I’ve been waiting for this week all year. National Oxymoron Week . . . no, wait. We need to take a time out and define oxymoron. It’s one of those words all of us had to learn in English class, but no one remembers beyond the test except the teacher, and that guy sitting in the back row who thinks he is Seinfield and writes “stand up comedy” in the space where it asks “College Major.”
Since we’re all supposed to know what an oxymoron is, if you use oxymoron in sentence, no one will raise their hand, “Excuse me, sir. What does oxymoron mean?” Everyone assumes that there’s something significant about the “moron” part of oxymoron, and if they raise their hand everyone else in class will laugh at them because by doing so they have indicated that they are, in fact, one. No one ever assumes that there’s something significant about the “oxy” part of the word, as in oxyclean.
Oxymoron: a word or phrase that appears to contradict itself, as in jumbo shrimp or military intelligence. (By those examples you can tell why this term is the bane of open mike night at the local comedy club.)
Nevertheless, in honor of National Oxymoron Week I want to share my favorite oxymoron: walking my dog, as in “I’m going to go walk my dog.” This might not strike you as an oxymoron, unless you’ve spent some time driving down 2nd Street around sunset when all the dog-walkers appear. Take a look over at the green belt and the jogging trail that winds its way through the trees. Watch carefully. There’s a moment, just before the sun has set. The sky has a glow that warms your heart and the breeze coming off the gulf cools your skin — and said dog walkers come out in droves, or packs, as the case may be. Even a casual observation — and do keep your observations casual; you are driving, after all. And while you’re at it, get off the cell phone. Even a casual observation will reveal that the dog walkers are not so much walking their dogs as being walked by them.
You’ll see a fellow with two terriers on those retractable leashes that extend out to 20 feet and retract with the touch of a button. One terrier is straining at the end of his 20-foot line, running at full tilt to catch something — a squirrel, a cat, a butterfly, it doesn’t matter to terriers. The other terrier is straining in the opposite direction at the end of his 20-foot line. If they would just strain in the same direction, their owner would be pulled along at a breakneck pace, and possibly break his neck. Straining in opposite directions they have caught him between them, arms outstretched like the martyr he has become.
You’ll see a little old lady walking a rotweiler. She lives alone. Her son bought her the rotweiler for her protection. This afternoon, though, she needs protection from the rotwieller. It outweighs her by 20 pounds, and even though it has a choke collar on that would intimidate Alice Cooper, the dog is impervious to her tugging on the leash. It doesn’t even notice her weight as it drags her along wherever it wants to go. When I was a kid, “Walking the dog” used to be a yo-yo trick. She looks like a cross between a yo-yo and a tin can tied behind the newlywed’s car.
Farther down the greenbelt a middle-aged man wishes he could get somewhere, anywhere. But his dog has to stop and sniff at every bush, pebble, and crack in the sidewalk — then carefully mark the spot. The poor guy has barely traveled 10 yards in as many minutes.
These phenomena come together into one striking truth: we don’t walk out dogs, they walk us. Dog owners find themselves living out the old joke about the dyslexic agnostic who stayed awake all night wondering if Dog existed. For the rest of us, the average dog owner, our dog has indeed become a god of sorts. Four-legged, tail wagging, our dog is in complete control of our existence. We live only to serve. Not convinced? How often does your dog feed you? When’s the last time your dog cleaned up after a mess you made? Go ahead, go do your business in the middle of the living room floor. See how long it takes Fido to clean it up. The question isn’t just who walks who, its who owns who? Our whole relationship with “man’s best friend” is an oxymoron.