Saturday, August 16, 2008

Good Girl - Part I

She came into my life on a cold November morning, from the front seat of a 1994 Acura Integra parked on East 20th St. Her soft brown fur was moist with her own pee, and her little body trembled from fear. Ten years later, on a crisp October afternoon that heralded the coming fall, the rustling of leaves through my garden was broken by the insistent sound of a pickaxe striking North Carolina clay. How can ten years go by so fast? At such times I find the western conception of time as a linear progression, marching along at a steady gait, utterly preposterous. Surely Native Americans have a better handle on time, seeing it as fluid and flowing, like a stream, rushing here, swirling there, a succession of rapids and eddies leading to moments where two events, separated by years, sit side by side.

We grew up with cats, which is probably why I always wanted a dog. My mother, a true cat person, always told us that cats and dogs can’t live together. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized she was lying. So we grew up with cats, a Siamese and a jet black mix, and found them to be worse than useless. They didn’t entertain us, or play, or guard the house, or kill mice or do much except eat, sleep, piss and shit. While we, of course, had to clean the litter box, live on tattered furniture, and on special occasions have our early morning walk to the bathroom punctuated by the indescribable experience of cold cat puke squishing through our toes. On those mornings I understood why the only thing my father ever said about the cats was, “I’m just waiting for them to die.”

And die they did, after many years of waiting. The black one went first, and when the beloved Siamese died, some years later, my father was elated, my mother inconsolable. It was our first experience with the profound anguish of a person who has lost a beloved pet, and we had no idea that in addition to bringing on extreme sadness, it can cause a person to do some pretty outlandish things. So it was that on the day my mother had her precious Willow put down, she went directly to the pet store, and came home with two Siamese kittens. As if that weren’t enough, when my father stepped through the door that evening he found us sitting around the dining room table feeding those kittens filet mignon. He was livid, and probably thought he couldn’t be angrier, but that’s because he didn’t know what was coming.

The following week a package arrived wrapped in brown paper, the kind of packaging that in those days was primarily used for shipping items of “adult entertainment,” and while the contents of this package weren’t pornographic per se, they probably qualified as obscene. Seems my mother had made a stop between the veterinarian and pet store and, her world off kilter from the depths of her sorrow, had somehow thought it reasonable to see a taxidermist. Yes, precious Willow was back from the dead, and my father was back to waiting. His waiting would continue for a very, very long time.

My parents are no longer together for a variety of reasons, but I’m pretty sure the stuffed cat didn’t help.

So like I said, I had always wanted a dog. I even worked as a dog walker while I was in high school, and was absolutely certain that once I was on my own I would get a dog. Of course that was before the Pooper Scooper Law.

On August 1, 1978, the Yankees beat the Texas Rangers to climb to 6 ½ games back of Boston, and New York passed the country’s first Pooper Scooper Law. The Yankees proceeded to lose the next three. That should have told us something right there.

Over the course of the next few years, I watched closely the practices of the dog owners in my neighborhood. Most went with the plastic bag over the hand that they turned inside out after collection, and while this method seemed exceedingly efficient, there was something disconcerting about the thought of grabbing a pile of steaming dog poo, even if you did have a ply or two of plastic protection. Others, who perhaps felt as I did about grabbing the pile, went with the newspaper technique, watching carefully for the dog to assume the position, and then quickly leaning over to thrust a section of the newspaper under its butt just in time to catch the falling feces. When well-executed, the newspaper thrust, catch, fold and dispose is easily the most elegant of the poop scoop methods. Yet one only has to see it go awry once to know it’s not for them. I mean, is there anything more embarrassing, for both parties, than a person bent over at the waist holding a piece of newspaper under a dog’s ass as it skitches awkwardly down the street trying to get the hell away from the lunatic trying to catch its shit with a newspaper?

So I decided not to get a dog after all, at least not until I had moved out of the city. My story was that I wanted a substantial dog, like a Rottweiler, and I couldn’t be so cruel as to confine such an animal to a small, New York City apartment. But it’s closer to the truth to say that, while I did want a substantial dog, I wasn’t all that keen on handling its equally substantial poop.

This brings me to the fall of ’94, my girlfriend who had recently moved to New York from Boston, her desire to get a dog, and our discussion of the relative merits of such a move. I made a convincing case. My lease would be up in February, and we had already decided to move to Westchester. Buying just any old dog from an unscrupulous breeder or worse, a pet store, can bring on all sorts of complications. It’s better to go to a trusted breeder, wait for a new litter, and have your pick of it. She, for her part, had given up her life, including an apartment she loved, a car she loved, and a city she loved, and come down here to live in my apartment, hang out with my friends, and listen to my convincing arguments. She didn’t say it at the time, but I’m pretty sure she was thinking the whole thing had been one big mistake, and maybe, just maybe, a dog could save it. But in the face of my overwhelming logic, she relented. We would get a dog in 3 months when we moved out of the city.

The following morning she went to a doctor’s appointment, in my car, and called me from the road on her way back. “I bought a puppy,” was all she said. “I’ll go to the pet store,” was my reply.


Anonymous said...

Hope there's a good ending...

Anonymous said...

love this image for time:
"Surely Native Americans have a better handle on time, seeing it as fluid and flowing, like a stream, rushing here, swirling there, a succession of rapids and eddies leading to moments where two events, separated by years, sit side by side."