Boris on My Side
July 1, 2006
By Gary Michael Smith
Boris arrived as a baby boy kitty way back in 1989. He was a Louisiana SPCA stray that the staff
just couldn't put to sleep because of his terminal cuteness and sweet personality. One customer
even stopped in once to say he'd be back to pick up this beautiful Chatreaux, but he never
returned. His loss, because I got him and raised him as my own for the next 16 years.
Boris came with brains as well as looks. Once, during a fitful Saturday afternoon nap that had
me tossing and turning, I was awakened by five sharp prongs in knee. Looking down to my feet
where Boris liked to sleep I found him staring at me wide-eyed, with one paw on my knee. Once
he saw that I was now awake from my nightmare, he gently retracted his claws from my leg. It
was his way of shaking me to wake up.
On another occasion, he helped us discover the true feelings of a housekeeper Brenda and I
had recently hired. We were living on the world-famous Magazine Street in a beautiful Victorian
fourplex. Like many New Orleans structures, it was a shotgun style, whereby the design was a
straight walk-through from the front door to the back. As such, space had to be designed just so
to enable the best configuration.
At this time, my "office" comprised a corner of the dining room. My bookcase was the
mantle of a long-since closed fireplace. (Since New Orleans is a couple of centuries old, most
structures consist of wood-frame buildings, many of which have fireplaces -- a bad combination
and one that contributed to several city-wide devastating fires many years ago and which is why
fireplaces are nonfunctioning and why we are strongly discourage from using them within the
So back to the bookshelf/fireplace mantle. My books were within my reach of my little hovel
of a writing space, and I had to tell the housekeeper to not move my references to the other
mantle, which, although had more room on it, was across the room and not convenient for me.
Yet, for some reason, "Hazel" felt it was her duty to redecorate the part of our house twice a
month. And each time after she left and Brenda and I returned home from work, we'd have to put
everything back in its place and leave a note for her next visit to "Please leave items where they
are or put them back after cleaning the area."
She persisted, however, and we knew she wasn't long for this job. We just felt bad about
firing someone for such a seemingly trivial offense, even though her cleaning prowess also had
been lacking. But it was Boris who helped us discover her true feelings.
New Orleans has mind-alteringly hot summers. It's not uncommon to have temperatures in
the upper nineties with the humidity at the same numbers. And while I worship few things in this
world, air conditioning is one of them. Boris felt the same. Frequently, he would jump up on my
filing cabinet and perch next to the telephone answering machine so his face would catch the full
force of the air conditioning window unit. And this is how he helped us with our housekeeper
We came home from work one evening to discover the message light on the answering
machine flashing. It wasn't really a message, though, but a recording. When we played it, we
could hear that snippet of time earlier in the day: the droning of the AC, voices from the soap
opera on the TV in the other room, the sound of footsteps and humming. We realized that it was
our housekeeping going about her chores. But why the recording? Apparently, Boris had jumped
on the filing cabinet for his afternoon dose of cool air and had accidentally stepped on the record
button on the answering machine. So the tape spun away, unbeknownst to our housekeeper.
We heard her walking from room to room, which, in this house was a straight shot. We could
even tell by the footsteps exactly where she was. As Brenda and I listened, amused, at Boris'
recording, we'd say, "Sounds like The Young and the Restless in the background. Here she
comes into the dining room." Then we heard her walking toward the answering machine, which
was next to my desk, next to the mantle with my books.
Then it happened -- we heard a pause,
guessing she noticed that we'd put the books back from the mantle she had moved them to on her
last visit. The next thing we heard was her response to our own redecorating. With this
realization, she exclaimed, "Bitch!"
We looked at each other, slack-jawed. We rewound the tape and listened again. And again.
And again. Like crime scene investigators, we tried to determine her exact position, direction,
and state of mind. Yep, she was standing by the AC unit and answering machine, facing the
mantle, and was perturbed. Our decision about her employment status was now much easier, and
we gave Boris some well-deserved and much coveted cheese.
Gary Michael Smith is a writer in New Orleans. He can be reached at