Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Working the Room

Our puppy Bates was limping a little bit last night, so Starr Ann and I thought it best to take him to the animal clinic this morning.

The clinic sits on the edge of our town's ghetto. Yep. Been there since right after the Second World War. You'd think the location would kinda dictate the clientele, but that's not the case. Some things are just more compelling than prejudice and fear of the unknown. One of those things, I guess, is the bond some people share with the animals in their lives.

So, here's this little animal hospital, that still uses typewriters to keep their records, that instead of allowing folks to make appointments they take patients on a first-come-first-serve (okay, I know the lesbian readership here's gonna have a field day with that, but it's the most accurate way of describing the clinic's system) basis, that no matter how early you get there you're prolly in for at least a two-hour wait (Starr Ann and I once waited over five hours, no lie) and the waiting room is always packed.

Why do so many people go there? Depends. Some, especially people from the neighborhood, bring their animals because it's the least expensive veterinary clinic around. But reasonable fees can't explain why people fly their fancy show dogs in from as far as New York. And cost is certainly not the reason Starr Ann and I load up our critters in the pickup truck and drive for a whole hour to wait all that time to see one of the vets. Speaking strictly for Starr Ann and myself, we go for the quality of care.

Anyway, we pulled into the parking lot around ten this morning, and the place was already mobbed. Had to ride around for about five minutes, just waiting for a parking spot to open up. Finally, this SUV's backup lights went on right when we were in position to slide in its spot. By the time we got parked, Bates was fit to be tied. That boy loves sitting in the waiting room with all the other people and animals. It's like he's the host of a big party, making eye contact with the owners until they trust him enough to let him sniff their dog or cat or snake or rabbit or you-name-it.

So, as we got out of the truck, Bates was all squirmy and squeaky. But Starr Ann and I took time to check out the bumper stickers we passed on the way to the door. As usual, there was an eclectic mix.

First one we spotted read: I’m So Old I Remember When America Made Things. Not too bad, considering some of the ones we've seen there. Starr Ann and I looked at each other and smiled cautiously.

Next one, slapped real haphazard onto the back window of a battered Oldsmobile, screamed the lovely sentiment: Celebrate Guantanamo! Uh-oh.

Moving on, we came to a neat little hybrid with a tiny sticker proclaiming: A Puppy Is for Life, Not Just for Christmas.

By that point, Bates was twisting so bad in Starr Ann's arms we had to speed up, just to keep him from straining something. I caught a few others as we zoomed past them: I'm a Survivor of Roe v Wade, One Nation Under Surveillance, Dick Cheney Shoots His Friends (I knew Starr Ann saw that one too, because she snickered), and Understanding bullet at a time.

It looked like we were in for an innerestin' two or three hours, bottled up with the people who ushered those opinions around. For the record, our F150 has a turquoise sticker with brown lettering that says: Cowgirls Don't Take Directions. That's because it's true. Heh.

Well, we got signed in and since all the seats were full, we had to stand up at first, which was fine with us after that long ride. Bates immediately focused on the biggest dog in the room, one of the meatier Rottweilers we've ever seen. So Bates wiggles up to this guy, whose person was an eighty-something lady with shiny hair that wasn't exactly blue, but pretty close. The Rotty bellied out on the floor just in case Bates got cold feet, which he never would, and the two of them went nose to nose. Geronimo (the rot) and his lady (Kathy) were absolutely ga-ga over Bates, which played right into Bates' hand. Once he was like this with the biggest beast in the place, all the others were just a matter of a few tail wags and cute glances. Our boy Bates can really work a room.

Turned out Geronimo was in to have a little cyst on his back leg looked at. Across from Geronimo, there sat a tall slim boy holding a tiny pup. When Bates got to them the boy, who seemed pretty shy, said he lived over in Cliffsdale (which is a housing project a few blocks from the clinic) and he'd found the puppy on his way to the store last week. He'd been doing some jobs and saving up so he could pay to get the pup's shots.

Starr Ann went over and stooped down beside this kid so she could pet the puppy. "Whatcha calling him?"

"Jack, short for Jackpot."

Starr Ann patted Jack's head once more and came back over by me, since the kid seemed uncomfortable with the attention.

Over in the corner, there was this great big white guy holding an older brown poodle all wrapped up in a yellow blanket. I had the guy pegged as the most likely candidate for driving the Understand bullet at a time car. I think Starr Ann did too, because she kinda kept Bates busy on the other side of the room, away from that guy. But then the first two seats to get vacant were right next to him, and it would've been a little obvious if we hadn't taken them, so we ended sitting right next to this big redneck-looking man who would most likely just as soon step on a couple of lesbians as look at 'em.

Bates continued to suck up all the attention in the waiting room, which kept the spotlight pretty much on Starr Ann and me too. So, people were asking us about Bates, and telling us all about their pets and things were rolling along pretty friendly and smooth.

Then, since that man was near us, some of the spotlight leaked over on him. Geronimo's lady asked, "What's your poodle's name?"

Well, you don't usually picture conservatives having soft, loving looks on their faces, but this guy just lit up as he looked down at his dog and re-situated the yellow blankie around her shoulders. He said, "Her name's Prancy, because when she was young, she could prance with the best of 'em." Then, just as unconcerned as anything, he bent forward and kissed Prancy on top of her brown curly head.

We spent the whole rest of the time before Bates got called back hearing about Prancy's condition. Seems she has this real complicated heart condition that needs close monitoring. Besides all the expense that Clay (how's that for a perfect redneck name?) has gone to for Prancy, he's put in an incredible amount of time bringing her to the vet twice a week, once for her treatment and once for a check to make sure her meds aren't harming her. When the technician came out to take Prancy back for her treatment, Clay kissed her head again right before handing her over.

Geronimo had been called back a few minutes before they took Prancy, so we got to see which car his lady, Kathy, got into. Ready for this? Kathy was the Celebrate Guantanamo driver. Tell you what, bumper stickers don't reveal half as much about the prejudices of others as they do about your own.

Bates is fine. They think he just twisted a hip muscle, so he's got anti-inflammatory pills and a muscle relaxer. Goes back for a re-check in two weeks, unless it looks like he's not improving. In that case, we're supposed to take him back right away.

Walking out to the truck, we saw Clay driving off, and there was Prancy's pretty little face right beneath his, between him and the steering wheel. We were right, by the way. Clay was the Understand bullet at a time guy.

Once we were all settled in the truck and Bates had decided whether he wanted the window open or closed (open, of course), Starr Ann looked over at me and said, "You know, I always think of them as hating us because of who we love, and us being disgusted with them because of who they hate."

I nodded. "Yep. Gets murky when you have to realize they're capable of love too."

Starr Ann turned the engine over and sighed real big as she said, "Guess as long as we're seeing it in us and them terms, nothing's going to change much."

I had no illusions about how hard it was for Starr Ann to reach that conclusion. And I'm sure she'll be her old self and back to thinking up ways to torment Republicans real soon. But the shades of gray gained a little space in her spectrum today. Mine too.