The kennels (in which many new characters are introduced):
The kennels are owned by an eighty-year old woman named Zelma who has more vitality than I do. Adjusting for her age, she has more vitality than Hercules. As she can probably lift fifty times her own weight, one might think of her as an ant. As she is so old, she might be thought of as a great Aunt. She is obviously neither of these, for these categorically drive better than she does. Nonetheless, she is extremely worthy of admiration. "She is my idol. She is what I want to be eventually," says my beloved She. And the similarity is there. Zelma is the kind of elderly person in whom you can clearly see the outlines of a much younger person. It's sometimes easy to fall into ageism when the old people you know seem to have no physical or behavioral resemblance to anyone else you know, but this is not the case with Zelma. As I thought of this, and gazed at wonderful She, I thought to myself that She also has the kind of face that you think that you'd recognize were it to age sixty years... It's a certain earthy quality... Her beauty is not fragile, not requiring complete tightness of skin to be effective, but something set very deep in whatever space She happens to have set herself.
Zelma is Her landlady, and so owns that glorious space, plus a very small wooden house on the other side of town that I will have much more to say about, plus a pick-up truck whose demise was immanent the moment I had heard about it, and about a dozen very boisterous DOGS. Some of these stay in the back yard, mostly the females, with the notable exception of Bear, a powerful male who, well, looks like a bear -- a very ferocious bear who would like to rip off your face. He was top dog in the house that he used to live, and got very used to it. When humans approach the pen, all the dogs bark and wag their tails, but Bear is always in the front, very happy to see you despite his evil appearance. He makes a point of growling and chasing off any other dogs that dare to try to gain access to the humans. As the other dogs in the pen are female (besides Buster, an annoying and forgettable fairly large dog with a very small head), this causes little more than an annoying display, but were other males in the pen, there would be trouble, I am told.
So the other males, and a few notable females (there is apparently still a major difference despite the fact that they're all neutered), live in Zelma's apartment and/or run around the property (and beyond) randomly. These are the ones I became most familiar with, the ones that will star in most of the hopefully few delightful dog anecdotes I will relate. Beyond these, I wish to stress that in Alaska, the entire landscape is virtually composed of dogs. There were at least six others in the kennel (which at this point I should say is not a kennel at all, nor is it called such by anyone but me, who wanted to demonstrate by the word merely that the place contains lots of dogs), belonging to different residents of Her apartment complex, two living in the house next door, two beyond that, one at the next house, etc. and everlastingly. They were/are of all different breeds and sizes except fox terrier; no Merc to my knowledge remains in the last frontier, probably because they were systematically hunted to extinction.
It is with this population density in mind that I relate the following tender story of Our first walk in the Alaskan woods, followed as we were by Duke, a fat, jolly, yellow dog with very little hair and squinty eyes; Sonny, a large wussy furry gray dog with a fashion haircut that made him look kind of like a bison; Teddy Bear, a furry tan sled-pulling kind of creature bigger than all the others; and, added to this anecdote for the purposes of character revelation but not actually present, Coyote, who looks, surprisingly enough, like a coyote. This walk was undergone for the purpose of getting me out into the wilderness, which I had hitherto missed, putting up insulation and writing this book and all, and so took us at least four hundred yards away from Her apartment building... Wilderness isn't too hard to find in those parts, you know. Our destination was described as "a lake," which got me just about as excited as I could get, especially it was re-described as "a lake with beavers. maybe." My nature sensors were nary set to overload, and Jeez (I mean Geez) there were trees. Trees, even.
The coolest part of it, though, was not the trees, or the beaver (which Duke tried very hard to eat, swimming the length of the thirty-foot "lake" at least three times after his initial sighting until he was forced to substitute for his prey a stick, thinking that we might not notice the difference), but the DOGS romping together, running randomly into the woods, jumping on each other, eating dirt, spraying urine to the four winds, greeting the other thirty DOGS we passed in the one residential block before reaching the woods, and especially competing for my Beloved. Me they didn't know as well, so though they took pleasure in periodically trying to tackle Me, it was nothing compared with the way they worshipped Her, groveling and leaping and barking uncontrollably... I was totally unprepared for the sight of all those monsters pushing past and over each other, seething around in a jolly and barbaric rugby-like mass. Occasionally in vying for Her attention they would actually notice each other, or exchange some snide DOGgy remark, and let out a long low snarl, pushing into each other and away from their Beloved, sometimes up to a hundred yards away from The Beloved, until they were just romping around again, apparently forgetting what they were arguing over (not having a language makes this fairly easy). The group we were with were fairly tame in this respect, Sonny being such a Euro-cut wuss, Teddy Bear being so mightily gentile (= dumb as lumber), and Coyote being, in my opinion, the coolest of the DOGS: he knew what he wanted out of life, and tended not to be snarled into such doggerel, at least not without a sound explanation. I certainly wasn't going to give him one, as geared up for nature and romance as I was... Plus, having been so geared for fifty-nine consecutive hours or so, I was fairly tired. She, of course, was damn radiant, so we set off...
I'm stopping for a moment to think of a way to make this trip, during which basically nothing happens, in the least bit exciting, so as to give some substance to the character-development (of both humans and dogs) that I had wanted to occur. Perhaps if I relate the story from the point of view of Lionel Richie. Or I could let the dogs drool on my rough draft, connect the dots of drool, adapt the result to become the closest-resembling Japanese characters, translate, unroll, peel, and eat. I haven't done anything totally alienatingly bizarre for a few pages now, I think, so I should gear you up for a scary surprise, the surprise being that I'm just gonna tell you the darn story, and if that's very hard, oh well.
Um, well, I guess it was kind of hard, because I didn't bother to do it. In fact, the prospect of detailing that scene in a normal literary kind of way scared me so much that I abandoned the book, left it to mold for... well... sixty years? Yes, something like that. So the rest of it might be a bit harder for me to remember, but I'll be able to give a more satisfactory denouement. She and I have been married now for longer than I can conceive. The visit I was just relating ended pretty uneventfully, with us still friends, but by June of the next year she was through with Him and had returned from Alaska. She came to stay with me for a week or so, but with all the barriers off, the week turned very quickly into the rest of my life so far. Our marriage hasn't always been easy, but much easier than I had imagined. I've got to say that despite my general cynicism, despite my total confusion about just about everything (which has only gotten thicker as I've gotten older), I am happy.