Gil and I have a conversation about Oliver, who has the entrenched habit of greeting whomever arrives at our front door with a shoe in his mouth.
Gil: We used to have a purebred dog who looked like a movie star. Whenever we took her out, her adoring public would gather around to ooh and ahhh. This was before a lot of people had shiba inus.
Me: She was beautiful, but she never brought us any shoes. In fact, everything had to be brought to her.
Gil: Our present beast, in contrast, has issues. Oliver is a mutt, an unlikely combination of a basset hound and a pit bull.
Me: He was a rescue puppy, which excuses some of his defects. Clown-face is the best name we ever had for him.
Gil: He looks stumpy and low to the ground. He has a slight harelip. His breath is atrocious. If his adoring public ever gathered around him, he’d growl and bark at them. Oliver is an example of a creature that is difficult to love.
But love him we do, with a passion. I sometimes think this is a gift he gives us, challenging us to love when loving is sometimes not that easy.
Me: The more I see of men, the more I like my dog. So said Pascal. I think that Oliver’s incomplete fetch at the door — incomplete both because you don’t start the action by throwing to him, and because he won’t drop the shoe at your feet — is perfection itself.
Gil: We have taken to wagering what kind of footwear he will greet us with: a sandal, a boot, a clog. His present-giving never fails to cheer us.
Me: You have to admire the spirit of a dog, no matter show stupid it may see sometimes. Oliver performs the same act over and over again just as eagerly. Sometimes with a sock, if a shoe’s inconvenient.
If we leave the house for half an hour he brings a shoe. If we then go out for fifteen minutes, when we return he will offer the same prize, dipping his head and smiling through the gift. Devoted, submissive, jiving and shucking.
Gil: Is loving more rewarding when it’s difficult? It puts me in mind of a line from a sad poem by John Engels. Precisely to the degree that you have loved something: a house, a woman, a bird, this tree, anything at all, you are punished by time.
Me: We humans should all bring the shoe to the door with the same fervor Oliver does. With the same open heart. What do we get in return? If we’re lucky, the privilege of rolling on our backs in the dewy grass, scratching that perpetual itch.