‘Ev­ery­one needs a place out­side their nor­mal, a way to un­plug; the garage as a sanc­tu­ary’

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WARIS HELL, as the man said. More so if the main weapon is a garage full of rump-logs. I have been en­gaged of late in a fu­ri­ous and ti­tanic bat­tle with my dog. When no one is look­ing, she sneaks into the garage, hides be­hind a car, and poops.

I am af­flicted with sev­eral ve­hi­cles. Most are slightly tatty, be­cause own­ing and us­ing good cars on a writer’s bud­get of­ten in­volves tat­ti­ness. The only nice ma­chine in the sta­ble is a 2001 Acura, an In­te­gra Type R. Un­mod­i­fied, orig­i­nal paint, tight and clean, no rust. Not co­in­ci­den­tally, the Acura is the only car I own that lives at home, un­der a roof, be­hind a locked door. One of the best front-driv­ers in his­tory. I like it. Its pres­ence is calm­ing. This is al­most cer­tainly why the dog dumps at it.

I tell my­self that she can’t know how much the car means to me. That rev­e­la­tion would im­ply too many ter­ri­fy­ing truths about the uni­verse. All I know is that the scene is re­mark­ably con­sis­tent. No leav­ings on the floor when I’m watch­ing. Al­ways a sneak at­tack, slip­ping through a door that some­one left open. Usu­ally at the end of the day, when the garage won’t see foot traf­fic again for hours.

All from a six-year-old spaniel. Oth­er­wise well-be­haved. And not the mayor of in­door Brown­town un­til re­cently, when we moved into a house with an at­tached garage. I named her Elly, af­ter the avi­a­trix Elly Bein­horn, Bernd Rose­meyer’s wife. She is good with strangers, kind to chil­dren, a fan of long walks and chew­ing crunchy things. Gen­er­ally unas­sail­able, as an­i­mals go. Ex­cept.

Great at­tempts have been made to com­mu­ni­cate waste pro­to­col. Months of fight­ing the static of un­shared lan­guage. There have been pun­ish­ments and demon­stra­tions. Books read on dog train­ing. I have even made at­tempts at out­smart­ing her; noise­maker traps, au­to­matic door-closers. All of which failed but should have not, be­cause we are not talk­ing about a heavy con­scious­ness here, even for a dog, even for a spaniel. Forty pounds of fuzz and blood and fewer work­ing synapses than a sta­pler. I have seen her so un­think­ing as to flee, ter­ri­fied, from kit­tens. At least once or twice a week, this right hon­ourable mem­ber of my house gets far too ex­cited about some­thing (Food! Air! Breath­ing!), care­fully sur­veys her sur­round­ings, and pro­ceeds to run head­long into a wall. I am los­ing a fight to this.

The lo­ca­tion stings. The old garage-as-sanc­tu­ary trope is rooted in truth; ev­ery­one needs a place out­side their nor­mal, a way to un­plug. We also need those places to not smell like an old trout. I have two young chil­dren, which means the In­te­gra room is also the only part of my house not reg­u­larly cov­ered in yo­ghurt, or greasy fin­ger­prints, or scale mod­els of car­toon char­ac­ters made en­tirely from doll knick­ers and cheese. I can teach a three-foot-tall per­son to use a toi­let or speak with cor­rect gram­mar. But dog ex­cre­ment zon­ing: no.

In quiet mo­ments, I some­times won­der if this is one of those bat­tles best closed by ad­mit­ting de­feat. And then the dog leaves mu­ni­tions be­hind the rear tyre and I un­know­ingly roll the floor jack through the bat­tle­field the next day and ev­ery­thing smells like dead things and kib­ble and the rage builds.

She slinks into the room, eye­ing me sus­pi­ciously. A stand­off com­mences. I glare back, pon­der­ing laws re­gard­ing the ship­ment of an­i­mals, won­der­ing how much Elon Musk would charge to mail a box of ca­nine life sup­port to low Earth or­bit. Then we each back away, pre­par­ing for the next round.

As with all wars, the con­flict’s end is in­evitable but dif­fi­cult to fore­see. We could en­ter an uneasy truce, but I’d first have to get off the back foot, make some in-kind counter-of­fen­sive. (My wife has in­formed me that such ac­tions would re­sult in im­me­di­ate di­vorce, de­spite the fact that the en­emy has left vi­tal Dog Ter­ri­tory un­guarded.) We could con­tinue fight­ing for years, nei­ther side gain­ing ground ex­cept in those weeks where the kids spill a plate of beans on the floor at sup­per, and five hours later the Type R reeks of used bur­rito.

Or I could just keep look­ing into that space thing. Maybe it’s un­fair. Or maybe in space, no one can hear you bark.

US jour­nal­ist Sam is equal parts helms­man, car geek and speed freak. He’s ed­i­tor at large at Road &Track mag­a­zine

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