Who Will Floss the Dog?

You gotta love the bus! It’s like going to a movie, only cheaper. There are as many programs as there are seats, and with the old people, you sometimes don’t even have to be sitting near to them.

Buses provided some of the first equal opportunity stages, I think. I had a look in Wikipedia, hoping for a theatrical link, but alas, it seemed drawn to the more pragmatic aspects. It told me that ‘Bus is a clipped form of the Latin word omnibus. The first horse-drawn omnibus service was started by a businessman named Stanislas Baudry in the French city of Nantes in 1823’, and that ‘Regular intercity bus services by steam-powered buses were pioneered in England in the 1830s by Walter Hancock and by associates of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, among others, running reliable services over road conditions which were too hazardous for horse-drawn transportation.’ It doesn’t say anything about when buses became travelling entertainment salons, however. Or maybe I’m just easily amused…

For example, last week I decided to respond to a politely-worded summons from my dentist. Apparently he figured I hadn’t been around in a long time and thought his dental tech might need to do a little scraping and filing, or something. He didn’t use those words, exactly, but I’ve known him for a while and could sense his concern that my flossing might not meet current standards, nor the toothbrush they gave me last year still doing something more than merely shoving the food around. I chose to ignore his subtle but sublingual hint that my visit might also help with his vacation plans. I hoped the bus might afford me some distraction.

The bus was sparsely populated and eerily quiet when I boarded it at its terminus, so I had an unexpected mélange of seats. Much like a hockey arena, the seats on a bus can be graded. There are the rafter seats –right at the back and usually over something that vibrates and rattles worryingly. Then, of course, the midrange variety where entertainment is rife, but often cacophonous and conversation lacks the normal cohesion and sourceability that permits useful comprehension. I usually try for what would pass for the seats-behind-the-bench at a game –a few seats back from the senior’s area, but with a row of seats interposed between for the women with children… or suitcases, rickety boxes tied with strings, overstuffed shopping bags –clunky stuff that reeks of the unusual and a need to tell somebody about it.

As luck would have it, there were only two people –a middle aged man in a fedora, brown overcoat and scuffed shoes, sitting with an older woman wearing a long pink coat and a speckled grey pig tail that didn’t go at all with her age. But there were no bizarre boxes anywhere in sight in the coveted area, so I settled in for a long and disappointing ride, condemned to travel inwards, undistracted, and filled with all the anticipatory dread that only dentists and Proctologists can inspire. But it can’t always be ribbons and Disneyland, I guess.

I closed my eyes and tried to position my head in the balance position –something on which seasoned bussers pride themselves so their heads don’t end up on their laps drooling when they drift off.

“So glad I got that dental plan for Mara,” I heard the woman say as the bus started up.

My ears perked up. Maybe dental angst was more widespread than I’d thought.

“You got a dental plan for her, Lizzie?” It was the man’s voice, and he sounded surprised. “How much did that set you back?”

I imagined a shrug. “Well, she’s had bad teeth for a few years, so I figured it was worth it…”

He chuckled. “Why do you always encourage her to eat what you eat?”

“And what’s wrong with that, Jim? I’m still healthy, you know.” A defensive tone had crept into her voice.

There was a momentary hesitation before he answered, sotto voce, “You told me you have false teeth, Liz…”

“Well, that’s not why, Jimmy. And besides, she’s eaten my kind of food ever since the adoption… Never heard a complaint, either!”

Silence followed –well, the usual bus-rumble anyway- and I was just drifting off into the all-forgiving arms of Lethe, when Lizzie spoke up again. “Do you have one for Keg?”

It occurred to me that either she was a sales representative for dental plans and was trying to sell a policy to Jim for his grandson, or maybe just a well-meaning grandmother that was used to giving advice.

“Keg’s doing okay, Martha. Probably his diet though, eh?” he added with a chuckle.

“He’s, what, five now…?”

Jim didn’t answer right away. “Uhmm, yes, I guess somewhere around that…”

“Somewhere?” She sounded indignant that he wasn’t sure. “When’s his birthday?” she said, each word a needle.

It was getting interesting so I opened my eyes. She was frowning at him like a mother at her son when he comes in late on a Friday night, her mouth a serpent’s grin.

“You mean the actual date?” He looked puzzled at her distress. She nodded her head sternly and glared at him as he tried to deflect her chagrin with a boyish smile. Then he shrugged and tried to bluff it. “June… I’m sure it was in June…”

She sat back in her seat, obviously only partially mollified. “I’ll find out from Sally,” she said after shaking her head as if to say that men shouldn’t be trusted with anything important anyway. “She’ll know.”

“Yes, maybe she will… But remember, we’re just taking care of him on those days our daughter is away at school. Janice didn’t want to leave him alone in her apartment.”

Her eyes snapped towards him suddenly as if he just admitted to child abuse. “Well… he’s still going to have dental problems -if he doesn’t already. You have to start flossing him. Just being male doesn’t protect him, you know. You wait and see…” She reached back and pulled the cord for the bus to stop, and hurried out the door after telling Jim she’d be sure to phone Sally.

I could see him roll his eyes, and he noticed me watching so he shrugged again. “I’ve never heard of a cat needing a dental plan, have you,” he said, laughing at the thought.

I shook my head, but what did I know? “And Keg is…”

“My daughter’s dog… And no,” he added when he noticed the relief on my face. “I’ve never tried flossing him…”

Suddenly, my dental needs seemed to slip into a different gear.



Dog Days

The dog is probably one of the most important inventions in the history of civilization. More than just another thing, it has been a protector, a hunter and -when push came to grunt- a way of getting us out of the cave for exercise while our partner tore strips of meat off the mammoth for dinner. And unlike cats –which, in those days, probably wouldn’t have waited for you to open the bag of kibble- the dog was quite happy to lie quietly at your feet until you fed it scraps. Also, they have never messed around with purring; if the dog purrs, it inevitably does so with bared fangs, so you know where you stand.

Over the millennia, however, dogs have evolved. Some of them don’t even look like dogs anymore –they’ve been specialized -some for scratching, some for licking, and some, I blush to say, merely for vanity –ours.

My dog, Rugal –don’t ask for the etymology (I was a gynaecologist before I retired)- has managed to avoid all of the breeding pitfalls by being the scion of my border collie, and a ship passing in the night that jumped over the fence and seduced him. Penniless, and gravid, said inamorata sought shelter in the neighbourhood kennel and in a burst of filial loyalty and tainted with a soupçon of guilt, I rescued one of the cuddlier results. And, cleverly anticipating the ascendancy of non-binary dogs, I opted to have her sterilized before another passing ship could persuade her otherwise.

Despite our salad days, she’s now rather long in the tooth so our runs have become limps, or at least dawdles. She gets confused at forks in the trail, and like some aged senior wandering away in confusion from the Home, she needs supervision. And time –lots of it. So I thought it might do Brien some good to accompany me on our slow perambulations from time to time. He doesn’t live in a Home, or anything, but he seldom strays from the porch of his house unless I arrange to meet him at a coffee shop, or offer to buy him lunch. He’s stubborn like that –and abnegative, a word that could have been coined in his honour…

Brien has a lot in common with Rugal, I think –they’re both obese and both walk slowly, and probably would be even slower unless enticed. I sometimes put a few dog biscuits in my pocket for Rugal, but I quickly discarded the idea of bringing beer for Brien, because I’d have to carry it. And although Brien walks too slowly in malls, and tends to wander off like the dog, I figured I could keep an eye on them both. Besides, Brien likes to argue, so I would always know where he was. He also has bad breath, so that helps, too.

With that in mind, I wandered over to his porch one fine and sunny spring morning after 11 AM, ever mindful of his circadian rhythm, and there he was, dosing on a recliner as clothed as an Inuit on a December day.

“Brien,” I yelled from the sidewalk, not wanting to alarm him by sneaking up beside him on the porch unannounced. I had to shout several times and then bang on the bottom step because his ears were hidden inside a hoodie.

I could see a pair of eyes glaring at me like watchful falcons from within the shadows of the oversized hood. And then, once I had been ID’d and vetted, a head emerged from the cavern and the body sat up. “’Bout time,” it said in a gruff voice. “I wondered when you were going to come by.” He extracted a meaty arm from under a blanket and checked his watch. “What’s this great idea you were going to discuss with me?”

No ‘How are you anyway?’, or even a ‘Hello’. Brien never bothered himself much with preliminary conversational niceties, he merely ploughed straight into the meal. And he didn’t consider it at all rude to resume whatever he had been doing once he had obtained the relevant information. Words were tools and the fewer used, the more skilled the craft. Metaphor was wasted on Brien.

“I thought you might need some exercise.” I felt I should explain –no, justify– it further, but before I could even begin my carefully engineered argument, his eyes hurried over to stop my tongue, mid-wag.

“And why did you think that?”

“I was just about to ex-…”

“You know I hate hiking,” he interrupted irritably.

“Rugal walks slowly, Brien. Really slowly.”

“What are you trying to tell me?”

I stared back at him, but kindly –like a parent. “I’m trying to tell you that you need more exercise, and walking with Rugal is a good way to start.”

I could feel his eyes walking back and forth across my face.

“You were a gynaecologist, not a trainer.”

He says that all the time and it usually quells my enthusiasm, but this time I had prepared a coup de grace and practiced my disdain in front of the mirror while I cleaned my teeth -it’s all in the forehead. “I was also an obstetrician, Brien -lest you forget!” That was the disdain part.

“So, you’re wasting your time on me.”

I had anticipated that. “Ahh, but I’ve coached women on the need to be in top physical form for delivery.” Actually, that was the midwives and the antepartum instructors; I just caught the baby, but I figured he wouldn’t know that.

“I’ve seen it on TV,” he said, somehow managing to sneer verbally. “All you guys do is sit there and make sure the baby doesn’t fall on the floor.”

He was good, I have to hand it to him. “That’s what it looks like on TV, I suppose, but just like a finely tuned athlete makes what they do look easy, it requires a lot of preparation and training beforehand.”

“You want to teach me Kegel exercises, or something, then?”

Damn! He’d been reading again. I hesitated, unsure how to proceed. In the end, I decided to call a spade a spade and skip the rest of my now-thwarted argument. “No, I just want to invite you to walk with Rugal and me.”

He promptly threw off the blanket and I saw he was dressed in a sweatshirt, track pants, and a sturdy pair of walking shoes with woolen socks. “Thought you’d never ask,” he said, all smiles. “Where’s the dog, by the way?”

I just knew I’d forget something.



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.