It’s a warm October afternoon in 1981, and for some reason 15-year old me is standing in a crowded waterfront park in Boston shouting “milkman! teddy bear!” with an alarming sense of urgency.
People are staring.
Panic rising, I realize the two dogs I’m being paid handsomely to walk after school are nowhere to be found. Somehow I have lost my grip on their matching bright-pink nylon leashes, and Teddy Bear and Milkman – two 8-pound lhasa apso’s who I suspect even their owner finds hard to tell apart – have disappeared into the crowd at Columbus Park on the edge of Boston’s traffic-heavy Atlantic Avenue.
I begin to race around the park, frantically shouting “Milkman, come back! Teddy Bear, where are you?!” And before anyone can call 911 and have me committed the psych ward at Mass. General Hospital, I find them at the center of the park, where – in a politically-charged statement 40 years ahead of its time — they have both peed vigorously on the base of the giant statue of Christopher Columbus. They are sitting proudly next to their little puddles.
As I regain custody of these two little terrors I think to myself, who would name their dogs Milkman and Teddy Bear?
But I have little time for reflection, as I still have to walk Shaka, the mutt. And Max, the super-fluffy sheepdog. And Oliver, the bouncy cocker spaniel puppy. And Amore, the elderly cocker spaniel. And Chelsea, the very tall standard poodle. And the other Max, a barrel-chested golden retriever.
These “dog people,” who are paying me really good money to walk their dogs when I get home from school every weekday, are nuts, I remind myself. I head back to the high-rise apartment building where I live with my parents and where my neighbors are my canine-customers, and I get back to the work of walking dogs.
Some of these dogs sleep in beds more comfortable than mine and actually have their own bedrooms with expansive views of the Boston waterfront. Max, the sheepdog, has a bratty human brother my age living at home, but they still pay me $50 a week to walk their dog. Amore, the elderly cocker spaniel, is owned by an elderly woman who also happens to own the oldest restaurant in Boston. I am certain that every meal Amore eats is lovingly prepared by the staff in the 19th century kitchen near Faneuil Hall. Sometimes I have to apply a mystery ointment to Shaka’s “butt area,” and the owners always leave a little something extra in the pay envelope when the dog has a flare up.
Yes, these dog people are crazy. If there’s one thing I know – and I’m 15 years old, so I already know everything – is that I’ll never be a crazy dog person when I grow up.
It’s a warm October afternoon in 2020, and for some reason 54-year old me is at a Cape Cod dog park, shouting “Lou, be nice to Brandon!” with an alarming sense of urgency. People are staring.
Brandon, despite his size, appears to be a baby. He’s one of those long, thin German Shephards with ridiculously big paws that you know is going to double in size and weight every day for the next few weeks. And Lou – my socially-awkward Australian Shephard mix whose real name is Luna – is playing a little too roughly with Brandon. Brandon’s human dad looks annoyed.
“Knock it off, Lou” I shout across the park. “Or we’ll have to leave the park.” Chastened, Luna stops bullying Brandon and finds my other dog, Duncan, and starts bullying him.
We’ve been at the dog park for almost an hour now, and the sun is dipping behind the trees outside the fence. I zip up my special sweatshirt hoodie with the Cape Cod dog park logo to keep warm, wipe some poop off my specially-purchased dog park shoes, and tweet out a heart-felt memory of Ringo, the cocker spaniel we had for almost 13 years who left us five years ago this week. I should probably get the dogs home soon for some special dog-cheese and a cuddle.
Who would name their dog “Brandon,” I ask myself?
Dog people are crazy.
Thank God I’m not one of them.