Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Me and the Dog of Ira Glass

Ira Glass was being interviewed on his show, This American Life. He was recounting an almost unfathomable tale of devotion to his dog, that by his own account, seemed wholly lacking in redeeming characteristics. Caring for this animal was essentially a full time job. When asked why he would subject himself to such hardship, Mr. Glass indicated that his dog was a helpless creature. After a while, endless attention to it became the natural order of his day and over time just this stress itself made the relationship more meaningful. Mr. Glass could have been discussing my wife's connection with me.

Over the course of the last 24 hours I placed an open seltzer bottle in the cabinet with the glasses, parked the car on the wrong level of our garage and spent at least 10 minutes in the bathroom trying to get the plastic cap off a razor blade. In that process, I managed to take the blade and plastic covering off simultaneously and then was unable to disengage the protecting piece from its companion. When I finally achieved success, I couldn't get the blade back onto the razor. I tried to shave with only the blade in my hand but almost slit my throat. After much effort, blade and razor were reunited and I emerged clean shaven, if shaken. No one in my family would be surprised by a single word in this paragraph.

There were signs of impending disaster from the earliest days of my marriage, over 35 years ago. On our honeymoon, one of the tires on our rental car went flat. I went to the trunk of the car and located what appeared to be instruments intended to address the issue. But even then, even when all the synapses were firing, even when hair grew on my head and not out of my nose and ears, even at the apex of my critical thinking, I had not a clue how to put A into B and end up with a new tire on a car. As my young bride watched, I flailed and failed.

I would assume that the dog of Mr. Glass has no real understanding of the strain he has placed upon his owner. He probably can't comprehend that his exotic food allergies, his seemingly incessant desire to nip at all humans, and his other deviations from the norm are considered drawbacks. He probably perceives that he and Mr. Glass are very ordinary and that their interaction is standard fare. I am not a dog and so I know that my inability to unscrew a light bulb is not cute. The broken shards that my wife takes out with parts of a potato does not qualify in her world as entertaining. The fact that I can't light the stove and that the tale I tell that one effort led to me burning off my eyebrows is  deemed possible, is not in any way endearing. Who among us is unable to pump gas? Who would admit that getting keys off a key chain is an incomprehensible maze? How is vacuuming an art? When is getting an Allen wrench a test rather than a request? When did fitting the bottom sheet on a bed become a tug of war?

Mr. Glass may not have gotten what he bargained for with his dog. He may find that his life has headed in directions unintended and unanticipated since his pet entered his domain. But like he said,  a dog doesn't speak the English language and can't fathom getting a paying job. There were well defined limits to his expectations. I was only 24 when my wife met me. I was in my last year of law school and had not yet developed any of physical shortcomings that would invade my body over the years.  Back surgery was over 3 decades away. Even the years of treatments to try to turn my toenails  into an approximation of  the color and shape of my youth, was still off in the distance. It would be some time before my incessant desire to sing badly and an inopportune moments became a staple of my day. What my wife saw, and what she clearly entered into a bargain for, was not the dog of Mr. Glass.

Is it typical that putting dishes correctly in the dishwasher is as hard as solving a Rubik's cube? Can failing to put the emergency brake on a stick shift or putting it in gear on a hill be deemed acceptable because no one was hurt and the car miraculously parked itself at the bottom of a hill? Is setting the thermostat deemed advance mathematics? How many times can my son give me the same instructions for the computer? Is infinite an appropriate response?

I can't imagine what the future holds for my bride. Combining incompetence with incoherence is not a real daily double. My mom has spent the last half decade in an ever declining state of dementia. Long before the first symptoms were evident to the outside world, she complained of forgetfulness. Failing to bring the laundry upstairs after reminding myself countless times of this task only makes the events of the last day seem a precursor to ever diminished returns.

Ira Glass and my wife have much in common. I only hope that like Mr. Glass, my wife finds something compelling in a relationship with a unique partner. I hope she believes, as he must, that there is a strange and exotic beauty in all of this. I only know that if Mr. Glass and my wife ever decide that weird is not wonderful, both the dog and I are in trouble.

1 comment:

MarthaG said...

This is a lovely essay. We are all somebody's Piney (Glass' dog).