“Lana, let’s give the fella a break.”
“A break? All I said, all I did, was ask him if he got vaccinated yet. And he starts screaming at me, screaming. It took me by surprise, and I was not about to take that. Him screaming at me like a banshee. I started crying, like a little girl, I was so upset. I had to leave the dog park, because of him. Jessie, she wasn’t too happy with that. I had to give her morning treats, two that morning to calm her down. Two, then she finally calmed down.”
This was a month earlier.
This morning I go with her, Lana, to the dog park. Charlene, my wife, her daughter, and I are visiting from New York. We want to see what Lana, who is 87 years old, is doing the whole day, hopefully, not rocking in a chair, waiting for the day she gets forced into assisted living. When we visit her in Colorado, I go with Lana every morning, to her dog park. This is at 6 in the morning. “I like to go before the sun gets too hot.” Charlene usually sleeps in. She is with us today.
The parks are so much nicer here than on the East Coast. One reason, they are maintained by the Colorado Lotto. It is for that reason I buy lotto tickets when I visit my mother-in-law, a way to make sure the dog parks are maintained. I will buy tickets today. Even though I never win, like I do in New York, a dollar here, two dollars there.
Lana comes here every day with Jessie, an Australian sheepdog mix. Their posse is always the same.
Ally is a spirited ex-California gal with a white Doberman named Bodie. Not to be confused with the two other dogs, Brody 1 and Brody 2. Ally is very friendly, and artsy, that LA type. Nice gal but she talks too much, Lana says. I don’t think so. I enjoy her. I suspect she does edibles, and they kick in as she arrives at the park. I believe that’s why she is so gabby. Colorado gummy bears do that. The owners of Brody 1 and 2, are not gummy bear fans. They are grumpy like their doggies.
Diane is a, what does she do? Hard to explain, something that makes satellite info come together, something that makes GPS work. She engages my wife. I overhear how “she” went off into the desert to die. No one could find her. A friend took out his truck to search for “her,” success after two days. It has taken a while to recover from that loss. I thought they were talking about a woman, a lover, lost in the woods. I was wrong, she was not grieving a gal pal. She is talking about her deceased gal dog, Lizzie. Life goes on. Today, her doggie at the park is Nico. Nico is old and in the way. She circles the perimeter of the park at her own slow pace, limping from arthritis in her back legs. When the other dogs play rough, she joins in, then gingerly moves away.
Lana has gingerly moved away from pollical discourse since last year’s election. Alarmed I was when last Labor Day, at the County Fair she got angry at the gay guy manning the booth for the newbie running against the far-right right congresswoman. Not because she supports that crazee, she does not. Yet she told the volunteer, she was not registered, and she does not vote. Why, I don’t know. Some alarm bells went off.
Chuck used to be a PAC man in DC, PAC as in political action committee. He is retired now with his wife Barbara and Max the Labradoodle. His last name is Ford and I ask if he is related to Pres. Gerald was not from Colorado but his family skied near Vail in his retirement years. “Even if I was,” Chuck says, “I wouldn’t say that here. We don’t talk politics here. To keep the peace.” We whisper in hushed tones about political action committees and about his son who he is very proud of, who has followed in his footsteps in DC. Max the labradoodle is mellow and wise. Until Jada, his best dog friend, shows up. Max goes wild with Jada.
Loren has two cutie dogs, mutts called Mutt and Jeff. They are playful with everyone. He is also retired, and goes around the country lecturing at reenactment battles. This weekend he is going to Pennsylvania to lecture about a battle during The Revolutionary War that the Polish won. We have just returned from a trip to Europe and Israel. I don’t mention Polish armies although I am curious. Putin has just invaded Ukraine which borders Poland. I am curious that Poland was a power two hundred years ago that fielded an army in the New World.
Loren says he is Jewish, his wife is Dutch and agnostic. He gives me the lowdown on his trip to Egypt. “Egypt is stinky, full of dirty Muslims. Cairo stinks. I hate them. Even if you go up the Nile to Luxor, where the pyramids are. It is full of them. Stinky, smelly Muslims.
I ask Lana, is this the guy who made you cry? “No.” is her response later. “That guy was Dennis. There are a lot of Dennises around here.”
Jessie, she still remembers the day Dennis made Lana cry. She never understood that. Why didn’t her mommy just yell back at that guy? When her mommy doesn’t eat her breakfast in the morning, she is a regular scream machine, yelling at everyone, the gardener, the mailman, the guy who gets rid of the crabgrass, no breakfast, they get screamed at. Jessie tells Bodie, “When she yells in the morning, she says it is because of low blood sugar. Something about that low sugar makes her a whole other person.”
Bodie suggests, “Maybe she should come here without eating, and let Dennis try to make her cry then. She should just follow what we all do. We nip, we bark, we snarl, bare our teeth, and fight with each other. We gnarl and snarl. Not to hurt anyone. We get the lead out. We circle. We disagree. We pounce on each other, get things off our chests and everything is better for it.” Bodie grooms himself and licks his private parts. “I don’t get the point of not saying or doing anything.”
Jessie sniffs her butt in agreement. “I know this quiet stuff. What is up with that? Crazees get to take over if no one speaks up and calls them out as crazees. Crazees get nowhere if you bark and fight back.”
Sitting at a table under some shade is Mike, Garcia is his last name. I kid him, is he related to Jerry? “No, his parents were from Galicia in Spain.”
Mike goes off on a tangent as he so often does, Lana tells me. Galicia in Spain makes the best pulpo, grilled octopus. “That’s why Jerry played so well. Even though he was missing a finger. His people were from a part of Spain famous for their tentacles, all eight of them.”
Mike is not from Galicia. “My ancestors go back thousands of years before all you folks got here. Some say they traveled as far south as Mexico and became the Aztecs. Those are my roots.” His doggie, Cisco is a small white chihuahua. Chihuahua is a province in Mexico. The word means “place where the waters of the rivers meet.”
Cisco is a quiet chihuahua except when in the presence of other dogs. No matter how big the dog, 10x his size, Cisco will bark and bark to say who is the boss.
Mike also has an older dog, Dozer, much bigger than Cisco. Cisco will defend his brother against any other dog at the park, no matter how big.
Mike, Lana tells me, is a poll watcher. He has been gone for a while. Doing some job in California. They make money, good money Mike has told her, collecting signatures for proposals on different ballots. Mike used to do construction before retirement. Was in the Navy before that. He is a disabled vet. “My disability is big. That’s why I can afford to help my son and my wife’s cousins. They all live with us at our house. Along with Cisco and Dozer.”
Cisco, too, has heard about Dennis making Lana cry. He tells Jessie, “Why doesn’t she do what us dogs do? We get some agitators who come to the park, try to be the new leaders, and change things up. We bare our teeth, growl, and fight. Defend and protect.”
Peg had one dog and 2 cats. Her friend Amy died recently, so she decided to adopt Amy’s three dogs. So now she has 4 dogs and 2 cats. There is Scratchy, an almost hairless white mix breed dog, whatever hair she has left is short and stringy. Another dog is Riley, a black French Poodle, boisterous, always jumping up on you. Guess Amy used to let her do that all the time. Peg used to work at Pet Smart. She trained dogs. If you bend down to pet Riley, she tells you, “You must pick him up, go ahead pick him up. Riley, stop jumping! Show him you are not faking, pick him up!” She talks a lot about training dogs.
Kia is from Hawaii. She is a big native Hawaiian. Her dog is teeny weeny Lola, whose hair on top of her head is dyed purple this week. She ties it up with a little bow. Ask her the dog’s breed and she shrugs. We talk about the mix that is Hawaiian. I brag about how people say Hawaii’s second language is Ilokano, a dialect of the Philippines. I am Filipino. Like a good Hawaiian, she is defensive and says Hawaii natives are Hawaiian. And that is their language.
Kia is new to the park. She has heard that you must steer away from political speak. She wonders why no one talks about Uvalde. She ends up talking about the windward side of Oahu, where they shot Jurassic Park. I tell her I tried going there, at the height of covid, and thought it would be easy, but no way, a three-day waiting list.
Holly is a runner. She has that funny accent, and that lean body a runner has. Jada is her German Short-Haired Pincher. Every day the two seem to be ready to sprint in a marathon. They run to the park every morning. Holly is growing stuff in her garden. Spinach and kale she offers us. Declining I tell her we will take her up next trip. Every day, Jada and Max, Chuck’s dog, the Labradoodle, they pounce and snarl and wrestle each other. They are budskis, it’s all horseplay, getting their energy out. They are the best of friends. Max sits complacently with Chuck until Jada arrives. And then they are off.
Felix, is famous for walking his two dogs several laps around the park, every morning. Everyone knows he does exactly 14 laps. His two dogs, miniature Collies, walk with him, although one of them has dropped away lately and joined the other dogs as they follow Jada and Max’s suit.
Odin is a big Newfoundland. He loves his soccer ball, a solid ball that never deflates, even though it is chewed up. Odin plays soccer pretty good. I imagine an Argentinian dog announcer saying “Gooooooooaaal” when I watch Odin. He is this big dog who barks and plays soccer with a heavy ball, slobbering all over. He kicks the ball all over the park, alone. Everyone is bemused at his solitary game. His owner doesn’t play ball with him. He sits at a table, texting on his phone.
Dennis, he is the guy who made Lana cry. I meet him and his dog Brody 1. I ask Lana if he ever apologized. ”No, he has never mentioned it. I am pretty sure the gang chastised him, but not enough for him to say he was sorry.” Dennis puts his head down, and when I meet him, doesn’t say much to us, hardly a peep from him.
Today is another day at the park. Business as usual. Then everyone’s attention is drawn to the opening gate. Two new dogs, the owner says they are visiting from Florida. They are pit bulls and the mood among the other dogs quickly changes. They circle together, heads bent, suspiciously eyeing their every move. The out-of-towners seem mean and they jump into everyone’s way.
They jump into Lana, almost tripping her. In doing so, one of them soils her shoes with his muddy paw. Lana is incensed. Not because they almost knocked her down, but because they messed up her shoes. They are suede shoes, used to be her dress flats. Very comfortable, she has worn them down all these years, a second skin for her feet. They are her everyday comfort shoes, her blue slippers.
The pit bulls, in their meanness, have muddied her vintage suede shoes. Jesse raises her head, her ears point up, and she announces to the gang “Oh my, she has not had breakfast.” Lana raises her cane and screams bloody Adam, at their owner from Florida. Her voice is this foreign monster voice. “You can push only so far, Mister, you and your dogs. Do anything, but you can’t muddy up my blue suede shoes!!!”
I try to restrain her. Ally grabs her cane and is swinging at the pit bulls. “Get out, get out” she and Lana scream. I am concerned and amused and smile as I try to calm down my mother-in-law. You go, Lana, the dogs all bark in unison, running around in circles, chasing the Floridians out of the park. The wagging tails circle Lana and Ally, each falling into the other laughing. Over and over Ally cracks them up, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, I love it, Lana.” The two howl like they are sharing some strong dose gummies.
Cody is jumping all over as is Max. Jessie, Cisco, and even Nico are jumping too, “Did you see that, did you see that? That low sugar. That will always stop them in their tracks!”
Jessie sums things up. “Pit bulls, those silly dogs, they tried to tell us, it was not cool, us male dogs smelling each other’s butts. That Michelangelo’s David should be banned. We showed them. Growling, snarling, and fighting, we showed them. One of the Pit Bulls almost toppled Lana and messed up her shoes. Now Lana is ready with her best low sugar monster voice for the next showdown.”
Cisco philosophizes, “It is the dog way when you have to be put in your place. Sic’em. Problem solved. Sic in Latin denotes someone who has made a mistake. Us dogs, we fix that. Sic’em.”
It is a lot of commotion for one day. We file out of the park, smiling, a weight lifted. I make it a point to buy my Lotto ticket on the way back to Lana’s house, at Dollar Days. Lana shops for all her incidentals there. I never win a dollar or two, as I do in New York. But it is worth it.
Ben Umayam moved to NYC to write the Great American Filipino Gay Short Story. He worked for political pollsters, then became a fancy hotel chef and then retired. He is working that short story again. He was recently published by Children, Churches and Daddies, Querencia Fall Anthology 2022, Midway Journal, The Phare, BULL, Down in the Dirt, Metaworker, EthelZine, 34th Parallel, Digging Through The Fat, Corvus Review, others.