Anne read books with a concentration I hadn't had a hint she possessed. One book in particular (Training Your Retriever by James Lamb Free) became the bible of her new creed. I thought the next reference to the character who wrote this book would cause me to commit something violent. What difference did it make if a dog sat down when he gave you a duck or stood on his head? He got a swim. You got your duck. I saw no reason to want anything more.
Actually, this retriever training seemed to me to be a good spawning bed for manic-depressives. Besides the terrific concentration, there's the terrible emotional pendulum swing. I gathered that you placed yourself and your dog in a spot where the view wasn't necessarily the best. You had a small whistle, far more important than a violinist's violin, with which you had been practicing under bedroom windows. You had your dog sitting next to you. Someone threw some kind of a bird in the nastiest possible place, say in the water among stumps which looked exactly like the bird, and with a carefully studied gesture you sent your dog. If he got that bird, doing everything in the prescribed manner, you were in heaven. But if he stopped to commit a nuisance on the return, you were ready to hang yourself with your whistle cord.
Anne's preoccupation was unbelievable. One day she loaded the station wagon with all her paraphernalia and dashed down to Maryland only to find she'd forgotten to load her dogs in their crates.
Perhaps I was slow to realize the magnitude of the whole picture. Several things lulled me into false security. New friends entered our lives, and they were attractive and only mildly boring about their dogs. At least none of them had a dog called Sabu. So it was a change. But I should have seen in them the dedication that I couldn't help but see in Anne and realized she was on a junkie's junket. These people are snow sniffers doing everything they can to stimulate each other's craving.
Compared to being outside your wife's retriever addiction, the lonely city—supposedly the epitome of loneliness—is like being in a phone booth with Sophie Tucker. But with Teddy IV away at school, I'd either have to spend weekends alone or go to trials. However, I was bound and determined to hate everything about them, and I had no trouble with my resolution when I learned that takeoff time for my first trial at Easton, Maryland was at 4 a.m.
We arrived in miserable weather, around 7, with an hour to kill. This is standard. I knew a few of the people, but in many ways I've never felt quite so much the outsider. I was anxious to watch the two professionals who were seeing far more of my wife than I. Both Vance Morris and Jay Sweezey went out of their way to be nice to me. I had to concentrate on my firm stand not to be taken in by their engaging personalities.
Everyone wore foul-weather clothing. The men, other than the professionals, sported Tyrolean hats with bands surrounded by buttons. One of these buttons means the wearer's dog once won the national—the retrievers' center court at Wimbledon.
The women also wore rubberized play suits. I was to learn that, no matter what the weather, the female garb at trials is not based on allure.
I hung around the few people I knew and then drifted off, realizing that those who were to run dogs were preoccupied. As time dragged, I steeled myself against sharing Anne's nervous excitement.
Finally she was on the line, Sabu sitting alertly next to her and the man who was judging standing behind her. This was the first series, or test, and to my horror I realized the better the dog the longer the day, because the ones who flub are eliminated.