My husband and I have recently downsized from a four bedroom home in the suburbs to a two bedroom condo downtown. We have done this to “simplify” our lives, but also to prove to ourselves and our families that we are still young and hip enough to enjoy an urban lifestyle. A lifestyle that puts us within walking distance of numerous restaurants, galleries, and bars, not to mention a neighbor who sings Italian arias while strolling with his dog, and Carl, the local homeless man, who pushes his shopping cart down the middle of the street every morning at eight o’clock.
When my three grown children announced they would be spending Christmas with us in our new place, we enthusiastically looked forward to showing them our hip new crib. When they announced they would also be bringing their dogs, I was less enthusiastic. “Oh, we’ll be fine,” my husband said, indicating I was being overly dramatic.
My son had recently adopted what he called a Lemon Beagle, which I had never heard of, that was going to be flying in with him from San Francisco.
“So you’ll be carrying him on the plane?” I said, imagining a cute spotted puppy that would fit neatly between his feet.
“Oh no,” he said. “I’ll have to crate him.” And then he quickly changed the subject.
Imagine my surprise when, three weeks later, I saw him unloading what appeared to be an elephant crate from the back of my car. My husband had driven down to Atlanta to pick up my son and his Lemon Beagle, which is apparently code for a cross between a pit bull and a Great Dane.
His name was Finn and he was adorable but clumsy, knocking over furniture with his tail which he swung behind him with the velocity of a bull whip. My dog, Yoshi, gave him a wide berth.
I rose early the next morning determined to take Finn and Yoshi for a walk.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” my husband said, sipping his coffee at the breakfast bar.
Undaunted, I set out. What I soon learned is that, although it’s relatively easy to walk one dog on a leash, it is less easy to walk two. Especially two that have a combined weight of well over one hundred pounds. Dogs in a pack constantly jostle for dominance, trying to be the lead dog. Added to the fact that I was walking both on retractable leashes that were quickly entangled, I soon found myself being dragged along the sidewalk like a musher racing across the frozen tundra of the Alaskan Iditarod.
This would have been enough to discourage any sane person, but I was determined to go on. I had a point to prove. I wasn’t the same old Shrinking Violet I had once been; I now ate oatmeal and miso soup for breakfast, stayed away from saturated fats and dairy, and meditated twice a day. I could handle walking two dogs along a city street.
It was in the second block that the real trouble began.
By now my pulse had begun to pound ominously in my ears. My breathing was ragged and strained. We scooted past a row of neat bungalows set back slightly from the sidewalk. The middle house had a neatly manicured lawn, with baskets of flowers and ferns set out strategically around the base of a large oak tree. Various whirligigs spun in the breeze, and a ring of colorful garden gnomes peeked roguishly from between the baskets of ferns and flowers. It was the kind of yard that announces, “No Dogs Allowed” by its very neatness.
Finn, who had apparently never seen a garden gnome, decided he didn’t like the looks of these strange creatures, and lunged suddenly to the right, bellowing and knocking over baskets and whirligigs with his tail. Yoshi sprang to the left. I found myself being dragged, spread-eagled, toward the massive oak and began to shout, “No, no.” Finn, panicked at the tone of my voice, began now to run in circles, catching two of the larger ferns in his leash which he dragged behind him like a conveyer belt.
“It’s okay, puppy, it’s okay,” I shrilled, trying to calm him down. He continued to run in circles, wrapping the retractable leash around his legs until, finally, tied up like a rodeo calf, he lurched to a stop, and fell over. Taking advantage of his immobility, I glanced over my shoulder to check on Yoshi.
He was taking a huge, steaming shit in front of a basket of fake petunias.
It was at this moment that I realized my left arm was numb and one eye was fluttering like a bad circuit. It occurred to me that I might be in the throes of a medical emergency. I imagined the couple who owned the house returning in the evening to the wreckage of their carefully-tended yard. I imagined garden gnomes and ferns and whirligigs scattered in disarray, two dogs hog-tied and squealing, and a middle-aged woman, dead of an apparent heart attack, face down on the lawn.
I fell on my knees, hard, at the base of the tree, and began hurriedly to set up the fallen gnomes and fern baskets. Then I gathered Yoshi’s warm excrement in a plastic baggie, untied Finn, and turned and limped quickly for home.
I imagined the couple returning home to find that their garden gnomes had been vandalized, checking their surveillance tape, and uploading it to YouTube, where it would become an instant Internet sensation. I imagined my children’s friends calling.
“Dude, isn’t that your mother?”
My husband was still sitting at the breakfast bar when I limped in.
“That was quick,” he said. “Did you have a nice walk?”
I said nothing, handing him the leashes, and turning, hobbled toward the bedroom to take a nice long nap.