I’m at the dog park watching Buster, my joint custody pooch, sniff some Pekinese ass.
“That your dog?” a big burly guy asks, pointing to Buster.
“Yeah,” I reply, “The Pekinese yours?”
“Yeah,” the big guy says smiling, walking towards me, “They seem to get along.”
“That they do,” I reply.
“My name’s Bill,” the man says, extending his hand.
I shake Bill’s hand and tell him my name. I can’t help but notice his hand completely envelops mine.
“Nice to meet ya,” Bill says.
“Likewise,” I reply.
Bill’s got a big beefy face, busted capillaries in his nose, scar tissue under his eyes, and a pot belly. In his fifties, hovering at 6’3 and weighing about 250 pounds, he looks like he boxed in his younger days. It’s interesting how big guys often have little dogs.
“How old’s your dog?” I ask, making conversation.
“Five” Bill replies, “Yours?”
Buster and the Pekinese decide to run around in the mud. Sigh. I’ll have to give Buster a bath when we get home. At least he’ll be tired out for the rest of the day. Bill and I shoot the breeze as our dogs mix it up. I like Bill. He’s a big cheerful guy.
“So ya hear they’re gonna section off the park?” Bill asks.
“A section for big dogs and one for little dogs?” I reply.
“Waste of time if you ask me,” I say, “They should have a section just for the neurotic owners.”
“Oh yeah,” Bill says, “The people who think dogs are kids.”
“They have strollers for dogs now.” I chortle, “Seen that shit yet?”
“And day care too,” Bill replies.
A new arrival shows up. He’s holding his dog, a Pomeranian, nervously in his arms. Whenever a new dog enters the park all the other dogs run over to check it out. I can tell this is freaking the Pomeranian owner out.
“Get a load of this guy,” Bill whispers.
Pomeranian Guy’s in his mid forties, salt and pepper haired, and well dressed. I glance at his feet. He’s wearing Italian loafers. Poor choice of footwear for walking about a place steeped in dog piss. He must be new.
“Hi there,” I say in greeting.
Pomeranian Guy ignores me and puts his dog down. One dog, a large black mutt, takes a shining to the little orange fur ball and starts chasing it.
“Oh my God!” Pomeranian guy squeaks, chasing after his dog.
“Oh brother,” Bill says under his breath.
Pomeranian Guy catches up to the dogs and grabs the black mutt by the collar. Now, I know the dogs are just playing, but, as a small dog owner, I understand Pomeranian Guy’s concern. Accidents happen.
“Whose dog is this?” Pomeranian Guy yells.
No one answers.
“Whose FUCKING dog is this?” Pomeranian Guy repeats, something hysterically imperious in his tone.
Bill and I look at each other. Something telegraphs between us.
Suddenly an old man comes walking up. He’s tall, skinny, clad in orange Dickey suspenders and sporting a John Deere hat. He looks an updated version of the husband from American gothic.
“It’s my dog. What’s the problem?”
“You should be watching your dog,” Pomeranian Guy huffs.
“I was just picking up his poop over there……” the old man starts to say.
“You should be watching your dog ASSHOLE!” Pomeranian Guy yells.
As I watch the veins pop out of Pomeranian Guy’s neck I think how painful it must be to be him. He’s flipping out in a dog park over nothing. Probably because he’s got a mortgage, two kids in college, and a wife who won’t have sex with him anymore. Maybe I’m all wrong about him, I’m not psychic, – but something tells me yelling at an old man is symptomatic of larger problems. I shake my head. This guy’s like some of my customers at the Bistro.
“Well aren’t you a coward,” the old man replies, “You’ll yell and scream at an old man huh? If I was twenty years younger you wouldn’t be saying that to me.”
“Fuck you,” the old man retorts, “You’ve got a yellow streak up your back a mile wide.”
That hits a nerve. Pomeranian Guy steps menacingly close to the old man. “FUCK YOU!” he screams.
“Think long and hard about what you’re doing,” a voice says.
Pomeranian Guy turns around and looks at me. But I’m not the one doing the talking.
“You’re not gonna mess with an old man are ya?” Bill says, his large hands hanging loosely by his sides, “Because that would not be good.”
Bill’s cheerful voice is now full of quiet, cold, menacing power.
Pomeranian Guy picks up his dog and leaves without saying a word. Problem solved.
“I’d have stepped in if you needed help,” I say, watching Pomeranian Guy walk away.
Bill looks at me. The cheerfulness in his voice returns. “I wouldn’t have needed your help. But thanks.”
“You’re probably right.”
I notice the old man looks like he’s gonna stroke out. I walk over and make him sit on a park bench. I talk to him for a few minutes in calm reassuring tones. The black mutt puts his head in the old man’s lap. The old man smoothes his hair absently.
“You gonna be alright?” I ask after a while.
“Yeah,” he replies, “Thanks. My heart rate’s normal now.”
“Don’t let that shmuck ruin your whole day,” I say.
I walk back over to Bill. He’s making baby talk to his Pekinese. Brother, talk about contradictions.
“Well I’ve gotta go,” I say, “Nice meeting you.”
“Same here,” Bill says smiling.
I shake Bill’s hand again, leash Buster up, and start heading home. As I’m walking I remember how I confronted a man at the dog park once. But that guy was younger and bigger than me. Pomeranian Guy was tough talking to an old man. Suddenly I feel very good about myself.
I wear a small smile the rest of the way home.