This One’s About Fear

Just-Us-3Sign in the NY Subway

The TV was showing Today–one of those typical morning fluff shows–when I woke up. They were talking to a fourth or fifth grader who rode the subway alone. You should probably know that I’ve (1) never ridden any subway alone and (2) never ridden a New York subway alone. But I was amazed this merited discussion, even on a fluff show. How anyone thought this was scary enough to be notable amazed me.

Later, I walked the dog. We were about 50 feet–about 16 meters, for those on a more rational measurement system–away from the house when the dog stopped, as is his habit. Usually this is to sniff or pee, sometimes it’s to eat feces. Why the dog likes to eat poop is beyond me, but I only manage to stop him half the time. Realizing that he was again trying, I pulled on the leash. He was already eating it and managed to swallow.

As I pulled him across the street he started making strange noises. A coughing wheeze, though I’d never known that dogs could do either of the two. And he kept doing it. 

By now, I was worried. I thought about doing a tracheotomy. Then I realized that I didn’t know how to do a tracheotomy on a dog. For that matter, I didn’t even know what a tracheotomy was. I thought about going home, but I decided there was no solution to this problem there.

Maybe he’d stop breathing right there. Maybe he’d suffocate from trying to eat a turd. Of all the ways one can die, that would have be among the most embarrassing and disgusting. Slowly, as I began to think about maybe trying the Heimlich maneuver–not that I know much more about that than tracheotomies–the wheezing abated.

During this whole incident I’d made up my mind that going home was still smarter than continuing this walk. I probably wouldn’t walk the dog again for another week. I thought, “If this can happen, I’d rather not risk it.” But now the dog was pulling to get going. So continue on the walk we did.

I don’t know what small fraction of the thoughts that ran through my head as this small old dog wheezed went through his. I have to assume that he was at least aware he was wheezing and struggling to breathe, past that I don’t suspect he was much concerned. He certainly wasn’t as ready to give up on this walking idea as I was.

I’m trying to distill something from this story that doesn’t sound trite. That “you can’t live your life in fear” would be one easy conclusion to make. And I’m completely convinced that that’s a valuable lesson that people need to learn. But it feels too simplistic.

Perhaps I can end with this: fear is much different in abstraction than in reality. I can easily think it’s silly that you’re worried about a 9-year-old riding the subway, but that doesn’t make me less scared when something that causes me irrational fear comes along. Fear is usually irrational, but it never feels that way when you yourself are afraid. It’s not a prefect conclusion, but I’m afraid it’s the best one I’ve got.


On Dog Poop

I have a dog. His name is Lucky and he’s the size that strangers consistently say “what a cute puppy” when they see him. He’s at least seven people-years old. That’s 49 in dog years. To the extent that he understands the strangers, he doesn’t seem to care.

You may be thinking that this is the story of how that charming dog came to live with me. This is not that story. This is instead the story of dog poop.

I am, in this area, incredibly inconsiderate. Just ask anyone who’s walking through the park when they see a dog arch it’s back in that certain way that makes it clear that they couldn’t really be doing anything else but what they are. And then they’ll yell, “I hope you’re going to pick that up!”

To which I give the only reasonable response, nothing. And as they walk away, I do too. Without a bag of warm excrement in my hand.

I realize that leaving my dog’s turds in public is not appropriate. But sometimes I just can’t stoop down to pick it up. Especially when it looks like Lucky had a little too much to drink last night. Or especially when someone reminds me of my ‘responsibility.’

It’s not that I never pick up the dog poop. If the conditions are right, and a bag is close at hand, I’ll do it. But even then I can’t escape the feeling that it’s a rather silly thing to do.

There a number of reasons that picking up dog poop is absurd. For one, horses, whose poop is much larger and much more solid, are allowed to leave turds wherever they want. Their owners seem to feel no need to clean it up, even if it was lain in the middle of a perfectly good hiking or biking trail.

Further, dogs are, to my knowledge, the only animals that poop outside that we are required to clean up after. Surely inside-pooping cats get their poop cleaned up, as do gerbils, rabbits, and guinea pigs, but this is because they’re pooping in our homes.

The where and how of dog poop is much more like the where and how of squirrel or wild/feral rabbit poop. And it’s not as if dog poop is a danger to the environment. All they eat is grain and some rare meat proteins, nothing terribly foreign or worrisome. In fact, it probably makes pretty good fertilizer for all the foreign substances (like grass) that we plant everywhere.

So next time you’re walking your dog, and someone asks you if you’re going to pick that up, do the right thing. Say yes and walk away. Leave the excrement where it falls.

big ideas, fiction

Fiction: Conversations I Don’t Have with my Dog

Lucky (that’s his name) stands there staring at me.

“What?” I ask. “I just fed you.”

He keeps staring at me. Not blinking (do dogs blink?) not looking away.

Again, “What?” Nothing. “You’re thinking about something. Wait, let me guess. You’re wondering about the purpose of existence. Whether there’s a reason we’re here. You’re thinking that maybe there is a purpose. Maybe God created us. That maybe this is an immense test of our wills and our hearts. And that how we perform determines how God will treat us when we go back to him.”

He hasn’t moved a hair.

“Or maybe you’re thinking that we’re here for no reason. That we’re just the result of millions of years of genetic variation. We’re the best of all there ever was. We were the fittest and so we’re still here. We’re better than the dinosaurs, after all.”

He looks down at the floor.

“You would think that, you Godless heathen.”

He whines softly.

“You’re not as hopeless as that?”

He looks up again.

“You think we should make the most of this. Whatever it is. That we should improve ourselves. Help others. Improve the condition of our fellow man to the greatest extent we can. And when we can’t, we should at least strive to do them no harm.”

He gives a little yip.

“Yeah,” I say, “me too.”