I went out to walk Paul Auster’s dog today to Timbuktu and back, but he got away from me when he caught smell of Rocco – one of the semi-feral cats from next door. Black and white patchwork, he had to abandon his usually slinkily suave gait. It seems more pronounced in west coast cats, the way their shoulder blades stick up and their bellies hang low off their hips like sizes too big cargo pants. But with a dog on his trail, his posture snapped right back into place before bolting deep into the shrubbery. Rocco was confused, because no matter how many dead birds and gophers he brought home and dropped at the door, his owners always seemed mad at him.
“One day I’m going to stop killing all these birds for them,” he’d think to himself, “that’ll show ’em…” And just as swiftly as the thought occurred, it was replaced by the flitting of a moth, or maybe the flash of the tail of the she-cat from down the street as she scuttled from bush to bush on the other side of the street, whose urine had told him that she was in heat.
In any case, the dog got away, and is probably still running right now, relishing the fact that it drags an unmanned leash behind it. A banner worn proudly, a badge of wild and tame all at the same time. Without the dog to lead me, I looked up lost and wondering which way to go, half wishing for that leash to have been put on me – a limit to the boundless possibilities and eternity of choices that meet me at my bedside every morning, my AM impetus for sleeping in. Our brains got bigger until the collars wouldn’t fit over them anymore, and now the only collars that people wear are from inside those frontal lobes instead of around them.
What’s he smelling right now? The sweet sea breeze? A puddle of piss? Leftovers left over too long and left in the trash? Angel hair pasta with a moldy tiara? Can he smell the faint whiffs of Benji’s cigarette that still linger on my shirt or the despondency beneath it? If he could, he might not care, and call them two more scents in his “Book of Things I’ve Smelled” which only ever keeps growing and getting subtler.
I tried to do it once last week. I got down on all fours and started making my own book, and it started well enough. The apartment, the sidewalk, the side of the street, the path through the park and by the school. I was already thinking of having to buy more pages when I made it to the bar and smelled the vomit from the bathroom and the piss from the corner, the cheap perfume in the air and cheap beer on the floor. The lies and diet pills and inferiority complexes all shadowed by the smell of dirty dirty money that all moved toward the bar. I couldn’t get them into the book fast enough, and then couldn’t even distinguish them from one another as they rolled into one big odoriferous, nauseous cloud of sweat and desperation that knocked me back onto two legs. But my brain stayed at my ankles for hours, unable to shake off the poisonous sludge of chemicals that had bound themselves to its most vulnerable and least guarded receptors. When it finally managed to find its way back into my skull I was awash in it.
I tried to yank my own leash to no avail, and though every shower gets me closer, the cloud lingers still in pits and pores and shadows, and around corners and in tobacco, and behind the smiles of passers by, and even in the fur of the dogs they’re walking. But they’re not surprised, the dogs that is. They smelt it all along; all the way up the leash.