Frankie Valli was a Poodle

How did the subject of dogs even come up? I can’t remember. One minute we were talking about pancreatic cancer (she was diagnosed with it before being cleared after multiple tests), and the next minute she was swiping the screen of her phone looking for a photo.

There he is! That’s my baby!

Aww, he’s darling! What’s his name?

Cookie!

I laughed. The image of my own hard little biscuit sprinkled with sugar crystals popped into my head. 

Cracker. 

Robin handed me her phone. Cookie was on the couch, almost upright, his front paws resting on the armrest, looking back at the camera. He was a Toy Poodle, cotton ball white, a little powder puff of a dog. He looked annoyed, the way I used to as kid, whenever Dad pulled the Kodak out of his coat pocket at the dinner table in the middle of a restaurant. Smile! He would chirp before we all heard the click of the shutter. Inevitably, the fork in every hand would be mid-arc headed north, laden with a mound of sticky carbohydrates in varying hues of gold. There are stacks of family albums in a closet, somewhere in Texas, chock full of decades-worth of awkward photos revolving around cutlery.

How old is Cookie? I asked.

He’s ten.

Five years younger than Cracker was, I thought to myself. In his absence, Cracker had become the measuring stick all other dogs were observed by; a paragon in perpetuity. Like dog owners everywhere, Robin had a lot of photos of Cookie on her iPhone, flipping through them incessantly.

Let me show you a better photo, she said taking her phone from my hands. When he got haircut. 

Robin is Korean. She speaks English with proficiency, but our conversations sometimes resemble run-on clauses of clipped phrases with no end, until we understand each other. She stopped scrolling, thrusting the phone back in my face.

Look here. Isn’t he cute?? He look like teddy bear! 

She took the phone back as if the distance from my hands to hers was just too great. Robin stared at the image of Cookie with a smile on her face, her finger petting the glass like she could feel his soft coat beneath it. 

Have you had Cookie the whole time?

She looked at me quizzically.

For ten years? I asked.

No, no, no. I rescue him. 2019. Before the pandemic.

You did? Why?

My friend. She said he have no home. He go to shelter, and no more. He sleep forever. 

She snapped her head back and forth, flustered.

No, no, no! I could not let that happen! Cookie come home with me.

I laughed. 

Have you always had dogs?

Nooo! Neverrrr! First dog!

This surprised me. I presumed Robin was around my age. It seemed unusual to dive into pet ownership at this stage of the game.

Really? First dog?

Oh yesss! First dog.

Look here, she said, handing me her phone again. Just got haircut. Looks like teddy bear. Sooo cute!

Cookie was perfectly white, covered in a smooth, short afro. He looked like a puffy cloud in the sky with no edges.

He is so darling! How do you like having a dog?

Ohh, he’s my baby! I take him everywhere!

What a lucky dog!

Ohh yesss. I bought him backpack, she said, trying to describe it with her hands, but I already knew what it looked like. One made specifically for dogs with mesh panels to keep them cool. Cracker had to make do with my generic pack the color of limes from LL Bean.  

He fit inside and go everywhere!

I laughed again. I recognised that smitten smile and the sparkle in her eyes.

But not at beginning, Robin said. 

What do you mean? What happened?

Cookie pee everywhere. Shaking her head she said, I told him, ‘No cuddling!’

Oh yeah? How long did that last?

Two days! she said snickering. 

I laughed. Another dog breaking the rules, and an owner who loves him despite it all, I thought secretly.

I try to give him haircut when he came, but terrible!

This made me laugh, since Robin was cutting my hair, a consummate professional who had made a good career out of it.

What do you mean? Why was it terrible?

I cut over here, then I look. Uneven. So I cut a little more. Back and forth, back and forth. I cut, I cut. Then Cookie have no hair! Terrible! I say, ‘Next time, groomer.’

I laughed picturing Robin on the ground with scissors, hacking away at Cookie’s fluff. I had done the same thing to ‘Pierre the Pandemic Poodle’ last year. He arrived with the quintessential poodle-do, but the cuffs left poofy around his ankles inevitably twisted into tightly-knit dreadlocks here and there, a lodged shred of leaf or a thistle of burr quickly spinning a cocoon around itself. Stupid cuffs!, I had thought at the time. Who ever thought this was a good idea?, I grumbled as I hacked away at them with scissors.

I wait for hair to grow. Then I take to groomer and he say, ‘What kind of haircut you want?’ I say I don’t know. He ask, ‘Do you want poodle cut?’ I say, Okay. Poodle cut. 

I didn’t know there was poodle cut!, Robin said to me, gasping.

Oh yesss. There definitely is!

She’s flipped through her phone again.

I pick him up—Robin shrieks at this point—Aaaa!, I say, Cookie look terrible! I say, No! No! No! What happen?!

She hands me her phone. There is Cookie looking back at me, perfectly coiffed with his poodle-do, a tiny red bow on his head.

He looks like a poodle! I said looking up at Robin from the swivel chair. That’s how a poodle should look!  

Robin’s eyes got big before her head started to swivel back and forth slowly.

No, no, no, she said. This is terrible! He look like 1960 rock star! 

I howled with laughter. Robin was shaping an imaginary peak above her head with her thumb and forefinger.

Like Frankie Valli!! she shrieked.

I doubled over, tears threatening to spill over. Once she said it, I couldn’t un-see it. Frankie Valli was a poodle.

It was the pompadour!

Robin was still shaking her head vehemently. 

No, no, no! I like teddy bear! No rock star!

I laughed. I remember having the same conversation with Pierre. I didn’t use the words ‘teddy bear’ or ‘Frankie Valli,’ but I said, If you were my poodle, Pierre, you wouldn’t have this silly haircut, where everything stuck to your cuffs like a fly glue stick!

Pierre stood patiently in the kitchen that day while I snipped away the tangles. He was used to all of this incessant grooming, being a poodle, even if he was now the recipient of a hack-job, wielded by a hand uneducated. When I finished, I walked to my closet and dug out the old green backpack, crumpled and stiff, from the back of the corner. Pierre folded into its belly without protest, just like Cracker used to in his day.

What more could any dog want, than to be carried by their owner, as they head out the door?

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