We are into week three of The Nine Lives of Christmas…in Real Life (see previous posts here and here to follow along), and this is as close to living out the Hallmark movie in real life without any movie magic as I think I’m going to get. I have located an actual New York City firehouse that claims a cat as its mascot.
Readers, please meet Carlow the Cat, and feel free to follow his celebrity on Instagram @carlow_fdny_cat. He has over 43K followers and climbing!
Unlike our Hallmark leading lady Marilee, played by Kimberly Sustad, I did not arrive at the firehouse in a black cocktail dress, nor was I in full makeup with my hair professionally blown out (although I considered it). In fact, even if I had, my plan would have been foiled, because to meet Carlow, I had to visit the firehouse twice. (He hid under the firetruck during my first visit, and I didn’t think that counted as a meeting.) On at least one occasion, I was styled entirely by StitchFix (see previous post Getting “Hallmark Ready”), but on both occasions, I went as myself: a curious New Yorker interested in meeting the famous firehouse cat.
Carlow lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the FDNY Engine 22/Ladder 13 firehouse located at East 85th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues. I see it as an attempt at positive community engagement that these firemen channel some of their energy toward meeting their neighbors through Carlow, their furry mascot. It certainly comes across as a generosity of spirit.
The first time my friend, Nicole, and I swung by the firehouse, it was sunset. The firemen were taking down the American flag that hangs outside the firehouse, and they invited us to help. It was an honor to help them, and doing so brought back a flood of memories of watching my grandfather fold the flag that he hung outside his and my grandmother’s home every day.
Unfortunately, Carlow was tucked away under the fire truck, and although we knelt on the ground to see him, no amount of coaxing made him budge from his hiding place.
While we tried to entice Carlow, I could not help but be struck by the serious surroundings. The firemen’s pants, scrunched down around boots, lined one wall, ready at a moment’s notice for them to step into uniform and charge toward danger. Yet although very serious work happens here, real people with playful personalities and senses of humor also reside here—people who warmly welcome strangers, help locate and lure Carlow out to say hello, and happily introduce the firehose dog, Woody, who is a wooden Dalmatian.
Our second attempt at meeting Carlow was more fruitful—a fireman coaxed him out from his comfortable spot under the fire truck by offering him water. Carlow is orange and yellow with a beard and was found inside a tire at a tire factory in the Bronx. He is named after the local bar, Carlow East, that bears his name. He is described as friendly, but not snuggly. He is also described by the firemen as preferring men, probably because that is who he is around all the time. And although his favorite position is lying under the fire truck, when duty calls and the engines start, he knows to get out from under the truck. . . which is exactly what Carlow did, because duty called! Just as a fireman was suggesting grabbing drinks after their shift, lights began flashing along the walls, all conversation stopped, and bodies started moving quickly in every direction, with stepping into the boots lining the wall and pulling their uniforms up over their navy-blue clothes. In an instant, the firemen went from chatting casually to focusing on the important work at hand.
If this had been The Nine Lives of Christmas, I feel like the timing would have worked out so that the invitation to join for drinks would have been extended just in time before the alarm went off . . . but in Real Life, real emergencies intervene. (Hopefully they all returned safely home to Carlow later that night.)
Soon after my trip to visit Carlow, I went on a blind date with a man who ended up being a fireman! (No, he was not from the same firehouse—although if this were my Hallmark movie, he almost certainly would have been.) While this fireman was not Brandon Routh from The Nine Lives of Christmas, he was handsome with a great sense of humor, and I really enjoyed our chat over coffee. Then, later that same day, the fire alarm went off in my office building, tripped by construction work. As two firetrucks pulled up to the building I had a good laugh.
In the 10 years I’ve lived in New York City, I have interacted with zero firemen. During the three-week period I decide to create a Real Life experience of The Nine Lives of Christmas, I have visited a firehouse twice, helped firemen fold the American flag, gone on a date with a fireman, and had two truckloads of firemen show up at the office. When it rains it pours! (Or maybe that’s just the firehose. . . .)
In addition to my interactions with New York City’s bravest, I have traveled to Brooklyn to visit a Cat Café and enjoyed yoga with kittens at the Meow Parlor. Each of these experiences is outside of my comfort zone and normal geographical footprint, which is exactly the point… dust off the cobwebs and shake up my routine.
Last year I was so distracted by work that I lost touch with myself, my life, and the world around me. Little by little my Hallmark adventures are working their magic… I’m engaging in the world around me, partnering with friends on new activities, laughing non-stop at myself as I brainstorm around my next Hallmark adventure, and smiling while I share this journey with you.
I hope you are having fun too and will tune in next week to see what my next adventure will be!