The Same Old Story

girl walkng dog

Robyn called Tony, her ex-husband, Prior Fuck. Tony took it for fat shaming. He called her Annie Wrecksit. After they split up, they both missed having someone safe to insult. San Francisco is a big city. It should have been easy for them to avoid one another, but they didn’t. It was obvious to me and to other acquaintances that they still needed each other.

Take the dog park. Along with the condo, Robyn had gotten their dog, an English Bulldog. After the split-up, Tony showed up with his own new dog, a Whippet; and, although he no longer lived here in the Sunset, he would bring it to the dog park in Stern Grove, where Robyn, who lived nearby on Vicente, walked her dog. Somehow, they would both be there around six p.m. to exchange barbs in passing.

I had once lived, with my first wife, in an apartment house in Jersey City owned by her family. One of our neighbors was an old Italian couple, part of her family, who decades before had stopped speaking to one another. They dressed only in black.  Was it an Italian who came up with the idea of hell? Dante certainly got off on it. That couple lived their version of it, bound together by their sacred vows in an inescapable net of loathing. I had watched them at family affairs. They communicated by grimaces and gestures. They read each other’s disparaging minds. She was found dead at the bottom of the stairs. He expired soon thereafter.

My parents were divorced. Dad said it was either divorce her or kill her, and he was afraid of being raped in prison.

I work at home, so, of course, I do all the chores—shopping, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog. It’s her dog. We—the dog and I—chose from the start not to be pals. One of those triangles. We tolerate each other in an unequal relationship. It doesn’t feed me or pick up my shit. The leash is a mutual punishment. At the dog park, it gratifies its sniffing urges and I watch the other dog walkers. After a while, it becomes like a daily soap opera. The same folks, the same dogs. You imagine it. I watch the flirtations, both canine and human.

I have a dog-park acquaintance—let’s call him Jerry—who shared with me that he got his dog on his shrink’s advice. Not as an emotional support beast, but as social enhancement bait. His shrink even described the dog Jerry should get: mid-sized, long fluffy coat, mellow and agreeable. After extensive internet research, Jerry found the prescribed article at a kennel in Wisconsin. In exchange for undisclosed thousands of dollars and a stint of in-depth training for both of them back in Wisconsin, Jerry, with his pure-bred Hungarian Sheepdog, returned to San Francisco and its more-elite dog parks. To hunt. To troll for human connection, especially female human connection. I presumed Mozart was male. It was hard to tell beneath all that fur. Jerry and Mozart disappeared after a while. I don’t know if they were successful or just moved their pursuit to some other hunting ground.

I’ve not met the lady. We’ve not been (even self-) introduced. Actually, no one at the dog park speaks with her. Jerry used to refer to her as Cruella. I gather that is a literary reference with which I am unfamiliar. She is not unattractive—thin, statuesque, fashionably dressed by dog-park standards. It was her dog, a female Doberman on a very short leash and not out for normal doggie fun. A Waffen-SS in the ghetto.

We quite naturally assume some mutuality between a dog and its master. Her sunglasses sort of confirmed it. Stern Grove is not famous for its sunshine. As a woman once asked me about my beard, “What are you trying to hide?” She also, unlike everyone else there, was never seen carrying a plastic poop bag, neither empty nor full. What? Nazi dogs don’t shit? Or were their turds too sacrosanct to disturb? How sophomoric, I thought: consummate Nazis like Hawaiian chiefs had all their bodily effluent clandestinely vanish because it was so sacred. Also, quite naturally, none of the other passive house dogs nor their tenders wished to get close to the bitch, the dog I mean. It looked hungry.

I passed close enough to the Doberman lady to see she wore a wedding ring. I could not help but imagine her mate, or try to. She looked so cold. I came up with someone on the road a lot, a denizen of first-class airline lounges and foreign-capital hotels with apostrophes in their name. How often did he call? Closer, she was not so young. The Doberman growled. Dobermans show a lot of teeth when they growl. Her lips straightened into a line that might have been a satisfied smile.

The other day I read an article about the Australian bloke who created the Labradoodle. He called it his Frankenstein monster. “I find that the biggest majority are either crazy or have a hereditary problem,” he said. I guess poodles and labs aren’t meant to fuck. Had he had to force them? Or did he use artificial insemination? (AI, just like the other one.) Strange matings.

There are a variety of domesticated Canis species represented at the dog park. I don’t know the names of all of them. I wonder, when us hominoids are gone, how all these invented species will sort out. Most will be on the menu, I suppose. But in a dog-eat-dog world, some combined strain will survive and prevail. In some instances, lust shall prevail over hunger. The Whippet shall beguile the Bulldog and beget a Whippull or a Bullwhip, which will fall for a Sheepdog/Doberman mix, and so on, until there is just one breed left, Kingdog.

I follow the Doberman lady out of the dog park. I am drawn to her like prey. She knows that I am following her but doesn’t seem to care. We leave the other dogs behind.





After Labor Day

corn field 1

Most of the way the highway is bordered by expanses of corn, slowly rolling fulvous fields ready for harvest after scorching weeks of no rain, an endless tinder landscape just waiting for a flame to transform itself into an avalanche of popcorn. A cruise-control drive into the sunset. I am headed home after a visit to my wife’s nursing home in Hancock County, a dry county here in bourbon country. In the back seat, along with my walker, is Connie Sue’s weekly laundry for me to wash.

Back over the line in Daviess County, I have two stops to make—the drive-thru liquor store for my week’s supply of bourbon and ale and the drive-thru drug store for one of my exorbitant (the price of two-week’s alcohol) prescriptions. Staying alive past your allotted years in America does not come cheap.

When we were young, Labor Day always meant going back to school, sort of the ultimate Sunday-night of holidays, hardly a holiday at all—the end of your days off, no more baseball. For Connie summers meant long bike rides with a girlfriend into the countryside—this countryside before everything was corn—and the indolence of nothing to do but daydream. Remember the indulgence of childhood boredom? What a gift that was. No worries beside getting home before the streetlights came on.

Now Labor Day semaphores lurking autumn and its ugly brother winter, long early and empty dusks, heating bills replacing cooling bills, uncertain footing, slush. Both Connie and I were autumn babies. Our first months were winter. Summer would have been a surprise—the shedding of clothes, sun on skin. November’s child is meek and mild; come July she will be wild.

Who would have thought, when you got this far, that the importance of all that preceded would get lost? Would become almost laughable, meaningless? Promotions forgotten, books out of print, offspring so fine they don’t need to call. What matters now is just today, its small comforts, pain pills, naps, routines. It’s sort of like summer when we were kids. Then we had the present but no past to distract us. Now we have the present but no future to concern us. Just today and the whole world to ignore us.