S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Unplugged,” Park talks about his love for (quiet) dogs and his enmity of cellphones.
It’s hard to imagine anyone loving dogs more than I do. I’ve noticed over the last few months, for instance, that whenever I’m driving along and a car with a dog passes I automatically grin. I can’t help myself … I think they’re the best thing that ever happened to human beings.
So why, two-and-a-half years after I put my own dog (Hobo) down, have I not adopted another one? Well, part of it’s been the COVID, as it’s led to a shortage of shelter dogs locally. You can still find one online, but in the spirit of pandemic capitalism they’re grossly overpriced. (A neighbor up the street, who’s been looking for a year, claims the last person she spoke to wanted $1,500 for a Lab/Retriever mix!)
Mostly, though, Hobo is simply irreplaceable. I noted in an earlier column (“Ready or Not”), how (in deference to what a soft-hearted schmuck I am) I spent our twelve years together prepping for his death. Not all the time, of course (it didn’t get in the way of anything we did), just a daily reminder to appreciate every moment I had with him.
So there’d be no regrets, no guilt, no woulda’s or shoulda’s at the end. And (strangely enough for a scheme of mine) it actually worked: when it was time to put Hobo down everything went seamlessly. I even joked with the vet, remained dry-eyed as the last thing Hobo did was lay his head on my boot.
I owed him a relaxed sendoff like that, even though I’ve missed him terribly since. He seems more special than ever, in fact, as I encounter more and more barkers on my walks.
It’s hard to reconcile my devotion to canines with a deep abhorrence of the sound they make (and maybe I can’t), but I went shelter to shelter in Portland and finally drove an hour north to Longview, Washington to find Hobo because I required a mute mutt. (I spend as much time in silence as possible, and if a dog was coming along he or she would need to be quiet, too.)
I’d seen several mutts I liked but—when I went on walks with them—they barked their asses off, as did every dog in the Longview ASPCA when I walked in … except Hobo.
He just flashed me a grin, and when I took him outside for a stroll it was magic, he was as friendly and affectionate as he was silent.
He just flashed me a grin, and when I took him outside for a stroll it was magic, he was as friendly and affectionate as he was silent. How’s this possible? I marveled. Who gave up on this guy?
There had to be a catch somewhere, even as the only problem we ever had was his jaws. He was a German Shepherd/Pit Bull mix (a “Gerbil” as I liked to call him) and they were incredibly strong: if I left him in a crate long enough he’d turn the ten-gauge steel into taffy. I finally had to buy a lion’s cage (with twenty-gauge bars) to contain him, and unlike my boy it sits here still. (I should give it away but come on, a lion’s cage in your studio? What’s a better conversation piece than that?)
And he never barked. (Well, maybe a once-a-year Wuff! just to let me know he could.) He slept on the floor next to me and when—particularly in his later years—he had to go out in the middle of the night to pee, vomit, etc., he’d walk to the front door (a few feet from the end of my bed), lay down and wait there.
Never making a sound in the interim. I know because I watched him through slitted eyes a few times, wanted to see if he at least moaned or whimpered or scratched his nails on the floor, anything to signal his urgency and wake me up … but nothing.
He had accidents as a consequence (I ended up leaving a washable mat there), but I’d told him never to bark and he was so obedient he didn’t, even under duress.
Talk about a faithful companion: I’ve been a remarkably lucky guy, but I won’t see his like again.
* * *
If I’ve ever—even for a fleeting instant—wanted a cellphone, I can’t remember when. Before I moved to Portland in ’87 to grow dope, in fact, I rarely even had a landline, so why would I want a phone in my pocket? It seemed absurd to me.
Then before I knew it they were everywhere. I mostly ignored it until 2008 or so, when a hipster coffee shop opened at the end of my street. It was my habit to sit on a couch in my living room every day, drawing, reading, manicuring pot or, more often than not, just staring out the large picture window up front.
I’ve always been a people watcher but it was harder in Portland, as Boregonians are so homogenous they all look the same to me (particularly the hipsters). I’d noticed more and more of them with phones over time, of course, but thought it was like their tattoos or black lab dogs: the neighbor got one, so they did, too.
So it shouldn’t have surprised me when I looked out one day and everyone that passed was staring at a screen, a glimpse of the zombie apocalypse to come.
By the time I was ready to move north in 2013 I’d told myself resistance was futile (you’d soon need a mobile phone to do anything) and it’d be convenient to keep my Portland number, make it easier for old friends and customers to reach me in Port Townsend. (I planned to keep selling pot for a while.)
But I put it off, put it off, finally dragged myself into an AT&T store the week before leaving Boregon. Explained my plight to a young clerk and after two, maybe three minutes of her showing me this model and that one and detailing the different features and plans I threw up my hands in surrender.
“I just can’t do it,” I said. “They seem so needy to me.”
“No problem,” she chirped. “We’ve just the option for customers like you.”
It was their “Old Luddite Special,” I suppose (what I call a “wireless landline”), a remote that uses the AT&T signal but plugs into an electrical socket and connects, in turn, to a regular message machine/phone. I’m the only person I know who has one, but after eight years it still works and allowed me to keep my Portland number.
This leads friends to believe it must be a cellphone so I hear it all the time: “Hey, man! You never answer my texts!”
It’s like Facebook: I’ve never even seen a “text.” I thought of this when I was out walking yesterday, passed a woman on her hands and knees in her front yard, picking through clumps of pine needles. When she noticed me she sat up.
“Oh, excuse me!” she said. “Could you do me a favor?”
“Sure,” I said.
“If I give you my number will you call it for me? I lost my phone out here and can’t find it.”
“Oh, sorry,” I said, “no can do. I’ve never owned a cell phone.”
She fidgeted with her glasses, leaned forward and peered at me.
“Oh,” she said, “you’re that tall guy. The one who lives alone, at the end of 56th Street.”
“Huh,” she said, returning to her search. “Figures.”
Made my day.