Lynne Bertrand: Going to the dogs as the clock strikes 13
COURTESY OF LYNNE BERTRAND Rudy, left, and Helo monitor the approach of some sort of distressing development in Williamsburg. Purchase photo reprints »
WILLIAMSBURG — I’ve noticed this space is reserved for issues of national significance, which is why I’m writing to complain about our dogs. There are two of them; both are in a state of heightened political unrest.
Rudy, the black Labrador, has taken to sacking the house at night like a Visigoth while everyone else is asleep. Last night, for example, he slipped stealthily onto the desk in the office and gnawed the lid off a glass jar of shitake mushroom skin cream from the farmer’s market. Apparently sold on the flavor of skin cream, he made his way upstairs to my night stand and mistook a similarly shaped jar of cheap drugstore anti-aging cream for the same thing.
I am sure it was him; there were desperate teeth marks and several samples of his fur in the jars. However the possibility does exist that Rudy was framed by Helo.
Helo, the pug, is being difficult. He recently decided to do his water-closet business indoors rather than out. It doesn’t matter if we spend an hour outside with him five times a day, or whether he uses those hours to mark all four corners of the earth as his own. He still — still — arranges his schedule to be alone in the room with an old upholstered chair we like, so that he can make a mural of street art along the right side of it.
Now that he has established this daily routine he does not vary it, except occasionally to work on the left side of the chair. When I took Helo to task for this the other day by hauling him over to his artwork and pointing out the list of possible misdemeanor charges, he flew into a rage like a three-minute Japanese animation short, with guttural sounds and wild samurai moves and bits of fawn-colored hair shooting out of him.
For a while after that he went about the house in a blurry cloud of his own fur.
A friend told me to soak the chair with anti-dog spray and put reverse duct tape on the floor there, which will deter the pug and/or affix him to the crime site. We’ve also been advised to crate the dogs during the day, and also at night. But the problems go deep. I know these dogs.
The church bells in Williamsburg strike 13 once a day, at nine in the morning. We love the church and we love the bells, but this 13 business is driving the dogs mad. It reminds them of George Orwell and that opening bit in “1984” about how “it was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Dogs don’t mind finding out about dystopia in books, but they are unnerved to wake up hearing about it on their street, and Rudy and Helo have had just about enough of it. Anyway, the bells are tolling news they already know. They are up to their ears in college tuition bills, small business closings, rising household debt and the widening gap between everyone in Washington and the two of them. They have yet to notice any effects of health care reform on themselves or anyone else here, including the cat.
And they listen closely, while they seem merely to be languishing like Victorians on the couch, to sobering news reports out of Aleppo, Bamako, Cairo and Sanford. What’s bothering them is that they know what to do about all of this.
Of course they do; dogs are Utopians. But in the exquisite tension that is canine existence, the ones who have the answers can neither write nor speak. All they can do is gnaw the lid off a jar of hand cream in the dead the night.
The pug is making headway. He is, I realized, encoding messages on that chair, writing in some arching ancient script, probably about righteous indignation (his primary political platform) and unfaltering love (his other one). I told him I can’t actually read any of his foreign languages and have no time or money to learn them, even if all the secrets of the universe are written on that chair.
Like everyone else, he’s going to have to learn to communicate in the native language of this country which, as he very well knows, is English. Whenever I say this to him, he spends the afternoon harassing the cat.
Lynne Bertrand is a freelance writer who lives in Williamsburg.
Coming next month in Viewpoints: Bertrand explores what a dog’s harassment — and other factors — have done to that cat’s state of mind.