Now that I have added being fiftysomething to my list of dubious achievements, I am discovering a previously unnoticed tendency towards pondering. I certainly don’t remember this activity from my 20’s or, for that matter, the succeeding years. When I look back -an essential part of the ponder-it all seems to be a blur of sex (not enough) and jobs (too many). These satori-like states descend without summons during the day-and if this were not sufficiently alarming, I have taken to pondering in public places.
Which is how I find myself at the Small Dog Run at Carl Schurz park. As I sit in the chilly breeze from the East River watching Inch, my loopy beagle companion, I realize that the dog run has replaced the singles scene of my youth and the gyms of my not-so-youth. My younger male friends of both sexual persuasions have discovered that a man with a dog signals here is a male capable of commitment . My younger and more optimistic female friends seem to have decided that owning a dog is not a bad way to meet men capable of commitment, while the older (and wiser) women seem to have seized upon a canine as a child substitute. This latter choice is doubtless responsible for the proliferation of very posh pet boutiques that seem to rival Northern Italian restaurants on the Upper East Side. I know of one Chihuahua who not only is better dressed than I am, but also has more expensive sweaters.
As a sociological phenomenon, the dog run has been the subject of one eminently missable movie ( Dog Park ) and one amusing novel ( Dogrun , by Arthur Nersesian). And like its geographic and temporal predecessors in my life, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in a small enclosed space talking to strangers. Only now I have passed into an age group where sex is not something to be pursued, but an occasion of gratitude and momentary belief in God (just in case, I carry both prophylactics and a Viagra tablet). And the only one getting any exercise is the dog.
There are two runs at Carl Schurz, each with a political subtext. The Large Dog Run attracts those who think that a Great Dane–German shepherd mix is an appropriate urban dog. Their pets are a 10021 version of the ghetto-blaster. The large-dog owners are of all ages and both sexes, but it seems to me that everyone is an Alpha Human. The run is a graveled, sloping area with a few benches, but large-dog owners do not sit and chat. They stand and throw things. They shout at their pets. When conversation occurs, it centers around brands of dog foods, professional sports and which shar-pei is in heat. Like their dogs, the potential for violence is a recurring problem, and there always seems to be one large-dog owner who isn’t speaking to another one because of his or her pet’s behavior.
Inch is 23 pounds and thus can go in either run. There is more room for her to run with the wolves, but she and I usually coincide with an amorous husky and his not-at-all-interested-in-me human. So we gravitate to the Small Dog Run, an elevated playpen overlooking the promenade and lined with pew-like benches. The dogs here, mostly recognizable breeds, are generally more cooperative and skitter around on the wooden slats that make up the surface. Like their companions, the humans here are friendlier, and we rarely talk about dog food. We don’t know each other’s names, but I go by “Inch’s Dad.” There’s also “Esme the whippet’s Mom,” “Stanley the poodle’s couple” and so on. Literature, real estate and divorce are usually hot topics, but lately we seem to focus on Hillary.
She perplexes us. Which is to say that we are perplexed by our lack of enthusiasm for her candidacy. Most of the small-dog owners seem to be in my age group; there’s more women than men, and almost everyone seems to be a registered Democrat. I’d love to conclude that the Large Dog Run population is Republican, but as far as I can tell, nobody over there talks about politics (with all those Weimaraners running around, it might be too dangerous.)
When we talk of Hillary, the six-degrees-of-separation theory is down to about three: one beagle owner went to Mount Holyoke and knows someone who knew her at Wellesley. Three of my favorite cousins are Wellesley graduates, one just a year behind Hillary. This, in the Small Dog Run, passes as a connection. Esme’s Mom has actually met Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. I’ve never been in a group where more people know someone who knew Hillary and still can’t figure out why we wish she’d go back to Arkansas.
So we all feel guilty. The health-care mess, Travelgate, welfare repeal-the reasons are numerous. “There’s just something I don’t like,” admits the owner of a particularly friendly Maltese named Eleanor. “I see it all the time with Ellie. There are just some other bitches she can’t stand.” The bitch thing comes up a lot, and then we talk about internalized oppression. Then we seem to get madder at Hillary for challenging our usually quite high P.C. quotient (small-dog owners all recycle).
The subject of the First Husband is one we tend to avoid, but it does come up. “At least with a dog, you can have it neutered,” volunteers a Yorkie owner most of us don’t know yet. The agreement from the women is unanimous, and I cross my legs and stare at the river.
We talk about the plastic surgery question. The general opinion is that she’s had work done. There are even a few suggestions as to who might have done it. But no one can figure out when she had the time. Pre-Monica is the closest approximation we can get, but a few wags insist that it’s the classic Ivana-faced-with-Marla move. Monica is a popular topic, and we all think that she would own a large dog.
No one thinks that Hillary will remain in Westchester if she loses; in fact, we don’t think that she has unpacked yet. The group also seems to know a lot of people who live in Chappaqua, and we don’t seem to like either them or the town. “Too many BMW’s” is the considered opinion of Ellie’s Mom. Most of us agree that Rick Lazio reminds us of Eddie Haskell and then get sad when a twentysomething dog-walker asks us who that is.
But as I ponder and Inch skitters, it occurs to me that the reason we don’t like Hillary is that she reminds us too much of ourselves. Educated, articulate and ambitious-well, we all started out that way. Then Life intervened. She reminds us of all the faithless spouses, failed love affairs, ruthless bosses, ungrateful children and disappointing careers we have collectively known. There is a reason why, at this point in life, most of us find ourselves single and spending a significant portion of the evening at the Small Dog Run. We have all, like Hillary, compromised a lot, and none of us likes it very much. We all seem to have been betrayed by Ward and June Cleaver in some fashion.
After we’ve been talking about Hillary for a spell, a depressed silence often descends.
“So then we’ll probably vote for her,” Eleanor’s owner states.
More silence. We all begin to ponder.