The first time Timothy Braun ate pizza and watched movies with his dog in the face of adversity, he wrote an essay on it that made him almost famous. When he did it again, it landed him in jail.
The dog and I had to leave a writing residency in the Ozarks early after my boss said she was “disappointed” I would be missing a faculty meeting. With budget cuts on the horizon I worried about my job. I teach to supplement my writing habit, and I travel in the summer to work on creative projects, and I often feel as if I’m growing old before I grow up. In the Ozarks I wrote an essay about eating pizza and watching movies with my dog in the face of adversity. I also needed space from my ex-fiancé. The dog barked at ducks and fell in love with a horse while I wrote, and we became local celebrities in the small Missouri town when the essay was published in the “Modern Love” column of the New York Times. The residency program invited us back for next summer, and for the first time in my life I felt I had become an adult.
Dusty is a Sheppard with one blue eye and one brown eye, often appearing to have a smile on his face. A plumber stayed an entire afternoon at our condo in Austin just fraternize with him. On our way home to Texas we stopped in Memphis for Dusty’s birthday and the desk clerk upgraded us to the king suite. Across from the hotel we visited the “best” cupcake joint in Tennessee for a treat, but were thrown out on account of one of us being a dog. Later, the baker brought us two cupcakes to eat on the curb. Those were eight-dollar cup cakes we were given. That night the hotel hosted an Elvis impersonators convention, and a Chinese Elvis sang to Dusty. I had a cocktail. I never drink when I’m teaching. As we drifted to sleep in our king sized bed and I text messaged my best friend in L.A. “R U OK?” He was expecting a baby.
The only thing I love more than my dog is my students, but teaching can be a drag. Professors can be stiff, competitive, often talking about résumés, and other things I don’t care about. I’d rather eat pizza with Dusty. When the Modern Love essay was published the dog and I got cartooned. My father, a professor too, said I was a “real” writer now. The love letters started to come in. An opera singer in Portugal wanted to know if I’d like to get coffee. A dominatrix in Canada wanted to “experience” me, and a girl from Austin, a psychic who’s husband dumped her and took their dog, just wanted to say “Thank you.” My boss went from disappointed to delighted. “This will make the university look good.” It was all a lot of pressure for me, and called a therapist I used to see.
The first week of class was hard. My ex-fiancé and I were fighting, and a friend I taught with died of cancer. I wasn’t eating, or sleeping, and was drinking two pots of black coffee a day to keep going. At the end of the first week I made a stiff cocktail and Dusty and I curled up on the sofa to watch a political convention. We saw Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair. I got hungry. With no food in the house, I kissed Dusty on the nose and told him I would be right back. I got into my truck to drive two blocks to the grocery store for chips and dog treats. A police officer pulled me over for a routine traffic stop. He asked me if I had been drinking, I told him the truth, and I was arrested.
Going to jail is something I don’t recommend, especially if you are a guy who shares a bed with a dog. I was there for six hours, was treated kindly by inmates, and complimented by an officer on how well behaved I was, but my cell was cold and I could think of nothing but Dusty. I can’t sleep without him. I called my ex-fiancé to look after the dog, and she called a lawyer. When I was released I checked my cell phone. I had a message from Los Angeles. “It’s a girl!” I missed the birth of my best friend’s daughter because I was a jackass. The word “shame” does not paint the depth of what I felt.
My lawyer talked like a never-ending magic trick. We looked at my file and she wanted to fight. There where all kind of problems with the case. There was no sound on the cop’s tape, there were inconsistencies on the police report, and I did well on all but one of the sobriety tests. I failed the Breathalyzer. I thought about going to court, maybe suing the cop, but I needed to be honest with myself. I drank and broke my golden rule: I drank during the semester. It seems to me that whole legal system is designed for no one to take responsibility. We live in a world where everyone points fingers at everyone else. I had to own this and I thank God I didn’t miss any classes. That night Dusty and I got a pizza, watched dinosaur movies, and wrote a plea bargain: a fine, community service, and probation. My lawyer showed the judge my “Modern Love” piece to humanize me. I told the judge regret is honest, and stays with you for life. I was “disappointed” in myself. The judge dropped the drinking and driving charge, and gave me an “obstruction of a passageway” conviction, a Class B misdemeanor. For my community service I make plastic flowers at a Mexican museum.
My therapist is an expert in addiction and relationships. I worried about this incident and asked if I’m a drunk. “Alcoholics worry about where the next drink is coming from. You worry about eating pizza with your dog.” I wrote the residency in the Ozark’s that I can’t come back this summer, and when I told them why the response was “You mean you’ve only been to jail once?” That was all I needed to hear. Dusty and I are at a residency outside San Antonio now, a buffalo ranch where he barks at turkeys and llamas while I write. In our studio we have two small beds I pushed together so we could be closer. I’m an adult now, but I still can’t sleep without my dog.
photo credits: main image figgenhoffer / flickr, bottom courtesy of author