Ever since a pair of monstrous bunions decreed an end to my jogging, I've been riding my bicycle on a prominent hill in town in a vain attempt to thwart the hooded figure who wields a scythe.
The hill is far more pleasant a place to exercise than any sweaty gym except in one respect. It is also a favorite gathering place for people and their dogs, some of which find a man on bicycle an irresistible object for the chase.
Note that I didn't say dogs and their masters. Master is a concept that's obsolete and politically incorrect today. Basically, the people socialize while the dogs run wild.
As I pedal up the hill like Sisyphus at his labors I wait with resignation for some Spot or Rover to notice me, peel away from the pack and bear down on me with fangs bared, foam dripping from its mouth.
Generally, I dismount and wait for the owner to stop visiting and to notice that his pooch is holding me at bay. Most of them refuse to recognize my existence. Apparently I'm invisible to them. An apology is unheard of. Some seem to hold me responsible for exciting their dogs. Finally they may condescend to call, "Here Bessie," or "Here Beauregard," with a mock-admonishing tone, baby-talking as if amused by their pet's show of viciousness. A few will reassure me: "She's all right. She won't bite. She just has this thing about bicycles."
"She's all right?" Santo Cielo! What about me?
I used to deliver stern lectures: Dogs ought to be on leashes or under voice command. And I'd often mention the virtues of obedience school. But I've stopped doing that. It only serves to rile the owners. And besides, there's no longer a shared standard about what constitutes proper dog behavior.
Contemporary dog has rights, including the right to terrify human beings for sport. To deter a dog which is following its instincts would infringe upon its sovereign right to self-expression. Requiring obedience of dogs is just one more heinous example of oppression by the dominant culture. And who's to say that human values are superior to canine values? How would you like it if some dog ordered you to "fetch," "roll over," or "play dead?"
"Would you please call your dog?" I said to a young lady whose mutt was about to sink its teeth into my leg.
"It's a dogs' park too," she fired back. Yes, and a dog's world, I might add. Reason deserted me and like a fool I attempted to enlighten her about the great principle of responsibility. I couldn't help myself. I had nearly 3,000 years of Judeo-Christian morality behind me. She had a couple of decades of New Age, feel-good relativism. Unfortunately, all my eloquence went up in smoke the moment I made the mistake of addressing her a "Honey."
"Don't you ever call me Honey," she screamed in a manner that made me fear her more than her dog. I apologized and hastily withdrew, my vestigial tail between my legs. For all I know there's a law against men calling women, "Honey," these days.
Some time ago when another dog bore down on me in attack mode, I registered my displeasure. "He's only protecting me," said the owner when he caught up with his dog. "But from what?," I asked. "I wasn't threatening you or him. Does his territory include the entire great outdoors?"
"Lighten up, get a life old man," the young fellow retorted. Old man. That hurt, that cut deep. I was at a loss for a repartee.
Once when I reprimanded my own dog for barking and harassing a pedestrian, he jumped on me. "They're protecting you," he said. "They're just doing what they were bred to do." "No, they're not," I cried. "They're not guard dogs. They're supposed to come when they're called." He cursed me for being a fascist.
Recently a dog who does not answer to the name of Fideaux has taken an interest in me. "Fideaux, don't even think about it," says his owner with an amused grin when his dog begins the growling which precedes his joyous attack. "You're not that bored." I envy that man. He is the man I want to be. All my life I've worried about the judgment of others and lived by rules others have set. This man has found the secret. He doesn't care. He's free.
These days when I feel my blood pressure rising, I remind myself that it would be ridiculous to die in anger over the moral laxity of some other human being and the behavior of some dumb dog. What's the point of fighting it? Man's best friend has become his master. We must lie flat on backs, feet and hands in the air, necks exposed, signaling our submission to the dominant dog.