My dachshund was pulling at the leash, trying with all his might to will himself over to a particularly large turd lying coiled near a creosote bush at the local park, and I was pulling back to keep him AWAY from this, when a lady’s voice interrupted:
“Who’s YOUR lover?”
Startled, I peered up from the tug o’turd to see a lady in her late 50′s looking at me appraisingly. She was wearing a red sweater with glitter and rhinestones on it, and her glasses swung gently from a rhinestone-studded chain. Her voice was raspy and low and she had on thick red lipstick.
She tilted her head, awaiting my response.
“Uh, my?” I was lost. My husband wasn’t even WITH me at the park – although, who would look at a couple and ask “Who’s YOUR lover?”
She couldn’t possibly be reading my mind and divining my secret fantasies about –
“This is MY little LOVER!” she exclaimed eagerly, lifting up a small dog who was vibrating near her shoes, a small dog with lots of fluffy fur and lots of rapid paw movement, and put the dog to her red lips. The dog pawed at her enthusiastically and got its tail tangled up in her glasses chain.
“Oh, WHO’S a good little LOVER, then? Who’s a good little LOVER? Who’s my best little lover in all the world? My Loooooooover. My sweet little looooooovvvveeeeerrrrrrrrr!” She crooned, and kissed the dog on its mouth. It licked at her red lipstick and wagged its tail companionably.
“YOUR little lover is adorable, too!” she added generously, and when her dog began again to lap at her cheek, “My LOOOOOVEEEEERRRR! Oh, you are SO better than a man, you are! SO better than a man! My better-than-a-man LOVER!” The dog licked her lips and she threw her head back and laughed, HAR HAR HAR!
Pablo wanted to meet the Lover. He whimpered and pulled over to her legs.
“My dog, my PET, is named Pablo.” I stated. I did not lift Pablo to my face or even blow a kiss in his general direction. I patted him briskly on the head. “He’s a good DOG. We like him.”
The lady pulled the Lover to her bosom and rocked it like a baby. She rolled the words around on her mouth like a person sucking a piece of candy; like a person savoring the most delicious umami meal possible. “This little Precious Biscuit is my LOOOOOOVER!”
“That’s great, that you, have such a powerful relationship with your dog,” I said with a completely straight face, although inside me, laughter was bubbling up dangerously.
“Is your name Catherine?” I asked. (“The Great?,” I murmured to myself so quietly that it sounded like a small throat clearing noise.)
“What? No. It’s not Catherine. I’m —–” she answered, and to be honest, I’m sort of preserving her privacy here, but also I completely forgot her name the minute she answered.
“But I once met a wonderful woman named Catherine at the Bark Park!” she enthused. “You DO meet the most EXCELLENT people at the bark park, I believe! Why, HER lover was a beautiful little miniature pinscher that looked just like a little doll.”
“Yes!” I said. “That does sound lovely. Well, it was great meeting you. Have a nice afternoon!”
As Pablo and I walked away (frankly, the turd was looking pretty promising at this point), I could hear her: “My ootle wiggly LOVER smells just like a little breadbox! You little LOVER! Oh, kiss me, you little LOVER!”
And that is why I don’t go to bark parks, I reminded myself. It’s because even though I OWN a dog, and I LIKE my dog — even LOVE my dog, my dog is not my “lover”, and I don’t let my dog lick my mouth on purpose, and I don’t look at my dog like I want to date him, and my dog is NOT better than a man. And it’s THAT kind of person who seems to be magnetically drawn to me at bark parks, for whatever reason.
And here is another example of the people I meet at bark parks – Burt.
A few years ago, I took Pablo to a bark park. There was one other dog when we arrived at the Bark Park, some kind of cute cocker spaniel mix. I sat down at the picnic table with the spaniel's owner, a guy in his 70’s who was wearing a blue baseball cap and a frayed blue polo shirt with a pack of Marlboros in the pocket. He was a homey chatty sort and he spoke just a bit too loudly, as if going deaf or used to talking to someone who was deaf.
"I'm BURT!" he told me. "Burt with a U, not an E. Short for BURTON. I had a cousin called Bert, but that was from Bertram, and he was kind of a sissy boy. So I always associated Bert-with-e with sissy boys. Now me, I'm from Burton. Like a manly Burt, har, har, har."
I couldn't help but notice that while Burt-with-a-U talked, a frothy white spittle foam gathered at the corners of his mouth, sort of like the foam that cleans your car at the carwash. It was pliable and plastic and moved as he spoke, and retracted into his mouth when he finished a sentence.
I was fascinated with this spit.
Burt with a U talked about many things. "Now, me," he told me, the spit foam busily forming and retreating, "me and the wife, we got this here dog down at the Humane Society. You ever been there?"
No, I hadn't, I told him.
As we talked, a poodle urinated. It was a male, but it squatted. Burt was confused. "Can they DO that?" he asked. "I mean, if it's a boy dog and all. Inn't kind of strange, a boy dog squatting? I mean, I don't know much nothin' about dogs, though. In fact, I admit I'm a little scared 'o the big ones."
"They can be intimidating," I said.
"OH, are you scared of dogs too?" asked Burt knowingly.
"Well, not really," I said.
"But you said they intimidate you," Burt said.
"Well, some of the big ones CAN be intimidating," I said.
"Because it sounded like you meant that you're scared of them," said Burt.
"Well, not really," I said again.
"Oh," said Burt. Then he said, "Funny thing the other day. Little old dog in here, couldn't a been much bigger than that poodle. And some huge dog, the big ones, you know, the black ones with the big sharp teeth, you know that kind."
"Yes," I said, "the big black ones with the teeth. Those."
"Yes," said Burt. "A big black one with teeth. And the poodle started getting on the back of the big black dog, you know, getting on, you know what I mean," and he did a sort of motion with his hands that was apparently supposed to mimic a small dog humping a big one.
"Yes," I said, "I think I know what you mean, " hoping to forestall further explanation.
"I mean, it was getting with it," Burt explained.
"Yes, I see," I said.
"It was getting right on there, you know, trying to have sex with it and all."
"Yes," I said.
"Funniest thing I ever did see in here!!" Burt said, chuckling at the memory. "I guess the black dog's owner didn't think it was too funny, though. But me, I thought that was funny. But it was only 4 months old, that small dog. Isn't that too young, don't you think, for a dog to be wanting sex?"
"It seems a bit young, yes," I said.
"But oh man, it was really getting up on there!" said Burt. "Funniest thing."
Burt's spittle was thick and frothy now, from all the talking. I kept expecting pieces to break off and fly away, or to hang loose at his mouth, but the foam stayed intact.
"I mean, they get the operation at 6 months, I think," said Burt. "Yeeeyyyccchhh, operations, I don't like to think about THAT."
"It can be sort of gross," I said.
"I don't mean that," said Burt, "although I have passed out before at the sight of needles."
He proceeded to tell me some army stories about passing out when getting shots for smallpox (?), and then he started a chain reaction: when the guy behind him saw Burt pass out, HE passed out, and then a whole LINE of guys in the medical tent passed out.
Burt then told me all about his previous dogs, one of whom had to be put "down" because it was sick. "Strangest thing," Burt recollected. "Dog had this white foamy stuff at the mouth, and we just thought it was sick or something. But the doctor said the SPINE was breaking down, and we couldn't save her. So we had to put her down."
White foam? I wanted to ask, "Foam like YOURS? Is YOUR spine breaking down??" --- but didn't.
Actually, meeting people like Catherine and Burt are the BEST part of bark parks, now that I think about it. What’s not to like about meeting someone so fascinating? It’s much better than making ridiculous small talk about the weather or the traffic on the 202 or some nonsense like that. The truth is, I enjoyed meeting Burt, and almost-enjoyed meeting Catherine (she was a little bit, ah, strange).
What I really don’t like about the BP? All the not-cleaned-up dog shit, and the way the whole place smells of it. I just honestly don’t like sitting in a big poop field for an hour while my dog, who is not the most adventurous of his species, huddles at my feet and hides from small poodles who want to hump him.
It’s too bad that Burt and Catherine were not at the park on the same day, though. I bet they would have got along just fine.