Ah, dogs. For us millennials, it’s great that they have such an uncontrollable impulse to touch everything because we, as a generation, have such an uncontrollable impulse to touch them, whether they’re ours or not. But during a pandemic, I’m not so sure man’s best friend is, well, man’s best friend.
San Francisco’s Stern Grove is a beautiful respite from the undeserved wealth with which our generation’s most privileged members have gentrified the city — so beautiful, evidently, that no one looks down at the ground, where there are many large, stenciled messages asking visitors to keep their dogs on their leashes. It’s either the beauty, or it’s that millennials — given our obsession with our “fur babies,” “doggos,” and “puppers” — feel personally affronted by the mere suggestion that we ought to restrain our dogs from scuffling with each other or sniffing our butts. In San Francisco, no one appears to believe that these over-Instagram’d pets ought to adhere to the six-foot buffers that humans (mostly) do.
So Marika and I knew what to expect when, strolling ’round the western tip of Pine Lake, we hear “Loki!!” echo through the grove several times in the span of twenty seconds. A shrimpy, tan, boxer-type thing is over-acquainting itself with a slow-moving couple and their equally sedate pooches. Without prompting, it bounds off again, whizzing around faster than I’d expect something wheezing that loudly could.
Dogs don’t seem at great risk of COVID-19, yet it makes more than a little sense that the virus can exist on the canine surface after the canine is touched by an infected person. And so it also makes sense that, given dogs and their millennial owners’ natures, our fur babies are the perfect disease vector. Marika and I have only the briefest of warnings — a sudden wheeze–pant right behind us — before the Norse god taps its face into her calf. Low-key, not cool.
“Loki!!” At least the owners are coming into sight. That’ll get the little psychopath under contr —
Oh god. No, it won’t.
It’s fifty-five degrees and overcast, and the man — pardon me, the bro — has on a snapback, sunglasses, a t-shirt, and Chubbies. One arm is tatted up the wazoo because his artist is probably willing to serve customers who leave their sobriety at the door. You know what, just imagine a guy named Chad.
Oh, and his girlfriend: tights, a sleek puffer with an improbably high thread count, Louis V. shades, currently viewing more Insta posts than eucalyptuses. A total Christina. SF’s new landed gentry. The people who show up at your high school reunion and leave the rest of the class wondering how in hell they make more money than the 4.3-GPA kids. The type of folks for whom the notion of spreading a deadly disease does not occur because they followed Facebook’s advice and took a dose of colloidal silver for immunity.
Ugh, finally. The little fiend bolts back to his parents. Marika and I slow down to give the trio time to get further ahead of us on the lake path. We meander forward.
A mom and her son have come from the other way, the parent with a mask on and the child without one. It’s not the first time I’ve seen such a display of poor parenting. Maybe it’s like one of those airplane-emergency situations where the masks drop down and the parent takes care of her- or himself first (but then never bothers with the kid). Unfortunately for them, they’re leading a pair of tiny, helpless-looking stuffed animals, the species of which should not have been bread into existence in the first place. Loki want friends!
Marika and I trudge a little ways up the shrubby hill to avoid more unconsented contact, but we’re trapped: the mom, her soon-to-be-foster kid, and their two dogs to our left; Chad and Christina a ways down the path to our right, and Loki careening around the path like a souped-up bumper car. We awkwardly stand there watching like we’re keeping up with the Kardashians.
“Loki! … Loki!” Christ, Chad, I’m not sure that’s been the most effective strategy today. “Loki! … Loki! … Loki!!” At first, the respiratorily safe mother and her still-alive boy also stand there awkwardly — hell, their stuffed animals stand there awkwardly, too — as Loki spreads Jersey Shore cooties on his new friends. Eventually, they continue plodding down the path. Oh, but so does Loki.
Without peering up from her phone, Christina finally backtracks down the path after her puppers. The crew have nearly disappeared around the corner Marika and I had come from, but we remain rooted to the hillside. Good luck corralling that thing with one hand and a fraction of your attention. “Loki!” she admonishes sternly. “Loki!”
Christina slowly weaves around Loki’s victims, nearly brushing the still-maskless kid as she continues tapping out what must be the most time-sensitive text of her life. Meanwhile, Chad, the team player, half-assedly continues calling Loki’s name at the bushes — out of sight and hearing to all but Marika and me. Loki must have been adopted that afternoon because his owners clearly have yet to learn that he doesn’t know his name. By some miracle, Christina’s redirected Loki, who comes hurdling back down the path toward dad.
Just before the dog’s speed and trajectory makes impact inevitable, Christina offers a final “Loki!” and the little bastard veers in the nick of time back in the direction of dad. Christina’s off her phone for the first time since, probably, she woke up. “Sorry,” she says without looking at us. “He’s a puppy. He’s bad at listening.” Yeah, no shit, Sherlock.
Marika and I give the happy family another head start, but then another dog-laden group is about to meet “Loki!” Given the dispositions of millennials and their fur babies, it’s a testament to city decision makers that San Francisco hasn’t turned into New York.
After a moment of debate, Marika and I head back the way we came.