The dog and I took a walk this morning to our local Copenhagen bakery to pick up a couple loaves of their rye bread. It’s not a pretty walk. It’s a Los Angeles city street. Lots of concrete. Not a lot of trees. This bakery makes me happy, though, with its clean white facade and bright orange door and signage. I know I’m getting closer to the bakery because on our walk we pass by a kid on a bench eating a round cinnamon danish “the size of his head,” his mother laughs. Lucky kid. I’ve been watching my middle-aged middle jiggle a bit more lately, so I’m sticking to the hearty loaf of rye. I’ve got dog, and we called and paid ahead. They’re handing us the bag of bread out the door. I won’t have to walk in and smell all of that deliciousness.
We pass by the Islamic temple, and I read sidewalk drawings in multi-colored pastels. Hearts and rainbows: “We support you!” “We love our neighbors,” “Love.” How did that moment unfold? Did the neighborhood kids do that on their own accord? Did their parents suggest they do it? We walk some more, and I give a little tug. Dog wants to stop at each tree along the way. I guess we do have trees. Palm trees don’t seem to register to me but, in fact, are trees. Next stop is the street crossing. Two little girls about hip high and their mothers have come out of a family yoga studio named after an establishment that contains wild animals. They each push the buttons to cross the street opposite directions. About a hundred times each. It’s the kind of street crossing with the big round silver button that makes a loud beeping sound each time it’s pressed, not the old school little black buttons the size of your navel.
“It’s a mechanism you, know. It’ll break. You’re messing up the traffic. You’re messing up the visually impaired. That’s just really loud and annoying to people taller than a hip.”
No. I didn’t say any of that. A mean scary lady would say such things. I’m a nice lady with a dog. We thought it though, dog and I. Nobody said anything. That’s not true. Her mother told her the light was about to change so she’d get ready to cross.
“Remember green means go!” Did it matter that there was no green, I wondered? It was white. A white light that pictured a walking man. Unless you mean the traffic light which might just as well have been the top of a palm tree. Sure. Green means go. Let’s go, dog. We’re walking. The only thing that stands between us and the bakery now is the crosswalk. Yet another parent and kid walk toward us. Another hip-highster. Also with pastry in-hand. In mouth. I smile. “Yum!” I say. Yum, says dog. Then as she and her dad pass us I see her pastry dangling down, torn much too much, destined to drop to the asphalt. Over my shoulder I call, “Oh, she’s going to lose her pastry!” I see her dad fumble quickly and help her recover it. My dog looks at me like I mess up everything good.
“Good work, Dad!” I call back to him as we hop up on the curb.
But I feel a pang.
Dog and I stick our head in the pastry shop. The smell of butter, almond, cinnamon, and coffee play that old melody about you only live once. The dog and I love that one. We always hum along. The dog can’t go in, though. Street-button-pushers and their moms arrive at the door, and I ask them to let the cashier know the woman with the dog is outside for her bread. She brings out the loaves, and a couple of Napoleon Hats for my son. That’s right. Our boy’s getting pastry.
“Lucky dog,” says dog.
The bag is smooth and white like the bakery’s facade and bears an oblong orange sticker the same as the signage. It’s neat. Tidy. Linear. I put it in the empty backpack, zip it up, a satisfying sound, and we head back. I’ve got bread on my back. Two dense loaves. They’re not too heavy, but there’s still that pang in my chest and throat, and I’m beginning to worry I won’t be able to just empty that out when we get home. So, if we can’t eat that cookie based Napoleon Hat with a ball of pure almond paste baked together and dipped in dark chocolate, we might as well walk and put on the ol’ thinking cap instead.
“Right, dog?” I say.
No reply. He’s begun panting and would actually prefer to wrap this walk up sooner than later. He gets like that sometimes.
I continue, anyway.
“Why, dog?” He’s not listening. He’s full speed ahead home, and I’m trying to keep pace.
“It was a kind thing to do. It was a helpful thing to do. We know what a tragedy it is for a kid to lose pastry in the middle of the street.”
Now I’ve got his attention. He looks at me.
“Speak for yourself,” he says. But I didn’t hear.
“So, what’s the problem? Maybe how I said it to the dad sounded patronizing? Superior?”
I repeated it aloud for no one in particular as dog was no longer listening. It did sound patronizing. That’s probably why I added the ‘Good work, Dad!’ to try and soften it. Even though ‘Good work, Dad!’ could also sound patronizing, the tone was easier to soften when I spoke them aloud. That fascinated me. We were walking faster again.
I tried again, taking the words, “Oh, watch out for her pastry,” or “Her pastry looks like it might fall,” and saying them without the tone sounding judgey or superior. Why did the words where I suggested help in avoiding the pastry falling sound awful no matter what, and the ones where I cheered on her dad sound good if I got the right tone?
Dog took a sharp left for a pee break on a tree.
I look up. We can’t see the tops of the trees when we’re on our walk unless I stretch my aging neck out long and up (like a knee-high sock the soft creases and folds obey the laws of youthful nature and lengthen and stretch smooth). That accounts for why I feel like there are not any trees. Evidently the dog low to the ground knows better.
“Oh, watch out for her pastry.”
I try it matter-of-factly. I try it with a chuckle. I try it gingerly with a whisper. There’s just no way getting around the fact that my goal to save the child from losing three quarters of her pastry is irrelevant. The implication is always that the dad isn’t minding the shop closely enough on one end of it and to make her feel like she’s about to do something wrong on the other.
“But I don’t mean it that way!”
If my dog could shrug he surely would. Instead he just picks up walking again.
I try a different fantasy on for size. And the pastry slips and falls. I say nothing. Now, it’s all up to dad to shape the moment. He’ll probably mess it up. Blame her. Shame her. “Why didn’t you hold onto it better?” or “I told you to wait until we got home to eat it.” It’ll be for the same reason that I tried to help. We just all feel so darn bad and don’t want it to happen.
Every time that dog lifts his leg he interrupts the flow of our walk, the train of my thoughts. I give him a little tug. Let’s not forget who is walking whom, shall we? Take three. I say nothing. Dad says, “Oops,” waits to see how she feels, and then just works her through and says, “Ya. That bites.” Get it. Bites. Because if no one is eating pastry we all better get some comedy.
What if he doesn’t? What if I just say nothing and never hear what happens next?
This is why everyone should be eating pastry whenever they can. You never know when you’re going to drop it.
“Now you’re talking,” says dog.
That pang starts to dissipate. I wonder how many pangs I didn’t notice before this one finally caught my attention. Probably about a hundred million. I’m a pretty special helper.
Sometimes, you can’t see the forest when it’s just a bunch of palm trees.