Friday, August 24, 2018

Robert Fieseler & Chompers

Who is in the photo at right?

Featured in this photo is myself, Robert Fieseler, and Chompers, my thirteen-year-old male Cairn Terrier. My husband Ryan calls us Chompers 1 and Chompers 2 – with me, of course, being Chompers 2. I’m a nonfiction book author who recently published a work of queer history entitled Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, and Chompers is my familiar, in the spiritual sense, and my writing companion.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

I write in a secret nook of the Boston Athenaeum, a private membership library hid near the State House, on a hilltop overlooking Boston Common. As the Athenaeum is an historic institution still frequented by elite Brahmin families, the library has several unique rules that are important only to weird people like writers and rich old ladies: 1. Coffee is always permitted in a closed container and 2. One well-behaved dog is permitted with each library member. Thus, Chompers comes with me virtually every day that I spend at the Athenaeum, which I utilize as my office and place of work. I wrote all of Tinderbox in this magical setting—mostly with Chompers dog-napping underneath the oak table that I think of as my desk.

What's brewing?

Generally, an espresso or Americano prepared at Café Marliave by an exceptional barista named Andrew, who can and should win awards for his coffee artistry. I am lucky in that Marliave is within walking distance of the Athenaeum and, like my library, is dog friendly. Chompers is always pleased to see Andrew, who gives him one or two treats.

How were you and Chompers united?

It’s a long story that involves a sad breakup, but I’ll condense the drama and just say that Chompers became my sole responsibility in 2006 at the end of an acrimonious yet unofficial gay divorce. My ex, a good person who spearheaded our getting a puppy from an online breeder somewhere in Arkansas, was unable to care for the animal when we separated.

Thus, I got Chompers in the divvying up of emotional belongings. I still feel bad when I look back on that time, but the reality of most gay breakups is that one person gets the dog or that packs of dogs get separated. Visitation, or co-ownership, doesn’t really work, as it’s best for everyone to take the breakup seriously and make a clean start.

So, at age 24, I became another one of those overgrown Peter Pans with an untrained dog counting on me for everything. Like the movie Three Men and a Baby but instead called One Man and a Poochie. Predictably, this small, stubborn little creature somehow trained me in adulthood—teaching me responsibility, forcing me to set a schedule for walks and feedings, compelling me to plan for his daily happiness and my future. He became my world.

I shudder to think who I’d be without him. My mother reminded me, much later, how my favorite childhood film was The Wizard of Oz and how I’d always begged her for a little dog like Toto, who it turns out was also a Cairn Terrier. I have vague, blurry memories of crying my five-year-old eyes out just wishing for that dog. Life is so weird, not just in that a spate of almost unbearable acrimony can sometimes be one’s destiny but also in that blessings can manifest out of the utmost difficulty.

How did your dog get his name? Any aliases?

My ex and I had the name Chompers picked out for about a year prior to us acquiring the real Chompers – the puppy who somehow magically and instantly embodied the title. I just loved the idea of a tiny dog being associated with a ferocious name. Come to think of it, I think it’s an homage to the teacup dog that Karen had in the show Will & Grace!

Of course, Chompers has acquired an evolving set of nicknames over the years: Lomps, Lumps, Lompeers, Peers, Lomping, Baby Lomping and Plumpers. These nicknames reached a crescendo around 2012 and finally resolved into Ping or Mr. Ping, which is what it’s been ever since. Don’t ask me why. He responds by any of these nicknames on call.

Does Chompers do more to help or hinder your writing?

It’s a privilege and a joy to write with him. He’s an indelible part of my creative process, in the sense that I plan my day to engage creatively at certain stages and in certain places, usually at the Athenaeum. As Chompers is now a thirteen-year-old senior, he usually finds a patch of sun and falls asleep at my feet. Much like a cat at a bookshop.

When I get listless or I get too stuck in my head after hours of donning the mental armor to do battle on the page, I look up at him…and he’ll look up at me in that instant. And I’ll read, by his body language, if it’s time for a snuggle session on the floor or time for our usual stroll in the park. There’s not a lot of pulling on the leash anymore, but I’ll walk him, and he’ll walk me simultaneously. We guide each other through Boston Common and explore the various smells and sights.

Cat, postman, squirrel...?

As Cairns were originally bred to be mousers, the common squirrel is Chompers’ menace—his instinctual and natural nemesis. I wish I had a relationship so clear and pure. Even at thirteen, with arthritis, he chases them at top speed. The rustle of a squirrel tail across grass is enough to make him sprint. Thankfully, he doesn’t catch them anymore and bring them back to me deceased.

Ball, squeaky-toy, stick...?

Ball, of course. Ball, always. Except when he’s napping, when he’s not to be disturbed, there is not a time of day that couldn’t be improved by one or three tennis balls bouncing in a hallway or open space.

Where is Chompers's favorite outdoor destination?

We live near a sprawling green meadow in an arboretum with many flowers, and Chompers loves to run about this place, unleashed, around dusk. Considering that scent is his most powerful sense, I think he finds aroma of the wildflowers to be invigorating. It’s hard to face this reality, but I think that when Chompers eventually does leave my side, if there is a reward to be had in an afterlife or even an afterlife at all, he will return there or a place like there in his imagination.

Who is Chompers's best pet-pal?

Chompers, like his daddy, tends to be choosy when it comes to deeper friendships. He only has a few. But I will share that Chompers nurtures a special love-hate bond with Jade, my parents’ miniature dachshund (his dog-cousin), that verges on profound. He and Jade were both puppies at the same time, so they are birds of a feather generationally—pooches of an era. They’ve seen equivalent sights and both grown slightly crabby, yet wise, and I think they’ve earned each other’s mutual respect.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life in which Chompers could speak, who should voice him?

This will sound so egotistical, but Chompers and I are so connected that it would be strange for me to hear anything but my own voice. The only other voice I could accept would be the voice of his stepdad and pack-mate (a.k.a. my husband Ryan).

What is Chompers's best quality?

His devotion to his family. He’s incredibly loving and diligent in seeking moments when it gets to be just you and him in the universe. It’s therapeutic, the way he forces you to disconnect from tasks that seem so important in the moment but, in the great scope of things, are complete bullshit.

If Chompers could answer only one question in English, what would you ask him?

In the next life, if there is a next one, can we change places? Can I be your dog this time?

Visit Robert W. Fieseler's website.

The Page 99 Test: Tinderbox.

--Marshal Zeringue

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on the recent publication. Your writing companion is quite 'fur-bulous.'