I don’t believe that climate change is causing this summer’s oppressive heat across the American Southwest, even though I do believe in global warming. I firmly think it’s a reminder from God that this month marks the 10-year anniversary of Marge.
The July 4th weekend in 2008 was particularly brutal, although a dry heat. I was at the store of my future wife in SanTana, on a dead Sunday afternoon. It was on Main Street, right next to the 5 Freeway entrances north and south.
I’m not sure why I looked outside, but I saw a small black thing walking up Main.
“I think it’s a dog,” I told her. “And it’s not on a leash.”
My wife proceeded to run in the stifling heat to get the dog, who started to run. By the time two other women grabbed the mutt, she was trying to get onto the 5 Freeway North on ramp, but had instead held up traffic when she collapsed on the sizzling asphalt.
The Chihuahua-terrier mix arrived to the store emaciated, flea-ridden and scared. The ladies wanted to take her to the no-kill shelter, which I agreed. But my wife (who has rubbed this in my face ever since) argued the dog would never get adopted because she was too old and beat up, and thus wanted to keep her.
It didn’t matter that they didn’t allow dogs at our apartment at the time, or that I had never owned a dog in my life. Or that the dog was so traumatized that it just curled up in the corner of the store and didn’t even budge.
She was ours.
I took the perrita to a vet in Brea, where they proceeded to take out more than half of her teeth because they were rotted. They also estimated that she was between 10 and 12 years old.
Since the dog was already elderly and gray, we decided to give her a name from an older generation. We were watching a Simpsons rerun while having this conversation.
And that’s how we settled on Marge.
She did not wag her tail for the first months we had her. Marge wouldn’t climb up stairs; she’d take only three steps before running back down, crying. When she was at my wife’s store, Marge would run away…to the Dumpster behind the store, so she could try and find food.
And though she was small, Marge tried to get in fights with all dogs, including my wife’s huge pitbull, Sweetpea.
But my wife didn’t stop offering love. She’d sleep with Marge in her arms, offer massages. And slowly but surely, Marge opened up.
I didn’t know how to act around her, at first. I had grown up only with birds and chickens; my parents forbade dogs, for reasons I later on found out had to do with the traumatic losses of their dogs as kids in the ranchos of Zacatecas.
But seeing Marge’s transformation taught me the incredible potential of what love can do to even the most downtrodden of things.
Seems obvious, right? But it’s been remarkable to see such a traumatized dog like Marge recuperate solely through the love of my wife and I. It didn’t happen overnight, and there’s still PTSD (she still doesn’t like men who wear black shoes). But Marge was saved, and is now living a good life.
Patience and love could go a long way to transform many of the problems in our society—if only we’d listen to the story of Marge.
Now that I don’t have a full-time job, I’m the one who takes care of Marge the most. And, since I’m a writer with nothing to do, I’ve created sayings inspired by her. “Paw up” is just a take off the mid-2000s Boston Red Sox slogan “Cowboy Up” (which, of course, predates the team). “Puppy strong” comes from the same line of resilience as all the other “(City-that-just-suffered-a-catastrophe)-strong” sayings.
But I will take credit for “puppy essence.” For me, it’s the hidden potential within all of us, that some of us might not even know exists until others bring it out. I use it so much that even our friends will drop it into conversation—because once I explain it, it makes perfect sense.
How I came up with it shows what a nerd I am: I got it from the Beach Boys song “Cabinessence,” a terrible song whose title always intrigued me. I STILL don’t know what Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks meant with it, but it hit me one day as #puppyessence—and here we are.
Marge is now entering the final stage of her life. Her legs wobble too much; she can’t leap up the couch like she used to. Her walks consist of four houses when it used to be a block. Food she once ate with abandon now upset her stomach.
And yet in other ways, she’s reverting in age. Marge used to not like cariños, but how she approaches people. She never used to want to play, even with us, but now she gets on her side and does that bite thing that dogs do. And when we get home, she runs around like a puppy.
Not bad for a dog that’s now between 20 and 22 years old.
If you can, adopt a stray. Use love always around all sentient things. And ALWAYS #pawup and be proud of your #puppyessence.
Enough ranting. This was the semana that was:
LISTENING: “Jambalaya,” Al Hurricane and Flaco Jimenez. Hank Williams, Cajun music, the Tex-Mex king Flaco Jimenez, and New Mexican music’s godfather? Heaven—and a hint of an article to come…
READING: “Ugly carpets and green marble: The design of the Los Angeles Times buildings changed along with the city, though not always gracefully”: Los Angeles Times art critic Carolina A. Miranda is a friend, an OC girl, one of the people who made the Times‘ historic union happen, and always a delight to read. Here, she basically breaks into her own employer’s office to offer a hilarious, sharp architectural review.
Exclusive to GustavoArellano.org:
“How Quitting My Dream Job Sparked a Conversation About Race in The Bay Area—And the Resignation of a Newspaper Publisher”: The first commissioned piece for my own humble publication, Gustavo Arellano’s Weekly, is by Azucena Rasilla, who talks about why she left the alt-weekly East Bay Express.
Gustavo in the News
“At East Bay Express, racism charges prompt resignations and a reckoning” and “An implosion at the East Bay Express might give the paper a second chance” and “East Bay Express publisher resigns after using slur, plans to sell the company”: I’m cited for my publication of Azucena’s great story.
“Stockton food conquers critic”: Stockton Record columnist Michael Fitzgerald calls me “brilliant” and describes my Highway 99 eating tour that I wrote about for Eater.com last week, but misspells my last name fourth times.
“10 Artists/Music Genres Mexicans Love that American Music Critics Ignore ‘Cause They’re Too Obsessed with Morrissey”: A major music magazine’s lame attempt at a story leads me to mention other artists with a large Mexican following. KEY QUOTE: “Yes, it’s interesting that the former lead singer of the Smiths has such a devoted fan base (myself included, although I still think he was at his finest next to Johnny Marr). But in their obsession, American music critics are missing other artists and genres that have FAR bigger Mexican fan bases than the Mancunian.”
“Will the California grizzly make a comeback?”: My latest Los Angeles Times California columna uses the current trend of the bear in Cali popular culture to examine our propensity to romanticize what we destroy in the name of progress. KEY QUOTE: “In some ways, it would be better if we just made excuses for our past sins, or even tried to justify them. Instead, we shrug in sadness but don’t learn anything, often to disastrous consequences. (Hello, wildfires!)”
“Carne Asada, Hold The Meat: Why Latinos Are Embracing Vegan-Mexican Cuisine”: My latest for NPR’s The Salt examines the Vegan-Mex trend sweeping over Southern California and beyond. KEY QUOTE: “The majority of customers are young Mexican-Americans who heard about the pop-ups on social media, or through word-of-mouth best summed up the following way: No, seriously, it’s good! And it tastes like the real thing.”
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