Sunday, October 18, 2009

I’m Down . . . er . . . Back!

Hello! Sorry for not having posted in ages. For the last two weeks, I have been dog-sitting at an apartment that—believe it or not—does not have Internet. (Shocking, I know, especially in this day and age, and even more so because the tenants lived on the Upper East Side!) It has been quite the adventure, of which several incidents are worth recounting.

Before I recount these incidents, however, I must mention (perhaps for the second time, as I probably wrote about this when I cat-sat at D___’s apartment) that one learns quite a bit about a person—or in this case a couple—by staying in his/her apartment. And even more surprisingly, what a person doesn’t own is almost as revealing as what they do own. For instance, because I work with and know one of the men, T___, for whom I dog-sat, it didn’t shock me to find his (and his partner’s) apartment to be tastefully furnished in a very “antique” and artful sort of way. It wasn’t tremendously shocking to me that they owned a giant CD collection of show tunes and classical orchestral music, and I was wholly unsurprised that their closets were filled with what I would consider “dress clothes.” (Sweaters were the least “dressy” apparel available, with button-down shirts and suit jackets being the most predominant tops in their wardrobe.)

What did surprise me was the absence of a) hand towels (even in the kitchen; I ended up using a bath towel to dry dishes until I finally borrowed a dish towel from a colleague at work), b) hand soap (I had to open the only bar I could find, which was one of those free ones from a hotel, hidden in an urn on top of the toilet along with matches and other random odds and ends), and c) excess food. (Even I, when leaving a place for several weeks, leave behind things like a random onion, dried pasta, and baking ingredients like flour, brown sugar, etc. Either they managed to eat all of this up before they left, or they really keep none of this on hand!) I’m not entirely sure what this “says,” per se, about these gentlemen, but it was curious to find these items lacking.

Now, for the list of noteworthy incidents that occurred during my stay:

  • First off, I have to explain that this dog—his name is Caesar—is not only well trained (he knows the commands sit and shake, and he poops twice a day like clockwork) and well mannered (he rarely barks, he doesn’t jump up on newcomers, and he completely ignores most other dogs when passing them on the street), he’s smart. Stores on the Upper East Side (UES) apparently give out treats to their local canine residents, and Caesar knows exactly where these places are. Being a newcomer to the UES, I obviously had no idea that any store handed out treats, never mind a wine & liquor store or a women’s clothing boutique. Caesar knew, though, and very literally dragged me to each and every one of these venues multiple times.
  • Prior last week, I had never been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fact, the only NYC art museum I had been to was the MoMA, which I visited last year in order to see the Van Gough exhibit with my cousin K___. However, before he left, T___ provided me with not one but three invitations to exclusive art exhibitions, one at the Whitney and two at the Met. I unfortunately couldn’t attend the one at the Whitney (it was for the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit, which I would still like to see), but I did attend both of the events at the Met. The first was a sort of meet-and-greet for the exhibit American Stories. They opened the entire exhibition for guests’ perusal and then set up the balcony around the great hall (which is also the main entrance to the museum) as a lounge area, complete with open bar and appetizers. This was what I would call an “old money” event; everyone in attendance (excepting me, my guest M___, and maybe one other couple I saw wearing jeans and cowboy boots) was probably only slightly younger than my grandparents. Truly, the quantity of white hair was stunning.

    The second event was a curator-guided tour of photographer Robert Frank’s exhibition The Americans. For me, this was a much more worthwhile affair, because although the appetizers were considerably less appealing (fried little balls of weird breaded meat and pretzel twists served at The Americans, as opposed to delicious crispy toasts, olives, pickles, and spreads, plus cocktail peanut mix to go with drinks at American Stories), the curator imparted ten times more knowledge than I ever could have gained from reading the little plaques on the walls beside Frank’s photos, and his animation and enthusiasm made me much more interested in the exhibit than I otherwise would have been. Quite honestly, even after he imparted all of his knowledge about the photography and his awe of Frank, I still wasn’t that impressed by the photos. I feel that if I were to go out on the street and take 90% of the photos he took and try to submit them somewhere important, I’d be chucked out on my behind, followed by derisive laughter and a slammed door. If I was lucky, I’d get a bit of constructive criticism about how I shouldn’t have made this image nearly so gray (all the images were in black and white) or should have brought that subject into focus (several of the pictures, in my opinion, either brought too many of the items in the picture into focus or else left the whole thing too blurry). However, I’m certainly no photography expert, and this work is revered as great stuff, so I’m glad I got to see it, in any case.

  • To bring the dog back into the picture, two more incidents involved him. The first also involved another animal: a bird. One of my instructions, left by T___, was to keep the door to their little downstairs balcony open while I was away so Caesar could go outside if he wanted. I happen to like the apartment to be on the cooler side, so while the weather was still in the 50s and 60s, I left that balcony open the entire time, even while I was home. One night (or actually it was about two o’clock in the morning) I woke up to some scuffling on the floor. Leaning my head over the side of the bed, I muttered, “Caesar, what are you doing?” Suddenly, I saw (and heard) a gray blur—which Caesar was bearing down upon—flutter up before dropping back onto the floor.

    I wear glasses, so I still had no idea what was going on, but from the sound and blurry appearance, it looked like Caesar was chasing a bird. “Is that a bird?” I murmured sleepily, not willing to believe it as I groped around for my glasses. Finally, with my vision intact, I swung myself out of bed and, crooning to Caesar (“good boy, okay, let go, all right, back up now, good boy”), I got a look at what he had been attacking. Sure enough, it was a little bird, now lying dead and bleeding upon the floor.

    There’s not much more to say except that I cleaned it up and did my best to get all of the feathers swept outside (that bird lost a lot of feathers in the skirmish!), but I am still wondering: how in the world did a bird get into the apartment without my noticing? My experience with birds trapped indoors is that they fly around and crash into things trying to get back out. This bird, instead, flew close enough to the ground to be attacked by a dog. One might guess that perhaps it was injured and crawled into the apartment, but the bedroom is on the second floor, in which case it would have had to hop up the steps to get to where I was sleeping in order for Caesar to wrestle it to oblivion right beside the bed. Also, he could have dragged it up the stairs, but I highly doubt that such a small bird would have survived this dog’s massive maw clamping down around it and hauling it all the way from the first to the second floor, especially enough to make a fly-away attempt that I, a blind-without-glasses human, would recognize upon awaking in a sleepy stupor.

    The mystery remains.

  • The other event doesn’t so much involve Caesar as it involves the fact that I was afraid it involved Caesar. What happened was this: one afternoon, I arrived home from walking Caesar in the park. My friend R___ was visiting, and we sat down in the living room to discuss where to eat lunch. Caesar, having scarfed down his three scoops of post-walk food in two minutes flat, wanted to play fetch, and we were tossing him a ball as we chatted and used my laptop to steal local unsecured internet and find a good local sushi restaurant. I ordinarily sit in the armchair when I am in the living room, but since I needed to use my laptop, I was sitting in the high-backed chair next to the wall outlet, which happens to face the armchair. As I looked up at R___, who was sitting in the armchair, I suddenly noticed an odd white cottony lump by his right knee. Focusing my attention there, I gasped. There was a huge hole chewed into the seat cushion of the armchair!

    For the rest of the stay, I was terrified Caesar had done chewed apart the cushion while I was out, and I monitored the chair daily. No additional stuffing seemed to be coming out of the chair, so if he had chewed that hole, he seemed to be content. Had I done something wrong one day to make him discontented enough to chew this chair? Would his owners be mad when they got back? R___ suggested flipping the cushion, but I could never do that; they’d obviously find out at some point, and then I’d look guilty and untrustworthy: if Caesar had chewed it while I was there, they’d know I had somehow mistreated their dog, and if the chair had already been like that, they’d know that if something had actually gone wrong while they were away, I’d have tried to cover it up.

    Ultimately, it turns out that the chair had been chewed before I ever arrived, possibly before they ever even owned Caesar. I was a little embarrassed to have been so worried, but my sense of relief more than made up for it. And at least I told them; I can check that guilt complex off my list.

  • Last but not least is the most traumatic event of my stay: falling down a spiral staircase. The apartment is built vertically, with the living room, kitchen, and bathroom on the first floor, and a spiral staircase leading up loft-style to a bedroom and second bathroom on the second floor. (There is actually a loft-style third floor storage space with a very low ceiling, too, but I didn’t go up there.) As, I presume, with all spiral staircases, these steps were very steep and windy, and every time I ascended or descended them, I would think to myself, “Go slow. Be careful. These are really dangerous.” It wasn’t as though I could do much else anyway—it’s nearly impossible to run up or down a spiral staircase—but I always had a sense of foreboding on those stairs; it just felt inevitable that I would fall on them. And, of course I did.

    I was coming down one morning, with the dog following me—if you think it’s difficult to go up or down spiral stairs to begin with, try it with a dog right behind you—and right on the forth step, boom! That was it. I wasn’t rushing; I wasn’t carrying a load of items; I wasn’t even drunk. I was just coming down the stairs at 6:10 a.m. to get ready to walk Caesar, and there I went, down the stairs. Thank the lord for railings, because my one leg went between two of the rails while my other folded under me as I slid down on my back. After sitting there a moment in that childlike “do I cry now?” sort of shock, I disentangled myself, picked up a few of the items I had been carrying that had landed on the steps, and hobbled down the remaining stairs. I picked up my remaining belongings and continued with my routine, determined that crying would be completely useless and that I wasn’t really that hurt, until I went to put on my shoes. Lifting up my right pant leg, I saw why my ankle was hurting so much: there was a huge gash up the side of it, and blood was dripping onto my sock. At that point, I did a little bit of gasping and moaning to appease my sense of injury, after which I hobbled around to the bathrooms and inspected the vanities.

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any Band Aids, so I folded up a paper towel and tucked it into my sock. Then, I laced up my sneakers, stuck another paper towel in my pocket, and headed out the door with Caesar. After all, whether I’m bleeding or not, a dog has to poop.

No comments: