Before arriving at our fourth and final house-sit, we decided to take a stroll around the town we would spend just over three weeks in. We’d been told it was an easy five-minute walk there, a five-minute walk back. Twelve minutes later, we were back in our room. Yes, the town square of Erongaricuaro, population 5,000, is what you’d call compact. But, to be fair, the outlying neighbourhoods branch out into, oh, I don’t know, a dozen or so streets. Still, the square, or plaza, or zocalo, is the nerve centre, and this one has a nerve calling itself a plaza. It’s more of a square because it is, well, a square, and that’s about it. Lined up around it are three or four sit-down restaurants, all Mexican, plus an Italian joint called Testerelli’s, which sells sandwiches and spaghetti and gelato. Then there’s Ivo’s, a one-table hallway run by a Swiss guy who makes pizza in a phone-booth sized kitchen. He also makes wonderful grainy breads, but we can’t get a handle on when, as his communication style is a little vague. Then there are a handful of taco stands. And that’s it. Shops consist of one or two clothing stores, a smattering of vegetable booths, several butchers (oddly), a baker, a couple hairdressers, dozens of abarottes (corner stores), more than necessary, actually, and a hardware store. So “doing” the town in a few minutes isn’t out of the realm.
Thankfully, Jon and Phillis’s home is a gorgeous adobe-style rancher set on what could honestly be described as a botanical garden. It takes a gardener working six hours a day, six days a week just to maintain it. The stone walkway slopes up to rolling lawn with so many varieties of plant and tree, including lime trees, palm trees, pomegranate trees, rose bushes, azaleas, that it’s impossible to name them all. The two-tiered backyard is a mix of pine trees and more lime trees, a small apple tree, even an olive tree, although you’d have to squint to find an olive, more rose bushes, trellises and cactus, and a bunch of trees, shrubs and plants you’d have to be a horticulturalist to recognize. There’s even a vegetable patch and small greenhouse. And it all overlooks sweeping farmland, Lake Patzcuaro and Janitzio Island beyond. As we’re admiring this stunning landscape, with Phillis leading us up to the stone verandah that stretches the length of the house, the corner of my eye catches her terrier feverishly working at his underbelly. When I stop to see if there’s something wrong, she waves it off by casually stating, “Oh, never mind him. He has a tendency to jack off.”
Jack was a street dog whom Jon and Phillis found at their doorstep one evening. “If he’s still there in the morning, I guess he’s ours,” they said. He was still there in the morning. They have no idea where he came from, but I suspect a brothel or a strip club. How else to explain his highly sexualized nature. And there’s no real distinct activity, no obvious stimuli, that sets him off. He just stops in the middle of what he’s doing, whatever he’s doing, and goes at it. You know those ads for Viagra that warn you to call your doctor if your erection lasts longer than four hours, but you’d rather call your friends? I was seriously worried one day when Jack’s was still on full, hot-pink alert for a half hour. And nothing the guy did would bring his ardor to fruition; he was clearly frustrated. All I could think to do was throw a glass of cold water on it. Shrinkage ensued, but he wasn’t happy, poor bastard. I’d love to see The Dog Whisperer tackle this one.
Anyway, much to their unease, the horndog shares this fine home with Tia Maria, a beautiful chocolate lab; Greta, a cat so shy you rarely see or hear her; and a super-soft, fluffy black and white cat Rick wants to dub Pepe Le Pew, because he looks like the Warner Bros. cartoon skunk forever searching for l’amour. I’m torn between calling him Stone Cold Steve Austin, for his prowess and agility as a wrestler; Killer, for the endless supply of dead things he drags in; and Brat, just because, well, he really is a brat. He hasn’t quite outgrown his kittenhood and spends his days wrestling with Jack, antagonizing Maria and bullying Greta. We’re constantly refereeing the fights and keeping Jack’s arousal to a minimum. Whoever said house-sitting was a breeze, a free vacation, clearly has never done it. You have to constantly be on high alert at the best of times. Throw in a sexually frustrated terrier and you can never turn your back. Especially when you don’t know Jack.