The problem with Basset Hounds is they suck. If you’re a Basset lover, I’m not sorry for writing this, I’m sorry for you. Right now as you’re reading this there’s probably something you need to clean or repair, something that got eaten that shouldn’t have which you’ll need to deal with later. Bassets suck.
We were open to Basset Hounds, my mom and I. My stepdad John had them before we met, and we were surrounded by oil paintings and statues, portraits, pillows, bumper stickers: all for the love of the Basset, the one John had called Hercules, he’d bring to the pub and give a bowl of beer to and the dog would just sit there and drink until it slid off the stool…how John knew the vet from All Creatures Great and Small, the singer from Jethro Tull with his flute, how he adopted their Bassets or vice versa, it got spun and twisted like tape from an old cassette reel when it comes undone and I can’t remember what exactly, just how much he loved them, how his whole face glowed when Bassets came up: his gay friends Rob and Paul in London and their Bassets, how Rob with his bright red nose and owlish eyes would crouch down on the rug with a towel to wipe the insides of their ears and complain and scowl on how they fart, how they snore (but how great they are, truly!).
It started for me and my mom that day on the trail by the river in Germany we met Glen. An intricate network of leashes and treats and poop bags, carabiners, two Bassets (one English, one French): I made a joke generalizing about the two but it didn’t work, and Glen didn’t laugh.
We assumed he was German by some stereotypes we weren’t proud of, the angular glasses, the dour expression, the fact he barked commands auf Deutsch, well-practiced commands suggesting a formalized discipline, but to no effect. The hounds just flopped and flapped and pissed and fucked, and Ginger stood by to the side with me and my mom watching, wordless.
We soon learned he wasn’t German but American, had been there so long he’d started losing his American self, which can happen to expats because your nationality is a real part of yourself, you can forget it over time.
We knew his last name though, so when we got home we looked him up to learn more: he’d been a professional ballet dancer, chaired a department at the local university, conducted classical music performances (and was a widower, probably straight) — all of which seemed unusual and intriguing as we didn’t have much else going on in our lives; the characters around us just came and went like scenes from Fawlty Towers, with us right at the center, the front desk. And of course, he was a member of the local German Basset club, where they’d get together with other Basset people and their dogs, combing the trails along the Black Forest, stopping for frequent breaks with brandy, schnapps, smokes.
Glen had to go into surgery and because Dawn had given him my mom’s number (she was out with Ginger and ran into Glen one day), Glen called to ask if we could watch the Bassets while he was at the hospital, which seemed strange because we’d just met, and why couldn’t he ask someone else?
Glen had to go into surgery because the second time we met, for a dog date, to walk the dogs and talk, Glen suggested we get a coffee afterwards which we did, but while the Bassets were anchored to an umbrella stand on a patio and Glen was rolling a cigarette, mom and I watched the Bassets climb onto a baby stroller where some infant was having its ice cream and its mom looked up in horror as the hounds and their claws touched the fabric by the baby’s face and started licking it, and Glen shot up to respond but threw his knee out, complained it hurt so bad he couldn’t walk, and so I had to help him back to his car and drive for a bit because it was a manual, and we walked home, wondering what would happen, what we’d do, and I suggested we distance ourselves from him, it all felt fishy.
The time for his surgery fell right toward the end of our stay with my mom, a time we wanted to protect, to just lavish in our favorite things like cooking, drinking, and being left alone. But mom agreed and wrote it on the calendar, it was just for two nights, and it didn’t seem like too much, to help a guy who didn’t have anyone else to ask.
Glen explained the process for looking after the Bassets, said it was pretty straightforward: that one of them was “99% house-trained,” but it was really important you put rocks in their food when they ate because if you didn’t they’d eat too fast and their stomachs would flip over like a hammock and they’d die. (The rocks forced them to slow down and rethink things.) Now that’s one fucked-up breed, Dawn said, and we all laughed.
When the Bassets came it was like that scene from the Christmas film, the one with the Bumpus Hounds, when the hillbilly dogs from next door sneak into the kitchen and devour the turkey while it’s resting: Glen’s hounds had gotten onto mom’s table, right there with the Lazy Susan, and one of them wolfed down the butter, the good butter (the French kind), the President butter mom would leave out to soften. They got into Ginger’s food, Roxy’s food, our food, and then shat all over the rugs on the third floor outside the kids’ rooms, which is miraculous the kids didn’t step in any because it was everywhere and blended in, with much of the rugs already brown.
In the morning I let the dogs out but didn’t know they had to be on a leash at all times and they started to run away, and Dawn went chasing after them and smacked her head on the medieval doorway and I laughed, because I’d done that myself a thousand times, but she saw me laugh and then I became the ass even though it was the dogs’ fault (or mom’s for agreeing to it, or Dawn’s for giving Glen her number, or Glen for having the surgery, for pretending it’s normal to have pets like that).
When we picked up Glen at the hospital we had the dogs in the back and Charlotte next to me, and their hair everywhere, their slobber: and Glen’s color was bad, he was ashen, on crutches, and a part of me hated him, an ember that could burn all night, and well into the morning. He hinted we should go for a coffee or something but mom and I were tight-lipped and prepped with speaking points and key messages, other plans and commitments.
Mom and I talk often and email too, and she tells me how things are in Besigheim, how she went with Glen on one of those Basset club outings and it wasn’t so bad, how she met Glen’s son and likes him, how they’ve gotten to know each other better and it’s all good (she even had the Bassets back to the house and didn’t mind too much).
And here in Sammamish, in our garage where all things go to die, the unwanted artwork and kids’ toys, the record collections and cassettes, there’s a stack of framed art I need to mend and one, a painting our English friend Paul did of two Bassets, probably John’s, some sweet pose with their long, sad eyes, the frame broken, that I keep because it belonged to John but I don’t think I’ll ever get it fixed — some things can’t be repaired, aren’t worth fixing.
Today’s the anniversary of my last post in the States before we flew to Germany for nine months last year: check it out for sentimental sake, or the first time.