4 min

Where the cool cats hang

Queer, collared or stray, the cats are an eyeful on the Drive

Gay men are obsessed with sex and it is the source of all our discontent.

This is what I mused after visiting The Gourmet Warehouse on Hastings St to nourish the bourgeois in me and Womyn’sWare to shop around for a different kind of tchotchke.

Then I amended the thought. On Vancouver’s east side, true to our Canadian tradition of compassion for life, we are more interested in animals.

My passion is cats. There are so many of them on the Drive, enough to keep a Broadway marquee scrolling for years.

They sit by the curbs, on the fences, lackadaisically. They huddle under the eaves in the long winter season, puffed up to combat the elements. They lick themselves in public or strut by to some important trafficking of catnip.

Most of them have a pad to crash in, food to eat, but some of them are homeless, feral, and run with the raccoons — that is the other tough gang around. On the Drive, you’ve got to know the politics of cool.

Cats are independent and finicky and sexy. The male ones are quite the hunks, and although I am partnered, I keep my pupils alert and my paws nimble — cats make for great philanderers.

Drive cats are hunky in misfit ways: sliced in one eye, or disabled in one leg, some with frayed clothes, student types, pushers, artists, activists. Some are lithe, jet black; some are white jarheads plumped with testosterone and one tooth missing. Disorderly in public, they can be colourblind and polyglots in private.

Cool cats live in our neighbourhood because it still lays low — no glass towers, no anti-panhandler’s laws.

They come from far and wide, from the West End, from Prince George or Alberta. We’re all busy; we don’t stand in each other’s way. But during my constitutionals, I keep an eye on my favourites, say hello, get their reluctant smirk, a purr, and sometimes a good rub down.

The Mediterraneans, the calico, the squat reddish Scots with short legs and plump butts for short bumpy rides, the Ethiopians and some of my own ilk, the Latinos. Ah! I love the free roamers, those impartial to identity politics and the neurotic anxieties of a queer minority.

A very gay student of mine, on a dark evening, fell prey to a young Siamese cat and followed him all the way to his crib in Strathcona only to discover that he was a she; they were together for a fair period after that.

Time to watch these cats without being run over? Plenty, everyday, and we’ve got two car-free festivals on the Drive, next one on Jul 22.

Spots to admire them? In cafés such as Continental, on the coarse grind side, but tremendous. Cats sit outside basking in the early morning rays in spring and summer, caffeinated and idle like a whirring Harley.

Watch out for a roving Moreno with a full mane that invites stroking. The girls trip over their accessory dogs to coo helloes to this one.

The Prado harbours the precious breed, the kind that wears studied frayed jackets, James Blunt curls, and pristine laptops. All décor is white there, it makes dark-skinned cats stand out in the gleam — good place to people watch.

Café Deux Soleils is a joint where daddy cats with matted hair bask in a post-modern hippie ambience (the other kind of “daddy” live around there too); the kittens keep the place messy and ebullient.

And my personal fave, Calabria — hectic, loud, with some of the most seductive, squinted Italian smiles you can get for a Java on the Drive. Stop to say hello to Marco, the baker next door at Fratelli to see what hands knead the dough you savour in the intimacy of your house.

Down the road, swayed by the music of Highlight Records, brooding Middle Eastern cats eye you at Abruzzo. I never know whether to swagger by or sashay. I often dive into the Magpie magazine store to relieve my fluster.

To go rough and edgy, the cats around Joe’s café are leaning by the big white wall as if in a prison yard. Think twice, they can bat and scratch, but what is wanderlust without a bit of hurt, right?

Ah, queer, collared or stray, the cats are also an eyeful at the local gyms and yoga salons where they stretch and moan before the mirrors in a grand babe-o-rama. Entangled like pretzels in the yoga mats, they bend in ways unspeakable.

My fave spot is Spartacus with its quirky diversity and friendliness. At my age, one must keep one’s extremities limber.

I once was too daring and had to be ingloriously disentangled by two good Samaritans for daring an intricate Asana. Meow! A cat entangled on a hot sling, not a good scene. I knew I had to hit a gym. These days, I am less daredevil and more spiritual in my private calisthenics.

Our own cat, Lucy, would never forgive me if I didn’t dedicate her a line or two. She is not really into male cats and quickly befriends our girl friends when they drop by her porch.

She has fought her share of body image issues, and a checkered past of lovers and odd jobs; she showed up and adopted us when Mr Deluxe — the hunk to end all hunks — died four years ago.

Yup, the Drive is not alien to AIDS and has never turned an eye in disgust at its neighbours in whatever sorry state they are. This is the kind of place it is: don’t ask, don’t tell and when you ask, you’ve got to put up.

So if you care as much for the animals when they are upright as when they are in all fours, we might just have the perfect scene for you.