Scarlett’s Letter February 2, 2014

I wish we had tails.

I wish we had tails. Not tales, we all have those, but tails, you know, like other creatures do. How did we get left out of the tail thing? Were we too busy and self-absorbed the day God handed out tails to all the creatures he created? I don’t know, but I think we’re missing out. Did we once have tails and they evolved away for some reason?

I went for a walk with my friend the other day. Funny thing. We’ve known each other since kindergarten. We grew up together and have been friends ever since. We’ve gone our separate ways, moving to different cities, pursuing different interests, our careers, we’ve married, I’ve raised my family, she is raising hers. Through it all, we’ve been friends, sometimes seeing each other only once a year, sometimes almost daily. It just depends on life and where we each are at the moment. We grew up in the same neighborhood, just around the corner from each other. Through the bizarre twists and turns that life has brought us, we now both live in the houses we grew up in, just around the corner from each other.

When we were little kids, after school, we’d call each other up and ask to play. Funny thing. We still have the same phone numbers, indelibly etched in our brains. If I were to develop some horrible case of dementia or Alzheimer’s, I am certain, without any doubt, I’d remember her phone number. 555-9135. I wouldn’t know my name, what day it was or recognize the faces of my most cherished loved ones, but I would know her phone number. 555-9135. No one knows anyone’s phone numbers anymore, you just program them in and press a button, that is, if you were to ever even call someone.

If we were available to play, as in there was not a Girl Scout meeting, ballet, swim team, honor band, horseback riding or some other routine, after-school commitment, I’d walk or ride my Schwinn bike to her house or she’d walk or ride her Schwinn bike to mine. My dad sold Schwinn bikes. Every kid within a five-mile radius had a Schwinn bike, even though his bike shop was in a whole different town. Hers was green, you know, that seventies green. I had a different color bike every month because I was part of the bicycle dynasty.

When we were older, in junior high and high school, we’d “go for a walk” after dinner. It was just an excuse to get out of the house. I remember this being the opportunity to try to smoke cigarettes, which I never successfully developed into a habit. Thankfully. We’d gossip, complain about our parents, and we usually had some pet in tow, the premise for escaping the confines of home temporarily. We’d each walk towards each other’s house and meet in the middle, then proceed “around the block”, which really could be any number of blocks in the general vicinity of our neighborhood. There was no real set path, just a set meeting place; somewhere between her house and mine, depending on who escaped more quickly.

This is what we do now, forty-five years after making our first acquaintance. I don’t have a pet to take for a walk, presently, but she does, which is most handy, not that we need an excuse to get out of the house, really, but it does provide justification for momentarily abandoning that which must get done in a day’s time.

I was preparing for a ten-mile run, I had my running tights on, my Asics laced up, my hair in a ponytail. I was set to go, and that was really the only thing on my agenda for the day, a ten-mile run. I got a text message just as I was gathering my keys and my phone, “Feel like a walk around the block with Lucy and I?” Lucy is the pet in need of walking. So we agreed to meet in the middle, somewhere between her house and mine, depending on who escaped more quickly.

As I walked down the street and she walked up, and she came into view, I could see Lucy’s tail rhythmically swishing back and forth behind her in time with her cadence. When we were about six or seven houses apart, Lucy was let off leash and I called to her. Lucy ran towards me, flattened out, claws making a “scritching” noise against the sidewalk as she ran, full tilt. I bent over and greeted her enthusiastically as she met me, petting her and complimenting her on her recent visit to the doggie spa! I actually made quite a spectacle as a neighbor looked on and smiled. Lucy’s tail wagged furiously, you know, fur-iously! She was obviously happy to see me, and I was happy to see her, though I have no tail to wag. When my friend caught up, I commented, “I wish we had tails. Just think how cool it would be if we could tell what people were thinking and feeling by their tails.” My friend tilted her head and nodded in agreement in her special way, which she has done for as long as I’ve known her, “You’re right!”

Tail wagging furiously.
Tail wagging furiously.

You can tell how an animal is feeling, even predict likely behavior, by the manner of their tail. A dog wagging its tail is happy and is welcoming a greeting. A cat swishing its tail is best not approached. A horse, wringing its tail, too, is nervous, unhappy, irritated and best not approached or in need of a very expensive visit from the vet. Which is why I don’t currently own any horses, the prospect of very expensive vet bills finally overshadowed the joy of keeping beasts of burden as my own.

Humans are way more subtle in absence of a tail. We have no large appendage from our body, acting like a flag, to welcome or warn on comers with. We really have to be perceptive to figure out whether someone is welcoming and approachable or is best left alone. The best indicator we have is the expression on their face. So, what does your face generally say?

Approachable
Approachable

I hate to admit it, but my daughter and I both have what has been called “resting bitchface”.  Our ordinary expression when unmoved by happiness or sorrow, anger or joy, is one of sort of disaffection, disinterest, boredom and aloofness. If I had to describe it. And at the slightest irritation, annoyance or question, we have this “oh, please, are you serious?” kind of gaze. People always remark at how much we look alike, which I totally do not get, she has a round face, mine is oval. Her eyes are wider set than mine, she has a different nose, a totally different brow, chin and cheekbones. Her lips are different, heck, her teeth and ears are even different from mine. Yet, we do look astonishingly alike. It can only come down to our resting expression, our expressionless expression. We are both quite stoic, and I think that is probably a better description of our “plain” or expressionless expression than “resting bitchface”. But whatever. The point is, unless I make a concerted effort, I’m afraid I come off as unapproachable, which I most certainly am not. I feel and act like Lucy, my friend’s dog, on the inside, but my outward appearance suggests differently if I don’t monitor it. A tail would help. I’m pretty sure I’d be constantly wagging mine. How about you?

"Resting Bitchface"
“Resting Bitchface”

To appear friendly, open and approachable, absent a tail to wag, we have to have a pleasant and friendly, open and assuring expression. Always. I don’t mean we should walk around town with an ear-to-ear grin, teeth bared and eyes wide, we’d probably be detained in the county lockup for psychological evaluation. But we really should try to don a pleasant expression, much like we do a hoodie on a cool day. Think of the opportunities we may be missing if we’re walking around, without tails to wag, and an unfriendly expression on our face?

Approach with extreme caution.
Approach with extreme caution.

I’ve actually experimented with this phenomenon with my own Girl Scout troop. I divided the girls up into two teams at a local apple festival. One team was told to walk around the crowds with a surly expression and their arms crossed, defiantly, across their chests. The other team was told to walk around, smiling and making eye contact with everyone. We then compared notes. The friendly group of girls was met with pleasant greetings, smiles, warmth, and conversation. The surly girlies were avoided in every respect; their glances were avoided, no one spoke to them and mothers would even pull their small children closer to avoid any potential contamination. So, we are able to communicate visually in absence of a tail.

If we are able to alert other people to our generally approachability solely by the expression on our face, then that is something we should be paying very close attention to. I sincerely doubt, I sincerely hope that no one intends to walk around the planet and thwart positive human interaction. If that is the case, nothing I can say in two thousand words is going to rectify that. For the rest of us, who really intend to go about our lives pleasantly, we need to pay attention to our expression to make sure it conveys our demeanor accurately. I know, life is unfair, dogs don’t have to learn to wag their tails or make a conscious and deliberate effort to remember to do so, it just happens, naturally. With practice, though, we can come pretty close to having a pleasant outward expression naturally. I promise, it’s worth the effort.

Now, if you want to wag your tail, like Lucy and her canine brethren, I’m not going to stop you, and, in fact, I’m here to guarantee that you’ll get more attention than you can imagine if you do! Wag on!

 

 

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