He was maybe in his 70’s—out of shape, but not so out of shape that he couldn’t cradle a large, limp dog in his arms. I was coming off the dog beach near my house and he was just stepping onto it.
The dog’s head hung over the man’s arm. There was a towel, in case of spills, underneath him.
“Bringing your baby to the beach?” I asked sympathetically.
“It’s his last day,” the man replied.
His name was Chico. The dog, not the guy. He was 17 years old. Coming down to the doggie beach, the scene of many past triumphs, no doubt, for the last time.
So, what can you say? Nothing. But I spoke anyway. Is he in pain? (No.) When are you taking him in? (This afternoon.) You’re doing the right thing. (Right. Like I would know.)
I stroked the dog’s leg and he raised his head and looked at me. There was nobody home. My own little dog stood up on his hind legs anxiously sniffing Chico.
“I had a couple of good sessions with an animal communicator,” the guy said. “She told me he was ready, but just waiting for me to accept it.”
Very smart woman, I thought. Whether or not she could talk to animals, she could sure read people.
“It’ll be my turn someday,” I said.
He nodded, swallowed. He looked at me, really looked at me, and I looked back at him. Then I turned and left.
Once, at the Hazy Moon, a guy had asked for a ride to the subway. It wasn’t really on my way so I didn’t volunteer. As I watched him trudging down the street I suddenly felt very small. “I should have offered to take him,” I said to no one in particular. A familiar voice behind me—a voice that could often tease out what was tumbling around in my head—said, “A true Bodhisattva never hesitates. He sees and acts—always with the appropriate response.”
The guy staggered down to the ocean’s edge. I sat in my car and watched him. Thinking how his muscles would hurt the next day after the weight of his sweet burden. How his arms would ache. I watched him lay the old boy down in the sand.
I wanted to go to him. I didn’t have a story line going through my head about what I would say when I got down there or what he would say or whether he would even want me there. I just had a clear picture of me sitting with him at the water’s edge, breathing in the salty overcast day and listening to the old dog’s labored breathing against the rustle of the surf.
L.A. is nothing but confluence. There are no discrete things. People, noise, billboards, anger, weather (or lack thereof) and always cars, cars, cars running together—streaming—into a river of distraction that somehow makes up your day. Like it or not, it’s hard to act.
An hour later, I’m on the freeway snaking out over the docks. Would somebody please explain to me how all of the Mad Max container trucks know to hit the road at the same time? My little Toyota is boxed in. It’s like walking down 5th Avenue and you can’t see the sky but you know it just has to be there. There’s no oxygen. I can only cling to the belief that I will get off and ride on surface streets one day.
Behind me a black car is about 2 feet from my bumper. I’m in the fast lane and already over the speed limit. But apparently it’s not enough. The driver swerves to my right but finds no opening. She slams back behind me and rides my bumper. I take my eyes off the rear view mirror. But there’s no escape. Her hatred is coming up through my tailpipe, into the steering wheel and straight through my hands where it makes a beeline for my gut.
I turn up my CD player to distract myself. I’ve taken to listening to what could very loosely be called “self development” CDs in my car. Although frankly, anything that develops the self seems kind of superfluous these days. But now I’m listening to Eckhart Tolle.
He’s talking about the difference between object consciousness and space consciousness. How we give such power to things. We have to have this. We need it now. We convince ourselves that we need to ask this question now! This is so important! We make things so immediate and it’s always about us. He’s a good speaker and he laughs often. It is, after all, a subject rich with humor.
The rest of my day was productive. I got a lot of things done. All of it mattering somewhat in the scheme of things.
Periodically, I thought of the guy on the beach. When I ate my lunch it was Chico’s last meal. Heading back to the Coast in the late afternoon, his last sunset.
Many last things for Chico. So many things for the last time.
Maybe if I had parked my car and walked up to the guy, he would have told me he wanted to be alone. Or maybe he would have been grateful for companionship.
I don’t know. I can’t know now because I hesitated. . . just. . . a moment. . . too long. When night fell I finally let Chico slip away.