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The International Writers' Magazine

Dog Walking in Brooklyn

 
• John Lowry
 

Picture by Arthur Robbins New York

Monday 6:22 AM - Windy, thirty-two degrees. Boss anxious for his walk. A new homeless person is sleeping on the Gill Hodges Memorial bench outside Prospect Park. The previous guy was always smiling, rather genial. The new guy has a sleeping bag, pink, with a hole in the bottom. A dirty toe is sticking out. His tiny radio is on, set to an all-news station. I stop to listen while Boss sniffs his toe. A Fordham co-ed has gone missing. A beautiful girl, someone says, brilliant, studying to be an economist. We move on. I re-write the news from a bad guy perspective. Miss No Name is outstandingly ugly and has bad breath. A newspaper truck has same station on. Now there is a deadly disease infecting birds in Thailand.

Tuesday 6:18 AM - Very cold. More stars than usual and they look cold too. I wear my heavy-duty parka and my wool cap, pulled down over my ears. I imagine I must look like Nanook of the North; also realize that I don’t know who he is. Boss is anxious to get out. He likes the cold. A big guy is outside the lobby door, beating his arms against his legs. Can’t make out much; he’s all in black too. He sees me coming and lights up a big smile. Looks OK or are these are the last moments of my little life? I open the door and he bounds in. Thanks! Oh, God, it’s freezing out there! Boss wags his tail. Hey, brave dog you going out? he says. That scores a point. Wouldn’t happen to know what apartment Maurice Tasker is in? He points to the street. He’s got a car waiting. That shit, I think. Yeah, 4-B I tell him. He thanks me again. Tasker, I think outside. Four years ago there was a fire in his apartment. The story I heard is that the fireman found Tasker buck naked and dead drunk on a burning couch. He’s a lawyer too, but acts superior to me because he goes to work in a private car at six in the morning. Deena says I judge too harshly. My partners say I’m too soft. Orange clouds, moving real fast. It’s damned cold but Boss is still eager. Meet fellow dog walker; sex undetermined because he/she is all bundled up; carrying a small white dog who immediately yips at Boss who ignores him. Good boy! What the hell kind of dog is it that you have to carry to take a poop? Boss decides it’s his time. I clean up, dump everything in the garbage and both of us are raring to go home, Boss to his breakfast, me to coffee with Deena. Remember to pick up The Times for Deena at the newsstand by the subway.

Wed 6:20 AM - Bit warmer, light rain, a spooky fog in Prospect Park. Boss is restless; keeps stopping to look at nothing in particular. Homeless guy is in his cocoon, same toe sticking out, his radio on. Boss sniffs his toe again. Monitoring his condition, I suppose. Today’s news: A woodpecker, thought to be extinct, has been found in a London park. And: fat children are not as successful in later life as thin ones. How about kids who are just a little chubby? Someone standing in the doorway of a brownstone startles me. The streetlight flashes on his face and he looks mean. Boss gives off a low growl. I wonder if I should carry a gun or a knife. One of our partners, Parsons McLaren, carries a derringer that belonged to his grandfather. When Deena walks Boss she has a small boat horn that would wake Carlos the Zombie. Crossing Flatbush, I hear a siren. Something is coming along like a rocket. I wait, expecting to see a speeding police car, but it’s an ambulance, traveling about twenty-five miles an hour, stopping and then creeping through the intersection. Why does a lot of noise make something sound fast? Oh nice, a woman’s stocking hanging on a bush in front of our building. I pick it up and, holding it between my fingernails, walk it to the trashcan. What the hell! They couldn’t wait and did it in the street? Someone tossed it from a window? A one legged woman clearing out a drawer? Wait, I have it! It’s like jet planes taking off at JFK. Stuff falls off. Few screws here, a couple of bolts there. I’m too cynical. There is hope in the world. I meet Drake Harry, the psychologist, in the lobby. Did I feel the earthquake? she asks. Earthquake? Oh, yes! a point two something, centered up state. My bureau shook. Bambi was terrified. She burrowed under the covers. She smiled.

My cat, not my girl friend. Deena is excited too. There was a rumble, she said; pictures danced on the wall. I shake my head and look at Boss. Hey, what happened? You’re supposed to be sensitive to this stuff. Breakfast is fun, we go into detail about the horror of an earthquake in New York.

Thursday - 6:00 AM sharp. Windy and cold. Today, Boss puts his tail between his legs and looks miserable. A sure sign we will be out here forever. If I take him home, Deena will just have to walk him in half an hour. The blinds are open in the window of a basement apartment. In the soft pink light, I can see a bookcase, a rug, a TV facing a fat, green chair piled with papers and cardboard boxes. Something exciting is about to happen, I know it. Boss fidgets, whimpering a little. Come on, Boss, I let you smell stuff, let me look. A young woman appears, wearing green army fatigues, a white helmet and what looks like a small parachute on her chest. She spreads her legs and throws open her arms, like she’s jumping from a plane; then, backs out of the room, moving her hands as though pulling something. Boss takes the occasion to complete his mission. A two-fer! Thank you!

Friday 6:02 AM - Purple sky, no wind. As I step out of the building, I almost run into two cops. Pleasant guys, they say good-morning to me and Boss. Meet the Little White Dog walker. Can see plainly that it is a woman: big glasses, fire truck lipstick, eyebrows so drawn over you think you have double vision. Dog yips again, Boss ignores him again. On Plaza Street West, people are gathered around a parked car. I hurry to see what is going on. The dome light is on, a flushed looking guy slumped over the wheel. Wow! A murder? A guy in a peaked cap, holding an unlighted pipe in his mouth, thinks the same thing. Looks like mob, he announces. But there’s no blood, I say. Behind the ear, it’s clean, the guy says. A biker stops. He’s wearing one of these futuristic helmets that make him like a space cadet. Last summer, on a tour in Dublin, I saw a dead guy with flies on his face. Any details from the autopsy? I think. A woman with a baguette of bread under her arm (fresh from Paris) says maybe it’s a reality show. I look at my watch. It’s getting late but I want to see what is happening. A woman rushes up. She has short reddish hair. She’s looks cold in baggy gray pants and a thin white jacket. She pushes everyone aside and knocks on the window with a key. Poss! she calls. Poss, wake up! The guy doesn’t stir. She turns to the spectator gallery. Please, help me rock the car. He has narcolepsy. I slide Boss’s leash up onto my wrist. We all pitch in. We rock the car and Poss goes with it, like he’s on a boat in choppy water. The Parisian has an idea. Does he have a cell phone? Yes! the woman says. Oh God, I forgot mine! Miss Parisian slides one out from the sleeve of her jacket. The woman taps in a number and we all wait breathlessly. Poss jumps as though he has gotten a shock. He pulls a cell phone from his pocket, listens, looks shocked again and stares out the window at us. We laugh and cheer. He opens the door. The woman jumps in and starts berating him. We all hurry off. Adventure over.

Saturday 6:35 AM - Light snow, breezy but a certain softness, like spring is coming - which it is. Boss loves the snow. We walk over to the park so he can run around a bit. Nice leisurely weekend feeling. Lots of runners; people on bikes. On the official dog run, I play bandit, take him off his leash and let him go. As usual, he runs off like he is thinking of never coming home. After ten minutes or so, I call him and he comes trotting back looking hungry. Must stop at newsstand for paper. A guy wearing a flashy warm up suit and a wool cap with a NY Yankee logo on it, walks in at the same time. He starts taking magazines and piling them, one atop the other, on the floor. The guy at the counter gets nervous. What you want? I help you. Another worker comes out from the back. He doesn’t look nervous, just mean. He takes the magazines and starts putting them back on the rack. Hey, I’m buying them! the guy says. Which ones, the guy at the counter says. I help you. A guy comes in with a baby hanging off his chest like a papoose. The kid immediately begins screaming. I walk to the corner with my paper and the guy follows. We stand waiting for the street light. That was dispiriting, he says. What? I think. Did you notice? My dress and behavior deviated from the norm. I upset their expectations. They were unable to adjust and went into an attack mode. He smiled, noticing my surprise. I’m a sociology major at Long Island University. This is part of my senior thesis. I laughed. You got me too, I confessed. As I get off the elevator, I catch the wonderful smell of fresh coffee.

Sunday my day off. Do you have your horn? I say to Deena. I try to go back to sleep but keep smelling smoke. What could be burning and, if there’s a fire, why doesn’t the smoke alarm go off? I reflect that I seem to be smelling smoke a lot lately and remember hearing somewhere that it could be the sign of a brain tumor. I hear a loud shout in the street. Then nothing. Next, what sounds like a mourning dove. I never can find where it’s coming from. It’s pretty in a way. Someone is standing by the side of the bed looking at me. I hear a key in the door and realize I was asleep. I can smell the rolls and coffee Deena has bought at Bread and Stuff. Boss comes running up and sticks his cold nose against mine. I grab him and plant a big kiss on his head. You love that dog more than me, Deena says. Come over here, if your nose is cold, I say. We fool around and have some fun. Hell, it’s Sunday.

Monday - 6:15 AM in the forties; much more light. March is here. As soon as I step outside, I don’t feel good. I surprise myself and Boss by vomiting. Rather mildly, even politely. A woman unlocking her car gives me a hard look. You could have kept them at home, she says. That pisses me off. Oh, I’m so sorry, I say. It just so happens I have a terminal illness. That startles her. But she says nothing and gets into her car. I’m immediately sorry. I’m sure I’ve jinxed myself and how about people who are really sick? But why did she have to be so snotty? I feel better and we walk down to Eighth Avenue. The cops have a car pulled over. They’re sitting in their cruiser, the dome light on, doing a license check, I bet. But the guy in the car is going crazy, jumping around, slapping the seats, tossing papers and coffee cups, taking roundhouse swings at the air. He rolls down the window as we walk by. I’m an investigator! I’m working on a financial fraud involving millions of dollars. Every minute lost is big bucks and what are we doing here? Nothing! Two dumb cops just sitting there! You better not say that to them, I say. He looks surprised. They’ll run you in. Ruin your whole day. You know what I’m saying? He chuckles. Ah, shit, he says. It just feels so good to vent, doesn’t it? Oh, I think, if I didn’t have a dog look what I would miss. And there’s more! When I pass the basement apartment where I saw the woman wearing a parachute, there’s a big plastic garbage bag in front of the metal gate over the door. It seems to be moving. Boss freezes and looks nervous. I feel a chill run down my neck. I wait. No, it’s not moving. It was an illusion in the dim light. We’re ready to go when it moves again. Yes, definitely. Oh, yikes! What should I do? Boss strains at his leash. Let’s go! But I have to see. I walk down the two steps, Boss dragging along with all the enthusiasm of a hooked fish. I kick the bag gently. It feels soft, but not like a body. It moves again, like it’s breathing. Stay, I tell Boss, hooking his leash to the gate. The bag is sealed by what looks a piece of electrical cord. I untie it. Something white leaps out and I jump up. Boss starts barking. The thing hangs half in, half out of the bag and I realize it is an old comforter that had been rolled up. I try to shove it back in but every time I try to tie the cord, it pops out again. To hell with it! Whoever threw it out it will think the cord came loose. We hurry home, Boss bounding and playful. I guess I’m disappointed. Dog walkers are supposed to find bodies.

Tuesday 6:07 AM - Windy and icy blue sky. Damn cold. A girl gets off bus on the corner of Flatbush. Very young and thin, looking cold in a dirty jacket. She also looks lost and scared I ask her if she needs help. Her mouth opens as though she is about to scream. Instead, she hurries off down the street, turning once to look back at us. Thank you, Mr. Boy Scout! Homeless guy is in his cocoon, radio on. A guy walking his dog in the East Village has made a grisly discovery: a human head in a cake box. Exactly! Dog walkers should get a stipend for performing such civic duties. On Lincoln Place, an elderly man with wispy gray hair that seems to be levitating off his head is standing in the lobby of an apartment building wearing a bathrobe. He cracks the door open as we walk by. You didn’t see the Times lady, by any chance? I shake my head. He smiles. I get it delivered every day. It’s a gift from my sister. What’s the weather like? I give him the latest forecast, throwing in the five-day outlook. He puts two fingers to the bridge of his nose, looking ready to cry. Fifty years ago today, this very hour, on a morning exactly like this, I was drafted. Really? I say. I thought I was going to Korea but they sent me to Germany. I was so happy. I thought, I won’t have to die a senseless death. On my very first pass in Schweinfurt, the boy I was with - I’ll never forget his name - Carson Colyer III, he takes out a knife and puts it to the neck of this German taxi driver. Why? I’m still thinking after all these years. We just got paid. The man panics. He starts driving like a crazy man. He sees two MP’s in a jeep and starts blowing his horn. In all the confusion, doesn’t Carson stab him in the neck. We collide with the jeep and one of the MPs is thrown onto the road and killed. Carson was sentenced to twenty-five years. I was convicted as his accomplice. I got a dishonorable discharge and did three years in the stockade at Stuttgart. Every year, especially a morning like this, I have to fight off dark thoughts. But you’ve been brave. What did you do when you got out? I can’t resist asking. Oh, nothing, he says. First, I lived with my mother and now I’m living with my sister and her husband. You see, it takes all I have just to get through the day. A car pulls up to the curb and he smiles. Oh, here comes my Times. What would I do without it? Another story to tell Deena, I think walking home. But it’s a morning for adventure. People are collecting at the subway entrance, seemingly afraid to go down. I hear loud, angry voices and, peering down, see two girls, circling each other, yelling at the top of their lungs. One of them is holding a cell phone like a weapon. Just then, a police car pulls up. Two cops get out, a man and a woman. They look apprehensive and check their gun holsters. The little group gives way and they start down the stairs. Not for anything! a woman holding a brief case says.

Wednesday 6:32 AM. – (Written ten days after the fact.) In the forties. First light of the spring. My day to get hit by a car! We were crossing Grand Army Plaza. Had the light, looked both ways, just doing what my mother told me. I’m half way across, when a car runs the light, cutting off a cab making a turn. The cabbie loses control and starts spinning. It’s all so fast! I run, dropping the leash to give Boss a better chance. I see a yellow blur, someone in the window of the cab screaming. Please! I hear myself shout. The next moment, I’m lying on the pavement, wrapped in a blanket that smells of cat piss. A cop is kneeling over me. Stay awake! he commands. Stay awake, you’re going to be OK. Boss, I whisper but he doesn’t hear me. A man and a woman wearing gray jackets lift me gently onto a stretcher. My back and leg start to hurt. I don’t want to go to the hospital. I’m OK, I say. The woman gently restrains me. The ambulance smells like pizza. I’m just about to ask for Deena when she appears. She’s crying and I start to cry too. She takes my hand. Am I going to die? No, no, of course not! she says. Hey, get over it, honey, the woman medic says, popping a slice of gum into her mouth. You’re going to be fine.

Friday, Methodist Hospital (Written in bed) - How’s Boss, I say to Deena. He’s home, she says. He’s fine. I have bad bruises, a sprained back, a simple fracture of my right leg. The poor guy in the cab needed thirty stitches, Deena says. The driver was treated for trauma. I hate being in the hospital. The guy in the next bed says nothing, watches television all day. When his wife comes to visit, she watches with him. After two days, I’m moving around with a walker. Deena brings me ice cream and the paper. She’s very quiet. Boss ran away, she says. He’ll be back. He’s just upset. The accident and everything. I turn away. I don’t want to cry.

Thursday - 6:17 AM – Sunny, mild. Trees coming into bud, lots of light. Have been home six days. Feel reborn. My back is stiff and sore every morning and again at night. I walk with a cane; only temporary, doc says. People in the building treat me like a war hero. My mission now is to get the paper and search for Boss. Deena thinks it’s hopeless though she doesn’t say so. I visit all our routes. Other dog walkers are wary.
A dog walker without a dog is like a cowboy without a horse. Now that it’s bright, the homeless guy is reading a newspaper as well as listening to the radio. Today someone has been eating people in Germany. I’d like to ask him about Boss but he seems hostile; mouth turned down, a belligerent scowl. I hear a dog barking near where we had the adventure with the garbage bag. It stops before I can tell where it’s coming from. There’s a new guy behind the counter of the newsstand, young, with a red baseball cap. He has his girlfriend with him. I can see them kissing as I approach. He is unusually solicitous. Would I like the Times in a bag? I turn at the corner and they are kissing again.

Friday - 6:12 AM. - Light drizzle, but warm and humid, almost summery, making me feel a little giddy. I’m planning to go over to the park. It’s been two weeks. If I don’t find Boss soon I suspect the game is up. Deena says I’m getting obsessed. At the corner of Prospect Park West, I hear a dog barking, muffled somehow. Then I see him: Boss! in a car parked at the corner. He sees me too and is jumping against the window. I can’t believe it! There is no one in the car. It’s not locked. I open the back door and Boss comes running out. He tries to jump into my arms, almost knocking me over.
I’m so happy I start crying. He looks fine, maybe a little thin. Should I wait for the car owner? No, to hell with it! He’s my dog! We walk home, Boss jumping up and down like a puppy. I kneel down and hug him some more. This is a miracle! The last day!

Deena hears us in the hall and throws open the door, already in tears. We have a ridiculous and noisy reunion. More calmly, over coffee, we conclude that someone found him and wanted to adopt him. We would like to thank whoever it was, yet know it might get complicated. On my way to work, I look for the car but it is gone.

Friday 6:18 AM. - Humid, lightning over Manhattan, feeling of an impending storm. I’m alert to anyone driving a car slowly. Outside the Prospect Senior Residence, a large woman in a flowing green robe and sunglasses stands singing. She has this big, operatic voice. The early-to-workers pay her no attention but Boss and I stop. She ends in a crescendo of vibrato, throwing out her arms dramatically. She pulls a handkerchief from out of her robe and delicately wipes her mouth. I find two dollars and offer them to her. She swells up, taking off her sunglasses and showing her huge eyes, black and burning. Sir, I am not a beggar! I’m rehearsing my audition at the City Opera. Oh, shit! Onward, Boss!

© John Lowry June '05
hemlove@aol.com

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