So one of my readers, Alysa from France inspired me this morning. Merci. I have never set eyes on this young woman who is undoubtedly young enough to be my daughter, who encourages me all the way from Europe, some days, when I need it more than you can imagine. As much as this may seem like a lark, (I know, nobody put a gun to my head) it’s lonely on the road. I get down. I get homesick. I get fearful of getting sick, losing Libby, getting a flat tire or the trots. It’s more problematic when there’s not a bathroom around.
Alysa commented on my last post, “Millionaire Football Players,” relating her story about how her college buddy had reassured her, “you’re good at being poor” when Alysa got a chance to go to Japan but was worried about covering out of pocket expenses with little in her back pocket. This prompts me to pull a little story I’ve been saving, out of mine.
It starts out a little like another episode of the “Perils of Pauline” but it ends up going to the dogs, so, please bear with me. “The Perils of Pauline”, by the way, was a series of short movie reels, started out as silent pictures in 1914, and then enjoyed decades of remakes with various and assorted damsels in distress. My mother always told me,”Jean, you’re just like “The Perils of Pauline.”I get it now.
It was Sunday, December 12th. I’d just returned from a trip to California with my love interest at the time, whom I’ll call George. He treated. It was his hometown, opening night of a one-woman show by a painter whom he admired. He’d purchased a lovely painting, which was being shown for the first time at the artist’s 20 year retrospective.George was happy and proud. The show was wonderful, our hosts, both artists, living artists’ lives, were gracious and fascinating. The trip was great until snow in St. Louis delayed our connection out of Phoenix. “Let’s get a drink,” I offered. We did. We had two hours to kill, so we got two, and we split a club sandwich, for a mere $60.
“I’ll get it,” I whipped out my card when the check arrived, seeing how George had paid for the rest of the trip. Imagine my chagrin when Hector came back and said, “Sorry, declined.”
I panicked, since this was Sunday and I’d just gotten paid on Friday. George graciously covered for me as I’m back pedaling in my head, embarrassed, flustered. “This is really weird,” I said and he was kind not to roll his eyes.
Thank God the Wifi was slow that night at the Phoenix airport or I’d probably jumped out of the plane. It wasn’t until after I’d gotten home, past midnight that I discovered I had $14 in my checking account. Fourteen dollars to last from December 12th to the 23rd. Talk about bad timing. In my haste to get out of town on Friday, I’d paid ALL my bills Thursday night, and got a little carried away. I’ll spare you the minutia, but I forgot a couple of automatic payments. (You understand why I’m a writer and not an accountant.)
That Monday morning, the 13th of December, dawn broke with hateful,icy roads, and I had a 9:00 staff meeting. I wanted to poke my eyes out with a stick. Stuck in traffic, all I could think about was, “I have $14 until Christmas. I have $14 until Christmas. What the hell am I going to do?” My son Patrick was coming from New York on the 22nd and that’s when I was planning to “do” Christmas. This is far too familiar territory for millions of wage earners who live paycheck to paycheck. It wasn’t always like this for me. I’m not telling you this to engender sympathy (or scorn) I’m simply providing context.
I wasn’t worth killing that day at work. I two-stepped between self-pity and self-flagellation. I was pissed off and miserable.
Until I got home. In a moment of weakness, I’d allowed my son Sean to talk me into letting him bring another dog into our lives. His girlfriend Amy wanted to give him a puppy for Christmas. Enter, King Louie, our Chow Mastiff mix. All my friends said, “You know, once Sean takes off for grad school or journalistic paths unknown, you’re going to be stuck with that dog.”
Oh, that I would be SO lucky. (Although I doubt Sean would ever part with him now, as Louie and Sean are bonding like Super Glue, much like Libby and I.) That Monday night, Sean had gone to work to make pizzas, and I was instructed to come straight home, so Louie would not be alone for long. I came in, Libby looking alternately indignant and anxious. Louie was in his kennel, we’d set it up in the family room.
I leaned over to get my first look at him — a chestnut ball of downy soft fur, with a black tongue and a tea cup tail. I scooped up a bundle of pure puppy love the likes of which I have never experienced, except for the other few times I’ve gotten a new puppy. He SMELLED like a puppy, he gave me little puppy kisses, and nuzzled my neck. And of course, he had puppy breath, an aroma so intoxicating, if you could spray it over battlefields, soldiers would lay down their arms!!!
I sat down on the couch with him, still wearing my coat. Libby, jealous, hopped up. I moved over. With Louie cradled asleep on my left leg, and Libby’s head on my right, I didn’t budge. We stayed that way for a solid hour. He needed me. His whimpering subsiding, giving way to his pudgy little belly, slowly rising and falling, fear turned to contented sleep. This was the most important thing I’d done all day. It gave me purpose. He needed me. This tiny, irresistible ball of fur, whom God or the universe, (choose your belief system) or Sean had entrusted to my care, needed me to be fully present to HIM on this, the first night away from everything he’d ever known. I was his new mama, species be damned. And within days, he would learn to navigate the stairs, not be startled by the vacuum, discover my blue shoes, eat out of Libby’s bowl and in general come to reign over his dominion, hence King Louie, but at this moment, he simply needed me to be still. He needed me to comfort him.
They have no idea how they comfort us. I have had a dog in my life since I was nine years old – Bowser, Jenny, Maddy, Pete, The King of Dogs, Libby, The Replacement Dog and now, Louie, The Stubby Tyrant. How many secrets have they heard? How many countless tears have fallen on their backs? How many comedy acts have they performed? They have no idea the joy they bring.
That night, I worried not about my finances, like Scarlet O’Hara, I’d think about it tomorrow. (Ultimately, I got my gun, more on that later.) I worried not about dinner. Hell, I didn’t even take off my damn coat. Sean came in about nine, carrying a pizza. He could see I was completely smitten. He laughed, and in what would become our evening doggie devotional, Sean says, “See? When you’re having a poor Christmas, get another dog.”
And so, Miss Alysa in Paris, we’re good at being poor and rich beyond measure.