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how our nice morning went to shit
all I wanted was to go on a walk w my son and my dog is that so much to ask why does everything have to be like this
At 715am, the backdoor squeaks shut. Now, there are three.
Wilder, Robert, and I, a veritable who is who of ragamuffins between the ages of 2 years old and 56 dog years old, stand in the living room, waiting for me, our de facto leader, to come up with a plan for how to spend the next 90 minutes before daycare.
Without a plan, Wilder will ask to watch Helper Cars on YouTube and we cannot do that again we just can’t.
Why, he’ll ask.
Because it’s just bad, I can’t explain why, it’s too sticky and addicting for your little brain, there’s nothing real there, the cars feel no emotion they do not weep, they do not rejoice, and most importantly they are liars. There is nothing helpful about rolling down a ramp into a ball pit who does that serve, no they’re selfish little bad cars. Ya know who’s helpful is Bluey - that dog and her family are real, in Bluey there are stakes there is suspension of disbelief – we feel for the characters as we see ourselves in them which let me assure you does not happen in Helper Cars but hey, you know what would be helpful?
“How about we take Robert for a walk?”
This phrase activates them both into fits of manic jubilee. Robert starts doing tightly wound zoomie circles around himself, his little sausage frame unable to hold the excitement of what may soon come. Meanwhile, Wilder sprints to the drawer by the back door and overhead jerks it open with the force usually reserved for people about to miss their connecting flights whose luggage is STUCK in the overhead bin and if they could just YANK a little harder it’d come out so just GIVE THEM a second!
The drawer barely stays in its socket as Wilder’s paws around the drawer blind to its contents, sifting through the little grenade rolls of poop bags, Robert’s medicine, a mess of loose salmon bite treats from 2014, three separate tubes of human chapstick, and THE LEASH.
Grabbing the leash, he screams “LEASH” and slams the drawer shut so hard it makes all our nearby neighbors look at one another and go, “bit early for fireworks, no?”
With a manic, barking Robert on his tail, Wilder sprints to his room to put on his knee-high green dinosaur light-up rain boots. Now, all we need is Rob’s collar which, given our recent visit to the doggie ER, is not currently around his neck.
About a week back, the lil guy, equal parts yorkie, terrier and Splinter from TMNT, had scratched his tummy and nose and neck and eye and nether regions until he drew blood, which he took to mean ‘keep going’ and, thus, kept going, more fiercely now, like a dog digging for his bone except this bone was inside his own body though aren’t they all?
Phew let’s all take a breath after that paragraph. Everyone ok? If only I knew how to delete. Onwards!
Fearing he’d just keep scratching until a limb fell off, we took Robert to the animal hospital where he was diagnosed with a skin infection and ‘sensitivity to fleas.’
They put him under, shaved his belly, cleaned the infected areas, and gave him a bunch of meds, typical of American healthcare’s pill-popping industrial complex.
Once home, he decided to continue living by his “I plan on learning zero lessons for my entire life” mantra and just kept scratching. So, we put an inflatable cone around his neck and Wilder’s oversized t-shirts on his body. Combined with the shaved chest and pain-med waddle, he now had the appearance of a stoned, nearly retired man who decided to let loose a few years early by going on a cruise only to spend the whole thing terrified after remembering he can’t swim.
We look for the collar in all the normal places - by the bed, under the bed, near the bed, under the clothes around the bed. Nothing.
We go back out to the living room and check near the couch, between the couch cushions, under the couch. Nothing.
Having checked the only two places we spend any time, I’m at a loss for where the collar could be. Oh wait, maybe it's by the couch or the bed. I check both places, again, but harder this time, and still, nothing.
Where the fuck is this collar, I think to myself, adding it to the list of things that have gone missing of late. Like Lauren’s paperwork from the doctor – one minute it was on the kitchen counter the next it was not. Missing, just like my airpods and wallet and sense of self.
Most concerningly, also missing is the smell the house had when we got back last week. You know that smell? Sort of musty and mildewy but not really either? Not a bad smell – just weird and notably so, like the sort of smell you’d definitely clock were you to go to anyone else's house but here, in your own home, it’s only noticeable after being gone a while and, even then, only for a few minutes. After that, it's gone by which I mean it’s still very much there, but your brain decides to disappear it and spare you the injustice of living in a house of stinky squalor.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that smell, always there, hiding in plain sight just like the collar which I still cannot find anywhere. Fine. No collar, no problem.
Rob recoils when I try attaching the leash to his floatie blow-up neck brace, offended that I’d take him out in the neighborhood looking like a guy who’s trying to file a frivolous personal injury lawsuit a against Denny’s after getting whiplash from looking too hard at a hot lady walking by his table.
“OWIE!!!” screams Wilder from the backyard as if someone just cut off his ear. I run outside and a two-eared Wilder is pointing down to the flashing green boots he wears every day, rain or shine.
An owie? In the rainboot? No way.
“Where’s the owie,” I ask him.
“My boot”, he wails, with melodrama that’d make any soap opera star go ‘whoa.’
“Your foot” I ask?
“No,” he cries, realizing he’s dealing with an idiot, “my boot!”
I get closer and he lifts up his boot. Oh.
This is no normal owie. This is an owie to Wilder’s fashion sense, sure, but deeper still, this is a psychological owie, existential in core, for there in the grooves of his dinosaur boot is a fresh bunch of Robert’s dog shit.
An origin story
For the last six months, the first thing Wilder does every morning is run outside and hunt for Robert’s poop in the backyard. ‘Poo poo’ he’d scream as if he’d just discovered a new continent. He’d point his little snausage finger at the poo poo and stand there waiting for me to scoop it up with a doggie bag.
Importantly, he never asked or tried to scoop it up himself which, given how his favorite phrases besides ‘poo poo’ was ‘i do it’, was surprising.
Sure, he likely would not have been able to grasp the technically complex act of inserting one's hand into the bag, grabbing the poo with the handbag, and then turning the handbag inside out so as to reveal the poo inside the doggie bag like a goddamn magic trick, but that's not the point.
The point is, he never even tried. He was the self appointed chief of the poo poo police, and I was the grunt who did his dirty work. We'd be on walks and he'd spot other dogs' poop and start screaming 'poo poo' and make me pick it up. A strange feeling, to pick up a much bigger dog's poop. Haunting, really, the heft of it, in your hand, separated by a film of biodegradable tissue-thin plastic.
So why, given this illustrious history, did he now, for the first time, all a sudden, step in Robert’s poo? How Was it an accident? A curiosity? A ploy? Does it even matter? I scoop him up not unlike I would a poop except there is no bag in my hands just a little guy to whom I explain that we can’t step in dog poop as I take his boots off and put them out on the steps, each lighting up in green neon joy.
Moments later, Wilder and I are both in deep squats crouched over a dinosaur green boot with poop in the grooves, bonding like fathers and sons have done since the days of cavemen.
Robert barks and then barks some more. I check the time - 7:53am. How the hell did we get here, I wonder, trying sticks of various sizes, strengths, and torques like I’m solving an escape room puzzle until - eureka! - one successfully shuttles the poop out of the grooves and into the great beyond aka our grass.
Wilder’s just learned about tools so he thinks we're fixing a motorcycle or some shit and goes to get the screwdrivers we've been letting him play with. I tell him they are no good here but he doesn't agree.
My OCD kicks in and I need to make sure there is NO poop anywhere on the shoe or near the shoe. The poop is gone from the shoe, but is it? Or have I stopped being able to tell the difference? The smell is definitely still here which confuses me all the more – why does this smell of shit always stick around, while the subtle stink of our house disappears? Who made the smell rules?
Twenty or so minutes later we go inside and I take some soap from my right hand and lather it onto Wilder’s right hand. Then I lather my two hands together and then lather his left hand and then I wash all four hands in the sink and as we dry our hands on cloth papers we bought once to save the environment, I realize I need to poop.
how can we ever really know
Besides pooping in public, which I’ve done only once (note to self: write a different story about this titled Pooping In America), my biggest fear has always been being full of shit.
Inauthentic. A liar. Fake. Pretending.
The main thing I tell my writer clients is to tell the truth. Except the more I suggest it, the more I hate it as advice. There's a fetishization of truth and vulnerability these days that’s become the water we fishies breathe. To be good, you must be honest and to be honest, you must dance upon your trauma like no one is watching even though you know that they are and they know that you know that they are and so on.
But what if that entire ‘I’m being honest’ thing is itself a lie? How can you ever even know if you're telling the truth?
After telling my first girlfriend that I loved her, I took it back because I couldn’t be sure that I 100% meant it. In hindsight, not my best moment.
Then, having not much to do since my girlfriend wouldn’t talk to me, I thought about it for a few days and decided that I probably did love her and that was good enough and so I told her, again, that I did love her. This is just one of my many pickup artist skills.
I ask Wilder to sit and watch some Oggy Oggy, a good middle ground between Helper Cars and Shakespeare while dada goes potty potty. He obliges.
Robert does too, under one condition – Robert wants to be in the bathroom with me. No problem. For a few brief seconds perhaps 3 (or maybe 4, with inflation), all is good. This, I now realize, was the happiest I’d ever been.
Then, a pounding at the door.
Hating loud noises generally and having one of the worst days of his life specifically, Robert responds by barking like he’s Lassie alerting us to the emotional dumpster fire burning inside his energizer bunny heart.
Our tiny bathroom echoes with the barks and I yell out to Wilder, "No bud, I'm pooping,” which makes Robert bark some more.
"Stop Rob it's ok calm down," I scream.
I scream "Wilder stop Robert stop."
Wilder knocks and Robert barks at the same exact time.
I plead with them both to stop, confusing one for the other. "Robe- I mean Wilder it’s ok please just go watch Oggy Oggy."
Wilder knocks even louder.
Robert barks again. Louder. Rageful now.
“ROB STOP PLEASE WILDER STOP PLEASE,” i scream.
For a second, nothing. Then, Rob barks.
And I sit there, a grown man on the toilet trying to find a way out of this riddle like it’s a “how do you carry these animals across the river with one boat” brainbuster.
If Wilder knocks, Robert barks.
If Robert barks, Alex screams.
If Alex screams, Wilder knocks.
Also if Alex doesn’t scream, Wilder knocks.
This is no LSAT – there is no solution, so, without consciously thinking about it, I grab my phone and go on Instagram. The scrolling is soothing, that endless endless slide of my finger down people who I envy and hate, all of them so fake and full of shit ah who am I kidding — I’m just as full of shit as everyone else - wait.
I am full of shit.
Like, literally, right now I, still not having completed my poop for fear of having a heart stroke while doing so, I am full of shit.
Even once the poop is done, I realize, chuckling out loud in a small bathroom with my dog who is barking at my son, I’ll still be full of shit.
Let’s just be honest
The body is made up of 60% water. The rest, it turns out, is shit.
What if I’d been okay with us not having a plan that morning? What if I’m wrong about Helper Cars and that actually, 100 years from now, Helper Cars will be touted as the beginning of a new wave of art that managed to solve the problems of our day, a statement against the dumb Mr. Rogers bullshit that I find so ‘good’ and ‘right.’
Nothing is for certain. Illusory control may help us sleep at night but the truth is that we are, in our own ways, lil stinkers, blissfully unaware of the fact, marching around thinking that sure everyone else might reek but not me no way I smell like daffodil. Na bro, you smell like stinkodil and that's putting it brightly.
By the time I get out of the bathroom twenty minutes later, it’s 840am – enough time for a quick walk to the next house over and back. Robert comes too, sans leash because he is sans collar but who cares nothing matters anyways.
He poops and I pick it up as if I would any other object I know well enough to not notice in the least.
His poop has become part of the quiet known in my life, no longer strange or hefty or anything but the day to day norm. What other truths have I stopped noticing? And why hasn’t anyone told me that my house smells? I’ve asked. Like literally texted friends saying "Hey I know this is weird but can you please be honest with me and let me know if my house smells weird?" They said it didn’t but how could I believe them knowing that they, like me, are full of shit?
Would I rather it not smell in the house? Sure. Do I light incense and candles at all hours to make sure that it doesn't smell bad? Most def. But that doesn't take away the truth which is that the house smells weird.
And that weird is normal.
There's comfort to be had here. We need not pretend any longer that we smell good or even more fundamentally that we have any idea what our house smells like at all. All we can know is that we do not know.
So does that mean everything is bullshit? No. Only 40%. The rest is water.
Ok fine, cool story Bruce Lee but how do we tell the difference?
I’m not sure, though much like some dog poop on the bottom of a dinosaur rainboot, you know it when you see it.
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Do you think that we’re all full of shit? Is being a liar also your biggest fear?
Have you ever stepped in dog shit?
Does your house smell but you don’t know it?
Have you picked up another dog’s poop and how much therapy did you need after?