Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Only Bad Owners

Sunlight skipped off the surface of the lake and pierced the eyes of the dog owners and their charges.

"Oh, Dan," said Imelda. "The new laws about dogs who attack people are so strict. Don't you think?"

Dan turned away from his Great Dane, who was tentatively stepping into the low surf, and said, "Hey, if you can't control your dog, it's three strikes you're out. People shouldn't even own dogs if they don't know how to properly take care of them. And taking care of them means conditioning them to get along with other people and animals."

"But to make the penalty death? After just three attacks whether or not the dog actually bites anyone?"

Dan turned to Imelda and glared, "If it keeps idiots from mismanaging their dogs, I'm all for it. Are you worried that Malachite might go out of control on someone?"

"No, of course not!" Imelda scanned for her red boxer, finding him snuffling in the sand several yards away. "He's had nothing but the best from the very beginning. He wouldn't hurt a squirrel."

"Well, then I guess we have nothing to worry about. Bilby! Here, Bilby!" The Great Dane loped over to her owner. As Dan led his dog out off the beach, he said, "See you later."

Imelda watched the two of them pass the gate with the out-of-date sign that said the beach was for people only. No, they didn't have to worry, but she knew someone who did. Since the revised law for dog attacks was passed, one of her neighbors had gotten a German Shepherd rescue dog. It was the cutest thing, but at two years old, it hadn't been socialized well. It eyed everyone suspiciously and even snapped at Larry, its new owner. Twice while Larry was trying to train it to walk on a leash, it lunged at someone who hadn't paid attention when Larry had warned them to stay back. Twice. One more time and someone wasn't going to be going on any more walks.

Imelda let her eyes drift over the lifeguard's chair. The woman in it had binoculars to her face, scouring the water for the slightest sign that a dog was in trouble. Imelda felt better since they'd increased the lifeguards on this beach. Her Malachite liked water, but tired easily and Imelda wasn't quite strong enough to lift him herself.

The next day Imelda happened to open an email that gave updates on local news. She ignored the latest crime statistics and announcements about new businesses and then gasped at the item in the "Loving Our Babies" section.

It had happened. Larry's dog had bitten a third person and that was it. Imelda started to email a fellow dog owner, decided that wasn't fast enough, and picked up her phone to dial. She got her friend's voicemail.

"Malaquito!" she called her boxer. "Let's go for a walk!" She hustled the two of them out the door and towards the beach.

"Dan!" Imelda staggered over the sand to the first person she knew. "Did you hear? Larry's dog tried to bite someone three times. He'll be the first person caught by the new law!"

"Yup," Dan said. "That's how it goes."

"But it's not right!"

Dan looked coldly at Imelda. "There are no bad dogs, Imelda. Only bad owners. If you're too imcompetent to train your dog to behave, you get what's coming to you."

Imelda gazed at the shining water, speckled with frolicking dogs. "But Larry's not a bad person," she said mournfully. "He doesn't deserve to die."

They stood in silence for a minute. Then Dan said, "At least his dog will get a second chance with a better owner."


Andria Anderson said...

Great twist at the end! Love it!

Regina Rodríguez-Martin said...

People sometimes act like dog lives are more important than human lives. I wanted to show that value taken to the extreme. Also, I'm Dan.

Rayfield A. Waller said...

Your Writing PART 1

I'm quite proud of myself that I realized from the first reference to a death penalty that the penalty was intended for the dog owner, not the dog.

This is a wonderful, subtle, sort of 'speculative fiction' piece, and is written with great subtlety of description and imagery (from the very first sentence, reading, "Sunlight skipped off the surface of the lake and pierced the eyes of the dog owners...". I immediately caught the echoes of a million film images in modern American film of rocks 'skipping' off the surface of rivers and lakes and oceans and ponds. A nice use of metaphor and of visual simile.

The tone is consistent throughout of spare, simple declarative sentences and a resistance to adjectives and adverbs in favor of cinematic pictures and descriptions, as well as implied descriptions--easier to do in poetry than in fiction, but you do it: ""No, of course not!" Imelda scanned for her red boxer, finding him snuffling in the sand several yards away. "He's had nothing but the best from the very beginning. He wouldn't hurt a squirrel." This is how poetry describes one thing but simultaneously evokes a second image or a deeper image--ghost like or more receding temporally, in the readers mind. A longer history (temporal recession) of images of these dogs is evoked as they are or one of them is, 'snuffling' in the sand, with the not at the moment image of their earlier figures 'chasing squirrels'. Again, your writing always does play with generic ideas and generic images, superimposing image upon image, sometimes disruptively.

You simple personal writing, and your expository writing does this as well--usually disruptively, satirically, or critically: you reverse tradition, expectation, and even reverse of altogether demolish moral and cultural assumptions, using language, facial expression (your own) nd lately your defiant presentation of your own body image, forcing those who see you and who love you to see you not as a fixed, expected image we have of you, but you as you are.

Rayfield A. Waller said...

Your Writing PART 2

But even this is problematized by your self presentation in words and in images, because over the past years I have not only been deprived by you of my old, nostalgic image of you from our grad school friendship as you have presented the reality that you too have aged, like me, have gotten gray, like me, gained and lost nd gained weight, like me, but have also come to see those various images of you superimposed upon one another, and so temporally as well as physically, you have become a whole woman, a real woman, whose body is real, not housed in my imagination but alive, changes, is organic.

No image of you is really you, all of them are. This is what physicists might call, the 'quantum reality of our existence'. We exist not really as points in space, but as intertwining Lines that twist and extend THROUGH space and time, each moment of us constituting who we really are, not any one moment. To my amazement over the years, I am far more attracted to you as a changing figure than I was to that fixed point in space you used to be when we were at Cornell. That 1991 you standing in front of the AD White House talking to me about Stewart Little House is you, but so too is the you from Sept 8 who talks, in your blog, about depression.

I have slowly been cured of my illusions about you, like a fever that has lifted, and you have become real to me, and so my love for you has a real Regina to attach itself to, rather than a construct or a fantasy or an object Regina. I don't have to panic, or feel repulsed by the angry or the negative or the critical things you say because those things are real, and it is really you I love. My 'ordinary' friendships sometimes startle me for their emotional shallowness when I compare them to how engaged I am with you, because the blood, and spit, the bone and the body hair of you and your writing, as it turns out, are far more erotic, attractive, sympathetic, affectionate, frightening, arousing, painful, frightening, HONEST, and thus more real.

Rayfield A. Waller said...

Your Writing PART 3

Despite the sometimes jarring nature of your writing, a deeper capacity to love is made possible by your contempt for love as a cliché or as a mindless ritual (particularly the piece about your mother that my students have been being shocked and fascinated by in the past three years, in which you reverse the concept of grieving, destroy the rectitude and the conceit of familial 'love', and introduce the human legitimacy of rage, hurt, and even resentment as attendant in our ceremonies of funereal practice).

Your story here reads in one passage:

"The next day Imelda happened to open an email that gave updates on local news. She ignored the latest crime statistics and announcements about new businesses and then gasped at the item in the "Loving Our Babies" section.

It had happened. Larry's dog had bitten a third person and that was it. Imelda started to email a fellow dog owner, decided that wasn't fast enough, and picked up her phone to dial. She got her friend's voicemail."

There are several layers of irony and even pessimism to this passage in style as well as in diction--a perfect tone for sudden fiction and also for speculative fiction, reminding me a great deal of the works of the great Phillip K. Dick, whose passion for humanity is directly connected to his tone of satirical disregard for sentimentality in writing. Some were convinced that his ability to write nonchalantly about horrible things (or more accurately his ability to create a narrator who would do so) signaled that Dick was a misanthrope. Far from it. He wanted to describe a world--a culture--in which the forms, practices, rituals, and beliefs of the majority of the people populating his narratives were reflective of the social structures created by ACTUAL misanthropes--those in power, those who control language, and those who define what it means to be 'human' (ex: the novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", a book that critics say a percentage of readers literally cannot finish because it's affect is so frighteningly deadpan and what it describes is so horrifying--a dystopic world of the future--that it imposes psychic suffering and depression on the reader).

Dick once said in an interview that something would be wrong with you if visiting Auschwitz did not depress you simply because there are no longer any murders happening there. His aim, he said, was to make you feel just as much horror by being there as you would have if you'd had to see what once happened there.

The narrator in that passage ironically says she starts out to email her friend in the wake of a horrifying loss of a common friend, but then says that's not fast enough and so leaves a voice mail message. This is horrifically comic, at least to me, because it shows the denatured situation of our culture: a voice mail (something very impersonal to me) if of course nowadays regarded as the more immediate form of communication compared to texting and email. Email is the norm. Voicemail is now the intimate. Not to mention the harshness of the minimalist and deadpan tone of the narrator.

Rayfield A. Waller said...

Your Writing PART 4

That passage reminded me of one of your other stories, one I strongly suspect is directly based on a reality, is not just a fiction, in which you comfort a friend who is traumatized by the dehumanization she is experiencing over weight gain because nobody is finding her to be attractive anymore. You (your narrator, that is) suggest to her that it may not be her weight gain, but her increasing age that is making people disregard her. She is actually (astonishingly!) comforted by this suggestion, deciding that this is the more acceptable form of indignity and dehumanization, and that since nothing can be done about the indignity of aging, why not get over it and let's go get some lunch. Hilarious! And also scary as hell! And yet also a relief, because the tension of her suffering is assuaged.

This carries your usual sinister undertone and themes, but not in the slightest way does this story come off as patronizing or insensitive toward your character's humanity, because your themes as always cut deep into the meat of us all--where our humanity really lies: we all know the truth, whether we have your constant courage to face it or not: all our preoccupation with being young, handsome, lovely, attractive, popular, with being 'good' children to our parents, 'good' in our relationships and marriages, all our hopes of being nestled, hugged, made love to, comforted, and taken as valuable to others, is a mask.

That masking is what we do because we realize on some deep level that none of these drives, desires, and fears can ever really be mediated. If the fat don't get you, the aging will, I lost 70 pounds in the past two years and everyone says I 'look great', but I'm also getting older, I have a bad case of psoriasis, and my vision is getting worse, as well my contracting as what I think is the start of arthritis in my left hand! Weight Watchers and Christian dogma can't help me with that, nor with the possibility of cancer, increasing now each year for me.

In the context of all that, how valuable can I possibly be to anyone? To you? Love me, love my eventual sickness and death, is what I offer to anyone who wants to love me, if I'm being honest with myself, the way you are able to be honest with and about yourself every time I interact with you.

Your fiction, like you, makes a demand on our capacity to feel, even our modern, dwindling, remaining ABILITY to feel. This is why when you are being blank faced or silent ("no expression, nothing to express" as Robert Frost says in his poem, 'Desert Places') and you suddenly burst into that violent, raucous laughter and that wide, wet, joyous smile of yours, it is so much more gratifying than anyone else's smile I have ever been graced by being in the presence of.

We value most what we have to pay for, and what makes demands on us in the getting of.