I entered the Algonquin lobby, marched up to Olmedo the waiter, and asked: “Do you know where I could find Matilda?” He knew I meant business.
He looked around. He pointed to the back of the room. There I found her — alone at a table for six. I approached her chair. She glanced up. “At last we meet,” I smiled. Her eyes narrowed. She said nothing. She glanced back down. She licked her chest.
Still, I was happy to see her. I’d been there before, and she was nowhere to be found, since she hides under a lamp table. She’s a big gray fluffy ragdoll, which is to say that she’s a cat, which is to say that she’s the Algonquin cat, though she’s still not allowed on the furniture.
Her debutante ball is on Wednesday, but I wanted to meet her alone. I had known her retired predecessor, who was also Matilda. It’s not a coincidence. The Algonquin has had ten cats in eighty years; the first seven were Hamlet, the last three have been Matilda. It’s tough to come up with cat names.
I took pictures of her on the chair, which won’t affect her, since she’s already grounded. I lovingly scratched her neck, which I was confident she tolerated. She hopped down and clawed an armchair, which was fine, since she has no claws. I like to think that she did it because the guy in the chair was wearing a baseball cap in the Algonquin.
She trotted to the maître d’ stand, and I obediently followed. I looked down at her. She looked up at me. She took a leap and landed on the keyboard. She awaited my next move. She had found me amusing. I was sure to be invited to join the round table for lunch.
Henry the waiter gave me a special pen with which to prolong the amusement. Matilda frolicked with me, and people in the lobby began to notice. A couple told me that they were frequent guests yet had never known of the cat. I proceeded to educate them, and Matilda sneaked off. I understood. I’d had my shot.
In that, I knew that I was probably more fortunate than most, which was confirmed by Edwin Garcia, the front office supervisor. “We have people coming from all over the world just looking for Matilda,” he told me. “There are people who come to stay at the Algonquin because Matilda lives here.”
Matilda, in fact, has a spokeswoman, Alice de Almeida. (She also has an e-mail address, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account.)
Alice observed: “She’s the only one I know who can sleep on the job.”
Which could make Matilda the Algonquin legend that I want to be like most of all.
Play cat and mouse with Matilda at the Algonquin, 59 West 44th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, in Manhattan.