A televisual haze suffused the downstairs hallway. This soporific sensation did indeed initiate within the television. The channel always died after the last midnight rerun of Star Trek concluded, leaving its trademark colorless, static slate. But the remaining illusion could only be attributed to the rainbow-tinted bong leaning against the torn leather couch—the bong’s obvious contents gone, having already inebriated the faculties of one unexceptional master and, by secondary exposure, his dog.
This Star Trek episode had been a good one. Though the master had gotten too high too fast to make any sense of it, his dog was still mentally present enough to ponder the episode’s deeper implications. It ended with Spock giving some climactic, sober espousal on the nature of attention. The dog did not know what, exactly, attention was, but he surmised that it was a wholly consuming affair.
Think, for example, of the hound/squirrel dynamic. Attention there was not something to bark about. Should the hound be fast enough, strong enough—if he just wanted it enough—he could claim that squirrel’s attention in a pinch. The dog’s master, however, was a different story. For the master, attention was not an animal affair. By this definition, whatever attention the dog gave to the master could not be invested back upon the dog. It was the dog’s job to supply the master with his wants and desires. But what, if anything, the master truly wanted—this not even Spock could answer.
Yet Spock defined attention differently. He drew a line between mere attention, and recognition. The dog felt utterly ignorant—ignored, even, for his misunderstanding. After all, the dog was a dog. Never, he thought, would he possess Spock’s cunning. His master, always, would have the right answer. When the dog’s feeble mind could not keep up the pace, then the dog, always, would be punished. But the dog was unaware that not even his master, even when sober, could comprehend the attention which Spock described. Indeed, not even Spock had gotten it right. In reality, the gap between mere attention and recognition constituted a world of difference.
Midway through the dog’s contemplation, the master engaged the minimal muscle required to smack his dangling foot against the dog’s forehead and eyelids. Unbeknownst to the dog, this was actually the master’s code for ‘I want attention,’ but this method was minimally more efficient than actually saying the words out loud. It always startled the dog, who had lost the last remainder of his eyesight years ago, but it worked—without fail, the dog understood immediately the exact type of attention his master desired. By sniff alone, the dog navigated the smoke-clogged basement to his master. His lungs burned as he located his master’s finger, his wet nose dribbling over the master’s oversized Hawaiian t-shirt. The dog began by giving his master precisely that form of attention which he would like in return, one day. He licked each finger individually, for this is a dog’s most coveted display of affection. The master grumbled something, but his dialect had always remained hopelessly indecipherable to the dog. This was not for a misunderstanding of human speech—the dog understood English, even Klingon, plenty well. Rather, in twelve years of ownership, the master had so sparsely spoken to the dog as to have never managed a common lingua franca between the two. In the past three years, the master had given the dog about two full, maryj-scented words—both expletives. This, however, did not alter the abundance of love and (were either of the two to comprehend the term), recognition, which the dog had and will continue to sacrifice devoutly to his master.
The dog knew he must stop soon. The master would pinch the dog’s tongue when the dog’s version of love became unpleasant to him. The dog, then, would stop licking, wiping the remaining slobber (and other unpleasant substances) from his master’s hand. He would proceed with the master’s preferred version of attention and emotional comfort: the dog’s warmth. This required a balancing act on the dog’s part: he must lean against his master with precisely enough pressure as to provide a sense of intimacy, but not so hard as to risk his master’s anger, which was easy to rile.
This was not a fair relationship. There was a black, soul-draining abyss where reciprocity should have been. The dog could sense this. But he hoped that, one day, if he could give his master just enough of his burden, perhaps just then the master would give something back. Whatever the master could offer, it would represent just one millionth of the dog’s unreciprocated love. Yet this hope was the very flesh and blood which drove that poor, skeletal dog every day, with his aching lungs and arthritic joints, to stand up and give to his master just one more time. One day, if he performed his duty just right, just one time, the master would open his eyes. Perhaps, the master would even look at the dog. The master would even … and this is all the dog really wants … he could even smile, in return. The master would smile in return.