My Blog List

Friday, September 29, 2017

Dog Love 8


Yesterday I was walking downtown when I saw two young women coming out of a trendy brewery. They were ahead of me walking at an extremely leisurely pace, both dressed in tight stonewashed jeans with decorated back pockets, short black boots, and white tops. Each was holding a leash to which a small dog was attached. The dogs were of the same breed, same size, and same colors. The women did not engage with the dogs. They were just holding on to the same length leashes as the two little dogs ran around sniffing things.

And then, one of the little dogs lifted a hind leg and pissed on the wall of a jewelry store. The woman holding on to the leash did not notice that the dog stopped to mark the wall. The dog finished spurting his yellow fluid on the grayish wall and resumed trotting behind the woman, leaving a meandering trail of drops on the cement pavement. Then, as the women crossed the small plaza and reached another storefront, which looked like an art gallery, again the dog lifted his hind leg and pissed on the wall. And again, the leash holder did not notice what her little dog was up to.

Although I was by myself, I was left speechless. That dog nearly pissed on my foot, he twice pissed on a wall, left a trail of drops on a pavement in front of me, and his leash holder did not respond. She did not look at the dog once or try to pull him away from the wall and get him near a tree or a bush. And I wondered, what is this supposed to mean? How can these identically dressed women walking with these identically looking dogs be unaware that the leashes they were holding have living, walking things attached to them?

And then it dawned on me. These dogs were just accessories for these women. A part of the outfit. No different from the tight jeans or the short boots. Some people accessorize their persona with jewelry; others with body piercing; some with belts and purses and bows in their hair. And some people accessorize with dogs. Especially little dogs.

The fact that these dogs piss on walls and stop to sniff things, and look for stuff left on the ground means nothing to people like these two women. The dogs are there only as props. To make someone look pretty, or interesting, or fashionable or God knows what. Because if a dog can piss on a wall and you don’t even notice, then what is your role in this dog’s life except for holding on to the leash?

The more I look, the more I see dogs used as accessories, as props rather than companions or protectors or little helpers. Some people would tell you otherwise, but the truth is that dogs are becoming the new accessory.

The other day, an advertisement popped up on my computer for yoga classes with dogs. It announced “The latest fitness trend which aims to help you bond with your pet.”

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw that ad was that yoga already demands a mountain of accessories: mats, straps, blocks, blankets, towels, socks, you name it. And now, dogs, too? Are they going to be used as pillows to support the neck or the knees, I wonder. Or as squishy weights?

And what type of dogs make the ideal yoga accessory? Only small ones that you can lift and balance on your shoulders? Or patient ones that can sit for an hour and watch people twist themselves into strange shapes without barking or growling at each other? Or well-behaved ones who know not to lick your face when you lie down, or sniff your crotch when you contort your legs into lotus pose?

Then I thought, “How do you bond with a dog during yoga, anyway?”

I barely bond with myself at yoga class. I am not that flexible, I can’t do a head stand, I can barely twist my back into the snake pose. When I notice a thin young person who sits with a straight back in front of me without slouching after a minute, or twists her body into all kinds of advanced poses, instead of hating myself I transfer that self-loathing to her. She might be the nicest person in town, but if she can do the one-legged inverted staff pose without blinking while totally ignoring me, I will find it difficult to like her.

So imagine if I were a dog without the social filters and fear of humiliation.

What I am sure of is that the little dog in that ad is probably not the type that would piss on you when you relax into downward dog pose, folding your body into a triangle shape and letting your head hang down until every vertebrae in your back sings in relief. That little white dog knows he’s being watched. He will wait until you finish yoga class and as soon as you walk out, he will piss on the wall of the studio, while you’re still under the influence of Om.
And I would say: You should have seen it coming.



photo credit: Business Insider UK on facebook

Monday, July 31, 2017

Dog Love VII


As absurd as it may sound, it appears that many dogs have a certain sense of entitlement when it comes to pooping. Especially urban dogs. These dogs, when they go out for a walk, they know that every time they poop, their person will pick it up, put it in a plastic bag, and carry it to the nearest trash can or until they get back home. They don’t even try to do it discretely in the bushes where no one can see the pile that they leave behind. They do it on bare concrete, where they know they can’t bury it or cover it with leaves and dirt like cats do, for example.

You may say, “how do you know they understand what’s going on?”

And I say, of course they do. They see it happen every day. They are not that stupid. The simple proof is that they never show interest in that bag once it gets filled up with their feces. They choose to ignore it, and they don’t give a damn. If there was a treat in that bag they would have asked for it, I promise you. But there are no treats in that bag, and they know it. So they continue to ran around and sniff things and wag their happy tail, while their person is walking around with a bag of warm poop in hand.

They think it's cool to have a human pick up after them. And their people do, too. Without complaining. Like it’s normal. They go out to get some fresh air with their dog, and end up carrying a bag of mushy poop instead of, let’s say, fresh berries they found hanging from a bush.

Well, maybe not all dogs don’t care. But a good portion of them don’t give it a second thought.

Several years ago when I was visiting my brother in Tel Aviv, I realized that I was putting myself in danger when I was walking the streets of his neighborhood. There were giant landmines the size of Madagascar on the sidewalks, and they were not the kind that maim you. Just smear the bottom of your flip-flops. I had to remind myself every time I left home to watch out for these mounds of puppy poop, or whatever cute name they want to call this stuff, or find myself frantically looking for a patch of grass in that urban desert. I was praying for rain in those days. Then finally, the city decided to join the civilized world and installed plastic bag dispensers in strategic spots and hung signs everywhere telling dog owners that they were expected to clean up after their dogs. I must say that in my last visit I was quite impressed.

But don’t get all smug that here in the U.S. people are more civilized than the infidels of the Middle East, because there is still a lot of room for improvement, even here.

Ask my friend Fadi who shares a sidewalk with a neighbor who manages not to notice the unwrapped presents her dog leaves in front of his door on a regular basis. Fadi, whose family escaped from Beirut during the bloody civil war of the nineteen eighties in search of a peaceful haven, ended up here, where he is greeted by dog poop every time he opens the door. Maybe it is better than sniper fire and car bombs, but hey, don’t we want to make a good impression?

Well, this little old lady, as Fadi describes her, probably doesn’t like to bend down and pick it up, and I don’t blame her. I wouldn’t want to do it, either. Not even if someone paid me. Walking around with dog poop in a bag is not very sexy. And these days, when I am trying not to be perceived as a little old lady, I’d rather get a tattoo or even walk in high heels than dangle a little plastic bag that screams “dog poop.”

So while I profess admiration for those dog lovers, who don’t let their egos get in the way, and leave their homes with their dogs, knowing that at some point during their walk they will have to bend down and scoop a mound of warm dog poop into a small plastic bag, and never let that humbling experience compromise their love for their dogs, I have to say that I have zero tolerance for the idiots who walk in nature with their dogs, and leave that bag of shit right there, on the side of the trail.

Who in their stupid little brain thinks that leaving a plastic bag filled with dog shit on the side of a nature trail helps the environment or humanity or the wild turkeys and the squirrels who call that trail home? What is wrong with these people? Why don’t they just let it dry in the sun and become compost or whatever?

So while I tell you that I would rather walk in high heels or get a tattoo than scoop dog poop into a bag, I find myself occasionally collecting old green plastic bags filled with what I assume is dried dog shit that were discarded by idiots on the side of the trail where I go to get in touch with nature. Me, the person who would not touch a bag of dog poop if they paid me.

So please, if you ever see anyone leave a plastic doggy bag in nature, tell them to take it home and put it in the trash where it belongs. The squirrels might thank them.




Monday, July 10, 2017

Dog Love VI

                    Flickr/James Foreman
It appears that there is a conspiracy of silence surrounding dogs and their ticks. Dog people talk about all kinds of misfortunes that befall their dogs: bloody fights with other dogs, attacks by vicious raccoons and coyotes, exotic illnesses, getting lost, run over by a car, bitten by snakes and so forth. But no one ever mentions ticks.
 
Yet every dog occasionally has ticks on its body. Once a dog steps out of its people’s home, it is bound to attract a tick. But I never hear about these ticks and I never see dog people pull ticks from their dogs. And I wonder, is talking about ticks taboo? Is pulling ticks a private thing like going to the bathroom? Or is it a non-issue, which is worse, because for me, ticks are one of evolution’s meanest ideas.
 
Since dogs live in people’s homes, on people’s carpets, in their kitchens, and many times in their beds and cars, and ticks live with dogs, logically, people live with ticks as well. So how come I never hear about them? How come I never see dog people pull ticks from their dogs? Is this done in secret?
 
When I was a kid growing up on the kibbutz, every dog I knew had ticks lodged in its ears. These ticks looked like small blueberries and came in different sizes and shades of pink. The people who had dogs knew how to pull the ticks out of their ears and then smash them on the concrete walkways with a stone they found on the ground. Sometimes you could hear a small popping sound and blood would splatter around the crushed blueberry.
 
Now since I didn’t have a dog, I didn’t give ticks much thought. I avoided ticks and the dogs’ ears that housed them and practically forgot about their existence for many years.
 
And then I came to America.
 
The first time I heard about ticks was when Lyme disease started to appear on the East Coast. But the ticks that carried the disease were deer ticks, and they lived in the woods mostly, so apart from hearing about the danger of contracting this awful disease, I didn’t have to worry about ticks, since my chances of running into them were slim.
 
Until I found a tick on my neck. Twice. After hiking in the woods.
 
The first time I didn’t even know it was a tick. I felt something crawl behind my ear and picked at it. Then I looked and saw between my fingers something black that looked like a little spider. But it was not a spider. The thought that it might be a tick passed through my brain like a blinding flash of neon light. I threw the thing on the carpeted floor of the San Jose Airport, and tried not to pass out before boarding for my flight was announced. 
 
Before I saw that spidery thing squirming in the palm of my hand, I’d never seen a tick out in the world, doing its own thing, not attached to a dog. I didn’t know ticks had little legs. It never occurred to me that they turned into pink blueberries only after they sucked enough blood from their host.
 
Host. I’d become a tick host. Sweet mother of Jesus, break out the tweezers and dunk me in pesticide and petroleum jelly. Sorry, I am Jewish and should not take the name of Jesus or his mother in vain, but I can’t think of any equivalent expression in Jewish vocabulary, and I need something stronger than “oy vey” and “gevaldt” to convey my horror.
 
Ever since I discovered that I was attractive to ticks, I look at dogs with even more suspicion. Yes, we share the same predicament, but they don’t seem to care much about it. And neither do their people. Or maybe they do, but they know how to hide it.
 
Thinking that something that crawls in nature and sucks blood decided to camp on my neck and drill a hole into my skin in order to suck my blood makes me want to jump off a really tall bridge. I don’t do well around blood-sucking, multi-legged crawling things.
 
I remember, when my daughter was three and a half, we came back from Israel—a hot and humid place brimming with all kinds of unspeakable wildlife—and the next day her father discovered lice in her beautiful, thick, long hair. At that critical moment, I seriously considered giving her up for adoption. Luckily, her father was more realistic and said I was a bit radical and that the problem could be solved with a special shampoo and repeated treatments.
 
But what treatment is there around to help me overcome the realization that for a tick, I am not much different than a dog?
 
I guess dog people don’t have this problem. They are not offended by ticks. They can live happily in the company of their dogs and their ticks, knowing that at any given moment a tick can get tired of their dog and decide to crawl out of its ear and settle on them.
 
Maybe they are created part human and part other things—a combination that enables them to accept the fact that they might find a tick on their dog or on themselves, and that the tick will have to be removed and smashed by none other than them. And then, they can return to normal life as if nothing unusual had happened.
 
I, for one, cannot do that.  I guess that’s why I am not a dog person. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Short Story: My Friend Crae

 I met Crae in a poetry reading that took place at a famous book store on Columbus Street in San Francisco. I was not terribly interested in the event, but Larry, my then-boyfriend, said he didn’t want to go alone. The moment we entered, Larry ran into a young woman whom he introduced to me as "a brilliant poet” from some place or another, who was also a guest lecturer at the English Department, and moments later disappeared with her into blissful oblivion. I got stuck behind a blond guy in faded jeans and cowboy boots, feeling completely out of place.

I wanted to go home and wonder why on earth Larry had wanted me to come with him, but I was new to the city and didn’t want to get lost in the dark. Especially with my accent. I decided to ask the blond guy in front of me for directions. He was absorbed in a small poetry book and did not have the vibes of a serial killer. I tapped on his shoulder. He turned around, his soft blue eyes looking a bit lost behind thin gold-rimmed glasses, and before I had a chance to open my mouth, asked, "What do you think about fornication?"

"Fornication?" I stumbled.

"That's what Adam and Eve did in Paradise," he explained. He spoke with a distinct accent, which I later learned was called Texas twang.

I offered a noncommittal "ah-ha," hoping it wouldn’t give away my nationality and went to look for Larry and his poet guest lecturer. The guy followed me and asked if I’d ever read William Burroughs.

That was how my friendship with Crae began.

A few months later, Crae confessed to me that he became instantly bewitched when he heard me saying the word “fornication” at the bookstore. He said that after he heard that word coming out of my mouth he wanted to woo me to a nearby alley and fornicate with me.

I did not tell him that I should have looked up the word after I first heard it that day, because shortly after I met him, I gave my students a grammar quiz and with a deadly serious expression on my face told them, "Don't even think about fornicating. I don't need to look up to see you do it."

I noticed the awkward silence and stifled laughs and wondered if my threat had sounded too hollow. My students probably knew I could not see them cheating behind my back, like the heavenly couple who tried to cheat God in Paradise after they ate the forbidden fruit. Besides, I never believed my grammar school teacher when she said that she could see us cheat behind her back. Later on, I looked up the word. The next day I told my students that they could teach me a few things, too, and they agreed to forget that I had said that word in class.

Crae was the only person I told about my life in Israel and my military experience without being asked. I mentioned it to him the first and only time I came to see him in his apartment in downtown San Francisco. I wanted him to read a short story I had translated from Hebrew. I didn’t dare show it to Larry, the professor, but I thought that Crae would be a good candidate because of his love for poetry
 
           Crae was not surprised to hear my voice over the phone.

“I was praying for you to call,” he said.

The night he asked me about fornication he shoved into my hand a wrinkled business card that promised "protection of damsels, aid of widows and orphans, and the succoring of the needy," and whispered, "Don't hesitate to call."

When I told him that I needed help with something, he invited me to his "temporary office," which was a nicotine-infested windowless cell that smelled like a big wet ashtray. It was located at the end of a stuffy corridor on the top floor of a flea-bag residential hotel. There were no chairs in the “office,” and the floor was covered with heaps of dirty clothes, books by Henry Miller, old newspapers, empty Chinese food containers, and a variety of plates full of cigarette butts. After I refused to make myself comfortable on the stained bed sheets, Crae explained that he rents that room when he needs to hide from his furious girlfriend, a.k.a. the magnificent Asian nymphomaniac. Then, he asked if someone I knew was dying.

Crae was interested in death as much as he was interested in sex. I learned that the night we first met at the bookstore. After he brought up William Burroughs and told me he was trying to memorize his poems, he recounted the legend of the William Tell stunt Burroughs pulled on his wife, accidentally shooting her to death after she put a wine glass on her head. He also told me that he worked at a mortuary.

I promised him that no one was dying, and asked if he could read a story I translated from Hebrew into English and give me some feedback. When he realized I could "write," he asked me to listen to something he had composed for his girlfriend. He lit a cigarette and read me a seven-page poem on masturbation and flying cows, while puffing perfect smoke rings into the air.

When he finished reading, he showed me his rifle. I nearly passed out. I never knew anyone who owned a rifle. Not even in war-zone Israel, where you have to give a pretty good excuse to get a permit. I didn't even know it was legal to own one in America. When I saw the rifle, I was not afraid that he would shoot me, but I started to get worried when he stood up in the middle of the room, brandished the rifle in the air, and, with his eyes closed, started singing:

Pretty woman, walkin' down the street
Pretty woman the kind I like to meet

I asked him not to point the rifle at my face and he stopped and said that he still needed to buy bullets. That was when I decided to tell him that I was once a soldier in the Israeli army. I was hoping to shake him out of his trance and make him realize that I was not impressed by his weapon.

To my relief it worked.

He became very excited. Actually, aroused would be a more accurate description. He wanted to know which guns I could shoot and dismantle, and if I could do it blindfolded and under heavy bombardment in the middle of the night. I answered "yes" to everything, only because I wanted him to lock the rifle back in the closet, not because I wanted to impress him. My days of dismantling M16s and Uzis were long over, and no one in their right mind would have ever asked me to do it blindfolded. This macho stuff belonged only in Crae’s imagination, not in boot camp. 

As our friendship evolved into occasional encounters in small neighborhood cafes to read each other’s writing samples, I learned that I was spared the honor of fornication because I could dismantle guns while blindfolded under bombardment at night. Crae added “in a coal mine” to my list of qualifications when he wanted to impress his Texan ex-pat friends, who sometimes ran into us when we sat in coffee places on Haight Street. Never mind that there are no coal mines in Israel. But that is beside the point.

For several months, we were reading a draft of a play he was working on called "Texans and their Guns." It was about John Hinckley, the guy who shot President Reagan, and his two imaginary friends, Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Whitman, the Texas tower sniper. I provided feedback about the dialogue between the assassins when it became long rumblings that made little sense to me, and he, in return, corrected the grammar and punctuation errors I committed in my first attempts in creative writing. I didn't think much would come out of his play or my writing attempts, but his encouragement made me feel brave enough to continue.

One evening I noticed that a short story I started writing had a potential to become a book length novel, and not just a vignette. I called to tell him that I was going to write a book and asked, "Where to put the comma when you write a book dialogue? Inside or outside the quotation marks?"

"Just write the damn thing and worry about it later," he responded in his special Texas accent. It was the best encouragement I've ever received from anyone until that point. It gave me all the courage I needed to proceed.

After I showed him the first chapter of my book in progress, he confessed to me, with some regret in his voice, that in the early stages of our acquaintance, before I told him that I had been a soldier in the Israeli Army, he was hoping to fornicate with me. I didn’t believe him. It was just his Texan bravado, I felt. I was sure that he knew, from day one, that all he could have gotten out of me was a very platonic relationship and a sympathetic ear. That was why he was not embarrassed to brag about the bar fights that he supposedly won, and complain about his girlfriend’s sexual appetite.

Since he was a mortician by trade, however, I was more interested in his experience with death than his sexual escapades. I told him that what I felt toward death was similar to what I used to feel toward sex when I was a teenager. I thought it was enchanting, but at the same time I absolutely dreaded it. As expected, Crae got caught up in the imagery and said that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that he planned to be shot dead at the age of forty by a jealous husband of a future lover. Then he agreed to listen to my encounters with death.

It happened when I was still living in Israel. One night I saw two men carrying a stretcher to an ambulance. A man was lying on the stretcher in pajamas, and a blue sheet covered him up to his chest. The man's left arm fell over the side of the stretcher and his fingers caressed the wet grass beneath.

The next day I overheard my neighbors talking. "Did you hear about Guttmann’s father? He died last night from a heart attack," one said.

"I heard he died at the hospital," was the reply.

After hearing it, I wondered how seeing death for the first time would affect me. But for a long time I remained the same person. Finally, I decided that I hadn’t changed as a result of seeing death because the man I saw was not completely dead when his arm dropped from the stretcher and his fingers touched the grass.

Crae was not impressed.

So I told him about the funerals I attended during my military service. "The guys were responsible for the gun salute, and we put the wreaths on the graves."

Again he was not impressed.

I didn’t give up and asked him to take me to the mortuary. “I want to learn about death from an expert,” I flattered him, “from someone who is not afraid to die.” He looked at me for a few seconds, and agreed to give me a tour, but forgot to set a date, which was very frustrating. He could not understand how much I wanted to see what death looked like because he had never seen my dark side.

Several months after Larry and I broke up, following a secret affair he had with one of his admirers, Crae showed up at my place in the middle of the night. He came to tell me that his girlfriend had a huge fight with him when they were walking out of a movie theater, and that the police came to rescue him from her blasting rage. He ended up breaking a knuckle, so he said, when he hit the windshield of her car with his fist. It was the fourth time she had tried to kill him, he groaned, and then subjected me to every detail of the story, including a description of the blowjob she had given him in the men's restroom during the movie. It was not even a porno flick. I think he said it was a sleeper by Robert Redford.

"She breaks my heart," he mumbled as he wrapped his hand with an ice pack I handed him.

I didn’t know what kind of wound she was carving in his heart, but his pain was visible. He was slurring his words and I was unable to comprehend his line of thought. I also learned that he was drunk because when he entered he said that he was "inebriated."

I had to look it up. For a moment I was afraid he caught a deadly disease during his latest bout of self-destruction. “She took off her underwear and waved them in front of the cops and it took me forever to convince them that she was crazy and that the whole thing was just a big turn on for her,” he said, trying to focus his blood-shot eyes on his bruised hand.

When daylight broke he fell asleep on the carpet. His precious Zippo lighter with the embossed figures of Vishnu and Shiva slipped from his pocket and landed under the couch. I picked it up and put it on the coffee table. Then I covered him with a sleeping bag.

"Go away, stop, you hurt me," he begged her in his sleep.

I watched the torment slowly leave his face. When he slept he looked so innocent: his straight blond hair covering his forehead, his good hand tucked between his knees, the green tattoo on his forearm announcing his faith in God. I put a clean sheet on the couch, just in case he woke up later and wanted a softer spot to sleep on. I wanted him to be comfortable and safe. He was my closest ally and my best English teacher, and I was committed to taking care of him, even at the cost of developing a voyeuristic ear. I was flattered that he chose me as his confidant. At least with me he did not feel compelled to perform, since he knew I was not good material for fornication. All I ever needed was a little encouragement and attention.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Dog Love V


                              Flickr/Angela Antunes
There is a philosophical musing floating around that goes like this: Why do dogs lick their balls? Because they can.

It is also a universal truth. Anyone who has been around dogs knows that once in a while they are going to witness the ungainly sight of a dog licking his privates, totally unbothered by the spectacle he is making of himself.

Dog people ignore it, brush it off, treat it like normal behavior. But I, a non-dog person, am still learning to cope with this phenomenon without coming across as a total jerk. Because for me, this is not normal behavior.

You see, l am mildly traumatized by testicles. When I was eight years old I saw, for the first time, a grown man’s testicles hanging out of his loose shorts, kind of glued to the side of his thigh. I was so horrified by the sight that for years to come I could not believe that any pleasure could be derived from that region of the human anatomy. Later in life, a childhood friend whispered to me that she thought men did such things purposefully to provoke little girls with their male parts. I can’t prove it, and neither can she, but the image has stayed with me for life.

Now a dog’s testicles are not the same as human testicles, I know that. But they are there for the same purpose. Right?

So the eight-year-old in me wants to scream every time I see a dog attend to his testicles and sometimes to his sperm dispenser, which emerges in slow-motion onto the scene, without giving a flying hump about innocent bystanders. And this is where I notice the cognitive dissonance of dog people when it comes to their beloved dogs pleasuring themselves in the presence of total strangers.

No dog loving person would do what their dog does in front of me without asking for my consent, or let anyone else do it in front of me in public without interrupting them. Then why is it acceptable for their dog to do it?

Because they are dogs, my dog people friends say. You have to give them a break. They are animals doing what animals do. What do you expect?

Well, animals do it in their animal world. Not surrounded by furniture and baby clothes. And we only get to see this stuff on YouTube, or National Geographic, or nature shows on PBS. Besides, these are wild animals; ferocious creatures engaging in procreation and female subjugation, not domesticated masturbators.

It’s an urge, they explain. It’s uncontrollable. They have to do it.

But if you can train your dog not to pee on your carpet or chew your shoes, why can’t you train him not to compromise himself like that on the kitchen floor or by your potted plant. Or in front of me for that matter. You don’t live in the African savannah, for crying out loud. These exposed dog testicles being licked so nonchalantly for all to see are a testament to dogs’ unabashed machismo: Hey, look at me, I’m a top dog, I have balls and I can lick them if I want to.

But that’s not how dog people see it. They think that when their dog tries to have intercourse with himself, or with the leg of the coffee table or the throw pillow they bought at Pier 1, and forgets that there are humans out there who can actually see what he’s doing, that’s okay.

Not to my inner eight-year-old! Nor to my inner thirty-year-old, for that matter. I have bumped into more than my fair share of male human specimens who could not control their urges and had to indulge themselves, like under a tree in Central Park, where unsuspecting female New-Yorkers were known to walk by. Or at the entrance to my apartment building in Tel Aviv at eleven o’clock at night, when I was absolutely not in the mood to watch. And that’s just the top of the list.

Being the non-dog person that I am, I feel that compulsive masturbators should be sent to their room and have the door securely closed behind them.

Otherwise, perhaps I have to resign myself to the thought that maybe some of my dog people friends are entertaining a secret wish when they watch their dog in action: If only I could do it too.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dog Love IV

 
 
 If a wall is going to be built on the Mexican border, it need not be taller than two feet, because as far as I understand, Chihuahuas will not be able to jump over it. To be clear, I don’t have anything against anyone who takes the risk of crossing the border into California without documentation in search of a better life; but I do have some serious reservations about Chihuahuas.

When you think about the quintessential dog, what image comes to mind? I bet you anything it’s not a Chihuahua. Maybe, like me, you see a German shepherd. Others might see a border collie, an English this or that, or a Siberian husky. But a Chihuahua? Is it even a dog?
Just being near one makes me jittery. That startled look in their eyes and their nervous energy stick to me like a piece of used chewing gum melting in the sun on the sidewalk. It takes me only five minutes near a Chihuahua to lose my cool. 
I have a friend who brings her Chihuahua mix on our nature walks. She says the dog needs to be walked in the outdoors. That’s fine with me, but…. this dog has really short legs. So it doesn’t walk. It kinds of runs alongside an average sized human. So on top of the ADHD sensation I get from being near it, I can’t help but feel sorry for this little thing that has to do a full-speed trot just to keep up with us.
And then she sees a squirrel.
Let me tell you this: nothing gets a Chihuahua more excited than a squirrel. Maybe because a squirrel is the only thing that’s smaller than she is. Maybe because in a past life she was actually a squirrel. Who knows? So she bolts out to the trail in blind excitement to catch the squirrel; or just bark at it. Whatever her Chihuahua brain tells her to do. Her tail shoots up in the air at a ninety degree angle and she disappears in the bushes.
And then, we humans who were until that moment enjoying a nature walk, have to stop and look for her. To make sure that this tiny ball of nerves doesn’t disappear into a squirrel tunnel or get kidnapped by a larger critter, like a coyote for example.
The first time it happens, I feel a little sympathy for my friend, who stops in her tracks and starts yelling the dog’s name—“Chiquita! Chiquita!”—in the hope of bringing her out of her squirrel-induced trance and back on the trail.
The fear of losing a dear one is familiar. It reminds me of the day I took my three-year old daughter to a store in San Francisco and suddenly I didn’t see her. Being in the middle of a big city, I did not dare scream her name, like my walking partner does every time she brings her dog on our nature walks. I just stood there, looking under the clothes racks, feeling the panic rise into my head and my heart sink to the bottom of my feet until I saw her after no more than two seconds. So I can empathize with a dog owner who screams the name of a tiny dog swallowed up by the bushes.
But the dog seems totally oblivious to the shouting. Maybe Chiquita’s Spanish is not that good. Maybe she resents her name. Maybe a big bad squirrel caught her. Maybe she is too far away to hear the shouting. Whatever the case, I start to lose patience and find myself hoping that a nature dweller did me a favor and snatched her, or that she fell into a squirrel tunnel and is never coming back.
I beg my friend to put the dog on a leash so we can walk more than two minutes at a time without stopping, but she laughs and says the dog is having fun. Yes, the dog is having fun. But I’m not. And that’s my point. As long as the dog is having fun, we human friends of dog people don’t matter.
So we keep walking, and stopping, and waiting for the stupid little thing to come back from its futile squirrel hunts and run by our side again, until it collapses from exhaustion, because remember, those tiny legs have to do a lot more work than we do to keep up the pace.
My friend picks her up from the ground and ties a leash around her neck. And then she keeps the dog in her arms, because Chiquita is too tired to walk. But she soon recovers and is back on the ground, allowed to run as far as the leash can stretch.
But my troubles are not over even when she is attached to a leash, because that hybrid Chihuahua is clueless. She thinks that just because she can bark, she can scare people we meet on the trail and their much, much bigger dogs. And I have to endure the embarrassment of being seen in the company of a mini-dog who entertains delusions of superiority.
Where is that coyote when you need it?


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dog Love III

             Flickr/ Kasper Florchinger
The problem with dogs is that they don’t grow up. They only grow old. They start as cute puppies, turn into impatient and demanding toddlers, and from there on, it’s a slippery slope to undignified old age, and beyond.

Liking puppies is easy. Everyone likes puppies. Even pugs are cute when they are puppies. But look at a pug when he grows old. When his eyes pop out of his flat face and turn into gelatinous balls covered in a bluish-whitish film and he no longer sees the world around him. When his stubby legs collapse under the weight of his bulky body and all he can do is waddle from one side of the house to the other, bumping into the furniture, and keeping himself busy by endlessly searching for food, which he doesn’t really need, because hungry he is not.

I don’t know what type of diseases this pug I know contracted by the time he reached the old age of sixteen, but his medicine cabinet is definitely better stocked than mine. He consumes pills dunked in cream cheese and goes nuts when he smells a chicken slow roasting in the oven. He knows that he will be the main beneficiary of this culinary masterpiece.   

I can see how much this pug's owners, who also happen to be my friends, love him. He is the epicenter of their emotional life and an integral part of the family. Their devotion to him is admirable, yet mind boggling. That dog has the face only a mother can love. To my uninitiated eyes, he looks like something between an overweight piglet and a depressed gopher. Even the sounds that come out of him are peculiar. He snores like an emphysema-ridden chain smoker and his bark sounds like a phlegm-filled cough.

On my friends' porch stands a tattered baby stroller. As far as I know it is not intended for a baby or a stroll. I refuse to imagine his mama walking the streets with a baby stroller occupied by this pug. It must generate some derisive comments from passersby. Which makes me realize that the love his people feel for him surpasses even the fear of public humiliation.     

I never try to feign affection for this pug. That is beyond my capacity. So let’s say we respect each other’s space for the sake of mom and pop. He knows when I am around because he can smell me, but even his superior sense of smell does not prevent him from bumping into me when I'm sitting in his kitchen. I attribute his unusual interest in my legs to his excitement at the thought that food might be served soon, because I am a guest. When he parks next to my feet, his mama scolds him to go back to his corner because I am not going to give him any food. He doesn’t hold it against me. He knows that even if I don’t hand him a piece of this or that, something might fall off my plate to the floor. Miracles do happen sometimes, even dogs know that.
 
Looking at the way my friends treat this elderly pug, still taking him for short walks outside so he can relieve himself, still cutting up his food for him, still making sure he takes his pills on time, etc., I can easily imagine how until very recently this pug used to be their permanent toddler. Because dogs don’t becomes adults. They move from toddlerhood to old age, just like that.

As long as a dog functions, his people take him out to the dog park, the beach, or the wilderness to run around and meet other dogs just like I used to do with my daughter when daycare was over and I had no other entertainment options at home. And they hang out with other dog people and exchange dog stories , just like I used to do with the other mothers at the playground.

As long as a dog functions, his people pack snacks to feed him and water to hydrate him after he runs around the beach or the dog park and gets hungry and thirsty, just like I used to do with my daughter when she was four. The only difference is that I brought carrots and apples and dog people bring chewy dog treats.

As long as a dog functions, dog people have to make sure he doesn’t fill their car with sand and dirt and samples of the local vegetation and of course hair, which later they might want to vacuum if they want to have their car minimally presentable, or not, just like I used to do when my daughter climbed into the car with her little shoes full of sand and her hands sticky with god knows what. At least her hair didn't cling to the car seat. But the Cheerios were everywhere.

But the thing is that my daughter grew up, and I stopped going to the playground, and preparing snacks, and cleaning the car after she returned from her outings. I stopped putting socks on her little feet and buttoning her shirts, and brushing her teeth and braiding her hair. Now she can do all that stuff by herself. I only have to cook when she’s around and send money after she calls. That’s it. Easy.
 
But a dog, he never learns. He never grows up, and for the entire time he graces you with his dog love, you have to do all this for him, until he gets so old, that you have to pry his jaws open and shove a pill in his mouth, while touching his tongue and smelling his doggie breath. Right after he ate that beautiful, perfectly-roasted chicken.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Bully

             

Let’s say you are a man. In the apartment below you lives a woman with two kids. In the past you’ve helped her write a letter to the local family court requesting a restraining order on her ex-husband because he is known to become obnoxious and a little physical when he drinks too much. You’ve also heard him scream at his very young children a few times when your neighbor, the mother, needed him to watch the kids while she was waiting tables at night.

And let’s say the court refused to hand the man a restraining order, and he can pick up the kids, drop them off, and visit them at the apartment downstairs. And here is a little catch. When he comes over, he parks his car on your side of the driveway that you share with his ex. He releases the kids at his own pace and sometimes even enters the apartment below to spend time with them, being the good dad that he is. And during this whole time, his car is parked in your spot.

Now, since you are a man, you probably would do something to end this situation. Maybe you will let it go once or twice, maybe even three or four times, since you are a nice man. But I have a feeling that after five or six years of finding yourself waiting in your car on the street for the man to move out of your  spot, you would probably decide to put your foot down and make sure the guy understands that he should park his car elsewhere.

Now, let’s do an exercise. You are a woman, about five two, maybe ten to fifteen years older than the guy. And you know that your neighbor has enough on her plate. What do you do?

If you are me, you keep your mouth shut to protect her and the kids. And maybe to protect yourself too, because you know the guy is a bully. You hope the man will apologize one day for making you wait for him to move his car. You hope he will say “hi” even once when he sees you. You wait patiently on the street for him to say “I’ll be right out of your way,” and sometimes you don’t even bother and you park on the street.

Until this happens.
 
You arrive at your apartment in your car, and the guy as usual is parked in your spot. He is getting the kids out of the car, collecting their backpacks from the back seat, and then, looking out to the street he sees my car. I give him a tiny honk. A really small one, because this time I am waiting on the other side of the street and I’m not sure he realizes it is me. The guy straightens up, and then he yells so I can hear him, “You really hate it, you really hate it when I park in your spot. You always have to honk.”

I am sitting in my car, watching him yell at me from across the street. And I am thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You are parked in my spot for the millionth time, and you accuse me of hating it? Of course I hate it, and I hate you too.”

And for some unknown reason, I decide to go full blast. Maybe because I am done being the quiet neighbor, the quasi-polite person I’ve tried to be. Maybe because I don’t like to be provoked. Maybe because deep inside I am a mean person. All I know is that no more am I going to be seething quietly in my car while you totally ignore me when I show up, ensuring that I know you are ignoring me, as you slowly walk to your car, get in, and slowly pull out of my freaking driveway. Because you think you are the top dog in the neighborhood and I am just a nasty woman who clings to her parking spot and causes your little highness some inconvenience. But I am not in this movie anymore, my reptilian brain announces to me. And as I finally get in touch with my inner monster, out of my mouth an avalanche pours out, uncensored, with all the honesty that I can mobilize into my exploding rage and pent up disgust for this bully.

I don’t recognize myself. From inside my car I say to him, “Yes I hate it, I hate it and I hate you. All these years that you’ve parked here. Never once have you apologized…” I don’t remember what else I say while sitting in the car, but a fleeting thought in my head tells me, just say it, whatever you want to say. I probably tell him to get the hell out of my spot and that I am sick of him and his stupid car.

I recently read that strong people use curse words, and I want to come across as a strong person.

The man finally gets into his red Audi, which I think his mama gave him, and pulls out of my spot. I park my car, get out and go to get my mail. He shows up again and, waving his arms in the air, he yells something at me. I turn around and screams at the top of my voice, “You fuckin' asshole, get the fuck out of here!” I don’t recognize my voice. It is high pitched and metallic. A strange voice coming out of a strange woman. But it feels good. So good to finally let it all out.

My neighbor, who was inside the apartment the whole time, finally hears the commotion and comes outside. She shoos him off and he leaves after calling me crazy several times. I don’t mind being called crazy. I know that men who can’t control women call them crazy. Yes, I am crazy. I am crazy for letting you asshole intimidate me for so long. I am crazy for letting any jerk treat me like I am nothing. I am crazy for staying quiet when a man says to me, “You didn’t listen when I talked,” if I dare to disagree with him or if I fail to understand every nuance of his meandering explanation about how something works. Yes, I am crazy, because I refuse to be agreeable and sweet and understanding when a bully provokes me. I am crazy because I hate to be ignored and stepped on and taken for granted and ridiculed because you are six feet tall and I am older than you are.
 
After the bully left, I regretted not insulting him even more. But even so, the Mexican guys who were working across the street said something I did not understand and then they applauded me. I turned around and bowed to them with my arms stretched wide, feeling such deep gratitude for their show of solidarity. They absolutely made my day.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Facebook for the Rich and Happy



I am sick and tired of seeing the life of the rich and happy pop up on my Facebook homepage. I am not poor anymore or terribly unhappy, but I’ve come to despise the happy faces that stare at me uninvited, advertising to the world the incredible fun they are having just because, let’s say, it’s Tuesday.

Most of us mortals live pretty mundane and insignificant lives. In a good way, I mean. We just carry on, going about our business. We get up in the morning, spend most of the day working, take care of the kids if we have them, make dinner, go to the gym, talk with family and friends, meet people, study something, take the dog for a walk, go shopping, watch a movie, and do it all over again the next day. You all know the drill.

But the rich and happy people who appear on my homepage when I decide to see what’s going on in the world, which petition to sign, where the next protest is going to be, or which calamity happened somewhere – they are clueless, totally clueless of what their very annoying posts are doing to me.
As a matter of fact, I started noticing – without resorting to scientific research – that the happier people look on Facebook, the more miserable their non-Facebook lives are. There is an almost direct correlation: happy face on Facebook, troubles at home. Now I catch myself worrying about my Facebook friends who seem too happy, their smiles too wide, announcing to the world how fabulous they are doing, going to Hawaii again or climbing Kilimanjaro.

Some cases in point: Not too long ago I realized that I was very annoyed at one of my Facebook friends. She is not rich, but she was happy. She used to post happy family pictures with friends sharing dinner at her home while playing instruments, beautiful pictures of her artwork, bowls of fresh organic vegetables collected from her garden, exploding sunsets she saw on evening walks with her partner. You see where I am going with this. I met her one day at a party and without much ceremony asked her what’s the deal with her Facebook posts. Why is she trying to make us all feel so bad about our mediocre lives, bragging about her beautiful family, beautiful home, and fabulous hobbies. I felt like a total loser each time I saw her posts. I wanted to unfollow her.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I am totally depressed. We need to talk.”

The next day she called and I found out that she was going thru a terrible crisis. She was considering going on anti-depressants. “Really?” I asked.  “Then what’s all these happy pictures about your perfect life?”

“What else should I put on Facebook?” She responded.

“Don’t put anything,” I said. “At least you won’t make us feel bad about our boring lives.”

The way she reacted made me realize that she did not connect her Facebook persona to her person. There was total disassociation between the two. Of course I do not expect her to confess her troubles to the world and ask for advice on this platform. But please, stop the charade, people.

My twenty year old daughter would say I am an idiot believing anything on Facebook. And she is right. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, maybe, but not on freaking Facebook. Because Facebook is its own universe where a picture is worth nothing at all.

Another case: I have a Facebook friend from the southern hemisphere. I will not divulge the country, let’s just say it’s a country that is still evolving, and when you happen to have money in that country, I guess it’s customary to show it to the world. I don’t know about his level of happiness, but from the pictures that show up on my homepage, I have to tell you that he lives a charmed life. He and his second wife go on vacation more than anyone I’ve seen, apart from the British Royal Family. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone on Facebook to check on how the latest executive order is going to destroy the planet or the lives of poor children and immigrants, and I see in front of me a picture from Paris, or Provence, or a famous painting hanging in a very famous museum, or a close up of a plate with food we see only in our dreams, or a photo from the window of a hotel room overlooking this Riviera or that ski resort where they go gallery hopping, or wine tasting or downhill skiing, or whatever the fuck they like to do. And the woman, she is always smiling above a cup of perfect cappuccino, and her eyes are hidden behind designer sunglasses. And it is the man who does the posting, tagging the wife for all to see.

And underneath the photos I read comments about how beautiful this place is, and how gorgeous that photo is, and fabulous this and that, and how happy they must be visiting that place – so many times the same bullshit, I want to puke. And then I think, they probably never have sex. Something must be wrong in those pictures. They are hiding something. He probably hates her children from her previous marriage, so he takes her on vacations to Europe, to Colorado Springs, to Boston and California, and spends thousands just to be away from home so he doesn’t have to spend one more minute visiting her annoying mother or listening to her scream at her ex-husband on the phone. I know it. Because the happier you look on Facebook, the more miserable your life is.  

I prefer living among mere mortals, who post a smiling face occasionally because something good did in fact happen in their lives. I want to know my friends are happy. But not THAT happy.