It’s embarrassing to realize I haven’t written a blog post for months now.
I blame the pandemic.
It’s ironic that I should even think to blame COVID-19 for my writer’s block because a global pandemic is certainly worth a few whiny blog posts. And I’ve experienced many of the de rigueur indignities that fill blogging platforms worldwide: an alarming decline in my fitness regimen, a troubling lack of interest in brushing my teeth, and a cocktail hour that starts earlier every week (a Facebook post about someone becoming a “work-at-home bartender” definitely resonated with me). More puzzling, I’ve developed a codependent relationship with my Dyson V8 Animal cordless vacuum cleaner. Apparently looking at the same dust bunny for more than a few minutes activates my inner clean-freak. Ironically, I make the bed much later than I should, but when I do, I jeuge it up pretty good with some pillows I bought at West Elm before the shit hit the fan. Yes, I bought pillows at West Elm. And, yes, they are color-coordinated, though appropriately masculine. Half the time, I don’t make the bed because Gita, my six-pound Abyssinian cat, likes to burrow under the covers, and I don’t have the heart to move her. Plus I’m totally jealous no one judges her for sleeping all day.
Those Poor Bastards
I’ve read that the pandemic has been particularly difficult for extroverts who need constant social interaction to maintain their sanity. Those must be the folks you see sitting on lawn chairs, all bundled up, having hot toddies with their neighbors when the temperature is like 20 degrees. Meanwhile, introverts like me are having a moment. So many cultural norms have now shifted to legitimize and even privilege the very solitude we always desired. I just wish the concept of “social distancing” had been around when I was looking for an excuse to avoid large dinner parties or Chamber of Commerce mixers. For my part, when the health department admonishes us not to gather in groups of more than four people, I’m like, Whoever wanted to socialize with more than four people, anyway?
So, from this introvert’s perspective, the pandemic was proving fairly tolerable—until my daughter talked us into adopting a puppy.
The “pandemic puppy” is a real cultural phenomenon, it turns out; and my household wasn’t immune from its spread. We already had two cats, but they’re introverts in their own right and spend their days, as I already alluded to, sleeping in carefully selected locations away from the fray (typically places I object to their bedding down—on freshly laundered towels or the chair where I do my writing). From my daughter’s perspective, our cats weren’t cutting the mustard. She longed for the adoring interaction one only gets from a dog; and her powers of persuasion are so complete that she corralled us into buying not just any puppy, but an eight-week-old Saint Bernard.
You got that right.
The massive dogs with melting faces.
The ones that leave a snail-trail of drool wherever they go.
Since Lando arrived (we named him after the Star Wars character Lando Calrissian), I’ve seen him expand from a fuzzy Pomeranian-sized bundle to a 60-pound goofball in three months. And while I’ve adapted remarkably well to his prodigious shedding and paw prints all over our hardwood floors, I wasn’t prepared for the sensation he caused when I took him outside. I think it was our first trip to Fresh Market when a breathless middle-aged woman asked if she could pet him—and then volunteered a lengthy account of how she grew up with a Saint Bernard named Brandy. No sooner had she completed her narrative than a second woman joined the conversation and explained how she, too, had grown up with a Saint Bernard named Brandy. This remarkable coincidence got the two women swapping Brandy stories as I waited impatiently for the cashier to bag my groceries. At the pet store a few days later, I met a friendly, if prolix, young staffer who explained that she has two “Saints” at home—a tidbit she offers, disconcertingly, every time she sees us. Either she has a terrible memory or doesn’t recognize this week’s Lando as an oversized version of last week’s. And on it goes—unsolicited exchanges with human beings of every imaginable stripe.
These insults to my privacy don’t just occur at the store. Where walks around my neighborhood were once blissfully solipsistic affairs, a goofy puppy with saucer-sized paws has changed everything. Apparently every person in our neighborhood owns a dog (who knew?) and goes walking about the same time each day. “What kind of puppy is that?” someone will inevitably ask me. When I say that he’s a Saint Bernard, he or she will observe how rare it is to see a puppy of that breed, what with Labradoodles and various other doodles being so popular these days. For some reason, men like to comment knowingly on Lando’s enormous paws. “He’s going to get a lot bigger,” they point out. My inclination is to reply, “No shit? I had no idea.” But then my wife reminds me they’re just making polite conversation.
All that conversation—whether at Fresh Market or on a walk around the block—is an uncomfortable disruption to what had been the serenity of my pandemic solitude. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely enjoy seeing certain friends on my walks—and having dog stories to swap where once I might have waved and called out, “Such a cute dog!” Now we stop and let our dogs “socialize” for a few minutes as we trade tips on no-pull harnesses, free-range turkey treats, and biodegradable poop bags. But there are also unwelcome encounters, like the time a car came to a stop right by me, and a boisterous, ruddy-faced woman jumped out to “say hello to the adorable puppy.” Twenty minutes later she was still yammering on, apparently unaware that Lando was dry-humping her leg. She confided how her own dog—a mixed-breed rescue dog with strong territorial instincts—is a disappointment and she’d prefer a Saint Bernard but her boyfriend doesn’t want a big dog and…
These uninvited encounters are painful stuff for a guy who uses the excuse of not wearing a face mask as a reason to cross the street and avoid approaching pedestrians.
Now there are two promising vaccines poised to end the pandemic. It’s hard to predict how a year of wearing face masks and bumping elbows will change our social interactions. I suspect we’ll all be more circumspect about hugging or breathing each other’s air; but some people crave that stuff and they’re going to be worse than Lando when all the social distancing requirements are lifted. By that time, my pandemic puppy will be a 125-pound adolescent. I can’t imagine a dog that size will get the same attention as the roly-poly fellow who stopped traffic (and I hope he doesn’t). Either way, as the pandemic barriers come down and people get more brazenly social, I’ll be the guy still wearing a face mask, who longs for social distancing and warns approaching dog lovers, “Stay back—this guy drools like Jabba the Hutt.”