A year later, after a rainy backyard memorial service for Winnie featuring a mail order statue of St. Francis that arrived beheaded, I was ready to welcome a bundle of love back into my life. I trolled the Internet, found a Bichon breeder in upstate New York and forged Juan Pablo’s name on an adoption application.
I appreciated the breeder’s sense of responsibility. From voluminous emails, I could tell this breeder’s dog rearing philosophy was in sync with my own. Winnie had come from a pet store puppy mill, and god bless her, had life-long emotional scars to prove it. For our first child together, I thought Juan Pablo and I would do well with a more even-tempered dog. When we were approved with flying colors, I sprung the good news on Juan Pablo over dinner at our neighborhood bistro Le Tableau.
“So sweetie, I’ve been thinking that we’re ready to have a family. To get another dog,” I said.
“We? I’m not really a dog person,” he replied.
“But you loved Winnie.”
“I love you. And you came with Winnie. I had no choice.”
“Okay. But as we build a life together, I think it’s good for us to have a little one to raise. To share the joy of being Dads.”
He pretty much knew there would be no way around this.
“I will do this for you. Because you want it. What’s the process?”
“Well, that’s the good news. We’ve already been approved. Can you believe it? We pick her up in a few weeks. Let’s go home and I can show you pictures of her!”
Back at our apartment, I tried deflecting his questions about how long I had been plotting this by showing him online pictures of our newborn. The breeder did a masterful job of posing the puppies in front of objects to give a relative sense of their size. Ours was the runt of the litter, and Juan Pablo was astounded at her tiny body.
“She’s smaller than that computer diskette! She’s adorable!” Juan Pablo said.
My plan worked; he was hooked. One look is all it took to transform Juan Pablo into a doting dog father.
“Why do they call her yellow?” he asked.
“They call them colors instead of giving them a name. That’s for us. What about naming her Charlotte, and calling her Charlie. Cute, right?”
“How about So-Shuh-Tuhl. Spelled X-O-C-H-T-I-L. It’s the Mayan word for flower. Say it with me, Xochtil.”
“You’re kidding, right? I’m not naming her that. I can’t even say it. I like Charlotte.”
“What about Carlota? That’s Charlotte in Spanish. Put Frida in front. Frida Carlota. Sounds like Frida Kahlo. And we could add Amarilla. That’s yellow in Spanish.”
“What’s going on here? I thought you weren’t a dog person.”
“We’ll call her Frida Carlota Xochtil Amarilla Buchmeyer Chavez!”
“What kind of fucked up name is that?”
“A true Mexican name! After all, she’s going to be my daughter.”
He puffed his chest out—all he needed was a cigar to complete the proud papa affect. Juan Pablo had won our first parenting argument. My plan had worked even better than expected.
Two weeks later, we packed into our powder blue Volkswagen convertible and motored upstate near Binghamton to collect our ward. I imagined rolling hills and a pastoral plantation of puppies frolicking in the grass. We were adopting a free-range Bichon Frise!
My bubble was burst when we pulled up in front of a ramshackle building with semi-detached doublewide. It couldn’t possibly be the birthplace of our little girl. We must have made a wrong turn. But a crazy looking woman on the porch was waving at us—she had a tangled mess of curly hair and an apron embroidered with Bichons.
“Remember, we’re in this together,” Juan Pablo said.
Inside, we were surrounded by a whirlwind of puppy madness—canine mother, father, sons and daughter all racing about the dirty house like a tornado. Frida’s birth breeder Debbie—think warm eyes of Sissy Spacek with the teased hair of Loretta Lynn—pointed at our little girl with a yellow bandana.
“Yellow put the ‘run’ in ‘runt.’ That’s for sure. Gives her brothers a run for their money when the food comes out!” she yelled.
Frida wagged her microscopic tail at us and dribbled pee on what looked like was once white shag carpeting. Debbie’s crumbling bookcases were filled with every type of Bichon tzotchke imaginable—including such rare finds as Graduation Bichons in cap and gowns and Shaker Bichons featuring salt and pepper sprinkled out of the eye. Juan Pablo had an expression of sheer terror on his face. Unlike me, he hadn’t been exposed much to the ways of Middle America living. This whole scene could have been played out in my Mom’s trailer park in East Texas.
Debbie reached down and picked up the little pup and handed her over to Juan Pablo. The runt laid flat on the palm of his hand and stared into his eyes. He smiled at her and I could tell they were in love.
We quickly paid our adoption fees, said our goodbyes, and Juan Pablo raced to the car with Frida in the palm of his hand. He propped her up on a special down pillow he had chosen and whispered in her ear.
“Don’t worry, Frida Carlota. Your papas are here now. There’s a Prada collar waiting for you at home!”
On the three-hour ride back to the city, I tried to prepare my co-parent for the many sleepless nights ahead.
“She’s going to whine and cry, missing her family. I’m sure she’ll hate her crate. Winnie did. But for proper potty training, we have to stick with it. I’m telling you, we’re not getting any sleep for days. Just prepare yourself.”
“You’re awfully grim. I’m sure our Frida Carlota will be a dream,” he said.
“Puppies are devious. She’s snake charmed you already,” I replied.
Once home, proud papa Juan Pablo carried his adopted charge across the threshold of the Alphabet City set and gently placed her on the floor. She looked around, sniffed, wagged her tail, and looked back at us panting with a huge grin. Before we left, we unpacked the box of Winnie’s old items, thinking Frida might enjoy having a few things from her predecessor. She tottered over to examine some dog toys on the floor, and sunk her sharp puppy teeth into one of Winnie’s favorites—an ugly orange rubber character with spikes of fake fur that we affectionately called Diarrhea Man.
Frida dragged the hideous toy inside the crate without any sign of hesitation. Then she promptly fell to sleep. I was the one who couldn’t rest all night, standing in the bedroom doorway, watching her tiny puppy breaths, marveling at her behavior.
“I just hope she doesn’t miss her birth family too much,” I said.
“Give me a break, with two Dads like us, that dog is never looking back.”
Six months later, Frida got an even sweeter taste of the good life when Susan and I had to produce a red carpet event in Los Angeles for Condé Nast Traveler. All the main Alphabet City co-stars were out-of-town and I was stuck without a puppy-sitter.
“Let’s just take her with us,” Susan suggested.
“If anyone found out, I’d be fired.”
“From Condé? Please. People here overnight their laptop to their hotel because it won’t fit in their Louis Vuitton.”
“At least they use the computer for work. I’m not sure you can say the same thing about a puppy.”
“Then I’ll make Frida stuff gift bags. Get over it. Celebrities travel with their dogs all the time. So can you. We’re staying at the L’Ermitage, which is totally dog friendly. She’ll have the time of her life.”
Having run out of options, I phoned American Airlines and secured Frida a spot in the cabin with me. True to form, she slept through the flight like she’d been traveling trans-continental her entire life. Later, she settled into life at our Beverly Hills luxury hotel like a lord born to the manner. Ricky the Bellboy took her for walks at least four times a day. Blanca the Chamber Maid refused to service the room unless Frida was present. Samantha the Concierge indulged Frida’s love of organic dog biscuits every time she pranced through the lobby. Celebrity publicist friends dropped off their pups for play dates at my suite.
Because she enjoyed herself so much on that first trip to Los Angeles, I let Frida tag along on all future trips to the West Coast. Every time I got out her traveling bag, she wagged her tail excitedly, climbed inside and fell right to sleep. One six-hour nap later, and she was prancing down Rodeo Drive.
One summer morning, Juan Pablo and I packed for a family getaway—just two dads in sandals and shorts with their precious daughter. When I got out Frida’s carry bag, she wagged her tail and moved to get inside but stopped herself when she noticed Juan Pablo nearby. She was a creature of habit, and her Papa Juan Pablo was not part of the California routine.
She looked at us suspiciously. I nudged her inside and she reluctantly lay down, keeping close watch on the proceedings through her mesh window. A few hours later, I zipped open the bag to let her out. She had fallen asleep and was not interested in moving. She yawned and looked at me like I was crazy—we hadn’t been traveling long enough for her usual in-flight nap. Juan Pablo tried coaxing her out.
“Come on Frida Carlota, you’re going to love it here. Lots of dogs to play with. Other families with two Dads, just like us,” he said.
We had come not to Frida’s preferred Orange County but to Fire Island—a gay boy’s beach oasis just a few hours by train from New York. Frida stepped tentatively out onto the boardwalk next to the ferry, looked around dazed and confused, sniffed the air and eyed me with a sneer. This certainly wasn’t Beverly Hills. She turned around, stepped back inside her traveling crate, and lay down.
“Wow. We’re raising a snob,” Juan Pablo said.
“We? I thought you weren’t a dog person?”
“When did I say that? I love our family!”
He kissed me on the cheek. A little bark came from the crate. Frida had reconsidered. She was ready for a walk around the island with her proud papas after all.
Next Alphabet City:
Jon Paul’s South Africa photo shoot turns dangerous. “Any sudden moves and it could be over in a manner of minutes.”