First posted in 2009.
Things haven’t changed too much. Same eight dogs (I think). Same wife (I’m pretty sure, although the wonders of menopause arouse my skeptical nature from time to time). The boys now 14 and 16 look more or less like the ones who lived here a couple of years ago though their minds have been colonized, temporarily one hopes, by the teenage male MTV as gospel virus.
Life goes on.
When I lived in the city, I had a dog that would sing along when the old Canned Heat standard would occasionally play on the radio. She would stare intently at the music box then throw her head back, tail wagging madly, and let loose in a joyous howl that would do her Ice Age ancestors proud. Some people said that she was merely responding to tones in the melody that unconsciously triggered her howling instinct, but I knew that wasn’t it. As she regarded the radio like a person blind from birth would in passing a roadside billboard when anything other than “Going up the Country” was playing, that she was singing out of pure joy while maybe not a reasonable observation, was an obvious one to me.
As city dwellers we were a fairly typical two kid one dog family and we trekked regularly from our house made out of ticky tacky to the local park where other city dwellers would gather their dogs to run in a make believe pack. They would bark and sniff and lift their legs on anything not moving faster than themselves but any growling, displays of dominance, or other behavior deemed unsociable was frowned upon and met with sharp rebuke or the sharper jerk of leash and choke collar. Surrounded by chain link, we would watch as they learned the desired urban traits of submission and playing well with others. The dogs seemed happy enough, as is their nature, but something was lacking in those dogs that didn’t dawn on me until I was well clear of Seattle.
The first home we purchased in the city was located in what was fashionably referred to among young urbanists as a “neighborhood in transition”. Generally they were in poorer areas and were intended to be transformed magically into islands of Caucasian sophistication by the mere presence of our fabulous selves. Of course folks who had no choice but to live in these neighborhoods called them something of a more derogatory nature. By and by reality revealed itself as it often does and an unfortunate incident involving a neighboring home, illicit substances, and 40 heavily armed members of a SWAT team descending on said house while my wife was loading our infant sons in the car caused what in hindsight was an over reaction, and we immediately put our home in the transitional neighborhood that was not transitioning quite fast enough up for sale. With the help of a real estate agent friend, my wife and I sold our home in the hood and it wasn’t long before we found just what we thought we were looking for. A gated community of homes in a safe area of the city moated on all sides by golf course, and this in turn surrounded by a tall wall of cinder block. The homes were mostly of a modest 1950′s rambler style with the streets narrow and meandering. “Just the place” we told ourselves, to raise our boys free from the more unruly side of city life. We signed the papers on what would turn out to be our last home in the city.
Once reasonably settled into our new home, I decided on a walk about with the task of getting to know some of the neighbors. One of my first discoveries while going about the task was that everyone in this community surrounded by greens and fairways traveled not on foot or by car but via golf cart. It turned out that in my haste to please my wife and provide new horizons for our boys that didn’t include possible death or injury by crossfire, the obvious observation that the inhabitants of this community were quite passionate about golf somehow escaped me. I quickly surmised that this could pose a potential problem in integrating into our new surroundings as I do not care for golf. Or more precisely, I do not care for golfers. It was becoming belatedly apparent to me after meeting a few of these new neighbors that if given the choice between exchanging neighborly small talk with a drug dealer or with the average Izod and Khaki clad wanker typical to this private golf club community, I would probably tend to choose the pusher unless he was an exceptionally boring variety of criminal. As I walked the meandering streets back to our new home wearing my Levi’s and Converse All-Stars, the color coordinated Argyle and Oxford clad men and women piloting these newly noticed carts to T-times stared silently and I was sure suspiciously at me as they passed. A mild concern, some might call it a panic, started to build in my mind as the thought began to form that perhaps I had made a rash decision in so quickly dismissing our old neighborhood. Completing my walk about and entering my carport still full of boxes and other assorted flotsam from the move, I encountered a small, fastidiously dressed man who identified himself as “President of the Community Maintenance Association”. A title that I was unfamiliar with in the context of any other neighborhood that I had lived in up until that point.
After informing me of his honorific, the man told me that it was against association rules for anything other than cars to be stored in the carports of homes in the community. I pleasantly explained to him that since my wife and I had just moved from a larger home and were pressed for time with two infant sons and both of us working full time, surely a bit of time could be provided to find additional storage, to begin to clear the boxes out and do our best to comply with the rules in a reasonable time frame…surely. Casually glancing at my footwear, he told me I had 24 hours to comply and that I would be fined fifty bucks a day for each day we remained in violation of association rules. He was wearing tan tasselled loafers as I recall.
I didn’t recognise it at the time but this was one of those forks in the road of life where a few words or actions can determine a very different future. I could have easily said “Fine, I’ll do what is necessary to get it cleaned out”. I could have accepted the ways of the gated community and done the sociable thing, choosing to run with the make believe pack. I could have submitted and learned to play well with these others. Perhaps even complimented his shoes. It would have been good for the kids. I would have been happy…probably…as is my nature. But that was not to be on this day. My hackles went up. I growled and bit, and invited him to go fuck himself as he was standing in my carport and I would do whatever I pleased with the crap in it.
For five years we ran with the make believe pack, constantly bucking the authorities and feeling the jerk of the leash via letters of reprimand and attempted fines whenever we displayed what was deemed by the Association as ”aggressive” behavior. I eventually cleared the carport of the junk only to fill it with a piece of shit 1968 Chevy Suburban sporting a very loud rectangular port 427 ci V-8 producing 425 hp. This produced endless hours of amusement for all as they tried to write me up every time I fired it up, but it was technically a car and within the rules so they didn’t have a leg to stand on. Eventually I grew bored with whacking the association hornets nest with a stick and as our home value had appreciated nicely in the five years surrounding the start of the new millennium, we began contemplating a move again. Our beautiful singing dog had died of cancer at the relatively young age of seven and as we reflected on her love of the old Canned Heat song we considered the lyrics.
“I’m goin’ up the country, baby don’t you want to go.
I’m goin’ up the country, baby don’t you want to go.
I’m goin’ to someplace that I’ve never been before.
I’m goin’ where the water tastes like wine.
Goin’ where the water tastes like wine.
We can jump in the water, stay drunk all the time.
I’m goin’ to leave this city, got to get away.
I’m goin’ to leave this city, got to get away.
All this fussin’ and fightin’ man, you know I sure can’t stay.”
We’ve been out of the city six years now. None of the eight dogs we currently have sing, but the joy apparent in their faces at being free to run on the beach in a pack where they set the rules is as unmistakable as was Luna’s at hearing her favorite song. Joy is what was lacking in those other dogs not permitted to fully become dogs. Now we have that joy as well.