Sheba and High Society

Damon Runyon

As I’ve explained, this cat Sheba is not really my cat. Her name is not even Sheba. That is only what I call her. I do not know her square monicker. I intended to ask her true owner, Miss Gertrude Neisen, when I saw the lady a few weeks ago, but in Miss Neisen’s presence trivial questions seem utterly trivial.

I hope the “Nei” is correct, though it could be “Nie.” Anyway, you pronounce it “Nee-sen.” The spelling could be ambidextrous like that of Jerry Geisler, the famous Los Angeles lawyer, who lists himself in the telephone directory as “Gie” and “Gei” and responds with equal amiability to “Gee” or “Guy.”

Miss Neisen is the charming singing star who is my landlady. Now just a minute, gentlemen. She owns the house in Holmby Hills, West Los Angeles, California, where I temporarily set up a branch of my hermit business, but with the main office still on Hibiscus Island down in Dade County, Florida, of course. That is all, gentlemen. Miss Neisen is a landed proprietor of no mean proportions. Or should I say landed-lady? No, I guess I shouldn’t.

She once made the front pages by bidding in for $26,000 one of those marble palaces at Newport built by some jillionaire and in spite of the fact that the water pipes burst and flooded the joint causing considerable damage she subsequently sold the place at a big profit. She owns at least one other house in Los Angeles besides that which I share with Sheba the cat and I think she recently bought one in New York City, so when everybody is running out of houses Miss Neisen will be all hunky-dory.

I have examined my agreement with the lady and I fail to find any clause relating to my upkeep of Sheba the cat, but I have willingly accepted this unexpected responsibility because I noticed that she seemed to have many high-toned callers, including a golden bobtailed Manx, a fawn-colored Angora, the spittin’ image of Sheba herself, a big blue Angora, and divers and sundry others I could not identify because I am not really a cat-man.

But I thought they were all Sheba’s suitors and having heard that among my neighbors are Miss Claudette Colbert, Miss Irene Dunne, Miss Fanny Brice and others of the cinema elite I was highly flattered. Thinks I to myself, if Sheba can contract a really classy union with one of these feline dudes I might horn myself into the best social circles of Holmby Hills as her sponsor.

To show these swells, meaning the cats, that Sheba was no blowser, I had set out for them such delicacies of the season as boiled fish heads, and sometimes raw liver and chicken giblets and presently Sheba had a veritable salmon. A Siamese joined the festive board one day and then I figured we were as good as in, socially. I figured this must be Miss Colbert’s cat, at least.

But now I am commencing to have my doubts about the visitors. It is obvious that their intentions are not serious and probably not honorable. The blue Angora snitches the choicest portions of fish right from under Sheba’s velvet nose. The bob-tailed Manx cops all the gizzards on her and the fawn Angora drinks her milk. They are eating us out of house and home.

I have given up on Sheba as a social wedge. I think she must be a dope to tolerate these free-loaders, and so am I for not taking Al Ellum Club and passing among the pussys and knocking their ears down. But they are invariably so ravenous that I am disturbed by the thought that but for my bounty they might perforce go hungry to bed. Maybe I ought to take my tidbits around among the owners.

Up to the time of meeting Sheba I had no great passion for cats. I never owned but one and that was a big white cat that was given me when I was occupying the penthouse on the roof of the Forrest Hotel high over West Forty-ninth and boasted the only live cricket ever on Broadway.

I had a big box of growing flowers in a window box of the penthouse that I bought from a florist and presumably the cricket came in the box. Anyway, all one summer it chirped away like mad and Broadwayfarers flocked to my door in droves asking permission to sit and listen to the song of the cricket.

Well, suddenly the song ceased and was never heard again and since it seemed unreasonable that the cricket had taken it on the duffy out of there after all the kind treatment bestowed upon it, I was finally forced to the conclusion that that big old white cat had corralled my cricket.

I was pretty hot under the collar about the matter and dismissed the white cat from my life immediately but I was not as hot as a delegation of Broadway gents when they came to my place that evening and learned of the disappearance of the cricket. They had planned to use it as a gambling medium by wagering on how often it would chirp within a given space of time.

I was very cool toward all cats thereafter until as I say Sheba came along, although I always exchanged courteous greetings with the cat belonging to Jack Duffy the actor, which would ride on his shoulder into Lindy’s and other spots.