A Conversation with My Dogs
It is late afternoon. Seated at my desk, I call for my dogs to join me in my office. They do.
Me: The reason I’ve summoned you here today is I really think we should talk about something.
Bob: What’s that?
Me: Well, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I get the feeling you guys think you have to follow me everywhere and I just want you both to know that you don’t.
Stan: Where would you get a feeling like that?
Me: I get it from the fact that the both of you follow me everywhere all day long. Like for instance, this morning. We were all together in the bedroom? Why do you both look blank? Doesn’t this ring a bell at all? I was on the bed reading the paper . . .
Bob: Where was I?
Me: On the floor sleeping.
Bob: On the floor sleepi . . . ? Oh, yes. Right. I remember that. Go on.
Me: So, there came a point where I had to get up and go into the next room to get a Kleenex. And you both woke up out of a deep sleep to go with me.
Stan: Yes. So? What’s the problem?
Bob: We like to watch you get Kleenex. We happen to think it’s something you do very well.
Me: The point I’m trying to make is why do you both have to get up out of a deep sleep to go with me. You sit there staring at me, all excited, like you think something really good is going to happen. I feel a lot of pressure to be more entertaining.
Bob: Would it help if we stood?
Stan: I think what the lady is saying is that where Kleenex retrieval is concerned, she’d just as soon we not make the trip.
Bob: Is that true?
Me: Yes. It is.
Bob (deeply hurt): Oh, man.
Stan: Don’t let her get to you, buddy.
Bob: I know I shouldn’t. But it all comes as such a shock.
Me: I think you may be taking this wrong. It’s not that I don’t like your company. It’s just that I see no reason for you both to follow me every time I get up.
Bob: What if just one of us goes?
Stan: And I don’t suppose that “one of us” would be you?
Me: Neither of you needs to go.
Bob: Okay. Fine. No problem. Get your damn Kleenex alone from now on.
Bob: I’m just curious. What’s your position on pens?
Bob: Yes. How many of us can wake up out of a deep sleep to watch you look for a pen?
Me: Why would either of you want to wake up out of a deep sleep to follow me around while I’m looking for a pen?
Stan: Is she serious?
Bob: I can’t tell. She has such a weird sense of humor.
Me: Let’s just level with each other, okay? The real reason you both follow me every place I go is that you secretly believe there might be food involved. Isn’t that true? Isn’t that the real reason for the show of enthusiasm?
Stan: Very nice talk.
Bob: The woman has got some mouth on her.
Me: You mean you deny that every time you follow me out of the room it’s actually because you think we’re stopping for snacks?
Bob: Absolutely false. That is a bald-faced lie. We do it for the life experience. Period.
Stan: And sometimes I think it might work into a game of ball.
Bob: But we certainly don’t expect anything.
Stan: We’re way past expecting anything of you. We wouldn’t want you to overexert yourself in any way. You have to rest and save up all your strength for all that Kleenex fetching.
Bob: Plus we know it doesn’t concern you in the least that we’re both starving to death.
Stan: We consume on the average about a third of the calories eaten daily by the typical wasted South American street dog.
Me: One bowl of food a day is what the vet said I should give you. No more.
Bob: One bowl of food is a joke. It’s an hors d’oeuvre. It does nothing but whet my appetite.
Me: Last summer, before I cut your food down, you were the size and shape of a hassock.
Bob: Who is she talking to?
Stan: You, pal. You looked like a beanbag chair, buddy.
Bob: But it was not from overeating. In summer, I retain fluids, that’s all. I was in very good shape.
Stan: For a hippo. I saw you play ball back then. Nice energy. For a dead guy.
Bob: Don’t talk to me about energy. Who singlehandedly ate his way through the back fence? Not just once but on four separate occasions?
Me: So you’re the one who did that?
Bob: One who did what?
Me: Ate through the back fence.
Bob: Is there something wrong with the back fence? I have no idea what happened. Whoever said that is a liar.
Stan: The fact remains that we are starving all day long and you continually torture us by eating right in front of us.
Bob: Very nice manners, by the way.
Me: You have the nerve to discuss my manners? Who drinks out of the toilet and then comes up and kisses me on the face?
Bob: That would be Dave.
Me: No. That would be you. And while we’re on the subject of manners, who keeps trying to crawl into the refrigerator? Who always has mud on their tongue?
Stan: Well, that would be Dave.
Me: Okay. That would be Dave. But the point I’m trying to make is that where manners are concerned, let’s just say that you don’t catch me trying to stick my head in your dinner.
Bob: Well, that may be more a function of menu than anything else.
Me: Which brings me right back to my original point. The two of you do not have to wake up and offer me fake camaraderie now that you understand that once a day is all you’re ever going to be fed. Period. Nonnegotiable. For the rest of your natural lives. And if I want to play ball, I’ll say so. End of sentence.
Stan: Well, I see that the nature of these talks has completely broken down.
Bob: I gotta tell you, it hurts.
Me: There’s no reason to have hurt feelings.
Stan: Fine. Whatever you say.
Bob: I just don’t give a damn anymore. I’m beyond that, quite frankly. Get your own Kleenex, for all I care.
Stan: I feel the same way. Let her go get all the Kleenex and pens she wants. I couldn’t care less.
Me: Excellent. Well, I hope we understand each other now.
Bob: We do. Why’d you get up? Where are you going?
Me: Into the next room.
Stan: Oh. Mm hmm. I see. And why is that?
Me: To get my purse.
Stan: Hey, fatso, out of my way.
Bob: Watch out, asshole. I was first.
Stan: The hell you were. I was first.
Bob: Fuck you. We’re getting her purse, I go first. I’m starving.
Stan: You don’t listen at all, do you. Going for pens means food. She said she’s getting her purse. That means ball.
Just Say, “I Do”
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of getting married lately. Ever since President Bush decided to go out on a limb and give “marriage” his ringing endorsement, thereby proposing another forward-thinking political initiative on behalf of the Republican party that may at long last lay the groundwork for a full slate of all the other things your mother always told you to do, such as getting the hair out of your eyes, standing up straight, changing your tone of voice when you talk to me, and not leaving the house looking like that.
Bush’s real agenda, of course, is to address the considerable pressure being applied by conservative religious organizations to back a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Opponents of same-sex marriage like to cite the ability to have children as the significant line of demarcation between a real marriage and a fraudulent same-sex facsimile. However, in making this case, they conveniently forget to mention some of “real marriage”’s famous offspring—for example, Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Enron guys, and the terrorists who engineered 9/11.
Statistically speaking, gay marriage stands alone as the last outpost of marriage’s most pristine ideals, since same-sex couples are the only ones whose marital track records are untarnished. If we are going to question the validity of these marriages, then that proposed constitutional amendment ought to also contain a subclause restricting certain heterosexual unions that have, in the fullness of time, proven to be totally futile. For instance, the marriages of movie stars to anyone, straight or gay, especially if they have participated in a People magazine article in which they have declared that they are “very much in love.” Or weddings involving people under twenty-eight who have known each other for less than a year and intend to say their vows while wearing a parachute, scuba gear, or anything else that celebrates their hobbies.
In fact, when you look at the big picture, it is easy to conclude that the best thing for our culture might be to just give marriage to gay people and let them refurbish it the way they do run-down neighborhoods. Once they have restored it to its original authentic beauty, plus added all the modern upgrades, heterosexuals can be permitted to return to it and continue their pattern of systematic debasement.
But here’s the part about the whole issue of who can get married and who cannot that really has me puzzled. Back in February, when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex partners, 3,000 gay couples rushed to the altar. That’s 6,000 adults who couldn’t wait another minute for the opportunity to be eligible to sue each other over common property, pay alimony, and take out mutual restraining orders. And that’s what I found unsettling. Not because the idea of gay marriage gives me pause, but precisely because the only marriage I seem to have a real problem with is my own. As a certified straight person (and yes, I did take the trouble to become certified), I have been legally entitled to get married for over four decades. Yet never once have I been able to motivate myself sufficiently to push a relationship further in that direction. Although I have been much live-togethered, I have never walked down an aisle that doesn’t have something I need that is on sale.
It isn’t because I haven’t had access to successful relationships. For the past three years, I have been in a really good one, perhaps my best ever. In it, not only have I learned to talk through disagreements instead of driving around for hours in my car with a packed suitcase, but have gazed with astonishment at my partner as he actually listened when I talked. I even have proof: I have given him a number of pop quizzes. And still I remain the quiet calm spot in a tornado of peer group weddings, the only person who has never made all her friends shell out money to buy her china and silver and matching flatware and therefore does not yet have any of the aforementioned and is frankly a little pissed off about the whole thing. Especially when I add it all up and realize I have paid for so many sets of other people’s pricey wedding-registry china that I could easily host a dinner for the entire State Department if I could stand to be in their presence.
Oh, sure, the first guy I lived with played the marriage card during our breakup, in one of those desperate eleventh-inning maneuvers that I never fall for because they remind me of nothing so much as an evening of avant-garde theater. And the next guy and I actually once went and had premarital blood tests. But I think it was because he just liked going to the doctor. In his perfect world, a marriage license would also have required a brain scan, an electrocardiogram, and a sphygmomanometer reading.
The key point here is that it wasn’t as if I were the poor little wan and weeping thing who was left at the altar, or the frail victim of heartless commitment-phobic womanizers. Although, of course, I have enjoyed the company of such men on many delightful occasions. No, I had no intention of ever marrying any of the guys I have loved. I’ve never even had a fantasy about how my wedding would be. Occasionally I would want the men who claimed to love me to say that they would like to marry me, but that was really an exercise in positive reinforcement, like when you make someone tell you over and over they don’t think you look fat.
When my father was dying, I asked him what he considered the biggest success in his life. When, without hesitation, he answered, “My marriage,” it made me wonder for a moment if he was a closet polygamist. Because the marriage I saw him in was one that sounded like this: “I said I love you. Now what the hell else do you want from me, for Chrissakes?”
On a related topic, not long ago I was reading through my childhood diaries and I found that as early as fifth grade I wrote, “I am never getting married. I am never having kids.” Of course, a couple of pages later I also wrote, “I am never having my period.” Apparently I had the foresight to rethink that one.
So why, then, when I attended someone’s wedding recently and the bride threw the bouquet to me, did I turn and duck so it bounced off my shoulder? Why does the idea of announcing to the world in a ceremony that you belong to someone and they to you, forever and ever, give me the feeling that I am tied to a chair in a windowless room, unable to reach the phone to find the number of Rush Limbaugh’s doctor and beg him to prescribe me some of that OxyContin? The craziest part of it all is that I like the idea of being in a monogamous relationship with someone I love. And when I’m in one, I do my best to make the object of my affections happy. I have even been known to take a Vivarin at midnight in order to cook and serve dinner at three a.m., when my beloved shows up and is hungry.
Which is why I find myself wondering: What do those 6,000 gay people in San Francisco have in their hearts that I don’t have in mine, besides an obsession with Barbra Streisand? What do they and all the much married people of America all know about love that I have yet to comprehend?
But then, as soon as I find myself getting wrapped up in romanticizing, I begin to think: If other people have so much more emotional depth than I do, why are there so many marriages that last only a few months? Or marriages where the sex has been dead for decades? Why is there so much cheating and complaining, so many vile divorce-related postmarital lawsuits where both people are trying not only to rob each other of everything they own, but also to impose stiff penalties for having been stupid enough to agree to the marriage in the first place? Why are there women who marry one violence-prone alcoholic, or drug addict, or pedophile after another? What rational justification can there be for the marital track records of an Elizabeth Taylor or a Liza Minnelli? And when I think about all that, I wind up right back where I started.
Which brings me to the only solution to my dilemma that I can think of. If I could get George Bush and his band of goofballs to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting me from getting married, I feel fairly certain there would be nothing that could keep me from insisting on getting married as soon as possible. Suddenly, like all those marriage-hungry couples of the gay community, I would find there was nothing I could imagine wanting more.
Excerpted from What the Dogs Have Taught Me by Merrill Markoe. Copyright © 2005 by Merrill Markoe. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.