I am taking my child and somebody else’s dog on a walk to a park. The park is in the Hollywood Hills, where we are now staying, in the house where the dog lives. The dog’s human parents are away in Minnesota doing something involving a computer printer. I like it so much here that I decided to clean out the dog bed and banish the dog from it, as it looked so comfortable and lovely – an ideal size for the toddler to sleep in. I even waited until the kid had fallen fast asleep somewhere else to scoop her up and gently place her in it – but she still rumbled me and screamed and screamed, until I gave it back to the dog. She even opened her eyes and shouted “DOG BED DOG BED” while crying. It’s almost as if she and that animal were in an unholy alliance against me. It will probably end in my death. So for now, the relieved dog is back in DOG BED DOG BED and the child is back in mine, kicking me all night long just like she did when living on the other side of the uterine artery. I understand now why my own mother was always cross. This morning, I asked myself if one-and-three-quarters was perhaps too young to understand the concept of dreams. I guess it is, but, undeterred, I went ahead and told my baby a story about a nightmare that little children sometimes have, wherein a wicked witch plucks them from their sleep and tries to put them in a dog bed. She just nodded at me sagely. Her eyes had seen too much. Anyway, we’re halfway down the street now and it’s proving quite tricky juggling a dog lead in one hand and a toddler’s little paw in the other. One races off, one dawdles, they both get tangled up in the retractable lead, sniffing each other’s bums. It’s especially tricky when you’re walking down steep roads that have no pavements much to speak of. When Hollywood was invented, they forgot that people sometimes get out of cars. To be fair, though, they don’t get out of them much here, meaning pavements – sorry, sidewalks – are just an unnecessary expense. Hollywood didn’t need to invent getting out of cars, as instead it invented the sun roof and the In-n-Out drive-thru burger and Tena Lady incontinence pants. On the way to the park, the dog does a big old poo and I haven’t brought anything to clear it up with. Stricken, I look all around me as guiltily as possible and say lots of anxious stuff out loud, drawing attention to us all, in the hope that this will – no, I don’t know why I am doing that either. So we carry on, and when we enter the park, a group of cheerful people immediately ask me if I have any spare bags for dog poo. “No,” I say, “I wish! Oh god! We just needed some too! Forgot!” Why are they pointing at my hand? They ask again, demonstrating the stash of dog bags dangling off the lead I’m holding. Honestly, who knew that they had been there all this time, clutched as tightly between my fingers as hope itself. The cheerfuls look at me a bit funny, wondering if I’m just too tight to share a plastic bag. “It isn’t mine!” I say, trying to explain. “The baby?” They ask. “No,” I say, “the dog.” In the park, there is a woman with five small children all carrying buckets. “Help each other!” she says, scrabbling on the floor for a flower that has fallen out of one child’s bucket. “We’re a family! We help each other! Right?” They are all picking flowers and leaves and putting them in their buckets, which are actually upside-down R2-D2 toys. “When we get home we’re going to look everything up in our nature book and find out what it is!” says their mother, who is furiously avoiding making eye contact with me. Perhaps she senses that I am not really a mother of the cherished petals, nature book and teamwork variety. Perhaps my kid has slipped her a note about the bed and the dog. Next, we meet a man with a service dog. I know it’s a service dog because it’s wearing a shiny waistcoat that says SERVICE DOG, with something of the air of a human who has just run the London Marathon and been wrapped in bacofoil. Now, whereas in Britain the only service dogs we really have are guide dogs for the blind, here you can own a service dog for any number of health conditions. You can have a service dog for emotional reasons. And you’re allowed to take your service dog pretty much everywhere – including your seat on a domestic aeroplane. So my friend who runs a veterinary practice here in Hollywood has registered his normal dog as a service dog, since nobody is allowed to question you on why you need one. It might be deeply traumatic. Or just salty – under California state law, you are even allowed a service dog for a nut allergy. We leave the park and start walking up another street so I can engage in my favourite pastime of peering through the windows of LA’s houses and imagining that they are mine. I’ve been doing this all day long too, only on Google Street View. The long walks I have been on today and the property empire I have accrued – all from my bed! Exhausting. Back in the third dimension, each house we pass, I think, we could live there and that would solve everything. Those windows would let in all the right kind of light. Those walls would hold my happiness in. We pass a big baroque mansion whence beautiful, gentle piano music is coming, and I stop, I want to work out if it’s a person or a CD. I think it’s a person! There is life inside! Only then I realise my kid has picked something up and is clutching it in her hand. I prise it from her, quite concerned as it looks like somebody’s meds in a plastic jar. These hills are full of pills and I don’t want my beautiful daughter developing a prescription drug addiction until she’s been in at least two sit-coms and dated a man with a gun. Wait, maybe it’s a urine sample. Oh god. It isn’t either of those – it’s worse. "Medical Cannabis" says the printed label, because here in California you can also get a prescription for weed, again, if you fake having something wrong with you, usually from a doctor about as legitimate as my daughter. Where it says "strain" on the plastic jar, someone has written, in thick black marker pen, "Jedi Master". There are 1.5 grams inside, it says. I’m furious. What idiot left this here, just lying outside some houses where a child could pick it up, saying it has 1.5 grams inside it, and it takes me ages to get off the lid, and it’s bloody well empty? Haven’t my people suffered enough? Like a terrible fart, I am blaming this one on the dog.
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Previously – Sometimes I Forget How to Exist Offline