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It's Nelly's World

Ankle Biters

alec vanderboom

If I am about to save you a $9 ticket fee--oh, and a $6.75 one too, for the kid (or at least that's what it costs at my local Cinema One Two Many)--would you please just send me half of it, so I could recoup at least part of what I wasted the other night by going to Beverly Hills Chihuahua?

(Wait--you mean you never had any intention of going? Well, could you send me some money anyway?)

My son and I had seen the trailer for it a couple months ago, a rousing and pretty funny Busby Berkeley - esque number set in an Aztec ruin with a cast of hundreds of tiny dogs. Made the movie seem like a must-see. But when the credits rolled last week, my son's expression was dour. He had waited through the whole movie, through two hours of Us Weekly level comments on the contemporary penchant for absurd-looking trophy handbags and similar inexplicable excesses, in expectation of that scene. And it never occurred. That's because trailers have become another American lie, commercials that bear no relation to the products they sell. He felt ripped off, as well he might. He is persistently initiated into the disappointing realities of modern life, courtesy of capitalism.


The movie might as well have been titled Beverly Hills Paycheck: it was the usual grabbag of cliches, stock situations, a seemingly endless rollout of gags about wee doggies, perils, reunions, uplift. Film writing by committee at its most dispiriting. There was only one true laugh in the whole film, and we erupted into giggles and leaned against one another helplessly: it concerned a rat and a pinata, and I'll say no more.

The other moment that prompted at least a knowing smile from the likes of me--offered as a sop, and there's always one in kids' films these days, to the parents who must accompany their children--was where the horde of chihuahuas arises to declare "No mas!" to their enslavement as coddled lapdogs, dressed in ridiculous costumes and jewels. (At the end, the writers do yet more duty, their social give-back, with a printed request that the audience consider adopting a shelter dog. You can't argue with that, no matter how predictable.)

It reminded me of everything I dislike about lapdogs, which is that it's people who have made these dogs who do not resemble dogs. This is why my jaw clenches every time someone declares that Nelly just must have some Papillon in her. "No mas!" I inwardly shout.

It doesn't help my outlook on small breeds that recently someone, I can't remember who, informed me that lapdogs were originally bred to perform a truly unsavory job in the days of nonexistent hygiene: to sit on the pubic region and thereby entice fleas to abandon the ship of their human hosts for that of the dog's.

I lacked the inner strength to ascertain if this disgusting tale is even true.

But tonight, I loved Nelly's quite possible heritage as a lapdog. I curled up on the couch to watch a movie after dinner, and I heard her tags jingling as she ran down the stairs, down from her usual evening berth on the bed. She jumped up with me and pressed her back against my leg, as close as she could get without merging flesh. Or maybe we did. She laid her chin on my thigh, her smooth head offered up to my stroking. Pure sugary affection for her flooded through my veins. A good thing, too, considering what she did the next day on the trail. But for now, she brought that warm complication of love to my being.

I was watching Jules et Jim, a movie I had last seen twenty-five years ago. I was astonished to see that I remembered only one or two brief seconds of this film, and the rest was as if I'd never laid eyes on it. That was no doubt because I did not understand it back then, three and a half whole lives ago. I did not know what that kind of pain--love always presaging loss, loss yielding back to love again, like a dish passed around the table--could mean. Tonight, too, I found that I did not understand it, the ability to court and tolerate pain like these three did to one another. But now it was the other side of nonunderstanding. The experience was for me as if I had gone through the surface of the mirror and now stood looking back, a different perspective on the same idea, both sides seen, positive turning into negative, then back again, watched at a remove, that of life lived, lived life.