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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

It is not often that I have hosted a triple playdate, but last Saturday was not a usual day. It was a day when chance came calling, and I happened to be home to answer the door. The phone, rather.

It was Anna, calling to say her pal Andrew was on the Thruway, and when he arrived would be eager to take Platypus for a walk. Platypus, you say? Platypus is a dog. (Andrew favors beautifully off-kilter names for his dogs; his previous best friend was Slimpuppet.) Nelly is glad Platypus is a dog, and not a platypus. She remembered him from meeting in the city a couple of months ago, and then another visit on home turf a while later. It does not take long to develop a crush, so it was a romantic reunion. And she has good taste, I must say: Platypus is a gentle, slithery sort of dog, a setter of black and white and brown with a slowly waving tail and dreamy eyes.

Anna and I each have boys who are playmates too, so while the adults might do what we think is fun--yammer--the boys could pretend they were knights, bearing sticks for broadswords, and the dogs could pursue their own doggie interests. We arranged to meet down at the cornfields. Just as all three cars arrived, another was seen bumping down the pot-holed dirt of Fording Place Road, and--oh, you're kidding, if it wasn't Janet and John, with Willy and Dixie. If we'd tried to coordinate a get-together like this, we surely couldn't; only under the auspices of serendipity could it have occurred. The meeting of all the canines and the humans, across the generations, as we spilled from the cars was joyous. And then we set off across the winter fields, moving as quickly downwind of the rat shit as possible. I refer to the mountain of it that is stored here for fertilizer, and let me tell you, it must take a frightening number of rats to make a pile this monumental. Every time I go to the farm market, I pray I am not buying corn that was grown in rat shit.

The four dogs bounded away--this territory was the possession of three of them, they come here that often; this being the closest place to walk free, free I say free and unfettered as the wind HAH!--and we slipped on the ice-bound ripples of the cornrows. The river followed us, gliding silently, to our left.

Then came another happy event, as if this was not enough to fill my heart: an opportunity to go grocery shopping with a girlfriend. Of all the admissions ever made here that reflect poorly on my general character, the one that going grocery shopping with a friend (and not, hallelujah, with our children) brings me a warm glow of happiness is perhaps the most damning. Anna and I even shop at the same leisurely pace, reading labels and commenting on the palatability of various foodstuffs. This hour in the store was what passes for a vacation these days in my life, so that gives you a basic idea.

Andrew was charged with taking the boys, along with Nelly and Platypus, back to the house. It was getting dark. Dinnertime approacheth. At the store, we selected foccaccia, shrimp, salad, spanakopita. Oxtails for the dogs. We were in an indulgent mood. Then I started worrying about how Andrew was faring in a strange house, with strange creatures to care for. We called him from the parking lot. "Tell him to make a fire," I instructed Anna. She hung up. "He already has."

There's nothing like the familiar made new. The house shed its yellow light on the dark snow as we drove up. I wanted to be in that warm place--whose lovely house was this? Andrew was sitting in an armchair reading a book from the shelves, the fire burning in the woodstove in front of him, while the boys spread out wooden train tracks and toy villages all over the floor. Nelly rose up before Platypus to embrace him, his neck in her front legs. Holy mother of god. Couldn't you just die.

And Andrew even went and got the groceries out of the car. Because I made him.

A bottle of prosecco, empty dinner plates, and two hours later, we were still talking, no doubt indiscreetly, for little pitchers have big ears, but we had too much to dish to keep quiet, immature as we are. Nelly had taken Platypus's marrow bone and was now standing over it and looking daggers at him. --Her new boyfriend! He decided he might like it back, then decided against it, because Nelly was now sounding like a badly tuned lawnmower. Her bared teeth transformed her; sweet little dog with the funny crooked tail no more. Platypus held his head still in an assiduous look-away, the canine way of saying, "That's OK. Really, it's OK. I'd prefer it if you didn't kill me." If I didn't feel fairly confident that she wasn't actually about to rip his ears off, I would have been deathly afraid. That's what she wanted. Well, not for me to be afraid, but him. Her romantic idol. Oh, the fickleness.

No, the resource guarding. This is who Nelly is. I had been terrified I might end up with a dog who would resource guard against humans--to me, hands down the most frightening possibility, because it is so volatile, unpredictable, and easily triggered by children who drop cookies and then reach to pick them up, by which point the dog has already decided they belong to him. Then bye-bye face. So I did my best to temperament-test Nelly for this before I decided to take her. Either it worked, or it was a fluke. But she does not resource guard against humans. Only, it has turned out, against dogs. She will guard the dirty dishes (my dirty dishes, says she) in the open dishwasher against Juni, a dog nearly five times her size, and with pitbull heritage. Not wise. But she follows her passion.

Don't we all. My passion is to have more days like last Saturday, when potential arises out of nowhere. To realize it, all we need is cornfields on a winter day, dogs, exquisite luck in timing, and a bottle of something sparkling. Oxtails don't hurt, either, say the dogs. (Oh yes they do, say the ox.)