The Dog Park

Baldwin Park Dog Park

Folks take their dogs to Baldwin Park, a few acres of land on the shores of Lake Baldwin in Winter Park, Florida. Many let their dogs off leash so they can mingle with canine compatriots. Impromptu packs form, but few pecking order conflicts erupt. They seem to believe that they are on holiday from the dictates of their masters and want to revel in their freedom. Why waste time establishing orders of dominance when they can chase around and sniff butts to their hearts’ content?

Some owners remain engaged and throw frisbees to their dogs. Some let their pets go wading in the water, and a few fools throw tennis balls out into the lake for their pups to fetch. I’ve never seen a gator cruising near shore in Lake Baldwin, but there’s got to be a few lurking in the weeds somewhere.

Folks who go to the park without a dog sometimes meet resistance from dogs patrolling their territory. Terriers seem especially able to sort out pet from non-pet people and treat the latter with suspicion. They bark and growl at leash-free strollers as if doubting the good intentions of those who choose to live in a flea, dog hair, and drool-free environment.

Our rat terrier, Sammi, died back in 2003. We haven’t visited Baldwin Park in 20 years, but memories linger. I’m working on a painting that began with clouds of random marks. Dogs and the figure of a woman emerged out of the chaos. I couldn’t identify the subconscious source of the imagery until I decided to add a strip of water near the top. I knew then that memories of Baldwin Park had returned for a visit.

Dog Park, oil on canvas (unfinished), 20×16″

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Puppy or What Is Puppy?

This color pencil drawing of a puppy is not cute. It doesn’t express the sentiment that doggies are wonderful. Instead, the drawing questions whether a canine image can supplant the paradigmatic construction of “dog-ness” in a viewer’s mind. The syrupy approach calls into question the fawning nature of all portraiture (the privileging of one person’s mien over all others within the gilded confines of the artificial, faux-precious canvas-in-frame space). A dog replaces a human face, thus devaluing the species-centric ascendancy of the homo sapien visage.

Artist as “Artist”

The artist pictured above is not a sell out for drawing said puppy. His choice of colored pencils (the medium of amateurs) self-critiques his role as a dominant image maker in a paternalistic art market. His apparent prostitution of his talents is a false maneuver, a coded rebellion against the strictures of the artist-as-revolutionary model. By drawing a greeting card image, he storms the dual citadels of Clement Greenbergian Flatness and Frank Stella’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get Dicta.

And while calling into question the pillars of post-war Modernism, he avoids the pitfalls of Post-Modernism. His straight forward, irony-free depiction deconstructs deconstruction by asserting the possibility of Sincerity. Even as he tears down traditional conventions of portraiture and the role of the modern artist, he builds (constructs) true possibility.

The puppy isn’t cute, and the image is not puppy-ness, and the artist has not made a signifying object of any importance. But the defiant act of wrapping himself in unapologetic triteness lifts him like Icarus above the binding gravity of professional integrity:

True artistic freedom achieved.

The Dog Puke Incident: The Importance of Remaining in the Moment

 

Before the Incident:  Sedgewick Whippet Lying Abed

Our daughter Annie and her husband Bryant left their two dogs with us this week.  I’ve been letting the grandpups sleep in my bed during their sojourns as Sedgewick takes comfort in resting near me.  Shakespeare sometimes joins the “slumber pack” to claim his right to equal privileges.

On the second night of this visit, I fell asleep with Sedgewick burrowed under the cover sheet in the middle of the bed.  Shakespeare trudged into the room about three a.m., jumped onto the bed, hopped over my legs, pushed into the tight space between me and Sedge, and placed his head against one of my thighs.  I heard a slight coughing noise, and then Shakespeare began to lick my left upper thigh.  That felt odd.  But he shifted his position after a minute and hopped back over my legs to the edge of the bed.  I thought that he would jump down and return to his berth in the living room.  Instead of  hearing a thud and the rattle of his harness when he landed on the terrazzo, I was surprised by a louder coughing noise.  It sounded suspicious, but I felt too tired to turn on a light and investigate.  I did take the precaution of rolling over to the far side of the bed.

When I awoke the next morning, Shakespeare had left.  Sedgewick crawled out of the sheets and exited after he felt me move.  I looked over to the right side of the bed and saw a yellow puddle of vomit on the sheets near the edge.  Little brown chunks sat in the center.  I pulled down the cover sheet from my body, and saw more vomit on the left edge of the leg of my gym shorts.

Shakespeare had urped a preliminary urp, licked it off my leg, jumped up and vented the rest.

I went to the bathroom, stripped off the shorts and washed up.  Judy sat at the dining room eating cereal.  I made scrambled eggs for her and me, and didn’t tell her about the dog puke incident–no reason to ruin her meal. I combined sausage, cheese, ketchup and a slice of bread with my eggs to make a breakfast sandwich, but had trouble choking it down.  The sausage resembled the little brown chunks still sitting on my bedsheet. After breakfast, I loaded the bedding into the washer and set it to “sanitary cycle”.  I added a maximum amount of bleach.  I told Judy an edited version of what had happened, and she agreed that I was justified in my decision to banish dogs from my bedroom.

I’ve been reading a modern translation of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.  He asserts that all we have is the present moment.  We can do nothing about the past and things beyond our control.  I try to keep that in mind as I finish off the links in a pack of breakfast sausage, but it’s tough.

DSC_0407 (2)After the incident:  a new place of rest.

 

Doggone

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My wife and I came home at 10 last night, and while she arranged things in her lap and prepared to step out of the car, I stood by the front door and yipped and whined.  Judy said, “Stop that.”  Master commanded, and I obeyed.

We dog sat a miniature whippet and a terrier for the last couple weeks.  Sedgewick and Shakespeare erupted every time Judy and I  returned from a trip and stepped onto our front porch.  When we entered, they pawed our calves, wagged tails, and chased each other around the living room to welcome us home.

And today when daughter Annie and husband Bryant walked through the door, their dogs greeted them with even more enthusiasm.  Shakespeare, the retiring chap who spent most of his days staring at us with the sad resignation of a French Existentialist philosopher, practically did back flips when Bryant greeted him.  Sedgewick tried to climb up Annie’s legs and leap into her arms.  Their tails whipped back and forth in blurs.  Their true masters had returned!

Annie and Bryant packed up and left around 3:30 and headed back to Miami.  The dog dishes, leashes, and food bin are gone.  I picked up the blankets, sheets and pillows we put out for the dogs on the sofas and floor.  The red sofa has a smooth, hair-free texture once again. Fragments of pigskin chew toys no longer litter the carpet.  I’ve washed the sheets on my bed and can expect to sleep tonight in relative ease.  (I won’t have Sedgewick wedged mid back and Shakespeare lodged against my shins.)  And I feel a little sad.

The quiet in our house is a relief, and I’m looking forward to a few weeks of an easier schedule.  The peace will be relaxing, but perhaps dull.  I’ve grown accustomed to their yips.  I also got reacquainted with the enjoyment of meeting another creature’s basic needs.  It’s similar to the happiness of feeding a first dish of ice cream to a baby.  A tiny act of generosity makes eyes light up with joy.  The exchange is direct and uncomplicated, and no subtexts or unspoken demands ruin the innocence of the moment.

Perhaps that’s why we still keep dogs around.  They serve no useful purpose, but remind us to be more open handed and simple.

 

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Invasion of the Canines

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My bed, early morning:  sleeping with the enemy.

It began slowly, so slowly that we remained unaware for several days that they had already established a beach head. They pretended to be adorable creatures, uncomplicated beings who lived for simple pleasures.  They fooled us with their cuteness, their large eyes that drew us in and made us want to pet them, feed them, take them for walks.

2 out of 5 dog nests:  colonization has begun.

Before we knew it, our house was cluttered with their food and water bowls, their leashes, harnesses, medicine.  Pillows and sheets lay strewn on the floor in cool spots where they could lounge.  Our house began to seem more like their house as they competed with us for seats on the sofas, as they attempted to control entry and exit by barking at anyone approaching the door.

Our daily schedule shifted until we adopted their Circadian cycles.  I found myself taking them for walks at eleven o’clock at night, the time of day when I normally flip between reruns and the local news while dozing in my recliner.  I learned to look over my shoulder and step carefully while cooking, as the canines tended to hover near my feet waiting for morsels to drop.  Without quite knowing why, I began to give them slivers of cheese as they gazed hypnotically up from the kitchen tiles.  I felt pleasure as I watched them gobble up my offerings…I admit that my will is mostly compromised.

My wife is so far gone that she smiles when they attempt to muscle her out of her spot on the sofa.  One climbs in her lap, stands on its hind legs on her thighs, places its forepaws on her chest, and stares into her eyes.  Judy responds to his aggressive, I-won’t-take-no-for-an-answer approach by hugging  and petting him.

DSC_0355 (2) With Judy under their control, they turn their attention to me.

It will all be over in about a week.  The canines have arranged for our daughter to take them back to Miami, their base of operations.  But will their influence leave with them?  Late evening walks are cool and peaceful in our neighborhood.  I may continue them.  Sharing food, attention and living space with “innocent” creatures has begun to seem normal.  Dogs in my bed, burrowing under my blankets give me a sense of security as I fall asleep.

Where will it end?  Will I start to haunt pet stores and shelters?  Will I stare with envy as dogs parade their owners up and down my street?  Will I even feel a bit of affection for the pit bulls next door who look at me as if I’m a large slab of meat?

I’m like Donald Sutherland in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers:  another species is trying to take over my life.

 

 

The Miami Pack

 

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Sedge and Shakes

The Book and the Traveler arrived at our house with their Miami pack in tow.  “Sedge” and “Shakes” surveyed us suspiciously, but the Book assured us that they’d be no problem at all.  Judy and I smiled and nodded…We had no choice.  The Book knew that she could count on us for favors, that we couldn’t say no.

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Sedge, the nervous one with searching eyes and the shrill bark of a killer, stared us down as if willing us to make a sudden move.  (We all knew how that would end.)  Shakes studied us carefully to search out our weak points.

Book and Traveler told us a few weeks back that they had to make a trip to Las Vegas to “make presentations at a conference”.  Who knew what they meant by presentations?  I didn’t ask them to describe the attendees.  It was better that I didn’t know.

I drove B and T to the airport and wondered what they had packed in a giant suitcase… Book’s modus operandi is to carry books wherever she goes.  Perhaps she had packed a few extra.  It’s part of her routine to build a fortified nest of texts before she “delivers a paper”.

T talked about distant countries during the drive, the habits of the native folk, the crowded conditions, poverty.  Perhaps his trip to Vegas was yet another scouting mission, but this time to assess the state of American life.  What did he plan to do with this information?

When I arrived home and turned the knob on my front door, a series of sonic disruptions tore through the air.  My eardrums ached as if they had been ruptured.  The intimidation had begun.  Sedge and Shakes had been on the look out, and they met me on the carpet inside the door.  Shakes pounced on my calves, and Sedge circled my ankles as if attempting to trip and take me down.  I stepped  back, and they dashed away.

I anticipated that they would attempt to establish their dominance inside my home.  My fears were confirmed immediately:  they leapt onto sofas in strategic positions and dared me to dislodge them.  They had the high ground.  I slunk to my recliner in defeat and tentatively sat down.  They stared at me, and Sedge yipped once.  Shakes yawned and casually bared his teeth.

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I retreated to the kitchen a few minutes later to put on a roast, and when I returned I saw them lolling on their cushions fast asleep.  They knew that their campaign of  territorial conquest had been successful and that no further effort was necessary.  I skulked away to my bedroom and met Judy in the hall.  She seemed unusually cheerful and reported that our two “guests” had been good company.  Stockholm syndrome:  the first signs.

I avoided Sedge and Shakes for the next hour or two, but an odd sound pulled me out of my room.  Shakes sat in his spot on the sofa and fixed me with a burning look of subdued aggression.  He barked once in a commanding tone.   Judy said, “They want to take you out for…a walk.

I gulped and reached for the leash.  I thought of the scene in The Godfather where three mobsters drive to a remote spot, and two execute the third.  “Leave the gun and take the cannoli,” I thought as I stuffed a plastic pooper bag in my pocket.  Maybe I’d return with a dog deposit.  Maybe I’d not return at all.

They pulled me to a drainage canal and nonchalantly urinated on bushes and random muddy spots.  They tried to chase a squirrel, a lizard, two egrets.  A gentle breeze blew, and I relaxed.  Maybe this was a just a walk after all.  But Sedge suddenly turned toward me and growled.  Shakes took a position on my left flank and waited with a quivering left haunch.  What did they want from me?

I knelt down and patted Sedge on the head, and he licked my hand.  Shakes wagged his tail when I scratched his chest.  I paid my tribute to them, and they accepted me into their pack.  I was a made dog.

Shakes squatted and squeezed out a log.  I picked it up with my plastic bag.  I said, “Good dog,” and they pulled me home.

 

 

Joe’s Screwed

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Work crews appeared in our neighborhood Thursday, and their trucks clustered a half mile away.  They came closer and closer the next day.  Around 4 p.m. I heard workers talking near my back yard.  Our power line poles run the length of a drainage ditch behind our house.  I walked out back and saw a man climbing into a viburnum bush-turned-tree near the southeast corner, and he chain-sawed to clear branches fallen on our line. Another worker appeared in the neighbor’s yard and used a saw on a long pole to cut from the other side.

A few minutes later our line sprung upwards a few feet, and ten minutes later it snapped into position higher than I’d ever seen it.  The workmen left, and an hour later trucks from Duke Energy pulled up in front of our house.  They blocked my driveway and the neighbors, but I didn’t care.  I was ready after five days of soggy heat to run out and kiss their bumpers.

Power came on about twenty minutes later, and I saw the outside lights shining at the neighbor’s.  I texted him.  The power went off, however, after ten minutes.  We saw men on the roof next door and in the back yard.  A supervisor yelled something from the street.  Our power came back, and I flipped the breaker for the AC unit.  We waited five minutes for anything to happen, but then Blessed Relief clicked on and blew cool air from the vents.  The inside temperature just before had been 86 degrees with 80% humidity, and the unit ran until 9:00 to get it down to 80 degrees.

Our neighbor knocked on our door that evening and reported that he had no power.  I told him about the turn on-off-on and swore that I had seen his safety light burning in his carport.  He came back a few minutes later with a notice he’d found hanging on his door.  It read, “Power line repaired.  Damage to meter can.  Contact an electrician to fix.”  He trudged home and started his generator.

Joe lives in a rental unit managed by a real estate company that only makes repairs after tenants move out.  The owner refuses to remove dead trees even when they loom over the house, and can be stubborn about plumbing issues.  The power, most likely, won’t be coming back on unless Joe pays for the repairs himself.  He’s already cleared away branches from the tree that had fallen, hit the house, and snapped his line.  The trunk still needs to be chopped, and I’ve agreed to loan Joe my axe.

The next evening I heard a car pull into his driveway.  Joe had visitors.  Seconds later I heard two men yelling, “Paco!  Paco!”  The neighbor’s pit bull escaped when Joe opened the door to let a friend inside.  The yelling went on at intervals into the wee hours, and I heard a few “Paco!”s the next morning.

The Prodigal Dog made his unwilling return Sunday afternoon.  Someone in the neighborhood had found him after Joe put up a notice on a community message board.  The power’s still off, however, and Paco might be planning a new escape.  I wouldn’t blame him.