The art of racing in the.., p.1
RACING in the RAIN
MY LIFE AS A DOG
“With your mind power,
and the experience as well,
you can fly very high.”
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Gestures are all that I have; sometimes they must be grand in nature. And while I occasionally cross the line into the world of the melodramatic, it is what I must do in order to communicate clearly and effectively. In order to make my point understood. I have no words I can rely on because, much to my dismay, my tongue was designed long and flat and loose. It is a horribly ineffective tool for pushing food around my mouth while chewing. And an even less effective tool for making clever and complicated sounds that can be linked together to form sentences. And that’s why I’m here now waiting for Denny to come home. He should be here soon. I’m lying on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor in a puddle of my own urine.
I’m old. And while I’m very capable of getting older, that’s not the way I want to go out. Shot full of pain medication to reduce the swelling of my joints. Vision fogged with cataracts. Puffy, plasticky packages of Doggie Depends stocked in the pantry. I’m sure Denny would get me one of those little wagons I’ve seen on the streets, the ones that cradle the hindquarters so a dog can drag his butt behind him when things start to fail. That’s humiliating and degrading. I’m not sure if it’s worse than dressing up a dog for Halloween, but it’s close. He would do it out of love, of course. I’m sure he would keep me alive as long as he possibly could. But I don’t want to be kept alive. Because I know what’s next. I’ve seen it on TV. A documentary I saw about Mongolia. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen on television, other than the 1993 Grand Prix of Europe, of course. That was the greatest automobile race of all time, in which Ayrton Senna proved himself to be a genius in the rain. After the 1993 Grand Prix, the best thing I’ve ever seen on TV is a documentary that explained everything to me, made it all clear. It told the whole truth: when a dog is finished living his lifetimes as a dog, his next life will be as a man.
I’ve always felt almost human. I’ve always known that there’s something about me that’s different than other dogs. Sure, I’m stuffed into a dog’s body, but that’s just the shell. It’s what’s inside that’s important. The soul. And my soul is very human.
The door opens, and I hear him with his familiar cry, “Yo, Zo!” Usually, I can’t help but put aside my pain and hoist myself to my feet. Then I’ll wag my tail, sling my tongue around, and shove my face into his crotch. It takes humanlike willpower to hold back on this particular occasion, but I do. I hold back. I don’t get up. I’m acting.
I hear his footsteps, the concern in his voice. He finds me and looks down. I lift my head, wag my tail feebly so it taps against the floor. I play the part.
He shakes his head and runs his hand through his hair. He sets down the plastic bag from the grocery that has his dinner in it. I can smell roast chicken through the plastic. Tonight he’s having roast chicken and an iceberg lettuce salad.
“Oh, Enz,” he says.
He reaches down to me, crouches, touches my head like he does, along the crease behind the ear. Then I lift my head and lick at his forearm.
“What happened, kid?” he asks.
Gestures can’t explain.
“Can you get up?”
I try, and I scramble. My heart takes off, lunges ahead because no, I can’t. I panic. I thought I was just acting, but I really can’t get up. Darn. Life imitating art.
“Take it easy, kid,” he says, pressing down on my chest to calm me. “I’ve got you.”
He lifts me easily, he cradles me, and I can smell the day on him. I can smell everything he’s done. His work, the auto shop where he stands behind the counter all day. He makes nice with the customers who yell at him because their BMWs don’t work right and it costs too much to fix them. And that makes them mad so they have to yell at someone. I can smell his lunch. He went to the Indian buffet he likes. All you can eat. It’s cheap, and sometimes he takes a container with him and steals extra portions of the tandoori chicken and yellow rice and has it for dinner, too. I can smell beer. He stopped somewhere. The Mexican restaurant up the hill. I can smell the tortilla chips on his breath. Now it makes sense. Usually, I’m excellent at keeping track of time, but I wasn’t paying attention because of my emotional thoughts.
He places me gently in the tub and turns on the handheld shower thing and says, “Easy, Enz.”
He says, “Sorry I was late. I should have come straight home, but the guys from work insisted. I told Craig I was quitting, and . . .”
I didn’t want him to feel bad about this. I wanted him to see the obvious. That it’s okay for him to let me go. He’s been going through so much, and he’s finally through it. He needs to not have me around to worry about anymore. He needs me to free him to be brilliant.
He is so brilliant. He shines. He’s beautiful with his hands that grab things and his tongue that says things. And the way he stands and chews his food for so long, mashing it into a paste before he swallows. I will miss him and little Zoë, and I know they will miss me. But I can’t let these feelings get in the way of my grand plan. After this happens, Denny will be free to live his life, and I will return to earth in a new form, as a man. And when I return I will find him and shake his hand and comment on how
After the bath he cleans the kitchen floor while I watch. He gives me my food, which I eat too quickly again, and sets me up in front of the TV while he prepares his dinner.
“How about a tape?” he says.
“Yes, a tape,” I reply, but of course, he doesn’t hear me.
He puts in a video from one of his races and he turns it on and we watch. It’s one of my favorites. The racetrack is dry for the pace lap. Then, just after the green flag is waved, indicating the start of the race, there is a wall of rain, a torrential downpour that engulfs the track. All the cars around him spin out of control, and he drives through them as if the rain didn’t fall on him. It’s like he had a magic spell that cleared water from his path. Just like the 1993 Grand Prix of Europe, when Senna passed four cars on the opening lap. And these were four of the best championship drivers in their championship cars—Schumacher, Wendlinger, Hill, Prost. He passed them all like he had a magic spell.
Denny is as good as Ayrton Senna. But no one sees him because he has responsibilities. He has his daughter, Zoë, and he had his wife, Eve, who was sick until she died, and he has me. And he lives in Seattle when he should live somewhere else. And he has a job. But sometimes when he goes away he comes back with a trophy. He shows it to me and tells me all about his races and how he shone on the track. How he’d taught those other drivers in Sonoma or Texas or Mid-Ohio what driving in wet weather is really about.
When the tape is over, he says, “Let’s go out,” and I struggle to get up.
He lifts my butt into the air and centers my weight over my legs, and then I’m okay. To show him, I rub my muzzle against his thigh.
“There’s my Enzo.”
We leave our apartment; the night is sharp, cool, and breezy and clear. We only go down the block and back because my hips hurt so much, and Denny sees. Denny knows. When we get back, he gives me my bedtime cookies and I curl into my bed on the floor next to his. He picks up the phone and dials.
“Mike,” he says. Mike is Denny’s friend from the shop where they both work behind the counter. Customer relations, they call it. Mike’s a little guy with friendly hands that are pink and always washed clean of smell. “Mike, can you cover for me tomorrow? I have to take Enzo to the vet again.”
We’ve been going to the vet a lot recently to get different medicines that are supposed to help make me more comfortable. But they don’t, really. And since they don’t, and considering all that went on yesterday, I’ve set the Master Plan in motion.
Denny stops talking for a minute, and when he starts again, his voice doesn’t sound like his voice. It’s rough, like when he has a cold or allergies.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m not sure it’s a round trip visit.”
I may not be able to form words, but I understand them. And I’m surprised by what he said, even though I set it up. For a moment, I’m surprised my plan is working. It is the best thing for all involved, I know. It’s the right thing for Denny to do. He’s done so much for me, my whole life. I owe him the gift of setting him free. Letting him rise up. We had a good run, and now it’s over; what’s wrong with that?
He picked me out of a pile of puppies, a tangled, rolling mass of paws and ears and tails. We were behind a barn in a smelly field near a town in eastern Washington called Spangle. I don’t remember much about where I came from, but I remember my mother. She was a big Labrador who would walk slowly across the yard as my littermates and I chased after her. Honestly, our mother didn’t seem to like us much, and she was fairly indifferent to whether we ate or starved. She seemed relieved whenever one of us left. One fewer yipping puppy tracking her down to drain her of her milk.
I never knew my father. The people on the farm told Denny that he was a shepherd-poodle mix, but I don’t believe it. I never saw a dog that looked like that on the farm. The lady was nice, but the alpha man—the guy in charge—was mean. He would look you in the eyes and lie even if telling the truth was just as easy. He went on at length about the differences in intelligence of dog breeds. He firmly believed that shepherds and poodles were the smart ones but that Labradors were more gentle. Therefore a puppy would be more desirable—and more valuable—if it was a mix of these breeds. All a bunch of junk. Everyone knows that shepherds and poodles aren’t especially smart. They’re responders and reactors, not independent thinkers. Especially the blue-eyed sheepdogs from Down Under—Australia—that people make such a fuss over when they catch a Frisbee. Sure, they’re clever and quick, but they don’t think outside the box; they’re all about convention.
I’m sure my father was a terrier. Because terriers are problem solvers. They’ll do what you tell them, but only if it happens to be in line with what they wanted to do anyway. There was a terrier like that on the farm. An Airedale. Big and brown-black and tough. No one messed with him. He didn’t stay with us in the gated field behind the house. He stayed in the barn down the hill by the creek, where the men went to fix their tractors. But sometimes he would come up the hill, and when he did, everyone steered clear. Word in the field was he was a fighting dog the alpha man kept separate because he’d kill a dog for sniffing in his direction. He’d rip the fur from a dog’s neck because of a lazy glance. And when a female dog was in heat, he’d mate with her and go about his business without a thought about who was watching or who cared. I’ve often wondered if he’s in fact my father. I have his brown-black coloring and my coat is slightly wiry, and people frequently comment that I must be part terrier. I like to think I am.
I remember the heat on the day I left the farm. Every day was hot in Spangle, and I thought the world was just a hot place because I never knew what cold was about. I had never seen rain, didn’t know much about water. Water was the stuff in the buckets that the older dogs drank, and it was the stuff the alpha man sprayed out of the hose and into the faces of dogs who might want to pick a fight. But the day Denny arrived was exceptionally hot. My littermates and I were tussling around like we always did, and a hand reached into the pile and suddenly I was dangling high in the air.
“This one,” a man said.
It was my first glimpse of the rest of my life. He was slender, with long and lean muscles. Not a large man, but strong. He had keen, icy blue eyes. His choppy hair and short, scruffy beard were dark and wiry, like an Irish terrier.
“The pick of the litter,” the lady said. She was nice; I always liked it when she cuddled us in her soft lap. “The sweetest. The best.”
“We were thinkin’ a keepin’ ’im,” the alpha man said, stepping up with his big boots caked with mud from the creek, where he was patching a fence. That was the line he always used. Heck, I was a pup only a dozen weeks old, and I’d already heard that line a bunch of times. He used it to get more money.
“Will you let him go?”
“Fur a price,” the alpha man said, squinting at the sky, bleached a pale blue by the sun. “Fur a price.”
Very gently. Like there are eggshells on your pedals,” Denny always says, “and you don’t want to break them. That’s how you drive in the rain.”
When we watch videos together—which we’ve done ever since the very first day I met him—he explains these things to me. (To me!) Balance, anticipation, patience. These are all vital. Using your side vision, seeing things you’ve never seen before. Feeling the road, driving by the seat of the pants. But what I’ve always liked best is when he talks about having no memory. No memory of things he’d done just a second before. Good or bad. Because memory is time folding back on itself. To remember is to leave the present. In order to reach any kind of success in automobile racing, a driver must never remember.
This is why drivers compulsively record their every move, their every race, with cockpit cameras and in-car video. A driver cannot be a witness to his
Denny moved me far from the farm in Spangle to a Seattle neighborhood called Leschi. He lived in a little apartment he rented on Lake Washington. I didn’t enjoy apartment living much, as I was used to wide-open spaces. And I was very much a puppy. Still, we had a balcony that overlooked the lake, which gave me pleasure since I am part water dog, on my mother’s side.
I grew quickly, and during that first year, Denny and I forged a deep fondness for each other as well as a feeling of trust. Which is why I was surprised when he fell in love with Eve so quickly.
He brought her home and she was sweet smelling, like him. Full of fermented drinks that made them both act funny, they were hanging on each other and pulling at each other, tugging, and biting playfully. It kind of reminded me of the way I used to wrestle with my littermates. Only different somehow.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes