Power of the Dog

So the dogs and I are walking along, getting tangled around light poles, slurping up bits of biscotti off the sidewalk, nothing special, and I get to thinking:  “Fine, OK, I love dogs again, I really do,” when the golden retriever pup — this almond-eyed delinquent — grabs the handle of her leash and starts to tug-of-war me into our town’s busiest boulevard.

We live in a town of Very Important People – well, except for me – and they are zooming by on their way to wherever they have to go, five minutes late (as always), in their Teslas and Rovers, as this dog pulls me into traffic – first the bike lane, then the slow lane, though in our town there are no slow lanes, since everyone drives too fast.

She’s strong, this retriever, stronger in reverse than in drive, and here I am panicking, as I’m fond of doing in deadly situations. My mind is racing through all the things James Bond might do if he were me, because that’s how I was raised – on James Bond movies.

Back then, men could smoothly get themselves out of sticky situations. You don’t see so much of that anymore. Just in my lifetime, we’ve witnessed the demise of the debonair hero (and a little of what made life fun).

Really, this situation is life and death, cloak and dagger. My daughter’s dog is pulling me into the bike lane, and inching me into the super-fast slow lane.

Back on the sidewalk, I can hear White Fang laughing. Like me, my dog always had a hunch that somehow my kids were going to kill me, she just didn’t expect it to be quite like this. No one did.

How devious of them, to purchase this puppy, to pawn it off on me, and then teach it to drag Pop-Pops into traffic just after he finishes updating the living trust. Now they’re about to have a down payment on that four-bedroom in Toluca Lake; it’s all working out. Genius.

Suddenly, and perversely, I’m super proud of my kids.

So to recap: I’m being dragged to my death; White Fang is laughing; my next-door neighbor Lisa is laughing. She just happened to be walking by, and she is laughing, and wondering who’s going to buy the house when I’m gone — maybe she’ll get the listing?

Like every woman in our town, Lisa is a Realtor. There are some 20,000 of them. They have, like, zero inventory amid extremely high demand (it’s much like dating in LA). So that’s flashing through Lisa’s head, all these neon $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. Who could blame her?

This is just the latest episode in my week spent puppy-sitting my daughter’s dog, Penny Laine (aka Penny Pain). You think I’m exaggerating, when really I’m not at all. In fact, I’m sparing you some of the gritty details.

Like the morning she dug up the septic. Or the morning I woke up groggy and, thinking it was a chewed paper towel, reached my hand into a pile of … trust me, you don’t even want to know, though now you sort of do. Great way to start the day, that’s all.

Or, the couch. Taking a lot of grief from you people for buying a white couch when I have dogs and a grandbaby.

“I don’t even have white rice in the house,” reader Mindy teased.

Look, I have a gushy, angelic view of life. I bought this couch a year ago as a symbol of my life without young kids and misbehaving dogs…a next chapter…a small slice of Heaven.

It was like the purity statement Utah girls make when they turn 16. Yes. Almost exactly that.

As you may recall, when Handel finished “The Messiah,” his greatest hit, he said: “I think God has visited me … I think I did see all Heaven before me and the great God himself.”

That’s how I feel while sitting on this white couch.

Now, as you’ve surmised, my life is a daisy-chain of ironies, large and small, the kind that can really crush your spirit.

So it comes as no surprise that I buy a white couch and then invite Penny Pain to stay with me for a week while my older daughter is in Hawaii with her babes (Finn and Catty Cakes).

Yeah, my idea to watch the dog. Sometimes, I just order out my disappointments, as you might a pizza:

“SMARATCUS, WHAT STUPID THING DO YOU WANT TO DO NEXT?” I asked him the other afternoon.

And my son muttered something about chicken wings.

He’s sleeping now, in his room on the other side of the house, in his final days of Spring Break. I can think of no feeling – nothing richer and more soothing to a parent’s heart, nothing more genuinely Heavenly – than knowing my kid is back in his boyhood bedroom, safe and warm and snoring over thoughts of beery hookups.

The other day, he was telling me tales of Spring Break, and some of the things his friends are going through back home with their parents. One girl he knows got busted at dinner for discussing the surprising sensitivity of the male chest.

“My dad asked me what I was learning at school,” she explained. “What was I supposed to say?”

These kids.

In Laguna, we hear that some college boys flaked on some college women who were set to rent a beach house together, just didn’t come through on the bargain.

Me, I’d have gotten the money up front, but what do I know. I’m no one to give advice. I’m voluntarily watching my daughter’s needy dog.

Look, I live for love.  I start every morning with a prayer and a promise: Be better. Be patient. Buy a book, a newspaper, a racing form, then bet it all on kindness and good deeds.

And, with these dogs, these derelicts who will shove their noses in an old shoe as a public display of affection, or drop their chin on my foot as I write this slithering essay…well, that’s love and kindness too.

In many ways, the purist form of love and kindness that I know.

Happy Oscar weekend. You don’t care? I’m fighting that feeling myself, but I’ll still watch Sunday’s Oscar telecast. By the way, best picture of the year? “CODA.” Look, what do I know? If I were any more out of touch, I’d be an avocado. I preferred “La La Land” over “Moonlight.”  I liked “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” way more than “Parasite.” For the record, I thought the new “West Side Story” was a dud. I’m a traditionalist, but it’s not like I don’t evolve (subtle William Hurt tribute there). Which brings us back to CODA, a movie without a bad moment and with several outstanding ones, particularly if you’re a dad who struggles with his words and emotions, as I do, and has an exemplary daughter or two who always seems a step ahead, as I do as well. Be sure to see CODA, is what I’m saying. Perhaps it’s not Hollywood’s idea of what’s relevant anymore. Hence, it has humor and pathos and all those things that Hollywood once mined so beautifully on its way to becoming the world’s most-famous place. Most of that is out the door, as the Oscars prefer weird little movies no one sees. When was the last time someone quoted a line from a contemporary movie? Lasting power is one measure of greatness – a good house, a classic car, a song whose lyrics you’ll never forget. So it is with movies. But see “CODA.” It’s worth your time. Cheers!

14 thoughts on “Power of the Dog

  1. So glad you apparently won the tug of war with Penny Pain. I doubt she would be able to write posts half as entertaining as yours. I definitely plan to see CODA. For the record, I thought Power of the Dog was a snooze…the movie, not your version. Yours has much more tension and edge of your seat excitement.

  2. Behind the Teslas and the Rovers in a roundabout A funny man is being pulled to his his demise And though he feels as if he’s in a play He is anyway Penny Pain is in your ears and in your eyes There beneath the blue suburban skies Penny Pain.

  3. Based on your recommendation, I will add Coda to my list of movies to see. Of this year’s nominees, I very much liked Licorice Pizza and Belfast. Saw Belfast yesterday at the Newhall Laemmle. A very nice new theater in town. My wife and I were literally the only people in the theater. Which made me wonder…do they still show the movie if no one at all shows up? Which leads to other philosophical questions. If a tree falls in the forest when no one is around, does it make a noise? If a bear….never mind.

    1. I too was at the Newhall Laemmle yesterday! Aren’t we lucky to have it? Saw a thriller The Outfit…a bit rough and profane but really good. Go see it.

      1. Yeah, very lucky to have the new Laemmle in town. I’ve seen half a dozen matinees there. Never more than eight people in attendance.

  4. I am a little behind and just read Good Luck, Papa and then this one. I have two Goldens. Both came from families who gave them away after spending lots of money on them. They first one came to us at about 1.5 years and is now 6. She’s perfect other than being still afraid of a lot of weird stuff. The other is almost a year and a half. Came to us at 9 months. She has swallowed a plastic baby spoon (puked up days later around 4 am), and we think a rib bone but have never seen it again, not even in an x-ray. I have had to perform the Heimlich on her to puke out an old leathery avocado she found on the street during a walk and tried to wolf down so I wouldn’t take it away and I have had to deal with the “streamer” mentioned previously. I will be amazed if she makes it to 2 without an emergency vet visit! Oh but we love her anyway.

  5. First, you are absolutely right about CODA. Best movie in a very long time!! And, grateful you survived potential puppy-cide! Surprised Smartacus hasn’t adopted her too. But then, he’s doing a lot of sleeping these days! Thanks, as always for the smiles and good feeling that come with your weekly musings. Happy Oscars night!

  6. At 3 pm on Sunday, I will settle on my practical dark grey couch with a bottle of Pinot Grigio to watch and judge every hairdo, every cleavage, every dress, suit, speech, etc. My husband knows not to expect dinner or conversation. My friends know not to call…texting is permissible. I have seen all nominated movies. CODA was my favorite and should win. It is just that good.

  7. And for the reasons stated above, we will never have a Golden as a fur baby. Thanks for the close up of White Fang. Gorgeous….

  8. You echo my sensibilities quite closely. I thought La La Land a subtlely beautiful piece of work, and underrated; making some spectacularly hard-to-do things look smoothly easy, the score one of the best in years, much of quintessential L.A. in it, so redolent with simple truth set to music in the land of fantasy; and hey, the PC zeitgeist of the current Tinseltown miasma prevailed. More of the same this year and onward will no doubt dominate choice in a town that seems to have forgotten that pure entertainment, and not messaging, is its raison de excess. Of grimness and reality we have a bucketload. Give me a terrific story scripted with deft yet powerful prose, and something unforgettably beautiful playing out in it, and I will come apart I will see CODA, but I have to ask: does it have a dog (or two) in it ?

  9. Laugh out loud moments reading your latest truly delightful article. Had to read it out loud— the dog and living will bit- to my wife who also laughed out loud. Thanks for making us smile and so much more. As for the Oscars I agree with Coda but sad to say this is the weakest film year I can recall. I saw most of the nominees. I have no one to root for. We need a Haing S. Noor or Roberto Beignini.

    1. They’ve been weak years for a long time. I’ll rephrase something the NYT asked: Does Hollywood hate movies? Because they don’t seem to know how to make them anymore.

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