“In the middle of this red-hot summer, my neighbor’s lawn was cool green. Mine was the Sahara desert, except for the presence of 1,001 dandelions and the absence of camels.”
No, I’m not delusional. Above is the first paragraph of my first column for The Suffolk Times, Oct. 7, 1999, a little over 15 years ago. Nearly 200 columns done. Fifteen years from now? Let’s not talk about that.
One change for me through the years: I always loved cars and car shows. Today it’s more dogs and dog shows. Oh, I still love cars, these amazing monsters that zoom by and startle our wildlife. What’s that? says the deer to the rabbit. What really is it to them? They didn’t invent cars.
In truth, most of us don’t know a thing about cars. We know how to use them. But without the help of the experts, our friends Billy, Paul and Jeff at Orient Service Center and Mike at North Fork Imports in Cutchogue, lots of cars would sit in driveways or on the side of the road, never to move again. They’d grow into the ground. For some of my friends, their mechanic is more important than their doctor.
Ah, yes, dogs. What is it about dogs? For many of us they’ve become members of the family. Not that they have a seat at the table. Not quite. But they certainly have a seat under the table, where they take quick action to sweep away every fallen crumb, from invisible specks to more visible chunks of chicken francese or meatloaf. They may look sleepy under the table but they sure wake up in a hurry when opportunity strikes.
Few cars excite me today. Perhaps the Tesla, a new electric sedan. An American beauty. Or cars born before I was born. Cars I marveled at when I was 10 and didn’t even own a bicycle. I marveled at bicycles, too. I’d stop to look at them in shop windows, all sparkle and shine, like jewels at Cartier or Tiffany. One day I’ll get my own bike, I’d tell myself. And I would walk home, a loaf of fresh bread under my arm. The good days of unfulfilled desires. Today, not so much a matter of acquisition, except for that crusty loaf of bread.
As soon as I say cars don’t matter they get right back at me. Packard, Studebaker, De Soto, all gone. Part of my life gone with them. The great expectation of new models in the fall. Skipping class to go look at the new cars. Salesmen wouldn’t even talk to us. Just kids wasting time. The family car, my brother, Jean, teaching me how to drive as I would climb over sidewalks, I so nervous, he always so patient. Thank you, brother. Can’t forget I worked for a car company, Renault. And the magical name: Bugatti. A 1929 model advertised for $585,000. But a $10,000 jalopy will do fine. It moves, it rolls, we’re on our way. A quiet weekend scene: someone polishing his car or checking something under the hood.
Dogs make me smile. They come in many shapes and sizes and different kinds of coats, long and short, some shaggy as sheep, some smooth for speed. Some look happy and some depressed. When I leave my dog alone for a moment, my return is cause for an explosive welcome of joy. Nina dances around me as if I’d been away for years.
In New York City, neighbors know each other through their dogs. It’s not about Pierre, David or Mary. It’s about Cricket, Ginger and Iggy. When we don’t see them in a while, we worry. We know their names before we know the owners’ names. When I am depressed, the sight of a dog cheers me up. They don’t know it but they are funny, sincere, unpretentious.
And the names of the breeds, so many of them, some familiar to us, others unknown and mysterious: Yorkshire, poodle, Harlequinpinscher, Komondor, basset fauve de Bretagne, dachshund, boxer, Shetland, Papillon and many more. Some bred for kings and palaces, others for hard work in all kinds of weather; some just called “dog,” parents unknown, others expensive and fast like racing cars; some meant for their owner’s couch, sleepy all day; some miserable and abused, some spoiled and pampered. Most meant for love, given and received — well, not so different from us, the human kind.
Nina and I walk slowly. Can’t rush her morning investigations. I have no doubt she reads the sidewalks. It’s her morning paper. I don’t even try to rush. She can read her news now, nose to the ground. I’ll read mine later over a cup of coffee while she recuperates, asleep on my down comforter, a gift from my wife, Nancy, who had a seven-pound dachshund named Hilda.
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]