“Wanna walk up to the post office with me?”
“No. I hate walking to get mail. It takes like forty minutes, and nothing gets done,” Pretty Wife said. “It makes me crazy.”
Couldn’t blame the lass. I tore a little cartilage in my right knee about a month ago, playing at Aikido with people who actually know what they’re doing. A couple of weeks back I broke, cracked or just really annoyed a small bone in my left foot, just about where the only treatment is to tape it up. On Saturday, I separated my shoulder. It isn’t bad; just bad enough to make loose, button-up shirts eminently preferable to pullovers.
Any way you sliced it, this was gonna be a slow parade.
The Hound and I saddled up. Leather leash diagonally over one shoulder, Sam Browne-style. Poop bags in one pocket, Milk Bones in three others. Hat, brimmed. Shoes, slip-on. Walking staff in right hand. Dog heeling to the left. Left arm sling: discarded.
We rounded the corner to find kids were still sitting at attention in their Catholic classrooms. Leaning on my staff since the Tuckling turned from service dog into three-legged stool, we tapped, clacked and jingled our way past the windows.
Gotta get a softer tip on this thing.
Tucker Dog is a silent legend at St. Mark, the mysterious gentle giant whom they may not pet, thanks to the bishop’s “NO DOGS ALLOWED” signage posted prominently around the play field. Also not allowed: birth control, loud music, nettlesome questions.
We went through our deposit and cleaning ritual at the poop deck behind the Arabella Apartments at 15th and 180th, then continued south toward the post office under a sky as warm and grey as fresh breakfast mush. On the pedestrian bench, a dark-haired fella in a Mariners cap leaned wa-ay back so he could pat Tucker, who waited for his “OK” before he made it easy by extending his Loch Ness neck right into the guy’s face.
I nodded. No arguing with the facts.
“That’s a great hat you got on,” he said. “Great stick, too.”
I tipped my Stetson to him and we walked on. Could have explained that the provenance of my walking staff was an ancient mountain juniper on a piece of New Mexico scab land up in the Sandia Range that was gifted to me by my father; a branch that I cut off during my only visit there and carried home, stuffed in atop a month’s worth of camping supplies vacuum-packed into our Toyota hatchback so that I could put it on my bench, smooth and oil it, tip it with copper and epoxy and bling it out with little crests and badges that we collected from National Parks I’d taken it into along the way, but I’ve told that story before and what if he’s one of the people I’ve told it to? Anything is possible.
At the coffee stand, we were both nonplussed to find that his favorite girls are gone, replaced by a brunette about my height with a slashed orange t-shirt and jeans painted on in the purest disco shade of Bolivian white. I didn’t remember seeing that girl before; at least, I’m sure I’d never seen that t-shirt before.
“Hi,” I said. “New crew today?”
Looking up with a circuit-frying smile, the barista said, “I’ve met your wife!”
“Uh…” What the hell…? “Oh. You must be talking about Denise.” Hers is bigger…
“She’s so nice!”
“Yes. Her Dane’s name is Zeus. He’s about a foot taller than Tucker here.”
I am fond of Denise and happy that she brings Zeus over for play dates, but I don’t see marrying her. Pretty Wife may let me walk the dog unsupervised, but I suspect polygamy would be pushing our agreement.
Tucker sniffed the girl’s hand and looked up quizzically. Not one of our peeps, Dad.
On the good hand, he did get to meet a Harlequin Great Dane who came up the drive-through chute in the back of a Mini — the Clubman model, of course. Standard minis are for border collies.
Shaking his head like a boss dog, Tucker sprayed the surrounding tri-county area with mouth foam. He also bashed his bony, nine-pound clotpoll into my left hand hard enough that I almost passed out. Separated shoulders are not for sissies — or me either, but perhaps I repeat myself.
Tucker passed an impromptu pop quiz as we crossed at the light, leashless, in front of a Shoreline cop.
I tied him out at Walgreen’s, and toted in my stick to fit up a cane tip. The only thing they had was a packet of walker tips. It seemed appropriate enough.
At the counter, the clerk asked me if I’d like to join the Walgreen’s card club, or some such thing. I’ve had my innings with this clerk before.
“Do I have to carry another card around?”
“No. You can just gi’ you phone numbah when you come in,” she scripted off, robotically.
“And what does the club do for me?”
“You can ge’ sale pri’ when we have sale.”
“So Walgreen’s doesn’t actually give its advertised sale prices unless you join this thing? Don’t you think that’s kinda terrible?”
That was the first time in several encounters that I’ve seen her eyes actually sparkle a little — or for that matter, meet mine– but she didn’t say anything further. She just nodded, almost imperceptibly, and rang me up.
At the sale price. Which didn’t exist. We may get along more smoothly in the future.
At the light, we crossed in front of another cop to get to the USPS Shoreline Station. Some redneck yelled out a truck window at us.
Deploying his tail in its intended role, Tucker waved back.
Somewhere along the way, I’d figured out that I didn’t have my post office box key, er, “vested.” You can always stand in line and claim your mail that way, so I tied Tucker out by the passport banner and stumped on in, only to find the line cresting at about 12 people. As I turned away toward the door, the desk manager spotted me (could be the hat; I dunno).
At about 6’10″, she could see right over the crowd. I don’t know her name nor she mine, but she waved and called out.
How can you not smile at that? “I can’t bring him in anymore,” I said. “He’s not a real service dog since he lost his leg.”
Federal law and all that.
“Oh, so you’re his service person then?” The people in line shifted their feet and muttered. You couldn’t blame them, but of course I could. “Well, he’s welcome in here any time!”
Scofflawing our way over the road, we saw a third Shoreline cop making her way through the heart of North City. Pausing in her right turn to respect the WALK sign, she rolled down her cruiser’s window and leaned out.
“Excuse me, sir…?”
“How did your dog lose his leg?”
“He had cancer, but we think he may be okay now.”
“Well, bless you for keeping him alive and not just… giving up.” I swear she had a little glint of tear threatening her cheekbone.
Cop Lady paid no attention to the plump Asian teenager who nearly jumped out of her pink Hello Kitty sweats as Tucker and I snuffled and stumped our way past. Some people just naturally fear and hate dogs. They’re like most any other bigots.
At the coffee stand on our return lap, the dark-haired dude from the bench was making time with the lady in orange while two tiny dogs in the drive-through, crazed by their emergent requirement to tear Tucker a new one, leapt agilely into their owner’s hair. Everybody waved except the driver. She looked a bit put out, but I’m not convinced we were responsible.
When two little girls in plaid Catholic skirts came along the sidewalk, I sat Tucker so he wouldn’t accidentally intimidate. They both cooed and ran straight at him — my G-D, who raises these kids? — and one threw her arms around his neck without even slowing down.
At the corner where the Arabella opens to the street, a black kid in a hoodie, maybe 16 or so, crossed the road to enter his combination. One look at my silver belly Stetson and he edged away to the far side of the sidewalk.
What is it with these racists?
Half a block more, and I sat Tucker again when a pair of ancient gals came stumping up the sidewalk with canes shorter, yet sturdier, than my mountain staff. Though not dressed in St. Mark’s plaid, they must have been related to the girls in the skirts because I barely got Tucker sat before they were stroking his head.
“He has such soft ears!”
“Yeah,” I said. “We paid extra for that.” I like talking with old women. They know things. They get the joke. They know how to own the power of harmlessness.
Out on the street, a horn sounded. The burnt orange Volvo that was signaling to turn left was evidently entirely stymied by our pow-wow in the middle of a 30 foot-wide driveway. We waved and went our separate ways.
Tucker and I stumped into the parking lot. We’re customers there sometimes. As the couple dismounted, I told them I was sorry.
“You should be,” said the young man with the red cheeks and suddenly puffy chest. “People have places to be.
Well, isn’t that nice.
I walked over a bit closer. I wasn’t intending anything — between us, Tucker and I are three hundred pounds on five legs and six surgeries — but apparently I was also 200 lbs. and holding a big stick. The driver put his door between himself and us, but we were on the passenger side. She put her hand out for Tucker to sniff, and he instantly laid his warm head against her cream-colored slacks.
“I’m sorry for anyone in too much of a hurry,” I said, looking at her, “to let a couple of old ladies pet a puppy.”
And she melted. Melting girls is really not one of my superpowers, but every author knows you can sell any story with a puppy on the cover.
“Rachel,” he snapped, still hovering behind the door, “hurry up.”
She took me in, funny hat and all. Looked me up and down, she did. Then she broke into a smile of limitless potential and said, “Your dog is amazing.”
Yes. Yes, he is.
Eight minutes later, we walked through the door. “Home!”
“Hi! You were a while. Anything happen?”
“D’jou get the mail?”
“Nah.” I scritched Tucker and fed his last Milk Bone to the old dog who had to wait behind. “I’ll try again tomorrow.”