Late in the day Saturday, after my “holy Toledo !” Motel 6 night from hell, I’m looking for a dog park in Akron to give Lib a chance to stretch her legs. We hit the trifecta, as it was not only a nice, clean, freshly mown park, with really nice folks and friendly dogs, it was a beautiful evening as well.
Course we had to cruise the requisite “every city USA” main drag. Market Street, I believe. They are all painfully the same, cut-and-paste America, where an eager consumer can feast on every conceivable chain restaurant, electronics, sporting goods, home improvement, home furnishings, shoes, clothes, tacos, donuts, coffee, massage, fake tans, fake boobs, fake teeth AND get a loan until payday — all within about 90 consecutive blocks which of course, one really needs a car to take full advantage of. I’m such a hypocrite. As much as I loathe the sameness of it, I did think, “hey, there’s and XYZ store, I could pop in and get that thing I NEED,” but I kept following my GPS bread crumbs to get to the Cascade Valley Park before the sun went down.
It was awesome. It’s funny, you know, it’s almost like an underground thing, these dog parks, or maybe I’m just late to the party. They’re always tucked away down a gravel road, which to me signifies good times ahead, a throw back to my Texas and New Mexico youth. The minute you hit the gravel it was either camping, hiking, a beer bust or all of the above. It was a fenced-off area, a couple of ball fields big, and a municipal park, which means it’s free. Libby felt right at home, going up to strangers, two-legged and four.
So, I meet this guy Bill. We start talking, we introduce our dogs. He has Dutchess, a Golden who was rescued from people who kept her outside in a tin-covered dog run in Phoenix, and Lela the Akita, who was dumped by the side of the road somewhere. Bill said for the longest time any time he’d take her for a ride, she wouldn’t get out of the car, like for HOURS! Finally, she’s reassured she’s not going to get dumped again. Who can do this to a dog?
“Lela was my partner’s dog,” he said, her stretching out in the grass in front of us, huge bushy tail wagging. “He died from a blood clot to his brain, he’d gone in for kidney problems, he had this genetic kidney condition. And then he was doing better. But I had already told our friends, you better come now, he’s not doing too good. And then he looked great. That seems to happen, you know, people rally sometimes on the day before they die.”
He bent down to pet Lela and Dutchess, who had the finest coat, baby soft, her snout turning grey. “Daddy’s gone, huh you guys? It’s just us now.”
Bill takes a photo of Chris from his wallet. He was a good-looking guy, fit, youthful, had worked for United Airlines. He had just turned 40, when he passed in March of ’07. Bill’s grief was compounded by family issues and legal hassles after his partner died. I’m sure this happens a lot. It got really ugly over Chris’ material possessions, the stuff they’d acquired together during their 17-year union. “And I had to sue to get his life insurance, and it wasn’t that much” he said.
Once things were settled, he loaded up the dogs and moved from Phoenix back to Ohio. He seems okay with it, says there’s a lot to do in Akron, besides the fact that his family needed him here. Like so many of us, aging parents, siblings, or in Bill’s case, a cousin, who needs care, brought him back home. As for his loss, I understand when he says, “what are you gonna do? You keep on going, at least I’ve got our dogs.”
“My roommates and I wanted a dog, I knew I’d end up being the one who took him home over the summers in Buffalo. It was cool.” When they all graduated, Dan got a degree and a permanent pet.
“It’s kinda hard when I go to the city to visit now, you know. I gotta take the dog. It’s kinda like, love me, love my dog.”
I asked him if Duke was a chick magnet. “Why do you think I’m here?” he laughed.
“So how’s it working for you?”
“Not so much, but today’s Duke’s 8th birthday, so I’m not gonna like pimp my dog on his birthday.”
Sun was going down, people migrating toward the gate, like pied pipers, their doggies following behind. This lady Nancy, whom I’d been talking to about Off the Leash, asked me if I needed anything.
“Dog treats? A place to stay?”
A total stranger, offering me a place to stay for the night.
But I had miles to go before I slept, I had been the interloper, on their normal Saturday evening in Akron taking their dogs out for a run. I passed by a golf course, people strolling into the country club, a wedding reception, most likely, then beautiful brick homes, manicured lawns, lamps coming on in the living rooms, as the light fades on the brilliant blue hydrangeas, the color I work so hard to achieve back home. I wonder how they’re doing. I wonder if Sean is watering. I wonder if they miss their tender.
Home. Already I am missing it. We knew this would happen, didn’t we? I had to buck up and head on down the road. Horizon pinks and blues turn to slate, then black as a half moon rises over the highway. Red lights blink from tall towers, headlights splash on glowing green signs, trucks rattle by, and I, in my vessel of solitude, drive on, another journey day closer with my dog.