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So what is a newyorksubalien...

I’m a New York subalien. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly legal – it’s just my loving other half, official alien that he is, comes with a so-called “supermodel” visa that apparently denotes him as one possessing extraordinary abilities (falling asleep within 5 minutes of sitting down in front of the TV, remembering only 2 of the 3 items on a mental shopping list and not knowing where the dishwasher tablets live after 2 years in our apartment are just some of his many talents).

The same visa leaves me extraordinarily unable to possess that most American of entities - a “social” i.e. a Social Security Number. Calling it a “social” makes it sound like the password to some party-filled, fun-packed lifestyle. That’s not far wrong as without these all-important 9 numbers, you pretty much can’t have a lifestyle at all - no bank account, no credit card, not even a driver’s license.

So what does a subalien do? Well, like over sub life forms waiting for evolution to give them a leg up on the ladder of existence, I have plenty of time to observe and these, dear reader, are my observations…..

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's a dog's life - planetary customs and costumes!

It’s October – the leaves are (finally) starting to turn brown in the city and the city’s brownstones are starting to turn into Hallowe’en houses with pumpkins, ghouls and giant skeletons popping up everywhere.

But while October is obviously a blessed month for the little aliens in our current planet, it also brings blessings - literally - for the many four-legged aliens walking the streets, not to mention the two-winged and the floppy-eared. In honour of St Francis of Assisi, the Italian monk known for his love of animals, churches and chapels throughout Big Apple hold Annual Blessing of the Animals services around his October 4 Feast Day. Just in case you thought this simply covered dogs and cats, previous participants at New York’s Cathedral of St John the Divine have apparently included sheep, goats and even a llama.

While this may seem a step too far to some dwellers from other planets, it does not take long living amongst my current companions to appreciate nothing is too far so far as pets are concerned. I mean, why not go to a stationery store with two parrots chained to your shoulder?  Or take your pet budgies (still in their cage) for a stroll by the river in your shopping trolley? I’ve seen both this summer while out walking the Alienettes, neither of whom were chained to my shoulder or in a shopping trolley, I might add.

As in any big city, pets mean companionship. In Paris it was the same. A study while we lived there hypothesized that the high ratio of dogs to Parisians was because so many people had moved to the city and were a long way away from family and friends. Hence their dog became their family. Ironically of course having a dog in Paris is the best way to make friends and probably the only way to meet neighbours in your building. I once watched in amazement at a chic Parisian restaurant as the archetypal haughty maître'd proceeded, completely unbidden, to put a plate of prime entrecôte on the table – for the customer’s white pooch. Silence fell around the room as the little dog devoured the food with relish. I waited for the other diners to express their dismay but no, it was all oohs and aahs and “trop mignon” – and they were not talking about the steak!

Here they may draw the line at eating from the table but your dog may still get brought a drink of water before your thirsty toddler. There is however every reason to take a dog seriously here as he or she is, in all senses of the word, an important consumer.  In total Americans are expected to spend over $50 billion on their pets this year, up 5% from 2010 despite the economic doom and gloom. In Big Apple every restaurant that closes its doors at the moment seems to be quickly replaced by a doggy daycare centre, a doggy spa, a gym or a grooming parlour. And let’s not forget the dog walkers who ask upwards of $15 for a 30 minute walk and then juggle a multitude of dogs at the same time – well, not literally juggle, more jiggle.  

One website noted a dog walker’s rate depended on his or her training and certification (yes, we are talking about the walker here rather than the dog). That said, seeing some walkers calmly stride through the park with 8 perfectly-behaved dogs makes you appreciate how you can be a professional pooch promenader. I sometimes wonder if they could work the same magic on some of the smaller two-legged aliens in the park.

One area where professionals and amateurs both notch up a 100% score is on poop collection. This unfortunately was not the case in Paris. Most visitors do not realize that Parisians are not being grumpy and aloof when they walk around with their eyes fixed on the ground – they are just looking out for doggie doo. Here however the local aliens can be stung with a $250 fine if they don’t clean up after Fido – worse, they are likely to get a stinging ear-lashing from the next passerby.

The plus side of this - apart from clean sidewalks - is that dogs are welcomed pretty much anywhere in the city, even more so when they are carried in one of the many dog-carriers (mock croc anyone?), strollers (all-terrain version starting at $350) and my personal favourite, a puppy purse. This is what it sounds - your little darling is encased in a fitted bodysuit with his legs free and a handy strap for you to carry him over your shoulder, like, well, a handbag.

And this leads me full circle to the obvious and ultimate Big Apple doggie accessory - the Hallowe'en costume. Bunny rabbits, hot dogs, taco dogs, killer whales - you name it, they have it. Forget the two-legged version in the Village, this is the annual Hallowe'en parade you want to see. Last year's affair in Tompkins Square saw a dog dressed as an ipad, one with a doggy version of Lady Gaga's meat dress and another in a green curtain gown à la Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone with the Wind". Thinking about it, to survive that, the poor little things need all the blessings they can get.
Creative Commons License by Caroline Eagles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.