Morning At The Dog Park
Although most of the bleary-eyed humans that gather at the dog-park in the early morning perceive only a maelstrom of fur running to-and-fro, a blur of legs and tails that stops now and again for the occasional crotch-sniff, shit, and a usually frustrated attempt at sexual intercourse, on some mornings the curious occurs almost unnoticed amidst the quotidien.
When my dog and I arrived this morning, a collection of the neighborhood Basenjis was involved in a discussion about the appropriate level of involvement, for a Basenji, within the political environment in which they live. I am suspicious of Basenjis. They have a certain smugness that makes me leery. Their peering eyes remind me of Caesar’s statement to Mark Anthony; “let me have men about me that are fat, sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’ nights: yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”
“Because of the great influence that the United States has in the world,” began the tallest of the four Basenjis (his collar indicated his name was Larry), “the individual in the United States is perpetually called upon to respond to the actions of the state with a greater urgency than if he was living in a much smaller country with much less impact on world affairs.”
You can well imagine my reaction to hearing a dog instigate such a conversation at 8AM – there was a strong whiff of sanctimoniousness about the young pup that was only reinforced by the conceited way in which he tilted his head from side to side as he spoke.
Larry continued. “This feeling of responsibility is born out of a belief that in a democracy, everyone is responsible for what the state does in his name. One cannot escape moral responsibility through abstention. And so, as one becomes aware of illegitimate and cynical warfare, hypocritical attacks on animal rights, gross social injustice and non-collar political corruption, one feels called to don the helmet and grab the spear to defend the republic.”
I went through my daily to-do list on my cellphone. “Gather tax receipts. Set up my annual health-check for Friday. Fold in those edits from my editor. Call my mother. Get back to that guy in Paris.” I flicked to Twitter.
Basenjis rarely interrupt each other. They consider it rude. So when one of the four did just that I was surprised and lifted my head from news of the latest Israeli-settler encroachment into East Jerusalem. A big-shouldered one of the four, with a lazy eye interjected.
“But the United States today is not the democracy of such ideals, but a plutocracy in fact, in which the negotiations between the moneyed corporations and everyone else, consistently conclude in a resolution most favorable to the corporations. We live as second-class citizens and few things are as pathetic as someone donning armor to defend the circumstances of his own enslavement.”
And with that, the two other dogs sitting around him overlooked the interruption and nodded in unison. The Rude One continued.
“Those who believe in democracy today must live a schizophrenic existence, alternating between a feeling of responsibility for the actions of the state in which they live and an acute appreciation of their impotence to effect even the slightest change within that state.”
At this point my dog had passed a fine specimen in the corner of the park. I pulled on the long string of blue doggy bags, reflected on the lowliness of my station, and went to pick up the shit. I could feel the approval of my fellow dog owners. I was responsible. We were responsible. How great. We’re still all picking up shit. It was pungent, and in the early morning I forgot every thought I ever had, and tried not to gag. When I returned from the garbage pail, the Rude One was still at it.
“From the attempt at health-care reform, the bail-out, the corporate bankrolling of rabble-making media and compliant politicians – it seems apparent that the average American today stands in the same relation to his state as the average Indian once stood in relation to the British Empire. We are perpetually sold the American Dream, much as the great people of India were once told of their good fortune to be subjects of a foreign Queen.”
I’ve learned not to discount coincidences in the animal kingdom. They are often the result of a communication that one does not at first observe. For example, at the very mention of Old Vic, Harold, the fat-headed English bulldog came over and after what seemed like a gentle invitation to sniff, slobbered saliva all over the Rude One.
The Rude One stood there stoically, like a porn star in a bukakke film waiting for the camera to be turned off. Through the bulldog-saliva he continued.
“I am not making the equation between the American plutocracy today, and the British Empire, to incite a rebellion similar to that which brought the latter to an end.”
The English bulldog turned and plumply sat down nearby to observe the proceedings. He casually turned toward the Rude One, lifted his arse and farted. The Rude One rubbed a paw across his face to remove the saliva and continued.
“Our present is much more hopeless than India in the 1940s. The corrupting influence of corporate power on the hard-won rights and freedoms that ought to adhere in a democracy seems likely to only grow in breadth and in depth. One cannot help but think of the recent U.S. Supreme Court case unleashing the financial war-chests of corporations on our elections, as yet another beat in the quickening pace.”
There are a large number of lawyers in Washington DC which raises the frightening prospect that constitutional law textbooks are to be found throughout the city, even now, within easy reach of the average Jack Russell. I say this because at the very mention of the recent Supreme Court case, two French poodles, a miniature Schnauzer, an Irish Wheaten, a Chinese Shar-Pei and a Mexican Chihuahua all gathered around the Basenjis.
The Chihuahua dove right in even before it had found its seat in the widening circle. “Yep, yep, across the world, the great power of unregulated capital grows day after day and our ability to freely determine the terms under which we govern ourselves contracts in suspiciously equal measure.”
He turned his nose towards the Shar-Pei.
“Even China, the oft-cast great determiner of the coming century, will inevitably fall beneath the rod of global corporations engorged by access to its markets and those of India, and Indonesia.”
The Shar Pei sat silently, his eyes rolling slowly towards the English bulldog.
The Wheaten took up the baton, in a brogue that turned the heads of all the ladies.
“The ‘Government Affairs’ departments of corporations that today trade beef for pork in the restaurants of Washington DC will tomorrow do likewise in Beijing, Bombay and Jakarta. I can see no brakes, no checks-and-balances, no barriers that might impede this march. I see no great social awakening in the centuries ahead as China and India take time to learn the lash of the whip, for three centuries of the whip in the United States has failed to provoke any effective counter-reaction. Even that measure of social-security we won in Europe today is being gutted by the requirement that we bend the knee to the international financial markets.”
I must say I was surprised to see one of the French poodles intervene, because, well, I think everyone will agree that poodles are seldom interested in politics. Nonetheless, one of the tall svelte French hounds stepped forward with a natural elegance that reminded me somewhat of Kristin Scott Thomas. The other stood there motionless and vacant.
“These international markets, unhinged from any regulatory body that would protect non-market values such as democracy will always sniff out the poor and the desperate jurisdiction and reward them for lowering their standards for health, environment, dog-biscuits, safety, and in the end, equality. Now mind you, I say all of this while at the same time acknowledging the great benefits that corporations bring to life on earth. Never in history have so many been lifted out of poverty as in the last 20 years, due in great part to China’s embracing of capitalism.” At this point the Shar Pei turned to look at her, his eyes dropped to her tail with that look that even dogs clearly perceive to mean nothing other than: “great ass.” She continued obliviously and turned her nose in the direction of the English bulldog; “I just reject the idea that we have to choose between a vibrant economy and a democracy.” The English bulldog adjusted himself again. And farted.
It was some measure of how interesting all of this was becoming to me that I ignored the various pings of my cellphone notifying me of to-do items, calendar appointments and morning emails. So engrossed had I become, that I did not notice that my own dog had since circled the park and now walked from behind me into the center of this impromptu congress. His languid walk was in such contrast to the heightened and almost shrill air that was consuming the participants, that he stopped the conversation cold. He sat in the middle of the group. Silently. He repositioned his legs, which were often stiff in the mornings due to arthritis. He stared at each in turn.
“This then is our predicament,” he began. There was a silence that soon become awkward. The dogs began to stare from one to the other.
“We sit here torn between impotence and a refusal to surrender. Existentialism,” he nodded towards the French poodle (she seemed flattered), “sits like a box of Christmas decorations ready to bedeck such frustration in baubles and tinsel so that we may think of it as noble. But even amidst the joy of Christmas morning, every Christmas tree knows that it is dying. That it has been hacked from its mother.”
Good metaphor, boy!
“There seems to be no answer other than to start with that which we know to be true – that even as we sit here we are each of us passing, and that all things, will in turn follow each of us to the grave. Much as those who are nervous about speaking in public are encouraged to imagine their audience wearing business suits, it centers us, does it not, in such times as these to imagine the inevitable truth that everything we know will pass and, in the extreme, that even the great and beautiful Mother Earth on which we shit, will at some point in time leave nothing but a cosmic echo of where she once existed.”
Two dog-treats when we get home. At least.
The wide-open almost teary eyes of every dog were at this point transfixed on this mysterious old one with his peculiar accent and smelling of the most pungent piss they had ever experienced. Feeling now that the fat silence confirmed that they like he stood in the same awe before this imagined moment, he continued.
“I rise from such dark depths like a Newfie from the sea gasping for air. The affairs of state, my status as a member of what is called a democracy, are in that moment clearly secondary. My essence is that I live, that I breathe, that I inhale, that I experience what it feels to be alive. All these affairs, that the bounty of youth affords you time to consider, are but adjectives. To allow them to consume you is to allow them to become you. You must always remain wild and un-collared in your heart.”
A woman in a pair of pink pajama pants, with the word “Dartmouth” festooned across her not insubstantial backside, bent down and plucked the Chihuahua from the circle. This rude awakening broke the mood and seemed to remind each in turn that the day was upon us. My dog walked nonchalantly towards me, stopped and stared, waited. He sniffed the leg of the bench and almost imperceptibly tried to lift his own. All I could see was a faint trickle of piss. I put him on his leash, turned off my phone, and we headed home, slowly.