Nicole sometimes teases me about not liking Magoo enough, because I seem immune to his cuteness, but Magoo knows I like him just fine. I don’t have to say the words, not even if we ever get really drunk on beer, because then there’d be an awkward silence followed by hasty demurrals of the “Bro—gross!” variety. It’s a guy thing. Academic comrades, forgive the hackneyed homoerotic yuks.
So we schlepped all the way past the airport to the Halloween Pugtacular in Westchester today. They’d fenced off a section of park grass with sagging plastic orange netting; the mole dirt and bare, dusty patches completed the construction site impression. Two food trucks, one for crêpes and another for desserts, were parked on the basketball court blacktop. The crêpe truck had a nifty chrome Eiffel Tower lamp with a red shade on its café table. The other van, black and compact, offered everything from ice cream to hot bread pudding. Nicole got a root beer float.
The Pugtacular was sponsored by Pug Nation, a rescue that specializes in pugs. We’d adopted Magoo from them in March, so for him it was like revisiting the boys’ home, where his former nun teachers would nostalgically sigh his praises, and he could strut past the anxious new crop in their pens with a “See? You guys could luck out and live the dream too.” For us, it was more like a networking reception, in that every conversation consisted of the same canned introduction — about Magoo. To spice up the standard answer “He’s a pug-French bulldog mix,” I’ve decided to play a surrealist word game where I substitute for all dog breeds the names of gun manufacturers. “Oh, he’s part Mauser, part Smith and Wesson.” “What a darling Uzi mix!” Try it.
Volunteers ranged from kids to ladies of a certain age. Slim, affectionate gay men circulated snapping pics or wrangling pugs in feather ruffles and pink princess gauze. Costumes ran the gamut of those we’d seen and rejected on Amazon: shark, spider, caterpillar, butterfly, peacock, Superman, jailbird, clown, hot dog with ketchup scribble. There was even a pair of matching toy soldiers. I realized a few things:
- Magoo has made me like Magoo, but not dogs. I realize this every time I’m at the dog park, and want to tranq other people’s pets with a concealed blowpipe.
- Nor has he made me like dog people. Dog people are sometimes worse than dogs, because they can talk, and you can’t pretend not to understand them.
- He hasn’t even really made me like other pugs. The ones we saw today were a sorry bunch, like quivering heaps of mashed potatoes, who made me grateful, despite my angst-adjustment period last spring, that we’d snapped up Magoo when we did back in March. At the time, he was hotly contested — chiefly by a toad of a woman who vowed to restore him to his true name, Kilgore Trout (seeming surprised when I knew who that was), and to promote Pug Nation on her radio show — and now I know he is fondly remembered. Cue refrain: “He’s a very special dog!” I blame my pride in him on Stockholm Syndrome, an arrangement in which he, of course, is the kidnapper. It took getting a pet for me, who’d never had one, to realize I wasn’t a pet person, though exceptions, merit-based, can be made on a strictly individual basis.
Nicole who, like a normal human being, actually talked to people while we were there (instead of re-reading Thomas Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?” which concerns the impossibility of ever truly understanding the subjective experience of another creature), learned some interesting facts about Magoo’s misspent infancy, the rowdy days before we knew him, during which, according to his records, he was adopted and returned twice, like some duplicate Christmas toy. Apparently his rambunctiousness was of the sort that Pug Nation thought might deter people from adopting him. The lady who’d first picked him up from the shelter reported that on the way back to Pug Nation, he kept trying to leap into the front seat. When she reached her arm out to block him, he took it gently between his teeth and held that pose for the rest of the ride. This led us to reminisce about how Magoo chewed apart Nicole’s glasses the weekend we first got him, and all the vet bills he’s racked up around the various ailments, like mange, depression, and a respiratory infection, that he’d brought with him from his shelter days. I look into those hazel eyes and know it truly is impossible to ever understand what makes him break, as if in contemplation, from devotedly licking his paw, or just what his walnut brain seizes on in choosing, among indifferentiable dirt patches, the new poop spot he will circle and hunker over. It’s a fool animal can’t keep but eat what it just shat out whole (tidy acorns and unripe berries are particular temptations). He takes my disparagements of his intelligence in stride. Lately Magoo has learned to indicate he wants to play by coming up and nudging us with a toy in his mouth. It’s a breakthrough, I find: a form of communication that doesn’t somehow involve food.
On the way back to the car, we passed an extended family gathered for a birthday. I forget the kid’s name, but it was spray painted, with birthday greetings and the word RULZ, on a series of large cardboard boxes, as for TVs or washing machines, arranged in a baseball diamond, though they could, I imagined, have hosted any number of games in various configurations (spaceships! tunnels! transmogrifiers!). As we approached, we heard a girl shouting, “Look, Momma, look!” I stopped and asked if she wanted to pet Magoo. She did so, shyly at first, then more firmly, as kids will who aren’t used to dogs. Magoo was distracted, and took little notice, but she seemed satisfied.
“See, Momma?” she yelled as we left. I never was sure which one was her momma. “They friendly.”
That was my favorite part of the day.