This essay was recently recorded at WVTF, to be aired on NPR-member stations. You can read it below or listen here:
Growing up, I desperately wanted a pet. We lived in a tenement bordered by an asphalt driveway in the back and a concrete sidewalk in the front. Our apartment was so tiny that we needed only a cook stove to heat the whole place. Clearly, I faced limited pet options. However, being an optimistic child, I decided to ignore the reality of my situation. Against all odds, I begged my parents for a horse.
Of course, a horse never materialized.
Next, I lobbied for a dog. Someone had given me a giant book called something like Dogs of the World. I wanted to both impress and persuade my parents. So, whenever we walked through town, I’d shout out the breed of a dog as I spotted him.
I’d yell, “German Shepherd!”
Or, I’d point, “Rottweiler!”
Of course, a dog never materialized.
One day, my father brought home two consolation pets: Corky the Circus Turtle and Nick the Greek, also a turtle. Have you ever tried to warm up to a cold-blooded creature? It’s an exercise in futility. Alas, they did not wag their little tails in greeting, nor did they snuggle up while I read a book. In fact, rather quickly they both contracted a reptilian pneumonia. Foamy bubbles oozed from their nostrils. They reeked, giving off an odor reminiscent of wet sneakers abandoned at the bottom of a gym locker. Then, at last, their little bodies became remarkably stiff. We flushed them into the city sewer system. Don’t judge. We didn’t know any better.
At Easter, my father brought home dyed chicks. My mother, a meticulous housekeeper, detested the creatures, who routinely hopped out of their cardboard box and pooped prolifically.
One day, I brought them to show and tell at school. The kids liked them okay, but preferred my classmate Charles’s item, a box cutter he’d swiped from his father who worked at a factory. When the fire alarm went off, I remember being worried that the chicks would die of fright. They survived, but not for long.
A few days later while I was playing with them behind a chain link fence, Mika The One-Eyed Polish Cat (a feral beast who was always called by her full name), leapt over the barrier and gobbled down at least two of my pets.
The remaining chicks grew into chickens, as they are wont to do. I came home from school one day to find my pets missing from the apartment. I believe I was told that my beloveds had gone to live on a “nice farm.”
The next week, we visited Grandma Benedetta for a multi-course meal: Italian wedding soup with Acini de Pepe and tiny meatballs, ziti with homemade sauce and…. roasted chicken, which I gobbled down without a thought until my miscreant uncle pointed out their origin.
Yes, it’s true. In the sixties, my parents were pioneers of the Locally Sourced, Pet to Table dining trend. And, that is why I see a therapist to this day.
I currently own a legitimate pet: Sadie, a slightly deranged golden doodle, who will never, ever wind up as an entrée.