Travels With Steinbeck

Blogger Examines Small Dog Bias

Max blog 7 pic

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

News Flash!

Okay here’s the poop on Nellie.  Jamie and I were under the impression that Nellie belonged to her and thus Jamie could make decisions regarding Nellie.  Apparently we were both wrong.  After being told unequivocally by my former wife that Nellie was not going, I backed off. Even though my friend, Tommy A., suggested a dog-napping could add to the drama of this saga, I went to my understudy, Max the Maltese. Why not Max in the first place? Although old dogs rule, and in the dog world ten is the new five, at fourteen and partially deaf, I felt ten weeks on the road would be too hard on Max, not to mention me. That, at least, was my excuse. The change in circumstances forced me look deeper and to examine my small dog bias.

In addition to not being a large or even medium-sized dog (as you can see in this David Swift photo), Max has some, ah, issues, which I will delve into in greater depth below. But first let me be more honest about my issues. I’m a big dog person, always have been. When I gave Max to Dimmie, in an attempt to replace (always a mistake) a favorite dog of hers, I had Bandon, a robust and intelligent Australian Shepherd. “His and her” dogs, it was a perfect arrangement.  But we lost Bandon to a bizarre illness at the age of 11, at which point weighing in at 7 pounds, Max became, “top dog.”

Frankly, “top dog” has always been Max’s aspiration.  He eschews any suggestion that he is a lap dog. He will warmly greet any human being, but I have seen him throw himself into the jaws of pit bulls and I’m not lying. Max was in San Francisco recently with us when we visited our son, Wil. Max and I were sitting outside our hotel in Wil’s rather seedy “Tendernob” neighborhood while every manner of human being walked, staggered or wheeled by (that is, those that were not prone on the sidewalk). Max never seemed to notice any of them. But when a German Shepherd had the nerve to walk down the other side of the busy avenue, Max went nuts. I have to admit, the San Francisco trip caused me to look at Max from a different perspective. For all intents and purposes, he had to live in the car and he never had an accident (see that issue addressed below).  Each time we put him down on the pavement he was off down the street like a sailor on shore leave sniffing everything in range.  I remember thinking, Max seems rejuvenated: perhaps all he needed was an adventure.

Now to the big issue.  Max is no longer willing to go through all those antics that dogs are trained to go through—lacking the right words—to go out. He just goes, anywhere he pleases (except in the car and in his kennel). Needless to say, this has caused some stress around our house. We are pretty fastidious people. The vet examined Max and assured us there is nothing wrong physically, that this new development is behavioral. I say “new development,” but truth be told, Max has been so hit and miss (well, mostly hit, as in hit the floor and oriental rugs) over the years that he might just be getting the olfactory signal that the house is a perfectly acceptable place to fire away. And at 14 we are certainly not going to swat him or try to house break him all over again. Now Dimmie is one of the most loving and tolerant people I know, but even she, in moments of extreme frustration, has uttered the “eu” word—chose one a) euphoria b) eulogize c) euthanize d) euphemism.

I’m a big believer in the power of women.  By virtue of the fact that women give life, in my view, they pretty much have the right to take it away. Within reason, that is. But ambivalent as my relationship has always been with Max, I couldn’t conceive of him checking out (or being checked out) anytime soon. I have too many memories of our boys holding him and playing with him. I suddenly realized that this adventure might not only revive Max, it could be a reprieve. To quote, the Muppets, “a new “leash” on life.

So when my friend Tommy A. (who is a big fan of Max’s) heard about the switch in players, and after being told Nellie-napping was out of the question, he said, “Pretty cool, after a rich long life, to cap it off with a trip around America.”  To which I replied, “Are you talking about Max or me?”  “Both of you,” he said.

Ten days until departure!

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009


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  1. * Dimmie says:

    Max will be the perfect travelling companion and is great at warding off big dogs!

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago
  2. * Tom Armstrong says:

    These geriatric canines seem to think that they have earned the right to dump at will. Just yesterday, our beloved Ted, aged 14, relieved himself on a plush oriental in our dining room. I stepped in it and tracked it into the kitchen. It then became my fault. Senility perhaps or maybe they just no longer care to patronize us.

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago
  3. * Dave Hall says:

    I sense many more Max stories. (And look forward to ’em.)

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago
  4. Numbers reach 502, for I bought a copy to replace one left to benefit Princeton (MA) Public Library and another went to my brother.
    Enjoying revisiting Steinbeck’s travels as well as yours. Keep it going and I’ll follow and travel vicariously.
    Best from Dave’s Mom, Ann/Annie

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago
  5. * Joanna Ajdukiewicz says:

    Hi, heard about the planned journey from David Hall. Sounds like a lot of fun and I am looking forward to following the journey. Always enjoy travel w dog books–e.g.Pennine Walkies if you know that one–author announces his departure to his family by saying “I am just taking the dog for a walk and I may be some time.” His dog Boogie has issues too, mostly of a mephitic nature. Rich copy ensues. Well, happy trails to you and Max. Joanna

    | Reply Posted 8 years, 8 months ago

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