Friday, November 21, 2008

What Would The Dog Think?

My friend Craig and I are different in many ways. I’m a dog owner. He doesn’t even have a hamster. He’s Jewish. I’m an intermittent agnostic. I’ve got a vehicle that can carry large items. He has a Volkswagen sedan. He’s got an unfortunate sense of timing. I’m more cautious. Random and fairly extraneous pieces of information, I am aware, but they all coalesced quite memorably this week.

Craig called me one day to ask if I could help him with an event he was hosting at his synagogue. His neighbor was lending him some long tables. Could he borrow my van and my time to help him haul the tables? “Absolutely,” I said, “I’ll be over after dinner tonight.” Even though I was feeling a little under the weather and my nose was congested, I was happy to help and glad for the opportunity to meet. I had some news about my writing career that I wanted to share with him.

After work, I drove home. While my daughters wrestled with homework and my wife concocted something delicious in the kitchen, I took the dog for our daily constitutional around the block. My dog’s name is Polo. He’s small, white, fluffy and very friendly. When you meet my dog, you understand that I have girls. My boss told me that I must be extremely comfortable in my manhood to be seen with a dog like this. Indubitably.

I live in an urban area. Both the city ordinance and the morality of being a responsible dog owner dictate that my jacket pocket is loaded with orange bags, the ones in which my newspaper is tossed upon my porch each morning. Polo and I walk. He pauses to deliver the unmentionables. I scoop, tie a knot in the bag. We walk on. There is an unwritten code of silence between us. I don’t question his choice of locale. He doesn’t ask why I am so eager to collect his contributions. Once or twice I have been caught unarmed, bagless. Fearful that I would be seen and reported by the neighborhood watchdogs, Polo and I scurry home, seize a bag, and return to the scene of the crime to remove the evidence, to eliminate his eliminations, so to speak.

I share this because, as Craig and I drove away from his neighbor’s garage with the tables, he started telling me how amused he was by an incident that he had witnessed a few minutes before. A dog was doing his business, smack dab in the middle of Craig’s front lawn when he pulled up to park. It was after nightfall. His headlights were on. Both dog and owner were caught in the glare. The owner quickly performed the scoop-and-tie maneuver and the pair went on their slightly shamefaced way.

Craig naturally got to wondering if the owner would have disposed of the goods if she hadn’t been surprised in the spotlight. Fancying himself somewhat of a post-enlightenment philosopher, Craig reflected on the further ramifications of the situation. If the owner was an inconsistent scooper, if she sometimes picked up and sometimes didn’t, what would the dog think? Would he feel rejection? Would he worry that some of his offerings might not pass muster? Might some of them not meet his owner’s exacting standards? Would it be possible for him to somehow fail or succeed, based on the scooping actions of his owner? As his listener and friend, I worried, truly agonized, about the kinds of things that Craig thought about in his spare time.

As one might expect, this line of conversation soon exhausted itself and I began to share my news with my friend. Craig is an excellent listener and a wonderful fan of my work. As I was relaying my good fortune, he seemed uncharacteristically distracted and inattentive. Something in the darkness was bothering him. “Excuse me just a minute, Steve,” he interrupted. He’s also very polite. “Do you mind if I turn on the light?”

“Of course,” I replied. Craig flipped the switch to reveal the biggest wad of dog excrement that could possibly cling to the underside of a shoe.

“Oh, shit!” he yelled out. And I couldn’t help but wonder, what would the dog think?

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