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My wonderful first boss at Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago was a librarian’s librarian. Her life was well curated and in perfect order, so I was a complete mystery to her. When I was running late and showed up for work dressed in cutoff shorts and a scarf I’d tied into a (sort-of) halter top, she sent me to the depths of the stacks for the afternoon, accompanied by a gentle suggestion that next time I should wear actual clothes.

When her car was in the shop—scheduled maintenance, I’m sure as it would not have dared to actually break down—I offered her a ride in my ancient VW, which was, for novelty’s sake, actually running that day. She was telling me a story about her cats as we got into the car.

By now, I’d worked for her long enough to know her cat stories were a definite “tell” that she was nervous.

[NOTE: Actually, I first discovered this during a blizzard as my friend Janine and I ran into my boss while we all waited for our delayed flights in a bar at O’Hare Airport. After a few rounds, she announced, “I like cats.” By the time we’d been there for several hours and the bar was out of peanuts or anything else that could soak up alcohol, she was crying and listing each of the cats she’d loved. Ever since we poured my poor cat-loved-up boss onto her plane, Janine and I used the code “likes cats” for “drunk off their ass”. But I digress…]

But that day after work, my boss folded herself gracefully into the passenger seat as I tried to turn the key in the ignition. And tried. And tried. That’s when I noticed something weird. My car was clean. Like, really wiped down, nothing scattered, right down to the floormats clean.

“Floormats.” I was stunned. “Someone put floormats in my car.”

I looked again, and sighed in relief. “Nope.” Turning to my boss, I explained. “Not my car.”

It was interesting. I had no idea my calm, organized, middle-aged boss could jump that fast, and especially not that far. She was out of the car and across the street before I said another word. I hopped out too, shut both doors, and looked around. Sure enough, there was my (dirty, floormatless, but otherwise identical) VW parked down toward the end of the block.

She didn’t mention a single cat the rest of the way home. But as I pulled up in front of her house, she turned to me. “You know, I’ve always wondered who those broken down, empty cars at the side of the road belong to. Now I know.” As she went inside to pour herself some liquid cat appreciation, I had to admit she was probably right. We all have our little quirks. She liked cats. I drove wrecks.

Things haven’t changed much over the years. I’ve seen a fair number of people who liked cats until they saw doubles of them. The cars I managed to break got larger and more expensive, and tended to die in more exotic locales.

Why do I bring this up now? Oh, I don’t know…

August, 2015, Paris. A Death in Paris

July, 2016. Spain. [Are We There Yet?]

September, 2020. Italy. Sigh…

For some reason I’m thinking of liking me some cats. Lots…