In travel, at present a thing of the past, it’s the animals encountered in visited places that I find the most fascinating. I find it especially intriguing to encounter animals in other countries because they speak a foreign language and this makes them seem far more sophisticated than I, and all the more exotic.
In Bangkok I kept running into homeless Siamese cats. Cats everywhere. All Siamese. At breakfast one morning with a tour guide, Mr. Rom, it wasn’t until the words were out of my mouth before I realized the absurdity of the observation, “It’s so odd; all the cats I see here are Siamese.”
In Chaing Mai I was chased by a pack of street dogs. It began when I encountered a solo dog on an early morning walk and, due to the language barrier, he did not understand that I was his benign touristy friend, and so he issued a special signal bark and 4 more dogs appeared and began circling closer and growling and so I ran into a nearby shop that sold elephants and had to wait till the mad dogs got bored and left. Since this took an hour and the shopkeeper’s body language communicated expectation and annoyance, it cost me 2 elephants to stay in his good graces while I waited out the menacing dog pack. Since the elephants were too big to pack, I later gave them, and the straw hat I was wearing, to a cleaning woman in a bathroom at the train station. I think she was gesturing that she liked my hat and my elephants but maybe she was trying to tell me something important. At any rate she seemed pleased with the gifts.
Later I met a monkey who accepted my gift of an orange but only after turning his back repeatedly on me, finally taking the orange after I placed it on a neutral table between us and retreated. I think he disdained my mispronounced Thai greetings from my Berlitz language guide which I called, “Thai one on”.
So on a trip to Las Vegas years ago I was fascinated by the little dogs of the house at which we stayed. They were pasties-wearing, slots-loving little things and their toys were roulette wheels and scantily-clad waitresses with trays of free drinks.
Every November my grandmother would head west to stay with her son in Las Vegas for the winter. One of us always traveled out with her and so I took my turn once in a while. We couldn’t let her fly alone because of the confusion of changing flights and also because she wore hearing aids and, as she got sillier with age, was loudly fascinated by people she found, “interesting”. In the midst of a crowded airport she’d spy said people and first came the warning elbow to your ribs, followed by the humiliatingly loud, “GET A LOAD OF THAT ONE!” and then she’d giggle while I apologized profusely and made twirly gestures next to my head.
Often I’d bring friends along as my cousins had plenty of room in their house plus a hot tub and cases of champagne stacked in the garage. My cousins had these little dogs that weighed about 2 pounds apiece. On this trip my friend Al (who once let a strange man on a beach in Mexico put an iguana on his head which ended up costing him like, a million pesos) flew out with us, and my friend Elisabeth, who lived in San Diego, met us there. At the airport I left Al alone with Grammie for a few minutes while I went in search of a skycap and when I returned, there was Al with his head in his hands while Grammie elbowed hysterically. Al nodded at the squirming couple across from their seats and made me promise never to leave her alone with him in public again. Grammie loved bon bons, root beer floats, the Red Sox and Wayne Newton and, when in Vegas, always wore her satin baseball jacket with the Mirage logo stitched on the back.
The little dogs were, I think, Silky Terriers, and they loved company and followed us around. We tried playing dog games with them but they didn’t seem to enjoy fetch, frisbee, or jumping through flaming hoops so we hit upon, “Hide the Dog.” It began innocently and spontaneously; they were so tiny that they fit just about anywhere. So one evening, on a whim, I hid one under the covers of Elisabeth’s bed. When she pulled back the covers and screamed we found it hilarious and a new game had begun. It evolved into one of us hiding them all over the house while the others went in search. We decided to share this game with my cousins, as a surprise of course, so we’d randomly hide them in their paths. When Laurie got home from wherever she was, she’d begin making dinner so, in anticipation of this, we’d put a dog in a cupboard or in the cuisinart. The dogs loved this game. You could tell because they eagerly came back to be hidden again.
The game stretched over many days and had the effect of conditioning the residents of the house as they’d open cupboards slowly and with anticipation. Life was no longer routine; every small domestic task now had an element of possible surprise. Life now had more meaning. It served to cause heightened awareness of simple tasks and an expectation of the expectedly unexpected in previously mundane daily tasks. Shower curtains were pulled back slowly, briefcases and lunchboxes opened with caution, coffee filters were inspected. By seizing on the portability of the little specimens and their gleeful compliance in this experiment, we gave the little dogs a newfound sense of purpose and an elevated sense of being, thus eradicating all previous existential crises. It was a noble pursuit indeed.
Prior to agreeing to participate in this game the little dogs reported suffering from mid-life ennui and existential angst. They had come to expect regular feedings with intermittent walks and random displays of affection but interviews showed that they had no sense of purpose and wondered if this was all that life held.
In subsequent interviews the dogs’ responses indicated a greater appreciation of life due to the newfound awareness of the previous routineness and newly elevated amounts of attention and intermittent participation in said recreational testing. In short, the dogs benefited from heightened mental acuity as they learned to navigate life from new terrain (such as dishwashers and teakettles) and the feeling that they did in fact have an effect on their environment in the form of the surprised exclamations of those who found them.
It was hilarious fun. I think the little dogs suffered after we left and it may be necessary to return one day to resume the game. I am going to name my book after this game.
Having a scanner means digging through old images and remembering. I forgot about all of my old black and white photography assignments. I took this picture with a manual something-or-other in a town somewhere north of Las Vegas. To get there we passed mailboxes alongside the road. What was interesting about the mailboxes is that there were no houses or driveways as far as the eye could see. Just mailboxes along the way, alone and out of place. We didn’t dare stop and peek in. I wanted to leave a letter but we had no paper and pen. Leaving a dog would have been cruel; I knew what you were thinking.