Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Looking at Dogs and Cars

"Often when I’m out and about I’m looking at cars, and when I’m not looking at cars, I’m looking at dogs. Recently I realized that these apparently different activities are linked by the emotions provoked by the two objects of my gaze. First the dogs. When I drive from Andes, N.Y., to Delhi, N.Y., on Route 28, I end up at the Heart of the Catskills Humane Society, where I walk the perimeter looking at the dogs as they sit or move around in their outdoor pen. The moment my car door closes the dogs are alert and begin barking. As I approach the fence they present themselves in a variety of postures that express their personalities. A few won’t rise to the bait. Affecting diffidence, they hang back and don’t look my way. Others station themselves midway between the fence and the back of the pen; they might sit down, as if to say, I’m not going to beg; or they might walk back and forth, keeping their distance and declining to make eye contact. A forward few crowd the fence, tails wagging furiously; they are saying, Take me, I’ll be good, I’ll be fun, I’ll be loyal. Some older dogs who have given up lie down at the back of the enclosure. You’re not going to pick me, they are saying. I want to pick them all, but for all kinds of reasons, it really isn’t time. I have been tantalizing myself and at the same time — and this may be unforgivable — tantalizing them. On the way to Delhi and on the way back I see the cars. They are parked in driveways and on lawns and they are for sale. Like the dogs, they are positioned in ways that speak to me. I spot a sleek silver coupe practically hanging out of the driveway, one tire already on the road, raring to go. Drive me away from all this, it says. But when I stop and get out and read the sign taped to the driver’s seat window, it turns out to be a premature invitation; a key part is missing. I first stopped in July; it’s November and it’s still there, no longer hopeful. Other cars are positioned less aggressively. They aren’t in the driveway and don’t face the road. Instead they sit almost parallel to the house that is ready to bid them goodbye. They are not ready to leave; they wonder if it is something they did; they hope for a second chance; they hope their price is too high. Then there are the cars that are not positioned at all. They are strewn about, the “for sale” sign crudely lettered and as tired as they seem to be; they don’t believe that anyone would want them; they don’t want themselves; they wear the same vacant look as the houses behind them. I don’t want them either. I’m just drawn to their situations and the stories I think they tell. But I do want someone to buy them, if only because that would be some form of renewal. I don’t want them to be sent to the salvage yard just as I don’t want to think of the dogs being put down. Now that I think of it, I feel the same way about houses, especially a house with unkempt lawns, scaling paint and sagging porches. Once it was new and anticipating a glorious future. Now it knows better and wonders when the wrecking ball will be coming. I think I should buy it, fix it up, give it a new lease on life. I want it to be happy, just as I want the cars to be prized and the dogs to be chosen. And most of all I don’t want to feel guilty for not having done enough."
 By Stanley Fish


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