Friday, March 26, 2010

Cathleen Schine & Hector

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Cathleen Schine, a writer (my last book, The New Yorkers, was all about dogs, by the way; my new book, just out, is called The Three Weissmanns of Westport) and although you can’t see me in the picture, I’m sitting right next to that handsome dog, Hector, our cairn terrier. He’s seven.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

We are sitting at the Boat Basin Café in Riverside Park, which is closed because it’s winter. Our apartment is nearby and we’re selling it, so we were having an open house, which means it’s open to everyone but me, my girlfriend, Janet, my son Tommy, and Hector. Tommy went and got us coffee and we sat gazing at the river for an hour and a half.

What's brewing?

I don’t like those burnt coffees that have become popular in the Starbucks era, so I’m drinking a regular coffee shop coffee. With half and half. I love half and half. I tried to switch to skim mild or even whole milk but it ruined the whole experience.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Not that day. On one rainy day when we had to disappear for the open house we sat in the rotunda and had soup from Hot and Hearty on Broadway.

Any treat for Hector on this occasion?

No. He doesn’t get treats when we’re at a table, just all the rest of the time.

How did you and Hector meet?

We drove down to Maryland to get him when he was 10 weeks old. It was when the sniper was still shooting people. We stopped for gas and a pee in Pennsylvania, then drove without stopping until we got to the breeder. The snipers were arrested a couple days later exactly where we went.

How have your dogs influenced your writing?

I have written a piece that ran in The New Yorker about our previous dog, a wonderful but truly damaged and crazy rescue mutt. We loved him and kept him for a year and half, trying everything but the pet psychic, but he just got more and more violent, to himself and to us and everyone else. We had to put him down. It was horrible. I keep resurrecting him in my books and curing him and giving him a happy life. The New Yorkers was dedicated to him. That book was all about dogs and their owners and how dogs in New York create a neighborhood, a community, and bring people together. Like cupids.

How did Hector get his name?

I would like to say that it was because of the Iliad or even the phrase “since Hector was a pup,” but in fact my father had a friend, a Canadian lumberjack who used to say “Hi there, Hector,” to every child and every dog he met. Our previous dog was named Buster, and somehow Hector seemed to fit—enough continuity, not too much—and he just looks like a Hector, doesn’t he? I think it was quite a popular dog name in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Who is Hector's best pet-pal?

He is indifferent to most dogs, but he does have one friend, a coton de tuilieres named Lola, who belongs to Janet’s sister. And he loves the cat upstairs in our apartment building.

What's Hector's best quality?

He is the most adaptable, easy-going, happy-go-lucky fellow. And he sleeps late! Like me.

What's Hector's proudest moment so far? His most embarrassing?

When he got stuck under the house in Venice, California, where we spend part of the year, and confronted an entire family of hissing red-eyed long-toothed possums and had to be hauled out through the tiny heat vent by a passing construction worker with long, long tattooed arms—I’d say that was both the proudest and the most embarrassing.

Cathleen Schine is the author of The New Yorkers and The Love Letter, among other novels. She has contributed to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The New York Times Book Review.

Her new novel is
The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

Schine's "Dog Trouble" in The New Yorker.

Cathleen Schine's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue