What were we obsessed with, invested in and plagued by in 2018? Hazlitt’s writers reflect on the issues, big and small.
Maintaining a dog is mostly not that difficult. The worst part is the constant fear you’ll kill it, particularly in a way that lets everyone else know the death was your fault. The second-worst part is knowing that, even if you don’t kill it, it’s definitely going to die. And from then on you’ll carry around the weight of your beloved dead dog that you won’t be able to talk about as much as you want to, because it’s just a dog, not a human, and the humans you know will also be dying. Otherwise it’s really good.
This year I had the pleasure of pep-talking a few friends into getting dogs of their own. Days have become generally unmanageable, and for some people it helps a bit to have a dog around, which I encourage. My friends’ concerns were mainly like this: Will I kill it? Will it be too expensive? Am I going to be able to deal with taking it outside to do its business multiple times per day for twelve whole years, or however long it lives? Will it ruin my social life? Will it hate me for not being good enough? It’s difficult, I know. It’s a big decision. I’ll tell you what the answers are, though, in case you’re also curious: Probably not; sort of; yes, but if you adopt an older one you’ll have it for fewer years than that; yes, but that’s a positive; and maybe. But mostly you’ll just love the dog and the rest is nothing.
This isn’t to say I think everyone should have a dog. Even though maintaining one is non-difficult, like I said, there are many non-difficult things that some people are just not equipped to manage. For example, I once dated (this is none of your business) a guy who thought dishwashers came with soap already inside of them. Like, a supply of soap that was distributed throughout each wash, already there, inside the dishwasher that came with his apartment. That guy should not have a dog. (He’s a doctor now.)
Anyway, this was my first full year as a dog owner. I adopted my dog, Peter, in May of last year from a Brooklyn rescue that saved him from a kill shelter in Georgia. In case you’re unfamiliar with my number one Pete-man, the tiny Peterita, I’ll tell you what to picture when you think of him: He’s a mix of several dogs, mainly black lab and chihuahua, and the mix lends him the appearance of some sort of very shiny puppy. He’s got wide-spread, noticeably large eyes, and a really intense pee stare when he needs to go out. His head is a bit too small for his body, which is not aided by the fact that he’s a little too fat. I don’t mean this to be rude. Truly it’s only just a tiny bit, and I think he’s very handsome, obviously—a young Leonardo DiCaprio type, if I had to cast him—but it just so happens that he deserves treats at a rate that slightly outpaces the amount of exercise city living allows. It’s neither of our faults, really, but we’re working on it.
This year together cemented a rhythm with us—dogs sort of require the rhythm and train you to respond accordingly. Mornings are always the same. The alarm goes off and if it’s before 6:30 a.m., Peter will stay in bed a bit longer, literally groaning like a teenager when I hug him and tell him that I love him so much it makes me want to die, before I go off to do whatever morning chores there are to do. After 7 a.m. usually means I don’t want to get out of bed at all, which forces Peter to put his tiny little face right in mine, giving me his intense pee stare until I relent.
For whatever reason, he presses his body flat against the door to assist in my putting on his collar to go outside. It’s no more helpful than if he just stood still, not pressed against the door, but I appreciate the effort nontheless. He trots down the stairs, bow-legged and funny, and we head off to the nearby park.
For the most part I dread meeting other dog owners on our walks—trying to be polite as dogs tug at your arms, neither of you exactly sure when to cut the conversation off and say, “okay [dog] let’s keep walking!”—but I had an exceptional meeting in January that has stuck with me, if you’d like to hear about it. Peter and I were stopped by an older man getting out of his truck, who asked if he could say hello. Yes, he could. He cupped Peter’s face in his hands explained that he loved dogs, and that his dogs had died. He wiped the boogers out of the corners of Peter’s eyes and said, “You spoil them, you know?” The man kept dog treats he got from the bank in the cup holders of his truck in case he had the opportunity to meet any new dogs, and he gave one to Peter. (Peter, sadly, doesn’t take well to treats when he’s nervous, which he tends to be. He took it gingerly in his mouth and placed it on the ground. I picked it up and said he’d be excited about it when we got home, but it still felt a little cruel and I feel bad that it happened the way it did.) Before parting ways he stopped me to ask what my dog’s name was. “Peter,” I said. He gasped.
“—My name is Peter!”
After the walk comes his feeding and our various work day formations. If I sit in my chair, he’ll lie at my chair’s side. If I sit on the yoga mat, he’ll sit up directly beside me as if we are both using the computer. If I lie on the bed, which I must admit is what I usually do, he’ll lie with me, either under the covers, at my feet, or right by my side, with his head on my shoulder. Obviously I feel guilt about the boring day he must have while I’m looking at my stupid computer (and what must he think I’m doing? I hope he doesn’t know about Twitter) so I’ll usually sing him a lot of high-pitched songs about the body parts he has, to entertain him. (For example: “Are you my little puppy guy / Do you have little puppy eyes / Are you sweet / And are you small / And do you have a face?”) (For another: “Who is this little puppy guy / Why is he so sweet? / He is tiny and he is small / And he has got four feet!”)
At night we sleep together in my bed, a disgusting habit that I would not alter for even a significant sum of money. (And I would love a significant sum of money.) Then I listen to him breathe until I fall asleep.
The year was solidly this. Maintaining my dog, being with my dog, holding my dog’s face in my hands and telling him I love him while he tells me stop holding my face. The days slipped together, racing past in a blur of unspeakable horror, but there was at least always this. My number one Pete-man. The tiny Peterita.