Face-planting wasn’t moving my life forward. Ass-widening wasn’t either. Mouse-chasing had potential, but croissant devouring was my favorite.
Click. I ended the call. Three messages later and Blake hadn’t returned any. Our ongoing cat and mouse chase continued, but I was failing as the feline. Maybe Blake wasn’t getting enough cheese out of the deal or perhaps I was losing interest in the catch. For three years, we had been in an on-and-off again intimate relationship, and lately, he accused me of wallowing. I used to be a Cardio Queen – a group fitness instructor and personal trainer with fans and an even more fantastic ass. Not anymore.
I was teaching one class, had one client, and zero money. It’s 1998, and my client list consisted of Sam; a womanizing 80-year old with teenage-dreams and geriatric man parts. That’s what happens when you make a mockery of your career like I did in 1995. My fitness DVD won cult-like status and pissed off Barnum & Bailey circus enough to get me sued and land me in bankruptcy court faster than a trapeze artist hitting the nets. I wasn’t even allowed in most fitness clubs.
Two years later; enlightenment is in the rear-view mirror. No one said that you attain it and keep it forever, right? It was as slippery as my ex-fiancé Max, and the Brandy Alexanders I used to drink. So, after the wildest ride from nothing to fame and back to being broke, I realized that producing my fitness DVD was not the wisest choice, but it did ultimately teach me that no amount of notoriety, popularity, or fecundity would lead to fulfillment. My mind-blowing, attitude-altering, and deeply detoxifying adventure at a Boulder Ashram did leave me with an inner guru whom I call “Phil,” because he’s as reliable as “Donahue.”
Yet, a stable career and a fantastic ass totally alluded me (the good news is that my ever-spreading buttocks will ultimately make my boobs look smaller any minute now.)
My name is Tatiana and I used to be a Cardio Queen. These days, I’m between careers, but it’s time to get back in the game …
CHAPTER ONE – THE CATALYST
The cat’s a saint when there are no mice about – Japanese proverb
Shit – rent was due tomorrow! If I didn’t hurry to my group kickboxing session, Jan – a die-hard boxer -would take my gloves again and leave me with the “untouchable” pair at the bottom of the pile because they smelled like sweaty balls and rope. Without a car, I was riding my bike everywhere which helped burn calories, but my ass was still miraculously spreading. Too much rump in a chair is bad for you according to the science nerds, but what about sitting on a bike or on a weight circuit machine? Does the body really care where or what you sit on? If so, how does it decide what is “good” or “bad” sitting? Enough rear economics for now. At least I had a glimmer of hope today – a phone interview for a part-time gig.
Borderline late, I grabbed my water bottle and rushed toward the door. What was Phil always telling me? If I believed that I could have a life free from disaster, then it would be so. I took a three-count Yoga breath and a confident step outside. The sky was clear, birds were chirping, and I heard a lawn mower start up. Which is why as I turned around after locking my front door, freshly cut grass assaulted my tank top. In fact, a swath of full-on green boob fuzz was spreading across my lady mounds like moss.
I knew who the culprit was before I even looked - my neighbor, Mr. Hinkley, who was wearing a sweat-covered wife-beater,
boxer shorts, and dirty white socks drooping down to mid-calf. What made this even stranger is that it was September and although seasonally warm, white socks after Labor Day was a fashion faus paux. He nodded and gave me a goofy smile like inhaled fumes from his sputtering lawnmower had replaced most of his oxygen.
My bike could not get me out of there fast enough. But my left foot didn’t connect to the pedal as intended, so I wobbled like a five-year old down the street until I gained enough control to be on my way. Not much of a get-away. I may have had moments of enlightenment previously at the Ashram in Boulder, but I was still struggling with grace.
I parked my bike just inside the door by the cubbies and headed across the weight room. A few sweaty Don Quixote’s shadow-boxed and grunted as I ducked past their teetering windmills. My kickboxing class was at an industrial gym – an old garage with free weights, mats, and punching bags. The group-exercise room was nothing more than a medium-sized tin box that echoed even with the padded walls.
Upon entering, I rummaged through my pack for my CDs. The downside of riding a bike was that I had to schlep everything in a fanny pack, and it was jumbled chaos by the time I needed to retrieve anything from it. Lola thudded into the room, said “Sup,” then moved like a Stormtrooper to the back. Lola was a regular who could kick ass loudly but hated loud noise? Go figure.
I said “Hi.” She headed straight for the tissue box; took out two and shoved them in her right ear. Then, grabbed two more and stuffed them in her left ear. Supposedly, this was to protect her eardrums, but a small head between two enormous Kleenex bouquets now shouted “what?” after everything I said. I ignored her, put on my pink gloves, and started to cue up Pussycat Dolls on the stereo which isn’t easy after you’ve put on gloves. Note to self. Ten more students filed in shuffling around quickly to find a spot. “Let’s get warm people!” I shouted and went right into side steps with punches. Duck and weaves followed. I was careful not to right jab Steve.
He was the most attractive gym rat that ever existed. His jawline was strong and flawless, and his pectoral muscles were chiseled, but during the first class, he assumed “kickboxing” meant gloves on our feet. Even now, he was going left when we all went right. The more enthusiastic he was, the more danger I was in. No jump roping today!
During our workout, Steve let out his usual grunts and Lola missed every audible cue as expected. But if I told her to remove the ear bouquet, she got on a soap box about personal freedom and complained about tissue brands.
An hour later, I was sweaty and satisfied because I managed to make it through class without colliding with Steve and was rewarded by his tight hard buttocks in my face during final stretches. They were beautiful to look at and they didn’t say a word – even better. I was not usually into “objectifying” men but the whole Blake thing was messing with me. I had to hand it to Steve though because he obviously had figured out the right ratio of pumping iron to sitting in a chair.
At the end of class, Steve smiled and said, “Good job teach, I’m all wet. Thanks to you.” He had no clue what he just implied, and I wasn’t going to enlighten him. Awkwardly Lola had just taken out her ear bouquet in time to hear him and shook her head as she exited.
Still sweating buckets, I had just turned off the stereo – all ten distinctly different buttons pushed - when my phone rang. I hoped it was Joni – my best friend – but it was Frances, my scheduled phone interview 20 minutes early. I let it go to voicemail, so I could have a moment to recover. I didn’t know what kind of job she had in mind and huffing into the phone didn’t seem prudent.
Frances and I had connected about a month ago, while I was pumping air into my bike tires at the gas station. A woman with slicked back hair (like the “Addicted to Love” video), whom I didn’t know, approached, and then embraced me like a python. When I saw “Him” in her car, it clicked that she was Crumbs’ owner - my feline star from CardioCarnivale. Who the hell brings a tabby cat in a vehicle? He was preening like a rotund orange opera singer ready to launch into “Figaro.” Frances was Crumbs’ bitch.
While he was coughing up a hairball in her back seat, she gushed about how he loved being on Oprah and blah blah blah. Before, I could get a word in edgewise, her countenance downshifted into serious and she said, “I wondered what had happened to you after the scandal.” I didn’t want to be reminded, so I sort of tuned out, but I did hear her say, “you just never know what can happen” and then she asked for my digits.
Our conversation ended with a promise of possible employment. Most women I knew weren’t cutting in line to help me out, so I figured she just wanted to keep tabs on me. But last week she called, and I suspected his royal furry fatness, had something to do with her generosity.
As I chugged water out of my reusable bottle, getting ready to call her back, it just didn’t smell or taste right. Temporary vodka holder perhaps or possibly I had peed in it on a previous bike ride. Either way, I ditched it. I sooooo needed a car again!
I took a few deep breaths, went out the back door and dialed Frances’s number. That’s when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Jan walking across the parking lot wearing pink kickboxing gloves that I knew belonged to the club. It’s unbelievable what folks steal from gyms. Female locker raiders stealing make-up and cash. Guys who take sweat towels not realizing that men wiped their balls more than their brows with those things. I mean there’s frugal and then there’s fetish and think the latter applied.
I had barely finished dialing when I heard, “Tatiana, is that you?” Frances said eagerly before I said a word. “I was starting to wonder if I had the wrong time written down.”
I said, “No. You were on schedule. I was delayed by a few minutes. Sorry.”
Then I cut to the chase, “You mentioned something about a job.”
She changed her tone immediately and said all in one breath, “Listen. I know things have been a bit rough for you and all... and I am not sure how available you can be, but my friend, Gerty, and I are going on a girl’s trip to Mexico and she has two cats like I do, and we just don’t like any of the past pet-sitters, and we thought you might be able to come over to our houses and take care of them while we are away. Crumbs seems to have taken a liking to you. He hardly ever poops on things when you are around.”
I thought back to my Oprah show cameo and recalled her Prada shoes being dumped on, but I was not sure if Frances knew this.
“You know, I’m not even sure I knew you had two cats,” I diverted myself.
Frances said, “Well, you know Crumbs already, and I have a beautiful Calico named Sprinkles.”
My mind clamped down; Did I really want my next avenue of employment to be babysitting sweetly named Pussies? And why would she think I could wrangle cats after my track record? In addition to failing in my relationships with men, I was suspicious of ladies and cats too.
I said, “That’s truly kind of you, but I don’t have a lot of pet experience. Are you sure that I’m the right person for the job?”
Broke or not, I wasn’t sure this was my avenue. More likely a test from Phil to see if I would step in metaphorical “shit” again. What did Frances really want?
Frances (amped up like a lady on diet pills), interrupted my daydream.
“Tatiana, this is perfect for you. At least until you decide what your next step is going to be, and you’d really be helping Gerty and me out. Gerty is an amazing businesswoman who goes out of town often. This could be a steady gig.” Frances explained enthusiastically.
I glanced over at my bike and sighed. I was 35 and had no car, so since beggars can’t be choosers, I acquiesced, “How about I come over and spend some time with Crumbs and Sprinkles and we go from there.”
Frances, who obviously had taken in too much caffeine, poured out multiple thank you’s and set up a tentative time to meet over the weekend. That gave me two days to change my mind. At least, I would have closure with the furball who had made my Oprah appearance infamous. His dander initiated an allergic reaction for a guest who went into a full-on asthma attack. As a result, my solo on-air CardioCarnivale fitness routine led to immediate notoriety and spiked sales. OK. Maybe Crumbs could be my lucky charm again. Or maybe once and for all, I would close that chapter of my life. These mental gymnastics made me hungrier than a brow-beaten housewife with a controlling husband. My appetite could still be rich even if my bank account was not.
With sustenance in mind, I hopped on my bike and willfully drove past a coffee shop with amazing chocolate-filled croissants to prove I could. But when the soup and salad shop a few blocks over was closed, I knew it was a sign to celebrate the road back to liquidity with a croissant. I was licking the last flakes of pastry deliciousness from my mouth when my phone rang.
“This is Tatiana,” I said hesitantly.
I heard a brief pause and then Blake’s voice said, “Wanna hear about my plans for you this evening, my dear?”
I momentarily thought about clawing his eyes out for not calling me back right away, but instead I said, “Oh. Are you requesting my company this evening? Let me check my schedule and see if I’m busy.”
I heard hesitation as he contemplated whether I was serious or just toying with him.
“Well, if you are free, there’s a new restaurant called the Cat’s Meow, I would like to take you to followed by an amazing rubdown at my place,” he said coyly.
Really? Cat’s Meow? My life was one big race toward complete irony. Or maybe he knew what I was up to somehow. I said, “You know with Anna moved out, my place is my own again. Perhaps I can convince you to come here if I do that naughty thing you like?”
Blake was silent for a moment and then he said, “Tatiana …. I know you ... What’s broken now?”
“What?” I said innocently. But he’d caught me, so I came clean. “The shower curtain rod won’t stay up and every time I shower it’s like being in a European hotel with the bathroom soaked,” I confessed.
Blake chuckled and said, “Like you’ve been to Europe... Isn’t that why Anna moved out anyway because Sam hung onto the shower rod during sex, and had that mild cardiac event?”
“Don’t remind me.” I said. “She thinks it was the shower rod, not his blocked arteries. That settles it. We’ll go to your place,” I conceded.
Blake said, “Pick you up at 6:00 pm,” and was gone. No explanation as to why he hadn’t called me back right away, just his usual charm. But there would be a rubdown later to soothe my nerves, so I let it slide.
If he had secrets, so would I. That’s how we women roll sometimes. Do not tell Blake about my interview, I warned myself. There was no glory in picking up hairballs and cleaning litter boxes. It was just a gig. Did I really want to pet sit? Wouldn’t I be an indentured servant? Cats usually ran fiefdoms. Yeah, but it was only until I figured out what the hell, I should do next, right? This gig was a chance to stop wallowing and move forward on my path. At the least, I would get paid to be a pussy protector. Women and cats were powerful and there was value in tapping into that. Feeling hopeful, I hopped on my bike, and headed back to my apartment to chill.
OK. Quit pacing. It was 6:20 pm, and I was pissed. Why did this always seem to happen at a certain point in every relationship? How long did I have to wait before it was OK to be officially annoyed? Twenty minutes was not unreasonable, but I was edgy and hyped up. Was Blake like bad milk for me, sour and past expiration date, or was my attitude the sour part? My obsessive thoughts ramped up like a badly made aerobics CD when the sound of the doorbell stopped them from playing. I lingered thinking I would make him suffer, but hunger and curiosity eventually won out. Dressed in a black cat suit with a multi-colored silk sheer shirt on top and high-heeled pumps below, he would not be able to resist my charms unless of course he saw that my form-fitting adult Onesie was on backwards. Shit! No time to fix it.
As the door opened, I met Blake’s chocolate brown eyes with ravenous hunger. The soft tender kiss he planted on my lips melted my heart and my fierce instincts and desire to turn my outfit around vanished. The bouquet of white gardenia entered through the door before he did. My heartbeat doubled. Blake strutted in and cupped my chin gently while he nibbled my lower lip and I went into another dimension where elephant elbows didn’t exist. I eked out a “Hello” and he kissed me again. Damn! I was supposed to be the cat! Here I was captivated and charmed out of my self-dignity again.
“What have you been up to my darling?” he asked mischievously.
“Well, since you were supposed to be here twenty minutes ago, I gave the next-door neighbor the ride of his life… on my bike,” I said without a hint of sarcasm.
“Hmmm. Then, maybe you’re too tired to handle me tonight and I should ride alone this evening,” he said playfully.
Better concede, I thought or else my authentic annoyance was going to shine through and threaten the whole evening.
“I think I can muster up the energy to do a ride along with you tonight,” I offered as I took his arm and closed the door behind me.
Eventually, we left the house and ate at a fabulous seafood fusion place, but it was the nuclear fusion in the bedroom later that was most memorable. Let’s just say that sitting on his face likely burnt a few calories too. Another note to self on sacrifices I’ve made to lose weight.
I yawned, made coffee, got up and blissfully floated through my activities of daily living. Blake had the power to cheer me up always. We’d been fighting for sure and mixed signals had been given but the make-up sex had me looking forward to the next fight. It wasn’t rational but like love ever was. It had taken me years to get over my ex-fiancée, Max. I was improving, but far from perfect yet.
Taking my time getting dressed and being practical, I decided not to wear black. I put on some spandex running pants, a white t-shirt, and a baseball cap. No pussy hair would be attracted to me and I was incognito in case I had to get out of the feline meeting quickly.
As I saddled my bike, I thought about my inherent mistrust of cats and unknown females. Where had this come from? In most of my jobs there was always at least one woman who became my nemesis. Lynette, my supervisor at the club had abused me with signage. She was a detail person way too fixated on her lamination machine. I think it was a substitute for a lack of plastic toys in her childhood. My days were filled with overblown crisis from club members who had lost locker keys, forgotten socks, left marks on the gym floor with wrong shoes, dumped keys down toilets, and Lynette gave me at least five signs a day to make, so she could laminate them, slowly, to get them just right. Telling people what not to do with signs was her solution for everything. Mine was for her to leave.
Another female boss of mine had mastered the art of white lying. In fact, she lied about lying in the most creative ways. She paid delivery people to do it for her. Why were women so confusing? As a woman, I still had no clue.
I could go on, but by this time I was on Frances’s front porch deciding where to put my bike and whether to go through with this meeting. Too late, her innocent deer-like brown eyes peered out through the door’s tiny glass window, and she opened it before I had even knocked.
I walked into Frances’ living room and Crumbs was sprawled upside down on a faux velvet pet bed looking like a royal sloth. One paw draped casually over an eye as if to say the world was all too much for his sensibilities. He had gotten wider since I last saw him. Offering me a beverage and scurrying to the kitchen to retrieve it, Frances left, and I approached “Cruuuumbs. You silly creature, I thought. Do you remember me?” I asked out loud and rhetorically, while I gently stroked his massive belly. A half yawn suddenly turned into a finger nibble that left me trepidatious. I pulled back. Crumbs was devious and had claws that he wasn’t afraid to sharpen on almost anything. This would not go well. But Frances returned to see Crumbs rubbing up against me.
“Oh, see. You guys are getting along so well already. I knew this was going to work out for all of us. In fact, I bought him a harness last week because he’s put on a few pounds. I thought maybe you might walk him while I’m away,” Frances said expecting enthusiasm, but got stoicism instead. How did I get here again? You know that place where for a split second you realize that if your life were to be judged then with no context of anything else, you had done, it would amount to bupkis. Frances was asking me to train her manipulative fluffball, and I had not even met the others. Where were all the dogs? Trusting strange women or cats seemed unwise.
I took a deep breath and turned toward Frances, “Well, let’s talk about how long you are going to be away and logistics right off the bat.”
Frances took that as full-steam ahead and jumped up so fast, I wondered what happened until I saw her with paperwork.
“I took the liberty of typing up a schedule. We’ll be gone for two weeks in Mexico. But there is talk of another Jamaica trip soon.”
“One trip at a time, Frances. I have not met all the pets yet…”
“Hellooooo!!” I heard her voice before I saw her. The tone and pitch boomed inside my head. When she entered, she towered over both of us. Femme Fatale was an understatement. Tall, pineapple-colored hair and an expensive tan suit was what I noticed first. Her breasts were so perky that I was reminded about my threadbare poor excuses for undergarments. I’d better get to the bra store soon. After all the aerobics, my boobs had been oddly stuffed in every possible sports bra. The only thing remotely like a “sport” associated with them was the gyrations one had to go through to get into them. And even with support, my boobs were mashed potato jiggly mounds. There was no perk to them, only lumps. Compared to Gerty, I’m a lumpy, dumpy, frumpy who wasn’t getting enough humpy, sadly.
I could barely look at the woman because she was radiating so much sexual energy. Her face was not pretty in the feminine sense of delicate features and a symmetrical look. In fact, when analyzed closely, not pretty at all. But the whole package was impressive. She had a cinched waist, curvy hips, and long legs, and she was working it with her posture and stance. She walked over to me confidently, put out her hand (hot lips nail art by the way) and said, “I’m Gerty, and it looks like you’re on pussy patrol.” I wanted to be sure I was only getting myself into a pet-sitting gig, so I avoided the inuendo: “Did you bring your pets?”
Come to think of it, why the hell did we call it pet sitting anyway? Who was supposed to be sitting – the pets or me? Was a pet sitter’s role to get the furry creatures to sit down. Were you only supposed to sit in the presence of the pets? Why was it so important that they sit as opposed to laying down or walking? Either way, I doubted that pet sitting would make my ass or the cats’ any smaller with mostly rump-side down activities. Exercise research showed that sitting was going to be the death of us all. Yet so much exercise equipment required sitting?
Gerty spoke first, “One ‘lovely’ is in the kitchen partaking in dry food and will come around when he’s ready. “Rutabaga could not make it today. He was coughing up a hairball when I left and was disinclined to be crated up. But I just saw Sprinkles outside with a dead mouse dangling from her mouth.”
Disinclined? I was in serious trouble. I hoped her “lovely” was not as intimidating as she was. Within moments, I had my answer. An explosion entered the room. It was round and orange with streaks of white and luckily it was walking, or I would not have been able to tell which end was hungry or could bite me. This cat’s face was so flat, it looked as if it had a fight with a frying-pan. Perhaps he’d been pet sat on before with disastrous results. His name was Pumpkin. Was there no end to the sweet pussy parade? Smashed-face Pumpkin slowly approached me and sat on my foot. Now, it all made sense. He was a sitter, and I was the pet.
Yet perhaps that was exactly what I needed to finally address my obsession with sugary foods. If I said, “Pumpkin” out loud, a giant orange mess would come, and disincline me from eating similarly named pie. I would write the quintessential food aversion therapy course, sell it to the American Council on Exercise and my problems would be solved.
Although all these cats could use a little cardio, I wasn’t sure I was the perfect pet trainer or sitter, but then Gerty said, “Does a Benjamin a day sound fair for looking after my two lovelies?”
That was the best name that I had heard all day. “Sure, I’ll do it.”