Ten Ways To Your Cat's Happiness

Ten Ways To Your Cat's Happiness

by Stanley E. Ely


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When Evan McGorkle moved to Manhattan more than fifteen years ago, he harbored big dreams. He had a bachelor's degree in English and a few unpublished stories; he burned with the anticipation of earning a living as a writer. Part of his dream came true; he published two historical romance novels. Neither one met with much success.

Now, to pay the bills, Evan works as a freelance copy editor; even so, he still aspires to become a best-selling author. Based on living with two of his own felines-Mickey and Falina-he hopes he can hit it big with a new light-hearted advice book on the emotional care of cats. He pitches his idea to well-known publicist Charles Loundering, who shows interest in the project. Now, Evan must finish his book and find a publisher.

His romp around the Manhattan publishing world brings him unexpected moments, both funny and challenging. It introduces him to a colorful, idiosyncratic cast of New Yorkers-from a beautiful singer to a smart, young coffee bar owner to a sight-impaired musician. His budding relationships with these people awaken in him an unsettling realization: outward shine can mask deep human flaws.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450242301
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/26/2010
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.63(d)

First Chapter

Ten Ways to Your Cat's Happiness

A Novel
By Stanley E. Ely

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Stanley E. Ely
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-4228-8

Chapter One

Evan looked out the window, stamped out a cigarette, checked on his cats, and finally decided to take the plunge. He dialed the number quickly, and he heard Charles Loundering answer the phone at Loundering Publicity.

"Mr. Loundering," Evan said. "I'm very glad to speak to you. My name is Evan McGorkle, and I'm a writer with two published books. Maybe you've heard my name."

"McGurkle? I don't think so. Probably I'd remember it."

Evan gave a nervous laugh. "Yes, it's McGorkle, actually. Why don't you just call me Evan?" Before Loundering could cut him off, he hurried on. "I'm calling you because I have a new book, and I've read how your work turned a couple of books into best sellers."

"Yes, that did happen. What's your new book?"

"It's about how to make your cat happy. Ten different ways."

"No fooling," said Loundering in a tone that sounded skeptical.

"It'll capitalize on the craze for self-help books, see. I envision a small volume with cute drawings, sitting on the checkout counter."

"Who's your publisher, Mr. McGo ... Evan?"

Evan took a deep breath. "That's the thing. I don't totally have a publisher just yet."

"What about your first publishers?"

"Those books were historical romances, and I want to do something ... with wider appeal."

"Are you saying that those sales were not great?"

Evan's voice softened. "You could say that."

A brief silence fell over the conversation. "You know I'm not a publisher. I publicize books that a publisher ... publishes."

"Of course, Charles. It's okay if I call you Charles? I know that, but if a publisher knows that the Loundering Agency is handling the publicity, he's bound to want the book."

"In other words, you imagine that I will find you a publisher."

"And join in the profits!"

"That's quite irregular. Give me a sample of your book on making your cat happy."

"If your cat decides to sit on your keyboard while you're typing, leave him and go do something else."

Loundering sounded as if he might be suppressing a cough. "One more?"

"If your cat leaves you no room on your bed, move to the sofa."

"Any others?"

"Sure. If your cat wants to sleep on your head at night, be sure not to disturb him."

"It seems that the cat's happiness comes at the expense of the owner's." "Well, not always."

A renewed silence led Evan to imagine that Loundering was mulling over the idea. He tapped a pencil rapidly on his desk.

"How do you know so much about cats, Evan?"

"I have two of my own. Mickey and Falina. They're siblings."

"Are they happy?"

"If only you could see them running around the apartment." Evan ignored the fact that, at that moment, Mickey was cringing in the corner, ill. "How do you feel about cats?"

Loundering's voice seemed to drop. "My wife and I have three-maybe three too many. Our daughters keep bringing them home."

"There, Charles! You and thousands of others are the market for my book."

"Evan, I imagine that, like many writers, you are in need of money."

"Well, yes."

"Do you have any idea of my rates?"

"Actually, I don't. A lot of your authors are famous, so probably you can charge them a bundle. I'm different. I have a weird name but a good idea. I hope you'd take this as a challenge, a little adventure."

The absence of a refusal made Evan's pulse speed up.

"I'm not sure, not at all sure, but the truth is that business is slow right now. Beth, my assistant, is back from lunch, so I'll connect you with her. She'll make an appointment. Bring your manuscript."

"That's really wonderful, Charles. Many thanks! Yeah, that's wonderful. You won't be sorry!"

The phone line went quiet, and Evan's fingers continued to drum uneasily around the top of his desk. Since Loundering had answered his own phone, Evan wondered whether he and Beth were the only ones in that office. Finally Beth came on the line. "Mr. Loundering could see you next Monday at ten a.m., Mr. McGurkle," she said.

"Thank you, Beth, so much. By the way, if you don't mind, my name is McGorkle."

"We'll see you Monday, Mr. McGurkle."

"I'll be right on time."

Evan waited until he had hung up the receiver, and then shouted at his cats in a burst of joy. "Hear that, kids? A date with Loundering. All right!" Mickey, ailing in a corner, shot him a look of alarm. As celebration, Evan stretched up to a high kitchen cabinet where he kept a package of cigarettes out of easy reach. Taking out one more, he lit it and crossed back to the window in his living room, smiling that the risk he had taken had paid off. He looked down on three or four Columbia University students raising their collars and huddling together for shelter against a wind rushing from the Hudson River. Did any of them have cats, and were their cats happy? Maybe he should find out the ways they made them happy and see if that would work for him.

It was Wednesday. Evan had only a few days to finish the manuscript he needed to bring to the publicist, who had concluded correctly that his first two books had produced meager sales. "Mr. McGorkle has written a historical romance with interesting history and uninteresting romance," one reviewer had written. And although he had a stream of freelance editing to do at home, a couple of decades living in New York had not yielded Evan a secure bank balance. Unpaid bills threw ugly stares from the stack in which he tidily placed them on a corner of his desk.

But, well, you have to live. The bills did not prevent him from indulging in a couple of habits he believed essential for mental stability. One was to buy coffee before work and find a quiet spot on the nearby Columbia campus to drink it while reading the paper. The other was the occasional dinner at the Columbia Diner, a neighborhood institution that he loved for the crowd of students and memories of the room when it was as filled with smoke as with food.

Then, too, when his freelance editing became tedious and he tired of correcting errors in the manuscript that had produced a book contract for someone else, Evan hung around BooksBooks, a bookstore on 107th Street. He befriended a Columbia senior named Billy Bunke who worked at the store, and at night the two sometimes went out for a drink after Billy's shift ended. The young man would recount his packed portfolio of sexual adventures, but the friendship was not altogether one way because Billy kept Evan's first two books in prominent locations in BooksBooks. "I like my store," he said, "because Mr. Brady keeps books here that aren't best sellers."

"Believe me, Billy," said Evan, "that's why I like it, too."

"You're gonna write somethin' else, Mr. Mc.?" Billy asked over a late-night drink.

"If I can come up with something that makes money."

"Write a self-help book," the young man advised. "They're what I see flyin' off the shelves here."

Evan considered the advice worth remembering, and late one sleepless night the new book idea came to him. Resolved to find a subject in the high-profit area, he surreptitiously went into the kitchen and quietly took out a cigarette beyond his self-imposed allowance, an allowance with some built-in elasticity. Pacing back to the living room to look out at the nighttime scene, he passed his two cats curled up asleep on the sofa, back-to-back, a position they rarely assumed. They look so content, Evan thought. Maybe I made them happy. Did I? Maybe I'm good at making cats happy. He glanced out the window and turned back toward the animals. Is that an idea for a book? I could do one telling people how to make cats happy. It wouldn't have to be too serious-easy to read-not too hard to write. Give it a lot of promotion, and it'll sell.

The next day Billy was on the day shift at the bookstore, and Evan went to test the idea on him. "Sounds good, Mr. Mc.," Billy said.

"Cats? What do you think of that subject?"

"People at Columbia have cats. My girlfriend Marylou has one-keeps gettin' in the way when we're in bed." Evan laughed. "So go for it, and lemme know what happens."

"That's what I'm going to do," said Evan.

Chapter Two

The place where Evan indulged his habit of morning coffee, probably against an auditor's advice, was a small establishment run by Avram Golden and his partners on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Evan strolled there, a few blocks from his apartment, most every morning except Saturdays. If they had been open on Saturdays he would have gone then, too, but the skinny young men, "the Israeli boys," as Evan called them (not being sure they were Israeli), shuttered their store for Sabbath.

Evan wasn't Jewish-couldn't claim even to be much of a Protestant-but he admired young men whose religious devotion moved them to relinquish a day's profit and forgo turning on a TV set for a full day. Still, if he had had his way, Evan might have suggested that Avram be looser about religion, doff his yarmulke temporarily, and stay open maybe just until noon on Saturday. The Israeli boys' closures required him to patronize another place-larger and fancier, but one that offered time-tested inferior muffins and employed notably less attractive assistants.

Every Saturday Evan awaited Sunday, when Avram and his crew would be back with their white aprons on.

"How was your Sabbath, Avram?" Evan asked, hurrying in on a recent Sunday morning.

The young man straightened the counter, wiping it clean. "How should it be?"

The answer stopped there, shedding no light on Avram's previous day. It was enough that they were ready for business on Sundays.

It was not by bus or subway that Evan went to Avram's coffee bar. It was by walking. When they closed on Saturdays he walked to someone else's place. That was not out of respect for the Jewish Sabbath but because, he said, it was what New Yorkers did. New Yorkers walked-which had the added virtue of being free.

On this particular Thursday morning in October, the day after his conversation with Charles Loundering, Evan paid his morning visit to Avram. He needed suggestions for his new book. "Avram, if you don't mind, what do you think about cats?"

"What do I think about cats?" Avram answered with a dependable question.

"Yes, if you don't mind."

"What is such a question, Evan? What should I think about cats?" Avram slid a pan of freshly baked muffins onto a tray. "I don't have time."

Regrettably, Evan realized that he had to eliminate Avram as a source of ideas for his book. That did not prevent Evan from investing in a blueberry muffin, coffee, and a newspaper. He said good-bye and went out on the street. Balancing his purchases, he crossed Broadway, walked through the gates at 116th Street, and settled on a bench on Columbia University's campus, clear and fresh on this fall day. That was his little town, he liked to say, though he owned not a gram of property there. That might change, though, after his book was published, and he became a rich landowner. But he wouldn't banish the bodegas or the all-night bars. They were what made the neighborhood.

Opening the coffee container and scanning the newspaper, Evan's eye caught a headline on an inside page: "Dog Escapes, Owner Frantic," and he stopped to read. Charlie, a black Labrador, had been tied to a post outside a high-priced electronics store while his owner went in, and the dog was no longer there when the owner, J. J. Knapp, came out. Knapp, said the article, was a man of forty-one, a bachelor who lived alone. He worked at a low-paying clerical job in a music store because of severely limited vision, and, over eight years, Charlie had acquired the skill of a guide dog and become the man's companion. The newspaper printed a photo of the dog, since he was still missing. "I've made a generous offer to have Charlie back," the owner was quoted, "though I've had to dig into savings to put together the reward. Whoever took him doesn't know how important he is to me."

Evan was someone who believed that people should not hold back tears if they want to cry-men no less than women-and when he read the reporter's statement that the dog's owner was close to tears, he couldn't stop his own eyes from growing moist. He read the article a second time. Oh my God, he thought, that dog was the man's lifeline. He resolved to try to track down Knapp and offer at least a small sum to help with the reward.

Evan's sympathy for Knapp was surely fueled by their being of the same generation-Evan was forty-three-and from parallel aspects to their lives. They were both bachelors who lived alone but for their animals: Knapp with his dog, Charlie, and Evan with his two cats, Mickey and Falina. (Though not consulted, the cats were not allowed outside his apartment and occasional foray into the hall, where kidnapping was a low risk.)

The fine day made it tempting to linger on the campus, but with concern about Mickey-and work to do-Evan closed the newspaper and stood. He watched Columbia students ambling by, talking about classes or dates, neither aware of the sad disappearance of a trusted dog nor thinking of the fleeting nature of their own young lives. Evan berated himself for his maudlin tendency. "The whole world doesn't need to be in tears this morning," he mumbled, crumpling the brown bag that held his food.

He hastened the few blocks back to his apartment, coming up with one more way of keeping a cat happy: if your cat digs his claws into your new sofa, pet him and croon, "Good kitty." Evan grinned. It's true, he thought. These ways really don't do much for the owner.

Nothing had changed since he went out. Mickey continued to suffer from some stomach disturbance, temporarily relinquishing interest in his role as boss over his sister. Falina, forever seeking a favored placement in bed next to Evan and frustrated in the effort by her brother, was relishing his indisposition. With Mickey clinging to a wall, Falina moved forward and rubbed against Evan without fear of banishment by her unsharing sibling.

Though he tried to hide it from Falina, Evan felt partial to Mickey, maybe because of their common gender. The boy cat was a sturdy, muscular animal, with a black and white coat and a determined look. Gray and more demure, with piercing yellow eyes, Falina maintained a ladylike profile and threw rivalrous but admiring looks at her brother.

When it came to grooming, the job fell to Falina. She would approach Mickey, he would look at her to decide whether it was love or war, and would then lie back and accept the cleaning as his due. Sympathetic to the girl, Evan suggested to him, "You could reciprocate once in a while." But he never did.

Mickey had been throwing up during the night; Evan hoped that the malady would cure itself so he could avoid taking the cat for an exam by Dr. Ralph Phillips at West Side Vets-a man he liked but visits to whom were expensive. While he waited to see if Mickey would have a spontaneous recovery, Evan's eyes scoured the desk and the unmoving stack of bills. Time to go to work and make a dent in that pile.

His current editing assignment was a book called How a Company President Can Avoid the Most Egregious Mistakes. Evan was miles away from being a company president and did not care whether one would or would not avoid mistakes, but the author seemed to have harvested many ideas on the matter and spelled them out in her book, and it was his job to fix her mistakes. The sentence structure, Evan thought, was regrettable for someone apparently wise in the ways of commerce. By now doesn't everyone know the difference between "its" and "it's"? He made a correction with his pencil, and wondered uncharitably how much she had been paid for her error-filled work.

He pored over the manuscript, avoiding the temptation to slough off and pay a visit to BooksBooks to see whether Billy Bunke was working the day shift. While unenthusiastically attending to the editing job, Evan thought of two more ideas for keeping your cat happy: if your cat sheds hair on your new sweater, leave it so he will have something familiar to lie on. Bring new toys for your cat each week.

He was compiling a list. But he required more, and Avram had proved unhelpful. His best friend, Francesca Sargent, could surely be tapped for ideas. The two had started as pals at the same college in Indiana, and Francesca, an aspiring singer, as well as beautiful and talented and smart, had moved to New York with Evan. He would call Francesca. He would try to find J. J. Knapp, too.


Excerpted from Ten Ways to Your Cat's Happiness by Stanley E. Ely Copyright © 2010 by Stanley E. Ely. Excerpted by permission.
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