Eleanor the Dog
Tuesday, July 22 2003
We ran a series of experiments in the driveway and on Dug Hill Road to figure out what had become of Gretchen's cell phone, which she had accidentally left on the hood of her car while pealing out of the driveway. At first Gretchen tried using a rubbery dog toy as a mock cellphone, but it was so non-slippery that it stayed on her hood no matter what she did. Next we tried a tin of Altoids, the curiously strong mints. It didn't take much to get them to slide off, and there was even a comic scene in which we gathered the spilled Altoids off the road, putting them back in the tin. There'd been a hard rain last night and we figured Dug Hill was clean enough now to eat off of. Shortly thereafter a downpour began, and at the time I was further down Dug Hill looking to see if the cellphone had been carried by floodwater from the roadside ditches into the forest.
For the past couple months, Gretchen had been lobbying heavily for us to get another dog. Our house is so big and our environment so perfect that our lack of a second dog was causing her considerable guilt. Bear in mind that she volunteers at two different animal shelters and contributes a large fraction of our household income (perhaps the whole thing - I don't know) to stray animal charities. Recently she's discovered other
ways to "help the animals" as well. Yesterday she ventured across the Hudson to look at prospective adoptees ar the Dutchess County SPCA. Our local Ulster County SPCA skates on a large endowment received from the estate of a deceased benefactor; it features a horrendously tasteless marble colonnade near its front door. By contrast, the Dutchess County
SPCA is a run-down facility making ends meet on a fraying shoestring. It was precisely the sort of shelter from which Gretchen wanted to adopt a dog. While there, Gretchen found the perfect dog. She was a ten month old puppy named Boo-Boo who looked like a slightly smaller version of Sally, but with a massive Pit-Bull-style head.
Today I accompanied Gretchen to the Dutchess County SPCA. On the way we stopped at the austere New York State Police headquarters on US 209 so Gretchen could file a police report about the missing cellphone. This was a necessary precondition to getting a new one from the phone's insurer.
For a good 20 minutes we sat there in the front lobby of the station while the dispatcher, a tall uniformed white man with a shaved head, ran plates for troopers in the field. We heard it all, thoroughly unencoded. He'd say things like, "Be advised that it checks out to a Laura M. Handly of 233 Maple Lane, Kingston." This officer's job was a complicated one, because he was also the person staffing the window of the lobby. In addition to us, there was also a young man who needed to inform the police that he'd gotten the exhaust system fixed on his sporty little car, which looked far too new to be experiencing exhaust system trouble.
While we waited, I managed to read nearly all of the lobby's reading material. It consisted entirely of propaganda flyers about underage drinking, road rage, and cybercrime.
As I told Gretchen at the time, I'll read almost anything when desperate. I told her about how, back when I was a kid, I used to occasionally read the first aid pamphlet in the bathroom emergency kit when I couldn't find any reading material "in time." Like nearly everything else in my parents' house, this first aid pamphlet was an artifact from the early 1960s and featured some amusing instructions for what to do in the case of a nuclear attack.
Finally the female officer who would be taking Gretchen's statement arrived. The main reason we'd been waiting so long was that at the last minute this officer had decided to pull over someone who was doing 70 mph right in front of the headquarters. "I go 70 past the headquarters all the time," Gretchen whispered to me.
Gretchen's statement was taken in a thoroughly undecorated 120 square foot room (I counted the tiles). Directly across the hall was a female dispatcher who had to be the fattest person I'd ever seen gainfully employed. Her arms had the girths of grown men. How did she get to work in the morning? Flatbed truck?
The Dutchess County SPCA is near Hyde Park (the location of FDR's estate). On the way there, we passed both the Vanderbilt Estate and FDR's estate. It's interesting to see the compromises made by developers seeking to construct retail developments in this extremely historic area. We had a picnic of vegetarian sandwiches outside a health food store and I noticed that a large nearby strip mall was set back from the road behind a 100-foot wide lawn, a row of White Pines, and a stately stone wall. Even the Hyde Park McDonalds featured a stone wall out in front.
At the SPCA, Gretchen took me directly to Boo-Boo's outdoor cage. An immediate good sign was that, though friendly, Boo-Boo was the only dog not barking. We were allowed to take her for a walk in the nearby pet cemetery, and then later one of the SPCA staffers supervised an official meeting between our dog Sally and Boo-Boo (Gretchen had already made an unofficial introduction yesterday). Sally was more or less indifferent, Boo-Boo liked all of us, and I liked Boo-Boo. So we were permitted to adopt the dog. While we were filling out the necessary paperwork, a woman came in to drop her dog off. It was a small white purebred Scottish Terrier, almost certain to be adopted immediately. The woman, it turned out, was involved in a messy divorce and her new residence wouldn't permit pets. We didn't realize that this what was happening, and somehow the topic of "why people drop off animals at the SPCA" came up. When the staffers said that the two biggest reasons were allergies and moving, Gretchen was aghast. She couldn't imagine moving to a place that wouldn't allow her animals.
Somewhere in the midst of the paperwork, we found out Boo-Boo's backstory. She had been found as a stray in the parking lot of the A & P in Lagrange.
Gretchen and I had no intention of having a dog named Boo-Boo in our house. So on the drive home, we bounced names off one another. "Lorna" (one of Gretchen's deceased grandmothers) and "Olivia" (we'd just seen Xanadu) were strong contenders, with "Geraldine" coming in a somewhat distant third. Then I got to thinking about the fact that the Dutchess County SPCA is so close to the old house where Eleanor Roosevelt relocated once her husband starting driving her crazy. So I suggested "Eleanor." Gretchen loved it immediately. It had the full-length strengths of my other suggestions, but shortened much better. (We didn't want to call our new dog Olly, Olive, or Gerry - all those had either bad or quasi-incestuous connotations).
We stopped at Brittany Feed in Kingston to buy more dog food and additional toys, the kind one buys when adopting a puppy.
Back at our house, it was something of a surprise how quickly the cats adapted to Eleanor. Indeed, by suddenly making Mavis seem like old news, Eleanor's arrival had a net stabilizing effect upon the political relationships among our keeyads.
It was immediately apparent that Eleanor was unfamiliar with such concepts as climbing stairs and using dog doors, but she quickly demonstrated a good working knowledge of basic toilet protocols. She was considerably mellower than most dogs are at that age, refraining from chewing anything that wasn't a dog toy and taking a prolonged nap between us as we watched two entire movies on DVD.
The first movie we watched was The Naked Kiss, a sort of hardboiled film noir from 1964 on the subject of child molestation. Though maybe not as taboo then as it is today, child molestation was definitely not the sort of thing one could portray in film, and we had to be extra observant to catch it being portrayed at all.
The other movie was Smokey And the Bandit, a redneck car chase movie from 1977. It's the movie that put "10-4 Good Buddy" into the American lexicon. As Smokey And the Bandit came out soon after my family moved to Redneckistan, I've found it difficult to tease its cultural influences apart from the rich Appalachian orthodoxy I discovered in and around Staunton, Virginia. Gretchen mostly wanted to see this movie because it stars Sally Field, one of her favorite actresses. In the end, it's actually a good movie, as trend-setting car chase movies for guys who like car chase movies go. The funniest thing about watching it was the fact that it appeared in a letterbox, as if we were watching IFC or Bravo.
I was particularly interested in Smokey And the Bandit's product placements, a form of advertising that was still in a rather primitive state back in 1977. Obviously one of the products being promoted was the Pontiac Trans Am. Burt's eagle-adorned transportation never suffered even the slightest damage, even when plowing through a dense grove of mailboxes. This movie was single-handedly responsible for the subsequent Trans Am buying spree that put these cars in the hands of all those greasy, mustachioed, outspokenly heterosexual Burt Reynolds wannabes with which the 1980s were so jam-packed.
The other product "placed" in Smokey and the Bandit was Coors Beer, the ultimate Redneckistani brew. (How do I know? When I went to visit high school friends at Virginia Tech in the late 1980s, I was dismayed to discover that the only beer being consumed by the underage alcoholics in their dorm was Coors.) One of the movie's many absurd premises was that Coors was contraband east of Texas, an obvious ploy to convince movie viewers that it was the beer analogue of Cuban cigars - probably banned for its high quality and suspect political associations.
Perhaps unwittingly, one of the most powerful product placements was the idea of using a CB Radio (though the opportunity for offering a suggested brand went squandered). Back in 1977 there were no cellphones, pagers, WiFi, or even cordless phones. The idea of being able to communicate wirelessly both publicly and semi-privately was a revolution. Indeed, given its range and freeness (as in both cervesa and libre) there are reasons to continue using CB radio to this day. Inspired, I went to Ebay and bought two CB units outright and put in a bid on a third. Being an impatient man, I'm a big fan of Ebay's Buy It Now button.
Sally in the foreground, Eleanor in the background.
Left to right: Eleanor and Sally playing.
Eleanor gets the evil eye from Mavis the elderly cat. Sally's butt makes a cameo.
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