Deep Pace Mine

Let’s not waste this fine Spring day.

Django is waiting. I know I know. But I had to go for a run with Syd first. Yep, I’m a runner. Kind of. Syd went on her real run early in the morning, and then when she finished she ran here so we could go for a lap around the park. I was almost ready when she got here. I’d gotten up quietly when my alarm went off, hoping that the dog, like Dave, would keep sleeping.

In the bathroom I changed into the clothes I’d set there the night before – leggings and two tee shirts and a warm-up jacket. Then I tiptoed into my office and did some yoga to un-creak a little, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what if Syd came early and tried to come in the back door, which I’d said I’d leave open? I didn’t want the doorbell to wake up the dog, who would immediately want to be fed and walked. Dave, I wasn’t as worried about. He’s been staying up way too late watching Deep Space Nine, so too bad.

I decided to do yoga downstairs instead. I went down and unlocked the door, but Django must have heard me turn off the alarm, because when I headed in to the living room she trotted in, wagging her tail. Okay, yoga in a minute. I let her out, fed her, and leashed her up for a quick walk around the block.

But just outside we ran into another lady and her dog. Pino? Pina? He too didn’t like being held back on his leash so he barked at Django, who was quiet and docile until he leaned in to sniff her mouth. Then she let him have it. “Sorry, sorry,” I pulled Django away.
“No, it’s okay, he does the same thing.” Pino or Pina looked up at me pitifully. I squatted down to pet him. Django sniffed the parkway, her work done. The lady and I talked about how cute our respective dogs were, and what breeds they might be, and how unpredictable they can be on leash. Luckily Dave wasn’t there to add, as he always does, “She’s unpredictable off leash, too.” He’s been staying up way too late watching Deep Space Nine, so whatever.

Django eventually came over to be patted by the lady and to be sniffed, more politely, by Pino or Pina. Then we continued on our walk. Soon as we got home, Syd arrived. So much for yoga. We went for our run and I felt just like those people I see running at the park. Really cool. I was wearing proper running clothes and I had a running partner and we were even talking like other runners do, in short casual bursts. At first I tried to smile at the dog walkers, because I always feel like runners are looking at me angrily for having my dog at the park. But I realized today that they’re probably just concentrating. After my first smile or two I didn’t have time to worry about those losers. I had to focus on keeping pace with Syd. She kept asking, “Want to slow down?”

“No, I don’t want to slow down now because I want to reserve the right to walk later.”

“We can take whatever pace feels right. It’s up to you.”

“Uh-huh.” She didn’t realize that if I started walking it would mean that we’d stopped running, so it wouldn’t count as running so I wouldn’t feel like a runner so I wouldn’t feel cooler than shit. When we got home, Django was sitting in the window, staring at us like she couldn’t believe we’d go to the park without her. “I guess Dave didn’t walk you,” I said when I got inside. He was still sleeping because he’s been staying up way too late watching Deep Space Nine, so I had to go upstairs and say it louder.

Now I’ve had my shower and some breakfast, and we’re heading back to the park for a dog lap. Dave is joining us. He should probably stay home and work, but I notice that if I just ask how Deep Space Nine is going, he will pretty much do anything I ask.

No direction home

Django in park
No one has noted her resemblance to Dylan.

I saw the woodcarver at the park, walking with Mr. Wu and their dogs. They were so far away that when I waved and they didn’t wave back, I figured they just didn’t see me.

I walked a little further, then turned to call Django and leash her up. I noticed that the woodcarver seemed to be staring at me, which was silly because they were so far away. But there was something purposeful about his walk. And I had no reason to avoid them, I reasoned. I’d done my homework at last. So instead of leashing Django up I threw the ball in their direction, and she bounded for it.

As she neared the two dogs, Django lost interest in the ball. Her run drifted into a walk, and then she just stood, as if she had no idea what she was doing there.

“Get the ball, Django,” I called.

She looked at me blankly.

“The ball! The ball!”

She trotted away, in the general direction of the two dogs, while also managing to ignore them completely. I walked back to pick up the ball myself, just as the two men neared.

“Hi!” I called.

The woodcarver was still staring, a fierce smile on his face. “So you changed your mind.”

“My mind?”

“About the carving, you changed your mind.”

“No! I did it! I went to your site.”

“Did you?”

“I did. You wrote me back!”

“No, I don’t go near that. It must have been my son.”

“Well then, he wrote me, a profile shot and a closeup.”

“Yeah, well, I had a little time before.”

“Oh yeah, well, I guess I missed Christmas, ha ha.”

He wasn’t smiling anymore. Suddenly I realized that when I ran into him last week and asked about carvings of dogs, and also asked how long it takes, and come to think of it also asked if there was any chance of getting one by Christmas, and that’s right also said I’d go to his site, that, well, he took me seriously. Suddenly I felt like one of those flakes who do the sort of thing I’d just done.

Mr. Wu smiled at us, hands clasped behind his back. I said, “Sorry, I… the holidays… maybe I could shoot for a Valentines present?”

The woodcarver said, “After I make it, if you don’t like it you don’t have to buy it.”

“Oh.” I wanted to say, I’m sure I’ll like it, but somehow that felt like an insult to his process. I offered, “I have another friend who might want one.”

“Get yours first and if they like it they can get one.”

“But we’re going to do a photo shoot.”

“A shot just like that would be perfect.” Django was standing absolutely still, in profile. She and the woodcarver looked like they expected me to whip out a camera.

Mr. Wu said, “That dog has very unusual spots.” He said this like he’d never seen her before, though I’ve run into him at the park at least twice a week for the past six or seven years. At first I’d see him standing alone, dogless, east of the path, examining some detail of a tree. Hands clasped behind him, head slightly cocked, as if some leaf or bit of bark was refusing to be categorized. Then he got a dog and started walking with the woodcarver, or the guy with the unpredictable Golden.

Django stopped posing and wandered off to look for her ball, which was now back in my pocket. Mr. Wu added, “She looks like an African wild dog.”

“Does she?” I said, which I always say, although I’ve already compared her to photos of African wild dogs online and reached the same conclusion.

I said, “I’ll get you the pictures.” The woodcarver looked skeptical, which was understandable. He and Mr. Wu continued walking, and I decided to do another lap in the opposite direction.

Back up

a boot
Thanks, Doc, not right now.

The Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park has made a decision. I saw her yesterday. Dave and I took Django to the park, and stopped on the way to grab Zoe. Miss Hepburn’s sister greeted us at the door and said we’d meet the new caregiver when we got back.

Zoe pulled cheerfully all the way to the park. Then all the way through the park. Then all the way home. She stopped pulling only when I threw the ball for Django. She’s learned that Django gets a biscuit for bringing it back, therefore Zoe gets three biscuits: one for sitting while Django finds the ball and then pauses, seemingly lost in thought; another when Django returns, dropping the ball somewhere along the way; and a third when Django spits hers out because she’d prefer liver or cheese.

When we got back, Dave headed to the garage to carry in a large bag of dog food, and I went inside to meet the new caregiver. This is the sixth one I’ve met since things got hard for the Hepburns. The first was reportedly “an angel.” It took several weeks for the Hepburns to realize she wasn’t the right angel for them. She mostly just talked on her phone. Then there was the sweet one. Then the stern one. Then someone who could only come two days a week. Then the artsy one. And now, the calm and kind one, who seems like she might actually be an angel. Miss Hepburn is eating a beautiful lunch of fluffy omelet with toast and grilled peaches on the side.

She is so tired she almost can’t sit up, but she looks happier than I’ve seen her in weeks. She says she’s decided not to do the hospice thing. Her cardiologist had sent someone after her last appointment, and ever since she’d been in a funk. “She told me I could have all the salt I want,” she says.” I can eat what I want and do what I want, because it doesn’t matter.” She breaks off a tiny piece of omelet with her fork. “I mean, I know it’s progressive, but am I just supposed to give up?”

Her sister has returned with Dave and reminds her, “The hospice people are very nice.”

“Oh yes, but that doctor just sent them out, just like that. I hate him. I’ve always hated him.”

“You’ve only had two appointments.”

“Well, I hated him the first time, and I hated him the second time.” The sisters laugh. Miss Hepburn continues, “I mean, the way he put his size eleven shoes in my face! He sits across from me and crosses his legs and his feet are right up here.” I am reminded that she is not as tall as the other Miss Hepburn. “He doesn’t even look at me. He just says, ‘Someone from hospice will be out.’ Just like that!”

A few months ago, I saw a defining moment when Miss Hepburn could no longer work in her yard. But this defines her yet again. Her back is so bent she has trouble looking forward. She’s got bruises and bandages from surgery and falls. She’s on oxygen 24-7 and still has trouble catching her breath. But she asks me, “Did you see Margie’s cute car out front? Isn’t it adorable?”

Hospice is great when you’re ready to give up. When you know you’re near the end, the people of hospice can enrich your life and the lives of your loved ones in uncountable ways. But some doctors haven’t learned that not everyone gives up at the same speed. Some people just aren’t made for it. Also, they don’t like shoes in their face.

Apparently there’s this whole chain of life thing

squirrel contemplating
It's big.

Today I won’t be going to my friend Mike’s memorial service. He was a guy I met at the dog park, and I really liked him, but I didn’t know him well. I don’t know the details of the memorial service, and I don’t even know anyone to call and ask. But I will miss seeing him, and walking around the park with him and his gangly dog, and hearing small details about his interesting life, and getting travel ideas (he sent Dave and me to Merida, a perfect trip).

A few years ago, soon after I met Mike, before I knew his name, a small story happened because of him. In memory of the guy who turned out to be Mike, and with a nod to his dog who reportedly is going to a good home, and in honor of Mother’s day tomorrow, a day my mother claimed to hate, I offer it up.

How Squirrel Saved Fly

I went to the park with my dog. We saw a guy with his dog, and we walked for a while. Then then guy’s dog killed a squirrel. It was so upsetting. The guy cleaned the blood off the dog’s muzzle at the water fountain and I helped him.

Then me and my dog went home, where I had set these mousetraps. And then I was even more sad for when the mouse would be caught than I was when we set the traps, although we haven’t caught any yet. I was sad that I couldn’t just relocate the mouse, I was sad that I couldn’t save the squirrel.

Then me and my dog went to my mom’s, and in my mom’s dining room this fly was trying to escape. I had trapped him between the outside window and the inside window. And he was just standing on the sill, rubbing his two front legs together, and I could see his eyes, every detail of his eyes. My mom and I were going shopping and my mom said, “Just leave him there to die.” But I couldn’t. I couldn’t let him die, not after the squirrel. I mean, if it weren’t for the squirrel I wouldn’t have thought twice about this fly, I would have let my mom zap him with this electric zapper thing she got that kills flies, but I was like, “No.”

So I worked open the storm window without letting him back into the room, and I watched him fly away, and I felt so happy.

Goodbye, Mike. See you around, maybe.


I am a dog racist

entrance to a river path
Would you follow a Shiba Inu down here?

Django talked me, walked me into going to the north park. She has this habit of pulling north at every intersection. Or rather pointing north and waiting. So today I just went with it, even though the dog-friendlier, more inhabited park is to the south.

We walked into the park entrance and there were four skeevy-looking guys sitting on benches. No one else was around. My thought was to go straight north up the concrete walk toward River Park, where there’d likely be more people around. I wasn’t scared, these looked like homeless men just taking in the sun, but I was cautious. I certainly wasn’t going to let Django pull me down the woodchip path that winds along the river, all secluded and remote. Not because dogs aren’t allowed down there – they aren’t – but because I wouldn’t leave myself that vulnerable.  Django paused and looked at the woodchip path. She loves it down there. Sorry, dog. I pulled her away.

But miracle of miracles, a guy walked into the park with a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. They cut immediately to the woodchip path and walked down. Score! I followed and let Django off her leash. The two dogs met up and Django was only mildly bossy.  The guy laughed and we each went along the twisty path, not talking to each other but perfectly friendly.

As we walked behind them, I realized this guy looked pretty skeevy too. But I trusted him because he had a dog.  Not just that, I trusted him because that dog was a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. If it had been a German Shepherd – no, I can’t use German Shepherd because Django would never follow a Shepherd, she’s terrified of them – if it had been a Doberman or a Rottweiler there’s no way I would have followed them down there. Maybe a Rott, depending on its ears, but definitely not a Doberman. I don’t know why. I’ve known some sweet Dobermans and never had a bad experience with any. But I just wouldn’t have gone.

So I guess if you plan to attack someone on a secluded river path using a dog decoy, make it a fluffy puppy.


Back in

squirrel tail in the grass
But then again, at least someone didn't bite your tail off and eat you for breakfast.

My neighbor is back in the hospital. I saw her Friday and she seemed okay. For her. For where she’s at lately. Thin and weak and overwhelmed by the mountain of infirmities she’s been living under for the past few years, but able to smile; you know, okay.

When I first met her at the dog park, seven or eight years ago, my neighbor was a sprightly 80-year old with a rambunctious border collie mix that loved to eat garbage, sticks, rocks, anything that came into its path. My neighbor would laugh and shrug her shoulders, and tell us how gentle the dog was at home. Even then, she seemed impossibly thin and ageless; the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park. She volunteered and recommended great restaurants and worked in her yard, cheerfully complaining about how little she seemed to get done. Eighty seemed like an arbitrary number.

But problems started to add up faster than she could recover. Colds into bronchitis into pneumonia and back again. Doctor visits multiplied, and medications, and new complications. “I don’t seem to recover like I used to,” she said a few years ago, when I met her walking in the neighborhood, the dog snuffling in the parkway for garbage. “When I do get better, I seem to have lost a little ground.”

This is an old story. If you live to into your eighties and nothing immediately catastrophic occurs, it just happens. You go from weeding the front parkway in a cute denim hat to trying to do something called interviewing a caregiver when you’re so tired all you want to do is take a nap while they make you a sandwich. You have to learn how to gracefully accept help from friends and neighbors. You’ve always been the one doing little things for people and now you’re the one saying thank you, thank you, thank you. And yes, that’s a good thing, that there are so many people who love you and want to help, but still, when even your personality gets taken over by your infirmities, it’s hard to find yourself.

Do you hold on to who you were? Do you float along and try to be a good patient? Do you give up? The Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park just kept seeming a little surprised. More and more, over the past few years, as she saw parts of her old self slipping away, slowly, the gardening and the dog walks and the concerts. One day she realized she hadn’t chatted with a neighbor over the fence for weeks, or was it months? Because it had at some point become too difficult to stand in the yard. It’s not a big deal, chatting with a neighbor, but when you realize you haven’t done it for months, you also realize that simple act is part of who you are, and that part of you is gone.

When it happens gradually, over a period of years, I wonder if it’s harder or easier to lose pieces of yourself. Maybe it gives you more time to replace them with something else, or to realize the deeper truths of yourself. Maybe it’s a blessing. Or maybe it’s a slow-motion nightmare, like trying to run in a dream. You see the monster coming closer and closer but you just can’t seem to want to move your feet.

We don’t get to choose, so I guess there’s no point in thinking about it. But the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park gave me her little denim cap, a while ago, when I going on a trip. She said it was the best hat, because it’s so cute and it’s great for either rain or sun. It’s a little too small, but perhaps in time, my head will shrink. That happens, right? Or maybe everyone else keeps growing, full of expanding plans and personalities, and you just stay the same, the nice little old lady who always has a smile.

MT, Park Detective

at the park
I'm going to get to the bottom of this.

I almost always see T— at the park in the morning. She’s got two big dogs, one black and one brown. She used to bring them together but now she brings them separately. She’s not a chatty park person, the type where you know all about their surgeries and love affairs but not their last name. But she’s not unfriendly either, like the guy who drives in, stands near the tennis courts just long enough for his poodle to do what needs to be done, and then gets it back in the car and drives away. He doesn’t even return your waves.

No, T— always has a smile and a friendly response to your inane comment about the weather, but she never initiates. She always seems nervous that her dog is going to do something terrible, but they never do. I often feel I’m roping her into conversation but for some reason I can’t help myself. I want to know her secrets.

Yesterday she was walking with A—, my favorite, the brown one. I called to him and he came running up to me. He’s got a very wise face, like he spends a lot of time alone thinking. T— seemed afraid he was going to take Django’s ball, she was like, “Oh, the ball…” but he didn’t. Then she seemed worried Django would try to take A—’s sticks, “Oh, he’s guarding his sticks,” but she didn’t. It made me think something must have happened when she had the two dogs together at the park. I knew in the winter she’d said she started bringing them separately because they pulled too hard on the icy sidewalks. But the ice is gone, even if the cold isn’t. Maybe there’s more to it?

But I can’t ask her directly. There’s a layer of protection in her reserve. She always has a pleasant answer, but it’s as if she’s slowly backing out of the room. So I use my subtle powers of investigation.

“Do you always bring both of them to the park, one and then the other?”

“Oh yes, yes,” she smiles.

“Every morning?”

“Oh, I have to. They have so much energy.”

“Wow, that must take a lot of time.”

“No, only about an hour and fifteen minutes total.” I use an old interviewer’s trick and don’t answer. The uncomfortable silence will prompt her to keep talking. “Oh, he’s worried about his sticks.”

“Django doesn’t like sticks, don’t worry. Do you always bring them in the same order?”

“Yes, I have to bring M— first or he gets upset.”

“What about A—, he just waits?”

“Yes, he just lies down and waits.”

“Just waits.”

“Yes,” she smiles and sidles away, leaving me with nothing but awe for someone who walks here every single morning, twice. Note to self: work on powers of investigation and purchase walking shoes.