I know how Mariah Carey feels
and not just because I wear my sequined gowns so tight I can blow my nose with my cleavage.
Rather, like Ms. Carey, I now know what it’s like not to the leave the house unless an entourage is tripping along in my wake. Whereas she requires body guards, chauffeur, hair and make-up people, personal assistants, and “paid friends” (subcategory: “husband”) to mirror her every teetering step, the entourage I recently required was significantly less complicated, for I only needed two bodyguards: one to guard my person…and one to guard me against the vagaries of the first bodyguard.
(As long as we’re playing Divas and Bodyguards here, is anyone humming “I Will Always Love You” yet? I can never think of the 1992 whoopization of Our Lady Ms. Parton’s gentle ballad without it conjuring up a memory of my sister laying on the white carpet of her apartment in Denver, flattened to the fibers by the loud, long, and unending vocal stylings of her upstairs neighbor, a woman who began her imitation of Whitney at approximately 9 a.m. each day and ceased it around midnight. As the year went on, and the always loving of you continued mercilessly to penetrate the floorboards and weave its way into my sister’s psyche, I watched as my favorite female sibling faded from a vigorous young woman in her mid-twenties into a pastel throw rug crumpled in the corner. My throw rug metaphor unravels quickly, however, since throw rugs don’t actually whimper and beg for euthanization, as did my sis)
I first attempted public outings with only one bodyguard. His name was, still is, Pandus (pronounced pawn-doosh). He is a Turkish St. Bernard. He lives at an inn. He’s two years old, which makes him either a toddler or an adolescent, depending on how you measure it; either way, he’s a big, dumb handful of headstrong that shouldn’t be given the keys to the Fiat.
Pandus’ issue is that he holds a grudge against Turkish men. Cats. A couple of women in shalwars. They haven’t always been good to him.
Whenever he was on duty with me during the time we cared for him, the externalization of these grudges took the form of growling, baring all canines (doggie striptease), and attempting to eat the face off every unsuspecting swarthy man, cat, or shalwar wearer.
On the positive side, the tug of war that ensued when he would lunge at a village person constituted an excellent upper body workout for the leash holder. My biceps had been wonting a little resistance training lo these many months of lokum eating.
Although the untrained eye might simply have seen an aggressive dog going after the locals, I knew better. The lug was protecting me.
If you’ve ever seen them, you probably know that protection from shalwars is a decided service.
Interestingly, while Pandus decided that he was my Defender, he also cottoned to Groom as Alpha, probably after our first day on dogsitting duty when the family took Pandus out for a walk behind the inn, only to encounter one of the packs of wild dogs that plague the local landscape. We’d just passed a partially-eaten corpse of a (former) pack member when the yipping commenced. Five pointy-eared coyote-looking things arose from a nearby garden plot and started moving in.
Pandus lost his Pedigree-addled mind.
During the ensuing altercation, the rest of us didn’t fare much better, although some of us were more adept than others at putting up a front (I hardly sniveled at all as my ten-year-old gathered up a handful of stones, so shut up).
At the onset of Feral Dog Rendezvous, I was holding Pandus’ leash. In the next few minutes, he thrashed crazily, trying to break free to plunge himself into the snarling pack, and I found it harder and harder to keep control of Domestic Beast as I attempted to drag him and the rock-wielding kids up the road. Meanwhile, Groom set up a line of yelling, missile-ejecting interference between us and the Wildies. Eventually, when it became clear the pack would follow threateningly but not actually attack, Groomy worked his way up to me and offered to take the leash. He sustained only a minor wound from the force of the leather line hitting his hand and one broken eardrum from my highly-decibelic “CRAP, YES, TAKE IT!” Then I stomped up the hill after the kids, crabbing under my breath, “Big stupid dumb pain in the arse köpekler.”
Fifteen minutes later, having taken a breather ‘round a bend, we turned around and faced it all again. The return trip—there were no alternate routes available—was only slightly less eventful. Thanks to a certain amount of emotional fatigue, though, my muttered curses took on greater color and vehemence, which I shan’t relate here (Hi, Mom!). In its softer moments, my discourse did mark the first time I ever referred to a four-legged being as a “mangey buttwipe,” however.
Based on the dynamics of that first expedition, it’s no wonder Pandus realized I was the one to protect, and Groom was the one to respect (except in a competition of creative dog insults, where my entry of “You crusty, worm-sh****** gargoyle whose powdered bones even Charlie Sheen wouldn’t snort” trounces Groom’s “Bad dog!”).
After that day, his status as Alpha meant that Groom could walk through the village with Pandus, and all 100+ puppy pounds would relax into a trance of mellowness that bemusedly and detachedly watched potential stimuli rush him from all sides.
Not so when he was with me. With me, he attempted to make hummus of the mailman and swallow cars whole. Under Pandus’ watch, neither letter delivery nor exhaust fume would besmirch my honor.
Pretty quickly, I only wanted to experience Pandus while surrounded by the buffering walls of the inn.
It seemed unfair, however, to expect Groom to take on all dog-walking duties when he doesn’t necessarily even like dogs, nor had he been the one initially to agree to the inn- and pet-sitting job. What’s more, Groom was handling the miner-like duty of stoking and feeding the coal furnace each day; maneuvering the junky old loaner Renault down the narrow, steep streets of the village when it wouldn’t start, snaking it, powerfree, through flanks of mosque-goers, grandmas, school children, tourists, chickens, dogs, cats, tractors, bicyclists, scooter riders, and the odd cow…until he could get the battery to spark; pretending to like the inn’s two cats as he saved them from Pandus annihilation and stuck them into the pantry for feeding; and, when not making dinner, teaching Girl how to add fractions.
All things taken into consideration, it kinda seemed like I could grow a pair of biceps and take the dog out for some exercise.
So I tried. On our first foray out, my intention was to cut the shortest possible path through the village, hopefully avoiding human interactions, and get us out to a country road where I could let Dogface off the leash so he could burn some energy while I ran.
I put a fair bit of thought into that plan.
What I didn’t foresee was that the insanely small and yippy neighbor dog, his movements never restrained, would come racing off the staircase and get right up into Pandus’ face all bossylike. As my bodyguard, Pandus felt compelled to go after the yippy dog like he was a crudité at the christening party for Elton John’s son. Feeling my blood pressure rise at the thought of trying to compose a sentence like, “I’m sorry, but my dog ate your dog’s face off” in Turkish (as it turns out, “Ama üzgünüm benim köpek kapal? köpek yüzü yedik” would have done the job) I called upon my upper body strength to issue a mighty yank.
Yanking resembled a tug of war…until Pandus got far enough away from Yipper to spot an 80-year-old woman in shalwars loitering outside her house. Funneling all his unspent aggression at this new target, he charged her, causing her Virgin Mary scarf flutter as she moved creakily and arthritically toward safety. Being a Turk, though, she didn’t actually go inside. Rather, she moved away a few feet, terror on her face, and then turned to stare at Pandus. He charged her again. She Kirk Douglased another five feet before stopping to stare. He charged her again. She Douglased. Stared. Then the charge, the Douglas, the stare, and by about the fifth round of this idiocy, I was ready to unclip him from the leash and prove Darwin right.
Eventually, she backed herself into a doorframe, and I managed to pull Pandus down the road a few feet–just enough to realize we were headed straight into a military police roadblock. A van straddled the road in front of us, and a young beret-wearing gendarme stood next to it, a rifle across his chest.
Hey, look, Pandus: a Turkish man.
My hand slid down to Pandus’ collar. I grabbed it firmly, sizing up the position of the gendarme and the van, wondering, since they were blocking the road out of town, if I couldn’t ease us past them.
With a menacing lunge, Pandus growled.
The gendarme adjusted his rifle.
The gendarme scratched his arm a tidge too nonchalantly.
Pandus bared his teeth.
The gendarme looked me directly in the eyes and gave me a “Do you dare?” smile.
Had I been less rattled from the previous five minutes, I might have—lawsy knows I do likes watching gun-toting men in their early twenties get knocked to the ground as they fumble at their safeties. But right then, I didn’t dare, and not just because the Turkish version of “I’m sorry that my dog tried to eat your rifle and that you had to shoot his face off” eluded me at that moment (Spit this one out sometime when you’re stressed: “Benim köpegim senin tüfek yemeye çalisti ve size kapali yüzüne vurmak zorunda kaldigin için özür dilerim”).
Mostly, I didn’t dare because I was done. I didn’t necessarily fault Pandus for following the instincts that came from breeding, age, and past abuses. But I did realize that I can’t abide a creature in my care intimidating others simply because his days are empty without the diversion. If I could, I’d have married Dick Cheney back in ’58 when he proposed.
For following his Cheneyian impulses, Pandus was in the doghouse.
(Metaphorically, of course–because how exactly would he be in a real one, what with us standing there on broken cobbles, me sweatily gripping his collar and leash under an old stone arch, looking over my shoulder at a quavery octogenarian and then in front of me at a New Shaver Sporting Fatigues?)
Suddenly possessed of an upper body strength driven by quintceps, I jerked Pandus away from the gendarme, away from the doddering Darwin-bait grandma, away from the still yipping and nipping piece of fluff next door. Completely reactively, I heaved his body away from all the obstacles, even though this strategy meant the roads to the inn and out of town were no longer options.
We’d just have to take the only other road open to us: the one heading into the heart of the village.
Slowly, very slowly, we walked. Three cats slithered by. Pandus attempted a meal. I pulled him up short and rained a few expletives down on his head. A Turkish man stepped out of his house as another Turkish man, this one on a scooter, came around the corner, followed by another, this one on a donkey. Two grandmas in shalwars trudged up the road towards us. It was a living, breathing clusterf*** of temptations parading in front of the toddler in my care.
I did what most caretakers of toddlers do at some point during each day: I came to a complete halt, peered inward reflectively, and appraised the pros and cons of an emotional meltdown versus frustration-driven violence.
At that moment, when I looked up and saw the inn’s white Renault, Groom at the wheel and kids in the backseat, whipping around the corner and heading my way,
I opted for the meltdown.
They slowed the car, and when my husband rolled down the window, I burst into tears and launched into a babbled recounting of the previous eight minutes.
Because life with me has made him fluent in Teary Babble, it didn’t take much. Groom quickly held up a hand, silenced me, and said, “Open the back. Throw him in. Go for your run, and forget about all this.” Then he looked down at the face of the doting dog who dared to wag his tail in a happy greeting of “Master!” and clipped out, “Don’t. Even. Now get in the back, you big dip.”
That’s how I got my entourage.
For the rest of our five weeks at the inn, whenever I wanted to take Pandus out for a run (here’s the rub: I quite like seeing a big creature allowed freedom of space and will, allowed the right environment for his energy), I’d give Groom a few minutes’ notice, hand him the leash, and have him escort both Diva and Highstrung and Fallible Dog Bodyguard outside the city limits. At that point, his shift over, Groom would head back home, turning my welfare over to the protective fancy of a private-parts-smelling face-licker.
As it turned out, those proved useful skills
the first time he and I were caught unawares by the pack of wild dogs.
They rose up from under a tree, all howls and hunger, and rushed towards the road. Off leash this time, Pandus catapulted directly into the mix. He was encircled by the pack, and, as the howling and growling escalated, I made the split-second decision to continue running down the road while I had the chance. If the dogs were going to rip Pandus apart, my standing there and screaming would make no difference, and I wasn’t about to attempt physical intervention. I just ran.
Ten minutes later, Pandus still hadn’t caught up to me.
Just as I was constructing a plan for how to get back to the inn without backtracking through the carnage, how to piece together a group of men with gloves and plastic bags to drive out to the spot where I’d last seen Pandus so that we could retrieve his bits, and how to break the news of her pet’s death to Pandus’ owner,
the crazy mutt appeared off in the distance. His gait was chipper, and when he got closer, I could see he was smiling as though he’d never felt more alive. True to form, he trotted up to my leg, took a whiff of my privates, and nudged my hand with his nose. Every thirty feet or so, from then on, he would stop and turn around, scanning the road behind us.
We ran another mile before turning around. I felt myself growing increasingly tense as we neared the pack’s territory, unsure of what awaited us.
But there was nothing.
The dogs were gone.
And with a little look of “There, there, Mariah, so long as I’m with you, everything’s going to be all right,”
Pandus ran ahead of me down the road to the spot where Groom was waiting for us,
eager to tell Alpha about his big day on the job.