Monday, April 5, 2010

Deborah Batterman & Maggie

Who is in the photo at right?

That would be Maggie, in a moment of uncharacteristic poise, and yours truly, Deborah Batterman. Not that she isn’t accommodating. It just requires a certain quickness with the camera to get it right. Tempting treats help, too. This was an autumn day and I needed a photo for the upcoming publication of my short story collection, Shoes Hair Nails.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Springtime. All those smells rising from the earth after a particularly cold, snowy winter in the Northeast! Here’s a photo [below, left] of Maggie settled on her favorite lookout. Hard to believe that just weeks earlier she was eating snow.

What's brewing?

It’s a French Roast from Perk’s, a local coffee house. I live in Katonah, about an hour north of New York City, with my husband. Even with some yuppification, it’s a town that has managed to retain its charm. When I lived in the city, I had my ritualistic cappuccino most afternoons at La Fortuna, an old-style Italian coffee house on the Upper West Side, where I’d go just to sip and read or meet up with a friend. I can’t say I personally willed Perk’s into existence but I can say I was delighted when it opened within a year or two after we settled up here. They have their own line of imported coffees, all very good, though French Roast is my favorite. And when spring and summer roll around, Maggie gets to join me at an outside table, sniff around, watch all the dogs go by.

On a more metaphoric note, what’s ‘brewing’ is a work-in-progress (a novel, to be precise) that is thankful, indeed, for the smell, the taste, the caffeine of that delicious dark roast every morning.

How far along are you in the novel?

Very far along; not far along enough, though I do see the light at the end.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

Much as I love the kick, I don’t like coffee on an empty stomach. A whole grain waffle with a little jam does the trick.

Any treat for Maggie on this occasion?

Maggie’s morning ritual is to go out into our yard, and sometimes she needs a little more incentive to come back in, especially when spring rolls around. So I’ll save a wedge of my waffle for her. If she’s out around dinnertime, I’ll lure her with her favorite treats, which, oddly or not, begin with the letter C – cucumber, carrots, cheese, canine cookies. Some people might call it begging when she sits staring at me while I sip coffee or chop [below, left]. I call it putting on the charm.

How did she come to be united with you?

My daughter, grown now and living in L.A., had been pleading with us for a dog. All those friends getting puppies and kittens, why couldn’t she have one too? So my husband and I relented. Did I know that, for all the wishing and whining on the child’s part, it would be Mother, archetypically speaking, who would train and feed the dog? Of course. Did I care? Obviously not. The deal was this – we had to rescue one from a shelter. So we went to two different shelters. It was love at first sight once Sara spotted Maggie. My own choice was Freckles, a little more well behaved, even if her eyes were two different colors. We went home with Maggie, almost a year old at the time. That was twelve years ago. The rest is history.

How did she get her name? Does she have an aliases?

Is it possible for a dog to look like a ‘Maggie’? They were calling her Phoebe at the shelter, but it didn’t quite suit her spirited nature. So we started rattling off names, mostly two syllables, and ‘Maggie’ was the one that sounded just right. Subliminally I may have been thinking of a favorite Rod Stewart song of mine when her name rolled of my tongue. Who knows? It’s the name that stuck. I can’t say she has any aliases per se, but since visiting the Bahamas in December, I find myself calling her ‘my potcake.’ Potcakes are Bahamian mixed-breed dogs, and we saw some roaming and scrounging for food. ‘Potcake’ is so much more colorful than ‘mutt.’

Does Maggie have any influence on your writing?

I think pets have a way of insinuating themselves into a writer’s work, so I’m not surprised to discover when a character in a story of mine has a dog, or wants one, or is somehow brought into contact with one. At the same time, when I’m really caught up in working, she’ll remind me it’s time to take a break, go for a walk. And so often, it’s that time and space away from my desk when the insights come.

What’s the most amusing thing she does? The most frustrating?

Have you ever seen a dog bark at dogs on TV? She’ll actually get close to the screen and try to figure out where those dogs are. Horses and other animals demand the same attention. And yes, she has barked at Darth Vader. The most frustrating thing she does is stand outside when I call her in, looking at me, as if sizing me up and thinking, “What’s in it for me?” Let’s hear it for anthropomorphism.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

You would think that after years of chasing squirrels, only to have them disappear up a tree, she’d give up. Not a chance. And when the deer come grazing, she’ll stare them down, then bolt. One of our UPS drivers will not get out of the truck if she’s outside. She’s never bitten anyone, but he’s not taking any chances. Her bark is scary enough. And she does have guard dog qualities. It’s the Shepherd in her.

Tennis ball, stick, Frisbee...?

Conceptually Maggie likes ‘fetch.’ She’ll bring you a tennis ball, chase after it when you throw it, bring it back to you. Only instead of dropping it, she wants you to work for it (i.e., pull it from her mouth). This goes on for no more than half a dozen cycles, at which point the ball goes into her private cache under some bushes.

Does Maggie have a favorite buddy?

Maggie has the run of our property, but she loves her walks precisely because she meets up with any number of her buddies. She has a particular fondness for little dogs. Here she is with Daisy, a Maltese who belongs to the family of one of my daughter’s best friends.

If Maggie could change one thing about you, what would it be?

Just one? Well, sometimes I might seem a little impatient to move her along when we’re out walking (I mean how long can a dog sniff at one tree?). If I could just see the world, or smell it, the way she does, I might finally understand that a dog’s sense of time is vastly different from a human’s.

What is Maggie’s most endearing quality?

My daughter often says to me, especially when Maggie is being particularly cute, how could anyone ever have given her up and left her outside a shelter? So I guess her most endearing quality is the reminder of the ways in which gratitude expresses itself. But I’d like to leave you with an image that speaks more directly to that thing called ‘endearing.’ When we’re out walking, if she sees someone approaching with another dog, she gets down on her belly and waits. You might think it’s a stalking posture, but it’s more of an invitation to come on over and it usually gets her what she wants. It also brings a smile to anyone passing by.

Deborah Batterman is the author of Shoes Hair Nails, published by Uccelli Press. Her stories have appeared in anthologies as well as various print and online journals, including Many Mountains Moving, Sistersong, Dunes Review, The MacGuffin, The Alsop Review, three candles, Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies, Prose Toad, and The Potomac.

Visit Deborah Batterman's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue