Yesterday we left off as Ken was telling us about his interactions with the Costa Rican dogs who opened his eyes to the world of dogs.
Joy: Tell me about one of these times when you’re with the stray or feral dogs in Costa Rica.
Ken: This was sometime later when I was still in Costa Rica. I went down to eat in a restaurant in the village near this farm I was staying at. It was sort of an open air restaurant and they would let these stray dogs come in and sit next to you at your table.
There was a huge long-haired sort of shepherdy dog who came over to my table and I was sort of petting him and talking to him. The next thing I knew he had climbed completely into my lap and curled up. I was like this dog is just so great! I kind of wanted to take them all home and yet my airline wouldnt let me take any dog home for some reason. Even if I had the paperwork they werent going to take an animal. So I had to leave Duque. I had to leave him behind. And actually when word got around that I was going to be taking him, several people including the gardener were furious with me.
Joy: Lets go back to the point where the dog has climbed up in your lap and youre telling me this is a wonderful dog.
Ken: Yeah and there were several others who werent in my lap, because there wasnt room for them, but they were all gathered around the table being cute, cute stray dogs.
Joy: Whats going through your mind surrounded by all these stray dogs and this wonderful dog is sitting in your lap?
Ken: I think I was just thinking at that point, I had been there for three months and the intensity of living in Costa Rica where everything was so gorgeous and yet you couldnt go a day without seeing something really horrible and depressing as well. Poverty, homeless animals. So I would burst into tears at some point every day, either because something was incredibly beautiful or because something wasnt. That whole period of time just made me intensely aware of the beauty of life. So it wasnt just the dogs and it wasnt just the mountains. Everything was part of the whole.
As Im talking about this Im realizing a term that I didnt know at the time. The idea of the sublime. It was part of the gothic and a certain period of American art where its like the person standing completely dwarfed by an enormous waterfall or enormous mountains. That was my daily existence for three months, where everything was bigger than me. Including this dog in my lap. He wasnt literally bigger than me but somehow the very existence of this dog in my lap made me feel like Im a smaller part of the world than he was.
I think it all goes back to whether we exist in our heads or whether we exist in our environment.
For so long I lived in New York and I worked in publishing and I was a writer and I had a Masters degree from Columbia and all these things we are taught to think are important and interesting but really arent. I think to be taken out of that; cause at the time when I went to Costa Rica I thought, Man, Im going to miss so many great parties and Im going to miss so much good gossip about whos signing a book deal with whom and for how much and when I got to Costa Rica I never thought of it again. It made me just realize if my entire life is living in a small village with animals, I dont think Ill have any regrets.
Joy: How does that make it better for you?
Ken: Cause I think Im happier and I think Im actually spending money on things that give something back to me. Whereas in New York, I was constantly striving to prove something to sort of an invisible board of people who I dont think really existed. Do you know what I mean? Its sort of like youre waiting for approval but you dont even know who youre expecting to get it from. Whereas with my dogs now, and again this is something I realized when I went back to New York and then got a dog and started taking the dog out for walks and to the dog park, my world even in New York expanded to include a much broader sense of the city that Id lived in at that point for six years, or maybe eight. Where I suddenly didnt know just writers, I knew doctors and lawyers and craftsmen, jewelers and students; people that I never had any way of being introduced to except that our dogs introduced us.
I would take my dogs for walks and the city of New York became the outdoors for me, which it never had been before, I would walk three to five miles a day with my dog. A lot of our walks were the same walk we would do everyday but then we would also–because he had separation anxiety so I tried to spend a lot of time with him but I would also try to exhaust him everyday. So we would take these sort of field trips, as I referred to them in my head. Where can we go that weve never gone to before today? Lets see if we can walk to midtown. Lets see if we can walk to Times Square and see what he thinks of that.
Joy: What does Brando think of the trips and what does he notice that you dont?
Ken: He knew there were flowers and a candle here that werent here before. I want to sit here and figure this out.” He slowed me down. He stopped me. He made me notice these things because I wanted to notice what he was noticing and going around New York it was similar. I would see it through his eyes and I would notice the squirrels for example, which Im sure when I was walking by myself down the street before I had a dog, I would never notice that there are a gazillion birds and squirrels in the city. With my dog, every squirrel we had to stop and stare. Every flower we had to, he would actually walk by flowers planted in the park and would want to stick his nose into each individual flower. These are the things that I would shut out because I dont have time for flowers. I dont have time for birds and trees. But of course, I should have time for those things. And so thats how he taught me.
And there was a pet store. Im suddenly remembering all the things I had to take him to because he expected it at a certain point. There was a pet store on 14th Street that we would go to and he would go immediately to the back where there were rabbits in cages on the floor and he would lay next to them and press his nose up to them. And the rabbits would press their nose back against his nose and he would just lay there, completely fascinated by these rabbits. (Brando) was an amazing dog to spend time with.
Another time too he had this blue ball he was fascinated by and we would walk down along the East River and there was a little dog park there that he would play in. And then we would take the ball back. One day he kept wanting to carry the ball so I let him but he dropped it and it rolled into the river and, of course, disappeared. But he sat there waiting for the ball to come back. Finally I managed to get him to move and we walked back and went to the 14th Street pet store where miraculously there was a ball just like that on the shelf. I kept thinking that I hope he doesnt think that if you drop the ball in the river it will appear here everyday, because I cant afford that.
That’s it for Day 5 of the Ken Foster interview but join us tomorrow for more!