My husband and I were motoring along Peavy Road at sunset, on the way to a dear friend in the midst and madness of moving. We were delivering some packing boxes and I’d told my friend not to screw with dinner, as she was likely to do. I’d get us a thin crust at Lover’s Pizza right off Mockingbird. We’d almost gotten to the Buckner overpass, while I brooded over toppings. Should I just say fuckit and get the Supreme? I wondered, then thought, No, goddamnit, they always put spinach on the Supreme. My hub loathes spinach and there’s no talking him into it.
The neighborhood surrounding us was one of solidly high-end 70s architecture, with the full awfulness of that particular era: scrolly ironwork, Roman brickwork, many shades of avocado exterior paint, low squatty walls, and to add more decorative calories, there was often a taste-free something hanging near the front door, like a giant tinwork lizard or a big hand-hammered bronze Star of Texas. Everything was huge, ultra-maintained, and over-watered.
It was a high dollar gulag full of ancient oil execs and quivery old corporate lawyers. I always pictured them clanking around their big hideous homes like Marley’s ghost, golden handcuffs hanging from liver-spotted wrists. I’d never seen anyone under 70 tottering outside, but Dallas is morphing into something besides the cranky blue-collar city I first moved to.
As if to illustrate the point, a glance out my side window showed an urban hipster dicking with a cell phone. I noticed that he was paused on the sidewalk with his pig, both of them out for an evening walk. It was a gigantic pig too, wearing a handsome leather harness and leash, and I’d spent too much time in Iowa not to recognize a China White when I saw one. A metrosexual with a huge pig, right here in Viagra Land, I mused.
But I never get enough sleep, so I asked, just to be sure, “Was that really a pig?”
“Yeah. Big one too,” my husband answered, and in my mind’s eye, I saw the pig’s vast head, small intelligent eyes surrounded by long white lashes, and enchanting pig-smile. Not a China White, I decided. Chinas were more pinkly naked-looking. “Think he takes it for a walk over at Dog Shit Park?” my husband was asking.
“Think they’d even let him in at Dog Shit Park?” I said, imagining a near riot at our dog park. “Do you really have to exercise a pig?” I asked my hub. Other than a long stretch in Iowa, I didn’t know from pigs, and he has a lot of farm cred.
“You gotta do something with a pig,” my husband told me. ” ‘specially with a hog that size. Why would you get something that huge?”
“Probably cute when it was a baby,” I said. ‘Think of everyone we know who’s been conned by that. Nice thing about kittens, you pretty much know how big they’ll get.”
Then we were quiet for a while, reflecting upon various deluded friends and neighbors who’d brought home something darling, velvety, button-eyed, and pink-tongued, only to have it boom into the size of a moving van.
Like my friend John, I remembered now, as we drove into a deep red and purpley sunset, with the wide Texas sky tipped towards us like a careless gambler’s hand.
John was a civilized French professor I knew from UMass, and he always summered at Martha’s Vineyard. A couple years before, he’d adopted a St. Bernard puppy he promptly named Claude, and spoke to only in perfect Parisian French. I never saw Claude during his legendary baby cuteness, but I knew he’d grown up to be enormous, peevish, a huge pain in the ass, and the subject of several lawsuits. I knew it through my own harrowing Faustian bargain, one I’d mistakenly made with John.
I agreed to look after Claude for one weekend so John could get away for a scholarly conference. In exchange, I’d get John’s fabulous Vineyard house for three days and two nights: a house poised on a clear stretch of white sand, facing the bean-green Atlantic and a navy sky. Even in those looser, cheaper, more unafflicted days, a weekend at the Vineyard was a recognized chunk of heaven. And anyway, I was great with animals, so what could happen?
For starters, on the first night Claude gnawed through the monster rope confining him to the backyard: a Navy ship’s hauser. Trailing it behind, he’d padded down to the beach, where the sound of panic, screaming, and nine kinds of hell alerted me. Oh, shit, not the clothes! I thought, grabbing a huge bag of Oreo cookies and racing outside. John had already primed me for this one.
“Now if Claude gets loose, which is highly unlikely, what he likes to do is go down to the beach and sit on people’s clothes and towels. The way you get him off is with cookies. Remember, he only understands French, so you have to say, “Ici, ici, Claude. Un gateau.” He adores Oreos. But it won’t happen. I mean, did you look at that rope? They tie up fucking ships with that stuff.”
I’d frowned doubtfully. “But what about that neighbor kid?” I asked. “I heard Claude got the kid’s whole head in his mouth, and sucked on it for like fifteen minutes.”
John looked unhappy and slightly betrayed, “Okay, that was all very sad and very unfortunate, but the boy came by and teased Claude, called him a dummy, and poked sticks at him. Ethan finally got too close, that’s all. Anyway, Claude didn’t suck on his head all that long, just a few minutes. You ask me, the entire lawsuit is terribly mistaken. But we shall see.” He gave me a brave cheerless smile, the smile of a man with a really horrible pet.
Now, with dusk approaching fast, I arrived at the beach watching panicked bathers running in lots of directions, clutching loose bundles of clothes, and made my way through them to the gigantic dark shape that was Claude. He was sitting on a collection of towels, toys, books, magazines, lotions, clothes, hats, and sunglasses. The owners of the beach glop made lame shooing motions, their children sobbed, and Claude growled, showed his considerable teeth and shifted his bulk. I could hear stuff break and crunch beneath him.
“Ici, ici, Claude. Un gateau! Gateaux, Claude! Ici!” I yelled. Hearing me, Claude roused himself, waddled towards me with a kid’s plastic shovel stuck to his butt. I tossed an Oreo into his big maw, where it rested on his tongue like an M&M. He ulped it and I chucked in a few double-handfuls of Oreos. “Venez avec moi, Claude! Vous êtes un bon chien! Allé à la maison avec moi!” I coaxed helpfully. But Claude only tossed his big head, grinned at me scornfully, then larruped off in the exact opposite direction, running like a quarter horse. “SHIT!” I screamed.
I worked the Claude problem all weekend, I remembered now, and finally tracked him to a Post Office, where he’d followed a French Canadian Mountie.“Le français parisien, mon âne gros,” I said to Claude, while my then-husband and I shoved his big fat ass into a borrowed truck. “Vous comprenez le Canadien aussi, vous le bâtard. I’ve lost my fucking mind,” I told my ex-husband. “Listen to me. I’m saying vous instead of tu. Wrong pronoun.”
That night, when I dragged Claude through the door, met by John’s relieved cries and flood of perfect French, I said, “I mean, damn, John. Why?” From Claude’s thick woolly neck, John raised his tear-splashed face.
“You didn’t see him when he was a puppy,” John sniffed, “He looked like a perfect stuffed animal. A little toy with button eyes…”
Now, a million years later, roaring down Mockingbird Lane, I said to my husband, “Don’t get me wrong. I like pigs…” and then trailed off with the thought. I wouldn’t get a pig now, but I didn’t blame the hipster. From aeons back, I was remembering a bit of The General Confession. For we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. Devices and desires, I thought. They got me into a lot of hot water back then. Now, not so much.
I sent a quick prayer of thanks to Claude’s spirit, wherever he was, and decided to order the medium Supreme thin crust, after all.
Hold the spinach.
St. Bernard photo by VisualBeo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.