The Unbearable Lightness of Being A Dog [California Seething]
The rantings of a non-driving theatre professional living in altogether the wrong city
I try not to be offended when people are surprised when I tell them that I have a dog. Look, I know me. I realize that I’m a big, loud, unpredictable drama queen whose random fits of rage over minutia have spawned such impromptu performances as “King Lear Burns His Toast” and “Godzilla Loses His Glasses.” I realize that this type of behavior puts me on the Mount Rushmore of Unlikely Dog Owners right between Adolf Hitler, Richard Nixon and The Grinch (remarkably- the exact same placement as the “Trust Me, You Don’t Want to Be the One To Have To Wake These Guys Up From A Nap” Wall of Fame.) As a result, it’s understandable that when people hear I have a dog, they aren’t sure whether to be charmed by this lovely humanizing detail or terrified for the poor creature’s life, so they ask me probing questions to try and determine if they should call the ASPCA or give me a hug.
My beloved family pet, Lenny doesn’t help my case any. He has perfected the look of profound, wide-eyed pathetic grief normally only seen on the faces of starving children in commercials as they finger the last, precious grains of rice in their bowl and try not to listen to the lip-smacking sounds of Sally Struthers and the crew chowing down on hummus and Skittles at the craft services table just off-camera. His face is an evolutionary masterpiece of sadness. Every wrinkle, contour and skin flap is perfectly designed to suck all the joie de vivre out of the soul of whoever dares gaze upon him and channel it into a puddle of drool and despair on the cold, hard ground. It’s like living with Albert Camus, if he pooped on the lawn and begged for bacon instead of shooting Algerians on the beach all the time (What’s the deal with that dude, anyhow? Just cause you’re The Stranger doesn’t mean you have to be The Big Meanie .)
Allow me to assuage all concerns. Lenny is very well cared for. The medication he takes for his skin allergies is so rare and expensive it’s typically used as an anti-rejection drug for organ transplant patients (that’s actually true). He sleeps on a memory foam mattress more comfortable than my own. I clean out his precious little ears three times a week so they don’t get infected, feed him a special diet for his sensitive little tummy, give him glucosamine powder for his fragile little joints and, oh yeah, I rescued him from the Pound so he’s got the whole NOT BEING DEAD FOR THE LAST TEN YEARS THING to be happy about.
Of course, to some degree, he owes his life to his pathetic punim. When we first saw him quietly moping at the pound amidst the cages full of yapping pups, we were immediately drawn to him as the single saddest thing we had ever seen. We were sure that if we gave him a home, fed him, played with him, loved him, hugged him and snuggled with him we could turn that frown upside down and he would just be the happiest little dog in all of Los Angeles. Turns out we were totally wrong. The look of sadness on his face is actually an evolutionary survival mechanism designed to provoke maximum pity and the only way to turn his frown upside down is to suspend him from the ceiling, which some people think is cruel, but after ten fucking years I’ll take a smile however I can get it.
Of course, I’d never had a dog before so I really had no idea what to expect. My mother is allergic to all furry creatures with the possible exception of my father. My parents had a cat before I was born, but because of my mother’s allergies they had to take it far away to live on a big farm owned by a genial old woman where it could run around and be free with all of its happy, romping feline friends. I don’t know why they didn’t just dump it at the pound like normal people, but my parents always have to do things the hard way. Anyhow, the closest thing we had to pets in the house were a bunch of stuffed animals and my Dad’s giant imaginary cat Flossy who thought she was a penguin named Sheila (seriously, don’t ask.) As such, my expectations for what owning a dog would be like turned out to be, well, completely wrong.
Expectation #1: Dogs are happy to see you when you come home.
There he would be. My perfect dog and bestest friend in the whole wide world. Waiting by the door with my slippers in his mouth. Tail wagging, smile on his face, overjoyed at the very sight of me the moment I walk in the door. No matter what kind of day I had, his tongue would lick away all the wounds of battle and the joy in his doggy eyes would make me forget all the problems and stress of the outside world.
This is exactly what living with Lenny has not been like. Living with Lenny is like living with my best friend if my best friend happens to be a clinically depressed goth who lies in bed all day listening to the Smiths and licking himself and can’t be bothered to pay the slightest bit of attention when I come in the door. His fur is brownish red on the outside because he feels brownish red on the inside. He comes out briefly if he smells that I’m cooking something, grudgingly lets me give him some of my food and then lurches back to bed to chew the words “Meat is Murder” into his skin in the empty spot where his balls used to be. And, oh yeah, I have to get my own fucking slippers.
Expectation #2: Dogs are playful
Lenny doesn’t really understand why the game is called “Fetch.” He prefers to call it “You threw it, Dude — you go get it. I’m staying here.” He is also the Dr Kevorkian of squeaky toys. He believes that it is his mission to rip out their hearts as quickly and efficiently as possible so that he can silence their anguished squeaking and allow them to rest in peace. Of course, once they are silent, he’s sadder than ever that they are no fun anymore and I’m left with a house full of cotton fluff and disemboweled bunnies.
Expectation #3: I can take my dog anywhere, even to work
When we first moved to LA, we lived in Venice Beach, mere steps away from the Boardwalk — the result of some hopelessly misguided New Yorker fantasy about the perfect California life. Everywhere I looked, I saw people with dogs- joggers with dogs, rollerbladers with dogs, skateboarders with dogs — even bicyclists with surfboards under one arm and jolly, slobbering shaggy hounds running beside them. The first day I had Lenny, I took him to the Boardwalk, eager to be one of these happy, golden hipsters living the California dream. I soon learned several important lessons about Lenny:
- Lenny hates hippies
- Lenny hates homeless street musicians
- Lenny hates joggers, rollerbladers, skateboarders and, particularly bicyclists with surfboards under one arm and jolly, slobbering shaggy hounds running beside them.
I also learned several important lessons about myself:
- I hate hippies
- I hate stupid, dreadlock wearing, homeless street musicians
- I hate joggers, rollerbladers, skateboarders and, particularly bicyclists with surfboards under one arm and drooling, moronic hounds running beside them.
We holed ourselves up in our little beachside hovel and moved the hell away from the Boardwalk just as fast as our little legs would carry us.
As far as going to work with me, Lenny believes that one of the best parts about being a dog is that he doesn’t have to go to work and can lie around licking his empty scrotum all day. So why on earth would he want to schlep into the office with me? He expressed this opinion by attempting to gnaw on a playwright the first and only time I took him to my old theatre in Santa Monica — though, truth be told — that was probably the best dramaturgical note given on that entire show. Like most notes, though, the writer ignored it and blamed his critics.
To be fair, though, there have been several unexpected benefits to owning Lenny- including:
Unexpected Benefit #1: Lenny expresses my subtext.
(Environmental activist knocks on the door)
Eric: Hi there, can I help you?
Lenny: Bark, Bark, Bark, Bark, Bark
Activist: Uhm, yeah man, can I talk to you about the environment?
Lenny: BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK, BARK
Eric: What, I can’t hear you?
Activist (talking louder to be heard over barking dog): I said, “Can I Talk To You About The Environment???”
Lenny: BARK, SNARL, GROWL, BARK, BARK, BARK SNARL
Eric: Sorry, what did you say? I can’t hear you over the vicious, barking, snarling dog who hates dirty, stupid hippies who come to my door unexpectedly to waste my time.
Lenny: BARK, BARK, SNARL, GROWL, BARK, BARK!
Activist: Uhm, never mind (leaves)
Eric: OK, bye — come back soon!
Lenny: BARK, BARK, BARK- TRIUMPHANT HOWL
Eric (petting Lenny vigorously): Good boy!
Or this scenario:
Eric and Lenny return from a walk, on the way to the door they are stopped by Chatty, Oversharing Neighbor
Chatty Oversharing Neighbor: Hi Eric, let me tell you a whole bunch of stuff you have absolutely no interest in hearing about, including graphic, uncomfortable medical details.
Eric: Sure, sounds great!
Lenny: BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK SNARL, GROWL
Eric: Ooooh, sorry, I’ve got to get this vicious, snarling dog who has no interest in hearing about your empty pointless life inside the house.
Chatty Oversharing Neighbor: Okay, talk to you later about all my lawsuits and my vagina!
Eric: Can’t wait! (brings dog inside, slams door)
Lenny: BARK BARK BARK BARK BARK
Eric: (petting Lenny vigorously): Good boy!
Sure, Lenny is a complete sweetheart when you get to know him and would never actually attack anybody, but there’s no reason that annoying neighbors, environmental activists or anyone else I don’t want to talk to ever needs to know that!
Unexpected Benefit #2: Lenny is completely and perfectly house-trained and never poops or pees in the house, no matter how long he has to stay inside.
Unexpected Benefit #3: He’s my precious little doggy-wog-woggy-wog, and I luvvy-wuv-wuvvy-wuv-wuv him.
He may not greet me with rapture when I come in the door, or go for long walks on the beach with me. He may be mopey and itchy and temperamental but all he has to do is look over at me from the floor with his sweet, brown eyes and I’ll do any goddamn thing he wants. Cook him bacon, take him outside at 4 AM, scratch his head or just ignore him and leave him alone with his unbearable canine angst. He may not be perfect but, hell, I’m not either and he seems to put up with me just fine. All of you with your happy skateboarding, rollerblading, going to work with you, slipper bringing dogs can just keep them to yourselves. I’ve got the perfect dog for me, and I can’t imagine life in LA without him.
Besides, I’ve already spent a fortune on allergy medicine, squeaky and specialty food and I can’t get my money back, so I guess we’re stuck together.