Tuesday, March 21, 2023

My Life In Dogs


One thing I do before I leave for my daily walks is to grab a few small dog biscuits from the jar on the counter and tuck them into my pocket. Ours is a dogful neighborhood, and I'm on a first-name basis with many of them:  Sophie, Beethoven, Milo, Onyx, Clover, Bruno, Copper, Oswego, Therese, and, most recently, a very impressive and sweet pair of bloodhound sisters named Gracie and Delilah. We were walking toward each other and Gracie let out a perfectly wonderful, breed-standard baying Hello. I greeted her almost as enthusiastically, and her Dog Dad simply let their leashes go and both girls loped over to meet me. Needless to say, it was the high point of my walk that day.

I have to say that the Dogs Of My Childhood were not nearly as charming or fun as the Dogs Of My Maturity. They were certainly full of strange personality, and it's definitely true that you can't blame the dogs; you can only blame their owners. 

Right across the street (and that's East 38th Street) lived Tuffy Ward, a morbidly obese cocker spaniel, pet of Marge, also enormously fleshy. Marge and her husband frequently ate Hydrox cookies out of a huge tin and so did Tuffy. So did I, as a matter of fact, as a favoured and regular visitor. I don't think I ever heard Tuffy bark, only huff, puff, and wheeze. At one point, he had to be helped up and down the porch steps.

Two doors west from us lived Candy Schroeder, a small black terrier mix who looked like she swallowed a propane tank. She was one of the ugliest dogs I ever saw, and she perpetually had a snappish look on her face. Every so often, Marie, the long-suffering matriarch of the house, used to holler out the front door at Curt, the youngest son, "Cu-urt! Come take Candy for a walk!" Curt, who was my sister Susan's best friend, would sigh deeply and trudge home. A few minutes later we'd see him pulling his red wagon with Candy sitting in it like a terrier Buddha up one side of the street and then down. 

Two doors eastward could have been Candy's cousin, Ladybug Rigo. The difference between the two was probably about ten pounds and mobility. If Ladybug wasn't tied up, she'd come after you, all snarling and snapping. Years later, the family inexplicably got a beautiful English Setter and named it Pete. (I know; how British!) This dog...something was terribly wrong with this dog. Unpredictable and mean, it would often get loose and gallop the neighborhood, terrorizing everyone.  Pete also had some sort of seizure disorder or something:  every so often, he would suddenly stop--a little off balance, neck sort of wrenched, legs stiff--then immediately recover and start running like hell. It was legitimately frightening to find Pete in your yard.

Next door to Pete was Skippy Losh the Pomeranian. Skippy was a cute dog, but nippy and unapproachable. He spent a lot of time outdoors tied to a clothesline so he could run up and down the length of his back yard, which he did with infinite zest and zeal. The sound of Skippy's bark, however, sent every single woman on East 37th, 38th, 39th, and part of Tacoma Avenue out to bring in her laundry off the line, and it made me hurry on my paper route. Kids at Homewood Park knew they had very little time left to finish their baseball game, and other kids knew they'd better get off the swings and monkey bars and get home. It was uncanny--the only time Skippy barked was when rain was imminent, and he was never, ever wrong. 

Right next door to us was Katie Lesh the black chihuahua. She was owned by Helen, who was not much bigger than Katie and was the smallest grownup I ever saw. Helen carried Katie constantly, and like most chihuahuas, that dog always looked miserable and nervous. She wasn't, I'm sure, because Helen treated her like a baby and was constantly fussing over her. Sometimes I wonder if my general disdain for chihuahuas is due to Helen and her annoyingly nasal voice always calling Katie's name and hauling her around, or if it's just because of how they're so trembly and seem like they need some heroin real bad or something.

I had a paper route for years on my street and a couple of the surrounding ones, and one of the houses had an enormous dog. If I had to guess, it was likely some sort of mastiff. (I think his name was Brutus, but I'm not sure.) He was owned by a Russian couple, and he used to be outside in his fenced-in yard when I delivered the paper. As soon as I came near the driveway, he'd start barking and stand up at the fence. I knew if he really wanted to, not only could he take that fence, he could make short work of me. But his owners would give a command in Russian, and he'd get down and be quiet. After some careful listening, I tried to say the same thing in an equally forceful voice. It worked!

I vastly prefer my present-day neighborhood dogs. They are far more pleasant and well-behaved. Perhaps it's just that Dog Ownership is largely different now. Most people are more compassionate and humane about their pets. There's more of a Pet Culture, and there's definitely a Dog Culture. And maybe I have more appreciation for dogs now because I have a granddog and because I'm not out there delivering papers. Despite my Joy in neighborhood dogs and even in seeing dog heads hanging out of cars, one thing is forever certain:  I'm not going to get a dog of my own. For me, Other People's Dogs is my favourite breed.


Friday, March 03, 2023

Catching Up Old-Style


Oh, hello. 

It seems we have some Catching Up to do. Let's get started.

*I Am Old And They Are Liars:  For 30+ years I wore high heels with pointy toes for 8 hours a day. My students and my colleagues appreciated (and envied) my shoe wardrobe. I seldom wore flats or sneakers, ever, even in my off hours. Fast forward to now, 12 years later:  I wear flat shoes with good support and a wide toe box like all the Experts recommend in order to Take Good Care Of My Feet. And for the First Time Ever I had to buy a corn removal product at the grocery store like an old person. Adding to my outrage was the fact that I had no one tangible upon which to focus my anger and resentment. How I'd love to go back to wearing my wonderful, beautiful career shoes in some audacious display of self-righteousness! Alas, however, I'd look ridiculous since I am constantly in leggings, skinny jeans, and comfy shirts.

*Am I Old Or Not And What Is She Trying To Say?  I've written here before about my funny grocery store and its astonishing Closeouts section where customers can buy anything from a Ben Franklin bobblehead to Subway restaurant visors to a bathroom vanity cabinet (no top). A couple weeks ago, I found a New York Times page-a-day crossword 2023 calendar for 25 cents. It also includes a free one month subscription to NYT Games. I grabbed it immediately. My favourite cashier, Sunshine, was ringing me out and she couldn't get over the price. "This is 25 cents?!" she said. "That's crazy!" I was bagging my stuff (reusable bags, of course) and agreed, "Right? I stood there for a minute trying to think of anyone else I could buy one for. It's such a great deal." Sunshine unintentionally clouded my skies with this remark, "Well, any old person, really, would love it." Thank goodness this was not the same day I had to buy my corn pads, or I probably would have smacked her.

*Speaking Of Old People, This Weather Alert From My Mother, Age 92:  Here in NEO, we've had an extremely mild winter. As in, I've only shovelled snow once SO FAR. Oh, we've had a bit of snow here and there, but nowhere near where we normally would be.   Nowhere near. And I've seen lots of robins around, along with my daffodils poking up several inches and the silver maples already budding red and getting their fringe. This, according to my mother, is Bad. "It's not good for this area of the country not to have snow this time of year. It's not good for the trees or the birds or anyone else. It's bad; it's not natural." I'm sure you all remember her Dire Warnings back in October of a Hard Winter. True, we still have March and at least part of April to go. And we did have a nasty snowstorm in May that broke down so many lovely blooming crabapples. But right now, I'm inclined to say YOU BLEW IT AGAIN, MOM.

*But Some Things Never Get Old:  I'm still taking tremendous satisfaction from quite a few Simple things, like my daily walks, which are full of happy encounters with neighborhood dogs; reading good books, most recently The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (highly recommended for any lover of words); a hot cup of coffee and Biscoff in the afternoons while watching Judge Judy or, more recently, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. (The latter is a show on Netflix which I'm completely charmed by. I love hearing people talk passionately about their work, and I love listening to the perspectives of these comedians--how they see things so differently from the rest of us.) And I find constant Joy in our family group text. I'm crazy about my kids; there, I said it.

How are you feeling about your age these days? Lied to? Almost insulted? Silly? Grateful? Thanks for waiting, and chat me up in Comments.

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