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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Some Focus You Just Can’t Reach

Sometimes I envy the dog.

And no, not because she gets to sleep eighteen hours a day and can lick her own crotch.

(If that were all it took, I’d also envy unemployed yoga instructors and narcoleptic ballerinas. And Gene Simmons. But I don’t.


No, I envy the dog because of her potential for unwavering single-mindedness. For most of us, the world is a maelstrom of competing stimuli — a chaotic swirl of sounds and ideas and urges and desires clamoring for our attention. Case in point: in the time it’s taken me to write the preceding handful of sentences, I’ve watched half of two TV shows, checked my email four times, checked the baseball scores and gone to the kitchen to pour myself a beer.

(Also, I spent an inordinate amount of energy thinking about narcoleptic ballerinas. Is that hot? Or just unfortunate? Entertaining in an ‘oh, my Rapture invitation must have gotten lost in the mail’ sort of way?

Is it all fun and games until somebody faceplants onto the stage mid-pirouette? Is it worth making the Black-Eyed Swan joke? Can we just go back to my dog now? Yes. Let’s.)

My dog, on the other hand, is not distracted by such things. At least, not always. Sometimes, yes. She has a brain the size of a sucked-on Raisinette, so there are times when she is eminently distractable by essentially anything. A piece of lint. Her own reflection. Calypso music. A gentle breeze. Impressionist art. A poodle turd. Distant sirens. Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel’s philosophical oeuvre. Not necessarily in that order.

“It’s not ‘cattedness’ or ‘hedgehoggedness’ or ‘African pygmy rhinocerosedness’. And it’s certainly not ‘narcoleptic ballerinadness’.”

But there are also times when she locks on, when her fuzzy little mind and body and spirit join as one to pay Attention-with-a-capital-A to something of supreme interest. She does not waver. She will not falter. And she sure as hell won’t listen to me, if I happen to ask her to come in from of the rain or get out of the street or get her fat furry ass off my damned foot, you heavy little cow. Because she’s locked on.

(There’s a reason they call the full-on relentless pursuit of a goal ‘doggedness’. It’s not ‘cattedness’ or ‘hedgehoggedness’ or ‘African pygmy rhinocerosedness’. And it’s certainly not ‘narcoleptic ballerinadness’. It’s ‘doggedness’‘. And my dog is dogged. I’ll give her that.)

Take tonight, for instance. After work, I swung by the doggie daycare joint — why yes, my testicles do shrink just a little every time I type ‘doggie daycare’; hey, thanks for asking — to retrieve the mutt for the evening. Usually, she has a routine. She’ll sleep — big shocker there — until I arrive, leash in hand and ready to go. Then she’ll slooooowly rouse herself, streeeeeeetch out her aging bones, and then… does she saunter up to me, wagging her grateful tail? Does she bound up the stairs, eager to return to the home and soft blankets and food and toys that my wife and I have provided for her? Does she bark or pant in excitement that her master has come back to see her once again?

Right. Those pygmy rhinocerii will fly backwards out of my butt before any of those things happen.

No. Usually, she gets up and stretches herself so she can take a lazy relaxed tour around the perimeter of the floor, snurfling up any wayward treats or bits of kibble that may have been left behind. By the dogs who do real training work in the place. She’ll also wag and preen hopefully in the direction of anyone currently in a training class — or waiting for class, or teaching a class, or delivering supplies, dropping off mail or simply passing by — in the hope of more treats, hand-delivered to her insatiable gullet.

Oh, she could greet her receiving line and Hoover up the joint any time during the evening. But no. It has to wait until I’m standing there to watch, leash in hand and double-parked outside, desperate to get home to my own napping cushion and water dish. That’s the dance we tango.

Only today, it wasn’t the dance. Today, there was nobody in the room when I happened along to get her. Just the dog, lying in the middle of the floor, gnawing furiously at… something. I couldn’t tell what it was at first. A rawhide treat? Someone’s wallet? A dead chinchilla? I didn’t know what to hope for least.

Turns out it was — as best I can tell — a beef knuckle. And while that sounds like some colorful euphemism for some kind of disgusting body part or other that I don’t want to think very hard about, it’s actually a beefy joint from some limb of a cow that’s often given to dogs as a treat.

(So it’s still a disgusting body part — just not exactly in the way — or from the body — that I earlier suggested. Happier?

Me, neither. Moving on.)

Now, I don’t know whether someone gave my dog this treat, or whether she snarfed it from some unknown toy bin, treat bag, desk drawer or hidey-boney-hole. But I figured it she had it now, and no one was complaining, I’d let her keep it — but we should get the hell out of there, just in case. Post-haste, and preferably unseen.

This is where the pooch’s single-track steel-trap brain came in handy. She wanted that bone.

(Or more accurately, that mangled slobbery mess of cow cartilage, sinew, gristle and joint. But I’m going to call it a ‘bone’ from here on out, mostly to try to avoid horking all over my keyboard. You can always substitute the full description in your head, if you like. Weirdo.)

Anyway, she wanted that ‘bone’. And in that moment, she wanted and saw and recognized little else. I could — with considerable prejudice — coax her to leave with me as usual. But she clamped onto that bone like it was her only lifeline out of quicksand, and focused solely on the minimum she had to do to get back to chewing. So there was no snurfling. No tour of the grounds. When we got outside, there was none of her usual exploratory sniffing or yanking the leash or desperately needing to SEE WHAT’S OVER THERE! None of that. Instead, she stayed close, squatted an obligatory workmanlike stream of pee onto the sidewalk — bone clenched firmly in jaw the whole time — and dutifully followed me to the car.

Once in the back seat, she was lost to the world. In the few blocks home, she didn’t pace or sniff or hang tongue out the window, as per usual. She lay on the seat and sucked joint juice from that bone like milk through a straw. An extremely sloppy, disgusting, smelly straw. But she didn’t care. She was LOCKED IN.

We’ve been home for three hours now. She carried the bone from the car to the building — she practically ran across the street — set up shop on a blanket in the office, and hasn’t moved from the neck down since. From the jaws forward, she’s a blur — a flurry of teeth and snout and fur. It’s disturbing. There are piranhas passing by going, ‘Jesus, girl — take a breath already. It’s just meat.

But still, she’s into it. Eventually, it’ll occur to her that she’s thirsty, or hungry, or that there are turds piling up somewhere inside her like backward-‘Z’ pieces on a Tetris board. But for now, and for the entire length of the evening, she remains ‘LOCKED. IN.

And yes, I’m actually kind of jealous. Not for the retch-inducing heifer hoof, or whatever that ungodly thing is. But I wish I could have that dog’s resolve, the single-minded purpose and steel-plated will to pursue one singular thing, even for just a few hours, in lieu of all else.

Preferably in service of something less mind-numbingly disgusting — it’s the smell, I’m telling you; I feel like I’m spooning a side of rancid beef marinated in a boxer’s bloody spit bucket — but still, the dedication is impressive. You just don’t see that kind of focus very often these days. Not in me, for certain. Or in most people. Probably not even in narcoleptic ballerinas — and they have to try harder than anyone, what with all the falling and napping and slumping in their tutus.

So. That’s my mutt, and her beef joint, and our disgusting-smelling Friday night. Living the dream, all right. Living the dream. Here’s hoping the start of your weekend has been as highly-focused as hers, but more fragrant than mine. Happy Friday, kids.

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