FROM THE PRE-KID FILES: AN ESSAY ON SLAPPING THE OTHER CHEEK

I live on a farm. A 725 square feet farm. And on this farm we have some pets. E-I-E-I-O. We have two dogs that weigh close to eighty pounds each, and two cats, one that is sweet and one that is evil personified. Catified. Two dogs, two cats, and two people; Noah wait up!

I’m from the country originally, although the ‘country’ left home shortly after I did, leaving housing tracts and strip malls in its wake. What used to be farmland is now ‘civilized’ and the country took a bus to somewhere else.

That’s what I did too. I left for somewhere else, for ‘civilization’. I’m still looking. In the meantime, you can take the guy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the guy. Hence, the farm.

Why, you might ask, would two people trapped beneath a mountain of debt and despair take on the responsibility of raising pets? That is a question that we hear often. Usually from ourselves when we are wiping any number of interesting things from the floor. Why the hell are we doing this again?

But we know why. Love. It is for love. The love we give them and even more so, the love that they give us. Every stereotype about unconditional love from a pet is true, only better. They love us, and let’s face it, we need that.

In the shadow of September 11th love has gone from shelves of Hallmark to the lips of news anchors. There is a lovefest in this country, and it is out of sadness. We are sorry for the victims, the heroes that became victims, the ones that made it, and the ones left behind. We are sorry for firemen, policemen, medics, soldiers, construction workers, and reporters, anyone that has had to step foot in places we have only seen on television, with tears in our eyes. We are sorry for what happened, what is happening, what they did, and what they are doing, and even more so, for not telling them that we loved them long ago.

The pets don’t love out of sadness, they are happy and grateful. In a moment they can turn tears into smiles, and maybe, just maybe, somehow tie your heartstrings back together, albeit loosely, so that you can sleep at night. They have no regrets. They send you off to work in the morning, sleep all day, and greet you eagerly upon your return.

They send me off every morning to a job that I do not like. I really despise it. It is low paying and dead-end. It is equal parts stress and boredom. I work at a mindless, meaningless, monotonous, and mundane job. But the insurance is good, and it pays the bills, which is something that we cannot overlook right now. So I grit my teeth all day, taking long walks down to the coffee shop instead of punching my boss, and I think happy thoughts about winning the lottery and buying a bigger farm. Someday we will all buy the farm. Does yours love you?

There is sad love in the lobby of my building. People converse in elevators and bank lines. Pretty girls in business skirts who have looked through me for years strike up topics of general chit-chat for 18 floors instead of staring intently at the descending numbers light in a countdown to freedom. Strangers smile at each other. My fly is not down and people smile at me. It is loving ones neighbor and it is as beautiful as it is sad. Why did it take what it took for people to realize that they care about each other?

There is something else in this smile that we share; it is the look in the eyes that tells us that we have your respective backs. ” I have never seen you before, may never see you again, but I’m glad that you are well, and if the shit goes down I will fight to the death to save you. Have a nice day.” That is what a three-second smile in the lobby of my building gets you. Not bad. And it is true. We are unified. We will fight evil together.

Evil is much grander than it used to be. I referred to my cat as evil. He isn’t evil so much as he isn’t very nice. Especially to the other cat. Evil is terrorism. It is so much harder to label than the dreaded communism of my youth. Those were commies. They lived in the USSR and we beat them in hockey. You don’t play hockey with terrorists.

Communists were human beings with different ideologies that seemed worth fighting over once, but now seem trivial in the world today. The world of evil. This, of course, is the way the world works, we could never have the type of love that we have if we didn’t have this evil to pit it against. It is balance the ying to the yang. We are against it, but we don’t know what it is.

What is a terrorist? A Muslim? No. Someone from the Middle East? No. It is so much bigger than that. Just ask the people in Oklahoma City. Terror can be anywhere. Anyone. Therein lies the dirty little secret of our lovefest. As much as we are sincere in all that a smile conveys, there is also this, “P.S., if you have any plans to hurt anyone I will kill you.” Eye for an eye and all that. It is scary.

Where is this enemy that we hate so much? I don’t even know if hate is a strong enough word. I have always thought it to be the strongest. Yet, there is more pain and loathing in my heart for this evil than anything I have ever bothered to hate before. Just as our love transcends new heights, so too does our hatred.

We, America, and to large extent, much of the global community, are experiencing an awakening. A determination to be strong and happy in the face of grave and lurking danger. To be ready to jump into action should the situation arise. There is a line we are walking between living our lives to the fullest and being alert to any challenge against it. A lifeline if you will. If only Regis could guide us! But he can’t. He is but one of us in this humbling of our country. Our ‘heroes’ are no longer the fodder of the E! Channel, but found in sobering pictures in newspapers and emails. They are ordinary people doing amazing things. They are any of us if need be, and we hope it never will.

We want nothing more than to live our lives, and work our stupid jobs, with the idea that we are safe, and that people love us. We want girls in elevators to talk to us because they think that we look like Kevin Costner, and not out of some underlying since of duty. We want strangers to smile at us because there is no evil left that we have to recruit each other against, and maybe it’s just that my fly actually is down. It is physically draining this lifeline, this hope. Yet, every night when I step foot into my farm I am loved, without compromise or threat. For a moment I can put my guard down and breathe. I can smile because I have a wife and pets that are glad I am well, and would fight to the death to save me. Except perhaps one cat. And that is what it is all about.

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