When someone would experience something satisfying but small, my Brooklyn-born friend would often say, “That and a token will get you on the subway.”
“Grecca said I look spiffy today.”
“That and a token will get you on the subway.”
“I did not step in cat vomit a single time this week.”
“That and a token will get you on the subway.”
But cats, who are all a little “Brooklyn,” know how to treasure these token moments, “meaningless” though they are.
And that’s one of the million million reasons they give our lives meaning.
Or, rather, they remind us of the meaning already there, inside every microcosmic moment, like the little jooble of jam inside an Uncrustable. (A jooble is a unit of measurement smaller than a dollop but larger than a Boom. Now you know.)
If you’re looking for a cat who knows a thing about both crustabilities and subways, look no further than Viktor. With one eye smiling, many years on the mean streets, and total tabbularity on his side, Viktor came to us a little crusty, a lot cherished, and utterly ready to charge through the turnstile.
Even in a city of striped standouts, Viktor is a tabby in totality. If you shave a tabby, you will find a city of stripes tattooed upon his skin. But Viktor’s powers cannot be tabulated. His hundred-lane highway of stripes goes all the way to the soul.
It is no mere token to have a tabby-striped soul.
To be a true tabby is to be a borough of courage, bustling inside, bursting with insight, stretching your seams and stripes with light and life.
Viktor burrowed into Tabby’s Place with ultraviolet valor, a shy TNR “project” turned belly-brandishing shnoogle-puppy. (A shnoogle-puppy is a species more huggable than a red panda but less huggable than…well, nothing on this particular planet. Now you know.)
To be a true tabby is to hold your tales and truths and trials in a single bundle, confident that they were all necessary to nuzzle you into you-dom, even if no one has ever given you a bite of their gyro, even if you’ve just walked ten blocks with the Big Sad.
By the time we met Viktor, he’d lost his best friend Vixen, a sweet sylph of a savior who led him to food outdoors. Her mission complete, she breathed her last, and Viktor breathed the strange air of a world without his shepherd.
But to be a true tabby is to toss away the token inscribed “My Right To Resentment,” hurling it into the East River with no regrets. Vixen had filled Viktor’s pockets with tiny tokens of togetherness. Viktor used his treasures to tunnel through the terribles.
Sustenance gave life, but love gave meaning. Token moments tumbled his way like pennies from heaven.
A mysterious, magical woman began to care and to coo and to caress his crusty, dusty, not-yet-city-pretty stripes. That and a token would get him on the subway.
The seasons shimmied, and the light in the trees tried on new outfits, and Viktor’s one good eye glimpsed green goodness. That and a token would get him on the subway.
Flavors arrived, not quite gyros or questionably-sourced meat cylinders (Viktor does not enjoy the term “hot dog”), but mush of multiple colors and textures and metrics of marvelosity. (I can neither confirm nor deny that Viktor created a spreadsheet to rank the so-called fanciness of various feasts.)
He tasted different things every single day. He had a tongue that could taste at all. And a nose. A nose that could smell! That and a token would get him on the subway.
Then the day came when the actual subway came for Viktor, the topsy-turvy train to Tabby’s Place, and none of his tokens were necessary.
That’s the thing about tokens: they’re inherently unnecessary. (And I don’t mean that the subways now take MetroCards instead.)
They’re unnecessary, like mustard. Unnecessary, like belly rubs. Unnecessary, like stripes on a cat who no longer needs to hide.
Hugs and a token will get you on the subway.
But the subway, covered in streamers and fairy lights and blasting “No Sleep ‘Til Ringoes” by the Feastie Boys, was waiting eagerly for you all along. You may as well make the most of the moments that make you whole, even if they make “no difference” on the ledger or in the mirror or on the Who’s Who Whoop & Whoodle list. (Whooping and whoodling is “important,” more important than stink bugs, less important than loving in secret. Now you know.)
Courtesy of his mysterious, magical rescuer, Viktor took the ride to Tabby’s Place, and none of us have ever been the same. Viktor lost his bad eye; Viktor gained access to insulin; Viktor hit a hundred million home runs in the subway series of shnoogleball. (Shnoogleball is a game invented in Brooklyn, perfected in Ringoes, more fun than all the other orb-sports, less fun than hugging. Now you know.)
But if you think Viktor has been healed, just take a look at his humans. And we — you, me, everyone reading this and rejoicing at least a jooble — is hereby one of Viktor’s humans.
Because when you’re Viktored, your day and your week and your life are doctored. They may also be severely delayed. To be a true tabby is to traffic in excess affection and enhanced exuberance, and Viktor is as true as his stripes. He’s not afraid to adore you all the way to the core of your apple, not even if you have somewhere to be, not even if he stops traffic, not even if you make the evening news.
Rubbing Viktor’s belly will not bring you closer to your “goals.” Gazing into your eyes with a metropolis worth of mercy will not cure Viktor’s diabetes, nor hasten the day someone brings him a gyro. Playing shnoogleball will not net Viktor a million dollars, or even a round trip to Coney Island.
Delighting in one total tabby will not add one hour to the total of your life.
All of this and a token will get you on the subway.
You could chug past it all, make all your connections, and follow the right directions without these flavors and fripperies.
But to be a true tabby is to treasure the tokens.
To dig until you hit gratuitous grace.
To find time to “waste” time, until you remember the subterranean magic under every life’s tunnel.
To see — with two or one or zero good eyes — that these holy happenings, these coffee-break hugs and holy head-bonks, are not the things that “advance” our lives, but the things that give us life.
The tokens won’t fit the slots on your calendar, your vision board, or your five-year plan. But beneath the surface of your plans and your schedule, they will take you all the way to Viktor, valor, and mercy.
If you’ll let them.
May we root for true tabbies and true victory.