Direct Male Column
I’ve come into possession of a dog. He’s a walking little guy – long legs, a barrel of energy, and enough firepower to race across the country if he slips the leash. He showed up scared and confused after his previous owner had him neutered and then decided he was too much to keep.
“I’ve been in relationships like that,” I told the dog. “You’ll be fine here.”
I was happy to learn that, like me, the dog was house-trained. I was not happy to learn that, like me, he has to go often.
So we go, he and I. Early morning? We go. Late night? We go. In the rain? In the cold? In the wind? We go, go, go. I’ve been out there some winter nights holding the leash, an umbrella, a flashlight, and The Bag, wishing I had four hands and a gallon of sanitizer. At those times, I question my decisions.
One of my old college buddies has been dealing with decisions, too. He and his wife decided to sell their home last year and buy a beach house. This happened after my friend decided to retire. That happened after his employer pretty much told him he should decide to retire.
A few months after moving to the beach, he and his wife split up.
He settled in my spare bedroom until he could decide what to do next. Late at night, he’d sit on the stairs and try to envision a new, unformed future.
“I thought this was the person I was going to be with for the rest of my life,” he’d say.
Lost for useful words, I’d listen from my seat on the bench where I put on my shoes when the dog has to go.
In college, we’d have called this arrangement a crash pad. For sure, life crashed on my friend. He’d lost 40 pounds. He couldn’t sleep. The winds of his wicked winter blasted over him every day, again and again.
Late one night in January, the dog woke me up, anxious to go. I meant to throw on layers – I really, seriously, absolutely did – but for no good reason I just leashed him and bumbled half-asleep into the front yard, wearing only gym shorts and flip-flops. No shirt, no cap, no sense. It was 24 degrees. Plus, wind had pushed in, so I experienced one of those “feels like” situations that the TV news people love to talk about.
“How cold is it in Tim’s yard?” I could hear the news anchor say to the chatty weathercaster.
“Well,” Chatty Weathercaster says, “the mercury shows 24. But it feels like 50 below!”
“Yeee-ouch!” the anchor says. “This is no time to be out there in gym shorts and flip-flops.”
Out there in my gym shorts and flip-flops, I decided I had no reason to worry – the dog would get things done and scurry right back indoors. Trouble is, he wears a natural fur coat, and his nose picks up the scent of any animal or scrap of food within miles. He decided to sniff around the maple. Then across the driveway. Then by the mailbox. Then into the hollies.
All of this went on beneath a streetlight. I could just hear those TV people.
“Do we have video?” the anchor says.
“Oh, yes!” Chatty Weathercaster says. “It’s all over the internet: Nosey Dog Walks Frostbitten Fool.”
That’s when I made another decision: I would get dog-walking clothes. Serious ones.
On the times I actually prepared before walking the dog, I layered up – T-shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, cap, wool socks, hiking shoes.
Usually I wore jeans, but that’s just one layer, and I learned the hard way that jeans soak up rain like a sponge. Plus, they droop off people built like me – shaped less like an hourglass and more like a grandfather clock. On top of that, jeans have what the marketing people call “breathability,” which means air flows through like an open car window.
I decided pants should have a higher priority in my dog-walking life. They’d have to keep me warm, keep me dry, and keep me covered by not sliding down my nonexistent hips.
After dogged shopping, I now own thick, durable trousers for my winter walks with that scruffy pup. These windproof, water-resistant pants tie at the waist. They’re lined with fleece. They have zip pockets. They’re made of the finest synthetic fibers the chemical industry has to offer. They swish when I walk.
I hope to run into those TV news people one gusty day.
“Oh, it’s windy?” I’ll say. “My nosey dog and I hadn’t noticed.”
My friend stayed for a couple of months. Then, equipped with a vague plan, one day he loaded up a U-Haul with a little furniture and a truckload of woe, and he headed to live near relatives.
Things happen. Life is always unpredictable and often unfair. People and dogs stray in and out with no warning. We all know this.
I didn’t say any of that to my buddy. The only useful advice I could offer was to tell him to put on a good pair of wind pants and keep moving, one foot in front of the other, steady on. Before long, I hope, he’ll make it around the long, blustery block and back inside, where it’s dry and safe and warm.
Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.
To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.
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