Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
All over town, The Observer observes dogs observing him. It was Spouse who first pointed it out, love of my life and keeper of my heart and housekeys, and I of hers. We were sitting at a stoplight one day in the spring, windows down, when she directed my attention to the SUV next to us. Angling noggin to the left, The Observer found himself staring headlong into the damp eyes of a black Labrador retriever, head out the window. He was staring intently at The Observer, and not with the "just happy to be here" look that seems to be the default facial setting of most dogs, but with a scowl of true consternation, as if he was trying to figure out what makes Yours Truly tick.
Since then, Spouse has delighted in gigglingly gigging my paranoia by pointing out dogs staring as I pass — little dogs, big dogs, black dogs, yellow dogs, white dogs, spotted dogs, dogs on leashes and dogs in cars. It sounds absolutely nuts, but once The Observer started noticing it, I couldn't stop. Spouse isn't helping. Sometimes when it happens, she entertains herself by reciting little stories about how I'm dog famous, or dog infamous, with pooches all over town saying: "Have you seen him? I thought he was only a myth my mother told to scare us as puppies!"
Don't think us weird. When you've been married as long as we have, my friend, you'll find that you fill the silences with things that would seem fairly nuts to anyone who wasn't privy to the eccentricities all couples turn into their own private folklore. As a very smart man once told me: Marriage is about the constant struggle to decide who gets to be the crazy one that day. If you aren't married, that probably doesn't make a lick of sense. If you are married, there's a good chance you're nodding your head right now.
Perhaps, The Observer has posited to Spouse over her cackles, dogs believe me to be a gorilla escaped from the zoo who shaved himself down in a motel bathroom and has since infiltrated human society, waiting on my moment to wrest control — a menace that must be constantly monitored to prevent The Rise of the Apes. Or maybe I just look shifty. There's always that possibility.
Whatever the case, it made her laugh. With my middle going increasingly paunchy these days, making her laugh is pretty much all her old poop of a husband has got going for him, and that's worth any amount of calling myself a gorilla. You'll learn that too, or chances are you won't stay married long.
This Observer's dog is 14 years old, as best we can remember, and her back legs don't work so well. She has a disease that makes her want to eat everything in the house. We find her on the table — which isn't easy for her to get on — licking our placemats.
When she was younger, The Observer's dog was known as the Fastest Dog in Hillcrest. She dared other dogs to chase her and outran them every time. A man standing in the dog park one day watched her and said, open-mouthed, "She's a thoroughbred." She's a mutt, but her genes combined to make her a yellow, bent-eared, curly-tailed rocket. The Ur-dog, we once heard her type described on NPR, from whence all our knowledge flows. A Carolina dog, a hiker once proclaimed at a trailhead in Tennessee. Our yellow peril, we called her.
When she was a puppy, we couldn't wait for her to grow up and stop chewing the deck, the chair legs, the stairstep overhangs. We couldn't wait for her to slow down. Now, an old dog, she's chewing again, thanks to her weird doggy disease. Now, in her last years, she is the Slowest Dog in Hillcrest and every time we walk her, we start to cry thinking about the days when her back legs worked and she was such a wonderful pain in the ass.
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