Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"I'm trying to find a quotation, but it seems like people like animals..." ~Rachele, trying to help me with a blogpost title

           The funny thing about living in a place like Jamaica Plain, which may very well be the hippie and dog-walking capital of Massachusetts, (although Northampton may trump it), is that people constantly look up at you expectantly when their dogs try to sniff your crotch. I have seen that look on a dog walker’s face more times than I can tell—the one that says Don’t I have the cutest dog in the world? When this look is directed at me, it is inevitably followed by a look of disappointment on the dog owner’s face. I consistently fail to coo at and delight in their dog’s presence, but rather just look confused as to why they have let their animal get so close to me. I seem to be missing a gene that allows me to find cuteness in the face of a dog or any animal over the age of say, six months. To quote Tina Fey in Bossypants:

          I don’t hate animals and I would never hurt an animal; I just don’t actively care about them. When a coworker shows me cute pictures of her dog, I struggle to respond correctly, like an autistic person who has been taught to recognize human emotions from flash cards. In short, I am the worst.

          This sentiment really sums up how I, as an animal neutral person feel in a town and society full of dog lovers. I am often moved by cherub-like babies who pass me in strollers and have bonded with a cute kitten in my day. I can even see the appeal of a tiny, fuzzy puppy in a toilet paper commercial, but once the animal is grown, I feel literally nothing when looking at it. And don’t think that I haven’t contemplated the thought that this makes me a terrible person. I have.

          When I was on my semester abroad, I had a roommate who was a Wicken and animal activist, (not to mention a born-again Christian living in the same flat, but that could be an entirely other blogpost). When she invited me to volunteer with her at the cat shelter in Rome, my complete indifference toward the idea of volunteering in this way actually disturbed me, and yet, I could think of one hundred other things I would rather be doing. I thought of at least one, because I never did go with her any of the times she went. At the time, the experience of living in an apartment full of differing world viewpoints was constantly calling into question my own beliefs. As one of the most liberal in the apartment I kept thinking: “If I consider myself a true liberal, doesn’t that mean I should have a love for all of the world’s creatures?”

          And I guess I have reconciled this question to myself. I think that people who willingly abuse defenseless animals for their own pleasure are sociopaths. It’s just that prevention of animal abuse is not a cause I feel strongly about. I also believe our culture has arbitrarily divided animals into those we love and care for and those we eat. If you are a passionate animal lover, trying to gain my support for your cause, you had best be a vegetarian, because otherwise I will consider your argument moot. I, on the other hand could never be a vegetarian. My love for bacon is also a passionate one.

          In any narrative I have read which tracks the relationship between a man and his dog best friend, as in a subplot in Water for Elephants for example, I am moved. Mostly though, what moves me is the story of the person who has been so mistreated and rejected by society that he turns to an animal for comfort, and that animal represents everything he has left. In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien tells the story of a man who mercilessly kills an animal as a symptom of his trauma while serving in the Vietnam War. The author points out that when he has told that story, (and I’m not sure how this would come up as cocktail party conversation), someone will inevitably express grief for the murdered animal. O’Brien is quick to point out that they’ve missed the point and I agree with him. Maybe that makes me deficient in some way but I can’t help it. The story of the man who would be driven to do such a thing is more disturbing and poignant to me than that of the death of the animal.

          Recently at work, someone’s pet died and we all made a donation to an animal shelter in its memory. I participated not because I felt particularly compelled to donate for the animals, but because I could understand what it meant for this co-worker to lose her dog and this was a reasonable contribution to her consolation.

          I have a wonderful fiancĂ©e, (yes, using the new word as much as possible), who understands my animal loving deficiencies despite being a dog lover himself. For now, neither of us has time to care for a dog. This is something he realized when sitting for a friends’ dog for a week. When you have a work, teaching, and rehearsal schedule like we do, it’s just not fair to any animal. But perhaps someday he will want a puppy. I have already made sure to make my viewpoint clear in advance. If he chooses to get a dog, it will be his dog and he can take it for walks and pick its poop up in a bag.

          I once took an online quiz regarding my “real age” and my longevity. It suggested I get a dog to increase my lifespan. Pretty sure that getting one at this point would only take away sane years of my life.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Moonlight (and panic) in Vermont

          There are two types of people in this world- those who love to drive and those who don’t.  If you are a person of the former persuasion, you remember the very first time you were in a moving car by yourself as one of the most amazingly liberating experiences of your life.  That first weekend you got your license you drove everywhere just for the sake of driving.  That was when you realized that a car was so much more than a car.  It could take you anywhere on the continent.  A car is freedom.

          For me, that essential love for driving has not changed.  Nothing beats a summer day behind the wheel with the windows rolled down and the long road ahead of me.  I do however, have mild heart palpitations thinking about making trips to Vermont in the middle of winter, and this is because of a seven hour panic attack I like to call my trip back from Mt. Snow two years ago.  The weather report had predicted one inch of snow in Boston.  We actually got eight inches, so by hour five of what should have been a two hour drive I was threatening to pull over and camp out for the night.  Fortunately, I was not alone.  I had my friend Molly to calm me down every five minutes, and every time we saw another car crashed on the side of the Mass Pike.  It went something like this: “I’m starting to panic again! Talk me down Molly!  TALK ME DOWN!”

Oh, but I forgot the first leg of the trip, on our way to Vermont, when it was also snowing and we were skidding on ice every few miles.  This was before I had a GPS and our online directions took us down an unlit, snow-covered, one lane road with a 90 foot drop to one side of it.  I think I drove about an inch a minute on that one.  All I could think about was how we were going to skid and go careening off that cliff and Molly’s parents would never forgive me for killing their daughter. Of course there were no houses to be seen anywhere in case of an emergency.  Have I mentioned yet that I now refuse to drive in Vermont in winter?  (See also: Maine, New Hampshire and parts of Western Massachusetts.)  I am a very bad New Englander.  

          For me, like many people, being in an untouched, deserted, natural spot has great appeal.  I just prefer that it be an untouched, deserted spot with no threat of blizzards, high winds, or ice of any kind.  In those cases, I want there to be people around, preferably in droves.  Given my experiences in the last few years, I let Brendan drive on our trip to Stowe this past weekend.  I can’t even say that the trip was uneventful.  I was all but hyperventilating from the passenger’s seat the last hour of our journey up there in the snow.  Another night, our friend Dana found herself and her 4 wheel drive vehicle lodged in a snow bank after hitting a patch of ice on the road where we were staying, which most likely has still not seen a plough since.  Fortunately no one was hurt and with a little help from AAA, the car was rescued.

          As far as events on the mountain this weekend, there were some pretty spectacular tumbles and nosedives amidst our group of twelve, or as I should call it, “Opera Singers on Skis 2012”.  But again, no one was hurt there either and a great time was had by all. 

          I am sad to say that being chauffeured may be the only way I will willingly venture to the great state of Vermont from January through March.  And with my current schedule, next season will probably be the nearest chance I have of going anyway.  Curse those Vermonters taunting me with their beautiful mountains and delicious cheese!  Let me know if you want to go skiing sometime next year.  Drivers welcome.