Rats

I don’t want to complain or anything, but I feel I have been unfairly treated. Discriminated against. I get the distinct impression that I have been singled out for espousing a lifestyle clearly at odds with the majority -for swimming against the current, as it were. And now that I am retired, it has come home to bite me… Or maybe it’s just that I have more time to notice the teeth.

I came to it late, I suppose –I was well into middle age before I discovered I was different and decided to do something about it: I moved to the country. When you live out here, you’re supposed to enjoy a certain amount of freedom from, well, prying. But unfortunately, even here, you have to interact. You have to buy stuff. And out here, nothing is a secret for long.

“Pretty big PVC pipe,” the smiling clerk in the building store said with an equal mixture of helpfulness and country nosiness. I’d read that PVC pipe was what you used in these parts if you had my problem, but I wasn’t sure what diameter was best suited for it. So I guessed. Then, sensing my discomfort, he leaned on the counter like you see in those Anne of Greene Gables programs. “You got rats?” Just like that, and with disarming calmness, and a normal voice, he said the word that would have mandated a call to the Public Health Department, and probably a visit from Social Services back in the city.

I nodded, my cheeks burning as I glanced around guiltily to see if anybody else was listening.

The clerk noticed and chuckled at my discomfort. “They’re bad this year aren’t they?” He reached over to a shelf and placed a shorter, narrower pipe on the counter. It had a hole drilled through the top. “You a ‘City’?” he asked, his eyes narrowing for a millisecond. At first I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I assumed it was a country pejorative. I decided to nod, in case he was going to ask for my driver’s license as proof. A facsimile of a smile returned. “Didn’t think I’d seen you in here before.”

“I just moved out here,” I said, hoping he’d see that as a sort of redemption.

His smile broadened. “Welcome neighbour,” he said, extending his big meaty hand over the counter top. “We’re lucky, I suppose,” he added, pointing to the smaller pipe with the drilled hole. “Our rats aren’t that big. Less garbage, I guess.” He picked up his pipe and fondled it for a moment. “I make a bunch of these each spring,” he said proudly. “The hole is my idea.” His face exploded in a smile that threatened his ears. “Instead of trying to put the poison in from the end and have it scattered all along the length of the pipe where cats can scoop it out, you can use a funnel and get it to stay right in the center where only the rats can get at it.”

He was so proud of his PVC modification that he was almost yelling now. People were beginning to gather around the counter to hear more. It was like he was doing a TV commercial, because he had picked up his pipe and was demonstrating it. “Notice the bevelled ends,” he said. I was going to ask him why he used bevels, but so many in the crowd were nodding their heads by that time I figured it must have been obvious. I decided not to say anything.

“Cat-proof,” he continued. “But for goodness sake, keep it out of the reach of little fingers.” More nods –it was an appreciative crowd. “And don’t use those big chunky hunks of poison –it has to be something the rat can carry back to her nest.” I’m not sure if his use of the feminine was a slap at egalitarian metrosexuality or a biologic trivium that needed no further explanation in a country grown habituated to rats and their proclivities.

The crowd began to thin when he put his pipe back on the counter. He seemed so into rats, I decided to ask him for some advice. “Where do you think is the best place to put the pipe?”

“Pipes,” he corrected me. “You need a lot of them.” He pretended to think about my question for a moment. “What makes you think you’ve got rats?” When I looked flummoxed, he leaned on the counter again like a grandfather giving advice to his city grandchild.

I blushed. I’m new at the country stuff, so I was afraid of divulging too much ignorance all at once. “Uhmm… Well, I saw one –a big one- when I went to pick up the eggs from the chicken coop.” It had startled me enough to drop the eggs, actually.

He nodded patiently. Condescendingly, in fact. “Did you go into the coop at night?” He didn’t even wait for an answer. “Never go for the eggs at night!” He fixed me with a stare a high school teacher would have been proud of. “That’s when they’re out. Out here, night is their country, not ours.” I could almost hear the italics. Clearly he thought we night-club-going city-folk wouldn’t realize that.

“Got a woodpile?” Obviously his expectation was that I would, so I nodded. “They build their nests in them. Just be careful come winter when you’re grabbing logs at night…” His face glowed like a devil when he said that. “How about your car?” He was more serious now. “Noticed any droppings on the engine?” I shook my head to be polite, but to tell the truth –which I hadn’t- I’d never thought to check. “Or how about bits of grass, or hay? They like the warmth,” he explained. “More especially in the fall and winter.” He grew contemplative for a minute and stared at the ceiling. I was about to check to see what he was looking at when he suddenly stared at me. “Customer came in last month and told me that they’d chewed through some wires under his hood. Had to get towed to the garage…”

I’d never thought of that. “So you need to put a PVC pipe in there?”

He nodded his head slowly and sagely. “Something, anyway. I use margarine containers myself. Just tape ‘em down and put them where they won’t melt while you’re driving. Not much clearance when the hood’s down for a cat to get into a margarine tub,” he said, proud of his knowledge of engine anatomy. “Just keep tabs on how much they’re eating… And don’t ever let it get empty, or they’ll go for the wires.” He stood back, satisfied he had terrified another naïve ‘City’.

He was so convincing, I walked out with ten pipes.

But like all those TV commercials, you only get told part of the story. Those guys they hire to demonstrate stuff probably practice for months to get it right. I failed immediately: I got the little pellets of rat poison everywhere. I’d started on the woodpile because it was in the garage and anyway it was raining. I didn’t have a funnel, so I rolled up a paper towel and tried that. Then an old city newspaper… The holes were just too small. So, after sprinkling several logs with a liberal helping of poison, I resorted to ramming wads of poison down the tubes with the handle of a screwdriver. That, too required more dexterity -not to mention depth perception- than my fogged up glasses would allow. So I gave up and phoned a friend with a house in the city.

“I just use peanut butter on those springy-thing rat traps,” she said.

Of course! City women are marvellous. I rigged a series of them on ledges in the coop and in little corners of the woodpile where the cat couldn’t reach. Now, two times a week, I check my lines like a trapper checking for beaver, or whatever they set them for. It’s almost fun.

I still haven’t figured out a way to keep them from slamming shut in the car when I go over bumps, though. The little snapping noises are embarrassing, too. I’ve decided not to ask at the building store, however. If it gets really bad, I’ll just phone my friend again –there’s probably a city solution they haven’t thought of out here.

A Mouth by any other name.

Hands up everybody with bad breath. It’s one of those great unknowables that have shadowed many of us since we first became aware that others might be aware of us. It starts out in early childhood when the youngster begins to suspect that others not only can think, but that those thoughts may be different from his own. This is often called the Theory of Mind.

Only much later does the child –now a teenager trying to fit in with the pack- develop an analogous awareness: that the breath of others may be different from his own. I call this the Theory of Mouth. The degree to which it is manifest is obviously difficult to measure with any precision, and anyway it varies a lot depending upon the situation, but it certainly has an effect on self-confidence. In extremis, of course, it can lead the child along a path to isolation and troglodysm; more usually, however, the child becomes an adult who continually speaks into the cuff of his shirt. They are easy to spot.

In the old days, though, things were different. There were no breath counsellors then, and most of the GPs I ever visited had terrible breathes themselves, so offered no hope of redemption from either the adolescent pimples for which I had originally visited, or the breath concerns I had thought I could sneak into the therapy. Nobody older than eighteen seemed to care, quite frankly –or, having already found partners for themselves, they had their own coping mechanisms. Their own subterfuges.

So, I was intrigued when I happened upon an archival Guardian article on breath problems the other day: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/may/16/bad-breath-oral-hygiene-halitosis  When you become an elder, it is important to keep up with the past, so you can accurately relay it to a younger generation in case it helps.

I used to think I was so clever to breathe into my hand so I would, well, know how I smelled. We all relied on that in those days. And if it revealed a concern, or if we wanted to be sure, there was always Sen-Sen –the ‘breath perfume’ candy, we all carried in our pockets to the high school dances. In the scary days of the Sock Hop, the girls would all line up on one side of the gym and the boys on the other, so actually finding a partner to dance with required a lonely, soul-searching journey across a battlefield of writhing bodies. And if you were going to run the gauntlet, you had to be really sure about your breath, eh? It was a long way back.

I couldn’t actually dance, but that was hardly the point. It was a courage thing –a rite of passage and hence a breath thing.

I suppose the major difference nowadays is that it really doesn’t matter if your breath is fetid when you interact on Facebook, or chatrooms. Even online dating sites do not require breath attestations in the profile; it’s only if things progress to actual, uhmm, physical encounters, that one has to be wary. And nowadays there are no end of things you can put in your mouth to pretend it’s user friendly.

Anyway, Science seems to be catching up as well. War, or at least threat of war, has always been a big stimulus for breakaway products for the consumer. Think of the helmet, and the flashlight, as examples. If it hadn’t been for the need to deal with dangerous people hiding in the dark, we’d still be wearing baseball caps and carrying candles.

Breath was important, too –for obvious reasons: bad breath is a real giveaway in the dark. So they had to find ways of making it better. Not too nice, or anything –that’s a giveaway too. You can smell a mouth with a Sen-Sen in it a good kilometer away. No, breath prophylaxis became the watch-word… well, words. As the article points out, 85% of the problem originates in the mouth, so soldiers were taught to keep their mouth shut. That also was found to help with keeping stuff secret, so again, the public benefitted.

Also, when bacteria were discovered hiding in the mouth, Scientists became really excited. No longer could they simply blame constipation for the problem; no longer, in good conscience, could they hold garlic and its relatives for ransom; they even soft-pedalled onions for a while –although I suspect the farm lobby had a large role to play in that. ‘It’s the bacteria, stupid’ was the new mantra. We needed not so much an explanation, as something to blame. And then, only when ‘I told you so’ ceased to satisfy us, a treatment.

But come on –plus ça change, eh? Deep down, we all knew that. We all knew it wasn’t our fault. And we realized from the time of our first cavity, that you had to brush your teeth and carry some sort of breath mediator in your pocket before a date, or it’d be your last. About the only real advance in mouth fitness was tongue-brushing and maybe chlorhexidine -and even they only lasted until you knocked on the door to pick her up. I’m not sure why, although maybe I’m too old to do it correctly because I always gag. Like computer-savvy, however, some things are probably best acquired when you’re young -partners, too, I suppose.

Now that I am retired, though, I no longer have to speak to people, but old habits die hard, and I do run into friends occasionally in Tim Horton’s. I only use my hand with the women, however.

Too Good to be True

There had to be a catch –there’s no free lunch. We should have known that by now, don’t you think? By ‘we’, I mean ‘them’, by the way -I want no part of this.

Once upon a time, in a land only temporally removed, there was a fear of babies –a dread of babies. And so great was the terror, that myths sprang up around them: guardian myths. Progenitive myths. So pervasive were these, that they clung to us like cobwebs across a morning trail. But even when Science, that elusive Parent, absolved us of one guilt, it only whispered of the others that were there all along: cohabiters, co-conspirators –and we jumped, unknowing from the cooling kettle, into its roiling water, still thick with steam.

A generation mad with relief but thrown unwillingly into the ring like aging gladiators carrying their unexpected loss instead of clothes, they forgot what tricks had saved their lives when they were young. And they awoke to carnage, not laurel wreaths, disease, not the victories they half-remembered.

I knew it was coming; like Retirement, and false teeth, it was just a matter of time: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/sexually-transmitted-infections-seniors-1.3607533

Jacob didn’t look happy when I passed him on the street. We used to hang out together in a different time and I thought I knew his moods. In fact, the last time I saw him he was bragging about the wealth of prospects out there with online dating. The victim of two divorces as he put it, he felt his time had finally come. The profiles, the pictures, the promises –he could hardly believe his luck. I was almost too good to be true. But he looked so unhappy that day on the street, we agreed to meet later that week for a coffee.

I arrived to find him huddled inconspicuously at a table and facing the wall in the furthest corner of a room bright with sun streaming through its two massive floor-to-ceiling windows. He had managed to find the only shadow and I had to search carefully to see his table.

I sat against the wall opposite him; he didn’t look up at my greeting.

“You hiding, Jacob?” I finally said when he only grunted hello.

That caused his eyes to jump to my face from my coffee where they’d roosted. “Why did you say that?” he asked suddenly, as if I had outed some secret he thought he’d concealed under the table.

I shrugged. “Because you were sitting facing the wall in a dark corner of the room?” I figured by phrasing it as a question he’d think I was only guessing.

“I was just thinking…” He sat up a little straighter in the unforgiving wooden chair, grabbed his own coffee aggressively, and then, as suddenly, put it down again with a splash. “It’s worse than it used to be, you know.”

I raised an eyebrow in response.

“I mean we should have learned something by the time we’ve made it to our age, eh? There was a time when we knew everything,” he flung an arm out either to indicate the world outside the window, or those of us trapped inside –he wasn’t specific. “And then we grew up and realized how naïve that was.”

I decided he wasn’t talking about those of us in the room, so I nodded.

“And then, when we got even older…” My god! The Three Phases of Man: the Sophoclean Riddle of the Sphinx. I perked up immediately; it was just like the old days at the pub after a hard day of classes. “When we got even older, we forgot everything we’d worked so hard to learn.”

Huh? That’s not how it went. I felt a little disappointed that he wasn’t going to celebrate our golden years. “What did we forget, Jacob?” I said, and immediately steeled myself for his pessimistic observation with a sip of my coffee.

“That you can’t trust anybody.”

I felt that was a little hyperbolic, so I continued sipping my coffee, as if I were sipping his words and tasting them. Digesting them. But I mean I trusted him. I trusted the barista…

He grabbed the now-empty cardboard cup and crushed it as if it were one of those anybodies he didn’t trust. Jacob is a large, albeit aging man, with a faded tattoo of a skull on his right forearm –you don’t want to get on the wrong side of guys like him.

I looked at him for a moment, studied his face, and waited until he’d put the remnants of the cup safely back on the table. “What happened?”

I shouldn’t have asked –not then. His face wrinkled into a glower, and I thought I could even hear his teeth grinding –but maybe his dentures were just loose, or something. He riveted me to the wall with searchlight eyes and somehow managed a deep, hissing breath through tightly closed lips.

“You remember how excited I was about the online women?” I nodded –but carefully. I didn’t really want to commit myself in case he thought I’d encouraged him. “I decided to switch to a senior site because nobody on the younger sites seemed to want a man my age unless he was rich.” He rolled his eyes, as if to comment on the opportunity they’d missed. “So, I put in my search parameters –like, I wanted a woman around fifty, thin, and with good skin. I hate it when it’s all greasy or pock-marked with liver spots, don’t you?”

I had no idea what liver spots were so I opened my mouth to ask, but he didn’t wait.

“So I opted for one that looked reasonable –you don’t have that much choice at that age, you know,” he added quickly. Actually, I didn’t, but he didn’t give me a chance to say anything. “Anyway, on the phone, she sounded interesting, so we agreed to meet for coffee…” He hesitated and checked over his shoulder then looked around for a moment. “Here, actually…”

I felt I had to apologize –I’d chosen the place- but he flicked his wrist at me to indicate that he meant me no harm.

“So…” Now he had me interested. I was going to ask him whether I should try the site.

“Well, she was no more fifty than I am,” he said in a disparaging whisper. He was my age: seventy.

I stared at him. “How old did you say you were in your profile?”

“At first I didn’t know what age to put down, but then I looked in the mirror and thought maybe I could pass for sixty. So I hunted around for an old photo and submitted that.”

“So, you said you were sixty, and submitted a fake picture?” I shook my head as if I were scolding him.

He somehow managed to over-crease his forehead to deny my accusation. “It was not a fake! It was a picture of me, but from about ten years ago…”

“Well at least the picture matched the age you entered.” I smiled to show I’d forgiven him the minor transgression.

He looked suddenly sheepish. “Well… Actually, I put down that I was fifty-five –just in case, you know.”

“And how old do you think she was?”

He shrugged. “Mid sixties, anyway, judging by the wrinkles and the spots.” His face brightened for a moment. “But she said she was on hormones… so everything worked, she assured me…” He shook his head sadly. “She seemed to be pretty sure about that.”

I didn’t want to ask what she’d meant. I just kept my eyes glued to the remains of his cup.

“Anyway, we both seemed eager… And besides, hormones are sort of like senior contraceptives, I figured.” His eyes suddenly opened wide and stared at me like I’d accused him of something. “I know she couldn’t get pregnant, but it felt better that she was on something, you know.”

I nodded as if to say I would have felt the same way. “Win-win,” was all I managed to comment before he pounded his fist onto the table.

Then he looked around the room again, this time embarrassed. “Win-lose…”

I chanced a brief glance at his face. “What do you…?”

“STI,” he interrupted with a whisper so soft I had to ask him to repeat it. He took a deep breath to compose himself. “It’s like VD,” he explained when I noticed my puzzled expression. “They changed the name for some reason.”

“Oh,” I whispered back. I thought about it for a moment. “But didn’t you…” I struggled for the words we used to use and then gave up -it was too long ago.

He shook his head slowly. “I mean, who would have thought I’d need one, eh?”

We both remained silent for a while –each of us a prisoner in our own head. And then curiosity won out –mine. “You gonna go back online dating again, Jacob?” It seemed important to ask.

He thought about it for a minute or two. “It was nice to have somebody to talk to again, you know. Discuss stuff. Trade ideas…” His eyes made the long, slow trip from table top, to crushed cup, over to my cup and then up to my face. “But I think I’ll join one of those chat-rooms people tell me about…” Then he nodded to himself and sighed. “Then at least I’ll know what I’m trading.”

He seemed pleased with his decision and was finally smiling, so I left it at that. Wisdom, if it comes at all, sometimes arrives late.

 

Identifiably Old

Who are we? No, really… I’m not talking Canadian, or Catholic, or even hominid –and certainly not the kind of who you’re expected to reveal at a party or perhaps on the long census form. And just what is an identity anyway? The word itself ultimately derives from the Latin idem: ‘the same’; or even identidem: ‘over and over’ –although that’s a bit of a convoluted etymology. The point, I think, is that identity is supposed to be something that is consistent –perhaps unique.

Unique, I realize, is easy –each and every one of us is unique. But if identity is an attempt to pin something on any of us that is consistent and the same, there is a problem.

George was sitting on his veranda as I walked by on the sidewalk in front of his house. It was raining lightly and wind was raking the yard and robbing the trees of what few leaves they still possessed. But he seemed entertained by the scene and sat serenely comfortable on a deck chair dressed in a heavy grey coat and blue toque. It wasn’t cold enough for a toque, but he’d knitted it himself and wore it at the slightest provocation to show off.

I tried to pretend that I was texting and didn’t see him, but he called out to me. It’s hard to pretend you don’t notice somebody when they shout your name and wave.

“Come on up, Goz,” he said when I raised my head. I forced a smile -it bothers me when anybody calls me the childhood nickname that I let slip late one night at a party.

“Don’t call me Goz, George. It’s not my name.”

He sighed over-elaborately and pointed to a seat beside him on the porch. Sometimes  it wasn’t just his toque that was annoying. “I’m sorry, I was just teasing. I like the name…” he added to mollify the expression on my face.

“My father liked it, too, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” I explained -it seemed to encapsulate my feelings. I hoped he wouldn’t press it any further.

He smiled broadly at my biblical reference. “Paul, in his epistle to the Corinthians, isn’t it?” George is an emeritus professor of Philosophy who took an early retirement and I think he likes to keep in practice.

I had no idea where the phrase came from, but I shrugged as if to indicate that it was common knowledge. I probably shouldn’t have used it around George, though.

“Names are like adjectives, don’t you think? They describe the noun.” He wasn’t going to let the nickname go without a fight.

“Described, perhaps,” I said, attempting to emphasize the past-tense of the word.

“We all change, I suppose,” he said, trying to be conciliatory, and pausing briefly to let me enjoy the reprieve. A gust of wind swept a parcel of leaves onto the deck and he studied them for a moment. “But sometimes I wonder just how much…”

“How’s Retirement, George?” I had to change the subject before it got out of hand.

He looked up from the leaves and smiled with an expression that said his mind had been miles away. Then, he sat back in his chair and stared at an empty tree across the road for what seemed an eternity. “It’s given me time to think,” he said, finally breaking the fast of his silence.

“Think…?” Good I thought -it worked.

“Those leaves,” he continued, pointing at the dreary, sodden lump near his feet. “They’re not where they used to be…” He paused as he thought it through. “And they’re not doing what they were designed to do on the tree…” He looked up at me. “I suppose they’re fulfilling another function in nature now… But they’re still called leaves.”

I had a feeling this was not going where I wanted. I decided to shrug. “It’s a generic descriptor, I suppose.” A weak response, but couched in big words. I hoped it would suffice.

He stared at the tree again, considering my answer. “There’s been a change -I’ll concede that, if you like- but the name is still apt nonetheless, don’t you think?”

I studied his face for a moment. I had the uneasy feeling I was being led into a kind of Socratic trap. “George, I’m not the same person that ‘Goz’ described, if that’s the trap you’re trying to entice me into.” I felt pleased with that –especially when he sent his eyes out to perch on that tree again. I was a bit concerned about the smile, though.

“Who are you, then?” he said, still examining the tree. “A rose by another name…?”

I hate it when people use Shakespeare against me; it almost seems sacrilegious to argue the point. “I just don’t like the name…” I might as well put it on the table, I figured.

His eyes flitted to my face for a moment and then withdrew to their assigned cages. “Because you’re not the same person, you said?”

I could feel the door closing on me. “No, I’m not the same person I was when I was ten. Neither are you,” I added, hoping to salvage something in the argument. Anything, actually.

His eyes were twinkling now, although he was trying to disguise them by sending them back to the clump of leaves to hide. “Neither is the tree, I suspect…” He freed his eyes briefly to sample my face.

I took a deep, somewhat stertorous breath -I also dislike losing arguments. The funny thing was, I wasn’t actually sure that I had. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

The rain had stopped and although it was still windy, I could see some blue sky beginning to accumulate in little patches. “I was just heading for a coffee,” I said, rising to my feet. “Want to join me?”

He smiled and nodded his head. “Actually, I could use an espresso this morning…”

“Still coffee, though, isn’t it?”

He looked at me and laughed. Sometimes friends have to let each other win…

Dog Biscuits

There is something deeply redemptive about walking a dog. It’s not that I feel in particular need of absolution, or anything, but like paying off a mortgage, every little bit counts. Just the feel of the empty leash in your hand, the wind in your hair and the little recyclable compost bag in your pocket in case you get caught is truly freeing -not to mention exhilarating.

I’m fortunate to live near a forest that is almost empty of decorum, so neither I nor my dog pay much heed to protocol. Not for us the urban fences and posted restrictions; we roam the trails like pioneers, exulting in the freedom to do whatever we wish, as long as nobody is watching. My job, of course, is to make sure.

I often walk with a friend for extra eyes –my dog is old and sometimes gets confused if she happens upon a scent that beckons more seductively than my own. Deaf, cataract-laden, and hip-restricted, I should probably be taking her in a wheelchair, but some of the trails are not equal-opportunity accessible. And anyway, she seems to enjoy padding along behind, engrossed in an olfactory experience those of us with clothes have long ago eschewed.

But there is an awkward moment of encounter at least once on any trail when I am asked her name. I know people are just being polite; I know they are really asking me to ask them their dog’s name so they can show off some clever celebrity sobriquet. But, even though I am now retired and expected to immerse myself in a popular culture I am too old to understand -the culture I am relegated to appreciate by proxy, I suppose- I do not enjoy the thrill of surrogate intimacy with the rich and famous.

I was by trade, a gynaecologist, and I fear my epithetical leanings are definitely gynaecological. So, in the case of my dog, I am constantly confronted with the need to explain the embarrassing anatomical coordinates of the name. The same with my cat, actually, but it saved me undo mortification by running away. As you read this, it is probably in protective custody somewhere, living under an alias. But to each her own. My dog seems to like her name, and back when her ears worked, actually perked them up when I called.

My friend, however, seems convinced that she is suffering from a type of psychological stress-deafness akin to Freud’s hysteria. Either that or, I am assured, she just ignores me in the throes of humiliation. I honestly don’t know why I continue to walk with this person.

I’ve kind of solved the deafness issue, though. Although she can’t hear me yelling at her, there are politer solutions on offer -loud whistling, for example. While I can do a fair, albeit rather sibilant, rendition of the first few bars of Ode to Joy, and have, on occasion, won praise for my thrilling, but unrecognizable version of Rachmaninoff’s prelude in C# minor, I am congenitally unable to produce anything louder than a soft hiss in the whistle department -certainly nothing that would command any attention, let alone respect. I did try one of those dog whistles in a pet store. The sign said it was supposed to use a higher frequency than humans can detect, and I couldn’t hear a thing when I blew it. I took that as a good sign. Mind you, my hearing is not what it used to be either, and I can certainly sympathize with presbycusis in the dog. Still… it didn’t do what the sign assured me it wouldn’t, so I bought it. Unfortunately, the first time I used it, my friend claimed it was both audible and painful, so I had to put it in my pocket. I still bring it with me, however, because although the dog can’t hear it, I figure it might come in handy if my friend wanders off.

The method I find myself using to attract the dog’s increasingly apparent attention deficit disorder, is the clap. Not to be confused with the dated, and highly derogatory alias for the condition that used to get you sent to the nurse’s office in high school, I am referring to the simple, yet forceful meeting of the hands. The dog seems to respond to clapping, although to get her attention, it has to be repetitive -as if I were applauding something terribly interesting in the trees that nobody else can see. People nearby avert their eyes as they approach, or scan the woods in search of the performing squirrel or wind ensemble that may be hidden somewhere they hadn’t noticed. I usually try to explain as they hurry past, but like the apocryphal tree falling in the forest when nobody is around, I get the distinct impression they’d rather not hear it.

I have recently come to the reluctant conclusion that my dog is entering a phase of cognitive decline, however. I see in her bouts of decision paralysis, hints of doggie dementia. She will, on occasion, sniff the same rock twice, as if she’s forgotten the olfactory message and her own contribution to the gestalt. She seems perfectly happy with the result, and I suppose I shouldn’t read too much into it, but as a fellow mammal, I worry. It’s a cross cultural thing, I guess.

Confusion is a big issue in a society based on obedience like ours. It is imperative that you know who to obey for a start –the rule of law depends on it. And it’s no different for a dog. Befuddlement is probably the heaviest weight I have to carry –not mine, you understand, although my friend sometimes has to fetch me if I wander off the trail thinking I see my car in the bushes. But that’s just when I’m tired and I don’t think dogs can use the same excuse. So when she disappears, I worry it is because her GPS is broken and not, like in my case, that she has just forgotten to turn it on.

I take her deficit personally t00, because I see it on the menu for us all. And if, in some uncharted time ahead, I should happen to wander off down another trail, or follow someone strange thinking it is myself, I hope my keepers will not be unduly distressed, or feel I have betrayed their trust. As with my dog, I hope they will be patient with my errant ways. And in the end, if clapping doesn’t work, there’s always the leash.