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   dog rendezvous in Allentown
Wednesday, January 3 2007
Gretchen's parents will be vacationing in India for a couple months, and they'd arranged for us to dogsit their two standard poodles (Hansi and Oliver) in their absence. Today we met each other in Allentown, Pennsylvania, half way between our respective homes, to do the dog exchange.
But before going to that famous rust belt city we stopped in another locus of urban decay, Newburgh. By the standards of the Hudson Valley, Newburgh is largish city and it's only about thirty miles from Hurley. But we've never had any reason to go there. For us it is mostly just an exit on the Thruway, or else the place to catch I-84. But today we actually waded into the city itself. We did this because Gretchen had been given contact information for a pet store where we could buy large amounts of inexpensive cat food.
While looking for the pet store we drove the entire length of Broadway, ending up at the Hudson River waterfront. Newburgh is sited against a lovely backdrop of round-peaked mountains, and as one approaches the river the backdrop becomes even more impressive. Within a block of the Hudson the buildings and streets are well-maintained and orderly, but beyond that urban decay is common. Newburgh has a reputation for being a rough place, and it has an appearance to match. If Saratoga Springs is a millionaire's fresh-faced arm candy, Newburgh is more like a woman named Crystal who smokes methamphetamines and works the night shift as a prostitute.
At the pet store the guys were all yucking it up with Gretchen while I befriended an unexpectedly-cuddly salmon-colored cockatoo. He said "hello" and later laughed like a human trapped in an AM radio. Every now and then I socialize with a parrot like this and I remember why it is that people decide to live with birds, despite the fact that they're impossible to housebreak and will take advantage of the first opportunity to escape into the outdoors even in winter, giving lie to their seeming old-soul wisdom.

I'd never had any reason to go to Allentown before and don't know any more about the place than what Billy Joel permanently burned into my neural circuitry. (I should point out here that Billy Joel's "Allentown" dates from a period in American pop when it sounded, to my ear at least, extremely refreshing, lacking as it did the cheesy synthesizers of the period and the ugly over-production then fashionable.) To get to Allentown we took I-78, a road I have never been on. I-78 takes you through a part of New Jersey where many of the villages and hamlets have -ington endings, something I found amusing because of late I've made a goofy sport of tacking -ington to the end of some of our cat's names and pseudonyms (the late "Luington," "Wilmington," and "Stripington.") One of these New Jersey towns is actually called "Lamington," which I pronounced "Lame-ington." "Lame" is a word I still use when I've got my slacker hat on and want to talk about something being pathetic. It seemed natural that the lamest of all lame places would bear the name Lamington, in a state famous for being lame. This eventually lead me to imagine a good zipcode for Lamington: 10237. Look at that number carefully and you'll see that it spells out "loser," though the last three letters are backwards. Too bad New Jersey doesn't have zipcodes that begin with a one. (What, does New Jersey think it's part of New England?)
I should mention here that I have never seen as many trucks on an interstate as I saw today on I-78. I grew up in Staunton, Virginia and am well-acquainted with the heavy truck-traffic on I-81, but I-81 never looked like a thousand-car double freight train the way I-78 did today. At first I thought maybe Allentown had managed to restart the factories whose closing Billy Joel sang about. But no, later I figured out that I-78 is how all those trucks on I-81 bust their move over to New York City.

As crumbling rust belt cities go, Allentown didn't actually look to be in terrible shape. Its downtown had recently-revitalized feel to it, and there's a perfectly acceptable art museum there. After we parked, I gave a homeless guy fifty cents, which made us fumble that much longer for coins to feed the meter (which cost something like ten cents for eight minutes). A guy was walking down the street and Gretchen randomly asked him to recommend a restaurant, and so we ended up at the Dogstar Café. We ordered pesto melts, but we were disappointed to find they contained mayonaise instead of pesto.
Above our heads, Fox News was blaring administration propaganda from the cafés television. The talking heads (including an interchangable blond who made resentful head motions whenever she mentioned what the Democrats were up to) were finding it unfair that the newly-empowered Democrats had decided to go slow in giving the minority Republican party the rights that had been revoked when Republicans took power. I found myself shouting "Suffer!" at the television, as if I was a http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methamphetamine militiaman at Saddam's hanging.
Gretchen and I went to the Allentown Art Museum and I enjoyed their collection of medieval paintings (the late-medieval period is one of my favorites in art history). Upstairs there was an exhibit of textiles used as propaganda in support of various WWII belligerents, and we even paid extra to see it, though it wasn't particularly interesting. Admission had been surprisingly expensive; we expected everything to be cheap in such a famously troubled city.

Eventually Gretchen's parents arrived from Silver Spring. They'd brought a shitload of holiday gifts, dog food, dog treats, western medicine for aging dogs, and various weird Chinese herbal medicines (which was suprising given how skeptical Gretchen's father is of alternative medicine). Both of the dogs we'd be dog sitting are old and suffer from health problems typical of large purebred dogs. Hansi needs to take steroids daily and Oliver is suffering from an inoperable (and possibly non-malignant) orange-sized tumor on his rump. Both dogs are kind of batty in their respective ways. Hansi is somewhat senile and has become more cantankerous with age. Oliver never had any sense or social skills to begin with, but because he's unusually curious, he always ends up causing some sort of commotion. My big concern was what he'd do when he saw our cats.

But once we got back home the two additional dogs seemed destined for a smooth integration. Oliver had to be reprimanded for barking at the cats and otherwise showing excessive interest, but he didn't chase or attack them, which to me was a huge relief. Two months is a long time to worry about one of your animal residents eating another.


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