Do You Talk About Your Dog Nonstop?
Thirty-one Ways to Get a Dog
It all started one evening with one of my melodramatic pronouncements: "Something's missing from our lives," I said. My husband, Cosmas, reading a science journal appropriately enough named Science, was sitting on the couch just across the room, but did nothing to indicate he'd heard my pronouncement. Of course, Cosmas knows me almost too well by now, and has come to expect melodrama and has been trying out ways to avoid it. A few seconds later, just as I was about to repeat myself in a louder voice, perhaps to be followed by a pillow chaser adroitly aimed for the magazine in his hands, he let out a quiet "Mmmmmm?" which meant he was now at least pretending to listen, so there would be no need for pillow violence.
I released the pillow I was clutching, gave a deep sigh, and continued: "It's just that I feel there is a void in our life." I paused for effect here. "A chasm really." Cosmas's eyes began scanning the page faster, desperately trying to get to the end of the paragraph about nucleotides he'd been immersed in. Because everyone knows--well, at least he did, after a healthy dose of trial and error--that one pronouncement followed by another increasingly serious pronouncement requires immediate attention. (It's like one of those SAT verbal questions--MISSING is to VOID as CHASM is to PAY ATTENTION OR RISK UNTIMELY DEATH BY SOFA PILLOW!) Of course, the tricky thing for Cosmas to figure out has always been when I'm just a little bored at the moment, and simply "sharing" my thoughts with him, versus those times when he actually needs to take me seriously (for instance, when I'm talking about gaping black holes in our so-called life).
When I had finally won his undivided attention (by walking over to him and snatching away his magazine), I looked him straight in the eye and asked, "Do you feel that there is something missing in our lives?" This is where, had he been wearing a collared shirt, he would have unbuttoned the top button to make room for the slam dunk of his Adam's apple as he gulped it down to the back of his throat. Instead he did a quick preemptive rub of his temples, trying to ward away the nervous sweat beads just breaking through his skin (actually this was a rather nice combination move, in which the whole gesture moved smoothly into the ol' playin'-it-casual, runnin'-my-fingers-through-my-hair thing).
Of course, he assumed I was thinking B-A-B-Y (I assume he would have tried to spell the word out in his head, sort of the way he'd previously spelled out M-A-R-R-I-A-G-E, in that typically guy leap of logic that saying a word out loud will somehow make it more of a reality). After all, we'd been married for over two years now. He probably also realized it was the third week of the month, signifying two important things that never seemed to work in his favor:
First, my emotions were running high due to PMS. And second, this "delicate emotional state" (which was how Cosmas referred to a woman's sudden ability to slam a pint of ice cream in five minutes) happened to coincide with what I referred to as "the Dead Zone." I'm a certifiable magazine junkie, and the Dead Zone is that time of the month (usually the third week) when I've already read all the current month's fashion mags and am waiting for the new ones to hit the stands. This can last anywhere between two and five days, and it generally isn't pretty (Cosmas and I have discussed the merits of reworking my Pill cycle to separate these two events for the sake of my own sanity and the well-being of those around me [i.e., Cosmas], but as it was decided that the risk of fooling around with the Pill [i.e., risk of B-A-B-Y] was the greater of two evils, we've left things as they are).
Another reason he would have thought I was thinking B-A-B-Y was because I had been (purposely) chattering nonstop about how much fun it was to shop for baby stuff, as one of my closest friends just had her first baby. Every night for the previous week during dinner, I'd managed to find an opening to talk about baby stuff. Cosmas would finish telling me about some protein that he thought might be part of the equation when it comes to eye formation, and I'd say something like, "You know, speaking of eyes, did you know that all babies' eyes start out blue, and only later change to their final color after a few weeks?" He'd sort of freeze for a moment, and then I'd laugh a bit too loudly and say, "DUH, of course you know that--you're a doctor. You know all about babies, right?" Then, much to his relief, I'd drop the subject completely.
This was merely the groundwork for my master plan, and, of course, the damage would already have been done. Cosmas would push his plate aside and claim that he was suddenly full.
Of course, I wasn't thinking about a B-A-B-Y at all--oh, no, we were far from ready to cross that particular bridge. Human babies wouldn't even be on the radar for at least another two years, and by then I was pretty sure that both of our mothers would be willing to throw out large cash incentives (I was hoping for a new car, personally). No, the whole B-A-B-Y thing was a means to a totally different end.
"It's just that I think it's the right time in our lives," I announced. "And we're ready, well, at least I'm ready. You're ready, too, right?!" Cosmas's eyes widened in terror at the thought that having a B-A-B-Y in the house would give him even less quiet time to read his science journals, and for a split second I thought the whole thing was about to backfire, as he appeared to be on the verge of blacking out.
So I blurted it out in hopes that his head would nod forward in a way that could later be interpreted as a yes just before he slumped to the floor.
"I think we should get a puppy!"
Cosmas let out a noisy sigh of relief, so happy to be wrong about the B-A-B-Y that he almost said, "Sure, whatever you want, dear." Then he stopped himself short and made a face that said, "Not so fast, woman--I've fallen for your bait-and-switch routines one too many times" (like the time I pretended to be really interested in a three-thousand-dollar Cartier watch when all I was really after was a grossly overpriced special-edition plastic Hello Kitty watch that was over a hundred bucks).
Hmmmm . . . Who knew that husbands actually do get smarter with time? Drats.
I moved swiftly to ensure that I'd stay on the offensive, speaking fast and
"You promised that I could get a puppy. Remember how I said that a dog was a marriage deal breaker? You swore that after we got married we could get one. Two years we've been married, and I've waited long enough. I want one. I want one. I want one." I stamped my foot for emphasis in case he couldn't already tell that I was taking the defiant-five-year-old approach.
He scratched his head thoughtfully and opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it again without saying anything.
Clearly he had forfeited his turn to speak, so I continued on course: "Please can we get a puppy? Please. Pleeeaaaase! Pretty please? Pretty please with thirty-one flavors of ice cream and a cherry on top? I'll name them. Chocolate; strawberry; rocky road; mint chip; Heath bar crunch; strawberry shortcake; peanut-butter praline swirl; coffee mocha chip; that one with the dark chocolate fishies and marshmallow stuff . . . how many is that? One, two, three . . ." I looked over at Cosmas, who was just sitting there, torturing me with his silence. Surely he wasn't really going to be such a baby and make me name all thirty-one flavors. I mean, it's really just a figure of speech. Oh, well, fine--two could play at this game. . . . "Chocolate chip; cookie dough; green tea; lime sherbet; rainbow sherbet . . ."
"Is sherbet the same thing as ice cream?" he asked in all seriousness.
I ignored him and continued, "Lemon chiffon; bovinity divinity; fudge royale . . . You do know that if I name all these flavors, we will be getting a puppy . . . rum raisin . . ."
He sighed and finally said that I could stop now, and that perhaps that weekend . . . maaayybe he'd be willing to discuss the possibility of getting a puppy . . . one day . . . When in doubt, stall and throw in a lot of clauses in fine-point future conditional. I narrowed my eyes, annoyed at his stall tactics and continued, "Pistachio; butterscotch praline powwow; lady gives the finger, ahem . . . I mean, ladyfinger vanilla fandango; pecan peanut-brittle bonanza; Chunky Monkey . . ." Obviously I was now reaching, but I just dared him to challenge me.
He interrupted to ask why it was again that I wanted a puppy so badly. I said because I just wanted one, but if he needed specifics, then the main reason, in a nutshell, was that puppies were soft, furry, and always happy to see you whenever you come home. Cosmas cocked his head for a moment (sort of the way dogs do), and I knew that he must have been thinking that, based on that description alone, a puppy might very well put him out of a job, since that was pretty much the role he had been filling in our relationship. Then, as if reading cue cards, he coyly asked why I wanted a puppy when I already had all those things in a husband?
I told him it was different. Dogs were loyal. He countered that he was loyal. Dogs were sincere. He said he was nothing if not sincere. But best of all, I said with a certain satisfaction, dogs didn't work all the time. Cosmas said nothing. Next, I informed him that I thought it was really good practice for a baby (saying the word out loud just to watch him flinch). Dogs were a great stepping-stone on the path of responsibility and selflessness. Now he had to be wondering whether saying no to a puppy right now might just push me up the evolutionary ladder to request a B-A-B-Y.
He eyed his Science magazine longingly, probably wondering whether there was any chance at all he'd get to finish the article he was reading.
"Maple melon swirl; banana cream pie; periwinkle . . . okay, scratch that one as I think that's a Crayola Crayon color. . . ." I wondered whether it would be cheating if I actually called up Baskin-Robbins for a little help, sorta like my one Lifeline call. "Mango pineapple jubilee; cherry berry surprise; rigatoni ripple royale . . ."
Somewhere between flavors number twenty-eight and twenty-nine (veiled-threat-of-divorce vanilla and sleep-on-the-couch-forever fudge), he said "Okay," but I didn't hear him, as it was taking all my concentration to come up with a flavor that worked around the theme of changing the locks. . . .
So he decided to help me out with flavor thirty-one: "Okey-dokey Double-Dutch doggie delight," he suggested with a little smile.
Was this for real? Was Cosmas really finally truly absosmurfly agreeing to getting a puppy? "You promise?" I screeched rather unbecomingly.
"I promise," he said, nodding. "Thirty-one flavors and a Milk-Bone on top."
Hooray--we were getting a dog! I was now doing my own version of an end-zone victory dance, and Cosmas got back to his magazine.
Good Manners Show Good Breeding:
Ten Tips for Obsessed Dog Owners
1. Do not compare your dog's training, needs, and feelings to those of your friends' human children. Many seem to find this offensive. Better to make any such comparisons in your head and wait until later to tell your spouse or other close (nonparent) friend how much more advanced your Bitsy is than so-and-so's five-year-old.
2. When hosting people at your home, try not to mention that you let your dog eat off your plates, or that your husband finds it funny to let Skipper drink right out of the Brita water pitcher (like father, like dog), particularly if you go on to explain that you are trying to break Skipper from drinking out of the toilet.
3. Do not pick out your dog's eye crud and then flick it on the floor in front of other people (especially if you're in their house).
4. Make a point of indicating to people which chair or part of the couch is your dog's special place as soon as they enter, so you won't have to ask anyone to get up later, in midconversation.
5. Keep in mind that other dog owners probably feel similarly to you; in other words, they, too, most likely see their dogs as special and smart in some singular way. Thus, it's probably best to tone down any boasting about your own dog, regardless of how justified.
6. Do not assume that if you've been invited to a dinner, barbecue, or an outdoor wedding that your dog has as well. The rule of thumb is that unless the dog's name is written on the envelope, he or she is probably not invited. The fact that you allowed people to bring their screaming children and/or weird boyfriends to your wedding must be accepted as irrelevant.
7. Subjects not appropriate for polite conversation in the human realm (e.g., bowel movements, flatulence, corpses) generally apply to dogs as well. So pointing out that your dog just farted and is now sniffing it should not be assumed as riotously funny to others as it may, in fact, be to you.
8. Though it may seem effective, make an effort not to discipline others in the same tone of voice you might use to discipline your dog.
9. Obviously, it is more than normal to talk to your dog when in the privacy of your own home, but when in the company of others (e.g., non-dog owners, disapproving relatives, cranky acquaintances), it is best to keep such intimate conversations to a minimum. The reason for this is that such people are likely to make fun of you to your face, saying things like "I can't believe you talk to your dog." Or "So does he talk back?" all the while laughing in a most unattractive way, which will of course not only offend you, but also, more importantly, may hurt the feelings of your dog.
10. When having tea with your dog, instruct him that it is impolite to eat the scones or tea sandwiches off the plate of the person next to him (or off the tea tray itself). Ha-ha, just joking! Everyone knows dogs don't like tea.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from What Wendell Wants by Jenny Lee. Copyright © 2004 by Jenny Lee. Excerpted by permission of Delta, 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.