by Lori Mohr
Our old life was over. In three short months, Lucy, our Pug puppy, had undeniably become the sun around which we orbited. She was our first. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect -- our newly emptied nest had left me free but floundering. Now, for the first time, I saw the world as my oyster...how could I have known a cobby little dog would turn out to be my pearl?
Shortly after Lucy arrived, our daughter Christine persuaded me to go with her to New York for the U.S. Open Tennis tournament. She loved the energy of a big city and Manhattan was the biggest of them all. But my husband, Larry, and I had given up the city and had been living in bucolic Ojai, a pastoral valley just south of Santa Barbara where upscale art community meets old California. Life was slow and sweet.
Still, since Lucy was in good hands, I decided to go. True, I wasn’t looking forward to the crowds, the noise, the rush and bustle, the heat and humidity -- all congealing in a subliminal irritation borne of trying to move at one’s own pace in a high-strung metropolis bending you to its rhythms. But the lure of tennis and Christine was enough for me. I booked the flight.
By Day Two, I was still trying to adjust to the hubbub of ceaseless activity when Christine and I stepped out of our mid-town hotel and headed for the subway to Flushing Meadows. Grabbing a Starbucks on route, we jostled through the throng trying to drink and dodge and hurry. That moment was a microcosm of everything I hated about the city. I was just about to grumble to Christine when I spotted a woman and dog about a half a block away moving in our direction. As my eyes traced the downward trajectory of her leash, a Pug appeared on the other end!
Without saying a word, I shoved my half-empty coffee cup into Christine’s hand and darted into the crowd. Forging ahead with fanatical fervor, I quickly closed the gap between me and the stranger. Suddenly realizing that she was my destination, the Pug Woman recoiled in a defensive move -- shoulders up, mouth open -- nervously yanking the leash closer in a reflexive reaction against whatever violation she imagined was about to occur. I reached her and stopped. She did not look pleased.
“Oh! You have a Pug!” I announced with the adrenalin of an undercover cop snagging his perp in a sting operation. Pug Woman remained mute for a moment, assessing my level of dementia before deeming it safe to respond.
“Uh, yes. A Pug.”
Exuberantly slapping my chest with my right hand as if underscoring the coming fact, I spurted, “I have a Pug too!” My grin grew even greater with the certainty that this proclamation justified my forceful advance. Pug Woman stood still, stunned. I went on. “Oh, this guy is adorable! What’s his name?”
"Uh...his name is Spanky. It’s Spanky." Clearly, the woman was still uncertain.
"Well, he is just perfect! So...staunch...and cute!...and look at that beautiful tail!" By now I had dropped down for a closer look and was running my fingers over Spanky’s lush coat and rubbing his ears, much to his pleasure and her discomfort.
"He is quite a good looking dog," she conceded, thawing under the warmth of my unbridled adulation.
"How old is he?"
"He just turned three." With that, she paused for a moment. But she went on, hesitantly at first, then with growing animation, telling me about the Black Tie Affair in Central Park celebrating Spanky’s birthday. I told her I’d never heard of such a thing, but guessed that Spanky must’ve cut a fine figure in his tux. She continued, describing the NYC Pug scene and all the social events, from agility classes to play dates. By now, Christine had caught up and was stealthily observing, ready to jump in and drag me away to avoid a ruckus if Pug Woman suddenly terminated the inquisition. As it turns out, we talked for another 10 minutes, laughing and going on about Pugs in general, Spanky and Lucy in particular. When we parted ways, both of us were smiling.
"Muuuthhhherrr," Christine chastised, grabbing my arm and swooping me along the sidewalk. "This is the city! You just don’t stop people and engage them in conversation!"
But no reprimand could penetrate the thrill of a Pug sighting. As Christine pulled me along the sidewalk, arm in arm, I could swear the sky looked a little bluer, the stuffy air supplanted by a cool breeze brushing my cheek. By the time we boarded the subway, I had a whole new perspective. What a town! Such vitality! Such friendly neighbors! The abrasive urban sounds had morphed into melodious white noise -- a sweet, harmonious din. In ten short minutes, I had gone from ‘outsider’ to ‘homie.’
In that moment, I realized with Lucy I not only got a Pug -- I had stepped into a universe bound by Pug adoration, the sharing of which could not be subdued by any protocol of regional culture. In that moment, I realized that no matter where I was, there would be other Pug sightings, other instant connections. In that moment, I realized I now had countless friends the world over -- kindred planets succumbing to the gravitational pull of an irrepressible sun.
No doubt about it, I had become a Pug Person.
Lori Mohr is a freelance writer living in Ojai, California.
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