When I’m not in a classroom learning about Platonic Forms or about the difference between a disk and a disc, I clean pools to finance my education. Pool cleaning is a solitary job; the pool serviceman drives alone from back yard to back yard with his tools and equipment, with no companion other than the hot Texas sun and the mediocre Dallas radio. But some stops along the way are not so lonely. Sometimes there is a dog. On my route, there are two.
When I met Anna, I was unprepared. I drove my truck to the back gate and swung it open. She was waiting for me, a knee-high, short-haired, caramel-colored canine of a breed I’d never encountered. I quickly shut the door expecting an attack or an escape attempt. But I had misjudged her. I soon learned that Anna didn’t want to run away, and she didn’t even make a sound as I brought in my equipment. She just wanted to be near. She followed me around loyally, but if she dashed off to scare away some crows, she’d come back when I called (I learned her name from her tags). She would chase a ball if I threw it, too. In the ensuing weeks, Anna became my friend—sweet, but never smothering. I started to like the idea of working with dogs.
And then I met Charlie. (Charlie’s real name has been withheld for the sake of his own dumb innocence.) I met him a few weeks later in a different neighborhood. Weighing in around 45 pounds, he has long, black hair and an aborted tail. Charlie is the out-of-shape co-worker you wish wasn’t in the cubicle next to yours. The first thing one notices about him is the smell: pure odeur de chien humide, which he maintains by periodically wading in the pool. He breaths heavily upon the slightest movement, or anytime he’s standing, or anytime he’s just lying around. And he likes to stick his nose in my business: “Is that a tennis ball in your pocket?” Whenever I have to walk back to the truck for supplies, Charlie follows, until we head down the stairs; inertia then takes over and propels him ahead of me. He eats every chance he gets. I would give him points for loyalty, but since his particular brand means remaining within 15 feet of me, it means I can always smell him, and his only asset becomes void. He won’t be told to leave, either. His b.o. and behavior really strain our relationship.
My relationship with Anna is blissful, however. She’s a saint. If I could, I’d take her home with me. I’d take Charlie with me if I could, too, but I’d set him free somewhere outside the city limits, where nobody would smell him. He’s a real son of a bitch.