by Tom Seltzer
o I got a job as a part-time dog.
needed to wrap up my PhD in Philosophy or else. My dissertation was on Hegel, reinterpreted in light of 18th century agrarian political movements. My advisor told me Columbia wanted it finished no later than August. I told him I would be glad to see the back of it. For the first time in our six-year relationship, he expressed something close to wholehearted agreement. In the meantime, the bookstore I was working at in Boerum Hill had cut back my hours, and I needed something to fill the gap.
The ad in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was pretty straightforward:
â€œWANTED: Young (20s-30s) M or F to be part-time dog for young boy. Flexible hours, overtime.â€?
I made an appointment for the next day.
he kid’s parents lived in a huge brownstone on Dean Street, with a lot of nice rugs and antiques, which is why they didn’t want a real pet running around. But they made the mistake of promising their kid a dog, though, so they thought maybe they could get somebody to do it part-time. The kid’s mom seemed pretty embarrassed by the whole thing, but the dad had no problem with it whatsoever. Turns out he’s an investment banker. We agreed I’d be their dog Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturday mornings, and if they needed me to be a dog other times, I’d get time and a half.
he kid’s dad introduced me to the kid. “Here,” he said to him, “this is your new dog.” The kid did not look very impressed. Well, that goes two ways, kid. I can read Hegel in the original German. You don’t even know when you’re peeing. Superciliousness from you I don’t need.
The kid very gently scratched me behind the ears. Maybe he’s not so bad. I licked his face. He looked thrilled. The dad looked oddly pleased, too.
e spent most of the rest of the day inside (it was raining). We played a game where I would jump up on the couch and he would shoo me off. His dad made a big deal about telling him that he could swat me with a rolled-up newspaper, but the kid wasnâ€™t into that. He just shooed. We may end up getting along.
ednesday we went to Prospect Park. We had a great time galumphing around the meadow, although it gets hard on the knees awfully fast. I may buy some kneepads and expense them later on my Schedule C come April. Playing fetch was less successful. The kid is too little to throw very hard, and I don’t really like the taste of bark. “Look,” I told him, “you don’t want the stick and I don’t want the stick, so let ’s forget it.” He was cool with that, so we galumphed some more until it started to drizzle and we headed home.
is mom asked the nanny to make the kid some hot chocolate when we got back. I wanted some too, so I tried whining a little. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” she told me, “but chocolate is bad for dogs.” She seemed genuinely concerned. Odd woman. Are the edges of her realities blurring? I just shook myself off, sat in a corner and rested my head in my paws. Hands. Whatever.
aturday morning I got pretty good at rolling over. I spent the evening re-translating Hegel and thinking about if the a inherent to the Treaty of Ghent was in conflict to the Dialectic. My concentration was intense.
onday we hung out in a little park up on Clinton. There were a lot of other dogs there, and I sort of felt professionally obligated to mingle.
“Arf,” I said to one dog, but I got no response. I tried explaining, “Look, I’m a dog too,” but that didn’t go over either. Finally, I broke down and sniffed his butt. I knew it was inevitable and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I wasn’t even sure how a dog’s butt was supposed to smell. Better than that, I hope. Still, for whatever reason, it broke the ice.
ne of the dog’s owners came by, stared at the kid’s mom for a minute and then said, “My, what an unusual breed.” “Arf,” I added. The kid’s mom looked pretty embarrassed, but hey, it ’s all part of being a pro.
I wanted to reassure her some, so I licked her face. This may have added to her ambivalence.
ednesday I showed up fifteen minutes early and thought I would just sit down and read the Times for a few minutes. The kid’s dad told me that “breaking character” around the kid might confuse him. I was going to tell him that I wasn’t on the clock yet, so he didn’t have the right to criticize, but instead I bared my teeth and growled.
After he left, I chewed off the cuffs of his favorite pants. No breaking character there, pal.
e tried to learn sitting up in the afternoon, but I didn’t really do too well (sore knees). The kid kept giving me treats anyway. “Good doggy,” he’d tell me. “I like you too, kid,” I told him. Then he licked my face.
ou know, that Scooby-Doo is a vastly underestimated character. (Is there a journal article in that somewhere?)
low day at the bookstore. I read about dogs. Turns out that theyâ€™re color blind, and now I keep staring at my shirt, trying to decide whether it â€™s yellow or green. Also, I think my ears are perking up whenever I hear a high-pitched noise.
he kid’s dad keeps rolling up newspapers whenever I walk into the room. But he must know that if he swats me, I’ll just have to bite him on the ankle. I want to tell him, “Look, you’re a grown man. I’m a grown man. Neither of us wants this to escalate. Let ’s work it out.” But I’m on the clock, so I just walked up to him, said “Arf” and tried to look both mature and resolute. This is pretty tough to do when you’re face is eye level with someone’s crotch. I don’t think I pulled it off.
hat day at the park the kid and I were tearing it up. He’s finally got the hang of throwing the stick, and I’ve gotten to like the taste of bark. He clapped his hands when I brought it back to him the first time and said, “Good dog!” I AM a good dog!
here was a really cute girl in the park yesterday and she came over to coo at the kid. “Arf,” I said. The kids’ mom mumbled, “He’s being my boy’s dog.”
“Confidentially,” I told her, “I’m a talking dog.” That girl couldn’t get out of there fast enough. The kid’s mom looked mortified. But I don’t get it: who wouldn’t be impressed with a talking dog?
aturday morning was not fun. It was rainy again, so the kid and I stayed inside and watched Sesame Street DVDs. But the dad was there too. He sat down on his chair and told me imperiously, “Dog, go fetch the paper.” I didn’t move. “Dog, don’t you know how to fetch?” I’m two chapters away from my PhD, from an Ivy, for God’s sake. I’ve completely refuted the idea that Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit ” was propaedeutic to philosophy instead of an exercise in it. Of course I know how to fetch.
So I got him his damn paper, but I gave him a look. Baleful. A baleful look. I hope he’s ashamed for lowering himself like that.
think my other job is starting to affect my work.
id Hegel have a dog? If he did, did he demean him and smack him on the nose with a rolled-up manuscript? I bet he did. He seems like that kind of a guy.
he whole gang was out at the park today. Iâ€™m starting to get used the smell, too. We roughhoused together a little, but not too much because it scares the kid. I had to do quite a little growling to restore order, but they listened. Iâ€™ve earned their respect.