I was cleaning out my desk years back, rummaging through assorted memorabilia, when I found a composition I’d worked on when I was in elementary school. Curious what my writing was like at that age, I flipped through the worn and yellowed hand written pages.

What I found was a story I’d forgotten ever working on, a story told to me by my grandmother, Sarah, about a house cat named Young Griffo — named after an Australian prizefighter famous over a century ago — that lived in my grandparents’ Brooklyn, New York house when my mother was a child.

Cats can be independent and ornery … just like libertarians. Maybe that’s why independent and ornery writers beloved by libertarians — notably Ayn Rand, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Neil Smith — have often enough lived with cats.

Both my grandparents and this feline have long since since passed away (my mom is still here and at the moment watching Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?, and I recount it here — never before published — just as Grandma told it to me as a kid.

What Did That Crook Do Now?
Sarah Lindenbaum
as told to J. Neil Schulman

As far back in my life as I can remember, I have always been living with one or more cats. There has been one cat, however, which has remained in my memories far beyond all the others combined.

When my son, Murray, then eight years old, brought home a kitten, I wasn’t very much surprised — homeless creatures were always finding asylum with us. Her face was as beautiful as the rest of her, she had big green eyes with bushy white eyebrows, thick white whiskers, and her body was orange and white, with a tail alternately ringed with those two colors. Her front paws were also white, with her back paws orange, and she was so small that we put her on the turntable of my Victrola and watched her spin around. She was just like a toy.

If at that moment, we’d had any idea of the unending misery and aggravation we were destined to go through because of that cat, we wouldn’t have kept her in the house for five minutes. It was because of her great beauty, however, that we kept her for twelve years.

When she was about four months old, Murray named her “Young Griffo” after the famous prizefighter. Before that we’d just called her “Kitty” or “that cat.” She won her name because Murray discovered that she had the talent of sitting up on her haunches and actually boxing like her namesake, but it didn’t take long to find out the kind of personality with which we were dealing.

We lived then in a one family house, part of a private community called Sea Gate in Brooklyn, New York. My parents lived on the downstairs floor with my sister Rose — at that time still single, and I lived on the upper floor with my husband Sam, Murray, and his three year-old sister, Betty. It was an open household — both families had access to the upper and lower floors.

Young Griffo started the practice of running to the icebox every time she heard its door open. Murray and one of his friends took advantage of this and decided to have a little fun with her — they would take an old sheet which one of them would hold across the door separating the dining room and kitchen, while the other would take the cat into the living room, then return to the kitchen and open the ice box door. Young Griffo would rush in from the living room through the dining room, and instead of stopping at the blockade, would jump right over it! Each time the boys did this they raised the sheet slightly, and by the time Young Griffo was full grown, she could hurdle almost any obstacle.

One of the first problems we had with Young Griffo were her habits — she chose a chair in the living room and started using it as a scratching post. Even worse was the difficulty we had in house breaking her — most of the time she used the stair carpeting. I used the strongest smelling disinfectant on the carpeting in the hope of dissuading her of this practice — but to no avail. You can imagine my embarrassment when I invited some friends over for coffee and cake, one summer afternoon, to find her decorating the carpeting again!

Needless to say, we eventually had to get rid of both the chair and the carpeting — but not the cat.

These beginning problems were a pure pleasure compared to what we went through starting with her first litter. She’d chosen to keep her kittens in my bedroom closet, disregarding the place we’d made for her and the kittens in the bathroom. No matter how may times we put the kittens in the bathroom, she would carry them, one by one back to the closet. It finally got so bad that we had to keep our bedroom door closed at night, but even this didn’t stop her — she’d pound on the door with such force that it would wake up the entire household. When my husband would come out to “shut her up” — she was nowhere to be found, but as soon as he went back to bed, the racket started all over again.

On one particular night, my sister Rose had made a date to go on a boat ride the next morning. That night, the cat pounded on my bedroom all night long, and Rose didn’t sleep a wink. Needless to say, she slept throughout the entire boat ride! After this had gone on for days, we decided to let the kittens stay in the closet — but too late to make it up to poor Rose.

When the kittens were old enough to walk, we kept them in the basement at night to protect them from possible injuries. Young Griffo’s maternal instincts somehow told her that this was for their own good, and she agreed to it without a fight.

We always managed to find homes for Young Griffo’s kittens when they were old enough — we had to, she had about three litters a year from her first, at age one. All in all, we must’ve found homes for over 125 kittens! The first few times, it wasn’t that difficult to find a friend willing to take a kitten, but with later litters, it wasn’t uncommon to travel all the way to the Bronx — a two-hour train ride at that time, to give a kitten away.

We enjoyed having the kittens around — if only to pay Young Griffo back for some of the aggravation. One particular batch of kittens would wait behind our piano until she was asleep, then spring upon her demanding that she play (not the piano) whether she was in the mood to or not.

We finally deduced that the father of most of the kittens was another cat we’d been feeding. Since we were all getting a bit tired of the trips all the way to the Bronx — even though we loved the kittens — we decided that something should be done. I took the cat (which we’d named Tom) on the trolley with me and let him off about four miles away from my house, figuring that this would be the last we’d see of him. I don’t know how Tom did it, but by the time the trolley had returned me home — he was already back, sitting on my front porch!

Tom was as henpecked as any cat in history — his lot was not as easy one, especially at mealtime. Young Griffo would whack him on the side if he was tolerant enough to let the kittens jump on his back while eating — or sometimes, even if he meowed out of the wrong side of his mouth. He stayed with us for ten years or so, then one day finally just disappeared — and no wonder.

Young Griffo had other suitors besides Tom — during mating season (which was most of the time with Young Griffo) none of the neighbors would sleep. It was quite common to have a midnight chorus of five male cats at a time — yowling and howling, and in general making a terrible racket. You can’t imagine how many shoes were found in our yard the next morning — or how many buckets of water were spilled on the chorus!

The one part of Young Griffo’s personality which I’ve not yet touched upon, was by far her worst quality. She was the biggest thief you have ever seen. It would be impossible to imagine how many arguments her stealing started.

During hot weather, the family liked to go to the beach, which was perfectly natural considering how close we lived to it. I would put dinner on the stove before we left so it would be ready when we arrived back. On one occasion I put four quarters of a chicken in a covered pot on the stove, and when I returned from the beach — there were only three! I couldn’t figure out who would want to steal a quarter of a chicken. Unrelated to this in my mind was the fact that someone was dumping their chicken bones in our back yard — another situation that baffled me. This went on for months until one day, I came back from the beach early and caught Young Griffo sneaking downstairs with a quarter of a chicken in her mouth! She jumped through the broken window in our door (which was repeatedly being broken by Murray and his friends) and ran into the back yard to enjoy her loot!

On another occasion I had guests coming for dinner, and I’d prepared everything in advance so I could spend some time with them before dinner. I’d baked two cakes with whipped cream frosting, and they were sitting on my kitchen counter ready to be served. When the guests arrived, we all went downstairs for conversation, when I remembered I’d forgotten to put up the coffee. When I arrived back in the kitchen, half the whipped cream was gone off each cake! My first thought was that Murray and Betty had taken it off as a prank, but when I called them upstairs to ask them about it, they looked so innocent I had no choice except to believe they had no part in it. Suddenly, the three of us spotted Young Griffo trying to sneak downstairs — her whiskers and eyebrows full of whipped cream.

I cut off the top layer of each cake and re-frosted them and swore the children to secrecy. Luckily, my guests never suspected anything was wrong — but I don’t think I need say that I didn’t eat any.

Perhaps the most frustrating incident caused by Young Griffo’s larceny was when I asked my husband, Sam, to pick up some sturgeon on his way home, and to pick up some smoked whitefish for himself, since he didn’t like sturgeon. When he returned home I was setting the table, and when I finished I went over to the counter to take the fish out of the bag. I noticed he had forgotten to get his whitefish and the conversation went something like this:

“Sam,” I said. “You forgot to get your whitefish.”

“Are you looking in the same bag as the sturgeon?”

“Yes, but it’s not here. You must’ve left it on the counter.”

“I didn’t leave it on the counter — you’re looking with your eyes closed!”

The ensuing argument convinced each of us that the other was crazy. As we were about to sit down to dinner (sturgeon for everybody) I went into the bathroom to wash up and there was the bare skeleton of the whitefish in the cat’s box.

Young Griffo didn’t always steal when nobody was looking — more than once she dug her claws into Murray’s leg so when he crouched down to scold her, she could jump up on the table, steal whatever he was eating and escape down the stairs.

Whenever my parents would see her running downstairs, they’d come and ask, “What did that crook do now?”

My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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