Asking for a friend.
Who is a dog.
Y’all. I don’t know if it’s a town thing, or a southwest Florida thing, or a thing particular to this specific southwest Florida town, but when the dog goes for a walk, the same thing keeps happening. It doesn’t matter who’s walking her–me, my husband, both of us together. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, what day of the week it is, or what anyone (including the dog) is wearing. Drivers will slow down and even stop in the middle of the road. They will roll down their windows, venting precious air-conditioned air into the voracious Florida humidity, and they will call out some variation of “That’s a beautiful dog!” It’s not like it’s happening every ten seconds, but it happens often enough that when a car goes by I have started to halfway expect it.
I am not sure of the standards for dog beauty. I think our dog is cute. Down here, she is apparently a mystical unicorn. I can’t figure it out. Maybe it’s because this is a dog town. Maybe it’s because southwest Florida has never seen an Australian cattle dog. I can hypothesize all kinds of things.
What I do know is that the dog catcallers–dogcallers?–seem to fit a pretty specific profile. White, female, middle aged, driving nice cars. I’m kind of digging the catcalling genderflip. At the same time, I can’t help interrogating the layers of privilege at work here.
This is an interesting town. There’s a lot of wealth. Primarily white wealth. There are lots of Latinx folks, many of whom work really hard in the Florida sun to maintain the lawns of the wealthy white folks. There are also lots of Haitian immigrants, many of whom work really hard as cashiers. There seems to be a correlation between ethnicity and career, from what I’ve seen so far. It really makes me curious about hiring practices.
I am tempted to go off on a huge tangent about lawns, but I’ll save that for another day, because I want to finish interrogating this dog catcalling thing. I grew up with the “never pick up hitchhikers” injunction so ingrained in my head that I don’t even want to make eye contact with anyone on the side of the road. I would never slow and roll down my window to talk to a total stranger. Maybe I am just super non-threatening looking, but I’m going to guess that there’s a certain amount of privilege at work here. For a woman to feel totally safe catcalling a stranger’s dog suggests to me that she feels totally safe in a lot of ways. In ways I’ve never felt safe, and so definitely in ways many, many other folks have never felt safe. Don’t get me wrong–I’m happy the nice car ladies feel safe. And I would like that sense of safety for all other folks, too. As long as they’re not using it to catcall people.
Thinking about this one small difference makes me think about all the other differences, large and small, between this place and the mountains and valleys of rural Virginia. This is just one tiny thing. There are so many others. There are probably a thousand I haven’t even noticed or discovered yet. It’s disorienting. I can hardly even imagine immigrating here from South or Central America, from Haiti, and the kind of culture shock that would bring. There are so many layers to my own privilege. When another white lady calls out her car window in my general direction, I don’t have any particular reason to be concerned. Unless she’s got funky black-and-white hair and she’s drooling over my dog’s spotted coat.
Back in rural Virginia, I used to worry that if the dog got loose, someone would mistake her for a coyote and shoot her. Here, rich ladies gush over her. It is a very weird change. I’m super glad the dog is not in danger of getting shot. But this safety makes me think about safety in general, about all the ways in which we do or do not feel safe based on who we are, what we look like, where we live, where we’re from…
I want to be as cheery as our neighbor when she explains that because all the rich people live here, there are tons of nice things, and all us “little people” get to enjoy them. But the wealth makes me uncomfortable, and that’s something I need to examine further. Do all the “little people” get to enjoy them? Does everyone feel safe here? How do all these disparate pieces fit together?
And that loops my thoughts back to the question I have been asking since we arrived here: What is my place here? Who am I, so far from the place that shaped me?
I look over at the dog. She’s sound asleep on the floor. Her life is so simple. Wake up, be beautiful, walk, get catcalled, eat, sleep, repeat. No wonder dog life spans aren’t nearly as long as human ones. It takes them approximately five seconds to figure it all out. Meanwhile, I am still pondering. And will be for a long time, as I walk my dog past manicured lawns and wonder about the lives of the people who own them and the people who keep them beautiful.