improveverywhere

All I knew was the Brooklyn subway stop where I needed to be at 2pm today. The sky was overcast, and it was raining just enough to need an umbrella as I made my way to the F train. I was ready for anything, I hoped. Almost anything, maybe. Was I? High-fiving strangers and staging an art installation in a subway station I would absolutely be up for, but could I really take off an article of clothing or two to pose as a model in an Abercrombie store or forego pants on the subway, in a winter snowstorm?

Let’s be honest: pretty much everything seems like a good idea to me at the time, as is blatantly obvious in this blog, so yeah, I was probably ready for anything.

To my surprise and delight, shortly after 2pm, a huge —huge— crowd of us were ushered into a fashionably decorated warehouse and given its brief history; originally a belt factory, built in the 1800s, the building was being converted into a gallery space. And, interestingly enough, that building was where the Invisible Dog toy was invented and manufactured for years. As many as 2,000 Invisible Dogs would be distributed to us to walk around Park Slope and Red Hook as we pleased for two hours. The trick was, of course, to stay in character, never to let on to people that we knew our dogs were imaginary.

I found inspiration for Norman the Norwich in, um, Norman, my parents’ Norwich terrier, and I had the best time with a writer friend walking him, and his spaniel Spike, around town. My Norman marked almost every fire hydrant and parking meter on Court Street, and if I’d had plastic baggies, I would have cleaned up after him, too. I was even surprised to find myself doing those annoying puppy-talk voices. Some things just didn’t work; narrating that your dog is checking out someone else’s dog’s tush and apologizing for it is pretty awkward.

I was tickled to read accounts of how some other participants acted. One reported the police threatened to ticket her for not cleaning up after her Pomeranian, but let her off with a warning.

Participants collectively found that strangers were excited, frustrated, curious, appalled, and everything in between, and our favorite run-ins were with people who were eager to play along.

The toughest in a group of three kitchen workers taking a smoke break looked leery as I approached, then all of a sudden acted as though Norman had jumped up to say hello to him, and he picked him up! I could barely keep up with the leash and assured him Norman was very friendly and loved the attention he was getting. Similarly, a gruff cafe owner stood with his arms folded at his door and told passerbys, “No dogs allowed!” –then broke into a toothy grin every time.

Children were fantastic, and so were their parents. One mom approached me with her 4 or 5 year-old son and told him it was okay to pet my dog, he wouldn’t bite. “See? He’s friendly!” she said, taking the words right out of my mouth. A mom pulled up to a stop light in her minivan with kids in the back and rolled her window down to ask where we got our dogs. My friend answered of Spike, “I rescued him from a shelter!” Hilarious.

I was actually kind of disappointed to return Norman to nonexistence at the end of the afternoon. Friends have heard me say repeatedly that as soon as my lifestyle allows for it, and reality TV production does not allow for it, I’m rescuing a dog. My lifestyle did allow for a couple of hours with an invisible dog, though, and today, it was just the trick.

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