I bury my nose in between the cracks of Wahlter’s prehistoric-looking paws and go deep. I suppose when you break it down, it’s kinda gross. Those paws have been everywhere. They’ve walked through sand and shit and they’ve been licked with a tongue that’s been places no man can go. But, I jam my nose between his toes and breathe in the scent of nutty, verboten carbs like white pasta, or fresh-bread rising in the oven, the prickles on his puffy, suede-like pads scraping my skin and I’m hooked.
He came with the name Wahlter. The shelter added the “h”, we added the “White.” Officially, his full name is Wahlter White McIntyre. I’m not so much of a feminist that my dog needs to have a hyphenated last name. Please. Then it would be Wahlter White Ivanans-McIntyre. And that’s just not fair.
At VidCon 2014, my husband and I sat with Wahlter in “The Pet Collective” booth—a couple of 40-somethings lost at sea in an ocean of social media exhibits—under the delusion we’d be drawing attention to the rescue organization where we’d adopted him, but quickly realizing he was a cute and fuzzy ploy to draw in the Tween-set to sign up for the “Pet Collective’s” You Tube-type channel. Collect members, acquire sponsors, and you too can film cute videos of kittens and puppies all day long and make a living! Clearly, I’ve been barking up the wrong tree. Does anyone dig ditches anymore? I’m guessing “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad” will not be found on any “Gen Y” iPod Playlist. (Or is the younger generation considered Gen “Z”?).
Wahlter sat in the middle of the booth, ears hanging low, a furry statue of calm, unfazed by the sudden Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound rolling through the cavernous hall. I recognized that wave of teenage-dream screams! I looked up to see a shock of lavender hair—peaked like the hard, mountainous nipple of a meringue—bob through the crowd. A pulsating throng of Tweens surged after the vibrant bouffant.
“Who was that?” I asked one of the unimpressed “Collectives”.
“Tyler Oakley”, he drawled, bored, all of 25.
“Tyler Who?” I asked, suddenly feeling very old upon learning Oakley has over 3 million Twitter followers. But what does he do? In my day, teen idols played music. Now teen gods are like Ramen noodle packs. Just add Twitter. Kim Kardashian is only famous because her mother promoted her sex tape and now they have a clothing line at Sears. She has nearly 25 million followers on Twitter. Maybe I’d have a line of perfumes or unstylish clothes, too and not be lying on the floor of the Anaheim Convention Center, volunteering with my dog in the middle of the day if I had a parent hyphenate (mother-manager-reality TV star-media whore) like Kris Jenner. But then I would miss this. I dug my face into Wahlter’s belly. Unconcerned with my embarrassingly defective ability to tweet these thoughts into cyber space, Wahlter had rolled over onto his back and splayed his legs, displaying his adorably deflated balls and fuzzy little penis for all the world to see. I raised my head up and called out to The Tweens, “Come and meet Wahlter White!”
The Tweens shuffled over, dwarfed by the enormous plastic conference passes that hung awkwardly around their necks reminding me of the way medical students wear their stethoscopes, ill fitting, as if they have not quite grown into them—which they haven’t.
During the many, many times I’ve been hospitalized, medical students would cluster around the foot of my bed, slyly staring at me like children through museum exhibit glass, aloof, yet intrigued by the bedridden woman with kidney failure. They’d bulldoze me with questions, prompted by their supervising physician and try and diagnose me. I could barely respond. All I wanted to do was vomit into a bedpan. Or onto their shoes. But, oh, the evil flicker of glee I felt when they would misdiagnose this kidney transplant patient feverishly writhing in the throes of detox or acute rejection. “Not so easy playing God, eh?” I would smirk inwardly. Fuck their degrees. I can’t take a doctor seriously until they have at least one line on their face. They would leave and I would wait for the sweet relief of a hypodermic to take me away. Or the close second was when the service dog made its rounds and I could bury my nose into its neck. Clammy, warm. I could feel the blood pulsating beneath its musty fur. Life.
But the Tweens’ were pimply and fresh, flushed pink with hormones and their whipped-cream loaded, Starbucks’ caffeinated sugar rush. Their eyes, already sparking with overstimulation, would roll knowingly when I introduced Wahlter. “His name is Wahlter White?” they would cry, delighted, recognizing the name of the lead character on AMC’s wildly popular series, “Breaking Bad”. Why are today’s youth watching a television series about a chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin? Where are the parents? When I was 12 we were addicted to trading stationery. But the Tweens did not just stare at Wahlter through the proverbial museum glass. They got down on their hands and knees with me to greet the exhibit’s star. They would Facebook/Instagram/Tweet photos together with Wahlter and I watched their faces plump wide with smiles. Teen angst dispelled with the gentle rub and a stroke of my boy’s belly. (OK. And a Smart Phone.) A maternal glow spread inside my chest. All was not lost.
No, I never experienced the joy of childbirth, the rearing of a child. No kids for me, because of the whole kidney-transplant-high-risk-pregnancy thing (She says glibly.). They (Who is “they” anyway?) say God is too big for us to understand, that there’s a reason for everything. I search. I try to find Meaning in it all. I’ve even went to church for a while. I attended the Hollywood Presbyterian service held on Sunday mornings in a warehouse painted black. It throbbed with House music on Saturday night then exalted Christian rock on Sunday mornings, testifying under the purifying light of a disco ball. I would sit in the back row, skeptical, sometimes cringing, not sure what to make of it all. ”God is good,” they would chant. “All. The. Time.” My friend, M., clean off crystal meth, would sit even further back, casually observing from a back wall by the restrooms, which probably served as a shrewd vantage point for hitting on the club’s Unsuspecting Wallflowers or Over Glossing Hotties the night before. I waved my fingers in M.’s face and spookily chanted “crystalll…” I was trying to evoke to the fond memory of the 4 of us—together with my husband and his wife—tearing up the Tennessee countryside searching for the fast food chain “Krystal”. There we could score, satisfying our late-night cravings with an enormous, grease-stained paper bag stuffed with square-cut, American cheese-slathered sliders. M. thought I was reminding him of his junkie past.
He had once told me he missed everything about crystal meth, the chase, the score, the smell. What did meth smell like I wondered? Did it smell like its ingredients? Like the cold medicine (or battery acid, or drain cleaner, or lantern fuel?) they cooked? I didn’t understand his obsession at the time, as I was still successfully performing my tightrope act of pill popping, having not yet fallen into the netted abyss below. M. is now divorced from my friend and lives back in Los Angeles. He is addicted to crack and never sees his two sons, my two godsons.
Dog is God spelled backwards. “They” like to find this significant, like when the Led Zeppelin records were played backwards in the 70’s, and deep satanic meaning was found in the warbled lyrics. I think about this, as I kneel on the floor of the Convention Hall, and gaze up into the blinding fluorescent lights. I bury my nose into Wahlter’s paw and I’m transported. I don’t hear the screams of the Tweens, their inexhaustible chatter streaming through Cyber Space. I don’t crave the candy, the carbs, my children. The tightness in my chest unclenches, a restrictive band that has lost all elasticity. I sniff, therefore I am. I come back for more. And I wonder what meth smells like.