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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 connected 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 indulges in delusions of superiority.

Where is that coyote when you need it?

 
 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dog Love III

                                          
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.

photo: Flickr/ Kasper Florchinger

 


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.