First off I’d like you to meet Clementine:
This was pretty much the way I was introduced to this adorable little bundle on the next block while walking my dog this morning. She’s got a cute pink collar and a golden tag and clearly she’s cared for and loved. But regardless of the healthy sheen to her coat and her exuberant demeanor, the obligatory red flag always goes up whenever I see a dog — especially one so freakin’ snack-sized — with no guardian to be found. To compound things, after I took that picture she started following me and Shadow, seemingly starved and eager for the company. So I drew her close and I read the tag to learn her name. The tag offers no address but instead a phone number with a 464 area code and with my ignorance of most area codes beyond the ones we all know and love here in SoCal, I’m left wondering across how many state lines from home this canine might possibly be.
I’m not alone on the street. There’s a guy tending to his front lawn a couple properties to the north and a gardening duo finishing up at the house south of him and as Shadow and I and our new best friend Clem approach I ask one of the pair if he might know where this dog lives. He doesn’t. So I ask the guy next door if he’s seen this dog before. He comes over for a closer look but says he doesn’t recognize it. I mention there’s a phone number on the tag but that I don’t have my phone otherwise I’d call it, and the other gardener whips out his cell and offers and I start to read off the number.
“Area code 464…” I tell him and from the torque’d up look he gives me I know I’m not alone in wondering what part of the country that serves. But he punches it and the rest of the digits I tell him in and of course it rings and rings until he gets voicemail.
So I’m left with the choice of A) abandoning a potentially abandoned animal and just hoping the situation resolves positively, or B) bringing it home with me about a half-mile away and attempting to make phone contact from there.
In hindsight I so wish I’d chosen A.
But instead I went for B and in the next instant I’ve got Shadow off the leash and Clem on it and the three of us are walking away from the gardeners and the homeowner who are all thanking me and wishing me luck.
The walk home is uneventful save for Clem lingering investigatively at every single pee spot along the way, lending weight to my theory that she’s not from around here. In contrast, Shadow’s all “been there done that” even though we hadn’t been down this route recently. We get home and I let Clem off leash inside the house and cats Pepper and Jiggy are immediately inquisitive at what might be either a weird looking cat or a new toy for them to play with. I leave the amicable animals to get further acquainted and make a quick visit to the ‘net where I learn the 464 area code is… Chicago? And only then does it dawn on me that I might be looking at a transportable mobile number. I make the call. Instead of a recording I get a live young woman’s voice. I ask her if Clementine is hers and she says yes and I start tell her what happened, but she cuts me off. Now, silly me for being naive to expect a little appreciation or gratitude for coming to her dog’s aid, but — pardon me — fuck her for the immediate attitude she gives me.
“Yes I know what happened,” she says, “I found out from the men outside,” she says wiith an edge to her voice that catches me entirely off guard so I cut right to the chase.
“Well, please forgive the incovenience,” which I say not unlike Steve Martin’s signature “Well excuuuuuuse meeeeee.” To which she gives me a “It’s OK, you didn’t know any better.” I’m pretty sure I growled at that. Any chance of me not getting defensive is now history and I tell her I’d be happy to bring little Clem back right away for her if she’ll just tell me her address. To that offer she umms and ahhs and tells me that she’s got her keys in her hand and is heading out the door this minute and she can swing by me and pick Clem up whose in the kitchen lapping from the waterbowl. That’s infinitely fine by me and I give her the address, but she doesn’t know where that is. Pffft. I’m a block over and a block up from her and she’s freakin’ clueless. So I have to play Mapquest with her and give her driving directions.
“I’m on my way,” she says and hangs up on me as I’m telling her we’ll be waiting out front. I say “bitch” outloud to the dead phone and then pick up Clem and go outside, which turns out to be the second biggest mistake I made. Once out on the front porch and off-leash she sniffs around a bit all casual and then zooooom she’s just outta here. Down the steps she blasts, hanging a left at the sidewalk and before I can even say anything I’m hoofing it down the street in hot pursuit yelling her name after this little pocket dog who hits the afterburners down the block like she knows exactly where she’s going.
And dammit if she doesn’t. Clem hits Marathon and makes a right down the hill to Parkman. I make that right just in time to see her sprint left across Marathon and disappear south on Parkman… exactly where we’d come from. So there I am gallumphing along and hoping I might just pass a car with the young woman in it coming the other way and flag her down. But of course that doesn’t happen and I get to Parkman and head south just in time to see the homeowner dude and the gardeners waaaaay down the block watch in surprise as Clem now the size of a furry bullet blazes past them and goes out of sight up some steps into a yard a couple doors down.
A minute later I’m trotting past the fellas who are all smiles and I’m explaining what transpired and saying “no good deed goes unpunished” and they’re shaking their heads with “you got that right” and then I’m in front of the buidling where I initially found Clem who’s panting on the porch and staring at me with an open doorway behind her.
Well, at least the woman hadn’t left, right? Wrong. I go up to the door, pet Clem on the head and knock and call out “hello?” and of course there’s nobody home. So not only does this icy bitch let her bite-sized dog out to roam unsupervised, she’s also inclined to leave her home wide open and unattended. Lovely. And now I can either A) wait until she returns, or B) just cut my losses and leave. I get my answer when Clem trots through the dooorway and hops up onto a chair in the livingroom. I salute the speedy little canine and exit. As I walk past the fellas for the final time I shrug my shoulders. “Like I need this shit,” I say and they nod their heads in response.
On the walk home I try to look on the bright side, that at least Clem’s safe at home. But when I get inside and head to the phone to call her guardian one final time, I see a message waiting for me on the machine. It’s her and all she says is. “I’m the girl with the dog and I don’t know where you are.” Her delivery is curt, her tone is annoyed but I let that go. After all she came to me to get her Clem and neither I nor her dog were there. I’d be curt and annoyed too — strikethat. I’d be concerned, but I’d mask it behind a sustaining graciousness at the kindness of strangers. But apparently that’s just me. Literally.
So I call her back and I tell her how Clem got loose and beelined it for home with me bringing up the rear. “At least all’s well that ends well,” I say in an attempt to be cheerful, to which she should’ve just said thank you for the trouble and goodbye, but instead she has to go and blow it with “Yeah, that freaked me out when I got there and no one was around. For all I knew you’re some weird guy doing this as a way to meet me, yaknowwhatImean?”
I’d like to say that I was ready for her insulting rude and absolute void of appreciation this time. I’d like to say that I shot back with “Don’t flatter yourself sweetcheeks and while you’re at it why don’t you take better goddam care of your dog so it doesn’t end up stolen or in the belly of the pitbulls and killer dalmations and fucking coyotes that are all around here and like to lunch on all the Clems they can eat, and in the meantime do your dog a favor and get a collar tag that doesn’t make it look like the dog’s 1,500 miles from the ‘burbs of Chi-town.”
But instead I just laugh out loud in surprise at her and her wonderously warped worldview and say “Well aren’t you just something really special!” And maybe my wide-eyed sarcasm snapped her, because she throttled down with a deep breath and came back with “Look, this just went bad from the beginning –.”
“Actually it was all good until you got involved,” I said, cutting her off from getting any further away from thanking me for being a good and concerned neighbor. “And trust me, I’ll make sure it never ever happens again.” And then I hung up.
Good luck to you darling Clementine. You’re gonna need it.