The Basics, Part 3

I guess you could it of an offshoot of the whole butt-sniffing thing.  The way us humans get all grossed out when a dog goes about his business.  Because for us, taking a dump is something private, almost shameful.  What you do behind closed doors.  But for a dog?  Number one is like his calling card, I piss therefore I am, and every tree, every hydrant he stops at, it’s like some message board.  And number two?  When a cat goes, he’s got to bury it, like it’s something bad.  While a dog, he just squats, drops, and goes on his merry way.  Nothing to see, folks, nothing to see.  Keep it moving along.

Now if you’re the human he’s dragging behind, and you’ve got to deal with the mess, sure, you might get a little resentful after a while.  I know I do.  But what you’ve got to remember is, dogs keep it simple.  Number one, number two.  While all of us, Homo sapiens, Lords of the Earth, we’ve taken it one step further.

We’ve got number three.

And what is number three, you might ask?  Just take a look around you.  Number three is the sidewalk you’re standing on.  The candy wrapper there in the gutter.  The smell of exhaust, the honk of some horn, the blinking sign that says ‘don’t walk’.  Number three is the thing the keeps you alive, the thing that will finally kill you, and long after the last of us finally croaks, it’ll still be hanging on.  Grey, drab and ugly.

But wait.  What’s that, scooting along through the rubble?  And what’s he suddenly stopping for?  Oh.  That.  Hard to believe we once got so bent out of shape, over something so simple, so stupid.  Hard to believe all our acts, all our deeds, mean less than a little number two.

The Basics, Part 2

Mention dogs, mention dog walking, and it’s bound to come up.  The whole butt-sniffing thing.

People seem to think it’s hilarious.  That whenever two dogs meet, out there on the sidewalk, the first thing they’re going to do is stick their snouts in each other’s bunghole.  I mean how crude is that?

But because I’m the guy who’s holding the leash, it’s up to me to set things straight.  So first off, it’s not their butts getting sniffed, it’s a pair of sebaceous glands, which God in His infinite wisdom just happened to stick right next to their hoppers.  The same God who, wouldn’t you know it, gave dogs such a keen sense of smell they’re pulling shifts at the TSA.  So when one dog sniffs another’s hindquarters, it’s like they’re getting it all.  A family tree, a resume, and a DNA test, all wrapped up in one.  A single sniff, and it’s filed away forever.  A single sniff, and those two dogs will know each other, friend or foe, for as long as they’re here on earth.

And us humans?  We’re way too sophisticated, too evolved, to bother with the butts anymore.  No, we use our eyes instead.  Eyes so feeble, half of us are wearing glasses, or contacts, or lining up for Lasik.  Eyes so distracted, so overloaded with crap, we can’t even tell which way’s up.  Give most guys a line-up, five suspects in a row, and he can’t ID the jerk who mugged him, broad daylight, no ski mask.  Hell, make it five women lined up instead, and he’s not sure which one is his wife.

So go ahead and laugh at your pooch.  Pretend he’s not laughing back.  Pretend you both don’t know damn well who’s really got his head up his ass.

The Basics, Part I

So.  The leash.

So the thing you’ve got to realize is, everybody’s got a leash.  Two feet, four paws, the stunted little mutt pissing on your doorstep, the guy running for President.  Everybody.  Sometimes you can see them, most times you can’t, and wouldn’t you know it, the ones you can’t see are the ones that are hardest to slip.

And like most things in life, a leash has two sides, two ends.  On one side there’s you, the thing being held back, doing your best to get loose, determined that whatever’s out there, it’s bound to better than wherever it is you’re at.  And at the other end?  That’s a bit trickier.  Could be it’s me, Doug Walker, out to earn his three bills, doggy bag in hand.  Could be it’s someone who loves you, adores you, thinks this fifteen minutes cruising the sidewalk with you in tow is the highpoint of his or her day.  A memory.  A dream.  Some guy nailed up to a cross.  You’d be amazed at what you might find out there, dangling at the other end of that rope.

Or then again, maybe not.  Because in the end, no matter what’s holding you back, whatever disguise it’s wearing, it all boils down to the same damn thing.  That thing at the end of your leash, that weight, that burden?  It’s you.  All of us, we’re just walking around, with one end tied around our necks, and the other one clutched in our hands.  Hanging on for dear life.  Because if we ever got loose, ever had to face a day without that noose in place, well then we’d really be lost.  Dragging a scrap of worn-out leather, wondering what went wrong.

My Day

So what’s my day like, you might want to know. A day in the life of a walker.

I generally like to start early.  Out of the house by seven, seven thirty-tops.  Depending on the day of the week, my loop could have anywhere from four to ten stops, and I like to start at the most distant one, then work my way back towards home.  This puts me in the morning commute, that whole grip-the-wheel, gnash-your-teeth, my-god-what-have-I-done ordeal, but really, I don’t mind.  All of them have to face their boss when they get there.  Me, it’s just a dog.

Sometimes that first stop, it’s an empty house.  A client who’s already left for work.  Sometimes I’m pulling in just as they’re pulling out, and there’s time for a quick wave, an update on how that latest flea dip’s holding, or the color of last night’s BM.  Me and some clients, it’s like we’re old friends, I’m practically family by now.  And others, we’ve never even met, it’s just some empty bungalow out in Santa Monica, a key under the planter, a check from the trust fund every month on the fifth.  If you’re any good at the job, the first thing you do is read the situation, the client, suss out just how much contact they want, whether you’re just the hired help, the guy who’s holding the leash, or if they need something more.  If maybe fido is just an excuse, and you’re there for them instead.

And as for him, or her, or it, again it’s all over the map.  Sometimes it’s a real dog, a working dog, bred for muscle and keen purpose, and it’s all I can do to just hang on, and hope he doesn’t notice.  And other times it’s a purse pooch, one of those nasty three-pounders, the kind that likes to nip at your ankles, and stop every ten feet or so to drop another pellet.  Some let on that they know me, get all worked up when I show up, and some you’d swear it was our first date, and who is this jerk anyway.  But big or small, friendly or cool, the drill remains the same.  Clip the leash onto the collar.  Reward with a single treat.  Make sure there’s a bag in your back pocket, and the door is locked when you go.

More often than not, it’s a simple route, a loop round the neighborhood, though I do have a couple of clients who pay for something more elaborate.  A half-hour trek through Griffith Park.  Off trail in the Hollywood Hills.  I’ve got one dog, a big springer spaniel, who’ll only settle for a stroll in the sand, which means a drive out to Malibu, forty minutes each way, with him riding shotgun up front.  That always earns a lot of stares, first at him and then at me, which of course opens that whole other can of worms.  Dogs as a pick-up device.  And yeah, whatever you’ve heard, believe me it’s true and then some.  Why do you think they call them man’s best friend?

Some guys, some walkers, take advantage of that.  Work both sides of the street.  Spend all their time taking names and numbers, and ignoring the reason they’re there.  Not me.  The minute I slip that leash round my wrist, there’s just two of us, me and my dog.  And if some girl comes sniffing around, scratching his ears, making all those goo-goo noises, all I can say is, she’s barking up the wrong tree.  Not that I get rude or anything.  No, I just stand there.  Give her a smile.

And tell her we’re both on the clock.

 

Meet Doug Walker

So it must have been back in ninth or tenth grade. Back when they give you that test. General Aptitude? Major Pain-in-the Ass? Anyhow, you know the one. The one where they decide if you’re cut out to be a lawyer, or a mechanic, or the kind of a person who’d come up with a test to decide what kind of a person you are.
And for once I wasn’t complaining. Not about the test at least. Because the truth was, I could’ve used a little help at that point, a sign from God, an arrow pointing the way. So I sharpened up my #2, and filled in the little ovals, and then, two days later, forgot about the whole thing, went back to being the scared, scurrying little creature you’ll see staring back from my high school yearbook. But the test didn’t forget me. Somewhere a computer was scanning each page, tabulating my responses, doing whatever it is computers do. Deciding what kind of human being I deserved, or was stuck with, being.
Five or six weeks later we’re back in class, and the teacher is handing them out. Big brown manila envelopes with little white stickers on the front. And on those labels our names. Take them home. Discuss them with your parents. Appointments with your guidance counselor, sometime around Thanksgiving. But because I’m bored, with nothing better to do, I open mine up during lunchtime. Four or five sheets of paper, some charts, some tables, some graphs, and on the first one, right on the top, two words in big capital letters.

DOG WALKER

Now maybe someone else would’ve figured it out. Realized that the computers had taken my name – Doug Walker – and somehow dropped the ‘u’. That this whole thing, the computers, the test, were just a joke, that all these experts who were going to tell me what to do with my life couldn’t even spell my name right. But me? All I saw were those two words, spelling out my future. Like the fortune cookies we got each time my mom ordered take-out Chinese.
Dog Walker. Dog walker. I knew there were dogs. I knew there were people. I knew that people walked dogs. But the thought that it could be a job, a profession, the thing you called yourself, it pretty much blew my mind. I mean who would be lazy enough, loaded enough, to pay someone else to walk their dog? And more to the point, who would be hard up enough to say yes. To take that leash, that doggy bag, and somehow smile back.

Now I know.