Walking the Dog: News and Perspective
We live in a city full of news; it seems sometimes to come like rain from above, buzzing on television, or erupting from below. The world shakes with chaos and revolution in the Middle East and we feel the vibrations in our city.
The Middle East, the crowds and demonstrators in the streets of Cairo, the fall of Mubarak, the fall of Tunisia’s government and the civil war now raging in Libya are the kinds of things that reverberate in our city, keep the lights out in the White House, and in numerous embassies.
It’s the kind of news that preys on the mind as we wake up in the morning, brew the coffee, get dressed, pick up the morning Post and check for big-headline updates.
It stays with you when you walk the dog, a buzz in the head, the stuff of neighborhood conversation, WORLD news. Other news follows the buzz and the talk—while Libya is still on the mind and Egypt remains shaky, the news closer to home about a major, brewing scandal concerning our newly minted mayor sends ripples through the two blocks or so that Bailey and I navigate every morning, noon, evening and night. The election signs are gone now from the yards, but the memory of everyone’s votes and arguments lingers in the morning air, especially now.
We have other news, of course, news of our bodies faltering, news of the newly elected firebrands across the country clashing with teachers unions and policemen and firemen. You think of that around here. The street is full of people who work in education, as teachers, as policy makers, as wonks and educators. And Bailey’s mom is a teacher herself, so you can manage the discussion that lingers, following us on our walks.
On our street we have a firehouse, and we have police cars patrolling and lately handing out a spate of parking tickets. That’s news too. A while back, a man walked by me who I used to see walking his wife in the sunlight, gently guiding her in a summer dress back in August. He stopped and turned around to tell me that his wife had passed away over the Christmas holidays. “I thought you should know,” he said. The woman had appeared frail, but her husband always seemed steadfast in the way he held her hand, and so we greeted each other with interest and courtesy. That too was news.
On my walks with Bailey, the world conflates sometimes, only to open up wide when I see one of our neighbors. There was the retired diplomat who spent a good deal of time in the Middle East including a stint as consul to the American Embassy in Cairo. He was worried about the fate of people he used to work with abroad and concerned about where all this will end. Watching television, you guess, he’s seeing streets and places he saw every day back in his time. Down the street I see the wife of a journalist who works for a Swedish news agency covering the United States, now endlessly preoccupied with the reaction to the news abroad.
The news: the weather is much on the mind of anchors these days, with their furrowed brows, their ill-guised thrill at being this close as well as this safely distant from the proximity of disaster. For people around here, it means the possibility of flood, the day-after-day cold, the endless winter. It is not healthy not to complain about the weather; exult in the rare balmy day. The big news also brings changes around the neighborhood: the price of gasoline at the nearby end-of-the-block Exxon station, always expensive, is inching toward $4 a gallon, regular.
Bailey, who is 14 years old now, has his own take on the news. It is closer to the ground, and he brings me in that direction too. For Bailey, the oncoming rain means avoiding walking in puddles in order to do his thing, something not always possible. The news to him is the first budding trees, the cawing of the blackbirds and an occasional hawk. Dogs who are pets are torn, I think, between trying to discern the feelings of their owners as they navigate the news of the world, and focusing on what’s important to them: bark of trees, bark and scent of other dogs, rumors and gossip of their comings and goings written in the blades of grass.
When I stop to talk with people these days, the talk is not so much about sunny days, or the lack of sunny days, but about the what-in-the-world-is-going-on reaction to the Gray-Brown imbroglio, touched by either a certain disappointment or the I-told-you-so reaction. Bailey sits and sniffs it out—good mood, bad mood for dad?
But what he really cares about at the moment is the onrushing Bassett hound or Lulu, the giant schnauzer, still a puppy, across the street standing up like a flailing horse.
It’s not that he doesn’t have feelings about history, time and such: when Tina, the Yorkie down the street, returns from abroad, he is beside himself with persistence and wagging, although it’s often ignored. He hasn’t forgotten that Rosie the terrier and he have a long-standing feud going back eight years that erupts into instant snarling the moment they sense each other’s presence on the sidewalk.
Walking Bailey on the block gives me both opportunities to talk too much about everything with others, and perspective. He teaches me to downsize every now and then, not be so intent on worrying about how the eventually new Egyptian government will deal with Israel, but concentrate on the trees that were only recently winter naked, now becoming populated with as yet unopened buds. It means something: renewal, a process that will radically change the view on the sidewalk, if not the talk.
Bailey teaches me to look closely and closer to home, as I’m swept up in the grand view, the big news stories that are so much a part of this city, where they seep into the neighborhoods of daily life like rain and sunshine.
I have news for him too, although I suspect he had already sniffed it out in the casual nosing among his friends. The mighty Mubarak may have fallen from power, and tyrants an dictators sleep less with history knocking on their door, but here we have the news that a little white Maltese, whom I liked to call “Little Bailey,” has passed away, managing to last life out for 19 years, a mighty old age for such a small little guy. And later still, we hear the news from the owner of Andy, a beautiful dog with a lustrous brown and white mane, that he too has gone where all dogs go due to an enlarged spleen.
Somewhere on our walks, if Bailey doesn’t know, he’ll figure it out, by scent or by absence, that his friends are gone, that he will not see them again forever. As for me, I knew Little Bailey and Andy better than Mubarak, better than Charlie Sheen, better than Sulaimon Brown, and I feel their loss and their absence on our walks.
I know that Little Bailey perked up time and again when he saw my Bailey kicking into an uncharacteristic run. And I know that I found Andy’s graceful trot, his mournful eyes begging for a treat, things of beauty. Bailey and I will miss them.
And that’s the news today.