A True Short Story About Me and A Dog.
I run down the high, bright yellow-white sand dunes from the Carmel Beach parking lot and make a right, head along the surf about a mile to the tide pools. They cut into the edge of cliffs there below Pebble Beach. Youngsters regularly search the crevasses and crannies for stray golf balls.
It’s the middle of September so the tourists are going and the fog is lifting. In fact it’s a pretty warm day, well into the 70’s right at the edge of that gorgeous blue, lace-lapped ocean. I pass clusters of teenagers playing volley ball, a couple of surfers praying for bigger waves, I duck a frisbee, and keep walking. Unlike the beach at Coney Island, more familiar to me and in my past, 15 people constitute a crowd here.
The tide pool rocks are usually all my own, or maybe I’ll see a couple walking and talking. I have more than once nestled in a sand dune out of the wind where I take off my top and lay undisturbed for hours in the California sun. There are always dogs, really galloping happy dogs who love the free run as much as their owners.
I watch a group of young kids tossing a tennis ball to a big black Labrador. What a time they are having. Their dog in relentless, bold pursuit of the bounty, the kids laugh and play catch as he dutifully returns it to their hands. Sweet. I keep walking.
I spend about fifteen minutes to get there, walk those gorgeous iron-rich orange and black cratered rocks this sea has cosseted for millennium. I see the fascinating community of wash ’em in-wash ’em out sea creatures, and head back along the ocean’s gentle edge.
I’m not so surprised to see the ball game still going strong. But alarmed to see as I get closer that the last fetch drops the black Lab at the edge of sand, and he’s being washed by low waves right over his head, ball clenched in his teeth, gasping for air, and unable to get up.
“Hey! Slow it down with your dog!”
I run over and pull him to dry sand, take the ball from his mouth and sit next to him. He’s panting heavily, chest heaving, he isn’t trying to stand. I see he’s an old dog, too. Game for the game but not with a puppy’s stamina.
“Dammit! You can see he’ll do this to please you til he drops. He dropped! You’re lucky he didn’t drown, pay attention here, your dog’s exhausted!”
“He’s not my dog,” says the kid I am looking at.
“Whose dog is he?”
“Dunno,” two of them shrug. All three of them walk away.
The big Labrador is better after a couple of minutes. He’s catching his breath and rhythm though he isn’t standing. I put my arms under him and haul big wet heavy sandy dog higher on the beach, and look around me for the careless owner I am hot to tear into. I may be in Carmel but they are in for a taste of Brooklyn.
Nobody is around. Nobody runs over. Nobody passing by knows the dog.
He has a wide, bright blue nylon collar, and written in a laundry marker pen in capitals, it says, INKY. To which, as applied to said dog, he responds with batting his weary tail against the tide.
I hold his huge beautiful head against my knees and get lost in his round gold eyes, flecks of grandpa whiskers, a white moustache, and some more of same on his handsome chest. He is giving me that I love you whoever you are look that any Labrador has as a virtue from birth, and moreso probably if you chase the little bums who stole his heart first and played with him. I saved him from going down in the briney and right now I am his Valentine. Oh Inky.
I’m looking in back of me over to the start of the sand dunes and it’s about 100 feet away, runs maybe twenty feet up at a considerable fair pitch, crowned with pines and the parking lot, the public bathrooms, the start of houses, and I am pretty sure, a pay phone. What a relic of the past just to write that. They’re all gone! This was pre-cell phone days, about ten years ago.
So while we’re sitting there, Inky is catching his breath and is better, bit of tempo back in the tail,
I think….what’s next. Do I leave the dog and go find a phone. Do I take the dog TO the phone. Can the dog make it to the phone. If I run for help fast and the dog is gone when I go back, then what. Can I run up that sand dune?
So like I say, we sit there.
About fifteen minutes goes by and Inky is willing to try standing. We progress in five foot intervals then rest. By the time we reach the bottom of where the sand dune rises up, Inky needs a long sit down. But I decide not to risk going on without him.
It may have taken half an hour before I get us further down the beach where the sand dune isn’t so steep, and we have made it up to the parking lot for another long rest. I spot the phone.
No money! Well, somebody here has a quarter. I look around at the emptying lot. Wait a minute, 911. Free.
After all this I’m not losing him, so gradually Inky and I make it to the phone. I don’t say sit, he’s already lapped out over my feet, glad to be solid ground, and I am guessing, familiar ground at that.
I dial the police.
“Hi,” says me. “I’m sorry this is not exactly an emergency.”
Simultaneously I’m remembering where I am. My first look ever in the Carmel Pine Cone had headlining the Police Report-Crime section: Local Woman Frightened by Raccoon. Clearly this was nothing like Brooklyn. I am maybe making their only call that day.
“I found a dog on the beach who doesn’t seem to have an owner, he’s totally exhausted, these kids were playing catch with him and he nearly passed out in the surf…”
“Describe the dog.”
“Big black Labrador. Kind of old, real sweet, he’s got a blue collar on with his name written on it in marker. It says….”
“…INKY!!” shouts the officer. “We’ll be right there!” Then, “Eeeen-keeeey,” she said in a real over the top croon, sighs, and hangs up.
Well true, they’re right next to us in a couple of minutes, and they all know each other and Inky climbs right into the perpetrator’s back seat like it was home, and drops on the Inky Blue Beach Towel they put there for him after they get it out of the cruiser trunk.
Turns out this is a Carmel Beach/Carmel Police Department/Inky routine, filled with affection. Carmel’s a very small town, very civilized, and not much bizarre happens. Most of the citizens and visitors conduct their lives with sane purpose. Inky too.
Then I am getting the whole story which the dog had been keeping to himself.
Inky has a mom and her name is Mrs. Something and she’s lived in Carmel all her long life in the same house, but now she’s widowed and it’s just her and Inky. Every morning at 11 AM she takes a walk to the beach with her Inky. Off they go, no leash required, they both know the drill, his shoulder to her knee, cars do the narrow streets at five miles an hour and Inky watches out to make sure his Mrs. doesn’t fall behind.
What Inky probably knows too is that his Mrs. is forgetful. She remembers where she lives, and she remembers that she’s got her Inky, and she remembers how to get home from the walk on the beach. But sometimes she forgets that she went out with a big black Labrador who loves her more than life itself like she loves him and if she forgets they left the house together after she gets to the beach she forgets to come home with him.
Which is where the Carmel PD comes in.
Nice character trait for man or beast. Nice character for a town, too. Can’t we just learn a bunch from a Labrador and his Mrs. on how to handle the occasional memory lapse and still get to play catch. I’m hoping those damn kids learn a thing or two.
But then I’ve got about the same outlook on life as Inky. I will play til I drop. Probably won’t drown. Know I’ll get rescued if I get lost. And that light in the window and I will meet up every time.