B y J e f f S m i t h
A FEW MONTHS back I delivered myself of a cathartic little ditty the editors ran under the headline, "The Lady or the Hairball" (Tucson Weekly, April 6). It treated with the phenomenon of late and unexpected bachelorhood and the problematic choices in the area of companionship presented when one finds oneself back in the dating game, at a stage in life better suited to snoozing in a rocker on the front porch and watching the grandchildren learn the correct way to eat an Oreo.
I related some of my own recent experiences as I have tried to pilot a safe course between the Scylla of rebound relationships and the Charybdis of utter hermitage. All that has kept me reasonably sane, living in a world full of divorced and jaded women (but in which the nearest of these is at least seven miles distant from my isolated little house on the prairie), are my animal friends, Annie and Mona, Zeb, Eddie and now Mort. Annie and Mona are the dogs, Zeb and Eddie are cousins from the equine family, and Mort is my new tomcat, brought aboard to waste this huge and vicious packrat that ate its way through a steel mesh screen and two inches of solid fir, to take residence behind our kitchen counter.
Three of the five beasts share my bed with me--leaving Zeb and Eddie, who are too large and untidy, to bunk together down at the barn. This is a congenial arrangement for all concerned (save for the temporary inconvenience of training Mort to sleep somewhere other than under my chin with his cute little asterisk of a butthole staring me in the face) and only causes awkwardness when company comes to stay over and Mona gets territorial about her favorite spot snuggled into my right armpit. I discussed all this in that earlier column and sought advice as to the proper etiquette.
And advice I got, in abundance. The volume of response amazed and pleased me, and I apologize for not answering each letter in person, but I kept the best ones. And a couple of the worst. What tickled me most was the predominance of feminine correspondents who agreed with my impulse to utilize my four-legged roommates as a litmus test for two-legged guests.
"If they don't like your dogs, or worse yet, if your dogs don't like them, don't invite them back," was the consensus. I can naught but agree.
People who don't like to have dogs and cats and horses and stuff rub up against them and lick their faces and nuzzle around their ears actually don't like touching other human beings either. And I won't have a damn thing to do with them anymore.
I'm sure we all have seen enough heart-warming television messages and read enough Reader's Digest stories to know that nursing home patients do a whole lot better and stay healthier and happier when the folks in the white suits bring puppies and kittens around regularly for them to hold and pet.
What is a puppy or a kitten, after all, but someone to love. What have old nursing home patients lost, besides their health, their independence and their homes? Someone to love. Their wives and husbands are either dead or locked in a room on another floor. The kids and grandkids come once a month and act like they're afraid of catching cooties: These poor old bastards need something flesh and blood to hold, to pet, to smooch and sniff and to smooch and sniff them back.
Hell, it's what we all need and want most.
Because we're too tight-assed to do it to one another. Though our souls cry out in desperation. While propriety keeps our hands in our pockets.
But it's perfectly all right to give--and get--that affection from an animal, be it your faithful old companion, Argus, or some total stranger on the street. See, it's okay to be a slut where the lower orders of the animal kingdom are concerned (assuming, for the purposes of this discussion, that we keep safely to this side of the sheep pasture and knee-high boots).
You can be strolling through the park one day in the merry, merry month of May, and this cute little beagle comes gamboling up to you, all smiles and slobber and wagging tail, and you'll hunker down and scritch it behind the ears, and it rolls over on its back so you can rub its belly, and its eyes roll back and it blisses totally out, and then you laugh and it jumps up and gives you a wet willy and a kiss on the mouth, and everybody in sight is feeling all warm and fuzzy at the sight of the two of you.
Try doing the same routine with a person. I don't care if the person is your spouse--about the time she rolls over on her back and you reach for her belly, one of your eyewitnesses is hustling off to call 911. And what if you should chance to spy a stranger with a spring in her step and a smile that brings a lift to your heart and a kind word to your lips? If you say hello she'll like as not keep a suspicious eye on you until you're safely out of sight, and if you extend a hand toward hers in friendship you may get maced.
So we transfer our affection to our pets. I don't know if the word pet--as in indoor-dwelling domestic animal--comes from the kind of touching we give and get with them, the sort of affection we define as foreplay when encountered in the intra-species, inter-gender arena, or if it's the other way around. It is more than mere coincidence.
And not surprising, therefore, that men and women sometimes see themselves as rivals to Spot and Fluff for the affection of their signficant others. We see the women or men whose love we crave lavishing physical affection on some dumb animal and we resent both beasts--the dumb one and the insensitive.
Well, the dog ain't so dumb and the person isn't as insensitive as commonly supposed. The dog has the good sense to be glad every time the person comes home, and the person is sensitive enough to love to be drawn to wherever there's a smile and a big, wet kiss.
If you find yourself taken out of the starting rotation in favor of some dumb bitch with bad breath and fleas, you might consider losing the Chanel Number 5 and working up a good sweat wrestling on the living room rug.
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