I’d like to talk about fleas. But first I’d like to talk about people. One of the tricky things about being a person is figuring out how to make yourself feel better without hurting yourself. We like to go for the big guns: Sugar! TV! Online shopping! Doritos! Heroin! What we really need are weird, personal, harmless ways to self-soothe. (I’m getting to the fleas, I promise.)
I’m not saying I’ve figured this all out, but I have stumbled on a couple of things. In college I realized that peeing outside was a huge stress reliever. I used to pee behind a palm tree in my co-op yard, hidden in the shadow cast by the street lamp. It was weird, I know, but also primal and reconnecting and effective. I recommend it.
Recently, I realized that combing Squinchy for fleas is also really soothing. It’s the ultimate primate expression of connection and caring, I guess. Squinchy doesn’t have too many fleas, but he does get some and I’ve noticed something about them:
Fleas roam in groups.
I’ll comb most of him and not find any, then find three or four in a clump. I got to wondering what you call a group of fleas. Is it a pack? A flock? A herd? Which led me to wonder — are they grazing or hunting? The answer is either neither or both or something else all together. Kabam! There goes dualism. And I feel so much better. Thanks, fleas.
In college I took a poetry class from a guy who brought a littered beer can to class every week. It was a class about the modern nature poem, but he spent a lot of time picking up the can and saying “I understand this [mimes drinking] but not this [mimes throwing on the ground].” I guess that relates to every American nature poem of the 20th century or something.
Anyways, I took Squinch and his brother to the river today and there was a campfire littered with beer cans and plastic bags. Classic Snoqualmie redneck party. One of my students just wrote about the giant garbage patch, so I decided to pick up the trash. Keep it out of the ocean. I understand this but not this, said my professor in my head as I poured the beer dregs out on the sand.
But I disagree. I think I do understand. It’s something we all do. But rednecks are just more upfront about it. How many times have I listened to a story about climate change on NPR while driving around in my car? I can’t point any fingers here. I was getting maudlin about the smell of stale Rainier and cottonwood trees, when the dogs started barking at a lady in a bougie jogging outfit. I apologized and she told me to be careful because “there was a leash law and there might be other dogs.” Which is something I just can’t see the throwers of the beer cans saying, especially since what she really meant was “don’t let your dogs bark at me.”
Sometimes, I just prefer the redneck thing.
Squinchy almost did me in last night. We were sleeping at my parents’ house in the room off the bathroom downstairs. I was sound asleep, when Charlie, my parents’ dog, woke me up by scratching at the door. He wanted to go drink out of the toilet, thank god. If he hadn’t, I don’t know what would have happened to me. But he pulled me up out of a deep, foggy sleep into the awareness that something was very wrong.
I was sweating like crazy, couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, and felt nauseated and loose at both ends. The air felt like poison. I stumbled into the bathroom, threw open the window, interrupted Charlie’s drink, and collapsed onto the toilet. I was sweating and shaky and had a roaring in my ears I have only had once before, standing naked except for a pink stocking cap on the side of a frozen mountain in Idaho. That is a different story, but I knew the roaring meant I was on the edge of passing out. I braced myself on the wall, leaving invisible sweat prints I’m sure you could find with your tongue if you felt the need to lick my parents’ bathroom wall.
Turns out, the air was poisoned: poisoned with dog farts. Dear, sweet little Squinchy, who slept through it all in his own haze, was poisoning us both with his terrible Special Christmas Dinner and Compost Pile Foraging Gas. I worry about his old age. And I never thought I would say it, but thank goodness for Charlie’s toilet water habit: dying of dog farts on Christmas night would be a bad way to go.