Thursday, June 22, 2017

June 22, 2107--Search Dog

We were in town and, after morning coffee, wandered from store to store tracking down items we had on our shopping list.  The weather was cooler than I had anticipated and since I didn’t have enough warm clothing I wanted to stop in Renys to see if they had any fleece vests on sale or maybe a couple of long sleeve pullovers. 
Then Rona planned to make buttermilk biscuits; but since we didn’t have a baking sheet she thought maybe we’d find one, also at Renys.  And tucked away back of the parking lot on the east side of Main Street there was Yellowbird, a small, very personal shop that among other gourmet items and local fresh herbs carries crusty sourdough bread that we had tried last week and since it went well with the fish dishes we had been preparing, we thought we’d buy another loaf. 
And we needed to pick up the New York Times and the weekly county paper.  They were available in the Maine Coast Book Shop and while Rona was paying I could rummage among books that were remaindered.  Up here one can never have enough to read.
We then crossed back to the parking lot by the harbor where we had parked because I was concerned that we might be in danger of getting a ticket.  We were in a two-hour zone and I had been warned that the police had stepped up their enforcement, chalking tires with abandon because, in the current economic climate, unwilling to raise taxes to pay for dwindling town services they were raising money by pouncing on any car that was parked for even a few minutes beyond the limit.
But Rona said relax, we still have lots of time so why rush when there were a few other things we needed.  She had spotted a gift shop and wanted to look for birthday cards to send to friends and family members who have upcoming birthdays.  Cards appropriate for the occasion but maybe with a Midcoast theme.  She wasn’t thinking about anything with lobsters embossed on them but maybe there were some nice note cards with starfish or sailboats.  “Don’t worry so much about the car.  It’ll still be there when we’re done.  This isn’t Manhattan.  They won’t tow it away.  We’re here to unwind after a rough May and June.”
It had been a difficult time.  We were struggling along with a few people close to us who have serious illnesses.  They were thankfully doing much better now, but it had been harrowing earlier.  In spite of this, clearly Maine was not as yet working its wonders on me.  Nonetheless I said, at least half-meaning it, that I was in fact determined to seek inner peace, “I am getting there.  But, you’re right.  I do need to relax more.”  I caught myself acknowledging that and quickly added, “But I am.  I am becoming calm.  Really.”  Rona looked at me with understandable skepticism.  And to demonstrate how I was more laid back I said, “Why don’t you look at the cards and I’ll hang out here on the street and look through the paper in the sun.  The sun is good.”
“That’s fine,” Rona said, “but I don’t call reading the Times exactly being relaxed.  Even in the sun.  All you’ll find there is bad news about the economy, the Middle East, healthcare, the economy, and everything else.  Of course,  do what you want.”
“But,” I protested, “I’ve got the local paper and it’s full of all sorts of good community news.  Like book talks and farmers’ markets.”  I didn’t tell her that the lead story was about a 72 year-old man who had been killed on U.S. 1 when he crashed his motorcycle into the back of a pickup.
“Whatever,” she said and disappeared into the shop. 
I hung out there, facing the sun, thinking more about what a 72 year-old was doing riding a motorcycle on Route 1 than about tomorrow’s farmer’s market, where there was hope that the first local corn would finally be available.  Should someone that age be out on a Harley?  Then again, I thought, maybe that’s the way to go. 
While lost in these less-than-calming thoughts I noticed, coming down the street toward me, a man with what looked like a seeing-eye dog.  But as he got closer it was clear that the man was not blind—I could tell that by how he was checking out things on the street and in the stores that they were passing.  Perhaps he’s training him, I then thought.  Though that seemed unusual for here.  I had only seen dogs of this kind being trained in big cities.  But that’s in part why we are here—to have some new experiences.  Relaxing ones, I reminded myself.
As they drew closer I could see that the dog was wearing a bright yellow plastic vest; and when they were just a few yards away I could read printed on it, on both sides--Search Dog.  The New Yorker in me was immediately drawn back to 9/11 when police departments from up and down the east coast had sent dogs of this kind to help find survivors buried in the rubble and then later, after things turned even more hopeless, body parts. 
But since I was trying not to allow myself to continue to be mired in thoughts of this kind, to the man who I assumed was his handler, with some awkwardness, avoiding even a hint of anything disturbing or grim, I said as brightly as I could, “Is he looking for me?”
With barely a glance and without a word of response to my silliness, they passed right by me and I was left to watch them work their way up the street.  I noticed that they both had the same deliberate gate, as if practicing stepping over dangerous piles of rubble from a bombing or a . . . 
But quickly, just as was instructed to do by Rona, I cut that thought short and leafed through the paper to see what would be available at this week’s farmer’s market.  The first black currents, I noticed.  Maybe Rona would turn them into a compote that I could then use as a marinade for some nice broiled loin lamb chops with . . .”
When I looked up again, still straining to stay in sunlight, I saw the policeman and the dog working their way back in my direction.  Clearly training was going on, I was relieved to realize, and that they were not searching for a lost or kidnapped child, or anything more tragic.  And this time the trainer allowed the dog to come up to me and give me a good sniffing.  Not in my crotch, which most non-search-dog dogs would do, but more my trouser cuffs, socks, and shoes.
“You asked if he was looking for you.  Right?”  I nodded.  “Well, if it’s all right with you I thought I would have him search for you.”
I was confused, “But he’s found me, no?”  I pointed down at him where he was giving me a good going over.  “How would he search for me since he’s already found me?”
“You see how he’s sniffing at your pants leg?  He’ll now remember that.  From that he’ll remember you.  And, again if you’re willing, we’ll head back that way,” he pointed way up the street, “and then when you’re done with that paper—nothing much good in there to tell you the truth—you can go wherever you want in town, you can even hide if you want to.  Actually, that’d be good.  And then in about 15 minutes or so, I’ll have him search for you.  To see how well he’s doing at that.  We just got him and are training him.  To tell you the truth, he’s not coming along all that well.  So this would be good for him.  How does that sound to you?”
I very much liked the idea and said, “Sure.  Sounds like fun and maybe it will be helpful.  He looks like quite a nice fella.” 
I bent to pat his head but his handler stepped in to stop me.  “One thing—no one who isn’t working him should ever touch him.  It only confuses things.  Understood?”
“Yes.  Sure.  Sorry.  My wife’s in the store and as soon as she comes out we’ll go and hide somewhere.  Is that OK?  I mean hiding?”
“Like I said, whatever you want.  If he gets trained proper I can’t tell you the kinds of things we’ll be having him doing.” 
I very much wanted to know but Rona later will be proud of me for again restraining myself from asking.  I was under orders to stay away from these kinds of disturbing matters. To try to stay calm.
“You know,” I added, half-kidding, “I’ve been trying to find myself for years.  Maybe this will help with that.”
Clearly he either didn’t understand my pseudo-existentialist comment or in fact did and thought it not worthy of consideration.  And thus, for whatever reason, without another word they headed back up the street and I folded up the paper, very eager now for Rona to finish her shopping.  I thought the only things remaining on our list were the cards and that as soon as she came out we could spend the full 15 minutes hiding ourselves. 
My first thought was to find a place down by the dock where they bring in all the fish.  It would be full of conflicting smells and thus would be a good test for the dog.  But as I thought about this I realized maybe Rona wouldn’t like what I had agreed to do, feeling that I, with my pushy big-city ways, had imposed myself on the policeman.  Her style was more to fit in by not making us too obvious, too seemingly eager to meet and befriend people.  Especially local people who were welcoming to outsiders but also were clear about wanting to maintain a separation between themselves and us.  At least on initial encounter.  And if she felt this way about what I had agreed to, she would be more than half right. 
So maybe, I thought, I wouldn’t tell Rona what happened.  That I would say, “You know we never walked along the docks.  Since it’s a nice morning, maybe we should do that.”  And then whatever happened or didn’t happen with the dog I would deal with.  After the fact. 
I felt it was at best fifty-fifty that they would find us, I mean me--that the handler had said the dog wasn’t doing very well--and that if they didn’t, as I expected they wouldn’t—especially if I could find us a good hiding place--I would have nothing to explain to Rona.  If they did, I would hem and haw and then eventually say wasn’t it fun to agree to this.  I felt sure she would come around to that.  After all, she likes dogs, though she would be frustrated that she wouldn’t be allowed to pat him.
And with that Rona bounced out of the shop and rejoined me on the street, excitedly showing me a box of note cards she had bought with tasteful pictures on them of various seascapes.  Very nice.  Not at all tacky.  Since she was in such a good mood, I suggested a walk down by the boats.  She said that sounded nice and off we went.
It was midmorning and there was very little activity.  The fishing and lobster boats had set out much earlier and wouldn’t return for some hours.  As we passed through the parking lot to get to the moorings, I had some fleeting anxiety again about how long our car had been parked but quickly put that aside since I was now on a mission to help with searches and rescues.
After a few minutes, Rona stated the obvious, “There’s not much going on here.  Maybe we should come back one afternoon when the boats come in and we could perhaps even buy some fresh fish or lobsters.”
“That sounds like a good idea to me.  But let’s walk a little further.  There’s a pile of nets I wouldn’t mind checking out.”  I was stalling for time and also thought that behind the smelly nets would be a good place to hide.
“I don’t know what it is with you and fishing nets,” Rona said, reminding me that whenever we are anywhere in a port I seem to have this fascination with nets.
Again, seeking to buy time, I ruminated out loud about this peculiar interest of mine.  “I don’t know why.  I think it may be because when I was a kid my father used to like to take us to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, down by the fishing piers, and we would wander around among the boats and stalls.  I remember fantasizing about working on one of those boats.  Hauling nets or something.  For some reason this always . . .”
“You know, it’s getting late.  We have some things in the car that we should be putting into the refrigerator.  We can come back here another time.  And you can visit your nets.”
“You know how most kids like me back then dreamed about being firemen and . . .”
“You mean boys.”
“Yes, boys, and . . .” 
I interrupted myself because, as Rona and I were going back and forth about my fascination with fishing nets, just beginning to turn down toward the docks I spotted a glint of yellow—the sun’s reflection off the search dog’s vest.  He was clearly sniffing his way along, leading his handler right toward us.
I grabbed hold of Rona’s jacket and began to pull her toward the mountain of fishing nets.  “What are you doing?” Rona squealed.  “You’re tugging on my sleeve.”
“I know.  Sorry.  I just want to get a closer look at those nets.  I’ve never seen any like them.”
“I think you’re crazy.  I thought Maine would have a good effect on you, a calming one; but now look at  . . .”
“Please, just this once, let’s take a look at these.  Trust me they’re really special.”  Rolling her eyes up in her head Rona relented and followed me behind the pile.  I pretended to scrutinize them while she stood aloof with her arms folded, impatiently tapping her foot.
Even though I was bent low, out of the tops of my eyes I could see her waiting, aggravated but indulgent, while I pretended to examine the floats on the nets, crouching ever lower and lower.  I was trying to curl up into a ball to better hide myself. 
But huddling as I was against the nets, thinking I had successfully made myself virtually invisible, as they drew even closer, I could also not fail to see the search dog and his handler. 
They came to a stop a few yards from me and the dog promptly sat on his haunches.  I had expected he would leap at me, growl, and then bite at my trouser cuffs.  But he and the policeman remained where they were, totally still, without moving closer. 
What I was really up to was about to be exposed to Rona and thus I began fumbling in my mind to concoct an explanation and also what I was certain would need to be a seemingly-sincere apology.
“Did you find yourself yet?” the dog’s handler asked.
“What was that?” Rona said, more confused than I.  After all I at least knew what they and I had been up to.
“Oh, nothing,” I said with as much matter-of-factness as I could muster.
Nothing?  Rona exclaimed, “Didn’t you hear what he said?”
“Not really,” I lied. 
She turned to them for conformation about what she had clearly heard, but they had already retraced most of their steps back up toward the street.
“Well, I never,” Rona said, exasperated, but calm.
I didn’t right then try to explain anything or look directly at her, but promised myself that when we were back at the house and all the groceries were safely away, I would tell her the whole story. 

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