Ashley Molesso, Chess Needham & Mafia

Left to right: Chess, Mafia, Ash

Mafia was born on Craigslist in 2012, my junior year of college, or at least that’s how she came into my life. So she might as well have been born there. She was just a kitten that some random woman in Queens was trying to rehome for a friend. As a child, I had a sweet all white cat named Tippy, and since Tippy’s disappearance in my junior high school years, I’ve always wanted a white kitten of my own, without ties to the rest of my family. A cat that I wouldn’t have to share, in simpler terms. The Craigslist photo posting was particularly eye catching, as Mafia’s beauty shot looked like a white cat that had gotten in a rumble with a pile of lint, in all her salt and pepper glory. Well, she was close enough to my desired dream cat! And free. More importantly, the photograph actually featured her playing inside of a handbag, which was a quirky and creative touch that I loved. A bag cat! Just like when I met Chess on the internet, I almost backed out. Nerves. But in the end, I fell in love. Mafia was so soft and white like a snowball, with a big grey blob of hair that spilled all over her back and onto the top of her head. She was a total angel, and she was so tiny that she could fit in a shoe. I took her home in a box on the subway. –AshXJ8A2565aI met Mafia on my third date with Ash. I stayed over. I’d never had much interaction with cats before because we only ever had dogs growing up. Mafia was the first cat I met who was super cuddly. That first night, I woke up and Mafia was on my head. I was like, hey, we just met and you’re already sitting on my head! Ash and I moved in together shortly after and it was just instant bonding with Mafia. My favorite thing that Mafia does is interrupt my work by literally sitting on the computer. If I’m lying down, she will lay herself across my chest and completely block the screen, or she’ll just drape herself across the keyboard. If I somehow get around this cat blockade, she’ll just start nuzzling my face and scooching around to keep my attention. –Chess

XJ8A2434aMafia is the Queen of the house—we constantly take orders from her. If we don’t obey her, she breaks a belonging of her choice that has an abundance of meaning and sentimental value to us. She somehow knows how to pick the family heirlooms. Aside from her sassy side, she is also (sometimes) very loving and considerate of our feelings. She mostly responds to really raw emotions, like when you’re so sad and REALLY feeling bummed over something of a more serious matter. Adding to that, she is also very kind and patient with our puppy, Pepper. She is so generous to take time out of her busy day to romp around through the apartment and play with the dog, which is actually a really cute sight. Pepper on the floor showing that she is submissive, Mafia pretend swatting, Pepper mirroring her swatting back. It’s a heartwarming scene.XJ8A2462aMafia is very tiny but also very large at the same time. We are not sure how this happened. Most of the mass is accounted for in her primordial pouch, though. She has a cute li’l raccoon-striped tail, bright green eyes, and a cute li’l pink nose. And according to her vet, she has really good teeth. Like, amazing teeth for a 7-year-old cat. She gets many compliments on them. She has many nicknames by which she goes. Her most common other name is Muffin, followed by Mafia (pronounced “muff-yah”), Maffum, Maffums, ‘fia, Bloonfia, Floffum, Fluffia (pronounced “fluffy-yah” OR “floof-yah”), and most recently, we’ve been calling her Mrs. Rose, due to the fact that we just found out she’s the human age of 44—oldest in the house. XJ8A2470aMafia sometimes acts as Cat Secretary for our stationery company, Ash + Chess. She sends the occasional email once a month, manages the floor, and is in charge of booking appointments—whether it be home salon related or dinner reservations on the couch. She spends half of the day sleeping on the couch in the front office room and the other half sleeping either on the bed or in a patch of sunlight on the floor. Sometimes Mafia gets the zooms—this is when she darts back and forth through the apartment while grumbling her weird signature noise that we can only describe as a deep and unsettling growl/bark/meow combo.

She also participates weekly in SockFest3000, which is when one of us leaves the apartment to go to work or walk the dog, and she starts meowing continuously while pulling our socks out of our sock drawers and laundry basket, and sprinkling them all throughout the apartment. She’s exhibited this behavior since she got spayed back when she was very young, so it’s been a near life-long activity of hers. XJ8A2486aAt night, she cuddles with me (and sometimes Chess) until everyone in bed falls asleep. And then 4am is Mafia’s busiest hour, when she breaks anything that has sentimental value just to get a quick snack. Under that soft coat, she’s secretly a manipulative psycho. But of course, we still love her!

Mafia gives me a joy that I never knew could be possible. She’s been with me for 7 years, Chess for 4, and she has been the sweetest and softest li’l cuddle buddy since the beginning of time as we know it. Mafia reminds me that I have responsibilities and that her life depends on me. It’s what I imagine having a kid is like, but like with really REALLY low stakes. Having her in my life has made me a happier person in general—she gives me something to look forward to— every day I get to spend time at home with her and every night we get to snuggle. She comforts me. And even cuter, she responds to her name no matter what the circumstances are—usually with her little chirpy meow. If she’s standing across the room, if she’s hiding under the bed, if she’s busy bathing, her attention always breaks and focuses on us when we call her over.

Ash Molesso and Chess Needham are a queer power couple who run the stationery company, Ash + Chess. Ash is the art director for the company, and has been working on it full time for the past year. Chess formerly worked as a high school teacher in Queens and now works full time on Ash + Chess doing artwork and managing fulfillment and production. They’ve been working the past year on their book, The Gay Agenda, set to be published in April 2020. They love cuddling at home with their cat Mafia and dog Pepper, as well as hanging out in nature, hiking in the Adirondacks, and traveling around.


Photographer based in Brooklyn, NY.

2 thoughts on “Ashley Molesso, Chess Needham & Mafia

  1. This cat has huge, calm eyes, and she stares right at the camera. Excellent model.

    Mafia is a rather strange name for a cat… The godfather comes to mine…

    My cats also block the computer. Two of them just did minutes ago, blocking the screen. They want my full attention, all the time.

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