"I'll give you a ride to the race track," my life's lady love, The Violent Femme, threatened. "But first, you have to help me get Puck to a birthday party. If you don't, I'll never feed you again and you'll probably die of hunger." This is her idea of compromise.
After a 32-second rant and a 12-minute pout, I agreed. It wasn't until we were 9 minutes toward the east and my lap was full of Puck's dog hair that I thought to inquire about the particulars of this birthday party.
"It's my childhood friend, that we always seem to have other plans when she calls," replied Violent Femme (V.F.). "Well, she's giving a birthday party for her dog, Izzy.
"You'll hate it," she added brightly.
So we ended up in a nice cul-de-sac, on one of those streets named for some leafy English village. "Blow your nose," advised V.F. "People don't want to see you cry. At your age."
We went into the back yard and were greeted by our hostess. Her mother was there in her wheelchair, and she said very little, except she would lift her eyes to God every time some dog would run over with a mouthful of drool and put its paws in her lap.
This happened frequently. Besides Izzy, there was her littermate Jasper, two more Schnauzers (white Sophie and grey Sophie), a cocker named Rockey, and "a $35 dog" named Rocco. And Puck, of course. Can't forget puggish Puck. It's been tried.
Our hostess told a story of the check-out lady at Wal-Mart, where she had gone to shop for the party. The check-out lady had noted the Scooby-Doo motif on the napkins, wrapping paper, et al., and commented how the grandchild would love it.
"It's for my child," our hostess reported answering icily, before explaining further that her child had four legs. The check-out lady didn't say another word, just kept looking at the other folks in line and rolling her eyes, looking for confirmation.
Everybody laughed. One lady with nice eyes and short grey hair said she wasn't really a dog person, so naturally I gravitated to her.
"I love cats, now I do," she continued. "Clint loved cats, but they were never allowed inside. Then after Clint died, this cat started showing up on the back porch and slipping into the house for 10 straight days. Now he sleeps in the bed with me. He's like Clint. Sort of timid."
There were three men at the party, all under protest. There was a brunette with a movie camera who kept saying she had never been to one of these before. "This is my first one, too," said another lady. "And my last, I hope."
One of the women -- our hostess had pointedly called her the "mother" of one of the Sophies -- said her own mother is 91 and has a Pacemaker and was going to will it to the dog.
Ah, the dogs. Rolling and tumbling in the yardgrass with all the smarts and folly of their kind, a pinwheel of sniffing butts. Izzy was very jealous of things and snapped protectively at one and all. Rocco had a trick: he balanced a Snackable on his nose and snatched it off before it could hit the ground.
There were chewables tied to strings in the mulberry tree, Zinfandel in Scooby-Doo cups, a birthday cake in the shape of a large dog bone. "That's for the animals," pointed out V.F. "How can you tell which chips are for the people?" I whined. "Just stick to the salad," advised V.F.
So we all sat in the sunlight and squinted and smiled and thought whatever thoughts people have to themselves when they are passing this part of their lives at a birthday party for a couple of dogs.
The warmth of newfound wisdom looked very much to be avoiding the yard, but in its place there was a weekend warmth that was partly radiating from the weather and partly from the earnest and lovable stupidity of the animals themselves.
But also that we were all in the company of people who wished us no harm, who smiled back at us and were using us as we were using them, as part of the scenery on an afternoon of mild and impetuous pleasure. We all seemed clean and washed and combed, and most of us had a solid air of self-mockery about being there. Even those -- especially those -- of us who had been coerced into being here.
Food and flowers and friends and not one but two Sophies, white Sophie and grey Sophie.
Puck came over, winded and trembling, tongue lolling. He lay on the sweet grass and offered himself for some rubbing.
When you touch dogs like this, you reach under the skin and feel the ribs and bones and cartilege and where these things meet and what happens when they do. Somehow having these things in your hand means you have made a connection with them and more likely with yourself, too.
Most everybody in that yard probably could carve up life so that the dark meat showed, but not today. There would be time for that discouraging wisdom later, but not today. Not for this dog day afternoon.