There are many things I like about petsitting. One, the obvious: I get to be around animals. Two: Part of the job is (if petsitting a dog) taking them on walks. I’ve always liked walking (or biking) around different areas and neighborhoods, daydreaming about what it might be like to live in that particular area, or just daydreaming in general. It is a practice that stems from my childhood in which I’d take long walks around our neighborhood and adjacent neighborhoods with the family dog, just wandering and exploring. Three: Inhabiting other peoples’ homes, I stumble upon books I might not have been aware of before (and I assure you, I’m not rifling through your belongings to find these books, they’re ones I come across lying out in the open!)
In January, while I was being shown around a house owned by two Dachshunds and a cat, my eyes caught glimpse of a black- and sepia-covered book with a woman on the cover I instantly recognized as rock icon Patti Smith. The owner’s instructions about what routines her pets were accustomed to were briefly eclipsed as I snagged the book from the coffee table.
“Oh my God!” I exclaimed to the woman. “I didn’t know she’d put out another book!” I had read “Just Kids” about Patti’s friendship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe a few years ago and had loved it. In her latest, “M Train”, she sat at a table with a cup of coffee staring into off into space.
“Yes,” the Dachshunds’ owner confirmed, “my wife got that for Christmas.” In between letting the Dachshunds in and out of the house to chase squirrels that weekend, I knew what would be occupying my time.
Two months later, I am still slowly chugging my way through “M Train”. It’s not that it’s an unremarkable book, but one written in the slow, steady, contemplative manner of Patti Smith herself, through her daily rituals of yes, drinking a LOT of coffee (she says she can drink 9 cups a day without it affecting her sleep!!!) at her favorite coffee shop across the street from where she lives in New York City, Cafe ‘Ino, her travels around the world to oftentimes obscure, oddball places such as French Guiana, and the remembrance and longing for her deceased husband and love-of-her-life, Fred “Sonic” Smith.
I feel a kinship with Patti Smith that began in high school when I’m not sure what prompted me to take home her legendary album “Horses”. I remember listening to it on my parents’ stereo in the living room of our suburban home. It was a very important piece of work, I knew that much, as I’d probably heard about it from one of my grunge-era idols. But like many artists they “recommended”, and me expecting to hear something more akin to the music they were producing, I didn’t quite understand it at the time. But I liked the feel of the album, the images the lyrics and music conjured: an idealized Beatnik-era and coffee shops, the art-sophistication of New York City.
Throughout her book, Patti frequents Cafe ‘Ino writing, reading, drinking coffee and contemplating her past, the world, her surroundings, and the lives of favorite writers and explorers. She, like me, would be perfectly content daydreaming for much of the day, for days on end–daydreams broken up by explorations to different parts of the city or world most often not seen by others.
But when I was petsitting this weekend, another book caught my eye. As I was settling into the house, a book called “Candy Girl” by Diablo Cody screamed at me from the bookshelf. There were maybe a hundred books on that piece of furniture, but I was drawn to that one like a magnet. I knew Diablo as the screenwriter of one of my most favorite “new” movies, “Juno”, and admired her work. I had heard she had previously been a stripper and had been discovered through the blog she wrote, which documented her stripping adventures. After feeding the cats and walking the dog, I immediately settled on the couch and started reading it.
Diablo Cody is quite a different character from Patti Smith. Apparently not content with sitting and daydreaming in her down-time, she decided to take up stripping as a sort of adventure from the mundane atmosphere of her day job. I’m only halfway through the book, but her tales of the initial awkwardness of taking up this occupation most wouldn’t have the figurative “balls” (including me) to do, and the ins-and-outs of the stripper world are fascinating. Diablo Cody is probably who I sometimes wish I could be: bold, daring, buxom and brazen, though definitely not in a stripper way! (No offense to strippers or anything, I just know I couldn’t do it because I absolutely loathe creepy, unwanted sexual interest from men.)
The next day, a little after noon, I deemed it time to take “Pup Francis” for a walk. A seven-month-old ball of energy (though oftentimes surprisingly calm and intelligent), he had been pacing around the table where I had sat sipping tea and soaking in tales of stripper-dom for the last hour or so. I latched the spiky choke collar around his neck and we headed out into the crisp Spring sunshine.
The neighborhood where Pup lives is near many fun areas of exploration, many of which we’d checked out over the last few days. To the West was the park, where I had walked dogs for a previous dog-walking job. East a few blocks led to a little trail along a creek that wound through the neighborhood. And today, we were headed South, to walk along the creek on a larger trail network.
We passed by coffeeshops and restaurants, all within walking distance and I thought how nice it would be to live in an area like this. Where, like Patti Smith, I could get up and walk across the street to my “Cafe ‘Ino”. I’d never thought I’d like to live within a huge city like New York, but in proximity to the center of a smaller city might be fun. I daydreamed that later, I would take the laptop to one of the nearby coffee shops and sit and write.
Pup and I wound along the trail which departed from the main drag through town into a section of woods called “Mormon Handcart Park”. Pup sniffed the scents of dogs passed while I read about the history to which the park was dedicated on the number of placards placed along the trail. In the 1850’s, this location was where the train system ended, so Mormons wishing to relocate to Salt Lake City would land here, then begin a journey towing handcarts as though they were donkeys across the Great Plains and over Rocky Mountain passes to reach the Great Salt Lake. Apparently, the first two parties left early enough and arrived safely, but the following two were caught in inclement weather and were saved by a rescue party on the great slopes of Wyoming. Some didn’t even make it that far: a placard further down the trail stated that bodies had been buried in the vicinity.
Pup pranced merrily along, seemingly unaware of the woods’ somewhat haunting past as the sun sifted through dark clouds above. The snow’s threat the day before had passed and all that was left was the chilly wind. We made our way back to civilization with Pup passing out on the floor of the house pretty much as soon as we got through the door.
I’d told myself I would go to the coffee shop to write; it is sort of an idealized fantasy I keep wanting to happen. But I had tea at the house, silence, and a snoozing Pup at my feet. So until my Cafe ‘Ino can have all of these qualities, I’m afraid it won’t exist outside of my house.
In one section of “M Train”, Patti Smith buys a commercial space to renovate as a coffee shop (one of her dreams), but only gets as far as having a single table and chair. She sits and writes until her then future husband beckons her to move to Detroit with him. She says just sitting alone in that space was enough for her. I would agree.