If my present life were a weekly TV show it would be called “The Clumsy Expat.” Voice-over narration would open each episode with words along these lines: “Somewhere between The Invisible Man and The Ugly American stands The Clumsy Expat, unknowingly asking directions to where he’s already standing and ordering a leather shoe for lunch.”
I may not have been the last guy from north of the border I thought would end up living in the middle of Mexico, but I was close to the end of the line. Then again, I once owned a Yugo and still can’t remember why. I guess the takeaway is I’m easily confused.
Nonetheless, and my confusion notwithstanding, I’d like to discuss a topic that’s close to my heart and legs: namely, walking a dog in the streets of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Since the last time I lived here, mas o menos eight years ago, the dog walking scene has changed dramatically, and, I might add, for the better. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of such groups as S.P.A. and Save a Mexican Mutt, and their generous supporters, I notice fewer stray dogs wandering the streets or working the rooms. I’ve also noticed more professional dog walkers, who are usually fanny-pack-wearing males tethered to a pack of mismatched breeds, a motley crew of ears, legs, and tails.
In my own case, I walk one poodle. (This is the point at which I pause for a few seconds to let all the cheap poodle jokes get out of the way.) My dog, Duke, is an 80-pound, apricot-colored Standard poodle who looks like a baby Wookiee. He has long legs and sits on the sofa like a human, with two legs on the floor. When we leave a book on the coffee table in front of Duke, it looks like he’s reading it. He very well could be.
And, of course, Duke loves to bark and has the deep bark of an opera baritone who is enthralled to hear his own voice. I’m training him to bark to “Old Man River,” thinking if I can pull it off we’ll both get on the Letterman Show.
Genetically, Duke is a waterfowl retriever. In reality, he hates water. As a result, he’ll walk out of his way, off the San Miguel sidewalk that’s just been swabbed with soapy water, and into a moving vehicle or a mob of people, if need be, to avoid the wet stuff.
As far as I can tell, Duke hates two other things in life: pretzels and bark-bys.
Pretzels have been well covered by the mainstream press. But, for those who don’t speak Dogish, a bark-by is the canine equivalent of a drive-by shooting. Dogs in the open bed of a moving truck bark at street-side dogs who, until that moment, were having a pretty quiet day. Whenever I walk Duke and he’s the recipient of a bark-by, he rears up, horse-like, and barks back. He continues to bark, twisting like, ahem, a pretzel, even as we’ve trekked on and the truck, by then, is halfway to Cancun.
One afternoon when I was walking down Zacateros Street, without Duke, I noticed a couple ahead of me walking their dog. The dog stopped suddenly, squatting on the sidewalk to take care of business. The man did what many American husbands would do and picked up his pace, putting some serious distance between himself and the dog. The woman did what many wives would do. She opened her purse, took out a small tissue, and bent down to pick it up. I rushed over and handed her a doggie pick up bag (Aside: I always carry with me Benadryl, Imodium, and doggie bags; I call it my San Miguel Survival Kit). I said, “Ma-am, don’t use that. Use this.” She looked up at me, thanking SuperDogPoopBagman with her damsel eyes for coming to her rescue, and used the doggie bag. The woman, at least my age or maybe younger, stood up and pulled my cheek affectionately. She said, “What a sweetie you are.”
Now the last time I had my cheek tugged like that I was ten. And that’s the beauty of living in San Miguel. No matter how old you are, this town finds ways to make you feel younger.