8/10/04: Existential Crap
I've been hanging out with this dog this summer in Napa - Momo, the 130-pound Tibetan Mastiff - trying to make him love me like I love him. The other animals were easy: Sweet Pea is skittish, but she likes to have her head scratched just like any other cat; Sadie is a solid, old dog who goes nuts when you rub her under her chin, plus she's a total whore for rawhide chews, a bag of which I kept under my kitchen sink at all times; and Baloney practically lives in the barn, once he discovered the upstairs was a dog-free zone perfect for taking, uh, cat naps.
But Momo can be a complete bastard. He's still young (even though he's huge, with bear paws and a shaggy coat that comes off by the handfuls), and that makes him unpredictable. He barked and growled at me every day for the first two weeks I was here, even nipping me once, letting me know that he was in charge of this mountain. It was really tiring and frustrating. Dogs freaking love me. Why does this dog not love me? Have I lost my touch? Or is he just pure evil?
So I went after this dog with an intensity and commitment I rarely see in myself. I may not be able to freelance for longer than a few months at a time, and I may never decide on a permanent career, and I may have an insane compulsion to travel in order to maintain the illusion of an unsettled life, but goddammit, I can commit to making this dog bow to the will of my love.
Plus I had nothing better to do this summer.
Momo, unfortunately, just wasn't buying what I was selling for a while. He would bark and lunge at me when I walked into a room, or if I had to step over him (he's a fan of spreading himself in front of doorways, to guard and control rooms), he would let out a low growl to intimidate me. It worked: when you have a huge-ass dog three feet below your area growling, you feel a little freaked out.
I decided to kill him with kindness. I got up every morning and took him for a hike in the woods that surround the property. I let him sniff the trees and the leaves and in funny, dirty crevices you can only find in the places like the woods or subway stations. We spent a lot of time stopping and listening to rustles in the trees, usually birds or rabbits, but sometimes deer, too. I ran with him in the flat areas, and I talked to him with respect. (Actually, I probably started talking to him a little too much, but he was my main companion for the day, who else was I going to talk to?)
One day, after a month of intensive walking, he did something I thought was extraordinary: he peed. This was not your average leg lift and dash. He stopped where he was, stood perfectly still, and let it rip for the next three minutes. I've never seen a dog pee that long. I've never seen a human pee that long. Babies were born, marriages ended, tiny ecosystems were created and destroyed, in the time it took for that dog to pee.
I reported this back to John later that night.
"Wow, you saw him pee? I rarely see him pee. He must be starting to feel comfortable around you."
I felt a swell of juicy pride. I was getting somewhere with that goddamn dog.
"But you'll never see him poop. I've only seen it a few times myself. He's just got too much pride, that dog."
Our morning walk became more ritualized after that. I would take him to a wide spot within the tiny creek in the woods so that he could sit and cool off, and I could think about my writing, or what I was going to do with my life, or what I was missing in New York (as it turns out everything, but nothing, of course.) I would stare up at the long, narrow tree trunks angling in toward the creek and marvel at how only in nature can structures exist at an angle, how all of the tall buildings I was surrounded by in New York were so boring and predictable by being perfectly straight. Momo would snarf at the water, dig at the dirt, listen for deer.
Nature is the great leveler, I thought to myself. Nothing can make you feel more unimportant, like you're just a tiny piece of this vast puzzle in the universe. I was loving the west coast, and fully embracing all my hippie bullshit I had left behind six years ago in Seattle.
Momo and I went on like that for another month, happy to be alone together. He peed all the time now in front of me. He still growled when I entered a room but once he saw it was me, he would usually stop, approach me, sniff me, wait for a head pat, and then trot off. I felt insanely connected with the natural world surrounding me.
And then everything changed again: Momo took a crap in front of me. He did it in the vineyard as I was walking him back to his house. I needed to share this with the world! Momo took a crap in front of me! I told John about it excitedly and he said, "That must mean he really trusts you."
I'm so happy, I thought. I can't believe how happy I am!
Oh my god.
I really can't believe how happy I am. That a dog wants to crap in front of me. This is how unimportant I've become, that his excrement is the highlight of my summer.
As great as it is to get a little perspective on my life, to realize that I'm one with the world, there is nothing worse for a New Yorker than to feel unimportant. We spend our whole lives convincing ourselves that everything we do is important: what we do for a living, where we eat, what we drink, what we wear, what we think, it all makes up the fabric of the world.
Dog crap, that ain't making up the fabric of any world.
I think I'm ready to go home, to feel important again, even if I'm just fooling myself into thinking that I'm going back to a life of relevance. I know some of what I learned and saw this summer will stick on me, though - or at the very least, on the bottom of my shoe.