I’ve lately been missing our mini dachshunds, Ruby and Blackie, and my dog-centric Scarborough neighborhood.
Scarborough, Maine, I mean. Toronto has a suburb of the same name; every time I see it on a local map, it stirs up confusing feelings like David Bowie album covers did when I was a kid. Well, not exactly like that, but still … .
I got to thinking about it watching one of the actors on the show I’m working on as he plays with his German shepherd at the studio. The actor lives in Los Angeles. Oliver seems to be his link to home. It is touching to watch them go for walks or play fetch. Puzzlingly, I’ve even felt a twinge of wistfulness seeing him clean up. It never occurred to me that seeing a man with a plastic bag over his hand following his dog could make me homesick, but then I never thought I would feel wistful when my kids outgrew diapers, but that happened, too.
Back home, there are a lot of dogs on my block. At one end, by the cleaners and the residence motel, there’s often a dog or 10 sauntering down the middle of the street unattended, dogs that stop and look at you as you drive up like they’re wondering who you are and how you have the nerve to be on their street.
Eventually, they trot out of the way and watch you pass. I’m pretty sure I saw one write down my plate number. They seem benign enough, but I’ve seen enough where-have-all-the-people-gone?-type TV movies to know that petting stray dogs is not a good idea.
On the rest of the block, people are a little more attentive to their animals. Dog walking is a linchpin of the social life. People and dogs of all ages and sizes are parading in front of our house all day long. Carol joined in as soon as we moved there.
She is the primary caregiver for the dogs. I think I could keep them alive. I’m not sure Carol agrees. Over the years (the dogs are both a very frisky and youthful 9), she has established a pattern that works for her. Breaking that pattern causes her more anxiety than the relief of not having to care for the dogs. When she does want me to do anything with them, the process usually begins with a phone conversation something like this:
“I’m volunteering in Elizabeth’s class this morning, and then I have to run some errands.” (“Run some errands” is a sort of “safe phrase” we use to describe her daily schedule of shopping for the family, meeting with various social service agencies about our daughter, gathering and sending the endless stream of materiel our son “needs” at college, doing things she has volunteered to do for various organizations, etc. Every time she tries to list what she’s doing, I have to breathe into a paper bag, and then take a nap. The phrase “run some errands” mediates my anxiety.)
She continues, “So where are you going to be at 11:30?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Hmm …” (“Hmm …” is her way of saying, “Someone doesn’t know where he’s going to be in 4 1/2 hours. Is that even possible?”)
I respond, “Did you want me to do something?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know. Can you be somewhere near the house at 11:30?”
“Yes. I could be at the house at 11:30. Did you want me to do something?”
“Could you feed the dogs half their food?” (This entails pouring a quarter of a cup of dog food in each of their bowls, wetting it, and picking up the bowls thirty seconds later.)
“And put in their pill?”
“Because one time you forgot their pill.”
“Yes. You told me.”
“And that stuff for their teeth?”
“And take them out after?”
“Ruby didn’t poop this morning. Can you make sure she goes?”
“Yes. I might not get there until 11:35.”
“Never mind. I can come home between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.”
“That’s crazy. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are, like, five hundred yards apart.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll go to Hannaford and Walgreens, feed the dogs, and then go to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.”
“Seriously, you don’t have to change your plan. I’ve been dressing myself for nearly 10 years now. I’m pretty sure I can handle feeding the dogs.”
“No. I better do it.”
These conversations are extremely frustrating. I usually spend at least half the time slowly banging my head on a table in some Wi-Fi friendly restaurant, drawing angry stares from the other patrons.
I’d give anything to be on one of those phone calls right now.
Maybe I’m missing more than the dogs.
Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.