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Drawn to Dogs

And I’ve never really liked little dogs. The little-dog thing is an aspect of my homosexuality I’d never explored. I certainly have any number of gay friends with little dogs, and have, in a jolly, avuncular way, shared their joys. In a less jolly but no less avuncular way, I’ve also shared their sorrows and moments of doubt: I remember helping a close friend transition from Shih Tzus to Terriers. But there are doors in gay men it seems only little dogs can open. In days of a simpler psychology, gay people’s relationships with their animals were seen as a neurotic transference of affection for the children we would never have. But now that we’ve figured out ways of obtaining human infants, the ardent devotion gayboys lavish on their little mammals has gone from being a symptom to just another color in the rainbow. The transference thing was so bogus anyway. I mean, I had two cats, and yes, when they were kittens, I thought they were adorable. But it’s not like I lactated or anything. And little dogs didn’t make me feel transfer-y at all.

So when I got the email—a couple in Chelsea; friends of a friend—asking if I was available to stay with their Pug for a week, I kind of made a face (kind of a pug face, come to think of it). But I hadn’t done a dog in a while, it was summer, their apartment was five minutes from work. I thought, why not.

I was surprised when I first met him, when I went to pick up the keys. He was bigger than I’d expected. And cuter. We took to each other right away. He jumped up onto the couch, into my lap, kissed me: cute. And the apartment was gorgeous, muted olives and rusts, with lighting that just got more fabulous the farther in you went. By the time you hit the bedroom, you looked like you were in your early 30s.

So I took the keys, wished them a bon voyage, and showed up a few days later with a briefcase of work and a duffle bag of clothes I thought would go with the apartment (I leaned toward green, figuring it’d play into the olive but make the rust pop). I kind of expected the Pug to come running, barking, as soon as I got in the door—he was so exuberant when we met—but he was nowhere to be seen. But when I went into the living room, I saw him on the back of a low easy chair (olive), obviously just coming out of a nap. When he’d shaken off his stupor and saw it wasn’t his daddies, that it was someone new, that it was me, the guy from the other night, he gave three full-throated barks, jumped from the chair to the ottoman, from the ottoman to the rug (rust tones in some of the stripes), chased his tail in a circle, chased it the other way, jumped on the couch, jumped on me and licked me into dermabrasion.

I have to admit, the face did take some getting used to. Head-on, a Pug can look like he’s just run into a wall, but at certain angles he’s adorable. I once had a boyfriend like that: he had a strange cast to his face, but if you caught it at the right angle, he was really cute. He never noticed that I always faced him on the diagonal. What’s amazing about a Pug, though, is the moment—early on; somewhere in the first 10 minutes; somewhere in the first belly rub—when you suddenly shift from thinking that he’s kind of ugly to thinking he’s just the cutest thing in the whole wide world. It’s a nearly imperceptible movement, a moment’s sudden grace, transformative, pure. I thought, This must be what it’s like to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior. The world is transcended; Pugs are cute.

Yet the evolutionary drama still had to be reenacted: The dog had to establish an immediate, intense bond with me so that I would feed him, and the surest way of establishing that bond was by doing something immediately and intensely cute.

Jeffrey Essmann's work has been featured in the New York Times and on Chicago's NPR affiliate, WBEZ. He is a regular contributor to the indie website The Morning News, and is currently working on a book. He lives in New York.

Art by Chris Buzelli

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