Last night I had Cream of Wheat (remember Cream of Wheat?!? I did, when I got to the grocery store and shopped while starving), and 1/4 of a pomegranate for dinner.
Oh, and a beer. So that I would also have something from the Hop food group. What? It’s a food group, if I remember correctly from that science class I took in college…or was that a party I went to in college? Either way.
Then Brian and I made the dog help put the laundry away. I would fold a towel, and put it on his back, and he would walk across the room to Brian, who would take the towel, put it away, pat Charlie and send him back to me.
I think I am almost ready to be a parent, guys. This is so exciting.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how I much was enjoying taking Brian’s dog, Charlie, for evening walks through the neighborhood. He usually gets his exercise by running around in the woods that border our backyard, so I think he was happy to have the company. As a matter of fact, he grew to like our walks. A lot, in a very short time. It’s to the point where now I can’t stop taking him. Meanwhile, the weather worsens, and it gets darker earlier each evening.
Now, when I get home, Charlie greets me at the door, and then sits down expectantly in front of me, waiting for me to hook his leash to his collar and get to the walk. “He never does that to you!” I said to Brian. “When you get home, you get a cheerful ‘howdy’ and that’s it. You get to take your coat off, and sort through the mail, without a dog dancing in circles around your legs.” “You don’t see me taking him for walks all the time,” Brian replied, and gave me a look. “Sucker,” it said. I realized then what I had gotten myself into.
I’ve tried to get out of our walks. At first I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult to blow Charlie off until he forgot all about them. And if that took awhile, so what? He’s a dog! How much emotional manipulation is he really capable of? The answer is, apparently more than I am. Case in point: I am unable to get Brian to go on these walks with us. I whine, I beg, I paw at him; he shrugs and continues watching “Mythbusters”. And still the dog makes me go, into the dark and cold, night after night.
At this point, on my way home from work each evening, I whimper to myself about how tired I am, and how cold it is outside, and how I’m not going to want to leave the house once I get there. No walk today, I think, as I trudge up the hill to the house. I just can’t do it. I don’t have it in me. And then I open the front door, Charlie rushes over, and gives me the greet, and the sit, and…I grab the leash. Sucker.
But really, how can I say no? Somehow, it feels like saying ‘no’ to a walk would be like giving a child a Playstation 3 box for his birthday, and inside the box is a toaster. It would be like giving a teenager a set of keys and telling him they’re for his new Audi that’s parked outside, and when he gets outside they’re actually the keys to his grandma’s car because –guess what!— she’s visiting for the weekend, and she’s staying in his room. Not taking Charlie for his walk just feels mean. Especially because all I have to do is wear a coat and shuffle around the neighborhood, but when I put that coat on and reach for his leash you’d think I was reaching for a strip steak with a winning lottery ticket sticking out of it, sitting on a pile of illegal fireworks.
So I guess that’s how he gets me, by making the emotional reward for taking him on a walk so much greater than the minimal physical effort the walk actually takes. And, because I’m a sucker.
Returning to my house that evening, I saw everything with a freshly critical eye—particularly the twenty-five-year old blue Landcruiser with the mismatched red door panel that’s been parked in the driveway for over a year. Should I stick a few dried ears of corn on it, to fit in? I worry that there is nothing to be done for us, especially when I recall that time we left a full-size freezer to defrost on the front lawn for an entire weekend. It was fully defrosted after only a few hours, but we figured, better safe than sorry. Also, better lazy than respectable.
I was already growing ashamed of the fact that, when recycling day rolls around, ours is the only bin that overflows with empty beer and wine bottles. Sure, the occasional milk-gallon jug or soup can sneaks in, but mostly it’s a shiny brown avalanche of empty booze receptacles piled at the end of the driveway every other week. It is some small comfort knowing that we drink decent beer, even if it is in obscene quantities. Our neighbors, their monocles splintering in disapproval, will have to admit that at least we have taste in something. And I know that the man who comes around in the mornings before trash collection (in his Saab) to cash in on our empties appreciates us. Last week he left the loveliest gilt-edged, monogrammed calling card.
‘Molly,’ you are probably thinking. “Why are you complaining about your excessively wealthy neighborhood? You grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. You never fit in there either. You used to hug your doorman. At least you can feel safe walking the dog at night.’ But I can’t! In my last neighborhood, all I had to fear was roving gangs of teenagers and drunken college students. These I at least vaguely understood, having once been part of each of their ranks. Now I am faced with the unknown, having never even remotely rubbed elbows with wealthy suburbanites. When I am faced with the unknown, my mind fills in the blanks with outlandish, unrealistic fears. I blame being read to as a child.
I feel increasingly out of place as I amble past immaculately trimmed lawns in old sneakers and pajama pants, with an unpedigreed dog at the end of a leash that is frayed in three places and coated with dried leaves—and not as a decorative homage to fall. What if someone thinks I am trespassing and calls the cops? What if they decide to administer their own brand of high-end vigilante justice, and I am found in the woods, beaten within an inch of my life with a diamond-headed walking stick? I fear that during one of my innocent, late-night walks, I will accidentally witness a clandestine affair between a wealthy socialite neighbor and her landscaper and have hounds released at me, or be run over by a limo.
I know. There’s something wrong with me. I think it’s mostly the abundance of lively fall decorations that have me flustered. There’s something unnerving about a neighborhood in which lawns are green and uncluttered in the twilight of October, while entranceways, pillars and gateposts are ablaze with fake foliage. I suppose I should be appreciative of the time and effort that is put into these embellishments. After all, they are there for the enjoyment of myself and the few other residents who live in this small community, and they certainly beat my last neighborhood’s October decoration of choice: raw eggs. The least I can do is admire their work. And curb my dog.
I was one of those children who had an enormous enthusiasm for dogs and cats and was unfortunately allergic to both. Whenever it was possible to play with a dog or a cat I did so. It takes an enormous amount of dedication (and an enormous lack of self-control) to play with something that consistently and without fail gives you a severe allergic reaction. I played with furry animals until my sneezes echoed to the cold, uncaring skies, and the tears in my itchy, watery eyes mingled with real tears of regret that I could not have this much fun all the time. More than anything in the world I wanted a puppy, and I asked for one every Christmas. I got a sister.
Looking back, I don’t think a real animal could have lived up to my expectations, anyway. I wanted a playmate, a confidant, and a licensed therapist all rolled into a big furry package that never shed or smelled like a wet dog. I was determined that my dog, when I got one, would be courageous and faithful like Old Yeller and have the wit of Snoopy, the soulful, melancholy brown eyes of a Pound Puppy, and the British sophistication of the two parent dogs from 101 Dalmatians (the cartoon, not the live-action version). On top of this, I had no real experience with owning a dog, and my subconscious assumption was that they waited, patient and immobile like stuffed animals, for you to play with them and take care of their basic needs when you felt like it. One of the more inventive of my many How To Get A Puppy When Your Parents Won’t Let You Get One schemes involved letting the puppy live in a large cardboard box on the New York City street outside my apartment building, where it would be taken care of and properly watched over by kind, attentive strangers and passers-by.
I couldn’t have a puppy, but I could have goldfish, my parents said. I sure could. And I had goldfish, off and on, for many years. I discovered early on that I received precious little emotional fulfillment from taking care of a creature with a six-second memory and no awareness of my existence. Not that I didn’t try. I named my fish, I took care of them, I watched them swim. It’s pretty much all you can do, though I somehow continued to expect more—and to be disappointed. A short but eloquent poem that I wrote at the age of five perfectly expressed my feelings of disillusionment at the deep and profound bond that failed to develop between me and any of my goldfish. It went:
I have a little fishI love her very muchBut she doesn’t care.
The thought that I wrote that poem still troubles me. My parents think it’s hilarious.
I have been giving this topic a lot of thought, because last week I bought another fish. I haven’t owned one since early on in high school. My motivations have changed, I reasoned. This is a frivolous purchase; I’m getting a little blue fighting fish because it looks pretty and it will jazz up my room. I won’t even name it. Look how far I’ve come!
Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment. Maybe I like my feelings unrequited. But I really think it’s going to be different this time. Just now when I looked over at my fish, I could have sworn it gave me a look like it understood. At least, for six seconds.