Abre los ojos

The four little lhasa apso sisters were huddled beneath the kennel bed; eight black little button eyes peeking out from behind four furry starfish faces. They were expensive for shelter girls, $400 each, but we explained that the occasional spendy pup helps pay for the stays of older, less cute dogs. If you say it in just the right tone, somewhere between informing and accusing, you will hear nary a fuss further about the not-so-high cost, after all. (Also, even when shelter dogs are priced in proportion with desirability, they’re still a bargain if you factor in some combination of microchip, spay/neuter, vaccinations, and/or wellness vet check they often come with.)

But I get it. There are some occasions in life when there is just no substitute for the woolly, grunty, sweet snuggle of a baby dog. I have actually nibbled puppy ears with my mouth and never gotten a disease: That’s just the puppy magic! So when I finally awoke from my mucousy Nyquil hibernation to make up a sick day at work, I busied myself with re-sanitizing my hands and fresh infusions of nasal spray until someone wanted to meet with one of the sublime lhasa hatchlings.

Anything but puppies would be too much to handle in my fragile condition.

The first adopter was a nice young mother who managed to single just one puppy out for a visit. “The one with the dark ears.” From what I had seen no personality had yet emerged, just four innocent and pure puffs of cream too precious for this world.

I scooted her out from under the kennel bed and soon we were joined by the daughter, age three, in a visiting room. I breathed a sigh of relief when the little girl bounded over, patted the dog gently on the head and cooed, “awwwww.”

The temptation here is to launch into my prolific childhood history of being obsessed with dogs (of course because I couldn’t have one until I was a teenager). The year was 1992 when a 9-year-old Lis watched with a heart full of giddiness as a St. Bernard named Beethoven wreaked havoc on the quiet, middle class home of Charles Grodin. It’s weird to think such a crappy movie made such an impression on who would later become a woman of taste and distinction (but not before becoming the proud owner of Polly Pocket Beethoven’s 2nd set in its tiny plastic entirety!), and I’d be hard-pressed to recall any detail of the movie besides how much I would die, just DIE if I didn’t get a 160-pound slobber fiend of my own.

That is why the little girl to whom I was introducing the baby lhasa astonished me by turning back to her mom, waving around the iPhone she’d been clutching and saying, “I WAN’ PLAY GAME, I WAN’ PLAY GAME.” She couldn’t care less about the puppy, now rolling adorably all over the place.

As though reading my thoughts the mother said, “You should see my other daughter. She’s five and I have to ask her for help on the computer.”

There seemed to be something sad about the little girl ignoring a puppy for an iPhone game (that was incomprehensible to me even after several glimpses), but I am writing this all on a new laptop after persuading my parents I couldn’t do my “work” as a “writer” (haha!) without a laptop.

Just as the little girl is more attracted to smartphone games than puppies, my brain has been irrevocably re-wired. Now not even a Moleskine (of which I’ve purchased a couple in the hope that a pricey hipster journal will be just the muse I need) can bleed brilliance out of me. I listen to music differently: A few songs by hundreds of artists comprise my collection, rather than hundreds of songs by a few. I have a Kindle but only use it for newspapers and magazines because I fear my love for books will be similarly shattered.

I could only allow myself a moment of melancholy for the little girl before wondering what sacred process the ghosts of favorite writers might accuse me of abandoning when I sit down and type out a “piece.” (You know, six paragraphs about my most recent awful date.) I think constantly about whether technological progress is a zero-sum game (especially as my chosen discipline, print news and editorial, tanked with the rise of social media). I’m convinced that writing on a laptop gives me so much compared with analog methods of creation, just as the little girl was convinced the video game was more amusing than a puppy.

It took a little girl ignoring the holy grail of my childhood to make me wonder what I might be sleeping through in the analgesic glow of my technologies. And when will it be too late to wake up?


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