Mom has been hanging out at the house lately instead of going to work. She gives me lots of extra walks and pats, so I hoped she would never get adopted. But this week she said that she found a new Forever Job, so we had better spend some time in the Covered Wagon before we won’t have time to be strays anymore.
“Where will we go?!” I asked. “Somewhere new and exciting like New Jersey??”
“Let’s go back to our Special Place,” Mom said.
So we got in the Covered Wagon and I sat in my copilot’s seat with my head in Mom’s lap as we drove through all the traffic places, past all the ugly metal trees that spit smoke into the air, through the ground clouds that come up from the farm dirt, past all the signs about how happy we’ll be when we visit the casino, until we were in the mountains again. When we stopped the covered wagon at the lake on the bottom of the mountain, I ran over to get a drink. I had to run a long way, over grass that I had swum above the last time I was there, and to a boulder that used to be an island. “Mom, where is the lake going??” I asked.
“Well once all the snow melted, it stopped being fed.”
“But where did the water go that was already there?” I asked.
“It went into the sky to become rain storms in Cleveland or Toronto or something,” she said. I looked around at all the mountains and trees. Even though the white dirt was gone, this still seemed like the most beautiful place in the world. Cleveland or Toronto must be even more beautiful than anything that I had seen in all 8 states in this country for a lake to want to get up and fly there rather than staying here.
We kept hiking until we found a trail that we’d never taken before to a place called Gold Lake. But when we got there, it was like a lake at the bottom of a low flow toilet bowl and we were all the way up on the seat. Someone had flushed the lake so low that we couldn’t figure out how to get down the bowl to it. I wanted to keep exploring, but Mom said that we had to get back to the Covered Wagon before the sun set.
When we got back to the Covered Wagon there were a bunch of trucks parked next to it, and a group of hunky, handsome men that looked like human Oscars sitting at a picnic table eating a snack. Mom looked real interested in them, and since we had our own snacks, I figured that she must want to be a fire fighter. Maybe that was the new job she got?
The last time we were up here for the 4th of July, the Covered Wagon was so hot that we couldn’t even sit in it. But this time when the sun went away, it took the heat with it. While Mom read, I let her wrap me in a blanket like an em-pup-nada, but once it was lights out and no one could see how cute I was anymore, I took the blanket off so that I could jump up and bark at something if I needed to. It sure was cold with the lake and white dirt gone. I snuggled up close to Mom to keep warm, but not much of her warmth got through the 2 sweatshirts and 2 blankets she was wearing, so by the time she finally woke up almost half a day later, I had turned into a pup-sicle. It took a long time with the covered wagon blowing heat at us while Mom drank her poop juice for me to defrost back into a supple beefcake again.
Mom said that we could “mellow out” on this trip, which means that she was too lazy to run up the mountain and she’d be walking. That was okay with me, because while she walked I could run even more miles through the brush and practice my plyometrics sprinting over logs and rocks.
Once we started hiking, I left Mom to chase critters in the bushes, but she called me back and asked me to stop. “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” I said through a mouthful of salmon jerky. “The whole point of hiking is to chase critters.”
“Well, there was a sign back there that there’s been an outbreak of ‘the plague’ and to watch out for fleas.”
“What’s ‘the plague?'” I asked.
“Well… ‘a plague’ is just when a lot of people get sick and the same time. But when people say ‘the plague…’ they usually mean the one where black blobs called buboes grow on you and then you die. It was a big deal like 700 years ago, but I don’t think it’s really a thing anymore.”
I looked at Mom’s weird boxy body that’s flat in all the places where humans are sometimes curvy, and then I looked at my sleek, athletic frame that was black, but not blobby at all. “Well I don’t have any boobies, and neither do you,” I said. “And if one of us is going to chase contaminated critters, it should be the one of us that is up to date on his flea meds, don’t you think?”
I ran to and fro, chasing critters and sniffing in all the nooks and crannies to see if anything interesting had happened while I was away. Every time Mom called me, I came running back to her with a big grin, and she was always laughing when I found her.
“I wish that we could keep doing this forever,” she said.
“Why can’t we?” I asked.
“Well, because I have to feed you and the Covered Wagon, and pay for our Stuck House and lots of other things, so I have to work.”
“You could be a fire man, like those guys we saw yesterday. You seemed really into them. I have spots, so I bet they would let me be a dalmatian and ride in the fire engine.”
“You can’t be a fire fighter,” Mom said. “Fire fighters are brave. You’re afraid of everything.”
“I am too brave,” I said. “Name one thing that I’m scared of!”
“Well, sirens for one,” Mom said. “And balloons. And watering cans. And men with beards. And chihuahuas. And Halloween decorations.”
“Wait, are you talking about that dead guy in the neighbor’s yard that was pointing at me? He wanted to kill me though! Murderers are scary.”
“The point is, fire fighters aren’t scared of things that other people are scared of. I’m afraid of blood, and you’re afraid of stuffed shirts with masks on top.”
“I’m not afraid of the plague,” I pointed out.
“What if I told you that found us a job where neither of us had to be in danger?” Mom said as we walked along the edge of the world with all the human things like jobs and cars and houses so far below us that they seemed imaginary.
“What do you mean ‘us?'” I asked.
“Well, they said that you could come to work with me, but… well… they haven’t met you yet.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Oscar… you bark a lot. Business dogs know how to use their indoor voices.”
“I haven’t barked all day!” I pointed out. It’s true. I don’t bark all that much. Only when there are strangers, or Friends, or Frienemies, or noises, or runners who take walking breaks, or occasionally some other times. When there aren’t any of those things, like in the mountains, I’m a real quiet and introspective dude.
“You know how I decided that I didn’t have to be the most ferocious runner that we know so that I could save my energy for other things?” Mom asked when we got to the end of the world and looked out at all the mountains between us and Oregon, and Nevada, and Toronto.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s why we almost never run more than 5 miles anymore.”
“Well, I want that kind of peace for you too,” Mom said. “You’re very brave with chipmunks and ground squirrels, but maybe you don’t have to always be competing for top dog. Maybe if you were a little more tolerant of things like people coming out their front doors, neighbors parking their cars, recycling trucks, dogs that ignore you, or waiting outside Starbucks then you wouldn’t feel so anxious all the time that one of those things might set you off.”
That sounded awfully scary. “But Mom, if I don’t bark at those things, how will I keep myself from getting scared?” I asked.
“The point is that maybe you can learn not to be scared of those things at all anymore. Wouldn’t it be great to not get the bejesus scared out of you so many times a day? Maybe if you chill out, you could use all the energy you save to become successful business dog. Business dogs get butt scratches from all kinds of different people. Do you want to be stuck in a dead-end security dog job and spend all day by yourself forever?”
(I didn’t think that this was time for me to bring up The Other Woman who comes and takes me on adventures while Mom is away.) “Okay,” I said. “I’ll give it a try.”
As we drove home from the mountains, Mom described my new training plan. Instead of intervals and long runs and hills, we would go for walks downtown where there are lots of scary people coming out of doors, and practice not having a melt-down outside Starbucks, and not jumping up and putting my front paws on counters in stores (even though it’s fine for humans to do). It will mean a lot of hard work, but you don’t get to be a business dog without higher education.
Oscar the Business School Student