I’m Okay With That

Why is it that people who publicly admit to not liking children are met with less scorn than those who confess to not being fond of animals?

Well, I’m not an animal lover.

There. I said it.

For the record, I don’t walk around wearing a sandwich board advertising my disinterest in cats and dogs (because that would be weird), nor do I ride through the streets of town in the back of a pickup truck blaring hate speech about animals through a megaphone (turns out you need a permit for that).

My point? I’m not necessarily proud of the reality that I don’t have a fondness for animals, but the fact is, I can’t control it any more than I can control the fact that I have brown eyes. It’s just something that...is. 

chipI grew up in a family of animals lovers, but for some reason, with me, it just didn’t stick. The cats we had as pets never really took to me. They always seemed more drawn to the members of my family who talked to them like they were newborn babies and who let them prance around the house like they owned the place. Call me selfish if you must, but the day I sit teetering uncomfortably on the pointy edge of a dining room chair throughout an entire Thanksgiving meal because the family cat happens to be sleeping soundly in that very same chair when it’s time for dinner, is the day pigs fly.

To be clear, I respect the love that I see shared between pet owners and their animals, I just don’t envy it or feel the need to have that same kind of connection with a pet in my own life. Sometimes I feel like people expect me to apologize for that, but the bottom line is, the reality that I don’t relate to animals in the way a lot of other people do doesn’t mean I have anything to be sorry about…it just doesn’t.

Now, having said all of that, when and if I do find myself in a situation where I’m asked, point blank, whether or not I like animals, my answer is always an honest, “Actually no, not really.” In response to that statement (especially from dog owners) I usually experience one of two reactions.

The first is when the person looks at me as if I’ve just enthusiastically admitted to being a serial killer proudly specializing in the demise of small children and the elderly because they can’t fight back or get away as quickly. After the look of outright horror and sheer disgust, the face of the person I’m speaking to often turns a vicious red, veins pop out on his or her cheeks and neck in places that I didn’t even know veins existed, and I almost always hear the words, “But my dog is like a member of my family!” And, because I never know just how to respond, that statement is usually followed by an awkward silence that signifies the end of the conversation.

A second common reaction is when the person smiles dangerously and immediately proclaims, “Oh, but you haven’t met my dog! You would LOVE my dog!” (Nope. No I would not.) Almost without exception this remark comes out sounding like a threat, and inevitably, just to prove the point, if the dog in question is anywhere in the general vicinity, it’s usually only a matter of seconds before I find myself pinned up against a wall while I’m being barked at, drooled upon, clawed at, groped, chewed, pummeled, shredded, nudged, prodded, lacerated (no, it’s true), sliced, diced, and in one case, very nearly strangled. All of this, of course, while the proud dog owner looks on lovingly. Occasionally, as all of this is playing itself out in front of their eyes, one of them will even say something along the lines of, “See? I told you she was sweet,” or “How could anybody not fall in love with him?” When all is said and done, by the time I’m done wiping the sludge that was deposited on my skin from the dog’s tongue or attempting to remove an amount of hair that could be rivaled only by Chewbacca himself, I usually just wave the white flag and get the heck out of Dodge as quickly as possible.

It’s the same thing every single time.

Even though I’ve had this experience more times than I can count, I still respect the love that my family and friends have for their pets, especially when I’m in their homes. Do I request that they keep their animals locked away or on a leash just so I don’t have to be near them? No, of course not. I mean, after all, who do I think I am?  Do I appreciate it when they do?  Of course. But I certainly don’t expect it. It’s their home. Their pet(s). Their rules. That’s the way it should be.

And not that I’m looking for a trophy or anything, but there was even a time I was able to keep my silence and not utter a single word of complaint while eating dinner at a friend’s even though the entire time we were seated (at least a good hour or so) the dog ran around under the table nipping, sniffing, dive bombing, rolling, slurping, and breathing more heavily than any Olympic runner has the right to at the end of the 400 meter sprint. Did I yelp ever so slightly when that dog gave me one too many savage nuzzles right to the stomach when I had a bladder full of red wine? You bet. But a yelp, mind you, is a sound. It’s not a word. And to clarify, I wouldn’t have needed so much red wine if I hadn’t been desperately trying to forget about the fact that my feet (sporting brand new sandals) somehow became the designated resting place for that dog’s rear end when it stopped to catch its breath and recharge before its next round of terror.

It’s when I have experiences like that one that I can’t help but think of the line…”But my dog is like a member of my family!” My nine year old son is a member of my family. How well do you think it would go over if the next time I invite friends over for dinner I allow him to crawl under the table and snarl, gyrate, pant, growl, snort, slobber and tumble to his heart’s content while my guests are trying to enjoy their meals?

Just curious.

In my defense, I want you to know that I almost liked a cat once.

Many years ago I did a lot of house sitting, and one particular dark and stormy night (no joke, it was evening and we were in the middle of a blizzard), I shared a moment of affection with the cat who lived in one of the houses where I was staying. For the first few days the cat met me with disinterest; doshe didn’t dart furiously about, nor did she make that creepy gurgling sound before stretching her neck and back in that extremely freaky way that always convinces me I’m just about to be pounced upon. She was just sort of…around, and after a few days I got used to her. One night, just before I opened her can of jelly encased cat food, I decided what the heck, and I reached out to scratch her neck. When she purred, I smiled and gave the top of her head a few gentle rubs. It was at that moment that the thought actually crossed my mind that maybe, just maybe, having a cat someday wouldn’t be all that bad.

Fast forward approximately one hour and my newfound love affair with cats came to an unexpected and very traumatic end.The affection I had for that cat ended abruptly when, after scarfing down several particularly spicy pieces of pepperoni (not bragging), I found myself in need of an emergency trip to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Mouth ablaze, coughing desperately, and eyes watering to the point of tears, I turned the corner into the bathroom and witnessed the single most disturbing sight I have ever seen in all my life.

That cat, the very same one I had been feeding and tending to all week, the cat I had actually touched on the head less than sixty minutes before, was perched on the sink, its head angled in the creepiest of ways, taking licks from the dripping faucet…all while straddling my precious toothbrush.

And when I stay straddling I mean straddling.

The creature had one leg to the east and the other to the west while its private parts dangled directly atop the bristles of my one and only toothbrush. The very same toothbrush that I was in desperate need of using to put out the fire raging inside my mouth.

It was while I stood there, frozen in horror and helplessly observing that cat become more intimate with my toothbrush than my own mouth had ever been, that I realized I was being punished for the weakness I’d displayed earlier that night. Reaching out and petting it playfully on the head and actually thinking that perhaps this whole having a pet thing might not be so bad after all, was coming back to haunt me just as I should have known it would.

Hey, the simple fact of the matter is that I’m just not (and never will be) an animal lover. I’m okay with that. I just wish other people could be okay with it, too. Different strokes for different folks. Isn’t that the way the saying goes?

And as long as one of those strokes isn’t the brush of a dog’s behind across my new summer sandals or the wiping of a cat’s genitals on my toothbrush, I’m okay with that, too.

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I’d Like That In A Box, Please

Last October my eight year old son, who looks very much like the living, breathing embodiment of Harry Potter, announced that Halloween day at his school would be “Dress as your favorite book character day.” Great! I knew for a fact that we had the cape, the wand, the Hogwart’s tie….we were golden. It would be one less thing I’d have to worry about during a very busy time of year.

1391994_10200874665335629_526385577_nAs it turned out, my son’s interest in dressing as Harry Potter was nonexistent. Instead, he wanted to dress as Coach Hedge from the Percy Jackson book series. Yes. Coach Hedge. The sarcastic, obnoxious, club carrying satyr who calls everyone Cupcake.

Just perfect.

The whole experience caused me to look back on my own childhood memories of Halloween. Back to a time when things were a bit more simple and straightforward. To a time when you could buy your Halloween costume in a box.

That’s right. A box. 

Wonder Woman. Scooby Doo. Casper the Friendly Ghost. These icons play a staring role in my most vivid Halloween memories. As a child, nothing made me happier than when the shelves at department stores filled with boxes of brightly colored plastic costumes and paper masks. It’s weird to think that there are generations of people born after me that will never associate a Halloween costume with a box.

1381946_10200870781558537_1230830965_nThe clear plastic sheet in the center of the costume boxes allowed the characters inside to peer out (somewhat eerily now that I really think about it) at the faces of the young children eager to transform themselves. I can still smell the waxy, rubberized scent of the masks and costumes when I’d finally convince my mom to let me take them out of the box just ONCE before Halloween night. And sometimes, even now, in the wee small hours of the morning, I remember the melancholy and despair that swept through me when I’d be forced to puncture my beloved mask with a stapler because, just as my mom had vowed would happen, the elastic string designed to keep the mask in place did, in fact, snap when I insisted on playing with it just one more time.

It’s hard to believe that those truly were the good old days.

Please know that I’m certainly aware that the paper masks created a safety hazard because we couldn’t see that well through the almond sized eyeholes (not a swear word).

And yes, I’m shocked that we didn’t all burst into flames as we merrily glided and squeaked along the streets, encased in plastic, with our parents walking cheerfully in front or behind us smoking like chimneys as they “kept us safe” from the dangers of trick or treating. Believe me, the irony of that situation is not lost on me.

And alright, for crying out loud, I wasn’t always able to fully enjoy my loot by the time I returned home with a plastic pumpkin bursting with candy. Why? Because I was too lightheaded and just plain woozy from all the chemicals I’d been inhaling all night from my costume. It wasn’t just the eyeholes (why does that word make me giggle?) that were too small. You didn’t get a lot of fresh air in those getups, that’s for sure.

Looking back, it’s really a wonder that we’re alive.

But still…there’s just something about those days that I miss. You recognized the characters who walked by you on your quest for candy every October 31. Darth Vader. Popeye. Batman. We knew who those pop culture characters were and we adored them. We saw them on the big screen and in Saturday morning cartoons. They were fun. They were futuristic. They were hip.

Fast forward 30ish some odd years and all heck has broken loose.

Last week my son and I visited a popular Halloween store, and as we made our way to the children’s section, we passed a variety of Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and Dorothy costumes. Although they were all marketed toward young girls, each one would put the outfits displayed on the mannequins at the “Romantic Supermarts” to shame. I’m not proud of it, but as we continued walking, I found myself fighting the urge to imagine a scenario in which Mini Mouse might need to wear garters. It’s probably the second creepiest thought I’ve had in my whole life. The first being my puzzlement over one of those cakes that has a naked Barbie in the center. Once, at a birthday party, I watched a delighted little girl stare at her Barbie Princess cake as it was being carried to the table. Since it was the first time I’d ever really seen one (in the flesh, if you will), rather than joining in the singing, I found myself wondering how the cake would be cut. There clearly were not enough people in the room for the entire cake to be devoured, so the question became, would the cake be cut from the front resulting in the Barbie flashing the party goers OR, perhaps equally as disturbing, would that princess end up mooning us from behind?

I told you it was creepy.

snc18072_syon207In the end, all my worry was for naught. Within minutes of the candles being blown out, the grisly discovery was made that the Barbie was, in fact, legless. The revelation came as the blond beauty was recklessly yanked from the center of the cake by the four year old birthday girl who was intent on braiding Barbie’s hair. When all was said and done, poor Barbs ended up face first in a big blob of green frosting. The worst part about the whole scene was that, from beginning to end, it was alarmingly similar to the one and only segment I’ve ever seen of Girls Gone Wild.

Festive. I know.

Anyway…once we reached the section geared more toward eight year old boys, things didn’t improve. While there were a few familiar Mario costumes, a couple of Darth Vaders, and a few other recognizable characters, for the most part, that aisle left me feeling anxious. The long metal hooks displayed plastic bags filled with masks and costumes for characters that went by the titles Phat Pimp Child, Bleeding Chest Evil Pumpkin (what does that even mean?), Elf Warrior Child, Zombie Sock Monkey, Hipster Nerd, Hazmat Hazard, and Soul Taker.

It strikes me that very few of the costumes were pop culture icons and I’ve certainly never seen them on the big screen or on Saturday morning cartoons. It would seem we’ve traded paper masks and plastic costumes in the likeness of familiar, friendly characters, which admittedly posed both health and safety risks, for soul taking evil pumpkin heads (with bleeding chests no less) and every single kind of zombie known to man.

Please know that I’m not trying to be judgmental. I just find myself concerned that, at age 43, I’m turning into the proverbial “grumpy old man.” I mean, am I going to wake up tomorrow and scream at the neighborhood kids to, “Get off my lawn!”? I sure hope not.

Going to the Halloween store was certainly an eye opening experience for me this year. It made me realize that I should have been relieved that my son ch1wanted to dress up as a goat…man…thing. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about the fact that I’m relieved that he’d rather be Coach Hedge instead of wearing a getup marketed under the name Bigger in Texas Flasher Costume. Yes, that’s the name of a real costume.  And no, I have absolutely no intention of finding out what that means.

My little guy wanted to be a sarcastic, obnoxious, club wielding goat man who calls everyone Cupcake, and that’s what I let him be. I guess it could have been worse.