Annals of Optimism

Why we should give a hang about the Obamas' puppy


It was a moment made for television. Just minutes before,Barack Obama had been officially named president-elect of theUnited States. Countless millions watched as he assured us that,yes, we can do this and that. And then he caught us all bysurprise. He turned to his daughters and said that they would begetting a new puppy to take to the White House.

A puppy. Sitting in a Sonoma County home that was deflating invalue like a leaking bicycle tire, I thought, “A puppy?”Numb from the horrors of an endless war, not to mention the image Ican’t shake of all our schoolchildren nationwide holding hands andslowly circling the drain, and he’s talking about a puppy?

Lately, I haven’t had to go much farther than my own block tofind problems. At the corner market, I ran into a young man in histwenties who tried to sell me his food stamps so that he could makethe rent. At that same market, I gave a dollar to a homeless womanand found that she was Hispanic like me, over 70 years old,couldn’t speak a word of English and was carrying what was left ofher life hanging in bags from a creaky old bicycle that she pushedalong the side of the road.

But I was surprisingly comforted at Barack’s casual comment, andI can thank an old Texan professor for providing me the neededperspective.

While attending college in Texas, I took a film-appreciationclass. One day, the professor asked us to name our all-timefavorite movies, and the titles came spilling out. When HarryMet Sally sat next to Cool Hand Luke.Casablancaand Pretty Woman suspiciously eyed Road Warrior andA Fistful of Dollars. The majority of the gals enjoyed warmand cuddly films, and the majority of the guys enjoyed the smell ofspent gunpowder on celluloid. The professor asked us to considerwhy this was, and gave us a week to think about it. I finallystumbled on an answer, but it’s taken me 55 years, some marriagesand a couple of kids to spell it out. I probably still have itwrong, but here goes.

I unapologetically pay homage to Sergio Leone films. I taught mywife to shoot a rifle, and I’ll teach my girls when they’re older.For the time being, I play fairy king and storm the castle that thegirls build in the living room. I dutifully marvel when they enterwearing tiaras and gowns, and I’m still slipping shining dimesunder their pillows and sneaking away with their tiny lost teeth.And while they sleep, I watch mixed martial arts.

If a woman is lucky, she gets to freely choose whether or not tobring a child into her personal circumstances and into this world.After all, who wants to bring a helpless child into a hopelessworld? A quick look at history shows that when a new day is dawningin various parts of the world, bringing hope and a brighter future,the birth rate rises like yeast on a sunny day.

Maybe cuddly films are a reflection of our wanting the best forour children. My guess is that even Santa Claus wants to believe insomething. In a Harry Met Sally world, free-range love withno artificial dyes or colors really does carry the day. HumphreyBogart sends the woman he loves into the arms of the man that sheloves. We revere the nobility of King Arthur, and perpetuate thegiving spirit of Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. We find hope andstrength in the words of Mohammad and the Torah and the Bible. Andwe want to believe, truly believe, that a man with the weight ofthe globe’s darkening problems on his slender shoulders issincerely talking to his daughters about getting a puppy.


That was a Harry Met Sally moment. I know this because mywife turned to me and said, “I’ll bet women are feeling betterabout having babies after tonight.” I stared at her. I only wish Icould cut and paste that moment to share with my oldfilm-appreciation professor. Who would’ve believed that that a fewwords about getting a fragrance-free or hairless hound was enoughto spread a little hope? So I guess we should give a hang about thepuppy. Our world can use a good dose of hope.

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