When dogs cry


Cold kold, adj giving or feeling a sensation that is felt to be the opposite of hot; chilly; low in temperature; – n. a relative absence of heat.

Fucking freezing fookin freizin, adj peculiar to Chicago; temperatures substantially below zero; wind chill; extreme conditions that causes fingers to drop off; intense pain; – n. complete and utter absence of comfort.

I can do cold, it’s fucking freezing that I have a problem with.

I’ve spent a night in a whisky distillery in North Scotland in the depths of winter. I’ve survived a snowstorm on The Matterhorn without a hat (and without hair). I’ve experienced a New England ice storm like the one in that classic Ang Lee film (although, sadly, no Christine Ricci in a Nixon mask in my ice storm). But, until now, I haven’t known what it was like to live for a sustained period in the deep freeze compartment of an industrial refrigerator.

Chicago has recently been enjoying the kind of weather that Captain Oates spent a little too much time in.

The other day I left a layer of skin on the door handle when I ventured out to retrieve our mail without gloves. Inside is not much better. Despite having the heating on continuously our bedroom curtains froze to the window.

If ever there was a case for supporting global warming, Chicago in February provides it. Even the locals are saying they can’t remember a winter like this one.

Had you been driving near our house the other day, as the mother of one of Natasha’s friends was, you would have seen me dragging the lifeless body of a Yorkshire terrier along an icy sidewalk.

Bronte, our twelve-year-old Yorkie, has over the past year become increasingly resistant to walks. She doesn’t share my joy in our trips to Starbucks. So we’ve developed a pattern whereby she digs her heels in and refuses to move. She won’t accept that, at 210 lbs against her 7.5 lbs, I’m going to win any tug of war we have and so I end up dragging her until she accepts her fate.

When it first became icy, I starting winning our battles much more easily. Our stubborn little Terrier failed to get any traction and slid all the way to Starbucks. So, last week when she lay down I simply assumed she was taking her resistance one step further. I continued walking.

Had an animal activist spotted us I have little doubt that I wouldn’t be here writing this now. It would have been difficult to explain.

It was only when our other dog, the more stoic and better insulated King Charles Spaniel, started hopping first on three and then two legs, while whimpering pathetically, that I realised that I may just have taken things a bit too far.

The past few days I’ve been woken not by my alarm clock, but by the sound of dogs crying. Have you ever seen a dog cross its legs? My wife witnesses it every morning as they desperately try to convince her that they really don’t need to be let out. Needless to say it doesn’t work (my wife didn’t get to where she is today through compassion) and a few minutes later their distress echoes through the house.

Difficult to describe just how cold the ground is here. It’s the first time I’ve known my Thesaurus to be stuck for words. The Chicago Tribune wrote that the City is having particular problems with frozen pipes. The article explained that the lack of snow means the sidewalks aren’t getting enough insulation. Coming, as I do, from a world that tends to think of snow as cold, it’s hard to imagine it as an insulating device, but I guess everything’s relative.

Not to Bronte it’s not. To her mind the cold is absolute.

A few months ago she nearly had what we thought at the time was a tragic accident. She fell sixteen feet from our second floor gallery on to the dining room table. It was equivalent to me slipping off the top of Canary Wharf, but miraculously she survived with only a mild sprain to her left leg. We assumed then that she had become disorientated and slipped, but another possibility is presenting itself and it’s increasingly looking like a suicide attempt. Bronte anticipated that her life would become an impossible choice between intolerably cold feet or wearing the kind of pink canine footwear that is popular around here among the Chihuahuas. To Bronte this is no choice. She decided then and there to end it all. Unfortunately for her she survived.

“Mom, why is Mr Grrrr Fart dragging a little dead dog along the sidewalk?”

This is the kind of question that Mrs Holz might well have been confronted with last week on the way back from school. “And, Mom, why is the other dog hopping from foot to foot as if on hot coals?”

“I don’t know dear,” Mrs Holz would have been obliged to reply, “I think it might be because Mr Grrrr Fart is English.” Her two children would have received this answer in silence, still slightly overwhelmed by what they had just witnessed, and, when years later, they come to study the American War of Independence it will make perfect sense to them.

The cold weather has also meant that we have had bring our two rabbits indoors.

We were keen, when deciding to substitute the sadly departed and irreplaceable Splodge with a couple of rabbits, to get two of the same sex. However the evident enthusiasm with which they explored their sexuality became increasingly difficult to explain to bemused young children who visited.

“Well young man, have you ever seen ‘Brokeback Mountain’?”

Neutering has done the trick and their energy is now channelled towards altogether more worthy pursuits. Masters at escaping from the caged area at the back of the house, the Brokeback bunnies lollop (as only rabbits can) into the playroom and head directly for the bookshelves. Their particular favourite, the one book they always pull from the shelf, seems to be ‘The Trial’. Quite what attracts a pair of Mid-West American rabbits to a Czechoslovakian tale of alienation and bureaucratic injustice I’m not entirely sure, but it’s definitely their favourite. I wonder if, in the victimisation of Joseph K, they see themselves, drawing parallels between his loss of freedom and their own inexplicable castration.

Our rabbits read Kafka to give meaning to their life.

Not only do we have a depressed dog with suicidal tendencies and a couple of gay rabbits into existentialist East European literature, but we also have a goldfish that swims upside down. Some go with the flow, others swim against the stream and a precious few, like Whitey the Goldfish, are just plain weird.

Mind you, if the water in Whitey’s tank was anything like the water in Lake Michigan last week, Whitey would now resemble a display item from the frozen section of a fishmonger’s counter. (Albeit an upside down one). It is said that the Great Lakes account for 85% of the world’s fresh water, but last week they accounted for 85% of the world’s ice. Standing at the edge of the Lake Michigan, I was but a tiny pawn on the edge of an enormous plain of snow-flecked ice stretching as far as I could see. A completely different ballgame from the village ponds speckled with the odd sliver of ice that heralds a big freeze back home.

I found myself crying.

At first I thought I was overcome by the enormity of it all, but then I realised my eyes were watering from the pain of the fucking freezing.

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