Not long ago, I spoke with a colleague who’d returned to New York after a lengthy absence. “I looked out the airplane’s window,” he said dreamily, like a teenybopper recounting a Jonas Brothers’ concert, “and when I saw the skyline I knew I was home. Ever feel the same way?” Uh, no.
I long ago lost that dewy-eyed notion of the Big Apple. Though I adore this hurly-burly metropolis, I view my returns with the resigned acceptance of a factory worker punching Monday’s time clock: Damn, it’s time to get back to work. Besides, while the skyline is a great signpost, it’s not a superb signifier of home. I’m home when a taxi—the driver pissed because he ferried me to Brooklyn instead of high-fare Manhattan—deposits me on my tree-deprived Crown Heights block. I exit the cab. I grab my bag. Then I step toward my brownstone, my feet crunching across a carpet of greasy chicken bones.
“That’s so true!” my girlfriend said when I told her the theme of this week’s column. It was one of our rare moments of agreement, an occasion I’d be wise to commemorate with a plaque. “When a friend from Germany asked me to describe Brooklyn to them, I told her, ‘Chicken bones. There are chicken bones everywhere.’” I love mother-cluckin’, finger-suckin’ fried chicken as much as—often more than—the next carnivore. Within a week of Williamsburg’s Pies ‘n’ Thighs reopening I was right there, gnawing crunchy, peppery fried fowl. Mmm, good! However, I trash my desiccated fowl, instead of flinging it onto the street as indiscriminately as confetti from a wedding.
It’s a bone to pick: Why are there so many goddamn chicken bones on the ground? If, say, a Vesuvius were to erupt in central and eastern Brooklyn, future archaeologists would conclude that the borough’s residents subsisted on the limbs of domesticated birds and industrially processed snacks costing a quarter and bearing a mysterious moniker—Utz. As Brooklynites, is this the legacy we’re destined to leave behind?
Most days, I ignore the food flotsam cloaking my cracked blocks. It’s my daily scenery, like the Chinese food delivery men who bike down the sidewalk and the rats who skulk around the downstairs trashcan. These sights are so omnipresent as to be rendered invisible. But that veil of willful ignorance has been tossed aside thanks to Sammy’s arrival.
Sammy (aka Sam, aka the Samster, aka the Samwich) is a 5-year-old Welsh corgi mix that my girlfriend and I rescued from a shelter. He’s a lanky pooch, low to the ground, with one ear permanently cocked.
This, combined with his rub-my-belly demeanor, causes drunk girls to exclaim things like, “I don’t even like dogs, but that one is C-U-T-E.” That causes my little black heart to swell with something that resembles pride, as if he bore my bloodlines, instead of being selected as randomly as a lottery ball.
Sammy is an excellent walker, a fearless explorer—a canine Shackleton, you could say. He investigates every rag, fast food bag and gnarled tree, marking his finds with a urine sprinkle or doo-doo log. This is acceptable canine behavior. I even envy the mutt: Sometimes I wish I could defecate wherever I please.
What displeases me is when Sammy discovers a chicken bone. The leash goes taut and Sammy snaps up the wing or the leg with the swiftness of a rattlesnake strike. “No, Sammy! Nooooooooo!” I say firmly, tugging his collar. This makes Sammy gag. Then I pat his back till he coughs up the bone. Which he then eats again. To short-circuit the scenario, I’ve taken to scanning the ground as zealously as my dog. Oftentimes, we’ll lunge for a bone simultaneously, my size-nine sneakers beating his snout by a whisker. Other times the dog’s quicker on the draw. In war and chicken bones, there’s no such thing as a tie.
“Drop it,” I say authoritatively, repeatedly, as if experiencing a strange Tourette’s tic. “Dropitdropitdropitdropit.” I grab the bone jutting from Sammy’s sharp teeth and pull. He counters with dogged determination. We yank back and forth. Man versus beast. Beast versus man. Later or sooner, I glimpse myself in a storefront’s window, dragging a 20-pound dog around by a splintered bone. Absurd. I release. Sammy crunches happily.
“Let’s go home,” I tell the damn mutt, eager to give my hands a thorough, scalding cleansing.