It is another introspection-filled pandemic day and I’m sitting at my keyboard thinking about starting an article about a Southern writer named Wiley Cash whose good fortune it is to live on the beautiful North Carolina coast in a history-driven city named Wilmington. Outside my window the leaves of the dogwood tree have begun to turn red and the autumn wind is whistling in a forlorn tone whose sounds punctuate a heretofore quiet landscape. My Bichon Frise, Jackson, is watching me as he reclines comfortably on a velvet blanket that I purchased for a small fortune on the Etsy site. He is a study in canine beauty – all white fluffiness shaped into the breed standard by a careful and all-knowing groomer who reminds me regularly that “it takes at least six hours to make him look right.” If you know anything about the Bichon Frise, you’ll know this: he or she is a Diva Dog whose double-coat must be brushed daily. Once you have committed to owning this breed, there is an investiture of time and money that you must be willing to make, a labor of love that must be undertaken so your pet is a representation not only of his type, but of his very best self. All those baths and groomings cost a pretty penny which make him a stand-out dog: faux-diamond collar and leash, trendy pet clothes, toys and accessories which announce that he is royalty in the canine world.
I love this dog beyond all reason, he is my anchor in a never-ending anxiety storm. When the power goes out in my Greensboro home, he is by my side, soft as a cloud and yielding to the angst of any moment, supreme in the apparent confidence that this, too, shall pass. Looking at him I recall a friend’s casual comment that, “Your dog looks better than you do!” It is true that I myself have not been to the beauty salon or had my nails done since February 2020. I wince in the acuity of this observation because while I have gone without, that cannot be said of my Bichon Frise. I have taken virtually no pains with my appearance, wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans. No one has fussed over my hair, massaging it with specialty shampoos and concoctions and blowing it expertly out. If truth be known, I yearn for someone to fuss over me with inordinate amounts of attention, getting me into a regal and glamorous shape. I’m missing the “perks” of single adult living: no expensive diets, clothes or toys and while my fur baby has pet insurance, I have limited insurance myself.
Still, I must admit to enjoying all the compliments about “your beautiful dog” and how passers-by cluster around him during his evening constitutional at Harmon Park. The bi-monthly visits to the groomer are worth the exhilaration I feel as I look at his geometrically perfect halo of white glistening hair and perfectly white combed out (but still curly) coat. His amber-colored eyes are the same beautiful hue as that precious stone in an antique ring bequeathed me by my Latvian in-laws. I’m proud of my boy who elicits audible sounds of visceral pleasure from onlookers, as well as the occasional “Is he for sale?” Jackson knows he is beautiful, a centrifugal force of inspiring compliments, walking on the grass as a show dog might confidently traverse the contest ring, his gait measured and precise, elegant head held high. If you have been around Bichons, you are familiar with their undeniable charm and sense of humor. I wish I had half as much composure. Nothing can sully his day – not a thunderclap or a yapping dog bent on undermining Jackson’s poise. He’s doggy royalty and he knows it.
As for me, I’m giving some thought to getting my own hair done and buying some new clothes. I’ll admittedly still follow the pricey regimens that my pooch is accustomed to. His groomer is a diva, too and any terse suggestions by her that I am not maintaining my Bichon Frise exactly as required makes me shake in my purchased-at-a-yardsale cowboy boots. The two of them are a package deal and she’s a critical part of the taking-care-of-the-dog infrastructure. I tolerate her criticisms because she is part and parcel of making him shine just as the breed standard demands. A bumper sticker that I saw today on an old dented Honda made me laugh out loud – “My dog is in charge.” How well I know the truth of that sentiment. I can live with the quip that Jackson looks better than I do. As soon as I find another job, I’m hoping to work on that scenario.