Sorry it’s been slow here at Riverside Green; I’ve had to visit the western time zones two separate and distinct times in the past ten days. One of those times gave me the chance to see the White Sands National Monument and to take a quick walk through the dunes. A bit of advice, should you ever try the same trip: don’t wear horsehide Crockett&Jones Pembrokes to do so. It’s no trouble to walk across the dunes on slick-soled shoes; it is tremendous trouble to come down off a twenty-foot dune to the parking lot while wearing them.
Enough about that; it takes a particular idiot to insist on wearing “grownup” shoes in an era where the billionaires wear polyester athleisure and $99 Allbirds. Instead, I want to talk about what I saw as I walked across these utterly pristine dunes, rendered free of footsteps and impressed with a waveform pattern thanks to the consistent action of the New Mexico wind: strings of little black rocks, encrusted with white sand and deposited seemingly at random both high and low on the sand structures.
“Is that some sort of… obsidian or quartz?” I wondered, looking closer. No, it wasn’t obsidian, and it wasn’t quartz. It was dogshit.
And as I stood there in the bulldozed-gypsum parking lot, waiting for a friend to finish all his extensive multi-lensed nature photography, I saw the dogs, and their owners, returning from their walks. Nearly as many dogs as people. Millennial couples, both straight and non-straight, always with a dog to replace the children they’re too afraid or just too selfish to conceive. And individual women with their hundred-pound shepherds or American Staffordshires, dogs to replace the men who don’t call them back after the disconnected Tinder nights.
They had tents, walking sticks, ladder-frame backpacks, athleisure, every piece of plastic-based crap you can buy from Patagonia or Arcteryx or The North Face. They had cameras and monopods, hats with flappy ears, sleds they dragged behind them. They had everything but the clear plastic bags you’d use to pick up dog waste.
I’ve seen these same people doing the same thing everywhere from Delicate Arch to Stone Mountain — but somehow the dogshit just matters less in a forest than it does in a place where you can distinguish footprints at six hundred feet. John Updike’s Rabbit At Rest, which takes place in 1989, had a Toyota executive lecturing the protagonist about it:
In California, dog shit much surprise me. Everywhere, dog shit, dogs must have important freedom to shit everywhere. Dog freedom more importation than crean grass and cement pavement… Too much disorder. Too much dog shit.
Updike’s Mr. Shimada wouldn’t believe how we do things nowadays. This nation is obsessed with dogs. There are just twenty-one million married couples with children under 18 in this country, but there are ninety-four million dogs here, each of them faithfully defecating a few times a day, usually outdoors. The sheer volume involved is impossible for the human mind to conceive without resorting to hyperbolic-but-factual comparisons: America’s dogs could fill a supertanker every two days, the Titanic in half a day.
You smell it in five-star hotels, see it in parking garages. What does it mean, exactly? Is it just there to normalize the inevitable San-Fran-style cascade of human waste that will be everywhere once this country is socially re-engineered down to a facsimile of Calcutta? Or is it a gradually-fossilizing reminder of Western society’s decision to self-euthanize into the sunset on a wave of Peak Television, RU486, and SSRIs? “European ethnics hated their children,” a lecturer will intone during a history class at Manhattan’s Madrassa PS 161, “but they loved their dogs… many of whom could be found feasting on their dead bodies later.”
Perhaps I am overcomplicating it. A dog is a wonderful companion for a young boy, but it is an even better companion for a narcissist, and we are creating those by the millions nowadays. You can’t beat a dog for unearned affection. Perry Farrell once sang, “…if you want a friend, feed any animal.” I guess we all just need a friend, and nobody has time to be a friend. Too much dog shit in our lives, metaphorical and otherwise.