by Michele Travis
My dog is a Gabor sister, trapped in the body of a pit bull terrier blend. She has never seen a man she did not want to meet, or met a man she could not charm. The heart of a charming courtesan beats within her broad black and white chest. She has the tennis and racket ball collection to prove it.
During walks near the public courts, Lucy is not above grinning and wiggling for “an old ball I was going to throw away, really. She can have it. Who’s a pretty girl? Does this pretty girl want a tennis ball? Oooo, she does!” I stand around smiling, feeling de trop during these encounters. It has been pointed out that maybe if I did not usually dress like a teenage lesbian circa 1998 when I walk the dog, her wingwoman potential could be more effectively exploited. But I doubt it. These guys are dazzled by Lucy’s adorably large ears and freckled belly. And she lacks the ability to distinguish between married, single, gay, straight.
In a display of both spectacular taste and questionable judgment, Lucy boldly attempted to snare Jon Hamm a couple years ago, while his partner Jennifer Westfeldt was probably less than 20 feet away, filming in one of our neighborhood parks. Though her Jolene efforts were unsuccessful on my behalf, Lucy got Don Draper’s hands under her sweatshirt while he whispered praise for the adorable pink tint of her muzzle, while we all huddled together under a shrub at the edge of the Heather Garden. It is unlikely she will ever make a more impressive conquest, but I allow her to pull me into conversations with joggers, tourists, teenagers on field trips, museum staff walking to their jobs at The Cloisters, and parks department employees — a range of men whose common bonds are their inability to resist a friendly furry face and a lack of interest in the woman at the other end of the leash, which is usually mutual.
Only once did I suspect the attention being heaped on Lucy might have also been intended for me. One warm afternoon in yet another neighborhood park, we met a sweet, shy gray pit bull, being walked by a dark-haired, athletic-looking guy who was beyond excited to learn that I was also a former AC&C volunteer who had adopted from inside Dog Jail. He eagerly read Lucy’s name off her tag before I had a chance to introduce when we crouched, our heads almost touching, to pet each other’s dogs. We shifted our weight from left to right, mirroring each other while trading volunteer stories, including how we met the dogs we would come to adopt, while the dogs themselves sniffed each other, the ground, our shoes, then each other and the ground again. He wasn’t in a hurry to get away and he didn’t work his partner into every other sentence, which is a near-universal feature of any dog-induced encounter with a coupled man. (“My wife would love your dog; she wanted to get a terrier.” “This is my girlfriend’s dog, I’m walking him because she’s working late tonight.”)
However, he was wearing a wedding ring. Taking comfort in the knowledge that there was at least one married man in the neighborhood who could talk to a single woman without nervously assuming she would expect things from him unless firmly warned about the existence of his wife, I walked my exuberant dog home. A few days later, her wiggling body alerted me to the approach of her new gray pittie friend, walking on our street, leading to another pleasant conversation while the dogs sat companionably on the sidewalk.
A week or so later, when yet another encounter on our block started with chatting about hot spots and flea control but quickly took a turn for the flirty, I wondered if perhaps this friendly guy had taken note of the street address on Lucy’s tag that first day when he read her name. But why was he trying to bump into me if he wasn’t available? Maybe I should just ask! Of course, after I arrived at that bold resolution, we didn’t see either of them again for weeks. Lucy has other friends, so she didn’t exactly pine after that companionable gray fellow, and I would never chase after someone’s husband, anyway. We forgot about our collective maybe-attraction. I did wonder once, if that guy with the great smile and cheerful dog had moved away or something. Lucy likely did not wonder much at all.
But then, at the end of the summer, there they were again. The dog was the same, calm, alert, friendly, and like Lucy, more excited to be petted by a known person than sniffed by a familiar dog. They gave each other a once over sniff before sitting on the sidewalk, no doubt assuming they would be waiting out the usual boring human chatter. However, the guy was different. He had gained some weight, maybe, or lost some weight? He looked tired. He was reserved, distant. And he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring anymore. He said something about moving, a place in Riverdale. I felt him looking at me appraisingly — as if he found me both more and less attractive than before — and looking away before I could make eye contact. I tried asking a couple questions about his dog, which he answered absently. He smiled down at Lucy, rather than crouching next to her to administer the inevitable belly rub. Lucy, after an initial eager wiggle, looked away, off toward the park. Something had changed, and even the dog who couldn’t resist any man knew it was a waste of energy to try to charm this one.
She leaned against my legs, her pretty head thrown back, smiling up at me. I gave the gray pit a last ear scratch, wished them both a good walk, and let Lucy pull me up the street. She trotted toward the tennis courts, glancing back at me over her shoulder with a doggy grin, full of joy and the hope of a tennis ball, teaching me to read the signals and walk away.
Michele Travis lives in upper Manhattan, in the ideal neighborhood for a dog-obsessed person.