Manhattan moggies take the air

MIDSUMMER fevers infect Manhattan as nowhere else. Skyscrapers, the subway and sweltering heat turn into a potent virus that makes people and animals engage in all manner of seasonal aberrations that would never happen in such sensible spots as Peoria, Illinois, or Lubbock, Texas.

Forget the drunks and druggies, rapists, muggers and murderers who are part of the city's pestililence year- round. Think, instead, of the steamy day that a Rottweiler got loose on the subway, or that Rosita Libre de Marulanda bared her breasts for commuters on the A-line. Or the cat that jumped from 46 floors up and lived. Or the flying turtles and iguanas.

Rosita is the 49-year-old breast activist who is constantly doffing her shirt in the subway at rush hour. She does it to promote a 1992 New York court ruling that says it is sex discrimination for men to be allowed to take their shirts off in public, but not women. Blase New Yorkers consider her protest to be exhibitionism of the best kind - but exhibitionism none the less. They see it as the sort of protest that does nothing for bosom liberation about which New Yorkers do not have strong views - except when it comes to policewomen. The boys - and girls - in blue at the NYPD got so mad at their comrade who bared herself for Playboy that she was taken off the beat and given a desk job - safe from the leers and insults.

In a city were murder is routine, a one-shot drama barely makes the news. But when death is part of a more pressing problem - like holding up the subway system - New Yorkers take notice. Tuesday, for example, was a day from commuter hell. Within an hour a distressed veteran postal worker accused of mail fraud jumped in front of train, killing himself and stopping the trains for two hours. A pregnant women, trapped on the train went into labour, and a fierce- looking Rottweiler somehow broke loose from its owner and terrified passengers before being subdued by tranquilizer darts fired by cops of the Transit Division.

Animals, especially moggies, exhibit symptoms that humans know well enough. They desperately want to get out. Urban vets call it 'hi-rise cat syndrome' - an animal plague they claim is unique to New York.

Last month a cat set a record for survivng a high- rise fall, gliding down 46 floors to a safe and relatively soft landing in a flower tub. Naturally, cat psychiatrists and animal physicists were on hand to explain the phenomenon. These experts said the average cat reaches a terminal velocity of 60 miles an hour after falling five storeys; from then on its speed does not increase. After nine storeys, cats adopt a position that allows them to survive providing there is something soft to land on. Short-distance fallers often end up with broken bones while 30- storey divers can survive, even if they hit the pavement.

Between 150-200 cats take a leap from their owners' apartments during the summer months. Hi-rise dogs and ferrets are also prone to fall out, as are turtles and iguanas. A suprisingly high percentage survive.

Some years ago, I lived in a modest brownstone on the Upper West Side and had a cat called Gillie who took one look at my new girl friend, now my wife, and jumped out of the bathroom window. Gillie recognised instantly there would not be room for the two of them. Both survived, I'm happy to say.