We may have found a place to live. We have seen the house twice and we like it. Now, the relocation company is talking politely to the agents and the agents are talking politely to the owners and we’re talking politely to both the relo company and the agents and there are just many, many parties and we are all talking politely to one-another.
The people with the house are in a situation similar to ours. They are relocating to Singapore for work. They are leaving at the end of this month. Which means they will be arriving to a new place at the beginning of next month. Like us. Most importantly, they have a dog. A hound-like dog. A dog similar to ours. So it’s possible they understand a dog situation. It’s reasonable to assume they appreciate a dog scenario within a living arrangement.
This all reminds me of a joke:
How many real-estate agents does it take for one American couple with two dogs to find a place to rent in England?
That’s it. That’s the entire joke.
For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been living in a hotel off of the A33, pictured above. It connects the highway M4 to downtown Reading. We’ve met people like Kata and Dragos and Peter, who have become our friends. We’ve become regulars at their bar in the evening for dinner or drinks or coffee, and at their tables in the morning for breakfast.
When you look south on the A33 from the hotel, you can see a great windmill near Madejski Stadium. It spins and spins in the various painted skies: The cirrus and the stratus and the cirrostratus, the cumulus afternoons. The pink and the orange 9 pm sunset. The clear blue morning. The windmill seems small in the distance. It seems like something you can easily take. But as you get close to it, you understand its size and its power.
You understand it is not what you thought.
You understand you’ll need a different strategy.
Tonight it is storming. It is the first big storm we’ve seen here. The bright lightning flashes from behind the heavy hotel curtains. The thunder is as if from angry giants. If Honey were here, she’d be shaking and panting. If Rothko were here, he’d be putting his face right up against mine. And those might not be unreasonable strategies.
Today from the dog sitter:
Honey often barks and growls at other dogs and gets into fights over toys/beds/spots on the couch. Rothko has behaved very cowardly and sometimes refuses to follow commands just shuns away to hide under tables and has to be pulled out.
EXACTLY AS I’VE TAUGHT THEM.
I need something good.
A hydrant, even.
Will settle for this Sixty-Nine Hydrant Sign.
There is a town called Wokingham and we may live in it or near it. I met with an agent today named Paige, and unlike many of the other agents, Paige seemed genuinely optimistic about some not horrible places we might be able to live in with dogs. One of the properties she thought might work was an old barn conversion. I really want to live in a barn conversion, because next time C says, “Jesus, you act like you live in a barn.” I can then say, “Yes.”
One of the things I discovered tonight on the Internets is that Wokingham seems to be one of the healthiest towns in England. Maybe if we end up in Wokingham, we will never leave. Maybe nobody does.
We have become “regulars” at our hotel. Most of the staff knows us and the things we tend to order or say or do. We go down for breakfast and they greet us and we exchange pleasantries and we talk about the shifting landscape of the guests all around us: sometimes a convention of business people, sometimes a tour bus full of old Germans.
I like to pretend I’m Major Gowen in Fawlty Towers, and I watch the cricket on the TV like I know what the hell is happening, and I drink a whiskey and I look for a moose head I can talk to.
The last few weeks have been bad weeks. They have been some of the worst. It has had nothing to do with coming to England (I think that has helped). It also has had nothing to do with my generalized lack-of-dogs condition (I think that hasn’t helped, but still…) I know this sounds ominous and cryptic. I’m sorry about that. You can just ignore all of this. I actually really want you to. Because it’s not my style to be this way.
Or maybe it is. Maybe it is exactly my style.
Do I have a style? Do I have a me, now? Now that every instinct seems wrong. Every familiar muscle memory is cut. Every sound. Every mannerism. Every hope.
Do I have a me? Now? Did I ever?
In the car, my hands reach for things that aren’t in the places my hands expect the things to be. I have to fight natural urges to make wrong-way turns and I have to consciously think about making the right-way ones. I have to learn the things I’ve already learned. I have to do the things I’ve already done. Be the person I’ve already been.
My voice hates not speaking through a dog.
My voice hates the sound it makes when it is alone.
C went to Paris. I went to a restaurant called Bill’s.
Bill’s has a good menu, a nice patio, and is right off a cemetery with gravestones so old you can’t read most of them. It’s possible I have always been looking for this combination of things in a restaurant. I just never realized it.
Everybody I have spoken to here has given me the same advice about where to live: avoid Oxford Road. It’s funny, because in my first walk-about, I walked a little bit on Oxford Road and felt immediately the badness. Apparently, my sixth sense still works.
At Bill’s, I spoke to my server about the lack of dogs. And right then, right as I was telling him I hadn’t seen a single dog, he pointed at the path going through the cemetery beside us and there was a guy riding his bike with an unleashed dog running next to him. Just like that. And it was a big dog, too. A boxer mix.
I feel like it must have been real, this vision, because my server pointed at it.
I feel like my server was probably real.
My server told me that the English here typically work pretty hard (he sounded French, not English, and so he said this with a touch of contempt). He said I’d likely see folks walking dogs in the very early morning or the very late evening, but not much during the day. Ok, right. I suppose I get that, in an abstract sense, but here’s the thing: I do see a great number of prams all about everywhere all the time. Loads and loads of prams. So many prams I wonder if there is a pram convention. Or if Reading is a manufacturer of goddamn prams.
I see less in the way of pram near the cemetery, though. I see the pram parade less here.
These ladies, along Queen Victoria Street off Town Centre, Reading.
Note the lack of dogs.
Other people’s dogs.
Extreme lack of dogs, innit?
I drank a pint in that pub over to the right (The Alehouse). Several English blokes here, but I wound up by chance talking to to two Americans, one from Dallas. And the other day, C and I sat next to a couple in a restaurant who, though English by birth, had been expats for the last 20 years, and had spent time in Houston.
Texas finds me. Texas finds me.
Back in New Jersey, there’s a park (Millburn Park) that doesn’t allow dogs. I reckon it’s to keep the park tidy and clean. I’ve always felt this was a particularly American thing to do. Europeans I meet at the South Mountain reservation in Jersey always scoff at our restrictive dog laws. Surely the English would have a more laissez-faire attitude about canine companions in open-air spaces. Surely they would never do something like not allow leashed dogs along a hugely popular Riverwalk shopping and restaurant area.
Or… maybe they would. Maybe they would put it on the very top of a rather lengthy list of NO’S that includes… photography? This sign doesn’t make me feel at ease after my observations from the other day. *
Related: We’re off to kind of a slow and rocky start to finding an apartment and the refrain we hear from the relocation company is, “Well, it’s difficult with the dogs.”
I feel like saying (politely in an English accent of course): “DO YOU KNOW WHO MY DOGS ARE, SIR/MADAM? WELL? DO YOU?!?”
*Aside: Based on my experience, I’m pretty certain the place I most belong is Northern Virginia. They seem to plan their outdoor shopping centers around dogs.
First there’s this: I’m in a town called Reading in the Royal County of Berkshire in England. It’s possible we may live in Reading for a little while. We still haven’t figured that out. But we’re considering it. And when I say “we” I of course mean C and me. And not the royal we. Though perhaps living in a Royal County gives me license to use the Royal We. I suppose I will need to look into this. While I’m making metric conversions of my weight. And remembering that the automatic gear shift is on my left side.
Anyway, Reading seems like a good place to live because it is close to C’s work. And… well… it’s close to C’s work. That’s pretty much the primary impetus. Not that it’s not a perfectly fine English town to inhabit for a period of time on it’s own merit. And look: as a writer with reading inclinations, how could I not want to live in a town called fucking Reading, especially one situated within the goddamned Royal County of Berkshire? In fact, I would love to one day do a reading in Reading. If I were to start a reading series in Reading, I would call it “Reading in Reading.” Or maybe: “Dave’s Reading in Reading” which is great because the name can be read both in the possessive (as in, it’s my reading series) and as a contraction (as in, “Dave is” reading in Reading) which is about as much self-tribute as I could hope for in the name of my own reading series (roughly double, in fact).
There is nothing all that clever about this. I realize that. I realize all I did was find two words and draw the most obvious association and place them together. But still: How could this have not happened already? Maybe it has. But if it hasn’t, it most certainly will, and therefore why should I not take ownership of it?
Second, I walked all about the town centre of Reading this afternoon. While at times I may have “meandered” I’d be hesitant to attribute that particular verb to my action. I can never pull off a proper meander. I’ve tried. But it always looks so forced on me. It’s embarrassing, really. My gait doesn’t lend itself to “meandering.” Too much purpose, innit. It doesn’t “stroll” either, my gait. Nor does it ramble. I’m quite certain if I have ever strolled anywhere it was totally by accident and likely the result of bad gas. And the only rambling I do, and I do it frequently, pertains to my speech.
So, I walked, then. I walked with something akin to intent. With something approaching purpose. I stopped occasionally to make notes in a small, light-brown pocket notebook. I took photos. I may have looked like I was scoping the place out. I may have presented myself in a suspicious manner. I may have given off a vibe of malevolence. At the very least, a passerby might say I was of questionable intent.
But look, here’s the point: in my couple of hours of walking about those crowded streets, I did not see one dog. I am not kidding. No dogs. In a crowded town centre. This worries me, as I was thinking it might be nice to rent a place near this very town centre. A place thriving with people, but still small enough that you could call it a “town” and mean it. But then I’m wondering, would I become the Lone Man Who Walks the Dogs in Reading Town. Would this cause people to look at me with the deep scorn and furious derision? Would I become a target for what, as far as I know, is a dog-hating population, with a dog-hating philosophy written right into the town’s dog-hating constitution. And would this help or hinder any efforts I made to start a reading series called “Dave’s Reading in Reading?” (You know, given the fact that no publicity is bad publicity. It does seem like it could go either way.)
Third, as with the entire UK, there are no hydrants here in Reading. Only hydrant signs standing in for physical hydrants, which are just boring pipes hidden in the ground. It’s possible there is no greater tragedy than this. But I did find this hydrant sign up on a lamp-post today. Which was something, for sure. Because normally they are on the walls of buildings. Seeing a hydrant sign on a lamp-post is about as much hydrant excitement as I can hope for during my stay in the UK, whether it be in Reading or any other English town through which I might walk with the appearance of questionable intent.
He said the new leashes were so we could represent the “Union Jack.”
Do you think he meant “Uncle Sam?”
It’s probably the same dude.