At Large: The obstacles to sound household management are many

It’s about to be vacation week. Everyone will be away. Often that includes Moll. When that happens, I’m left with the dogs.

We’ve moved to a new house, in a new neighborhood. We’ve moved from the country to the city.

I always begin these strange vacation interludes hopefully. There are some changes that we all have to get use to, and when I’m left in charge I like to impose a little order. To begin with, I like to gather the troops, Teddy the pug and Diesel the mastiff. I find that getting them to assemble helps if I set the meeting place as the kitchen.

I always think a word or two might be in order, to set the new ground rules. I don’t get the chance to direct things that much, in the ordinary course of things. But here is a moment to change all that, a pivot point in the current political jargon.

There are a few practices among the canine members of the family that I think might be modified, if the two of them would concur, with the result that all of us could spend a more agreeable few days together.

Dependents every one, they lined up dutifully. Before I could begin, though, it became clear that they had an agenda of their own. All dependents do, I suppose.

For one thing, it is never encouraging to them when Moll leaves. They sense a chill descend upon their otherwise idyllic lives. I think it has something to do with the fact that Moll sings to them and I don’t. She sings little songs about their whiskers. Or, to Teddy, she sings about how he’s fat, which he is. He dislikes the singing, I think, and he ignores the insults. Moll does not sing to Diesel, the mastiff, especially recently since he’s been getting into deer guts. If we had a doghouse, he’d be in it.

When the kids lived at home and we had a cat, Alix seemed to be able to understand the animals better than Moll and I can. She seemed to know what the cat was thinking, so while she didn’t sing to Nano, the cat apparently muttered stuff under its breath, which Al then translated for us.

Sometimes the cat would say, “You fat tub of lard.” Al said she didn’t always know about whom Nano was talking. It may have been Diesel, but I worried that it might have been me. Nano definitely disliked Diesel, and she died shortly after he joined the team, but then there were times, as a teenager, when Al disliked me. So, it was possible that Al was merely projecting her own thoughts. Anyhow, the whole thing was disturbing.

I don’t sing to the dogs or understand their meaningless nattering. To me they’re dogs, nothing more.

What I wanted to talk to them about was the relentlessness of their feeding schedule. They think that whenever a human moves, it’s time to eat. I’m inclined toward a regimen where I pour dry food into two bowls once a day; they help themselves, and that’s that.

Years ago when we had cats, I owned a farm with big barn and hayloft. I put the cat food in a tub in the loft. That way the dogs couldn’t get it, and the cats lay around up there fat and happy, descending only occasionally to hustle a mouse or two, when they wanted a moist and tasty sharpener.

Cuisine-wise, Nano seemed to think dry food was beneath her. “I ain’t eating that boring stuff,” she said, via Al. At the recent lineup, absent the long-departed Nano, I told the surviving dogs that when Moll is away, I am very busy and canned food would be off the menu.

Diesel muttered something I didn’t get, but it certainly sounded disrespectful. I paid no attention. A creature that regards deer remains as a culinary highlight has no place in the discussion of the household menu.

I explained that the list of things I have to do is extensive. Moll wants me to bring in this box or that box from the garage for unpacking, to move the sheets from the washer to the dryer, then from dryer to the beds, to carry the dirty clothes down to the laundry, to leave a check for this person, telephone that person, take the dogs for multiple walks every day, and … well, I could go on, but I won’t.

If it’s snowing in the morning, the dogs may not want to go out. Diesel may, if he has deer guts on his mind. Living in the city now, we have to walk them — snow, rain, sleet, it doesn’t matter. They don’t want to go out in any of that either.

Mind you, between trying to keep track of where all that laundry is supposed to go, I am willing to give up on the walks, but I have my marching orders. Besides, keeping them in has horrifying implications, especially given Diesel’s size and the expansiveness of everything he does.

Ultimately, I know I can resort to the strangers-at-the-door ruse. You know, you knock, knock on the wall. Who’s there? The dogs go racing to the door, barking. I open it, and in a moment we’re walking in the rain.

Pretty quickly, they know they have been tricked. The pug walks glumly alongside me, looking up hopefully, humming a baleful little tune, his version of “Mammy, how I luv ya,” I suspect. Diesel, straining in the direction of the revolting remains, puts the rain out of his mind, if one can call it that.

I am afraid that all my efforts to organize things when vacation comes around will ultimately come to nothing. Things turn out just as badly as the animals fear they will when Moll abdicates, leaving me in charge. Left in the care of a non-singing, non-animal-speaking Philistine, they nurture the same fierce dislike of school vacations that I have, perhaps the only sentiment we have in common.