Monday, August 3, 2009

Canines and Homo Sapiens: Virtual Cousins?

Dear George,


Dogs have at least six basic biological needs:  breathing, sleeping, eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping.  Mike and Duffy take care of the first two pretty much on their own.  Katja organizes eating and drinking.  I oversee the pooping and peeing, mostly by taking the dogs outside four or five times a day and cleaning up their more tangible products.  Duffy ordinarily does his business within 30 seconds of leaving the back stoop, eager to get back in the security of the house.  Mike, on the other hand, waits until he’s at least a couple of houses down the block.  He seeks out an appropriate spot, the criteria for which are unclear to me, and then starts turning in circles.  Four turn-arounds are Mike’s minimum.  Fifteen or twenty aren’t uncommon.  On their first morning outing, Duffy reliably poops at least once; Mike often chooses not to go at all.


We humans, of course, have the same biological needs to take care of, though our routines, artifacts, and rules are more complicated.  When we had the upstairs bathroom replaced a few years ago, Katja picked out a state-of-the-art toilet fixture by Kohler, whose exotic ads you’ve doubtless seen in home and garden magazines.  It’s very stylish, and it’s designed to be eco-friendly, meaning that it uses a minimum quantity of water.  While aesthetically appealing, it does have the drawback that, because of its minimal water pressure, it gets stuffed up pretty easily.  I’ve found this sufficiently irritating that I generally patronize our downstairs bathroom with its decades-old toilet that I regard as more truly American.  However, I do forget my policy from time to time, and the seemingly sentient and wicked Kohler machine seems eager to take advantage of my mistakes.


Katja, rarely a complainer, called me the other night to say that she had been plunging the toilet without success and could I try.  I went in and plunged and plunged until my hands started developing blisters.  Finally I gave up and told Katja I would try again in the morning.  I got up when the alarm went off and started plunging some more.  After five minutes, Katja said she was going to call the plumber.  I said, “No, no, not yet.”  I said the plumber would automatically charge a hundred dollars, and, since we now have a new hardware store down the street, I would go there and buy something to solve the problem.  What that something was I didn’t know, but I was certain the hardware store could handle this better (i.e., cheaper) than the plumber.  Katja said the plumber only charges sixty-five dollars.  When I came down for breakfast, she said that the plumber already was on his way.


Katja left for work, and the plumber did arrive shortly.  I showed him to the upstairs bathroom and went back down to finish my Sudoku.  I heard some grinding noises as he worked, and he called me ten minutes later.  He’d been successful.  He showed me some large strings or threads wound onto the gizmo that he had put down the toilet pipe.  He said they looked like mop strings, and he speculated that somebody had poured a mop bucket down the toilet bowl.  I said that the cleaning lady had been here recently.  He expressed relief at having been able to fix it.  If the gunk had been pushed further into the wall, he said, we would have had to call Roto Rooter to have the toilet removed and the wall dismantled.  Big bucks.  I silently patted myself on the back for not going to the hardware store and trying to fix it myself.  Later I phoned Katja at work and told her the plumber did charge $100, but I was glad we’d decided to call him.


The cleaning lady returned a few days later.  Katja left her a note, saying that the plumber told us that the toilet was stopped up by mop strings plus when I’d come home the last time she’d been there the back door was open and the dogs were running free on the patio.  The cleaning lady wrote a terse rebuttal, saying that she always pours the mop bucket outdoors and that I was out walking the dogs when she left our house last time.  I didn’t believe her story on either account, but I didn’t have the psychic fortitude to challenge her.


What lessons (if any) might be learned from this primal story?  Well, the first thing is that dogs and humans share fundamental communalities as living organisms, and we should appreciate this mutuality.   I conclude that we are far more alike than we are different. The second thing is that dog life is a lot more simple and straightforward than the human world.  The dog goes on the lawn, the owner picks it up with a plastic bag, and that’s it.  We humans face far more complicated challenges, and we could learn a lot from our dog friends if we paid better attention.  I guess I’m in favor of having an environmentally proper Kohler toilet, but it’s not all peaches and cream.





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