Most mornings, on the way to my subway stop, I see a middle aged man with his two dogs sitting on a stoop next to the station entrance. The dogs roam in his vicinity and snoop through discarded napkins while he leisurely reads a copy of some tabloid newspaper.
His dogs are what draws my attention. One is a Doberman with docked tail and ears. The other is of the same color and fur, but a different breed and much smaller in size. By docking the smaller dog’s tail and ears as well, the owner has turned it into a miniature version of the larger dog.
Passersby are struck by this whimsical pair. The sight puts a smile on their faces and most of them stop to pet the dogs. The pleasure from petting them, however, is only fleeting. It is set off by a mounting awkwardness from not talking to the owner. After a while, whoever stopped to pet the dogs finds themselves liable to strike up a conversation with him.
As I pet one of the dogs, I wonder if the owner is aware of this causality--that this sensation he created with his dog-and-mini-dog pair lures people into letting down their guard and giving him their precious attention.
Aware or not, he can feel it and it validates what he did. It’s some strange kind of subconscious conditioning which begins with the passing commuters noticing the dogs and then having to exchange one or two words with the owner. He feels good because of that. Unfortunately, this pleasure he feels might seem to him like the reward for the cosmetic surgery he subjected his dogs to.
I ask him, “Why are you sitting out here on the stoop?”
“I’m just sitting here reading my paper,” is his answer.
His answer doesn’t satisfy me. If he’d ask me why he was sitting here, I’d say that I think sometimes, when we feel like we don't get enough attention we tend to get fooled into thinking nobody cares about us. So we do strange (sometimes even reckless) things in order to be sure to catch other people’s attention or, maybe we are fools at other times. Maybe we are fools when we think people care about us once we caught their attention.
But he doesn’t ask me and I don’t tell him. I proceed on on my way down the subway stairs resolving never to pet those dogs again.