On Dogs and Parking

9:00 pm, Wednesday December 2, 2020
The Washington Post (online) had the following headlines, in order:
1. Trump Assails democracy in 46-minute video rant
2. Furious Trump could fire Barr, senior official suggests
3. Winter will be most difficult time in US public health history
4. Pompeo invites hundreds to indoor holiday parties
5. Waves of executions scheduled for Trump’s final days in office

And the buried lede:
6. Your emotional support animal could be grounded: New rule means airlines no longer have to allow them

McRib sandwich
McRib sandwich

[And further down the scroll: The McRib is back at McDonald’s…]

While we always gasp at huge banner headlines (“BIDEN WINS”), these 6 headlines are repeated body blows. They add insult to injury, which really only makes sense to me as ‘injury to insult’. I mean, after you’ve been injured is an insult really the worst escalation? Truthfully, I can’t even tell which is the insult and which the injury.

Reporting, these days, often reads as a pitch for a novel, or made-for-TV film:

Nixon on TV delivering “Checkers” speech
Nixon on TV delivering “Checkers” speech
Nixon proclaiming his innocence, yet again

An increasingly desperate, pathetic and losing politician pulls a ‘Nixon Checkers’ speech, trying to sway public opinion with mere bluster and lies. VP Nixon was unwittingly, at the beginning of his ascendance to high office, presaging his “your president is not a crook” speech at the very end of his tenure. And he was trying to go around the then-president Eisenhower by appealing directly to public, just as Trump is trying to appeal directly to his base by going around the press, the courts, his own AG and virtually everyone who is not complicit in his disgraceful lies. His rant was so unhinged that even the Wall Street Journal noted the lack of evidence and court losses (though they buried the story pages into the paper just to stay in the clear). They know it’s a desperate lie, but are so accustomed to his lies that it is hardly news to them (or more likely trying not to irritate him any further after ‘Arizona-gate’ at Fox News).

The one official Trump placed to shield him from the law (so far very successfully), the Attorney General, is trying to preemptively rehabilitate his own tattered reputation, and avoid being disBARRed. He announced finding ‘no meaningful fraud’ in the election, and now may be fired in the last 7 weeks of the administration. It will be part 23b of the ‘Never Ending Saturday Night Massacre’ that has been like a four-year Ang Lee slow motion gunfight. Trump would be doing Barr a favor; everyone who has been fired is held in slightly (just slightly) better esteem than the remaining sycophants (and slightly less than those who left on their own). Barr needs any boost he can wring out of his recent past. It’ll be interesting to watch him try to squirm his way back to respectability. Good luck.

Against the background of the worst health emergency ever (wholly denied by the administration) the Secretary of State-Trolls holds parties for 900 people that are like Jim Jones-style suicide pacts (where, coincidentally, 909 people died). If you don’t drink the Kool Aid we will simply kill you, seems to be the message. Just to make that clear the administration is planning a wave of state sanctioned killings of death row inmates. It is the most craven of all Trumps flailings, literally killing his enemies rather than simply allowing them to die of Covid. And just to hammer home his intent he is removing the restrictions against firing squads, electrocution and other forms of sadism.

But then it gets personal.

kangaroo in empty passenger airline
kangaroo in empty passenger airline
Kangaroos board first, until now

In this improbably ludicrous context we are told (in addition to the McRib news) that we are no longer permitted to travel with our emotional support animals. WHAT? HUH?

Patricia Marx, in her landmark performance piece, already established the absurd extents the law seemingly permitted people to explore; Alpaca, Turtle, Snake, Turkey, Pig, and probably a few I have forgotten, accompany Marx in her travels. My fave was shopping at Chanel for a bag that would complement the snake coiled around her neck; “maybe something in reptile?” Marx suggested as the sales help picked out a $9,000 python bag, in yellow “because red would make the snake look dull”. Genius.

I was, at the time, miffed with Marx for outing all of us as barely legal (and rather unimaginative) poseurs with our mere emotional support dogs; how common. The article was published not long before I took our own (emotional support) dog on a trip to Italy. He had his own seat (purchased when coach fare was insanely low one March) for the whole uneventful trip. Except, that is, for the moment we boarded and a flight attendant (probably wanting to unnerve passengers) asked if he ‘fetched’. Before I could answer she grabbed his little toy and hurled it to the next cabin…in a plane that was completely packed with boarding passengers! He disappeared and eventually found his way back, but by then the flight attendant had moved on to her actual job. That was when I realized that all flight crews are probably a tiny bit sadistic, and given how we treat them (moi?) they deserve a bit of revenge.

It’s like the story I heard (apocryphal? Likely) about the flight attendant serving a meal (remember them?) when a passenger asked “what are the choices?” to which she answered “yes or no”. I’m sure there is a lot of that going on, and I say let them!
It’s that or they start carrying tasers.

Louie, our dog, in the airplane on the way to Italy
Louie, our dog, in the airplane on the way to Italy
Louie, en route

The flight was a 2–3–2 seating arrangement and Louie had the window seat. With a tiny bit of prescribed relaxant he slept the whole way to Milan and was hardly anxious to pee even after the 8 hour overnight flight (and several more hours he spent in airports). Going through passport control at Malpensa I presented my passport and a sheaf of animal transport papers sufficient to import radioactive materials. The official waved them away, but then called me back (feeling like every escape movie ever made) and leaned out of her booth to inspect the dog. “Che bello cane!” was her verdict and she waved us on; Louie was on foreign soil.

Author and Louie in Italy, near a cafe
Author and Louie in Italy, near a cafe
Louie, with his biographer

Louie loved Italy. We had an apartment in Brera, where most streets are car-restricted and dogs are king. We could bring him anywhere (except food shops which were understandably restricted), including restaurants and cafes. He tended to curl up and sleep in a corner or under our table and was no trouble at all, to us or anyone else.

He is only 20 lbs., the first small dog we ever had. At the time we got him we lived in an apartment building that allowed pets, but restricted them to one per unit and under 25 lbs. That rule is a bit tough to interpret; if one obtains a puppy that is slated to be, say, a mini-labradoodle (like Louie) but grows to 40 lbs. what is one to do? Give the dog away? Euthanasia? Amputation? Starvation? Options are limited.

Louie’s best friend (I know, stop anthropomorphizing. And after that stop showing off.) was another Labradoodle, Totti (named for the Roma soccer player) supposedly a mini, but who outgrew Louie to be twice his size and weight. These pets don’t come with labels or guarantees, so I think we were just lucky. While passing the mailroom on the way to his morning constitutional Totti spotted Louie emerging on his way to the elevators and great excitement and dog play ensued. From that point on, every single time Totti passed the mailroom he swiveled his head to see if Louie would be coming out. He never was, of course, until one day years later he was. That pretty much cemented that pattern; intermittent reinforcement being the key to imprinting behavior on animals, including us.

Louie at night on empty street in Milan
Louie at night on empty street in Milan
Louie, Via Madonnina, Milan, at Christmas

Somehow in Milan, a large cosmopolitan city by Italian standards, freedom for dogs works quite well. There are enough dogs to evoke ‘awwws’ but not enough to make it obnoxious (though it can be a bit like pre-poop-scoop-law NYC). It’s an issue of density, I finally realized, with a fair amount of good dog training added in; half the dogs weren’t even on leashes but followed owners as though they were. Even though Milan can be crowded with people, the density, of dogs anyway, still seems just a fraction of New York’s. It’s about the height of buildings; in Milan the exception is a tall apartment and the rule is about 6 stories. In New York the exception is a super-tall ‘pencil tower’ but the rule is a tower, or 12–16 stories blocky pre-war buildings. Milanese are always letting New Yorkers know: a) how much they like New York and b) how much bigger New York is than Milan. Milan IS the ‘New York of Italy’ and it makes New Yorkers very comfortable (and vice versa, NYC being the Milan of the US) but further comparisons are illuminating.

The difference in density turns out to be less than you (or I) might imagine; NY is just a third denser than Milan. That’s because while we think of NYC as Manhattan, it is really Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island too, all of which are dominated by low density neighborhoods. New York’s population is 6 times Milan’s, so I guess it really is a lot larger than Milan (something I kind of doubted when I first heard their claims). It may not surprise anyone that the average age of a Milan resident is almost 10 years older than the average New Yorker. All those Italian widows in black must skew the curve.

The average NY salary is twice the Milan salary, but the average rent, subway fare and cost of a meal in NYC is twice Milan’s (while NYC’s GDP is like 10x Milan’s, but that isn’t really news). And just to make Italy feel even smaller, there are 4 billionaires in Milan and 92 in New York. 91 if you don’t count Trump, and we don’t.

Density has taken a holiday lately. For a while it was astonishingly empty in NYC, except around hospitals. Traffic was non-existent (it was heaven), few stores were open and few people were out in the streets. Cities worldwide had the clearest skies in memory. An awful price to pay for the best of these incidental results, but a demonstration of what is possible, maybe even required.

Many cities have, over decades, slowly given their public space to the automobile, at the expense of humans. In the space once dedicated to animal powered transportation (which has its own issues of waste, injury, smells, etc.) the auto seemed a huge improvement. For a while it was, but now it has dominated public urban space to the exclusion of most of its citizens. Milan has used the pandemic to expand its pedestrian network, something NYC could learn from.

There is a notion among New Yorkers that they have the divine right to leave their 2-ton, apartment-sized steel hulks on the street for free. Forever. And as long as they are unemployed or work at home, and can spend 90 minutes, once or twice a week, sitting in their double parked living rooms to dodge the street cleaner as it passes by for about 20 seconds, they can. Calvin Trillin, in “Tepper Isn’t Going Out” pretty much summarizes parking culture saying “It is the only thing that matters”.

I deeply embrace that sentiment. I once had a parking space in Brooklyn (and just 8 words should reveal just how deeply I relate) that because of Jewish holidays, snow and probably the full moon, was good for more than 2 weeks! This as close to winning Powerball as I ever expect to come. I was more content than I can remember, until Carin said “why don’t we go to the country this weekend?” to which I said “sure, as long as we rent a car”.

Parking is a game that teaches empathy (for those you beat to a perfect spot), brings joy to others (as you leave a cherished spot), builds community (with those who are your dancing partners in the alternate side ballet), and occasionally teaches humility. I once parked my motorcycle in front of my home and forgot to move it before I went to work. A neighbor (the ‘mayor’ of the block who spent so much time sitting in his front yard that he appears in the Google Street View. Seriously.) actually called me to let me know and asked if he and friends could carry it across the street. At 500 lbs. (and him at 80 years) I just couldn’t see it and thanked him but declined. When I got home (by then legally parked in the same spot) I looked to see if I was ticketed.

Post-it note with word “asshole” written on it
Post-it note with word “asshole” written on it
Note objecting to parked vehicle

Somehow I wasn’t but there was a square yellow post-it note on the seat with just one word: ‘asshole’. I still have that post-it, framed, as a reminder that sometimes I am the asshole. It’s like the ‘group of friends’ rule; every group has an asshole, and if you don’t know who it is, it is you.

Most of us are figuring out ways to enjoy, or better tolerate, the extraordinary loses of the last 10 months, but the one idiot who could have made this much, much more tolerable for all of us is focused only on denying his electoral loss. Even the McRib news didn’t make him happy(!). And he won’t stop until he has, like a child losing a game and kicking over the table, destroyed everything in sight.

Is there anyone who thinks Trump doesn’t need an emotional support animal?

Gerald Ford in Oval Office petting dog while reading at Resolute Desk
Gerald Ford in Oval Office petting dog while reading at Resolute Desk
President Ford, with friend, in the Oval

It’s the first White House in 100 years without a dog, and the first since Andrew Johnson (interesting parallel) to have no pets at all. Johnson apparently fed the white mice he found in his room, but they don’t really count as pets (and this paints a very bizarre picture). James Garfield had a dog named Veto (cool). Teddy Roosevelt had dozens of pets including a bear, a one-legged rooster and a badger. Coolidge had an antelope, a bear, a wallaby and a raccoon, among many, many others. Lyndon Johnson famously had beagles, lots of them, but also had lovebirds, which is kinda sweet. Plus he married Ladybird. John Quincy Adams had only silkworms and an alligator, about which someone should write something.

We may stretch the rules to get our pets onboard aircraft, but it’s the sociopathic pet owners (a seeming oxymoron, though perfectly illustrated in this current New Yorker piece) who fuck it up for us all. Patty Marx may have parodied those insane owners, but they are real. It’s a weird paradox; pets make you a much better person but there are some who never got the memo. Along with pets, parking also teaches us empathy, generosity, humility. I guess parking with your pet in the car is like a breakthrough therapy session.

Trump in the cab of a semi, making childish faces
Trump in the cab of a semi, making childish faces
Big-boy-in-chief

Pets and parking are two things absent from Trump’s life. He has no pets and hasn’t parked a car in 50 years, if he ever did. His truck cab pantomime makes me think he can’t even drive.

It’s no wonder he can order executions so casually as he leaves office; he is missing the pet/parking gene. I’d like to think that a few sessions of ‘NYC parking with dog’ would cure him of his pathological narcissism, but that is just my own pet/parking training speaking.

But at least we know who the asshole is.

NYC architect: making (buildings, dinner, interiors, spoons) writing (essays, articles, post it notes) teaching (students, dogs) living (NYC, Upstate NY, Milan)

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