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Dogs As Conversation Starters

date: Tue Apr 11 07:56:36 PM CEST 2023


I’ve a soft spot for chocolate labrador retrievers. I’ve always wanted one. They remind me of friendly bears. Even when they grow up they never seem to grow into their paws much the same way a puppy has ears and paws and bellies that don’t seem to fit them. My wife fell in love with german shorthairs and so now we have two. And I love them to pieces.

While I love my dogs, I’m not sure there’s a dog I don’t like, whenever I see a friendly looking dog I get down to their level and try to engage with them, try to pet them. It doesn’t always end well. Sometimes I get rebuffed other times my sudden movements spooks the dog and I get snapped at and yet I never fail to try and befirend every friendly looking dog at the park; going to the dog park is as much about me getting to play with other dogs as it is time for mine to run around and play.

This is where I met Joe. (Their name wasn’t Joe, nobody names their kid Joe in Iran so…)

People See You

Joe and I began to chat. They (I am using a plural pronoun to further cloud who this might be…) warned me that they had just gotten a cat and that their chocolate lab had gotten into their new cat’s food and was having some digestive issues. Having developed a far-too-keen sense of health of my own dogs from how their poops look and smell I understood exactly what they were saying and we both laughed.

They talked more and I listened. I thought that this was one of those situational chance encounters that happen at the park and then never materialize.

I was wrong.

They asked me where my other dog was. Pippa, our female, had split her pinky-toe nail and was with my wife being walked on a long leash at a different park closer to our apartment. I stopped to marvel a bit about how often that happens: how often someone I never met, whose name I do not know, stops me and asks me about my dogs if one of them is missing.

Then Joe asked me where I was from. Earlier I had asked if they spoke English because my German is, at best, good enough for the most superficial of conversations: “Schon Hunde! Danke!” (Translation: Beautiful Dog, Thank you!)


I lied a bit. I mentioned I was from California. (While born in California I claim Oregon as home, Portland to be specific.) Their eyes lit up. “Ooh, California! Where it’s warm all year round!” I chuckled. Yeah. Southern California can be nice.

Then, seemingly out-of-the-blue, they asked me: “So what about Biden?” I asked: “What about him?” They answered: “He’s always falling asleep.” I cowered a bit: “Yeah, he can seem a bit off sometimes” I replied.

Look, my feelings on Trump and Biden and all of that are very complicated but to summarize it in one sentence: I just think Trump is a phony, a crook, a grifter, a liar, his policies are horrible domestically and internationally and does not represent the ideas or ideals of the party that Lincoln claimed. I’ll probably speak more on this in a later post, I may not. That being said do I wish there were more than just two choices? Yes. Am I enamored with everything Biden is and stands for? No. Did I pick between meh and horrible? Yes.

Luckily, I realized I had to make sure Ruger was still close. I called for him. He appeared. He’s always very obedient just before getting a treat. I pulled out some of his kibble from a pouch and gave him a treat and then he was off to search for random critters between the downed stumps and various logs.

Joe then asked me why don’t more Americans like Trump. I am pretty sure I let out a sigh. It was then that I think I made my Social Studies teacher’s happy. I said: “You know it’s less about the person running for office that I care about but the people that he or she brings with them. The President appoints judges, appoints people to federal posts, nominates folks, etc., etc.” All the while I was not thinking that this person is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and is America’s chief diplomat overseas. That’s probably why Joe hit me with this:

Fight Fire With Fire

Joe said: “You see China? Autocrat. North Korea? Autocrat. Iran…” They went on to mention other countries but by then I got the point. They said he liked how Trump carried himself, that he acted like a “gangster”, and that a “gangster” or a tough guy was what was needed to keep all these other despots in check. And to further sell their point they said: “You never see any UFC fighters return a kick or a punch with love and acceptance.”

The only thing I could think to respond with was that I believed in diplomacy and dialog and that the tough guy machismo was a farce that the world could see through.

It seems clear to me that the world laughed at Trump and even others like Putin and Xi were stringing him along like a puppeteer.

Even Joe highlighted Trump’s many personal failings but seemed to justify that with his style of governing as being needed in this world of autocrats and despots.

They mentioned that Biden would just continue appease these factions whereas Trump might have “handled” it (probably via a war – he did “truth” post “World War 3” on Truth Social the other day).

It was then that I just responded that that’s not how I would want the US to be governed, and that he was a horrible president domestically and a joke globally. All the while, again, acknowledging that the system makes you choose between two and the two choices of late have been very lackluster.

Prisoner. Fugitive. Refugee. Chef. Aspiring Programmer.

We returned to looking after our dogs. We watched as a man in a TESLA jacket whose adolescent rotweiler was harassing a small white dog. The small white dog’s cries filled the park. No blood was spilled but even I was a bit on edge when the 50-60kg rotweiler was barreling towards us. He must have been just a puppy unsure of his size or thought the small dog a plaything.

Joe is just a year younger than I am. I asked them what the elections are like in Iran. Are there only two parties in Iran like in the US? They mentioned yes. One that adheres to radical Islam and one that doesn’t. In a melancholy tone Joe said that the radicals are in power. I took it to mean that of the Ayatollah.

Joe then went to give me a history lesson. They started in a novel way. They said: “You see Persian culture is some 5000 years old. Islam some 1400 years. Our language hasn’t changed. Our customs. Just the religion.” They went on to say: “70% of Iranians are athiests. But the culture. The culture is heavily influenced by Islam.” They recounted how their grandmother before the revolution would say to Joe that she would wear “bikinis” like they did in New York but now it’s full covering and then they took the hood part of their hoodie and sinched it tight. The burqa, I got it. They say now that their grandparents lament that they are prisoners.

They said that at 7 years of age every morning in school they were forced to line up and recite something along the lines of: “Death to America. Death to the Jew. Kill the American Soldiers.” etc., etc. Every morning. They were taught that the Jews wanted their blood, that they had horns, and fangs like that of Dracula. And if you disagreed. If you did not want to recite these things, if you thought that the Jews weren’t vampires for example, you were taken in front of the school and beaten.

Somehow Joe made it to university. One day while in University they asked: “Why did the Prophet Mohammed have slaves?” Joe said: “God allows the Prophet to have slaves what kind of God is this?” Thinking that they were in a safe space to question and to learn Joe didn’t think much of it and went to lunch. As lunch was ending a van pulled up and some men asked them what their name was. Joe responded, “Joe”. The men confirmed it was Joe that they were looking for and took him.

They drove to an nondescript building and went down many flights of stairs. Joe said: “I didn’t know how far down under the ground I was.” There they encountered many folks taken. They said: “I asked a man that was there: ‘’Why are you here?’’ ‘’They accused me of taking a child. I didn’t do it!’’” Joe responded: “I just asked a question about the prophet and here I am!” Joe said that the man agreed that Joe shouldn’t have been there either.

Joe looked around and there were men hanging with their hands above their heads attached to a wall. They weren’t being hanged to die just restrained but others were forced to squat with their arms coming through their legs their head facing the ground and forced to waddle at the behest of their captors. This was the fate of Joe. Joe kept saying: “I only had a question. I am a muslim! I am sorry.” Joe feared he’d be killed. At one point Joe just told them: “If you’re going to do it do it fast. Don’t kill me slowly.”

After Joe was processed they spent about a week in jail. Luckily a family member of Joe’s was able to pay a bail to get Joe out of jail for some time before further court proceedings. Another family member was able to get Joe some money and Joe then fled to Turkiye.

Somehow finding themself at the coast of Turkiye with hopes of getting to Greece Joe had to get a boat. Joe mentions this wasn’t a boat you’d normally use on the ocean it might even have been too small for the local lakes near the dog park. And yet 15 or so other men with Joe were on that boat. They had met other friends with the same hopes that were also on a similar sized boat. While crossing to get to Greece Joe’s boat took on water. As they were leading the expedition Joe beconed to the others on the boat to try and dump as much water as they could. It seemed to have worked and as they were making progress their friends in the other boat were also taking on water. Joe’s friends called for them to come and rescue them. Joe refused. I nearly cried here. Joe said: “I knew that if I went over they’d come onto the boat and we’d immediately sink.” Without skipping a beat Joe continued their story: “We finally made it to Greece.

I asked: “What about your friends in the other boat?” Joe said: “When we got to the beach I let some people know ’Hey! Over there there’s another boat just like ours but they sank! Immediately helicopters and rescue vessels were racing to the last known location of the other boat (I say boat, but I they were really just dingys). Only 7 of the 15 made it back alive.”

I spent some months in refugee camps. A woman and her family befriended me and asked if they could accompany me on the truck. I noticed that she had a baby. But the baby had some blackness on her neck. The baby didn’t make any sounds. I asked ‘Mother check on your baby.’ She said: ‘She’s ok. We want to get to the city, there are no doctors here.’ The baby was dead.”

Joe proceeded to make their way into Europe and finally by foot made their way to Stuttgart. Joe now lives in Berlin with proper paperwork, going back to Iran would find them dead.

Joe aspires to be a programmer. Joe said, as we walked towards the train station as it was time for me to head back to work: “I could just sit at home in front of my computer and work and be close to my dog.”

Currently Joe works as a sous chef. But since getting their chocolate lab they have no desire to eat meat. Joe said: “I love my dog. I love animals. How can I eat them?”


I told Joe more than once while they were telling me their story: “You should write this down!” “This could be a movie!” “Your story needs to be told!” Joe responded: “My story is not any different than countless others.”

We exchanged numbers and I am going to try and help Joe get their programming up to par and help them get a job in the industry.

Even writing this now I feel terrible for Joe. I feel horrible that in 2023 there’s still people living repressed, in a world with such abundance people still die from starvation, dehydration; live in autocratic worlds where sadists run countries and opress their own people. I could see so much of myself in Joe which is probably why I was so sad. By luck I was born in the USA with relatively very litle to complain or worry about. I was free to be an angsty teenage kid, protesting the Iraq war. I was free to write an emo blog (remember Blogger?) about seemingly superficial stuff. Meanwhile Joe was being hauled into buidlings, processed, beaten, questioned, forced to escape.

Why was I so lucky?


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Copyright Alex Narayan - 2023