Dog’s Life

The day dawns…then leaves me behind. Lack of sleep may be part of it. The tasks, fairly simple ones, associated with trying to flog a book…a reading at the library, one at my Palo Alto congregation…these involve just enough moving parts to confound me. I forget this, don’t do that, overlook the other – yet this is no time for screwing about. How many books does one publish? For me, a single volume, appearing at age 65. Time to get cracking.

But not today. Today I have the requisite oatmeal at Café Borrrone, somehow determining that this is healthier than the scrambled eggs. Never mind. I buy a few plants at the farmers market, resolve to sink them in the soil sometime soon. Find myself home and restless. Then head out in search of…well, there is not much to search for. I have it all. Really, if I am honest, the only thing lacking these days is sleep. And if there is a good project for this particular day, it is cooling out.

I am glad to be receptive to this notion. Grateful, even. For arriving like a message from the gods, there is my landlord. Normally a most pleasant and well-intentioned man, today he is on the warpath. Storming about, in fact.

Only yesterday while Jane was engaged in Saturday efforts on behalf of Episcopalians…I was sort of dogsitting. ‘Sort of’ because the dogs were actually in her car, in the carport. In other words, they were out of harm’s way and out of Tom’s way…yet no way can one avoid harm, if one seeks it. Bella was barking. Bella always barks. At passersby of all descriptions. It is an equal-opportunity practice, this barking. She is barking mad, our Bella, and since she never goes beyond making noise, there is nothing to worry about, and everything to get used to. It is not all that hard to befriend Bella. It takes some time and repeated exposure, but really it isn’t hard. Unless you are dead set against dogs or barking or, for that matter, any variation on life’s theme.

So although it can be argued that by now Bella should be used to Tom – the dogs are here often enough – one can also propose the opposite: that Tom should be used to Bella. He has no inclination to head in this direction. And there must be a lesson here. Something about getting habitually and prematurely fed up with life. One of existence’s structural failings. And while I do not understand, I am taking note. I have heard Bella barking from inside my office as Tom approaches the carport. After all, his car is there too. Not to mention a small storage area for tools. Bella sets off the usual do-not-get-any-closer canine cries, urgent, her little head thrown skyward. And being practiced in the art of calming family disturbance from an early age, I head for the carport.

Rolling my wheelchair up to the window of Jane’s car, it hits me, the futility of this. I can’t really calm Bella by petting her. Opening the car door would be foolish, for any confined dog will rush out to the fresh air. And the other dog, Bixby, is chronically disoriented, pursuing life with a stream of consciousness all his own. Rescue dogs, these two. And no, I do not have the capacity to rescue either of them in my wheelchair, should they get loose. So here we are, making human and canine faces at each other, while I do make serious vocal efforts at calming Bella. Assuring her that it’s all right, it’s just Tom, and so on. All utterly in vain. Tom is a good 30 feet away, unfurling the garden hose for the day’s watering. Still, I persevere, attempting to soothe, or at least distract, the frantically barking dog in the back seat of Jane’s car. I keep an eye peeled, guess that Tom is done with his watering and bid the dogs goodbye.

I encounter Tom standing on my wheelchair ramp, rolling up the garden hose. ‘All those dogs do is shit, piss and bark,’ he tells me. What is there to say? Except ‘sorry’ as I roll inside. This is his building, after all. My rent has not increased in something verging on two decades. He is entitled to have a grumpy day. It is just that what he says is not accurate. Or, from a slightly different perspective, it is equally accurate of all of us. Elimination and barking, in one form or another, being a fact of mammalian life.

Another day, another dollar…but the following morning things have not improved. Jane and the dogs are now departed, this being a Sunday, her most strenuous and demanding work day. Bixby and Bella will wait out church services in, you guessed it, the car…miles away at an Episcopal church. Leaving the carport free and the dogs a distant memory, one would think. But no, Tom seems more angry than ever.

He is fishing about one of the rolling rubbish bins, using an unbent coathanger. I am somewhere between mystified and fascinated. Yes I am tired…keep waking up far too early…but what can be happening here?

‘How can anyone miss this?’ Tom extracts a Trader Joe’s paper bag. I shake my head, uncomprehending. Jane, he tells me, how can she not see this? I await further word, and it comes. Jane has been scooping up dog byproducts on regular walks about the neighborhood. She has been dropping the droppings, encased within a newspaper wrapper, in one of these bins. The dog shit, it seems, gets loose in the bin. Oozes or gets compressed or something. How can Jane not see that there is a paper shopping bag in the bin, awaiting her bags of dog doodoo? Night, I tell Tom, is when she walks the dog. She probably doesn’t see. And, I want to add, like me is not particularly detail-oriented, especially after a long work day…and who gives a flying fuck anyway?

But I leave him with this image of Jane depositing her dog shit in the bin, in the dark. There’s a lot to get grumpy about in life, I am reminded. Being in the dark, I am also reminded, only makes things worse.

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