We live on Piety Street, which is just a block from Desire — and no, the two do not ever intersect. That's always the first question. There used to be a Desire bus that ran slowly through the neighborhood, coughing up exhaust along the way, but as far as I can tell that bus has been replaced by one that simply says BYWATER. After the storm and the evacuation, we returned to find many of these buses scattered around the neighborhood. On St. Claude Avenue one bus was parked haphazardly across the neutral ground, its route sign frozen on this incomplete message: PLEASE CALL.
My oldest dog's name is Brando, but completely independent of Marlon, or Tennessee Williams. Someone in the shelter where I found him gave him the name, and I didn't see the point in changing it. No matter how much it initially embarrassed me. "I didn't pick the name," I would announce as soon as anyone had asked it. Eventually, I forgot there was any other Brando aside from mine. When Marlon Brando died, I remember someone in the park saying, "You must be sad." "Why??" I asked, completely disconnected from any association with the dead Brando.
Now that we live in proximity of Desire, Brando's name has taken on a new layer of associations... for everyone but ourselves. In fact, at the dog park across from the Piety Street recording studio, there are at least three Brandos. In addition to mine (a brindle Great Dane/Pit Bull mix), there is a Jack Russell and a rottie. Randi, the Jack Russell's owner, frequently claims that hers is the original Brando. "To this dog park," she adds. The rottie is new, adopted to keep a Stella husky company. "She should pick a different name," Randi said. "She should choose Mitch or Tennessee." There are actually more Stella dogs than Brandos, and several times a day it is possible to see one human or another standing at the gate to the park yelling "Stella! Stella!"
After a year that included getting a pacemaker and evacuating to several cities before returning home to New Orleans in October, I found myself reluctant to leave town again, particularly without my dogs. But in March I forced myself to fly west for a week of readings and interviews, including a stop in Portland at Powell's. "Where are your dogs now?" someone would always ask skeptically during the Q & A. "In bed with the sitter."
Brando likes to lean into my side — or the side of any available human — while he sleeps. I should welcome having a king size bed to myself when I'm staying in a hotel room, but instead something feels wrong without ninety furred pounds edging me to the side. The friends I stayed with in Portland have two small dogs and a futon in the basement. "Maybe one of them will sleep with me," I said. "No, they never sleep with guests. " They were wrong.
This same friend is in possession of two boxes of books that I acquired on the first leg of my west coast tour. This is the one problem with the west coast — too many great bookstores, and it is impossible to just visit them without making a purchase. So she emails me now and then to tell me how great these books are that she's promising one day she will send. I think it is just her way of getting even with me for sleeping with the dog.
I won't name names. She knows who she is.
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Ken Foster, a writer and teacher, is the author of the bestseller The Dogs Who Found Me; its sequel, Dogs I Have Met; and the new book I'm a Good Dog. His collection of short stories, The Kind I'm Likely to Get, was a New York Times Notable Book. His work has been featured in Salon, Time Out New York, the New York Times Book Review, and other publications. He lives in New Orleans with his dogs Brando, Douglas, and Bananas.
Books mentioned in this post
Ken Foster is the author of I'm a Good Dog: Pit Bulls, America's Most Beautiful (and Misunderstood) Pet