January 01, 2007

Origin of the Bookstore, Part the Third - Ripley

For the next ten months we'll be doing a special feature each month in honor of Borderlands' upcoming 10th Anniversary (November 3rd, 2007).  We'll share some stories about what Borderlands is and how it got that way.

by Jude Feldman

Possibly San Francisco's most famous cat, Ripley joined the Borderlands family in December of 2002.  She was a gangly six month old Sphynx catling, selected for her winning personality, semi-hypo-allergenic-ness, and complete and utter lack of "show-cat" cred.  Almost everyone knows Ripley, but few know the story of how Alan and I managed to misplace her on her very first night in the bookstore.

Flashback to that misty December eve not so long ago.  Alan and I had driven out to fetch Ripley from the East Bay after spending the afternoon shopping for cat food bowls, litter, litter box, small feathered doo-dads, and all the other assorted stuff that you don't realize you need until you decide to get a cat.

Everything seemed perfect.  We'd "cat-proofed" the store to the best of our (okay, I admit it now, completely lame) abilities.  Not being a parent, I hadn't realized that "baby-proofing" is never as simple as you think it will be.  Sure, you've put those big plastic locks on the cabinet with the Ajax and the ant poison and capped all the electrical outlets, but what about all the stuff that you just don't realize can possibly be hazardous? Who could expect that the precious tykes will be trying to swallow the TV remote as soon as your back is turned, or smother themselves in your seemingly-harmless throw pillows?  Babies can make anything into a hazard; in fact, I think they are wholly responsible for that awful ascetic Danish-modern furniture look, where everything was streamlined and nothing had any sharp corners -- have you noticed that the Danish Modern trend coincided with the Baby Boom?  Cats function in exactly the same manner.  It is a wonder that any survive to continue the species, since they seem so bent on self-destruction.

But I digress.  So we'd (pitifully) cat-proofed the place, installed a cat door in any flat surface larger than four feet tall, set up the food and the water bowls and the litter box in (different parts of the) basement, and scattered feathered ankle-turners all over the place.  Now it was time for The Cat.  Despite my conviction that she'd be freaking out, projectile vomiting, and clinging upside down to the ceiling of the car by her claws on the way back to the bookstore, Ripley was surprisingly tranquil.  She curled up on my lap and fell asleep after thoroughly exploring the vehicle.  Perhaps I was lulled into a false sense of security.  When we finally arrived at the store after the three and a half hour drive, we were in a bit of a hurry to show the cat the litterbox in case she needed to use it.  So Alan took Ripley downstairs to the basement and I headed to the stock room where we'd stashed the cat food so I could bring it downstairs and fill up her bowl.  Not thirty seconds later, I heard a plaintive mewling from the basement, but it wasn't Ripley -- it was Alan, saying "Juuuuude?  I lost the cat!"

I rushed downstairs.  "You WHAT? How did you do that?"

"I just set her down in front of the litterbox and turned my back for a second, and she was gone!"

And so ensued a desperate search through the store's 2000 square-foot basement, which is also Alan's workshop.  The basement, in addition to being full of wood-working tools including several large saws, contains random boxes of books intended for donation, tons of props that we use for window displays, mannequins and clothes racks from the used clothing store which used to occupy the store space,  bookcases-in-progress, and lots of the other odd stuff that somehow automatically collects in basements.  We tried calling the cat's name first, before realizing that (a) the cat didn't know her name, since she'd only had it for three hours, and (b) even if they do know their names, cats *never* come when you call them, and in fact frequently head the opposite direction instead.  So that was ineffective.  We meowed loudly.  We shook the bag of cat treats.  We waved catnip like a talisman.

We looked in the most obvious places first; under the tables holding tools, in the cardboard boxes, etc.  No cat.  We then tried looking methodically over every inch of the basement -- over, under, around and through all the objects there.  No cat.  We held very very still, (and were vewy, vewy quiet) listening for meowing or rustling.  Nothing.  Following the useful maxim "when in trouble or in doubt/run in circles/scream and shout," I was starting to get a little frantic, and even a little irrational.  What if there was some undiscovered hole in the basement large enough for a cat to fit through?  What if she had crawled inside the walls of the building, like a rat?  What if she had impaled herself on a jigsaw?  What if we had a previously-undetected inter-dimensional portal in the basement, like the one we have in the ceiling of the office? (But that's another story.)  What if she was shivering in the Mission Playground next door, lost and alone and scared?  We intensified our search efforts.

Long story short, we finally located the cat, while crawling around on our hands and knees, in a space technically too small for the cat to fit.  (But isn't that always the way?)  She was *underneath* a wooden pallet, under the basement stairs, which was behind an enormous box of clothing hangers, which was behind a pile of 5-year-old newspapers, which was obscured by a doorless 50-year-old floor-safe that came with the store and is much too heavy to dispose of.

Ripley was contentedly licking her paws as if we hadn't just spent half an hour panicking and feeling horrible and berating ourselves for killing the cat not ten minutes after we got her to the store.  Four years later, she hasn't shown a marked decrease in her tendency toward mischief.  At least now I know to check under the stairs first.

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