Walking the Dog: a metaphor


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It’s happened. It didn’t necessarily sneak up on me either. I’d seen it coming now for quite some time–several years in fact. So by the time you are reading this it will be official. I will have received my new title: Senior Citizen. I know you’re saying, “but look at him, that guy can’t be a day over sixty-three…maybe sixty-four tops”…but I’m here to tell you, that old bastard is sixty-five-long-years-old. A golden-ager, that’s what they called people like me in my parents’ day.

Many of the young women at our local Dunkin Donuts have been giving me the senior discount ahead of time. You know, they look up, see the silver hair and just assume “better give him the ten percent off–could be the old bugger’s last cup of coffee. Maybe he’s on route to the nursing home or at best adult day care, poor bastard.”

I finally broke down, rolled over and played dead for the AARP last year. They’d been chasing me with persistent mailings since I turned fifty-five. I prepaid my dues for three years and got a complimentary fanny pack, but don’t remember where I put it. I was really hoping for a big box of DEPENDS. Well, you can never be too prepared, right?

Earlier this month I had an appointment at the Social Security office to sign up for Medicare, even though I’m still working and keeping my old healthcare plan. What a disaster that turned out to be. I wasn’t there ten minutes before I texted David that if this was any indication of what collecting Social Security benefits might be about, I’d work until I keeled-over at my desk. That visit is worthy of its very own blog post. Because some asshat in a New York City Social Security office back in 1975 misspelled my name, I’ve got to go to court and legally change my name. Stay tuned for that one. So where was I? Oh right, walking the dog metaphor thingy.

I take our pooch, Henri, for a morning walk every day, unless it’s pouring rain or has snowed more than six inches.  He’s got really short legs and hates getting wet. Our route is a hair over a half-mile and typically takes us around ten minutes. It’s my Dad quality time with the little guy, so I let him take me along at a pace he sets. We race like crazy at times, him choking and snorting away, pulling on the lead. Often we come to a screeching halt while he smells a few millimeters of turf for what seems like an eternity, savoring a mysterious undetectable ‘Je ne sais quois’. It’s his world; I just live in it. Following behind on the other end of the leash these five-plus years, I realize our pup holds the secret to a life well-lived.

Before we take even one step, as I open the back door, he throws his thirteen pounds full force at the bottom panel of the screen door, peering out at the same backyard view I’ve looked at for twenty years now. An excited energy instantly registers on his face. His wide eyes are certain that overnight our little house has left its Massachusetts’ foundation, and landed somewhere in the Land of Oz. Today, outside is a brand new place to discover. He squeals in delight or claws at the glass, over-eager for us to get going.

He pulls me down our driveway and onto our neighbors’ sidewalk, then across the street. We ascend to the top of the hill which is the end of our road. The wooded lot at the corner is his nirvana. There is a row of five old maples. Now I know Rodgers and Hammerstein have schooled us to climb every mountain, but Henri believes it is far better to sniff every tree trunk–every bloody nook and cranny of them all. Amazingly, he does not grace each tree by lifting a leg. Even though all are truly appreciated, only a select few does he choose to water.

Where the pavement allows us, his favorite move is to daringly shift our path into the street. He has absolutely no fear of cars or vehicles of any kind, no matter how big, loud or fast. And he’s insistent that we travel in the middle of the road. Of course this could just be dumb dog logic. Were I not there to yank him into submission, we’d both already be ashes in the same urn. Maybe he’s just reminding me that every once in a while we need to live a little dangerously, no matter how scary the circumstance. Stretch that old comfort zone. Take a walk on the wild side.

Then there are his ‘critters’. That is what we call squirrels. He is plagued by them. What drives him nuts, is the fact that they can move forward and backward, left and right…but they also can disappear. He can’t grasp the concept that squirrels can go up–climb those trees that he can only sniff or pee on. I must admit I feed his critter mania by pointing them out along our walk. “Look at that critter, Henri. Get that bastard!” and we lunge forward in hot pursuit. Of course the critters always win by scaling the closest tree, leaving him befuddled and amazed.

As much as these vermin annoy him, he has his buddies in the neighborhood to balance things. Drake is the dog who lives catty-corner across the street. He’s three times his size, a handsome, fluffy collie mix who also happens to be madly in love with Henri. I think he crushes on Drake as well. They have serious butt adoration sessions right in front of me. Then there is Daisy, a five-pound Yorkie who barks at him incessantly while excitedly wagging her tail in syncopation at the same time. She’s the only tiny dog Henri shows any liking for. Even though she yipes at him, he is mad about her.

On the occasional morning, during the final leg of our walk, we meet Taco–an ancient, blonde Chihuahua who is so obese he appears to be helium inflated. Always off-leash, he’s taken it upon himself to patrol the sidewalk in the front of his house and the neighbors’ on either side. Taco affects this low, very butch growl, showing his few remaining teeth while threatening both the pooch and me. Usually his owner has to open the front door and call him back in the house. Taco grumbles all the way to his door.

With the mileage of so many, many years under my belt, I suppose I have followed much of my dog’s philosophy. I’ve sniffed my fair share of tree trunks, and lifted my leg whenever something wonderful came my way. Most often it was those times I dared to walk down the middle of the road that I enjoyed some of my greatest adventures. There’ve been dozens of pesky critters who tried to make things difficult, but so many more Drakes who’ve made my world better. And you can’t live a truly full life without the noisy Daisys and obnoxious Tacos nipping at your heels while stumbling along on your journey. The time goes so quickly. As short as a great morning walk.

 

Hey, did I mention I just turned sixty-five?

 

 

13 thoughts on “Walking the Dog: a metaphor

  1. Matthew, there are so many things I love about this post I have read it again, but had to let you know immediately how moving it was and how much you really nailed it!!! Xoxo

    1. It was my ‘attempt’ at being brief (under 1500 words 🙂 )Thanks to one of the newest Drakes in my life. Glad you enjoyed it. Were you disappointed that Taco and Daisy weren’t in the video?

  2. 65! Not possible! Wasn’t it just a few years ago you were helping run the summer theater program at the high school? Happy Birthday and many more.

    1. Chris, that’s how it still often feels to me too, which is why 65 is mostly impossible to believe. I’ll never forget Deb’s 18th birthday. Aunt Margaret made her a cake. She was depressed at being “so damn old”

  3. Tiger (who is similar to Henri in size, shape, height and temperament) and I very much enjoyed the walk video and your metaphorical take on what dogs teach us about life. I’m glad you and Henri and David are walking through this life together. Happy birthday, M. You look terrific. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.

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