Thursday, September 20, 2007

There Goes Another One with a Dog

So I was right. They're using dogs, now—as a beard, an excuse to wander around the neighborhood at night. They may be exercising an instinctive, restless urge, but it looks perfectly ordinary. In the company of a dog, a cloaked figure lurching down an alley late at night takes on a whiff of respectability: Just another lonely, affluent, middle-aged man in drag. No one takes notice.

My colleagues have theories of their own about why such a large population has gradually migrated here. I would say: They love the city for two reasons:

First, the darkness. Most of the year, the city lies gloomy and weird, muffled under a gray canopy of unbroken clouds. If you like gray and bitter, you will thrive in our weather.

Second, it can be quite satisfying to watch and study more cheerful beings, who bought property during the brief, preposterously pretty summer, as their dream of a perennial, dappled, urban garden just dies.

This is a cruel place. Everyone knows it, but we don't throw all that at the tourists. Why would we? The industry is huge. We let the Holiday & Convention Council run wild. They’re a sterling collection of young, eager, taut professionals, poised for success. They’ll do anything. They’re the hotties responsible for the "rowboat in every park" campaign, and the city motto "Midway There and Back." Their efforts lure a steady supply of energetic visitors from all over the planet.

For our friends, with their bogus pets and midnight walks, it must be like having the world’s best restaurants offer the most adventurous and delightful dishes, hand delivered to them at home. It must pose enormous temptations, with the added sexiness of sloth. Imagine: you don't even have to get up and walk to the refrigerator. Its contents come to you, wearing bright, attractive colors, and they arrange themselves on a plate at your feet! They pose seductively and bare their flesh and smile into cameras.

Our friends, the focus of our study, are known to be—but this is a huge over-generalization—a few pounds overweight in this region of the country. Not to say plump. But they are natural predators who have scaled back the range of their activities—and the logistics. At one time, this particular population was of the whole consumption variety—or, as my assistant would say (imprecisely and dramatically) "flesh-eaters." Their sedentary habits have grounded them with plumpness. Comparative softness.

Hence the heat, the density, the body-swarm in the downtown market on weekends. Irresistible. The logical explanation: travelers and shoppers, who are universal; and locals buying, selling; also the few dozen remaining homeless looking for a private indoor place to take a piss...

But the overstuffed sensation—the packed-into-a-common-tube nausea—comes from the density and proximity of our friends, the faux pet-lovers. In the cool, underground halls of the market at night and on overcast afternoons all the long, gray winter, which (the tourist board won't tell you) often extends deeply into the nether regions of spring, they keep company with the rest of us. Sometimes we see them. Sometimes we only know them by the collective heat, the steam and sweat of the market.

Are they obeying instinct and following the animal crowd wherever it goes? Maybe they love the slickness of our perspiration, and swoon at the brush of an elbow. We make a serious mistake when we discount these feelings, these moments of personal but not quite animal desire.

Legally speaking, they’re required to take an oath of abstinence, in the city. Some people ask: Does a view of a playground make the reformed pedophile less likely to offend?

The Holiday & Convention Council denies the number of tourists who disappear every season. They call it a mystery, like the number of cars entering the city every day, which is consistently one half of one percent higher than the number exiting. No one can explain it, but because there must be a logical explanation, we let it go at that.

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