The Good Boy


lajbkos

I called my Mom to wish her a happy birthday and she told me the dog died.

She had to put him down  because he couldn’t even walk.

I was standing in the living room wearing nothing but my underwear and a red North Face t-shirt I accidentally stole from my friend Jeff several years ago.

The cliched thing wold be to say that I had to steady myself on the couch, that I cried, that I felt like I was punched in the stomach, that I coughed, that I bit my lip, that I did moaned in agony or beat my chest like an ancient Greek..

I didn’t.

I went into the kitchen and put a pod in my Keureg. Neither of us said anything. I watched the coffee drip into my mug with a giant letter C on it that a friend had bought me because it meant a lot to her.

There was a time, she said, when she was so poor that she could barely afford to eat. One day she came across one of these mugs the first letter of her first name on it and she bought it on a whim. She must have suffered for her minor splurge, but the mug was all the more valuable for it.

Years later, she bought one for all of us, all of her friends, and hoped that it would be as special as it was to her.

There was silence on the line. Neither of us wanted to talk because we were afraid to say anything.

So I changed the subject. This and that, birthday plans and I hung up.

The crisis of adulthood is trying not to think about death. It haunts you in the news, on the internet, at the other end of the text message from a relative that simply says “call me.”

Just don’t think about it, you say. It’s why TV exists.

My Dad texted me later that day, distraught that I hadn’t been able to see the dog before he went. I was coming home in a month.

I couldn’t think of what to say, so I smashed some words together and said “he loved and he was loved and I think that, in the end, he knew that he was always loved, and that’s really what matters.”

My dad said “you’re right” and we didn’t talk anymore.

I went to work and didn’t bring up the dog.

I feel like I need to preform when I’m with a group of people. Not always, only most of the time. It probably comes from my theater background, or maybe not. Laughter and applause are easy ways to know you are doing well.

I used to struggle when I wasn’t the center of attention. It would baffle me why certain people, people I considered boring, would be invited to things I wasn’t invited to. They didn’t do anything.

They were just there.

That’s it.

Just there.

And so dogs.

What do dogs do?

Dogs do nothing.

When dog people talk about dogs it often times sounds like they are talking about mini-deities. They extol the canine virtues, those little beings of transcendent love and obedience, unconditional caring and good-natured heroism rolled up into a ball of fuzz and fluff with a tail and a tongue and a smile.

I don’t know about that, but I do know that dogs have an uncanny sense to know when to be there. There for you. There for me. Just there.

See here, the boy crying on the white-tiled floor because he can’t remember what was there before he was born. It’s just dark. Just nothing.

His door is only mostly shut, and a snout nuzzles it open and in walks a golden retriever, his loping, side-to-side gait indicative of the hip problems associated with the breed.

The boy cries. He’s afraid and the scariest part of his fear is that he doesn’t know what he’s afraid of.

The dog doesn’t try to cheer him up. Doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t pry. Doesn’t want to fix things. People want to fix things but dogs don’t want to fix things.

He lays down in a huff next to the boy and puts his head in his lap.

Dogs are just there.

I know a lot of dogs that are good at things. They run through things and jump over things. They bark at things and catch things. They attack things and protect things. They chase things. They follow things.

My dog Cosmo didn’t do any of this. He wasn’t faster or smarter or funnier or better than other dogs, but I think he knew something that some other dogs don’t. That some other people don’t.

He knew the secret. The key to the pinnacle of life.

It isn’t to be well trained or be obedient. Certainly not that.

It isn’t to be the best, or to be the worst, or to be the middle, or to have the things, or to not have the things or to run or to fly or to joke or to think or to puzzle or to write or to dance or to eat or to sing or to play or to anything or to nothing.

It’s none of that.

It’s to love and be loved.

It’s to jump on the couch even though you’re not supposed to and lay your head on someone’s lap just because you know they won’t mind. It’s to bark at strangers when they’re far away but wag your tail and kiss them when they draw close. It’s to lick people for no reason. To cry. To smile. To frown. To whatever.

It’s to know that there is no other virtue required of you in anyone’s company other than your presence. That’s it.

That’s all it ever was.

You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to be dumb. You don’t have to be quiet, don’t have to be loud, don’t have to be happy, be sad, be funny, be stoic, be angry or passive or active or monotone or baritone or any tone or no tone or anyone, no one, this one, that one, me, you, him, her, he, she, it, them, they all of us and none of us or everywhere or nowhere or this or that or whatever.

You just have to be here. Be yourself. You can wag your tail if you want, but it’s not required.

Just be here.

We’ll fill in the rest.

Be here.

Like a good boy.

That’s it.

Just a good boy.

In Line With The Coffee Girl


clueless

She wore a pink dress, the kind I imagined you would wear to a sorority recruitment party, or maybe a little soiree to a Connecticut country club. She had a pearl necklace, and smelled like lilacs. She was on the phone.

I was working customer support, restocking things, making whipped cream and caramel, and pre-closing the store, so I was walking by the register right when she said it.

“I’m sorry,” she said with that bitchy sort of lilt Emma Roberts would use in a Ryan Murphy show, “I’m with the coffee girl, one second.”

The coffee girl.

My manager is in her thirties, and she wears a special black apron that says Coffee Master. It’d be difficult to mistake her as the “coffee girl,” unless of course you weren’t even paying attention.

Which she clearly wasn’t. Which tickled me all the more.

Working the support role at Starbucks is kind of like being a ghost. You float around, doing things that people don’t really notice, and the troubles of the mortal realm (people on bar and at the registers) don’t really bother you.

They don’t just not bother me, though. They amuse me.

Here a fat woman complains about not getting her venti caramel frappacino fast. She flushes in anger. There, somebody spills their coffee after a pitching a huge fit that it didn’t taste right. Over there, a child screams in line, wanting more and more madeline cookies. If you were affected by these mini tragedies, they wouldn’t be funny. To me though, the friendly ghost, they are better than TV.

So I laughed. Out loud. My manager and the woman turned to me. My manager gave me a sort of motherly “what are you doing? Stop right now,” look, The woman looked at me like I was an unruly servant.

I looked back at her and tried not to laugh out loud. She wasn’t laughing. She still wasn’t even paying attention.

I wondered what her life was like.

She’d leave this land of the coffee people after she got her drink. Maybe she’d do some shopping at Bloomingdales, interacting with the clothes people, or maybe the makeup beings, in their natural habitat, before hopping in her Mercedes and heading over to the pet groomer, where she’d pick up her small, white dog from the dog person. On her way home, undoubtably, she’d stop off at another Starbucks to refuel with another trenta gren tea from the coffee girls, because a dry mouth is no mouth at all, as the cleaning monster used to say. She’d swing by whole foods on her way out of the valley, where the foodlngs and meat creatures would supply her with whatever she desired. On to the 101, where undoubtedly she would speed, a and a law thrall would pull her over and give her a ticket. It doesn’t matter, though. The number demons would have this sorted and paid for as soon as an assistant thing brought it to them.

Money was no issue.

Finally, back in Beverly Hills, where the civilized world lives, she would park in her driveway. Danny, the handsome actor, would wave at her from his yard. I bet his wife doesn’t have to interact with the northern beasts, she thinks to herself as her heels clack across the imported paving stones.

Inside, she passes off her dog to one of her many assistant things, and inspects the work of the cleaning monsters. Flawless, as usual, but creatures of their status excel at menial jobs.

She sits down on a perfect couch. After a hard day of shopping, who doesn’t need a rest?

She’d hear a squawk, and turns around. There, inside the gilded cage, would be the parrot her husband bought her last week. A cleaning monster finishes polishing the outside, and then bows to her and leaves.

She’d walk up to the cage, and gently pet the gold. The parrot would cock its head, look at her with one eye.

“I love you,” It’d say, and then she’d be sad.

She’d be sad because she didn’t know from whom it learned the word.

I clutched my mop to my chest. I was no longer laughing on the inside.

The woman was staring at me. My face just changed from comedy show to funeral in less than ten seconds, with no apparent stimulus. I must have looked incredibly insane. She ordered her drink and left.

“Coffee girl?” My manager laughed once the woman was out of shot. “Can you believe that?”

“This isn’t the 19th century,” Jac laughed.

I didn’t laugh. “She might not have meant it,” I sad. They both turned to me.

“What?”

I searched my thoughts, and then I gave up.

“Never mind.”

I kept mopping, stealing glances at the woman in the pearl necklace, looking for something other than sadness behind her eyes.

The Parrot Cage

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