A Crisp, Clear January Afternoon
A new puppy needs to exercise.
An old body needs to exercise.
Perfect incentives for me and Maggie on a clear winter’s day.
She’s full of piss and vinegar, that Maggie is, and me, well, I’m full of something for sure. Maggie is also inquisitive, as all puppies are, the world unfolds before them, new sights, new sounds, new scents, everything worth inspection, so walks with Maggie tend to be slow-paced as she soaks it all in, this new world, this exciting world, tail wagging, nose to the ground, bristling with anticipation as we turn corners and walk the walk.
Me, I’m old, approaching seventy, been there, done that, seen most blocks in this neighborhood many times, eight years worth of gazing, know the streets by heart, recognize the houses, recognize the faces, same old, same old, not much new to see, just walking the puppy, trying to stay warm and in some semblance of good health.
Down Eastside Street
A young mother, pushing a stroller, long brown hair, almost copper not brown as the sun illuminates, clear complexion, rosy cheeks, hesitant smile as she approaches, baby wrapped in several layers, chubby enthusiasm, the baby and Maggie sharing that, Maggie whipping her tail, baby wide-eyed, mother wary as she well should be, me putting on my least-menacing smile, wishing her a great walk . . .she stops to pet Maggie, impossible not to do so, Maggie almost demands it, “my your puppy is beautiful,” she says, and I say thanks, “how old is your baby?” six months she says, so proud she is, so in love with that miniature person, she is absolutely beaming now, and I find myself smiling wider than at first, such a ridiculously mundane experience somehow turned so special.
We say goodbye, Maggie reluctant to do so, having one’s stomach rubbed is a real pleasure, you know, and we continue down Eastside, several people returning from shopping, or work, or errands, hard to say which, but a good bet, and school must have ended as evidenced by the gigging batch of pre-teens walking with backpacks towards me, Maggie’s tail beating seriously hard at that point, probably imagining multiple tummy rubs at once, a dog’s Nirvana, and then there they are, probably ten or eleven, miniature adults without the albatross of adult issues, puppy love overcoming warnings about strangers, and I’m suddenly sad that this is a world where young girls even have to worry about such things, but maybe it’s always been that kind of world, you know, evil has always existed, and always will, so maybe we are just more aware now . . . or just more fearful and distrusting . . . heavy thoughts as the young girls reach down and pet the furry universal carrier of love and good tidings, and for thirty seconds the puppy and girls bond as the old man stands by reflecting on life.
Hang a Right on Bethel
There’s roadwork ahead, big machinery, flag man thirty feet in front of us, guy nearing forty, dressed for the chill, orange traffic vest over Carhartt bibs, looking tired, looking surly, or troubled, hard to tell which, and the clang of machinery has Maggie nervous, shrinking back, looking to me for assurances.
The guy with the flag waves us ahead, I nod, he nods, two ships passing in the night, on a brilliant sunny afternoon, him buried in his thoughts, me still reflecting on young girls and puppy love, out of the reflections comes “is that an Airedale” and I tell him no, a new breed, Northwest Farm Terrier, Airedale mix, thirty years in the making, and then he’s reaching down his hand, letting Maggie know it’s okay, a sniff, a lick, the tail begins once again, and “nice dog you’ve got there,” and “you take care now,” and for ten seconds, whatever was weighing him down was gone, a sniff, a lick, a wagging tail, and then the mask of indifference falls again, the weight returns, and he’s all business and Maggie and I continue.
Little old lady on the corner, pretty silly of me to say that, me being almost seventy, but she looks ancient in comparison, waiting for the bus, bundled up, an oval shape covered in layers of cotton looking our way, hard to tell if she sees us or not. I hear the bus approaching from behind me, so does she, evidently, the shuffle towards the curb begins, glacier-like, tiny increments of ground made up by size fives with Velcro straps, mud puddle between her and the spot where the bus will stop, surely not going to end well when the bus arrives, surely a spraying on brittle bones, but the bus driver was on his game, slowing perceptibly just before that stop, no splash or spray at all, and as the octogenarian climbs the steps she looks back and Maggie and me, smiles, waves, says “God bless you,” and she is gone in her chariot.
Hang a Right on Miller
And another old lady awaits, this one with a trash-picker-upper, one of those pointed sticks you use to stab pieces of litter, that’s what she’s doing, stab, stick inside a trash bag, stab, stick inside a trash bag, moving slowly along the curb, bundled up for the Arctic chill although it’s really only forty above, chill yes, Arctic no, stab, stick, stab, stick, sees me and Maggie and mutters something, too low to hear, “excuse me, I didn’t hear you,” head rises, hazel eyes focus on me, “I said I don’t know why people litter, seems so thoughtless to me,” and I agree with a nod of the head, looking for words while she looks for trash, “I’m sorry they littered your yard, ma’am,” and she shakes her head, a white lock of hair coming loose, down to her cheek, “no, no, this isn’t my yard, I just want the neighborhood clean for everyone,” and then she’s back to stabbing, sticking, stabbing, sticking, and Maggie and me are left to ponder civic responsibility in the year 2018.
Kids unload from a van up ahead, a harried mother shooing them all inside the house, the wind picks up, others walking their dogs, hand in hand, or ignoring each other, and others raking leaves, some trimming trees, some on the front porch for a smoke break, a break from what I do not know, living life, I guess, we’re all living life, seven billion of us with troubles and joys, memories and nightmares, ingrained wariness and devil-may-care, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, homeless and living fat on the hog, all there to see on a sunny, crisp January afternoon as Maggie and me make our way home, the warmth of a wood stove, the coziness of a loving house, in the bosom of family, just like when I grew up, different address but still, same old same old, back then four billion, the numbers adding up fast and furious, opinions galore, viewpoints, convictions, worries, ignorance, brilliance, aimless and focused, each with a story, each with secrets, it always has been and always will be.
Tomorrow another walk, and another, and another, a way to stay connected, to feel a part of it all, the bigger picture, surrounding me . . . surrounding you.
Me and Maggie, out for a walk . . .
2018 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)