cats have short front legs, long back legs like rabbits, and personalities more like dogs. Last spring, eighteen months after Indy died, we got ourselves another Manx cat. He acts a lot like Indy.