Flashback: Home Alone

June 23, 2012

The following column originally appeared in the St. Helena Star newspaper on April 14, 2011.  It brings back happy memories.  With the retail store now online-only, I do miss meeting visiting customers.  But I think my shopdogs prefer blissful retirement.

Women often visit the Napa Valley in groups, and groups of women often go shopping, so I get a regular opportunity to meet them in my store.

One thing I’ve noticed about these women, whether they come from Europe, the South, or the South Bay, is that they have similar stories to tell. And you’d be amazed how many of them are excited and full of praise for St. Helena, while expressing homesickness, longing and regret for having to be parted, however briefly, from their most dearly beloved: The dog they left at home.

My shopdog Winston gets the brunt of it. Dropping to their knees, these lovelorn ladies shower my dog with hugs, pets, even kisses, so that he comes home bathed in the aroma of a dozen dueling perfumes, lotions, lipsticks and tears, smelling as I’d imagine a French gigolo might.

Three women who came in last week were fairly typical.

“Oh, I miss my dog at home so badly,” cried one, displaying a phone screensaver with her dog’s picture on it. “I could hardly sleep in the hotel last night because he wasn’t snuggling next to me.”

“I know what you mean,” sighed her friend, exhibiting a phone screensaver of her dog’s picture. “She’s my little baby girl and I hope she’s OK without mommy.”

“I miss my kids, too,” the third girlfriend agreed, displaying her phone screensaver with children hugging a dog on it, “but I’m sure they’re being spoiled by their grandparents. I also have a husband at home,” she added as an afterthought, with which the other two nodded in nonchalant agreement.

Why, one might ask, do these women suffer such passionate feelings of deprivation for the absence of their dogs, and less so for the absence of their husbands? One would think that the average husband could provide ample snuggling, snoring and shedding to stir feelings of separation anxiety in the average wife.

And I would have assumed that dogs and husbands would raise identical concerns for an absent pet owner/spouse, what with the unsupervised wandering, the unauthorized chewing and the indiscriminate peeing.

I suspect one reason the wives seem to miss their husbands less than their dogs is that they can — and do — constantly communicate with their husbands by cell phone, even when they are on different continents and time zones, or when their husband is — or was — working, sleeping, or struggling with the aforementioned pet left behind.

Judging by overheard cellular conversations these women have with their husbands, which center on how much fun they are having apart, how much the wife promises not to spend in my store, and why a man with a degree in engineering can’t operate a can opener, they could both use this nice little break from in-person interaction.

Meanwhile, the dog-loving vacationer is in complete communications blackout from her beloved pet, who is obviously languishing at home, crying doggie tears, wondering why she abandoned it (actually the dog has completely forgotten her existence at this point, and is now busily seducing the petsitter while figuring out how to get the closet door open so that it can finally mate with the UGG shearling slipper that’s been giving it the come-hither look for months.)

I think that Apple could make a fortune by inventing an iPooch communications device allowing owners to interact with and monitor their pets 24/7. Of course, in my dog Winston’s case, I would be monitoring his stomach and lower intestine, as his desire to chew and swallow any item is in direct proportion to its purchase price.

In this respect, I would think that husbands would have a leg up on dogs, as I’ve observed husbands to be fairly vigorous in tug-of-war games over the remote control, but have never seen one actually chew and swallow it.

I realize that you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned people missing their cats. As a cat lover myself, I can understand why this is almost never heard.  Although I do miss my cat Briscoe terribly when we’re apart, it’s embarrassing to confess such a one-sided longing to strangers. No self-respecting cat would ever admit to missing his human companion; indeed, his attitude is that of a wise but weary professor who feels genuine affection toward his pupil (me) but is relieved that the summer break gives him a temporary respite from having to suffer my colossal ignorance and incompetence with the quiet dignity required.

Plus, he can operate the can opener.