Yesterday, the sports media was engulfed in all-time great Miami Heat’s first loss in twenty-seven consecutive games at the hands of the all-star-less Chicago Bulls. Yes, the Heat may claim the second longest winning streak in NBA history, but they won’t break the record this season, not after the bare knuckle street fight the Bulls put them through Wednesday night. As a native outside-Chicagoan, I was ecstatic with the result, but even I got sick of ESPN’s repetitive coverage and analysis of the game.
Meanwhile, the news media (also known as the “entertainment media”) was abuzz with the Supreme Court’s hearing of arguments for and against the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8, both of which call for gay and lesbian couples to be fired out of cannons into a pit of scorpions.
But after exhaustive coverage, and figuring the Supremes likely wouldn’t rule on the issue until after they’d seen the new Wolverine movie this July, the only really interesting thing about the story was that all the homophobes in Congress were keeping surprisingly mum about it. Almost like they were embarrassed to hate on gays now. Oh, if every high school bully could be as pragmatic as the United States Congress!
Anyway, I got tired of trying to figure which story was more historic, so I got the dogs in the car and drove out to our favorite park.
I know I’ve talked about my dogs before, at least the older one, Anya. Six months ago, we adopted another, Lily. I never had dogs growing up and I didn’t know what I was missing until they came into my life. Now I’m one of those people who flutters around the internet looking at slideshows of cute animals and dogs dressed like Star Wars creatures.
Yeah, I’m one of those who treat my pets like my children in that I coddle them, dress them in clothes, and hold them responsible for the ruin of both my sex life and personal finances.
I treat Anya and Lily like my children, because, well, because I can’t have children of my own.
About two years ago I was having some pain all around my face. Sometimes it hurt in my jaw, sometimes in my nose, sometimes above my eyes. I went to the emergency room twice for it, but they couldn’t do much because doctors don’t really know what pain is (until they’re out on the golf course, nomsayin‘?) I consulted my dentist twice, but they didn’t see anything wrong. Finally, I went to an ear, nose and throat specialist to see if the crayons I inserted into my ear, nose and throat as a baby were having some kind of adverse effect. The ENT numbed my face with liquid cocaine, which is easily one of the two best kinds of cocaine, and came up with a big ol’ “no idea” for what was wrong. He wanted to do a CAT Scan to see if I had a tumor, at which point I said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if I needed root canal surgery and all you doctors are $@#%ing idiots?” Turns out, that’s exactly what it was.
Anyway, after my root canal I asked the wife if we should have kids and she said no.
So now we have these two dogs.
Every day I take them to this place a few miles outside town called Dog Mountain, which is exactly what it sounds like.
As often as not, the three of us are alone at Dog Mountain, hiking through the woods for an hour or playing fetch or swimming in the pond. Given that it’s Winter, of course, the swimming portion generally involves Lily breaking through the thin film of ice covering the pond and losing her mind while I dump my wallet and cell phone on the bank before trudging into the water after her.
When we’re lucky, though, I meet other dog owners there and the girls get a chance to play. I say we are lucky because the dogs get to cut loose and expend tons of energy, which means they’ll go home and sleep instead of eating my books and DVDs when I go to work.
So this time I’m coming down the trail toward the front of the park when Anya and Lily meet a new dog. They run around, serpentine between trees, sniff each other like crazy, and I see the other dog’s owner about two-hundred feet away. It doesn’t look like he can see them from where he is so I shout to him that my dogs are friendly, his dog is fine, and they’re all just playing. Most people are fairly protective when they bring their dogs here, so I hoped this would alleviate any concerns he had. But he didn’t respond.
I continued heading down the hill toward him while the dogs ran around. He stopped by a picnic table and waved. I returned the gestured, while noting how calm, even aloof, he seemed compared to the other dog owners I typically encounter. I got closer and saw that he was a tall man, younger than I thought, probably around my age.
“How’s it going?” I called to him, attempting small talk. Again, he didn’t really respond, merely watched the dogs. I tried another conversation starter. “My little one has to go to the vet today,” I said, “so it’s nice for her to run around like this so she’s tired out later.”
Then, at last, he responded. He gestured to his ear and mouthed something soundlessly in a manner unmistakable. He was deaf.
A deaf dog owner. Weird, right?
My surprise was only overshadowed by my excitement. I hadn’t had a deaf friend since my Little League soccer team, and I had so many questions for this man. First and foremost was how the deaf felt about “Gangnam Style”.
I stopped next to him and mouthed the words my name is Ryan, but he shook his head to indicate he didn’t understand. Sonofabitch, why couldn’t I remember any of the sign language I used to know? I was never great at math and science, but I downright sucked at languages, including ASL. Maybe it was better that I didn’t attempt to sign a friendly greeting and inadvertently tell him to suck part of me.
He reached into his pocket and took out a cellphone. A deaf man with a cellphone and a dog, I can hear you wondering, how peculiar? Then, duh, it hit me–texting! Technology! And he must have thought so, too, because I watched him type away at the keypad on his phone. Then he showed me the screen.
He pointed to his dog which was zigzagging around Anya while Lily chased him. Balto. His dog was Balto. Okay, not terribly original but maybe this guy hadn’t seen the movie. I mean, why would he?
I decided not to critique his companion’s name, and instead motioned to his phone and asked if I could respond by wiggling my fingers. I guess he got the point.
He smiled and nodded, then he typed another question asking me if I lived in town. I nodded in the affirmative. Then we exchanged names.
Zach started typing out something else, something longer, and at this point I remembered I had my own phone and didn’t need to keep borrowing his and scuffing up his touchscreen. I quickly tapped out the first question I could think of, but there seemed to be some communication problem. Maybe he couldn’t read my screen as well.
Zach wanted to tell me more about Balto.
I nodded understanding, and we shared the sentiment that the dogs were having a blast chasing each other.
I typed my statement from earlier that he hadn’t heard, about taking Lily to the vet. Having another dog to chase her for ten minutes and exhaust her would make the afternoon a lot easier and calm for all of us. Zach nodded very enthusiastically to that.
I gave Zach a thumbs up–or possibly the sign for “s”–and typed:
By this point, Lily was panting heavily by my feet and Anya and Balto were pretty aggressively making out with each other. I checked the time and Zach grabbed Balto’s leash from the picnic table. We both kind of decided at the same moment that it was time to go.
In retrospect, it was good that we decided to call it an afternoon when we did, because there was an awkward moment where only one question came to me.
I’m glad I didn’t show him that one.
As we got into our separate cars with our separate dogs, I thought that Zach was a nice guy, and the Supreme Court willing, I could marry him someday. We may have our differences, but we also have love for our dogs. And being deaf doesn’t make him a bad person, or even a lesser person, just a quieter one. And that’s okay, because I know he loves Balto as much as I love Anya and Lily. If you can find real love in your heart for another living thing, then you cannot condemn that feeling in others.
That got me thinking about the case for gay marriage and why sooner or later it will be legal across the nation. There’s simply no argument you can make against it without defining homosexual love as inferior to heterosexual love, and that’s preposterous. Love is love is love. I see that now *.
Today is Good Friday, where Christians observe the horrible, horrible death of their savior, Jesus Christ. I encourage everyone to spend this holiday weekend doing what I think Jesus would do if he were around: embrace love and compassion. Don’t wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling. Find love for yourself and celebrate it. Love your family no matter how many legs they have. Love your team no matter if it’s just one victory two weeks before the playoffs. Love the woman or man you can’t live without no matter how you sex each other.
Love. Love big. Love long. Love a lot.
* Actually, I’ve believed that for as long as I can remember, but for the purposes of this story, I “finally learned that gay marriage is tolerable”.