Rex and the City: A Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dogby Lee Harrington
Lee and Ted are a young, hip New York City couple living together in New York City whose lives consist of nothing but cool work assignments, long lunches, and evenings out with their equally hip and trendy friends. But, not yet feeling quite equipped for life or love, they’re vague about plans for “the future.” “Our relationship is like a
Lee and Ted are a young, hip New York City couple living together in New York City whose lives consist of nothing but cool work assignments, long lunches, and evenings out with their equally hip and trendy friends. But, not yet feeling quite equipped for life or love, they’re vague about plans for “the future.” “Our relationship is like a French movie,” Lee tells a friend. “There’s a lot of interesting character development, but no plot.”
One summer weekend, Lee and Ted stop at an animal shelter. They've always wanted a dog, and perhaps if they commit themselves to a loving pet, they reason, their lives will become more rooted. When they meet and fall in love with Rex, a beautiful, lively spaniel of mysterious origins abandoned on Doggie Death Row, they elatedly adopt him and bring him home, expecting to be flooded with doggie gratitude and exuberance. But Rex doesn’t romp and wiggle happily like the yellow Labs in Alpo commercials. He doesn’t greet Lee and Ted with exuberance or fetch The New York Times. Instead, Rex is unlike any dog the couple has ever known–he clearly loathes his new owners, their friends, their apartment, and New York City. He terrorizes everyone he encounters (even the friendly librarian who lives next door) and runs away every chance he gets. Lee and Ted are flummoxed. How have they ended up with the only dog on the planet who won’t offer unconditional love?
The couple question whether they can handle this dog, especially in New York City. They can’t agree on how to train him–while Ted wants to use the “hand-corrective method,” Lee prefers a nurturing approach. Consequently, Rex’s behavior doesn’t improve much in the first few months. And Lee and Ted’s relationship doesn’t improve either–they begin to argue constantly. But the twosome refuse to give up on their pooch. As Rex becomes more doglike, they begin to take delight in Rex’s antics and signs of progress: his first nonviolent dog-run experience, his first Halloween costume contest, his first kiss. And as they witness their pet’s gradual transformation from a wounded, fearful puppy into a confident, free-spirited dog, Lee and Ted’s relationship also transforms, as their commitment to the dog seals their commitment to each other.
Lee Harrington writes with an open heart, in prose that is witty, insightful, and poignant. Ultimately a love story between humans and animals alike, Rex and the City is a hilarious and riotous romp of a memoir.
- Random House Publishing Group
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- 5.85(w) x 8.61(h) x 0.98(d)
Read an Excerpt
New York is the only place I’ve ever truly felt at home. (Probably because everyone in New York is insane).
Plus it looked like my dog was starting to feel at home here, too. And why not? Life here wasn’t always cruel. In fact, as we were all slowly discovering, there were dozens of advantages to canine living in New York City. A city dog is never chained to a doghouse in a backyard, left to ponder his bleak existence, left to brave the elements and to spend long, cold nights alone, while the folks inside the bright warm house crack open Bud Lights and watch reality TV. A city dog does not have to brave the elements, thank you very much, because a city dog (at least on the Upper East Side) wears clothes. From Barney’s no less. And as for being chained to a doghouse, please. A New York City dog is too busy having his coat deep-conditioned and his toenails pedicured at the Pampered Pooch Pet Spa; or going for a quick dip in the temperature controlled pool at the country’s only dog athletic facility called City of Dogs; or window-shopping on Madison Avenue (where dogs are welcome in all the chicest stores, but people in jeans are not), after which he can enjoy a bowl of warm beef consommé at the Regency while a waiter in white gloves fills his silver water dish with Evian. And besides, don’t you know dog chains are out?
So yes, a city dog could lead an exciting life. In fact, the more time I spent with Rex in the city, the more I realized that most of the suburban dogs I knew (I shall not name names), most of those Labs and Goldens certain acquaintances of mine got “for the kid,” seemed comparatively bored. With their cute puppyhoods long forgotten, these dogs were left to languish at home alone for hours, while the kids and parents went off to work and school. Twice a day, at most, they were walked on leash along a bland suburban block, past ranch houses for God’s sake, with nary a drag queen or a Tasti D-Lite in sight, by some harried parent whose mind was on dinner. And not even the dog’s mind was on dinner anymore, because he had been eating the same processed dried kibble for thirty years. Oh, the horror, the horror. I thought of all this whenever anyone said to us: You have a hunting dog in the city? Or whenever my father delivered his weekly Consensus from Garrison Drive. I thought of this when Rex dined on premium organic dog food, or the free-range organic buffalo jerky treats that cost more than a pair of new shoes. They say New York is the City of Gods. It is also the City of Dogs.
There are something like one and a half million dogs in New York City. There were dogs at the Greenmarket, dogs riding elevators, dogs catching Frisbees in the park. You could spot them resting peacefully under café tables, or waiting for taxicabs, or sniffing the base of the cosmetics counters at Bloomingdale’s while the humans above dabbed their wrists. They were everywhere in New York City; I just really hadn’t noticed them all before. But, in the same way you notice all the people wearing glasses once you need them yourself, or notice people’s wedding bands when you yourself are married, I suddenly had a new radar for dogs: dog-dar. And all of the other dogs were better behaved than Rex.
Overnight, we became dog people. It was as if our new truce brought us up a notch, into the strange world of other dog people. Suddenly our neighbors–the very same people who might have hipchecked us out of the line at Bryant Park Cafe–wanted to know us.
They asked us our names. They wanted to know all about Rex. All at once, all these dogs and their people started gravitating toward us, to say hello on the sidewalks, to share raising-a-dog stories, to give advice.
They’d address Rex first, of course, saying, “Who’s this?”
And after he’d recoiled from their outstretched hands and barked at them or their dogs and/or lunged at their throats, we would go into the He’s-a-rescue-dog spiel, telling these strangers all about our savaged pizzas, our dark nights of the soul, our desires to take him back. They’d nod their heads in understanding, for nine times out of ten it would turn out their dog was a rescue, too. The lady down the street had liberated three shepherds from a junkyard. The couple two doors down found their pit bull abandoned on the streets. It was a relief to have found an entire support group of people young and old, right in our own neighborhood, who had gone through what we were going through. And it was a relief to see that their dogs all seemed kind of normal now. They were collected, cool, calm. Even the couple with the pit bull told us that although Farley had been a fighting dog, he was a cream puff now. So that was encouraging. What alarmed me, however, was that the dog people were for the most part visibly insane.
It’s easy to spot a dog person from a distance. They walk in a jerky, zigzag fashion, like those scary circus clowns, chit-chattering all the while–to themselves and to their dogs. They carry in their pockets all manner of strange foodstuffs, from liver treats to raw chicken, and they carry bags of poop. Because of the foodstuffs, their pockets bulge, and because of the bulging pockets many of them wear pleats. Pleated pants. From the eighties.
Which leads me to the scariest thing about dog people: Dog Lady Fashion. Dog Ladies wear baggy cotton clothing and sensible shoes. Gum on the ass? Not an issue. They wear putty-colored natural fibers–material that can stand up to roast beef in the pockets and dog drool and muddy paws. And if a Dog Lady occasionally gets a smear of dog shit on her fingers–no problem! She can wipe it off on her 100 percent hemp-fiber, machine-washable, no-iron carpenter pants! We lived in a city where even the woman who paints your toenails spends two hundred dollars on a haircut. Yet the Dog Ladies did not even bother to wash their hair. They simply threw on dirty baseball caps, gathered up their bloody roast beef and their plastic New York Times bags, snapped on the fanny pack, laced up the Aerosoles, and voila!–they were ready.
“I am being sucked into a club in which all the members smell like kennels,” I said to Tara.
“Hey, at least it’s free,” she said. She had just put herself on the waiting list for Soho House, which wasn’t supposed to open for another two years, but would set her back thirteen hundred bucks.
“Well, if I ever start to sport a fanny pack, or pleated pants,” I said, “shoot me. Or at least organize an intervention and send me off to Betty Ford.” A truck on Delancey Street smashed through a pothole and set off dozens of alarms. “I wonder if Betty Ford allows dogs.”
Still, it was nice to recognize people in the city, and be recognized. I felt, for the first time, that I lived in a real neighborhood. That I had an identity, a name: Rex’s Mom. Ted was Rex’s Dad. No one asked if we were married. All that mattered was how we took care of Rex.
Everyone in the dog world had an opinion, you see; this was New York, after all. If you don’t have an opinion in New York, they’ll ship you straight to the Midwest. So out on the sidewalks, these opinionated dog people would tell us what kind of leashes to use, what kind of dog food to buy, and how to brush his teeth. “He’s aggressive, you say? Dominant? Here’s what you do.” We’d come home from our walks with dozens of business cards–for trainers and vets, day care centers and the dog-friendly restaurants. We learned which car services would pick you up if you had a dog with you and which wouldn’t. The dog people had opinions on spaying and neutering and off-leash recreation and the regulation of breeds, and Ted and I, eager to learn, listened to all of them.
One neighbor even told me how I should wear my hair. “You should get a Josephine Baker,” he said the day he first met me. “Darling, with those cheekbones and those eyes?
Fab-u-lous. Otherwise you’re just another redhead with a ponytail. Bor-ing!”
Meet the Author
Lee Harrington’s series “Rex and the City,” has been appearing in The Bark magazine since 2000. She lives in New York City with her second dog, Chlotilde.
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