The Word Dog [essay] by Steve Schutzman

I wanted to forget the word dog. I started by saying dog outloud again and again, as if it might tear through like a cloth, weak from being remembered too often. I said the word dog until it became meaningless, pure nonsense, a mere sound, but this wasn’t forgetting. It was more like kissing without enjoyment and my mind strayed.

I thought of my laundry and dog seemed to mean laundry. I thought of my landlady and dog seemed to mean landlady. I thought of the sore on my foot and dog seemed to mean I really ought to take a look at the sore on my foot. I remembered that dogs sometimes means feet. This was a setback but I kept on. I thought of the pretty woman down the street and what I might like to do with her.

The word dog could be a noun and it could be a verb. The word dog could even be a full sentence or a question like Why am I sitting here trying to forget the word dog?

The word dog seemed to make me remember my dreams. As I said the word dog I was running on top of the sea alongside a great cruise ship. As I said the word dog I was a guru giving sagely advice.

As I said the word dog I was changing strangers’ flat tires.

I kept on. Various people started popping into my mind, mostly friends I might have slighted or who might have slighted me. I dwelt on their faces and wondered if they ever dwelt on mine.

I kept on saying the word dog. The word dog no longer made me think of the species dog or any of the dogs I’d had in my life. The word dog was humanized, causing me to think of human beings, the inventors of language who eventually want to achieve a purer state of being by turning words into sounds, then nonsense and then nothing.

It did not help that my dog was next to me on the couch, having gone from alertness at hearing the word dog over and over, to canine concern that he wasn’t understanding me, a worried tilt of his head, a question in his sad, dark eyes, to growing disinterest as I kept at it, to eventually falling sound asleep stretched out on his side. At least the word dog was emptied for my dog instead of filling up like it was for me. My dog was much better at forgetting the word dog than I was but I kept on.

The TV screen was black. The lampposts were on, flinging pins of light toward me through the cold night air. My room seemed big and small at the same time. I remembered as I said the word dog that many of the things I was supposed to do I had left undone that day. I remembered my dead father. I remembered that the word dog was the word god backwards and this was another setback, almost like having to start over from the beginning.

I couldn’t free myself of the word dog by saying the word dog. I couldn’t start over. My dog began to run in his sleep the way dogs do, whimpering, his legs and paws twitching as he lay on his side next to me on the couch. How we resembled each other, filled with ourselves, each according to his kind.

 Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: This essay refers to Renée Ashley’s poem “While Walking to the Beach the Crazy Dog Lady Meets a Pit Bull Named Betty Marion White.”]

Image by Sean Douglass via Flickr Creative Commons

Steve Schutzman has published nine books and dozens of stories, plays, book reviews and articles. Winner of several national writing contests, Schutzman is a six-time recipient of Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artists Grant Awards, and has had more than 30 different plays produced in various theatres around the country. Read more at