CHRIS BATTAGLIA

Thoughts

Sammie + Ang

Andrew and I have this joke. When I stepped food into his and Sammie’s Washington Heights apartment, I was with Amanda. Without pause, I began taking mental stock of my surroundings: artfully decorated, well-furnished (thanks, Joanne), palatial with period details, and full of things I pined for. One of these essentials was Andrew’s pair of Dansko shoes. Familiar with the footwear, I have always heard how comfortable they remain - after all day on one’s fee, especially for nurses, waiters, and cooks.

I can’t recall if he offered to let me try them on, but I went ahead and slipped into them anyway. We share the same shoe size - numerically, at least - and I didn’t see a problem.

As the evening drew to a close, we stood saying goodbyes in the foyer, and Ang nudges his feet into the clogs. “You stretched them out,” he casually incriminates. But how could I stretch out leather shoes with just a few seconds of stepping in them?

Deadpan is a funny form of communicating a message, and Andrew is very good at forcing you to question your own instincts with his. We continue this conversation about how I stretched out his shoes every once in a while - during our time as roommates in Portland this past year, it came up a few times - but it remains a sore subject: Simon the Australian shepherd fancied them a chew toy at some point not long ago.

Since that winter of 2014, something has become clear to me. In anticipation of Ang and Sammie’s wedding this past weekend in Portland, I can’t believe that in only three years of knowing/working with/being friends with one another, that they have been expanding my experiences all along - in this case, I was the shoe, and Ang and Sammie helped with broadening my understanding.

When out of harmony in New York last year, it was repeated dog walks, time in Fort Tryon Park, and bench-sitting with Andrew that we began reforming what it meant to be happy in the City. It was the impetus from a job prospect in Portland that would catalyze the “scouting trip” in late May to introduce me to another type of life.

We did the most normal, mundane things - reliving the best parts of their life in Portland a couple years prior - over the span of four days:

Dog walking on the beach:

...dog walking on the grassy knoll along the Bay and East End neighborhood:

...having wine on Sam’s mother’s porch, or meeting and talking with L.L. Bean employees at the darling coffee shop that had just been featured in Bon App’s “Portland is the New Portland” issue that April.

We did lots of driving through all parts of town, stayed in the quiet and young-family-driven neighborhood off the peninsula that I still believe to be one of the more idyllic urban settings - without all the urbanity.

Through the process, Ang and Sammie started showing me what other life could be like, one that is still thoughtful, intentional, introspective, and productive.

It seems silly, but they have taught me “what it really means to be a dog-person,” or “what I learned from Ang and Sammie and Simon about unconditional love and being held accountable to something other than myself.”

 With Simon on our first walk together.

With Simon on our first walk together.

Simon was the first dog I ever dog-sat. Simon wakes up at 6:30am approximately, and needs to be on a walk around 7am. In Washington Heights, there is a great dog park just ten minutes walking from their apartment, in Fort Tryon Park. There, every morning, Ang and Sammie and Simon made some of their longest-standing New York friends and dog buddies. (So much so, that one couple and their dog, Poker - another Aussie shepherd - attended the wedding in Maine.)

I grew up with dogs, around friends with dogs, a western world where dogs are little luxury items, left in kennels and taken outside when they showed signs. In Laos and Guatemala, I observed a whole new co-existence between man and dog. Leslie and Ryan took Portland and Phayong off the Luang Prabang streets and raised them within their home. Most people, otherwise, don’t let dogs into their home. They are street animals, and they are left to breed and roam and scavenge willy-nilly. There is much more there, internationally, to note, when discussing the place dogs and animals in society, but I am more aware that they are not just a given, as I expected they were.

 Fort Tryon Park with Ang and Simon

Fort Tryon Park with Ang and Simon

So when I see that Ang and Sammie compromise with their dog to go on lengthy and healthy walks every day - at least twice! - that they became earlier risers. There is no wake up and take the dog for a spin quickly to pee then leave him in a kennel all day mentality. I walked one of those types of pups for four months in SoHo, and it’s not pretty. These guys would wake up a little earlier to give their little guy a long and exhausting romp in the park. For Sam and Ang, they created a healthy system of exercise, self-care, dog-care, and daily routine that keeps the rest of the day in check.

To love Simon unconditionally is to pay attention to the animal, but not let the animal be the driving force behind their every move. Just like with a newborn baby, the dog owner must not cater to the dog’s every whim. Sure, you must change a few things when you want to bring the pup everywhere, but limiting your life and experiences because of a new pet sets the wrong wheels in motion. And this I learned from these three. I have become more conscious and thoughtful about dog-training, dog-owning, and dog-interactions.

 First experience at being friends with great adults: they left a bottle of wine, nice note, and cash for takeout for staying over.

First experience at being friends with great adults: they left a bottle of wine, nice note, and cash for takeout for staying over.

 Ang and Sammie left homemade yogurt + Maine blueberry compote for me for breakfasts.

Ang and Sammie left homemade yogurt + Maine blueberry compote for me for breakfasts.

Moving to Maine and being a roommate were very influenced by our time together. I’ve never been more openly communicative than I have with Andrew. For me, he busted down doors of dealing with anxiety, separation from a partner in another city, family, socializing, and work.

There always existed a fluidity from one idea-making line of though. We constantly grow each others’ idea-creation, and he usually keeps mine in line with a more pragmatic approach.

Autonomy and thinking for oneself are tenets that Andrew champions, and now has made me more aware than ever of the importance this plays in just being a cognitive human being.

 Camping on the Long Trail, VT

Camping on the Long Trail, VT

If it weren’t for Andrew, I wouldn’t have known about the craft school culture in the country, and more specifically: Haystack Mountain. In my initial wood pursuits last July/August, he threw into my world the small idea to check out Deer Isle’s Haystack school for opportunities to more formally pursue woodcraft endeavors. Now, after applying, attending, and experiencing it fully, there is no way I cannot partake in something craft school-related every year - or, as much as I can possibly stand.

And if it weren’t for Sammie, attending Columbia’s Nurse Practitioner graduate program, they would not have moved to NYC, we wouldn’t have worked together, and our friendship would not have ever formed. While NYC was never the place for either of us to be more permanently, it had to happen. He had to brew mead at Maine Mead Works, and Sammie had to move them up to the Midcoast of Maine, and Amanda and I probably wouldn’t have just signed a lease together, for my second year in Portland, if it weren’t for the newlywed couple aforementioned.

So yes, Andrew, I stretched your shoes out once. But I have to take this opportunity compress our small story into something that I bet many others can relate to, and back me up in saying ‘thank you’ for opening up my world; for “stretching my shoes” in life, just a little wider than before.

Congratulations, Samanthrew.

Chris BattagliaComment