Copyright is held by the author.
THERE’S A bit of lethargy in all of us. We know that exercise is intrinsically good, but the feeling will go away if we wait a while. Animals of a pet-like nature are no different for being lazy, except that they rarely dismiss it with some rationale like “exercise makes me tired and cranky.” That’s why I wasn’t too surprised to see a clever Japanese firm had invented a pet treadmill. Yamamoto-san could sit back with his bottle of Sapporo while his yappy dog ran its legs off.
I was nursing a Sam Adams at Pete’s Tavern on Irving Place, waiting for winter to end and re-reading the story Weekly World News had tucked in among the features on aliens, six-year-old mothers and two-headed cats. Theo had been giving me a hard time about my sedentary lifestyle and related vices. The treadmill would have been ideal for the woman who left my bed before sunup to put on a track suit and run over to the East River and back. Hers would have to be bigger than the treadmill built for dogs, but not as intimidating as the torture machines I heard they had at Gold’s Gym. Theo was about a hundred pounds naked.
She called it jogging, which my paperback Webster’s told me meant to “jar, or move by shoving, bumping or jerking.” I was jogged when Theo got back into bed. Sweaty.
I shared the news story with my friend Allen when he wandered into Pete’s.
He agreed that animals are lazy. “It’s about time they invented a pet treadmill. So their owners can avoid risking a heart attack.”
This treadmill was made for a Japanese-sized dog, which is understandable, I said. “I don’t think there are too many German shepherds or golden retrievers in the Land of the Rising Sun. They’ll have to enlarge it when they start sending this thing over to sell in the States.”
“Of course, it’s small now,” he agreed. “Dog food in Japan probably costs the equivalent of taking your dog to a place like Manny Wolf’s for steaks.” I wondered if he was joshing me or if Manny Wolf’s would let you bring your dog to lunch. Theo ate like a horse when I took her out, and memories of her kept bumping rational conversation from my mind.
“I’ll tell you about exercise — ritualistic exercise,” he said ordering a round. “When I lived on Tompkins Square, in ’97 or ’98, this Ukrainian woman upstairs — her name was Natasha Dubinsky — had a dog like that one in your picture. She’d drag it out of the building every evening, even in the snow, the little bastard yapping and snapping against the leash. I felt so bad, because I understood it would prefer to sit on the stoop the way I was doing, nursing a brew and smoking a cigarette.”
“The dog would prefer a beer and cigarette?” The memory of Theo’s frosty scowl crossed my mind. In fact, she’d tell me I’d soon need three hands to smoke and drink while calling for an ambulance to give me CPR.
“You get my drift,” he said. “The dog hated exercise. Natasha probably despised going out too, but she’d say in her thick accent, ‘You godda walk. It’s goot for you.’ In reality,” he said conspiratorially, “the dog was simply an excuse for her to get out of the house.”
I asked him where his story was heading.
He waved his hand, dismissing the interruption. “I saw her and the dog go out every evening. It was a ritual, like watching the old Ukrainian men on the park benches slide over trying to stay in the sun as the shadows crept up on them. Well, it must have been 1998 because that year I took the job with Fidelity in Boston. That didn’t last but eight months and then I came back, I’d lost the rent-controlled apartment — 600 bucks a month! — and was hoping to find another around Tenth Street.
“It was about sundown that day. The old guys had left the benches and were standing by the fence to catch the last rays coming in from Jersey. Then I saw Natasha taking her dog up Avenue B. I was struck by an epiphany, a sense of beatific joy. I was home, home after a wicked cold winter in Boston! I was back in New . . . York . . . City! Natasha was coming closer. The sun was going down in a golden haze. Suddenly I sensed something was wrong. Natasha had her head down. She was walking very, very slowly. It took me a minute to see what was awry, and then the realization crashed in on me.”
Oh, Theo, we had so much in common and I had enough love for both of us. My personal idiosyncrasies shouldn’t have stood between us. I never complained — out loud — about your mania for exercise.
He picked up his brew and stared at the label. “The dog’s legs weren’t moving,” he said softly. “Natasha was walking, but the dog wasn’t. He had died and Natasha had him stuffed. She had four wheels attached to his little feet.” He took a pull at the beer. “Every night she continued to take her walk. With the dog.”
That Allen. What a story. Pathos, irony, local colour. How could I top that one?
“So,” I said, “you agree the pet treadmill is an idea whose time has come? You think Brookstone will carry it?”
He laughed, which was the compliment I was looking for. “Screw you and the treadmill you rode in on.”
And I wondered, what would Theo have been like with wheels and a leash so I could have kept her from running away.