Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why I Let My Dog Hang Her Head Out of the Car Window

In memory of my dear Lulu, I’ve decided just to post this short personal essay about us. It’s been published in the Times Union (Albany, NY) and The Rip Van Wrinkler, the award-winning newsletter of the Rip Van Wrinkle Basenji Club, but it has never appeared on this blog. 
Some of you may have heard me read it—it’s a good short piece for open mics and group readings. 
It sums up everything I have to say; really, after this piece I could just stop writing. But I don’t. 
Adieu, Lulu 
Apu Louise Brooks
December 31, 1999 – June 4, 2015

Why I Let My Dog Hang Her Head Out of the Car Window

Because she’s beautiful. She’s red and white, a short-haired hound with a fox-like face, a tail that curls up and over her back, and a line of charcoal-brown kohl rimming each eye.
Photo by Susan Kamen-Marsicano
At 20 pounds, she fits our little car perfectly, back paws on the passenger seat, front feet on the armrest. I roll the window down just enough so she can comfortably poke her head out, and she looks left, not backward to where she’s been, or alongside to what’s passing by, but up front, to where she’s going. Hounds have a characteristic grin, but this girl is Elton John’s tiny dancer, with her pirate smile.
Because she’s smart. When the car gets up to 40 miles an hour, the wind force is too great and she pulls her head back in. She gives her one of her gravity-defying full-body shakes, which ripples from head to tail and lifts all four feet into the air. 
Because she’s tough. Her name is Lulu and most days she’s a princess in a dog suit, but in the car she’s transformed. She wears a T-shirt with the neck scissored to her collarbone. She’s rolled up the sleeves, and twisted her cigarettes—Marlboro, hard pack—into the left one, over her well-defined bicep. If she wants you, it’s on her terms.
Because we’re young. No longer two middle-aged gals in a sensible Honda, we’ve cracked the time-space continuum and we’re wild girls, in a ’67 hunter-green mustang.
No crisp CDs for us, we’ve got the radio on. We shake Jerry Lee Lewis’s nerves and we rattle his brain. Home alone, Lulu listens to classical music, but in the car, she even allows my lapses in time and taste for Neil Diamond or Phil Collins. She does this with the reluctant good grace of a bad girl who knows she’s in charge. When we pull up at the Polar Bar for ice cream, she’s the one the boys circle, sniffing to see what she’s brought them. They light her cigarette, tell her their jokes. Lulu, the practiced flirt, sits down, to maintain some privacy, and gives the boys just enough attention to lead them on. But she’s a busy dog, too; at home there’s trash to be removed from the basket, where it need not be stored, or a shoe that belongs not on the floor but on the bed, and somewhere in her walnut-sized brain, Lulu has a list. After our songs (six for a quarter) have played on the jukebox, she gives me a look, just a glance over her shoulder—for I often stand in back of her, happy just to be part of the crowd—time to move on
Because we’re not supposed to. If Lulu’s breeder could see her now, she’d kidnap her. But she doesn’t see her, and most days, Lulu and I are good. We eat our breakfasts, we take our walks. I brush my teeth and hers. In bed, she tucks herself behind my knees. When I wake in the ink black of a moonless night, I can’t see a thing, but I can feel Lulu breathing. 
Once, we were four in the bed.
Dan and Lulu
But our alpha-wolf was struck down by cancer at 56, and months later his canine lieutenant had gone as far as he could, twice that age in dog years.
Dan and Cooper
These days, every minute carries an element of risk, without the safety net of a quiet man with impeccable taste in music who adored his pack and never carried a balance on his credit card. When I think back to things I did in the years before I met him, I’m lucky I’m alive. But I am, and if we push life just a little, Lulu and I, our bills are still paid on time, our heads pulled inside a speeding car.
Because we’re very young. We’re not teenagers yet, we’re kids on vacation, at the lake for the summer.
We’ve done cannonballs off the dock all afternoon. Lulu’s nose is freckled, her lips stained by blueberries. At night on the porch, the adults may talk in hushed tones of Cuba and missiles. We may lie curled together in our bed above them listening, fighting sleep for fear of never waking. But we do sleep and we do wake. We’re puppies and every morning brings a brand new life. 

Copyright © Debby Mayer


  1. So sorry about Lulu. Wish I had met her. Lovely piece. And I went straight to Youtube to listen to Phil Collins.

    1. Thank you, Deborah. And you are always so good about following up on my music references. :-)

  2. Debby - what a moving tribute to your dear Lulu.

    1. Thank you Millie, and thank you for commenting right here on the blog site!

  3. It was good to read this piece again, the perfect eulogy. I'll never forget it or Lulu, the perfect dog.

    Love 'n' sympathy, George

  4. Sweet. I'm so glad you had this wonderful relationship with this glorious being. There truly is some good in this bad old world, isn't there.

  5. Oh Debby, I'm so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful and moving piece. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. My condolences, Debby, on the loss of your dear Lulu. Dogs, they are our hearts. May all those adventures and that carefree head out the window, always looking forward, bring you solace and a sense of wonder always.