Shaggy Dog Story

I can’t stop thinking about something I heard on NPR.  Apparently when dogs lick your face, they’re not saying that they’re happy to see you, that they’ve missed you or that they love you.  It’s actually a trait ingrained from their wolf days when the pack would lick the face and mouth of the leader in hopes of getting him to regurgitate some of his last meal.  They’re really just asking for food.

I was struck by that thought.  Every day, people come home, their dogs lick them and they’re happy.  So simple, and yet so false.  Licks aren’t kisses at all.  I love dogs but I’ve always hated when they lick me.  The thing is, I never thought of licks as kisses.  Maybe somewhere deep down I sensed that the lick-y dogs were in it for the wrong reasons.  I’m pretty sure my now-deceased dog only ever licked me a couple of times.  And those licks were very early on, before we really understood each other – and before I made an honest dog out of him.

We met years ago, late at night at the end of a Memorial Day weekend. I had just gotten home from the beach and right in front of my apartment was the most beautiful dog I had ever seen.  He later became a super-model, for real, so I know of what I speak.  (He was discovered because he had “a great butt.”  It’s basically a version of the Lana Turner story, but for dogs, butts and without the drugstore.)  This night, he was practicing his posing, I think, because he was standing perfectly still like a statue.  I thought I knew all the dogs in my neighborhood, but I would have remembered him.  And just like in a movie, our eyes met, locked and we were one.  At that point, I noticed there was an owner attached to the leash.

It was a man, maybe in his 60s. I told him I would love to dog-sit one weekend and asked for his number.  Surprisingly, he gave me his card, which I stared at for about 10 hours straight until at last it was the next morning.  “Hi!  I met you on the street last night!”  Dead silence.  “Um, you know, with Reepy?”  He didn’t hang up, so I plowed ahead.  “I was thinking I’d like to take him to the beach this weekend.  Can I pick him up on Friday?”

He didn’t ask me a single question…not whether I had other pets or kids or what I did.  For all he knew, I conducted medical experiments. We made plans.

About an hour later, he called me back.  “So…I was just talking to my wife, and she says…”  My heart dropped. “…she says that we have company coming this weekend.  Can you pick him up this evening?”

They lived in a three-storey brownstone chock full of art.  When I got there, the calm, still Reepy from the street was an out-of-control lunatic.  I wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into.  But once we were in my apartment, Reepy was an angel.  No more nutty shenanigans, no moping by the door.  Just a big old love wanting some regurgitated food.

Reepy and his famous tail.


We spent an amazing week together.  I had to call up his owners to tell them that he had an ear infection, which I couldn’t believe they hadn’t noticed, but that was the only time we spoke that week.  The vet told me that the infection had been there for months, that there was probably significant hearing loss, and treated me like I was the worst owner in the world.   Little did they know I was his best.  At the end of the week, when I called his family to arrange a drop off time, they said I could keep him another week since I was enjoying him so much.

I jumped at the chance.

At the end of that second week, his owners surprised me by announcing they had “gotten used to life without Reepy” and were going to give him away.  Wait.  What?  They had had him for four years. “You have first dibs if you want him, otherwise we’ll drop him at the ASPCA.”

When I caught my breath, I explained that I would definitely take him, but that I was about to leave for Australia for six weeks and I would have to do so when I returned.  They wouldn’t wait.  I had to scramble and find a place to keep the little guy for six weeks, which was three times longer than I had even had him.

When I went to pick up the rest of his stuff, I met the couple’s sons.  They were hysterical.  Of course.  I asked the man if he was sure he wanted to do this and he just laughed.  “Reepy is a one-person dog.  We need a family dog.”   I kept waiting for him to turn into Cujo or something, but he never did.  Though he did make this one person very happy.

One afternoon, about a year after I adopted him, my dog walker Johanna called me at work.  I live on a pretty quiet street but she said there had been a big commotion.  A homeless man had commandeered a baby carriage away from the mother and all the people from the little coffee shop next door to me were trying to get it back.  The guy was leaning into the stroller and screaming “THIS IS NO TIME TO SMOKE CIGARS” right into the baby’s face.  It was the biggest news story my block had seen for years.  In the midst of this, Reepy’s long flexi-leash had gotten caught up under the stroller and Johanna had to crawl around on the sidewalk to get him loose.

Their walk got weirder still.  As soon as she managed to escape the fray, a woman threw herself on the ground, at dog eye level, and started crying.  “Reepy!  Can you ever forgive me?  I was the only one who ever loved you.”   It was the wife…the one who wanted me to take him immediately the year before.  She asked Johanna to tell me that her husband had died.   She wanted me to bring Reepy over to play with the boys.

Talk about an ethical problem.  Mercifully when I called I got her answering machine.  I left a message saying how sorry I was about her husband, but that it would be confusing for both the boys and the dog if I brought Reepy over to their house.  Of course the boys were welcome to come to mine anytime.  And if that made her uncomfortable, I’d gladly bring Reepy to a dog park where they could play with him.  She never returned my call.

Reepy and I spent ten more years together, until he was nearly 16.  We never walked by his old house.  Someone once told me that while every other dog wants one of four things: to play, be petted, go out or be fed, Reepy was far more complex.  He certainly was an oddly private dog.  Cat owners are always proudly insistent that their cats are like dogs but I’m sadly aware that my dog was far more like a cat.  Countless times I would go into a room where he was,  he’d raise his head, look at me, then get up and walk inside.  That’s actually pretty funny, even though I did always notice that our relationship had some sort of a unfortunate parallel to my love life.

But I’m cool with that.  At least we had a straight-forward understanding.  None of those licks that people so easily misinterpret.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a person projects human feelings onto their dog.  It’s obviously nicer to hear “I love you” than “throw up some food.”  And it’s probably human nature to want to believe that the object of your affection feels the same way you do.  I’m not sure why this whole dog-lick story got to me.  For someone who loves kissing and loves dogs and who is often guilty of projecting feelings onto others, dog licks should be one of my favorite things around instead of one of the most distasteful.

But maybe it makes sense;  these days I’m aiming for transparency with those I love.  I guarantee if you’re ever kissed by me when you walk through my door,  I’m happy to see you,  I’ve missed you and I love you.  And, please, no regurgitated food.




I’m posting this from somewhere over Nebraska.  I left L.A. super early and saw the sun rise from the airport windows.  I love NYC so much and always feel like I’m cheating on it whenever I say something positive about Los Angeles, but it’s moments like this when L.A. seems so full of promise that I’m actually moved.  The feeling never lasts very long.

This trip was awfully quick, so I didn’t get to do too much.  Here’s the highlight reel:  Awesome Photographer, whom you may recall from the post below, and I continued our particular brand of sightseeing.

I’m thinking we should start a series.  Just to backtrack a little, here is the segment from New Orleans:

But back to the City of Angels.

Unusual drink to head size ratio

I was also introduced to what’s undoubtedly going to be my favorite summer cocktail:  vodka with cut up fresh grapes and basil over ice.  Delightfully delicious and refreshing, just like my friend who’s holding the drink.

I saw another friend I rarely get to see.  He once sent me clippings from his lilac tree via FedEx and seeing him always makes me think of kisses.

Despite appearances to the contrary, I’m not always talking about kisses.   But since I’m on a roll…..this trip was oddly marred by a flashback.  A bad kiss flashback.   Said incident should have just been a forgotten glitch but I’ve made it so horrific in my mind and there it’s stayed ever since.

This one time at band-camp, I had dinner with a friend of mine who, although I adored, was really just a friend of mine.  What I mean, is that I had no designs. We always got along great except for one tiny incident another time earlier where he, apropos of nothing – sort of – told me how un-into me he was. This  always made me feel kind of bad, especially because I wasn’t thinking that we were ever an ‘into’ thing.

During the night in question, and over the course of two bottles of wine, I suddenly got all annoyed about the slight that happened way before.  And damn if I wasn’t going to prove a point.  We were going to kiss if it was the last thing that happened!

He knew I was going for it and actually tried to block me.   He could have been drafted as some hot-shot left tackle at that moment.  He put up his hand and said rather loudly,  “Go with past knowledge! You know how this is going to end up!  Go with what you know!”  Literally.  It was basically the anti-financial statement: past performance is indeed a guarantee of future results.  But I didn’t listen.  At this point, it wasn’t even about him that much, it was about me not feeling bad.

So I went in for the smooch and, oh my god, he wasn’t kidding.  Absolute disaster.

Afterwards, I was so embarrassed by my behavior that I could barely look at him, let alone talk and be normal.  And this is someone who I loved hanging out with.  (Incidentally, that’s a big statement for me since as a general rule, I hate everyone.)  My extreme mortification and simultaneous annoyance that he wasn’t trying to make it better made everything worse.   Then I realized that all of this weirdness made it seem like I really, really liked him, which I didn’t, and that any time I did try to address things just made it seem like I really liked him even more.  Talk about a downward spiral.

The last ten minutes of that night were spent looking at my second-favorite tree in the whole United States.  I kept passing that tree on this trip and I felt embarrassed all over again, every time.  Plus I’m annoyed that I now feel forced to find a new second-favorite tree.  And I want to call him up and tell him that.  But then he’d think I still liked him.

Which I don’t.  Though I wish we were friends.

See, Los Angeles,  you’re not really full of promise.  I ‘m glad to be home.


Get Off My Sac

Figures that the decade would wait till its last month to give me my favorite phrase.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a particularly debauched evening at Double Crown with a bunch of friends and a handful of strangers.  It was really fun. For one thing, there was kissing.  Grown-up spin-the-bottle kissing, but without the bottle.  It’s hard to have a bad time when there’s kissing involved.  My favorite guest at this dinner, however, wasn’t actually present, so I didn’t get to kiss him.

It was, I think, some kid in LA.  One of my friends innocently sent a one-number-off mistake text to this kid’s phone.  The fact that he responded was all it took for everyone at our table to start texting him.  And texting him.  And texting him.  I’m talking hours of  SMS mayhem.

You might think that we were annoying him, but he was into it.  For the next few nights, our new friend called each one of us at 4am.  Aw, I guess he missed us.

But back to my point.  He ended up giving me my favorite Xmas present – the phrase “Get Off My Sac.”  I know he didn’t invent it and all, but it’s really the best four words ever if you think about it.  New Year’s Resolution #1:  Use Get Off My Sac in regular conversation at least once a day.  For days that no one is actually getting on my sac, I get a reprieve.  But all other days, game on!

And for the record, my personal sac is imaginary.

In other news, I went to Sarasota for Xmas.

Sarasotans have their priorities straight.

Sarasota, for those not in the know, is on the good side of Florida. Generally in any discussion of East versus West, I’ll always side with the East, but Florida is an exception.

I like going there.  For one thing, I get to go to Denny’s, my favorite restaurant – no joke.  I get the same thing every time – an egg white veggie omelette, no cheese, grits and a biscuit.  It’s not only delicious, but it’s also a single palette meal, which doesn’t happen very often.

This trip was extra special because, for the first time, I also went to the Mall.  I think that’s the same thing as when tourists come here and visit Times Square.  I’m not being ironic about how much I enjoyed it.  If I lived in Sarasota I think I’d probably go to the Mall often.  But I live in New York and mostly try to avoid Times Square so maybe that wouldn’t be true at all.

Speaking of Times Square, Happy New Year!

I love that 2010 sounds so futuristic even though it’s NOW.