Zen in Quogue
By Steven Paulumbo
He is in my wife’s arms, a newborn, eyes sealed against the disquieting light, limbs flailing and tongue searching for his mother’s breast. He knows, of course, that this woman cradling him is not his mother, and yet he is oddly and instantly at ease with her, as if someone has assured him that he will soon love her, absolutely. Down on the floor, with his siblings squeaking in his ears, he stands out as the one who is less sturdy – quiet and calm in a way that is unusual for his stock. We will call him Zen because of that. Zen is the fifth in a litter of ten, the middle child destined for anonymity, shyness, and solitude. Two things are instantly certain to us: he can never replace our beloved Sprewell, the fifteen year-old lab mix we have just put down; and he is the handsomest pup of the bunch.
It is two months later, and he explores his new home. The first person in Quogue to meet the new fellow is our friend, Danny. Danny has been here forever. He is a surfer, a plumber, a family man and all around bon vivant. He knows the village well. He loves dogs, but he approaches this one cautiously.
“Duuude,” he says to me. “What were you guys thinking? A pit bull in Quogue? Oh no, duuude. They’re gonna go crazy. They don’t let pit bulls in this village. He’ll tear the checkered pants off of them. Oh, man. Just don’t let him out of the house for a while. Keep him under wraps. Maybe wait until he’s too big and mean for anyone to say anything, man. Seriously.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I say.
“Kidding? Not kidding, man. I swear I’ve never seen one of those things out here. I have to admit, dude, I can’t wait to see the response. In fact, I’m thinking I want to be there the first time you parade him through the village hall.”
I still can’t tell if Danny is serious.
“Start him out in Westhampton, though,” he says, “or further west. Things are a little looser up that way.” Danny bends down and pets Zen. “He is beautiful though, the grey and the white, the blue eyes. He’s gonna be massive,” Danny warns. “Look at those paws!” Then he shakes his head and repeats with a chuckle, “What were you guys thinking?” I look at my wife and she looks down at Zen. What were we thinking?
At four months Zen already weighs forty pounds. He is the smartest, most delightful, playful and loving dog we have ever owned. He is not zen at all, it turns out. He rarely meditates, and is in a state of continual motion when he’s awake. But he does love the beach, and answers to his name, so we’re not about to change it. It is winter now, and luckily he can run circles in the sand and crash the waves unnoticed. No one is out here this time of year. And I have pretty much kept him invisible, as Danny suggested. Oh, he meets the odd person and dog here and there, but for the most part he is like an escaped convict in a safe house. Blinds are closed. He wears a big girly sweater on our walks to look less intimidating. I cover him with a blanket in the back seat of the car, and he complies readily, hiding there as if he is in on the joke. I tell the deliverymen he is an Amstaff Terrier. They say, “he sure looks like a pit bull”, and I say I really don’t see the resemblance. I have nightmares of the Quogue authorities hauling him away in one of those armored trucks you see on Animal Planet. Passing an ordinance banning the breed completely, or at least south of the highway. I become obsessed with Pit Boss and Pit Bulls and Parolees, and increasingly resentful of my community and the bastards who just don’t get that the pit bull is completely misunderstood. My wife is now worried about me. She looks at me as if I was wearing an open-backed gown, wandering the corridors of state hospital. “Stop being ridiculous,” she says. “Just take him out. Nobody cares. Danny just freaked you out. He was just kidding around. The people of Quogue love their dogs. They’ll love him, too!” She’s right, I think. I’ve become more than a little paranoid. Even Zen senses it. I notice he has started backing away when I approach, sniffing the treats I give him with an unsettling suspicion. I decide right then that he will make his first formal appearance in the Quogue Village Square at noon the next day! And he does. It is the ides of March. We make three proud laps around the pond, walk to the post office and back again to the pond, but there is not one soul there to protest his presence. “Come on!” I shout. “Here he his! Just try and take him away!” But I am shouting at my own breath as it forms crazy swirls in front of my face. I have officially lost it.