Walking in Memphis? Try Walking in Phoenix in August
It's entirely possible that my dog is on crack. Yes, it seems cruel to libel him this way when he shows none of the worst signs of drug addiction. He's never stolen from me to finance a habit; he hasn't lost weight or suffered from hallucinations. But, honestly, there's no other explanation for his energy level.
Buckley is a border terrier, which means 20 pounds of sturdy terrier, wrapped up in a scruffy coat. (He looks kind of like Benji.) The announcers at the Westminster Kennel Club call the border terrier a "game little companion," and most of time, that seems just about right.
But the problem with 1-year-old terriers is that "most of the time" is not all the time. And the dogs strutting fancily around Madison Square Garden are seldom afflicted by the sudden bolts of crazy that struck my little guy this winter.
I suppose it was mostly my fault. We'd moved from a nice house with a yard to an apartment without even a doggy door, and — despite daycare twice a week and lots of trips to the dog park — Buckley was clearly bored out of his mind.
I'd come home from work and Buckley would bounce six feet in the air. "HEY! HEY! IT'S YOU! I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU'RE ALIVE! YAY!" He'd grin at me while boing-ing around like a mad pogo stick.
Often, his enthusiasm was a ploy to distract me from his bad behavior. While I was gone, he'd tear up his toys, or get into the trash. I'd come home to find Kleenex everywhere, ancient bubblegum in his paws, an old tampon under the couch. He chewed up at least a dozen ballpoint pens.
My friend Jill (a foster mom to dozens of crazy dogs over the years) explained that if your dog destroys your stuff, it's your fault for leaving it where he can get it. So the trash was placed under lock and key — but I never imagined Buckley would jump five feet in the air and ricochet off the bureau, just to get at the sombrero I used to display atop a lamp. That sombrero had real sentimental meaning, and its destruction, no matter what Jill says, was not my fault. That wasn't a lazy human; that was a bad dog on a mission.
We tried obedience class, twice, but all the other dogs just brought out the crazy. At the park, Buckley didn't want to SIT or SHAKE, even though he was awesome at both in the quiet of my kitchen. He wanted to wrestle with the other dogs.
Foster mom Jill told me that he'd probably grow out of his insanity. (He is, after all, a puppy.) But in the meantime, to save my sanity and my household goods, she had a suggestion. "He should get a lot exercise," she said. "Lots and lots of exercise."
So we began to walk, constantly. And though that was easy enough in the winter and the spring, along came summer.
You do not realize just how hot 115 degrees is until you have a dog who wants — nay, needs — to be walked in it. You may have thought you were tough because you wait 'til June to turn on your A/C, or because you hiked Piestewa Peak in the midday sun. (Once.) You may have even thought you liked the heat.
But you have no idea, really, what heat is until you find yourself living in downtown Phoenix with an energetic dog, in an apartment sans doggy door.
If this is your life, at least four times every day, no matter how hungover you are or how dehydrated or how sick, no matter how much the sun hurts your eyes, you must walk. Never mind that the heat is rising off the asphalt jungle in visible waves. Never mind that the government is actually is issuing heat advisories, warning you to stay indoors.
You must walk.
This has been my life this summer. This has been, I suppose, the summer of Buckley.
The weird thing is, it's been great.
I got Buckley last May after a crazy amount of soul-searching about "Do I really want a dog?" and "Can I really handle a dog?" I even wrote a column about it.
I thought that having a dog would change me, and I was right. What I didn't realize was how much it would change my relationship with Phoenix.
This is a car city. Our wide, straight streets are great for zipping around, but awful for walking. And for three years, I used that as an excuse not to walk.
Sure, I'd drive to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and hike through the cactus, but stroll around the actual city? Are you kidding me? The roads have six lanes. The drivers are idiots. There are no trees!
So even though my office parking lot is a mere quarter-mile from Chase Field, I wouldn't even consider walking when I had Diamondbacks tickets. Not when there's a parking garage next to the stadium. When I'd go to New York to visit my best friend from college, I'd have to buy flats. I simply had no reason to wear them, ever, in Phoenix.
And then Buckley and I started walking.
We started our treks after moving downtown in January, and we were in heaven: cool mornings, sunny skies, friendly neighbors.
From the window of a car, zipping by at 35 — okay, 45 — miles per hour, Phoenix is brown and boring. At a dog's pace, Phoenix is actually a hoot. We got to know the transients at Margaret T. Hance Park by name. We trotted around the little shops on Roosevelt and peeked through the fence at the Japanese Friendship Garden. We chased feral cats through trash-strewn alleys.
Winter became spring, and we slowed down a bit. Buckley began insisting on regular "rest breaks" in the still-cool grass. (Frequently, we rested under the public art that my friends call "The Used Condom," at the Civic Space Park.) But we kept walking. In fact, we walked right into the hottest July on record.
And that's when something bizarre happened.
I started to like it here.
That wasn't true all the time, of course. There were days when I'd roll out of bed a bit later than planned and the sun was already scorching and there was gin coming out of my pores and I seriously thought I might drop dead, right next to the homeless guys. I'd wonder, would anyone even notice my rotting corpse? Would anyone take care of my little dog?
But then there'd be evenings when the sky was a sea of pink and the wind felt like a hair dryer on my skin instead of a freakin' curling iron. Buckley and I would be strolling along, and we'd hear the light rail ding ding ding as it trundled past — and I was suddenly truly happy to be here in this moment, to be alive and living in Phoenix in 2009.
It might have been because of War and Peace, which literally sucked up the better part of my July. Immersed in Tolstoy's epic, I was struck by how in the midst of adultery and death and the carnage of the Napoleonic Wars, the characters would occasionally step outside, take a deep breath, and notice the stars shining overhead. At that point, they'd realize that life was bigger than mankind's petty squabbles, that God is good, and that life is worth undertaking.
That's how I felt this summer, racing along with a crazy little dog in the feverish heat. Sometimes we'd be sweating and panting and we'd suddenly come upon a real, cold drinking fountain. Or we'd see the mountains off in the distance, and for a moment the heat would dissipate.
In moments like that, I would look down at Buckley's happy little face, and I was happy, too.
Summer in Phoenix is like summer nowhere else. The longest days of the year are the nastiest, not the nicest. I don't blame my neighbors for camping out in their apartments with the A/C cranked up, waiting for darkness to fall. Yet there was something great about embracing the 115-degree heat instead of hiding from it.
As a little girl in Cleveland, I used to taste the autumn chill in September mornings and think sadly about how autumn was on its way. For the first time since moving to Phoenix, I found myself feeling that way last week.
I never thought I'd say this, but I might miss summer.
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