It was a slow moving Saturday afternoon when the ringing phone took me by surprise almost as if I had forgotten that I had one. Fall hadn’t quite arrived just yet. A man’s deep voice very spoke to me on the other end.
“My name is Toffler. I am looking for a reliable and caring person to walk my dog that I adopted from the Lange Foundation and I am told that you are that person.”
His formality made me sit up. I muted the television.
The Lange Foundation was one of the most established and largest animal rescues in Los Angeles. They were not far from my house and my friends Annie and Jeanne-Marie went way back with Gillian Lange the founder.
What kind of dog is it? I said trying to sound enthusiastic and cheerful and not at all like I had been numbing myself watching mindless television.
“She’s a little mix. Very sweet. She was emaciated when we got her and now the vet tells us she’s overweight and needs long walks. We’re looking for someone responsible and reliable. I am told that you are that person.”
“Well, I’d like to come over and meet her first.”
“Of course. When are you available?”
“Um..I mean do you want to meet today?”
“Certainly if you’re available.”
“How about one o’clock?”
“One o’clock it is.”
I jotted down his address it wasn’t far from where I lived. I left at twelve forty-five knowing that on a Sunday without any events it wouldn’t take long to get there. The house was just as he described I had no trouble finding it. I buzzed in at the gate trying to pretend I didn’t know the security camera hidden in the tree branches was there.
Once the gates closed behind me. A tall lanky man with glasses and thoughtful eyes strolled out of the house wearing an elegant sweater and loafers. Alongside him was a tubby, German Shepherd mix with a face like a fox. She was on a long leather leash. She moved quietly.
I outstretched my hand but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the dog. There was something so sweet and fractured about her.
“This is Happy.”
“Hi, Happy. Nice to meet you.” She was hand-shy and groaned when I tried to touch her.
“She’s still adjusting. Believe it or not she’s come a long way. She was found in South Central guarding a box of her dead puppies.”
I kept my distance and admired the pair of them.
“I was thinking we could walk her around UCLA. It’s a beautiful campus. I take my dog there and he loves it.”
“What do you think, Happy?”
Happy shifted her weight nervously in response.
Her dog Dad escorted me to his 1980s BMW Sedan. Happy tentatively jumped into the back seat and knead the back seat nervously as if she were making wine in a vat. As we pulled through the gates, she began drooling profusely.
“There, there Happy. Everything’s going to be okay.” He reached a long arm back to comfort his dog.
Fortunately for Happy the drive was short. We parked off Hilgard just off the sculpture garden. We didn’t buy a parking permit. I hoped he wouldn’t get cited. Happy made no hasted hopping out of the car onto the sidewalk. We strolled along in silence. Happy was nervous but comforted by the presence of her owner.
“This is the sculpture garden.”
“I’m glad to see this side of the campus. I spent a lot of time here.”
“Did you teach here? I made a logical deduction based on his age and mannerisms.
“No. My daughter was hospitalized here. She died here.”
“This piece of information was almost enough to stop me in my tracks. I didn’t know what to say.”
I looked over at him not knowing what to say.
He gave me a wistful look, “Alas.”
As we exited the garden and moved past Mernitz Hall I felt the need to change the conversation. I pointed to an open classroom where I had taken a fiction writing class the summer after I was canned from my prestigious job working for a hedge fund film financier.
“I took a class in there once.”
“What do you know? What kind of class?”
“A writing class.”
“You don’t say. I’m a writer too.”
Suddenly it hit me. Toffler. Writer. Here I was strolling across the UCLA Campus with Alvin Toffler the author of Future Shock. He was considered one of the great living minds and was recently the answer to a question on Jeopardy.
“My wife and I are Futurists. What kind of material do you write?”
I felt like an idiot. “That was a fiction class. Right now I’m researching a piece for the Los Angeles Times Magazine on location extras.
I breezed through a summary of my piece on location extras I had just sold to the Los Angeles Times Magazine. my story, my sources not wanting to say too much. When we got as far as the steps Bruin Bear I suggested we turn around.
“My daughter had a dog. When my daughter was still home with us, the dog laid at her feet in bed the whole time she was bedridden. She refused to leave her. When my daughter died, the dog became very depressed. We took her to the vet for tests and they couldn’t find anything wrong with her. Liver values, kidney values. Everything checked out. She died not long after.
“I’m so sorry.”
He looked at me with a sad smile, “Alas.”
Alas, I thought.
“ I had my daughter’s casket exhumed and we buried the dog with her. At least now they’re together.”
I felt some relief in knowing that but I still didn’t know what to say.
Happy kneaded the backseat more urgently as we pulled back into the driveway. I hopped out of the car almost as nervously as Happy. I still couldn’t believe I had called myself a writer to Alvin Toffler one of the great living thinkers.
“Wait. Let’s let the gates close.”
As the gates slowly drew to a close he pulled the door open for his dog.
“So what do you think? Can you help my girl here get into shape?”
“I would love to.”
“What do I owe you for today?”
“On the house, ”
He pointed to a faint outline of a rectangle about twenty feet in front of the gates. You’ll need to drive over that to get the gates to open. Be sure to go over the middle. If you just hit the corners the gates won’t open.
I showed up promptly at nine am on the appointed day. I buzzed in and the gates pulled open. Mr. Toffler came out with a short, barrel chested woman behind him. She smiled politely at me.
“This is Alicia, our housekeeper. She’s going to go with you.”
“Come with me?”
“Yes, just the first few times.”
This was a first for me. I was walking the dog and the housekeeper. It was awkward but if it was a requirement there was no way around it. At least not today.
I helped my two companions into the car. I decided we would go to UCLA only today was a school day so it parking would be difficult.
It was a warm day. Rivulets of drool streamed from Happy’s mouth as we made our way along the sloping curved street that bordered the UCLA campus on the east side. We got lucky with parking off of Westwood Boulevard and walked Happy as far as the Bruin Bear. She was winded and out of breath so I suggested we sit in the cool grass. I asked Alicia how long she had worked for the Tofflers and she told me it had been seven years. She was from Monterey, Mexico. She was surprised I spoke Spanish. She was curious about my parents and how it was I spoke Spanish.
We had a comfort level as we spoke to each other in Spanish.
“He told me about his daughter. That’s so sad.”
“Yes, it was very sad.”
“Is it true they buried the dog with their daughter?”
“That’s so sad. Their daughter and then their daughter’s dog.”
“Yes it was very sad. She was very sick. It was already one year since she died.”
The irony of my choosing UCLA as the location for our first dog walk was not lost on me.
“On the one year anniversary, Mr. Toffler was gone for a long time and then he came home with Happy. We thought he was at the cemetery the whole time. Mrs. Toffler doesn’t like to go. He takes flowers every week.
“Oh.” I appreciated getting the full picture.
“But Mrs. Toffler got very angry. She didn’t want the dog. She told him to take the dog back but he didn’t want to. It was a big fight. Mrs. Toffler said she didn’t want anything in the house that could die.”
I looked at Happy. So sweet and so nervous. taken by surprise she was so controversial. I reached out and tried to touch her but she shied away.
We got Happy on a regular Tuesday, Thursday morning schedule. She was to be picked up promptly at nine in the morning, walked for an hour and returned home. Unfortunately for Lucas Mr. Toffler didn’t want Happy going out with other dogs so Lucas had to stay home. I would also have to find a way to adjust the pick up time for the Yorkin dogs who lived close by.
Holmby Park was a short distance from the Toffler’s home was the location I decided on. I had driven by countless times and it seemed like a nice park with a paved black asphalt walking path around the perimeter. It had shade and even a little creek around the mini golf course. There were numerous other people walking their dogs, groups of women exercise walking and every now and then the UCLA men’s cross country team leapt past in their sky blue running shorts and singlets. Parking was easy and the park had a walking loop on the outside of it. There was also an easily accessible public bathroom which I had discovered
Mr. Toffler and Happy had just returned from their breakfast when I returned. He and Alicia watched as Happy tentatively hopped up into the back of my Honda sedan and onto the backseat. Happy rode stiff legged, knees hyperextended rocking back and forth like a wooden horse in danger of toppling over at every decrease in speed or acceleration.
Right as we pulled up to the park, Happy quietly wretched up a pile of egg yolk colored bile mixed with the remnants of her breakfast. Pieces of kibble wholly recognizable. The smell of it wafted up to the front of the car. I grabbed a plastic bag and scooped it up using the bag like a mit. Happy looked miserable as I scooped up the vomit. I went to help Happy out of the car. I touched her neck and she yelped. It startled both of us. I reconsidered my approach and tugged on the leash instead. The leather collar slipped easily over her fur. I made making a point of speaking to her in a cheerful and encouraging tone. I was already breaking into a sweat and I hadn’t even done any walking.
“Come on Happy it’s okay let’s go walk”
Happy was not convinced. Finally I reached in, wrapped my arms around her barrel shaped gut and lifted her out of the car. She flailed a bit but I was able to get her onto the ground before she went into a full panic.
The golf course. Latina nannies in their uniform of blue jeans and an oversized T-shirts. I wondered why they wore that. It looked so uncomfortable. Walking Happy was like walking find analogy. She was erratic and reactive. She drooled at the sight of people. She sped up then slowed down the slightest sound frightened her. Before we arrived I wondered how bear the monotony of going around the park for forty-five minutes now It seemed almost impossible that we might get around the park even once. Suddenly every person, every dog or even a crunching leaf was an obstacle.
We shuffled along. It was a miserable hour for both of us. Disorienting and depressing. At least Happy had taken care of her potty business. Finally I loaded Happy back into the Honda. I was a few steps ahead of myself, already envisioning myself picking up Toby, Prince and Simba. When I was just around the corner from theToffler gates Alicia called. I quickly picked up the phone. to ask where we were.
“Um, hi this is Alicia, Mr. Toffler just wants to make sure everything is okay.”
We still had two minutes to spare so I wasn’t sure why Alicia was calling.
When I arrived at the house Mr. Toffler emerged from the house and with one hand upheld instructed me to wait for the gates to fully close before letting Happy out of the car. The gates seem to move in slow motion then finally swept closed.
Thursday rolled around and fortunately it was grooming day for Toby, Prince and Simba so I didn’t have to worry about racing around. Today I had a different plan for Happy. Instead of Holmby Park I would take her to the bluffs in the Palisades that overlooked the beach. This time I would stealthily pick up Lucas and take him with us then drop him off at home before taking Happy home. I would grab a cappuccino. At this hour, the bluffs would be empty and I could just sit on a bench and Happy could enjoy the tranquil scene.
Lucas was as happy as could be at the plan when I arrived home and quickly slipped the leash on him. I hoped that Happy wouldn’t be too freaked out by another dog in the car but honestly I couldn’t imagine her any more freaked out and I thought it might actually do her some good. Lucas took his co-pilot seat next to me. He sniffed Happy, Happy grew a little uneasy at first but then was fine and Lucas settled into his co-pilot seat.
The line at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in the Palisades was a little longer than I had anticipated it would be. Lucas’ excitement was palpable as we arrived at the bluffs. I parked at the dead end and let him jump out. He bounced around the grassy patch and jogged around. Happy was unsure. I carefully lifted her out of the car. She immediately squatted and took care of business. I called to Lucas and the three of us walked along the eroded footpath along the bluffs. From this distance the waves were silent but there was something relaxing about being up here and even Happy was doing better. We made it to the end of the short rode and turned around. Happy marched along while Lucas pranced all the way back to the car.
I noticed the time on the dashboard digital display as we pulled out of the Cul-De-Sac. It was already ten o’clock. I knew I could have Happy home in fifteen minutes. I still had to drop Lucas off so it would be more like twenty-five minutes. I braced myself for the phone call. I would say a few minutes instead of fifteen and surely they would understand that Happy had enjoyed herself so much there was no harm, no foul.
Fortunately, this time there was no phone call. I was so relieved and quite proud of myself for figuring out a fun plan for Happy as I buzzed into the gate. Alicia let me in. As the gates whirred and opened I pulled in just as Mr. Toffler strode out of the house. He had an intense look on his face as I hopped out to unload Happy. It seemed like an eternity before the gates pulled closed so I could let her out. There was no kind smile waiting for me or a laugh at the report about how Happy had spent her morning.
“You are to pick her up at nine in the morning and have her back by ten. Do you understand?”
I shrank at his scolding tone. I felt so small. I fought back tears. This is not how I wanted to make my living anyway and now I was being reprimanded for getting a dog home twenty-five minutes late.
I handed Mr. Toffler the leash, careful not to touch his hand or look him in the eye.
“Sorry about that. She was having fun.”
I quickly slipped back into my car and without know why I drove to Holmby Park and parked alongside it. I dialed Annie.
Before I could get any words out I was on the verge of tears.
“I can’t walk Happy anymore.”
Annie was thoughtfully silent after I briefed her on the stress of my two walks with Happy.
“Do you want to know what I really think?”
“You’re not going to like it.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I think you’re supposed to be there. I think you’re supposed to be in their life. This is one of those cases. Look what they’ve been through. They need you. I don’t know anybody else who would have the patience for that dog.”
Annie was right. This is not what I wanted to hear and I didn’t understand. I wanted to hear I was supposed to quit and that Mr. Toffler was too rigid and demanding and that I was under no obligation to go back.”
The following Tuesday I arrived at the Toffler’s gates at 9am sharp. Alicia buzzed me in. I braced myself for an awkward encounter with Mr. Toffler. I was prepared to be chipper and say Good morning as if I weren’t having any resentful feelings. Today Happy did not jog out alongside her Mr. Toffler. Instead I was greeted at the door by a platinum haired septuagenarian holding a lit cigarette. She held the cigararette in the glamorous manner of actresses in 1950s films. She was dressed very casually, her bare feet on the while tile. I could feel her self-sufficient, tough broad energy from ten feet away. She had the self-sufficinet, tough broad air about her like a Barbara Stanwyck. I assumed this was Mrs. Toffler.
“Hi. Looks like Happy’s ready to go.”
“I’ll be sure to have her back in an hour.”
“That’s okay. It doesn’t matter. Just as long as she has fun.”
“But Mr. Toffler said –“
“Don’t worry about him.”
I didn’t trust my newfound freedom completely but I thought I would take advantage of it while it lasted. I stopped at home to pick up Lucas and while I was at it, I went ahead and picked up Toby, Prince and Simba. Suddenly, I had a real pack. And they were all squeezed into the back seat of my Honda Accord Sedan. Toby lay on the seat like a bear skin rug and his fluffy white siblings nestle themselves between his big behind and one of the back doors. Lucas was my co-pilot.
I took them all up to Old Road Mulholland for a hike. This time of day there were usually just Stay-At-Home-Moms finishing up their morning constitutionals and the occasional cyclist. Managing unloading was the most difficult part and Lucas, the equivalent of the school bus driver’s child was the biggest challenge with all of his barking.
I breathed a big sigh of relief once everyone was unloaded and pointing in the right direction. Usually the dogs in the car brought curious looks followed by Oh my God and ooohs and aahs. I got the occasional dirty look from one of the SAH Moms but I did my best to ignore them while highlighting the fact that I was picking up all of the dog poop my clients were producing.
Happy seemed to be enjoying herself, her tail moved from one side to the other with every step she took in an asymmetrical pattern. Not quite a wag but at least she was marching along with her head up and she wasn’t drooling. Prince and Simba as usual floated along together like two puffy white clouds while Toby sniffed every leaf on the ground. It was a steep climb the entire first half-mile. This was definitely not an occupation for the out of the shape. I trudged along keeping everyone together and keeping my eye on Lucas as he approached the blind turn up ahead. You never knew who was going to come around that corner that might set off the alarm bell and he would start his incessant barking. Or God forbid it was a Boxer or a breed he was afraid of and then we’d be in big trouble. Happy trudged along the steep climb was a challenge for her so we just took our time.
Finally we made our way to the top of the blind turn that turned west and put us at the top of the trail where we had a spectacular view from the Channel Islands to downtown. Today was so clear I could see the Griffith Park Observatory. We had the trail all to ourselves. Toby and Lucas took advantage of the downhill and ran off together, Lucas barking at Toby as he playfully dive bombed him and finally pinned Toby to the ground and wrestled with him. My cheeks hurt because I couldn’t stop smiling. I looked at the beautiful day and felt grateful for it. I thought about all the days I had spent tortured in a production office Xeroxing a production booklet or a location photos redoing them in a cramped stuffy miserable production office. Standing here it seemed that was no way to live. It was better to be out here in nature out in the open absorbing the tranquility. I could do this temporarily while I waited for my next job to book. Once it did, everything would be back to normal and I would be stable again.
Happy arrived home close to noon. I took Toby, Prince and Simba home first then took Happy home. It was the usual madness at the Yorkins. Vilma was organizing herself for preparing lunch later while Yvonne made beds. Mrs. Yorkin’s groggy voice came over the phone intercom.
“Vilma, will you chop me my fruit salad and have Yvonne bring it up?”
“I don’t want any of the same fruit I had yesterday and I only want half as much.”
“Have Yvonne draw me a bath.”
Alicia opened the door to the house and peered over my shoulder at Lucas in the car. I remember to let the gates pull themselves closed before letting Happy hop out. For some reason it seemed to take ages.
“Happy was gone a long time.”
“Mrs. Toffler said it would be okay.”
“I’m trying to socialize her so I brought my own dog.”
“Ok. Como se llama tu perrito?
“Ah, look he’s cute. Mr. Toffler is in Russia so as long as she said it’s okay then it’s okay.”
Okay, see you Thursday.
On Thursday Lucas and I arrived together to collect Happy Toffler. Lucas’ tail fluttered as the gates drew closed. He was excited by every new house we went to. Mrs. Toffler came to the door in her T-shirt and sweatpants. She had her reading glasses sitting on top of her head near and a cigarette in between two fingers with carefully filed fingernails. She was an intriguing mix of 1950s movie actress and gunslinger. There was something very glamorous about her like a 1950s movie actress. Her blue eyes twinkled.
“You know, you’re going to have to walk this dog for the rest of your life.”
This proclamation made me smile.
“Look at her.”
Happy’s tail swung in it’s asymmetrical rhythm as she marched spiritedly to the car. Lucas grew excited.
“I hope it’s ok, I brought my dog. They get along great and I think it’s really good for her.”
“Sure!” What kind of dog is he? A Jack Russell?”
“Yes, a long-legged one.”
She approached the car and ran touched Lucas through the window which was rolled down.
“His underbite is hysterical. We’ve always had big dogs. “Vischlas, Pitbulls. Happy’s the smallest dog we’ve ever had. My daughter’s dog Sheena was a Pit bull. When we lived on the east coast the Vischlas got ticks. It’s not as bad here in California.”
She took a drag off of her cigarette.
“We’ll be back in a few hours,”
“Take your time. This is good for her, I can tell. In fact, can you take her everyday during the week?”
“Absolutely. Would it be okay to take her with other dogs?”
“Sure. That would be wonderful.”
Monday rolled around and I showed up at the Tofflers with my crew. Toby, Prince, Simba and Lucas. Mr. Toffler answered the buzzer and I instantly felt a heaviness. I hadn’t anticipated this. When I pulled into the driveway he stepped outside the door in his professorial garb. He quickly pulled the door shut behind him and waited for the gates to close completely. He stared at the car in confusion at all the dog faces who looked back at him expectantly. He approached the car.
“Who are these guys?”
I hadn’t anticipated this. I assumed an internal discussion would have taken place.
“This is Toby, Prince, Simba and Lucas. He’s my own dog. Mrs. Toffler said it would be okay to take Happy out with other dogs.”
Before he could respond. The metal door to the house opened as if opened by a ghost. Happy scooted out in confusion. She wasn’t sure if she should get in the car or stand loyally next to her owner. She feed off his perplexed energy. There was nobody there. Just Mrs. Toffler’s voice.
“Let her go, Al.”
“But there’s all these other dogs in the car.”
Mrs. Toffler’s voice grew louder and sharper.“Don’t worry about it. Just let her go.” Mr. Toffler could not ignore his wife’s directive.
“I don’t want her going out with a bunch of dogs. Now wait a minute. How do you control them all?” Mr. Toffler looked at me.
“They’re pack animals. They stay together.”
“Al, get in here and let the dog go. She likes the other dogs.”
“Al, it’ll be fine.”
Mr. Toffler reluctantly relented. “Please, be careful.”
Today was a big day for Happy. First I let her leash drag and then I finally unclipped her. She walked at my side the entire time. Wagging her tail at the breeze and the different scents. As we crested the top of the uphill curve she made it to the top without vomiting then followed the rest of the dogs as they flew down the downward slope happy to be free.