This Way

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with helper dogs: Seeing-eye dogs. Therapy dogs. Service dogs. I had this sense that helper dogs like Labradors, and Golden Retrievers, and other such majestic, helpful breeds could save the world.

But I didn’t personally know any such magnificent dogs. My parents were not Dog People.

I remember being small and asking my dad how blind people drove.  I assumed that being a grown up meant you drove – end of story. At the time, I had also probably just met my first seeing-eye dog. So my father told me, with a straight face, that blind people had the dog sit in the front seat and bark out the directions: One bark for “turn right;” two barks for “turn left;” a yelp for “this way to Grandma’s house,” and so forth. And I remember thinking – Brilliant, I want a dog just like that when I grow up.

I shudder to think of the number of times I repeated that information about seeing-eye dogs throughout my childhood.

But this story is not about helpful dogs. This story is about lightbulbs.

On Saturday, I was at home doing all sorts of domestic things that get lost in the shuffle when you’re terribly busy during the week – like changing the light high above the bathtub in the master bathroom that had been burnt out since I’ve lived in my apartment. (Which, in my defence, required more effort than anticipated, including Sugru, a ladder, and multiple trips to Rainbow Hardware.)

At some point in the afternoon, I got a message from my friend John, and after exchanging pleasantries, I asked him whether he had plans for the weekend. He responded that he planned to go out on a jazz club crawl in the West Village. This was intriguing to me. He then posed the same question to me: What do you have on this weekend?

Without thinking, I replied, I’m changing hard to reach lightbulbs.

I immediately regretted my honesty, and I said as much, because I still have some dignity, and didn’t want to be seen as a) The Biggest Loser on the Upper East Side (which I might have been), and/or b) angling for an invitation to join (which I was). But John is a nice person, and his reply to me was some variation on You should join me doing cool people things instead of changing lightbulbs!

A few hours later, I was showered and changed and on my way to the Village. As I was pulling up, I got a message:

Crazy stoned guy outside this place…

I greeted John and as we waited, a man threaded through the crowd, preaching crackpottery. Remind me when we get inside, there’s a story I want to tell you! John mentioned. I nodded, keeping my eye on our stoned friend telling his stories to the assembled jazz-lovers.

When the bouncer finally let us in, we snagged two seats about midway into Smalls Jazz Club. The crackpot had managed to get in as well, and I heard him behind us inside, telling a foursome about how he could confirm the existence of mermaids, who he found to be all lesbian bitches. He further assured the foursome that he wasn’t a homophobe, it was just science – he was a Marine Biologist who understood and had personally encountered/been severely assaulted by hostile lesbian mermaids in the wild.

The ceiling was low inside Smalls, and the atmosphere was perfect for a night of jazz and gin. We were watching the Fukushi Tainaka Quartet and sipping gin-and-tonics John had gotten us from the bar. Way better than domestic drudgery.

What story were you going to tell me? I asked.

The stupid dog ate another sock, he said. He had two labradors, one of whom had a habit of eating his children’s socks and needing to have them surgically removed.

So that’s like a semester’s worth of school fees in sock removal surgeries this year? 

Yep. 

He then called up a photo on his phone of the removed sock, which made me laugh. It was hard for me to reconcile the image of majestic, helpful labradors I had from childhood with John’s idiot dog.  But having already humiliated myself once that day, I opted not to try to make him feel better about it by offering up a story about how I once thought seeing-eye dogs operated by barking driving directions.

After the set had finished, we decided to grab dessert. John had once lived nearby, and I had lived in Tribeca and gone to grad school at NYU, and yet we still had to pull up Googlemaps to navigate to the sweet shop nearby. There was something oddly bittersweet about not being able to find our way unaided past the yuppified alleyways and storefronts where even the cheesy sex shops were upgraded from a decade before.

It was heady and strange, the feeling of walking through a past life. Andrew and I used to walk our dog Lilly up to the Village from our place in Tribeca on weekends; we’d have brunch, go shopping. But then I got sick and Lilly died, and a few short years later, we were divorced. Everything was different; little had changed in the Village.

But the walk was short and Googlemaps quickly got us to Sweet Revenge. There, we gobbled our way through a cupcake and a mini-cheesecake, laughing about the specifics of our night.

We parted ways after dessert, and I headed home to my own disobedient dog; curled up on the bathmat on the floor next to the expensive dog bed. The bathroom was ablaze with all four lightbulbs finally lit for the first time since I’d lived in the place.

As I put myself to bed, Roo trotted over to sleep next to me, bringing what I thought was his stuffed hedgehog along, but instead was a balled up pair of my running socks that must’ve missed the bathroom hamper when I’d stripped them off earlier. He didn’t do that very often, but occasionally, he would carry around a sock or two of mine, and I would find them thidden in his toy box under the legless Piglet stuffie that he’d once nicked from a baby gift I was wrapping.

I looked down at him, and sighed, and said aloud, If you even so much as think about eating those socks, you are a dead dog.

It didn’t dawn on me till later that sometimes, it takes trying to replace what seems like a burnt out light to find out that it’s broken at the stem and needs a more serious repair. And dogs will still be dogs, no matter how helpful they seem. That might have been helpful to know ten years ago in Tribeca.

That said, I’m still awfully glad to be a Dog Person. Seems much safer than being a marine biologist.

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