Chapter Three (fifth increment)
In the fall we lost Egg. Grief is a physical assault, in addition to the emotional devastation. You feel it in your twisting gut, your imploding chest, your constricting throat. I suppose that’s where the term brokenhearted gained its currency. Losing a companion animal is something you can never get used to, no matter how many times you suffer it.
Dean and I met at a doggie playgroup in our neighborhood in 1992. A bunch of dog people would meet up every evening in a little park on North Moore and West Streets in Lower Manhattan. The financial services company that had "developed" (euphemism for destroyed for profit) the open land formerly there, which sat atop an historic foundry, threw us a bone with the miniscule park but, outrageously, dogs were not allowed to enjoy it. They gave the community these two really tiny, manicured parks at either end of the block that were pretty much useless for anything a park normally offers, useless for anything really, other than sitting and ruminating about how this miserable company ruined the neighborhood.
This travesty occurred after our delightful Mayor Koch gifted the corporation with a prime piece of real estate and energy abatements to "entice" them to stay in New York, when they had no intention of leaving anyway. The sweetheart deal reconfigured the streets, created so much more pedestrian and auto traffic, and gobbled up the only open space the neighborhood had. It was inconvenient on so many levels: the mob now needed to find a new place to dump bodies, the homeless had to relocate their cardboard boxes, the stray cats had to search out new hiding crevices, the giant river rats were rendered vagabonds, and the worst part of it was that our makeshift dog runs were devoured by unsightly, really ugly architecture. Seriously ugly. Really.
Though the little red signs in the center of each park clearly stated NO DOGS ALLOWED, we obviously ignored them. Our playgroup dogs actually seemed to smile while urinating on the offending signs (such a sense of humor they had). The original playgroup dogs (in addition to my two) were Igor, a magnificent husky, Lena, a show-quality Portuguese water dog, Jessie, Penelope, and Dudley, all of mixed heritage (Penelope was Tim's special someone, by the way, and would eat biscuits out of his mouth), Buffy, most likely a bearded collie, a Ridgeback named Daisy, and some exotic breeds whose names I no longer recall, alas. One day Dean brought Egg—a dog that looked mostly like a Doberman but was the size of a Great Dane— and my dogs, Tim and Lucy, introduced themselves. As I continually called, then pleaded, for them to return to me, like a precision drill team in perfect unison they totally ignored me and continued on with dog business.
Lucy was a foundling, mostly husky or malamute. I discovered her in the rain one night on Greenwich Street. Yes, she was barefoot and pregnant, I'm afraid. Eventually she gave birth to three pups. Tim, one of her two sons, was the runt of the litter. The pups were mixed with collie—I'm assuming the father's lineage? Very blond and tall, with a chocolate brown raccoon mask, Tim was a true gentle giant of a canine. We became a family shortly after my adored Lucy died and Timmy, bereft at losing his mother, turned to Egg for companionship. Dean and I looked at each other and shrugged. Why not?
We left Tribeca shortly after getting married and moved west: first to Chicago, then Santa Fe and finally to Los Angeles. When he was only eight years old, and with no warning at all, Tim died suddenly. It was horrible and sad—the stuff of nightmares, mine anyway. Then there was only Egg. As hard as that was, and as brutal as it was to lose all of my other adored animal friends, Egg was the hardest, as I always expected.
Egg was Marmaduke stepped off the comics page. He was an “in-your-face” dog. Every photo, every video—there’s Egg, front and center. He slept in our bed; he shared all the furniture. He also shared all the food . . . of course, I use the word "shared" loosely. He was truly a dependent in every way. He sowed his reputation from downtown Manhattan, to Chicago, to L.A. Everywhere he went, people and dogs knew his name and his penchant for holding three balls in his mouth. His leaving Earth wrecked our lives and we couldn’t deal with it very well. True, by now we had Greta, a mixed breed with a pinhead who turned up on our L.A. doorstep, but she didn’t do it for us. Dean didn’t want another dog. I did. I needed someone like Egg, or Tim or Lucy or Rodney (my incomparable cat).
So I went surfing and found Houston, an Egg-lookalike, on Petfinder.org. The point of this sad and meandering story is that though Houston may look like Egg, he doesn't act like him (he's much too gauche). Egg would never, ever run away. He was way too much of a baby and knew when he had it good. But Houston is part hound dog and thusly follows his nose wherever it takes him. Having experienced him backing out of his harness, jumping a fence, and running away in the time it takes to make instant oatmeal, and this on the second day I had him, I now had to take to walking the stupid ass on a leash every day. We have over half an acre of backyard and I still have freaking dog-walking duty. My God, but my life is ridiculous. And that is how I was bitchslapped with the knowledge that the townhouses located directly behind my property were actually part of a rehab facility for troubled young adults.
Cute story: I’m walking Houston (or as we fondly refer to him: You-stink) in my backyard when suddenly someone starts shouting from those ugly townhouses that he wants to do sexual things to my dog (not his exact vernacular). Ah, the local color had to be one of my motivations to move to a highly inconvenient but slightly rural region.
We took the abuse for another two years or so. Steve, our next-door neighbor, referred to their noisy sports gatherings as the delinquent Olympics. Two years later, when I mentioned this to the doctor treating these people, he laughed. He thought this was funny. Lovely man, this was a doctor treating people who suffered from substance abuse, addictions, among other things, and the man reeked of stale cigarettes. Now, I may be crazy but I found this to be a bit ironic. These “kids” were paying enormous sums, or so the lawyer I hired to make them go away told me, to this doctor to cure them of their addictions and he himself was addicted to nicotine!
But I get ahead of myself here. Once I started being treated to profanity in my own backyard, I didn’t automatically make the connection that there was a rehab center up the hill. In addition to the druggies, the center also treated people with severe personality disorders. That's right, little ones. Go outside and play in our backyard. Just steer clear of the axe-wielding neighbors. Sheesh. (A few years later one of their patients would decapitate his mother's neighbor and carry her head around with him. The facility would deny that they treated this person.) On one side a biker bar, behind us a rehab facility and throw in a busy road that encourages drivers to make swift turns in my driveway whenever they feel like it—even if I happen to be standing in it—and you begin to get an idea of the shape of my life at this point.
During my four years of living out west, people were so polite and considerate that I found it shocking to my toughened New York sensibilities. In L.A. there was the heavily made-up platinum blonde at Von's supermarket, who always asked me how my day was going and if I needed help out to the car. Back then I felt as if I had landed on another planet where the people were nice and smelled good. Granted, they didn’t dress as well as New Yorkers but you can’t have it all, right? I never felt put upon and never had any altercations with strangers. Now I'm back in the fray. Upon moving back east, it took one trip to the local supermarket in Tribeca where the cashiers wore buttons that said "I heart customers" but who would sooner rip out your eyes than smile, and I knew I was home. Now, I was on constant alert to protect my rights and my personal space, practically keeping my hands up in a defensive position. Did you know that some people in Manhattan have a sick need to pick fights with visibly pregnant women? Don’t ask me for the psychology behind it because I just cannot figure it out but it’s true. Just ask my husband how many times I came home crying to him, my hormones having got the best of me.
And while I'm warming to my subject, I might as well tell you about the denizens of Putnam County. It's one thing to have nasty New York City residents to deal with—at least they're thin and dressed well. But up here in Putnam County, you have the nasty without the panache. I'm talking about grossly overweight people with long lacquered nails (the women anyway), bad hair, and the most inconsiderate attitudes of anyone I've ever met, bar none. It is unbelievable. In addition to having to deal with the uglies, we had other issues. Aside from being thinner and better looking than other residents, we really didn't fit in that well. We happen to be agnostic, liberal vegetarians and we landed in a place that is very Christian (and by Christian I mean they go to church every Sunday, not that they're kind), blue-collar, conservative, and carnivore. Not that there's anything wrong with that . . . It's just that people are tribal (as our friend Dennis explained to us) and like to be around their own kind. And by own kind, I refer to people who think the same way, act the same way, like the same types of things, and who think intelligence and education are not dirty words to be spat out in political arguments.
By now you've got to be thinking: Why didn't they just move? Any sane people would have done just that and in short order. Not us. Here's the mentality behind it: Why should we give up a tiny, cute house that we'd quickly outgrow, that would bleed us dry of money, health, youth, and vitality, just because we hated everything about the region? By God, we would stay and fight to change everything about the whole county instead. As an added benefit, so far I've gotten in eleven years of complaining. Why would I want to give that up?