When I was seven-years-old, my dad brought home a dog. It was mainly a Labrador, but it was mostly a mutt. He was already just about full grown when he became our family dog, and no one took the time or initiative to train him. I forget why my dad brought him home, but I remember my mom was not consulted and she was not happy.
One of my most vivid memories of this time in my life is sitting on the back door concrete steps one particular evening. It was completely dark. It must’ve been just after dinner, but in my mind it feels like it was midnight. My brothers sat beside me and we looked at the stars. We tried to decide what to name the dog. The combination of family, and starlight, and this important task–it was like an ancient ceremony. I think Mom and Dad had actually told us to go sit on the steps and think of something. We’d been given a big responsibility and I felt the full weight of it (so much so that I offered no name ideas).
It was my oldest brother who finally came up with it. And it was this magical moment! He pronounced the name and it felt so right. So perfect. Like there was no other name in the universe for this dog. This dog would be named…Sparky.
Myself at seven had no idea that this was a cliche dog name. To me, my brother was a genius. He’d gazed at the stars, he’d noticed their white, twinkling lights, and he’d associated that light with the light of sparks. Thus, Sparky.
Sparky was a terrible dog. He barked a lot. He bit. And the thing that made me most upset about Sparky–he yanked on the leash so hard during walks that you’d have to let go of the wristband or you’d fall to the pavement. The thing I most wanted at seven-years-old was to be able to walk Sparky. Being the youngest member of the family, I think I just craved that feeling of being useful. I wanted to contribute!
Also, I was very shy, so I wanted to go out into the neighborhood and be social, but I wanted a buffer for when I did–sort of like a desperate guy in a sitcom bringing a puppy to the park with him to attract the attention of cute female joggers. I wanted to be just like the loud neighborhood kids with their soccer balls and their roller blades, but it was so much easier to talk to the bumblebee that hung around in the backyard bushes. I think I knew I was the desperate guy in the sitcom, and I think I knew I was never going to get laid. At least not by cute female joggers in the park.
I bring all this up because earlier this week the Westminster Dog Show was held! Right here in New York! It was a jarring moment for me, because I was in a bar on Seventh Avenue, drinking a Newcastle, and going back and forth between glancing at the screen with the dogs and glancing at the screen with the male figure skaters–and then, I left the bar, walked up Seventh Avenue near Madison Square Garden–and THERE WERE THE DOGS AND THEIR CRAZY HANDLERS!! They were all leaving the Garden and heading back to their fancy schmancy hotels. At first I didn’t even put it together, I was just like, “Hey, there are a lot of dogs around.” And a couple seconds later, “Hey, these dogs are really well-behaved.”
And then I realized what was going on, and I was like, “Oh, yeah. I live in New York.” Still, I got pretty excited and I snapped some blurry pictures:
At seven, I badly, badly wanted a beagle, and later, I badly wanted a border collie. The passion with which I wanted a dog at a walkable size was overwhelming. I didn’t ask for much as a child. An Easy Bake Oven, and a border collie. Between the ages of 4 and 9, that was it.
In most ways I still feel exactly like that seven-year-old. I understand that deep need for an Easy Bake Oven–if I don’t have Duncan Hines brownie or cake mixes on hand, a visceral sadness comes over me. A similar sadness comes over me when I think about how badly I wanted a dog, though, because I can’t relate to that today. Today I’m allergic to dogs. They make my eyes itch and they make little hives pop up on my hands and arms.
It’s a clear example of a place in which I’ve changed. I still want to feel useful, I’m still intimidated yet intrigued by my peers, but no part of me wants a dog. And that makes me sad. It makes me want to go find that little girl having a conversation with a bumblebee and give her a long hug. And a brownie.