UNITED STATES—As the youngest of his children prepared to leave the nest—not tomorrow or the next day, but inevitably it would happen—the old vices came back, and a few new ones. The smoking (tobacco mostly) and drinking. Who’s fooling whom? Kids see a lot now. In the middle school someone had to call 911 because a kid had overdosed in the bathroom. Along with this imminent void came an access to sentiment, deep and raw. It was paradoxical: a knack for forging ahead in spite of overpowering emotions made his TV dramas tremble with life; that and an ability to ignore them, had brought Newton Grimes to the very apex of his craft.
“It’s cold at the top,” he remembered the invitation to one penthouse party saying. “Bring a jacket.”
So it was. But now there was something in him melting, like the polar caps. He became a kid again who wanted a dog and understood the purity of wanting the dog he had never had, because he had prudent parents who were paying for a property for 30 years. It explained many things about his childhood, but they never explained it to him.
Max came in to Newton’s study. His father made no pretense of hiding the cigarette and said, “What about the dog?”
“Did you know that you don’t just own a house? You have to pay property taxes. And these taxes can go up and down. That’s something my parents never told me. Over course it works both ways. A few years ago the prices went way down, and that was a big help, actually. Otherwise your sisters wouldn’t have been able to attend Westbridge.”
“What about the dog? The people have to know.”
It was a stray they had found—some classmates of Max’s—and they preferred to avoid sending it to the pound. They sent pictures. From the moment Newton saw the pictures, something about this dog spoke to him. And yet he couldn’t decide, couldn’t shake misgivings.
“I feel bad having waited all these days,” Newton said. “It’s not fair to them. But this has been a real slow time, after pilot season. It’s a stretch to get organic milk, dog chow is going to be a stretch. And the property taxes are going up and up, we’re really getting squeezed. Your two sisters are in college. It’s not easy.” Said using the carefully formulated positive ‘not easy’ rather than the positively harsh, ‘it’s really hard, kid. Look around at the pool, the tennis court. It’s all a house of cards.’”
“Are we going to get the dog or not,” Max had a way of bringing things back to earth. “It’s name is Cutie.”
In that moment Newton capitulated to the child within, and remembered images of Great European Writers out walking their dogs, and the marvelous change having a dog had wrought for one neurotic but genuinely suffering screenwriter pal. It was a moment of enormous decision. Newton said yes.
A smile spread across Max’s face from ear to ear.
“Well, I guess it won’t be the end of the world,” his dad admitted.
Part of the yes was rebelliousness, to avoid the trap of always doing the prudent thing. In the beginning there were great moments, he and Max walking the dog. They went to the store and picked out a leash. A not so great moment was giving the news to Felicia that they now had a dog. His wife was livid; she saw right away that the dog was going to cut into her sweet life. It would not be entirely unfair to say that the erosion of their marriage—if not originating with the addition of many hairs and feeding bowls to their domestic arrangement, accelerated with the acquisition of Cutie. Max got more involved in senior year activities, leaving dad to contend with the canine. It became more obvious that Newton had been a sucker for the mutt, a softie.
Newton was soon banished to the couch, along with Cutie.
“It’s all your fault. This wouldn’t have happened if not for you.” He also said a few things we cannot print in a family paper.
In short, the dog had come too late to save things, and it wasn’t fair to saddle a mongrel with the kind of miraculous expectations that come at the end of one’s rope.
To be continued…