I have never had a child. At least in this country. At least where I stayed around afterwards and helped to raise it. Or pay for it. Or learned its name.
But the thing that’s always seemed the hardest to me about having a children—the thing that all parents struggle with—is their children’s suffering. Your child cries, because it’s lonely or afraid, or because you’ve put on your giant hippopatumus head to rehearse your community theater’s interpretation of Death of A Salesman and the smell of all that matted hippo hair makes it upset. And—at least most of the time—there’s nothing you can do. (I mean, yes, you could take the head off, but what about the theater-goers?) It’s afraid, or it’s lonely, and it just has to be sad and lonely (some of the time); it has to learn that at least some part of life is suffering. And all you can do--and at least, some of the time, all you should do--is watch.
I bring all this up because, as of Tuesday morning, we now have a new puppy. (Working name: Zogbert.) He is small (he weighs two pounds). He is cute. He is furry. And he is sad. Last night he was living with a half-dozen other Maltese dogs, in the only home he’d known since the time of his birth (six weeks ago). Now he is in a new home—one that has no other dogs in it. One which does not have a “Please Wipe Your Paws” doormat outside of it. One in which he’s expected to kill at least one burglar a day, if he wants to be fed. It’s all strange, and it’s all scary, and naturally he’s a little upset.
It turns out when a Maltese is upset, they make a sad small whimpering noise. It sounds a little like the most forlorn rubber squeeze toy in the world. When they’re really upset they make a noise that sounds uncannily like the “pc-caw” sound you hear from chickens. (Really). I know because I’ve heard quite a number of those noises this morning.
Now, as most of you know, my heart is made of steel and bone. I’m hard all the way through. I’ve been in wars. I’ve run drugs in and out of Colombia. I’ve killed men for money. The whimpering of a small dog doesn’t faze me. I know that in a few days he’ll be comfortable and his usual personality—excited, playful, joyous—will reemerge. (Only then will he begin the burglar-slaying I expect of him).
My wife, though, is a different story. She has a good deal more natural empathy than I have. She doesn’t like to be around suffering. The trials of our new roommate are upsetting her. She knows, of course, that we can’t come running into his room every time he whimpers; we have our own lives and he has to learn to be OK by himself. But knowing with your mind and knowing with your heart are different matters altogether. So right now things are a little bit dicey.
However, I have a solution. I’m going down to the HippoHead Emporium (Pico and Sepulveda). I’m getting me a head. And I’m going to perform the entirety of Beckett's “Endgame.” If that doesn't work, we’ll watch the later works of Ingmar Bergman. If that doesn’t cheer everyone up, I don’t know what will.