My ass is in the air, and a blind poodle is smooshing its face against my inner thigh.
This is my reality.
Staring ahead at the barking dogs, I inhale, propel myself — face down — through the narrow passage leading to the other side. Then slip, and kiss the cold concrete floor — my cheek mere inches from a steaming turd.
The poodle follows.
I step back.
And realize I’m screwed.
Everything had been going according to plan.
A lot of people wonder what my new job entails. And by “a lot,” I mean my parents.
Working for a nonprofit, everyone has to wear at least five hats at a given time. And, sometimes, coordinate them with five outfits without notice. So, one such wardrobe change I frequently make is for two news segments, each of which helps us find homes for the featured animals we take on the air.
And this day, I have a date with a Shih Tzu. At 6:00 AM.
There’s primping to be done, scarves to be tied, bowel movements to be made on the sidewalk. And y’all, time is rarely on our side. Especially when the dreaded highway of hell, the 405, awaits.
But today, I get in early. I have everything ready. This should be a dog walk in the park.
A click of the lock later, and I’m walking into the shelter, rousing the curiosity of its barky residents, one of whom will soon be making his TV debut.
Three Shih Tzu’s later, I’m empty handed. Sweat beads on my forehead.
Where is he?
Was he already adopted?
Am I insane?
I begin searching frantically. Then blow through a door, turn the corner, and walk through another one, with a momentary thought trailing after me like a potent fart.
I hope this door doesn’t lock.
I turn to catch it.
I turn the knob.
Before my heart sinks to my toes, and I come to the crushing realization.
Like the last brick sealing Fortunato’s fate, the click of the door ushers in an all-consuming denial — incredulity that demands remedy.
This. Is. Happening.
Like most panicked animals, I scamper within my confines while entertaining racing, irrational thoughts.
My eyes dart here. There. Every damn where for salvation, escape.
Maybe I can squeeze through that four inch space.
Maybe that barbed wire isn’t as sharp as it looks.
If I had shape-shifting powers, I could totally get out of here.
But then, I remember something — a real super power.
I reach into my back pocket. But only grab lint and dental floss.
As the doggy din subsides, I shove two large shelter keys in the door and kennel locks, trying to make something work — like a lock-picking Tim Gunn.
But there’s one more key — a tiny, imp-like piece of metal. So I turn to an empty kennel, push in and turn the key, and alakazam!
I’m in. Kenneled.
Now comes the tricky part: getting from Point A — inside the kennel — to Point D — the other side of the locked door.
I assess the small passage separating the inside-outside kennel halves and push myself through, emerging into the other fenced half facing the stray section. With another lock conquered, I have only one option — trying the same thing with one of the inhabited kennels.
So I walk the kennel line, determining which of the strays wants a temporary roomie. And that’s when I see him — the little blind poodle.
And Bingo was him name, oh!
By now, the whole kennel block is one loud bark. Inside, facing my fellow strays, I know I’m just one little flip of the key from victory.
I take a few steps to the kennel door, and reach for the lock.
Only to realize that this particular door is slightly different from the others — the lock is bolted to a wooden post, out of view. And the only way to get to it is to shove my hand through the chain-link fencing.
The canine cacophony is deafening — reverberating off the walls, almost shaking my hands — and I can’t help but think their barks are more critical in tone than supportive.
But then, as sweaty rivers cascade down my face, I get a little, literal nudge of encouragement from my kennel mate.
With my hands contorted and smashed through the fencing like some arabesque marionette, I glance down to see him — quietly determined — smooshing his head into my pant leg.
I turn back, twist my hands — scraping off more skin — jostle the lock, and feel it give.
I push, and smash my face into the immovable fence. Crucial minutes pass before I realize I have to push yet another lock out of my way. Which I eventually do.
Only after a coworker arrives do I find the one.
So my furry friend and I jump into the car, race to the interstate, and sit in gridlock traffic — watching the segment time inch up, then pass.
Fifteen minutes late, I swerve into the studio lot, hear a heave, and turn around just in time to see puparoo puke all over his crate.
And then we sit. For an hour. Until we’re shoehorned into another segment.
We go on, I smile and chat with the anchor, and the pup gets adopted a few days later.
This is my new work life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nesting in a new home is always punctuated with an I-can’t-take-this-mess-anymore culling period. And this time around, old field clothes, notes, and just about everything from my past job as an archaeologist went into the dumpster.
Still, I find myself struck by the fact that I need absolutely none of it for my job now. My professional slate is more than clean — it’s rebuilt.
But a few days ago, I got a little reminder — a sense of the past creeping up and tapping me on the shoulder.
Silent auction items for an upcoming event lay strewn across the desk. And a pocket watch takes center stage.
“Hey, Matt. You might know something about this. Do you know how old this is?”
The historian-researcher in me suddenly springs out of hibernation. Within minutes, I have the serial number called up on a database, and a use-date onscreen. And fueling that keyboard clattering and image searching is a bit of enjoyment, with a hint of nostalgia.
Because not everything about what has been has to be painful. There’re plenty of ways to pay homage — nodding to a past life knowingly, thanking it in my own way, and acknowledging that it had its time, its place.
And that it’s time to move on.
“Well, never mind, I guess we don’t really need it anymore since we have these.”
I smile down at the opened, gold lid — the watch’s cracked glass and yellowed Roman numerals, the hands stopped at some random moment in time.
“No, I suppose we don’t.”
Then close it.