The cab of the pick-up was dark but we could see that it was a thirty-something male leaning out the window with his friend/girlfriend/wife looking wide-eyed and semi-hopeful in the seat next to him.
"Sorry. No, we haven't."
Indeed, we had seen no such dog fitting said description. The woman's face, blanketed in darkness, now a stark charcoal-rub caricature of one long, heavy, angst-ridden sigh finding release in complete and utter exasperation.
They loved this dog.
"But if we do see her we'll definitely call you."
"Thanks." And this is where the human brain in recall goes all 'funny', mine at least, "Her name is 'Waffles' (...maybe...) and she got off her leash and jumped the fence about an hour ago. My name is 'Mike/Bob/Sam/Joe/Frank/Your Name Here' and my number is 512-4bleep6something-wha?4random#blahblah."
Perhaps its a mutant strain of genetics called 'Hope' that we think we'll actually remember any helpful information in moments like these... in one ear. Processing. Processing. Please hold. Then out the next. Goodbyyye, useful memory! Off to the dustbin of personal history with you!
But I assure you for the rest of our evening stroll Heather and I were ever so watchful. Oh, absolutely, the next day whenever I found myself out in the neighborhood on a break, I looked in fanatic earnest for that small, white, curly-haired pup, too.
So, get this.
On the drive down North Loop Avenue the following afternoon, making my way to the post office, I spotted a dog pulling a short length of chain behind it and fitting the EXACT of those described specifications:
Curly Haired. CHECK!!!
Poodle! My stars, CHECK-CHECK-CHECK-CHECK!
There goes "Cheerios" on the loose! Or, Waffles or Cookie or Mike or Joe Bob... what was that phone number again?
"WAFFLES! STOP! HERE GIRL! GODDAMNIT, WAFFLES, STOP!" but like any smart dog being barreled into by some lunatic braking two tons of hurtling steel she took off like a lightening bolt underneath a fence and into somebody's back yard.
"No, Waffles, come back! Its me, your buddy Den, the guy who just spoke with your 'mum & dad'. Just last night... stop. They miss you..."
I wasn't about to give chase, either, as, to my knowledge, many Texans have a fondness for gun ownership. I can only imagine someone seeing an idiot 'Yankee' leaping around on their property screaming about breakfast foods making for some fine target practice...
"Sumbish' came right at me, officer, crazed look in his eyes, hollerin' nonsense about flapjacks 'n such. So I flattened 'im ... like a pancake."
Now, how often does this happen, though? Actually finding someone's lost pet (most likely anyway) and having the opportunity to actually do something about it? Here was my cosmic lottery moment. I was going to shine in the universal spotlight ("I'm ready for my close up, Mr. Demille.")! Would there be a reward? Yes, of course, there would be: the screams of familial joy and teary cheeked laughter, a lapping little pink tongue swabbing a weeping child's face, deus ex machina ~ Christmas in September for everyone ~ !!!
I'm afraid this story does not have the traditional happy ending to it;
I did not reunite 'Waffles' with her family; she did not come back to me when I called and called. The court may note, however, that I did brave one very excited phone call to a completely jaded Austin City police department.
"You what now? Lost your waffles? Sir, you do realize this call is being recorded, right?"
The whole affair did bring me to a most unusual observation, though. From that moment on I found myself noticing every single dog that was not on a leash walking around the streets that day (more than you might think in a city with a strict leash law). I was strangely intrigued by this phenomenon for reasons to follow.
Mostly these dogs all looked perfectly content sniffing every stick and leafy bush while four-legging it along, tongues lolling and tails wagging. But some looked just plain lost, too. Detached and searching for something or someone. Some obviously outright scared: jerky backward glancing heads and nervously tucked-away tails.
So, what was stopping me from pulling over to the curb and picking up one of these friendlier beasts, taking it home, and calling it my own by giving it a name?
Reality for one:
(Ripped from the 'The Daily Texan' headlines)
'HYDE PARK DOG NAPPER APPREHENDED! LOCAL RESIDENTS DEMAND 'SEND HIM TO THE POUND'! Baffled Culprit Babbles, "But I Just Love Waffles!"'
Or, more likely...
Heather: "You what? We can't take in a ... a DOG!"
Dennis: "But he looked so lost and fluffy and..."
Heather: "Well, what about the cats? You think they're going to approve of your drooling new pal?"
Or, hello? Were these dogs even lost to begin with? Big presumption that!
But the more pressing and personal reason I wouldn't just abduct any old stray is my problem with this one concept: past identities. Better still, unknown but evolved histories. And I don't mean 'does it have its rabies shots yet' either.
(Wait! Look! Up ahead! It's my point!)
When we become untied from what is our comfortable lot in life we can easily find ourselves wandering. Unleashed, undefined and sniffing for some sort of familiarity. Tail sometimes wagging, sometimes tucked between our legs. Moving to a new state (and a *very* unfamiliar culture to boot), I can attest, is a damningly near perfect example.
Whether it be physically, or philosophically, some of us can wander passively or actively. By either standard we might one day catch ourselves staring long and hard into what we thought was the same old trusty looking-glass but, in a sudden burst of clarity, declare, "Holy bejesus! Who was this "Me" that whole time?" (why I'm still not used to discovering this notion after having moved so many times is still a complete mystery to me I might add).
From the distance that 'all-things-familiar' had kept me *from* 'Me' I had successfully tricked myself into thinking 'this is, in fact, the real Dennis' (no small bit of irony there methinks - hmmm, objects in mirror closer than they appear, eh...?): Career minded, hard worker, solid & productive member of society, blah-bahdy-blah-blah blaaah. You know, those little boxes kind of things packaged together so neatly that aid in defining 'who we are'. On the surface these can be informative road signs to be sure. But, deeper?
More to the point, we, also, have our given names and complex histories as foundation, but to everyone else we're certainly only mere strangers. Tabula Rasa: Blank Slates. Strays waiting to be picked up and given a new name. A whole life unexplained to someone - better tell it right in the few short impressionistic strokes you're allowed, or else!
...How dare they?
The thought of delivering a personality portrait rich in the poetry of joy, tragedy, wisdom, love, hate, ritual, heroics, discovery, falling down, getting back up, being a good friend/husband/wife/father/ mother/lover, being a terrible friend/husband/wife/ father/mother/lover and so on and so on, to one more person can be just ... daunting.
And at my age. Sheesh. This? Again?
"You, my fair weathered new Acquaintance, don't deserve to know me!" Let the Righteous be heard! Amen.
Yes, indeed, 'jumped the fence about an hour ago' have I by relocating to another city.
Some of us can experience this wandering by simply getting a new job, or going off to a new school or even by a short stay in a foreign country. And for those of us who have undergone the nonsensical and unspeakably cruel fate of losing someone we loved so dearly we are forced back into finding ourselves all over again. This, without doubt, is the most bewildering Wandering of them all (You have my respect, my admiration and my shoulder whenever you may need it).
I am feeling my own stray-ness now. I am fortunate enough to be wandering by choice (actively) for at the moment I have slipped my neck from out under the collar of familiarity and I am looking about in gleeful wonder with a certain level of amazement... and, yes, with fear, as well.
This in time, for better or for worse, will fade into a warm, fuzzy pastiche as things begin to glue themselves back into place. My comfort zone's pillow will get fluffed and, unawares, the collar will find itself fitting snuggly once more around my neck. My head restfully will plunk itself down drugged by modern life's 'Soma'. But what great insight one gets to see from this vantage ~ let me just enjoy the view for one more moment.
Then remind me exactly just what right do I have to give a stray a new name and call it my own?
"Here, Waffles, are you lost? Or, just out for a walk...?"
Happy New Year,