runs with dogs

For those who were unawares, my everyday/daytime identity is Dog Runner, or alternately, Canine Fitness Specialist. When I got a part-time gig as a research assistant, internet-bound, I sought something that would get me out of my cozy hobbit hole and into the heart of New York. Since I was something of a star cross-country runner in high school (go figure), the Running Paws company took me on quite readily. Though I’d long since strayed from the routine of running and, indeed, sportiness in general, I truly believe that distance running is a state of mind. A love of challenge, a capacity for endurance, and resilience to nature’s obstacles are intrinsic to the long-distance runner- maybe I should throw loneliness in there as well.

So, every day, I log into my “dog schedule” before 10 am and confirm- usually a set schedule, but important to note cancellations and additions. Typically, I get into Manhattan sometime between 11:30 and 12:30, and am usually done before 4:30. My days begin and end with half-hour puppy-care visits with Nigel, a 4-month-old cocker spaniel whose nascent development I’ve been proud to help nurture. He is incredibly soft and cute, and enjoys peeing on the floor and wagging his tail maniacally at passers-by. Also gnawing on my shoes:

Once or twice a week, I play with a Boston Terrier puppy named Maddy, who is a little princess and hates the cold. So, she wears a puffy coat. I try to stay bundled, too: In terms of running, my favorite dog to run with is a standard black poodle named Jasper. Actually, Jasper does not run, he bounds, and his exuberance is completely infectious. He is a strange doggie dancer, at times leaping higher than my headtop. Additionally, he is quite prone to tearing after squirrels, the excitement of which leaves him frenzied and sprinting as I race to match his pace:

Every time he spots an approaching puppy, he sits himself down quite gingerly and cocks his head, inviting a cautious greeting/butt-sniff dance. He nose me: In truth, this job has fast become integral to my identity, or at least the one I perform in public. While my nighttime hours can best be described by the reverie of the internet and the cultivation of words and ideas, it’s generally hard to talk about things you’re literally writing a book about. Rather, I take delight in extolling the virtues of exercise and animal friendship, relating the everyday frustrations and hilarities that make up my daily life. The city streets have become my oyster, teeming with novelty and potential connections. I have made someone’s day on countless occasions, and vice versa. That’s enough to keep me going, through the cold and the wind, the piss and the poo.

Also, pups are way more fun to hang out with than most people.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

gre – scamnation station

seeing as i’ve been unanimously approved for application fee waivers by the schools to which i’m applying, i’m kicking myself in hindsight for not doing the same for the godforsaken GRE I took this evening – $140 so I could spend four hours in pure mental agony, desperately wishing i could treat it all like a game, but unfortunately dragged down to the shadows by a combination of my tepid fellow test-takers, the banal-to-the-point-of-vomiting,sadly cubicle computer terminals that made up the room (complete with partitions!), the menacing clock ticking down all the time i had left to be brilliant! now! do it!

i could go on. in fact, i think i will.

the essay topics were downright invidious. actually, the very notion of timed, structured essay composition makes my knees shrivel. anything i have ever written under such conditions has been pure shit. the act of writing is a fermentation process, not a robotic one. my creative juices utterly zapped from the get-go, it was thankfully not too difficult to resist the urge to thoughtstream, to let my words run wild on the page painting scenes. no. i had to be logical. non sequiturs are illogical, so i attempted to sequitize the lies.

and they are lies, too. the only thing i know to be true is that which i feel, am and do.

the verbal section is seemingly arbitrary, though the Kaplan word list I studied from did help me immensely. i abhor the idea that one’s grasp of language can be in any way accurately assessed through a barrage of esoteric words framed out of context. cool words do not generally stand alone; they exist in a more abstract compendium of cultural norms, stories, slang – those words are far more intriguing.

math was math. i did surprisingly well, far better than the verbal, though i consider myself a word-based, math-adverse person. the ’80’s-style computer monitor (BOXY FOXY) made grafts and subtle additions such as exclamation points difficult to read. a small sign next to the monitor begged me not to touch the screen. the whole time, i wanted to reach out and touch. those BANAL BANAL black-and-white graphs and charts and turn them into something colorful and engaging.

the exam took 4 hours total. i was the last person to leave the room. no one was sync’d or looked at one another, in fact when i finally broke from my math reverie, it kind of broke my heart to realize i was utterly alone in my despair.

oh yeah, there’s a lovely little bonus section that doesn’t count toward your score, but you don’t know which one it is! isn’t that clever?!

asinine-ass-exam, i am rid of you!

all i have are stories.

Last week, a very old woman instigated an interlude in what is normally the spot where i plug into the web whilst chomping an everything bagel. after a short conversation about the quality of the yogurt, we sat near each other with a shared wariness. she snapped, “young women these days, with their tits and their asses just out for all to see!” She eyed me slowly up and down. I was wearing grey sweatpants, a brown long-sleeved shirt, and green sneakers, no makeup, hair up in a ponytail. “You don’t do that, do you?” Responding in the entirely present moment: “no, I try not to attract too much attention.” This seemed to please her, she nodded approvingly. “This city’s dangerous.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” I agreed, distracted by the intense desire to check my e-mail. Somehow I felt that would be inappropriate. Turns out, I was right. Later in the conversation, she would speak of nearly all modern technologies with no small degree of contempt. In the interim, there were long silences.

She broke one: “Now, you’re under no obligation to answer this,” (oh boy, I thought), “but why did you move to new york? were you thinking of opportunity?”

I could answer this question with glee. “Not at all! I finished my master’s degree, and now i’m just working, trying to save money and building my life while my boyfriend finishes his degree.”

(Earlier that week, a Russian housekeeper at one of my puppy’s homes had received this same response and replied, “oh, so soon you will get married and get fat! trust me, i know.”)

The old woman (whose name I never did catch) eyed me suspiciously. I caught the vibe and attempted to convey my feelings toward this city: “people are too angry here. i want to have a garden. possibly a chicken. we are going to move west as soon as he finishes.”

At this, her eyes lit up. She nodded enthusiastically, her cynical old-new yorker guise slipping off. “Yes! That’s a very good idea.”

Our conversation moved to the economy, to the job market, her dour persona returning. “I’ve lived through a depression,” she said softly. Our eyes locked. I wanted her to send me the feeling she was exuding, and asked, “does it feel the same as it did back then?”

“Oh, it will get much, much worse,” she said ominously. “It’s terrible.” Her eyes misted and she looked distantly at nothing, mournfully, “I really don’t know what will become of us.”

And yet, yesterday morning I took a trip deep into Brooklyn. At Broadway Junction, an older black man in a dark green coat bellowed “Obama! Obamaaaamaman,” laughing maniacally. Around me, his giddiness spread like a virus. I found myself grinning despite my suspicions and doubts. Throughout the day, as I zipped through the streets of lower Manhattan on my new kick scooter, people murmured that name, shouted it, wore it proudly on their foreheads and chests. As I stopped at my favorite bagel place (where I had met the old woman), I recalled the man who’d sat near me two weeks ago, enthusiastically befriending another older man who’d been loudly championing John McCain. They went on for awhile, at some point one of them making a comment stupid enough for me to glance up in disbelief, which garnered the response, “I know you’re not happy, honey, but there’s nothing I can do about that.”

“Oh, I’m perfectly happy,” I had retorted, “this election is going to be a goddamn landslide!” Moved my gaze quickly back to my handheld and twittered about it.

Over the course of the past few weeks, my outlook toward my newly adopted neighborhood of Bushwick has changed dramatically. I barely noticed it happening, besides noting with relief that my panic attacks (lingering remnants of several traumatic incidents earlier on in the summer) had all but ceased. You see, as I came out of Mr. Kiwi’s the other day, groceries in hand, I was stopped by two eager young guys, musician types. “Excuse me,” one of them said, “do you think you could talk to us a bit about the neighborhood?” I drew in a breath, looked furtively toward Troutman, then met their eyes. They looked so hopeful, so willing to believe that this area wasn’t so bad as it looked, but instead, full of promise. It really struck a chord in me.

I began hesitantly, mentioning my recent arrival and subsequent mugging. I mentioned my fear of walking down even Broadway after dark. They were quick to point out that the danger is certainly more paramount for a young woman walking alone at night, and I agreed. They said they were looking at a place right where we were standing, and I found myself boasting about Mr. Kiwi’s, grinning as I mentioned the evangelical preaching at the corner of Myrtle & Broadway, praising the JMZ train. I spoke of the new bodega, Broadway Pizza, Goodbye Blue Monday, the eclectic and increasingly gentrified population, the many Hispanic families and odd Hasidic Jew, the fantastically low rents. They thanked me profusely, looking so excited and hopeful it just about broke my heart.

Inspired to become more involved with the community here, I wrote in to the editor of BushwickBK, a fantastic blog and my primary source of information about Bushwick. I told my story, pitched from the heart, and asked to write for them. “Ethnographic vignettes?”

As if I needed more commitments… 🙂