After an hour and seven minutes of contemplation on the North Pier the previous Saturday I approached the week a lot like a barnacle on a boat: low and lonesome. Most people tend to go to the North Pier for seafood and luxury cruises but it seemed I was there for sorrow and emotional bruises. Over the proceeding days I continued to experience the (what I presume to be) anxiety attacks I began having recently. The symptoms were becoming more powerful and were lasting a lot longer – often hours at a time – like an especially unpleasant Duracell battery. My mind was crackling in the way a bag of microwave popcorn does when it is approaching being ready, my hands and arms were tingling and at one stage it was becoming so difficult to breathe that I began to hyperventilate for probably the first time in my life, at least that I can remember. It was then that I realised that memories are like the sort of hangover which doesn’t go away with a beer.
The continuation of the football World Cup presented further opportunities for visiting the bar on unusual days of the week and a chance to escape real-life responsibilities for a while. It is on these midweek meanderings that I have become more acutely aware of an observation I have long held, and that is the way in which a group of girls will swoon over a dog when it is walked into a bar. There are audible gasps of giddy excitement when a dog appears and it is possible to set the stopwatch app on a smartphone to measure the time it takes before the girls are enthusiastically petting the soft coat of the dog and talking softly and lovingly in a language the animal will never understand, and you can be sure it will be less than three minutes. I have learned that it is impossible for a man with a pink pocket square to compete with a pooch.
As Argentina and Nigeria competed for a place in the knockout rounds of the World Cup I was competing with a couple of labrador retrievers for the attention of a table of Australian visitors. It was an unfair match: Argentina had Lionel Messi and the labrador retrievers had a fluffy golden coat which bested my greying stubble, particularly when Tuesday is a day where I don’t trim.
I watched as the girls flocked around these two labrador dogs and noticed how the male and female owners welcomed the attention. In that moment I considered how much more favourably I might be viewed by the opposite sex if I was to stroll into Aulay’s with a canine companion by my side. I imagined scenarios where I would walk up to the bar and order a pint of lager and some implausibly beautiful woman on a barstool would ask me if I minded her patting my dog, and I would make some stupid remark like: “you’d have to ask him that” and suddenly it would be quite funny because I had a dog and she could play with it.
It quickly occurred to me that procuring a puppy might be my best chance of finding a woman. Man’s best friend could be my best wing man. Nobody judges the sockwear of a dogs master when they are scratching it behind its ear, and the awkwardness of trying to initiate a conversation with a girl would surely be taken away by a wagging tail and a cold, wet nose. With a dog sitting at my heel the only aspect of the flirtation process I would need to concern myself with would be the follow up chat. While it is true that if attracting girls to talk to me in the first place is the most difficult thing then engaging a girl in a follow up chat is the second most difficult part of courting, but the dog would instantly give me the perfect proposition. I imagined a softly spoken compliment on the cute appearance of my dog – and it would be merited due to the way his collar matched the colour of my tie. I would thank the female stranger and proceed to tell her how he enjoys long romantic walks on the beach under moonlight, but how recently I have begun to notice a sadness in his eyes as he observes how I am never accompanied by another human on our walks. I couldn’t imagine any woman resisting.
Despite the obvious potential advantages of having a dog around, the more I contemplated the idea the more flawed it became. How would I suppose I could look after a dog when I can’t keep a simple houseplant alive for more than a few weeks? And if my portion control of pasta is so terrible how would I provide an adequately nourishing meal for a pup? I resigned myself to the acceptance that owning a dog wouldn’t be a very good idea for me, even if it would help end my romantic woes, and instead spent a day considering operating some kind of dog sitting service. I could offer to look after local canines between the hours of 8pm and midnight on a Friday, during which time I would take them to Aulay’s and perhaps some other dog-friendly bars for some social interaction. It didn’t seem like an awful idea, although I couldn’t conjure a solution for the problem of what I would do with the dog in the wildly optimistic scenario where I successfully talk to a girl and convince her that she would enjoy coming back to my place. I couldn’t take the mutt to mine and as such I could already sense the disappointment of my imagined lover when she awakes in the morning to find that I don’t actually own a dog. It would only heighten the disappointment any woman who has ever been intimate with me naturally feels.
I put a pin in the idea of running a dog sitting service as a means of attracting romantic interest and instead returned to the mundane daily tasks I use as a substitute for female company. I faithfully polished the wooden interior of my living room with a regularity which almost became ritual like now that the windows can be opened and the dust is coughed in from the road. I swept my floor often, because if I’m not sweeping ladies off their feet I like to sweep unidentifiable pieces of fluff off oak surfaces.
On Thursday I experimented with rocket in a spaghetti recipe and I allowed myself to daydream the possibility that Elton John wrote his hit single ‘Rocket Man’ as a stinging rebuke in response to a family argument over salad leaves. The dispute would have become quite heated as various members of the Dwight household fiercely debated the merits of watercress, spinach and cos, which were the only leaves they ever bought. The young Elton probably stormed out, furious that his love of the peppery rocket was never acknowledged by his peers and he penned the lyrics which would form a beloved song.
“I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no, no, no, I’m a rocket man.”
In a heady haze of Jack Daniels and sunshine, and possibly emboldened by a Friday evening spent listening to the Tears for Fears album ‘Songs from the Big Chair’ before I ventured to the bars, it suddenly seemed a good idea to communicate by text message my long held interest in a girl. However, in the 24°C light of sobriety I was once again left questioning my judgment when drunk and I wanted to set fire to my phone and bury the smouldering remains at sea. I opened a beer as I sought to cure the hang over and again my thoughts turned to how much more simple all of this might be if I could walk into a bar with a dog.