She sees the dog first. He’s tiny, maybe 8 pounds soaking wet. Looks like a miniature Doberman or a Chihuahua. The dog wears a little leather hat, and sunglasses. He is walking on the concrete barrier between the esplanade and the sand like the barrier is a tightrope. The dog has been visiting a group of people, and turns on the barrier, carefully picking his way to a man who is leaning against it, half seated, half standing. The dog snuggles up to the man, and rests his head on the man’s shoulder. They belong to each other, that much is clear.
She looks at the man's clothing: hat matching the dog’s; sunglasses matching the dog’s. The man wears baggy Bermuda shorts, and a wife-beater shirt. He’s overweight. Even from the distance, behind the window screening of the restaurant, she can almost smell the man. He looks filthy. But god, he loves that dog. The dog is so well-behaved, she decides that this is probably a really nice man who is down on his luck. Clearly he would never hurt a thing.
So she finishes her coffee, pays her bill, and strolls over to meet the dog. “What’s his name?” she asks. The man points to the dog. The word “Killer” is burnt into the leather, front and back. She smiles up at the man, and notices the tracheotomy, the tubing, the hole. He puts a device to his mouth and croaks “his name is Killer.” A crowd is gathering, and Killer is smiling. The man says “He is a service dog for me.”
She bends down to scratch Killer’s chin. Killer loves to have his chin scratched and tilts his head back for more. The man continues, “He is three and I love him. He wakes me every two hours to make sure I am breathing. He knows how to dial 911 if something happens to me. He is very sweet.”
Killer flops down on the pavement, and several of the people who have gathered around crouch down to pet him. The man loves an audience as much as Killer, it seems. He talks about how he got Killer, and how much it cost to train him. But that training for the dog was subsidized. And that he has diabetes – the man, not the dog. And how he had to bottle-feed the dog when he was a baby. And how Killer will follow his hand commands without question. The man confirms that Killer is a miniature Dobe/ Chihuahua mix. Both are normally high-strung breeds, but Killer is as calm as a soft summer breeze. And Killer loves his person.
She is mesmerized by the dog’s smile, his sweet, sweet demeanor, and his very stylish sunglasses. She is mesmerized by the man's mechanical voice. She is mesmerized by resilience.
She gets up to go, and thanks the man for his time. She walks along the esplanade feeling quite happy for the experience, that out of adversity comes love. The summer sounds of the ocean waves, the beach volleyball games, the skaters, the bicycles, kids playing in the sand, her encounter with Killer have all conspired to lift her from a dark mood that was punctuated by a headache. She decides that hers are high-class problems but she’s deep in fear and has to walk her way through it. But she doesn’t want to. She wants to fling herself onto the ground, kicking and screaming, like her three-year-old granddaughter in full tantrum mode.
But it’s a gorgeous summer Sunday. There’s not a cloud in the sky and enough breeze by the ocean to keep the heat tolerable. This is why she moved to Los Angeles after all. She realizes strangers are saying hello to her – she must be smiling. She starts to say hello back to them. It is a gorgeous summer Sunday.
So she stuffs her fears into a corner in her brain. She knows this will come back to bite her later, when she goes to bed. She can’t think about her over-drawn checking account, her huge debt, the harassing phone calls from creditors. She really can’t do that on a Sunday afternoon. She can’t do that any more than she can think about getting her prescriptions refilled, or making her appointment for the cancer-screenings she needs, or paying for her insurance. She can’t think, and it has nothing to do with the day being gorgeous. It has everything to do with her Scarlet O’Hara syndrome, “Oh, well, tomorrow is another day.” Who will rescue her, if not herself? Who will be her Killer, her service dog, if not herself? She’s almost 60 and she’s about to re-invent herself again, only with no financial safety-net. She’s terrified.
But she is almost 60, and she cannot tolerate toxic environments any longer. She can’t be micro-managed by someone who plows through the office like Napoleon. Her boss crowned himself emperor of a small marketing world with dreams of becoming a Consultant. He can’t spell; he has the manners of a low-class thug; he bullies his employees; he has no friends. She can’t get up the energy to drive into that office one more day. She can’t. The result: she is willing to trade a steady paycheck to regain her life, willing to lose all material possessions in order to be independent and creative. She is bored. She is annoyed. She feels her life being sucked out of her quite slowly. She is leaving this company for total independence and she’s terrified.
So. What comes out of terror? Emotional paralysis? The entire nation has been paralyzed with fear for the last 7 years. Isn't that why the economy is a mess? Oh, god, she's doing it, she's thinking about the global situation instead of what's immediately in her path. She wants to fix the world when she can barely fix herself. She can't fix herself. She can only do the next indicated thing, and decides that today, that next indicated thing is to stick her head in the sand. She giggles and turns to look at the waves. Then she thinks, "damn, I should have worn my swim suit." This stretch of beach has really gentle waves, much easier than where she usually goes. She makes a mental note.
So what's ahead for the day? Michael Phelps will swim. And there's gymnastics, always exciting to watch. And laundry. And laundry. Oh, yes, there's always laundry on Sunday. She walks back to her car to re-enter her life. No ticket, she's lucky. She takes the scenic route home.