When You Want What You Can’t Have

Week One with the new puppy is a life lesson, of course

Competition is not actually about scarcity. There are enough toys for everyone.

1. We have named him Buck. Truth be told, my 15-year-old son named him after a character in some violent video game he loves, but we will tell people he is named after the character Buck Mulligan, from James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is not at all true.

2. If the person you get a puppy from tells you the puppy is almost totally housebroken, let me assure you the puppy is not the least bit housebroken. Has no idea what housebreaking is, in fact. Not one single idea.

3. The puppy is extremely good-natured except for one habit: He wants what he can’t have. There is a life lesson in there somewhere. What he can’t have, generally, is whatever the older dog has, be it a bone, a toy, a piece of dirty Kleenex fished out of the trash can. Even though there are multiple bones within reach, and dozens of toys, and plenty of dirty Kleenex, the one and only attractive one, in Buck’s opinion, is the one in the older dog’s mouth. This is the hill Buck will die on. I will even present him with the other bone/toy/Kleenex and try to convince him that pleasure is not a subtractive quality, but he ignores it, fixating instead on the item already claimed by the older dog. As I sit there pleading with him to take the other bone/toy/Kleenex and asking the older dog to stop snarling at him (although I can hardly blame her), I think about the number of times in my life when the human version of the nasty, saliva-soaked, pre-claimed bone was the only thing I wanted, too, even when someone was waving a perfectly good available one under my nose.

Staff writer, The New Yorker. Author of The Library Book, The Orchid Thief, and more…Head of my very own Literati.com book club (join me!)

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