The Most Honorable Dog in Los Angeles

Honor System, photo by Jon Winokur

Honor System, photo by Jon Winokur

Los Angeles is about 120 miles across and spreading like a dirt-colored fungus over the edge of a petri dish. So-called towns have different names, but in reality they’re just blended neighborhoods now. Sprawl is so continuous that LA is one dense mess of freeways, strip malls and raging, aggressive drivers for three hours. A plate of spaghetti dropped on a sidewalk and being consumed by bugs. And it'll keep spreading to farther reaches of the adjoining desert, just as soon as they can figure out who to steal more water from. LA being LA, steal it they will.

It is quite possibly the worst place on Earth. Los Angeles is America's Bangladesh, but without Bangladesh's high ranking on the Happiness Index. Upon reaching the environs, the first thing one notices are the effects on the human psyche of the soup of thick chemical poisons in the air. The look on everyone's face is that of a beaten and defeated person driven insane by fantasies of revenge. The more provocatively some kid is driving up your tailpipe the better the odds are that he has a loaded gun on the seat next to him. Those odds run about 90 percent now. The only visible characteristic you see more of are the standard-issue collagen lips and breast implants that make up a common type of LA uniform, as if some of the women here arrived from another planet. Miniskirts and tattoos on 13-year-olds. Underpants everywhere, the owners of which make sure you see them because their jeans are halfway down their asses. Sorry, but as a long-term resident, Los Angeles has nothing left to recommend it. I'll miss my friends but otherwise, I'll be glad to see it shrinking in the rear-view.

And you should see the dogs. Ragged and dirt-fringed. With all money now concentrated in the hands of a few people who have no intention of using any of it to clean areas they don't live in, there is garbage everywhere and higher levels of grime than ever before. The streets are broken. The mood is similar to what people described in Stalin-era Soviet literature, in which everyone knew that they could be next. Dogs at the dog park are well-loved and taken care of, but the fur goes grey and they're all a little amped up in a way that only harassed city dogs are. Yes, people have to live in cities, and many dogs do okay, but I can only imagine that in their dreams there isn't one of them who wouldn't give up a week of food for one real day in the country.

Roo would rather be anywhere else, but we’re here to move our stuff. It's slow going, and she has to wait. She prefers to do that in the car. I make sure to get her some lengthy walks, but they're not the same as running free and into rivers and up on rocks. Not the same as digging in the clean earth. She is turning the same grey as the rest of the dogs. And I can see that already, after only three days, she is getting more nervous all the time.

Yesterday we took a break to meet a couple of friends at the burger joint at Santa Monica Airport, where my hangar, stuffed with all that junk, is. For old time's sake I ordered Roo her usual - a burger patty almost raw - and gave her half. In the accompanying picture, taken by Jon Winokur (whose dog book Mondo Canine I've mentioned several times as one of my favorites), Roo carries the other half wrapped in foil. She jumped it up into the car and never so much as poked a hole in it. She's such a good little bear. Jon titled the picture Honor System.

Anyway, we're struggling to get the mess in the hangar under control. The idea of yet another drive cross country has been murderous to think about, but after submerging in the muck of LA for a bit, I can't wait to get out of here, and I know Rooki Kahoo will be happier anywhere else. Wish us luck.