My friend Simon is the domestic type—a homebody, you might say. His house is impeccable—all the comforts of home, except one: the husband.
He met the most recent candidate at the dog park near his house. Dog parks are the new gay bars, especially for the domesticated male. Owning a dog, Simon says, is like practice for a boyfriend. If it doesn’t drop dead under your care or piss all over the furniture, you’re ready to move on to human pets. Simon tells me that men with dogs are sexy. There’s something about their playfulness that gets to him. A man can’t be uptight when he’s playing catch with a retriever, or picking up shit with a plastic bag.
Anyway, that day at the park, Simon fell in love with an energetic, dangerously white cocker spaniel who came running at him on his way to catch the ball just thrown by its owner. The owner, an adorably nerdy guy named Harold, came up to apologize, offered to pay Simon’s dry-cleaning bill, and before you know it, they had a date for Friday night. Dog men work fast.
In our neighborhood, dogs are man magnets, portable conversation starters. I’ve seen it in action. A handsome guy walking down the street alone is intimidating, but if he’s got a leash on his arm, other guys will talk to him. They can pretend they’re really talking to the dog. “Oh, how cute are you!” they’ll say, their eyes straying from the snappy little Bichon Frisé up to the clutched biceps holding it in place.
Dogs are the new hankies. You can tell everything you need to know about a man from what kind of dog he has, and how he behaves with it. A guy with a toy poodle is a whole different type from the one who’s being dragged around the block by a Doberman.
Ginger, the cocker spaniel, was spoiled rotten, but Simon didn’t discover that until the second date. On the first date, over dinner, he learned all about Harold. And there was a lot to learn. Harold, it turned out, was a lawyer, so the conversation was entirely about him.
By the time it was Simon’s turn to share, Harold began anxiously looking at his watch. “Ginger’s probably dying to go out right about now,” he said, squishing his features painfully. “I really should go.” He promised to make it up to Simon by inviting him over for dinner. He liked to cook, he said, and didn’t often get the chance.
Simon’s not great at recognizing red flags. When it comes to men, he’s color-blind: he only sees the green ones. So at this point, he was thrilled: a man who loved dogs and cooked: There is a god after all!
He arrived for their next date on time, but Harold hadn’t started cooking yet. He placed Simon at a table in the corner of the kitchen with a glass of wine and they chatted as Harold got dinner together.
Meanwhile, Ginger made no bones about letting her needs be known. She scampered about Master Harold’s feet as he moved from fridge to counter to stove, barking and jumping onto her hind legs as each aromatic ingredient passed above her frosty head. Simon watched the show from his corner perch, awkwardly trying to make conversation over the barking and get the dog’s attention away from the food.
A white square of fabric was laid out on the far side of the kitchen floor. Simon peeked his head around the counter. “What’s that?” he asked, gesturing with his wine glass.
Harold blushed. “I don’t always get home in time to walk her,” he admitted. “That’s insurance.”
Harold nodded, dipping a limp chicken breast filet in flour.
“But you’re here now,” Simon said.
Harold shrugged sheepishly. “It’s become a habit,” he said.
“She routinely pisses on the kitchen floor?”
Harold rolled his eyes—aren’t pets adorable?—and bent down to pat the dog’s head. Ginger turned up her nose to sniff his fingers for poultry.
When Simon went to the bathroom a little later, he discovered that the kitchen was hardly unique. There were diapers all over the house, one of them stained a pale ocher. He stepped daintily around it and, back at the table, poured himself another glass of wine.
They walked the dog together after dinner, Simon watching as Harold did the dirty work. He wore the plastic bag like a glove, scooped up the shit as if it were the most natural gesture in the world, and tossed it in a trash can on the edge of the park. He would be great with children, Simon thought.
Harold was a pretty good kisser, too, and after he’d washed his hands, he escorted Simon to the bedroom. Things were going fine until they heard a whining at the foot of the bed. Suddenly, as Simon lay pinned on the mattress, he was aware of someone licking his toes. As Harold was kissing his lips at the time, there was only one possible explanation.
“Ginger!” Harold called, for the first time expressing the slightest annoyance with her behavior.
Ginger chose to interpret her name as a call to action rather than a cry of frustration. She hopped from the foot of the bed and into flagrante delicto, sniffing Simon’s sweaty chest like a pig hunting for truffles. Harold swatted her away matter-of-factly and continued what he was doing. He seemed used to Ginger’s insistence. Each time he pushed her off the bed, she jumped back up—as if it were a game.
Simon, on the other hand, was finding it hard to focus. “Why don’t you lock her outside?” he asked as his erection threatened to plummet.
“She’ll just scratch at the door and annoy us all the more.”
I’ll wear earplugs, Simon thought. But by this point, he was so worked up he became somewhat desperate. He bunched the covers up around them, like the barricade in Les Miz, and got back to business. He wasn’t thinking anymore, at least not with his big head. After all the anticipation, Simon’s dick had taken over, and it wasn’t about to let a cocker spaniel win the contest for Harold’s attention.
Of course, it was only a priapic victory. The battle brought out the worst in him. As he thrashed atop Harold, he felt that coarse tongue on his foot once more, and—instinctively; he would forever after say it was purely instinctive—he kicked his leg out. There was a startled whimper and a sudden crash as Ginger skidded across the hardwood floor and knocked over a pile of books in the corner. And then the room was filled with the sound of her sharp claws scampering against the floor outside and a whimper that quickly diminished as she ran down the hall.
Harold jumped out of bed to tend to her, and that was the end of that—the evening and the relationship. A few minutes later, as he undertook the walk of shame through the dog park, Simon found himself rethinking his theory. Dogs might be a great way to attract men, but also a perfect excuse to keep them at bay. They didn’t prove that their owners were domestic, so much as domesticated.
Suddenly, Simon felt something squish underfoot. That’s how it is with relationships, he thought, checking his sole: you’re always dealing with somebody else’s shit.