Thursday, March 12, 2009
The river is angry today. The river has reason. Spring in Vermont is cruel. We are in the midst of what I consider the toughest stretch - there are colder days in January and February, but the month of March has little mercy for dreams of green grass, melted snowbanks and short sleeves. Don't get the wrong impression - our calendars read the same as all others. But step inside the home of a Vermonter, make your way to a calendar and locate March 20th. You'll either find it surrounded by handwritten obscenities, marked with a skull and crossbones, or in our case, cut from it's page and taped over the 12th of May, a fairly well educated guess at when it will actually feel like spring here.
Our rituals are the same as elsewhere. We under dress too soon, stay out later; drive a little too fast with the windows down and stereo cranked. Those from southern climes would likely happen upon Vermont in spring and hightail it for home, convinced we are all a bunch of nutjob pot smoking hippies. Certainly, that is not the case. But long harsh winters and sun deprivation whip brain cells, pheromones and adrenaline in to a stew just waiting to be stirred by the first days of warm, sunny promise. When the sun dares to show its face and the temperatures go north of forty degrees the entire state buzzes to life with activity, it's residents stupefied by the great orange globe in the sky.
It was from this same state of intoxication that I made a decision to load up the family, leave the four walls behind and point the truck west toward the lake. We were all feeling a bit sundrunk as we motored down route 89, U2 blaring, reminding us that it was indeed a beautiful day. Our destination: one of the universal landmarks of spring for dog owners in Vermont. The dog park. The place where it all happens for dogs - peemail, butt sniff handshakes, fetch wars, sex with strangers.
Nigel: So many legs, so little time.
The dogs knew where we were going. We never mention the dog park by name - that would be a rookie mistake. But they sense it nonetheless, and by the time we have traveled half of the fifteen mile distance from the mountains to the lake, the back of our SUV looks like a Pelosi/Palin catfight, replete with flying hair and nails. Sola unleashes piercing wails, Nigel just vibrates with enthusiasm-
Nigel: That's right ladies...
Truffles just runs in circles between their legs and snorts between Sola's cries. I have no idea how we have managed to avoid notice from the authorities, but the chaos that takes place in the back of our SUV is explosive. As Mrs. Author and I played sing-a-long with Bono and pals in an attempt to drown out the noise, Nigel decided to offer up a slight change of plans by crashing the party in his own special way.
I consider myself a decent driver, and to that effect, I make a habit of checking my mirrors often. Mrs. Author and I were mid-chorus, Sola was baying, and Truffles was spinning her little happy circles when I made a cursory glance at the rear view mirror and noticed Nigel in the position. Not the oh pops I love you for taking me to the dog park position mind you. His figurative pants were around his ankles. Greyhounds have fickle digestive systems, and the slightest bit of excitement can blow up the works. Nigel was fudge bombing the back of the truck.
My vision blurred as the air became thick and humid at once, a telling green tint pervading our breathing space. The number of cars on the highway in front of me doubled instantly. I shook my head, but to no effect. Sola hacked, her cries replaced with laboured sputtering. Truffles fell on her side and continued to run in place, eyes fixed on the ceiling. Mrs. Author grabbed a stack of napkins from the glovebox and covered her face, tears streaking down her cheeks as she looked up at me.
Mrs. Author: "Are you ok?"
Author: "I'm seeing two of you. That's hot."
Before she had the opportunity to slap me I hit autodown on the windows and rescued the family by a narrow margin. The air cleared just enough for me to see where I was driving, and to note that Nigel had chosen to let lose while we still had five unfortunate miles to travel before we reached the next exit. Those five miles were the longest I have driven. Mrs. Author spent those miles bent over the back seat, holding collars in order to prevent all three of the dogs from contracting a serious case of brownfoot. Other drivers gaped as we careened past them, flies in hot pursuit. It may have been a matter of minutes, but it felt as though I'd celebrated a couple of rotten, tropical birthdays in the brownmobile by the time we found our exit.
When we did I made haste, blowing the redlight at the end of the ramp, foot to the floor. My vision was going again and I was lightheaded, our reduced speed doing little to clear the air and our heads. While I do recall jumping a curb and slamming the truck in to park, my memory ends just past the point at which Mrs. Author and I flung our doors open and fell out of the truck on the ground, passed out cold.
Resume memory and we are being fussed over by a couple of well-meaning passersby - old ladies pushing shopping carts. They stared down at us with a mix of pity and fascination.
Passerby 1: "How now brown cow."
Author: "Your mother is quite easy. Really, give her a shot. I'll loan you the dollar."
Onlookers cleared, I surveyed the damage. The dogs were gone - as was my wallet. The back of the truck looked like a blender full of chocolate pudding and chili had exploded. I was concerned for the dogs, but knew that nobody would survive a ride in the brownmobile if we did not clean up. In just under fifty minutes we had things in an acceptable state. The parking lot was littered in napkins and handiwipes. The dogs dodged them as they returned to the truck and found us rolling our sleeves back down.
Sola had my wallet. There was a wrinkled receipt half hanging out of it. Nigel and Truffles were fidgeting with something behind the truck. Mrs. Author went for a look as I snatched my wallet from Sola. She returned with them immediately. They each carried a neti pot, and were passing a bottle of mouthwash back and forth.
Truffles: "It burns it burns!!!"
Nigel: "One more and you'll burn the smell out kid."
I was fuming at the $30 receipt in my hand. Sola held out a paw, ready for a cleansing shot. I intercepted the pass and threw the neti pot to the sky as hard as I could. It arced out if sight...and landed squarely on the head of passerby 1 with a resounding knock. She yelped briefly before slumping over on her shopping cart, her friend yelling for help.
So it was time to go to the dog park, and we did, in record time. The windows still down, we were only aware of the slightest hint of rank beefiness and bleu cheese as we skidded to a stop in the parking lot. The sun smiled on this open stretch of land, and the field was green with promise save for scattered snowbanks around the perimeter. We poured out of the truck and left the doors open to air it out. The dogs dragged us to the gate, eager to join in the melee. We released them and stopped for a moment to catch our breath. It had already been a long day so we sought out the shade of the nearest bench. We would not rest long.
I don't know what it is about the dog park, but on that particular day the dynamic was dead wrong. It was like Walmart - there was an abundance of loonies, and crap was everywhere. When I say loonies I don't mean run-of-the-mill drooling axe murderers. I mean the actual $hithouse rats. For starters, the rednecks were flying their freak flags high. I don't know if someone told them that aliens were going to land in the dog park and dispense cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon, but there was no dearth of rusty Camaros with whizzing Calvin stickers in the parking lot.
More unsettling: a crowd of dog over enthusiasts. You know the type, the folks who break the one piece rule: wear more than one article of clothing that mentions your dog and you're crazy - line up for thorazine. They were everywhere, and their dogs stood out like sore thumbs: they were the park wimps. With redneck Rotties running the place these frail pampered pooches didn't stand a chance. Most of them hugged the fence or hid behind the legs of their owners, only daring to catch a brief glimpse of the action.
Sola took notice. Sola likes men. Not just male dogs, but real men as well. When she knew there was a crowd of weak willed gentlemen nearby her lady radar lit up. She fluffed her coat and whipped out a stuffie. She had a particular Golden in mind, and moved in for a closer look.
I'll give her credit: her hook works in every situation. Man or male beast can't resist her when she offers her stuffie.
Sola: I don't offer my "stuffie" to just anyone.
She sauntered up to him and whispered in his ear. His owner took notice. A lady in her mid fifties, she was breaking the one piece rule by a mile. Her shirt bragged about her golden being smarter than my honor student. On her baseball cap was a silkscreeened picture of her dog, with the words The Golden Years BOL. She wore dog earrings. A dog jacket. Dog socks. Her clicker was going like a machine gun as she tried to distract her boy from one very wanton Labrador.
I gritted my teeth as I approached her. Sola's wandering eye has left me apologizing freely, and often.
Dog freak: "Your lab is a little forward."
Author: "The inverse of your fashion sense then?"
Dog freak: "Show me her pedigree funny man."
Author: "Why the hell would I carry that?"
Dog freak: "Look, here is ours!"
She thrust out her arm and pulled back her sleeve, revealing a tattoo. Below her dog's seven names (including Pretentious, Grey and Poupon) was an extensive family tree that wrapped around her arm.
Dog freak: "My dog would never have relations with a common street mongrel."
I looked over her shoulder and grinned. She followed my gaze and turned just in time to see Sola emerging from the bushes, stuffie in tow.
Author: "Think again. Does your straight jacket have dogs on it as well?"
She wept and wandered over to the bushes in search of spent Sir seven names.
Sola was running for the other side of the park, and I followed her lead. At the midpoint she slowed and I caught up to her.
Sola: "Sorry, it's spring. Can't help it."
Author: "Whatever. How did you rope that guy in so fast?
Sola: "I told him I had eleven nipples and offered to watch adult dog movies with him."
Nigel flew past us headed for the car.
Mrs. Author grabbed his collar just before he was out of reach.
Nigel: "I should have known. That Collie's coat was way too well brushed. He tried to bag the big one when I bent over to sniff an ankle-biter."
Author: "Sorry to hear that."
Nigel: "Not as sorry as I am. I'm wasn't playing Siegfried to his Roy if you catch my drift."
Our attention turned to Truffles, who had found herself immersed in the wrong crowd. She was surrounded by dogs in spiked collars. They were smoking, kicking rocks around in the dust listlessly. Fudgepants noticed us. She ducked out of the group and ran over.
Truffles: "I need a new iPod."
Truffles: "My iPod isn't cool, and the music is all wrong. I need songs about tractors and sexy and anything by Toby Keith. And videos of Larry the Cable Guy. I also need something called "red man."
Two of the owners of the "wrong crowd" dogs approached.
Cletus: "Kin our dogs play? Yer dog sure is purty."
Author: "I'd rather that they not if it's just the same."
Cletus: "What's wrong, our dogs ain't good enough fer yer fancy purebred?"
Author: "No, I'm just trying to make sure her brain doesn't explode as she tries to comprehend why you have a thumb growing out of your back and your buddy here has an extra mouth on his forehead. That, and I fear she may now actually know the words to Honky Tonk Badonkadonk. I really don't want to have to put her down."
Needless to say, we were chased out of the dog park that day. We escaped just before the mob ran us down. Not that I minded: it was a huge case of wrong place/wrong time. The dogs would love to go back mind you - they ask frequently. I've already told them if we do, there will be ground rules. Like no brownmobile. And I can handle the dog freaks, but I'm sending Mrs. Author ahead of us in the car and having her sprinkle the parking lot with redneck repellent.
Days pass; the river calms as the temperatures recede, runoff frozen to the hillsides as March continues to taunt us. Summer will deliver on its promise one day, and we will be freed from the confines of our homes to celebrate the joy of a long winter conquered.
All but two of us, that is.