I didn’t become the Dog Man of Grant Avenue through conscious effort. It happened gradually without my noticing it. At first I walked one neighbor’s dog, a yellow lab, a six-month-old puppy named Simba; then another, a pit-bull terrier mix named Darcy; then another, a golden lab named Gordo; and another, a chocolate lab named Spivey. This does not include my own dog Gretchen, a Finnish Spitz, who can’t walk far distances because of her allergies. Exposure to grass and pollen sends her into a fit of sneezing and makes her eyes water. But counting Gretchen, I’m walking five dogs around the neighborhood.
Part of my motive is the need to keep my weight down. I am forty-seven years old, a lifetime practitioner of daily exercise but also a voracious eater and I’ve decided to help my neighbors out with their dog walking as a substitute for buying a cardio machine. I’m spending about 45-60 minutes a day walking various dogs, depending on whose needs are the greatest, and that’s about the amount of time I’d be exercising if I purchased a treadmill or a stationary exercise bike. So by walking the dogs, I don’t have to invest in an ugly cardio machine, have it take up valuable space in my modest 1,500 square-foot home, or worry about the machine’s maintenance. I’m getting comparable exercise from the dog walking and I’m doing a good deed, which connects me deeper to my immediate community.
But to tell you the truth, my motives go deeper than the burning of calories. I have a soft spot for dogs and when I see that my neighbors are gone for huge stretches, sometimes over ten hours, and I know their dogs, pack animals, are suffering the agony of loneliness evidenced by the cries in their backyards, I feel morally compelled to give them a walk.
As I said before, the process of becoming the Dog Man did not happen overnight. It was incremental. I seemed to pick up a new dog, one at time. A neighbor dog owner would half joke watching me walk another neighbor’s dog, “After you’re done, my dog could sure use a walk.” I’d always tell myself I couldn’t add another dog to the list. But hearing the dog whining or whimpering next door compelled me to get out of the house and walk the dog around the block.
Becoming the Dog Man has become my life. But it’s not what I aspired to be. My formidable ego had grander designs. I wanted to be a writer of best-selling books that captured the zeitgeist of his generation, the kind of celebrity author who is sought out for his reliably scintillating radio interviews. Sometimes when I walk a dog, I’ll have an imaginary interview about the great success of my latest book with Larry Mantle, the talk show host from a the local radio NPR program KPCC. In this imaginary interview, Mr. Mantle says, “Did you ever imagine your book taking off the way it did?” And humbly, I say, “Not at all, Larry. You see, I’ve never really considered myself a book author. I’m a writer, yes, but a wind-sprinter, well suited for short bursts, the kind of explosive writings you might find on my blog, but I’m not built for the long drawn-out landscapes of book-length manuscripts.” At which time, Mantle says, “So you don’t plan on writing another book?” I answer that another book would have to be born from the necessity of catharsis, but that I will not simply write a book to appease my publisher.
During these dog walks, I am not merely a best-selling author. I am also a celebrity DJ on another local NPR station, KCRW. I have a Sunday morning music show from 8-10. The show is called “This Morning Is Not Hectic” and it features my superior musical tastes in underground dream pop. The show becomes an unexpected hit and becomes the number-one rated show in its time slot. The KCRW music director Jason Bentley interviews me on his own weekday morning music show “Morning Becomes Eclectic” and at one point in the interview he asks me if I ever expected my show to become as successful has it is and I am genuinely humble, flummoxed, without any kind of explanation for my success. I shrug my shoulders and say, “I’m simply playing the music that I love and for whatever reason it resonates with the audience.”
The reality of course is that I am not a best-selling author doing radio interviews for KPCC. Nor am I a celebrity DJ shocking Los Angeles with my surprise blockbuster radio show for KCRW. The blunt truth of it is I am the Dog Man of Grant Avenue and I spend a lot of my time picking up dog shit.
The huge chasm between the grand moments I dream about and the reality of who I am reminds me of something Lester Freamon, a cop from the HBO show The Wire, says to his fellow cop Jimmy McNulty. He explains that McNulty is greatly mistaken if he thinks he can define his life by grand moments. Freamon says these moments of exaltation that we spend our time dreaming about are not what life really is. What is real life then? Life is “the shit that happens while you're waiting for moments that never come.”
Those grand moments featuring myself on KPCC and KCRW are not forthcoming. But there is a dog crying in a nearby backyard and I am getting my leash, my baseball cap, my sunglasses, my portable radio, and some plastic bags.