Ampersands thanks to Max
From TODD WALTON
Under The Table
So it’s Friday and I’m having one of those mornings where I feel certain the universe is an all-powerful sentient being picking on me for no good reason. Put another way, I’m feeling sorry for myself. If you’re human and have been alive for at least seven years, you know what I’m talking about. The rational sectors of our brains know the universe has more important things to do than intentionally make us miserable, but when we’re in the throes of such angst the rational sectors are offline.
I decide to exercise my way out of my bad mood by walking to town. I usually drive into town on Fridays in August and September because Jack almost always has a big watermelon for me at the farmer’s market, and a big watermelon is not schlepable in my knapsack.
But I need to shake off this sense of being a victim of a malevolent universe, so I decide to walk to town, mail a package, hope the very important letter that should have come two days ago is waiting in my P.O. box, walk home, and then drive back to town to get the melon.
Halfway down the hill, a long half-mile, the walking is definitely resolving my angst and I’m about to turn around and go get my truck when some idiot talking on his phone while driving almost hits me and my certainty the universe is out to get me returns in force and I decide I better walk all the way to town.
This near-death experience gets me shouting at the Great Old Demon universe and the American medical insurance pharmaceutical mafia and various other orgs and peeps I feel are conspiring to ruin my one precious life. And I am at the zenith of my ranting when something moist nudges my left hand.
I look down and here is a criminally cute six-month-old Black Lab pup. She smiles adoringly, shoves her head under my fingers, and communicates, “I love you so much. I’m going to live with you from now on. Okay?”
To which I respond, “Hello cutie. Go away now. Go home.”
The pup likes my tone and trots along beside me as if she owns me.
I make emphatic shooing gestures. “Go home. Go home now.”
The pup stops and frowns quizzically. I walk on. The pup follows. I notice there is a tag on the pup’s collar, so I squat down to glean any salient info and the cutie is all over me, licking me and communicating, “Oh good. You love me and I love you. Hurray.”
The tag reads Luz, below which is a local phone number. Hoping this means Luz’s home is nearby, I stand up and say, “Go home, Luz. Shoo.”
Now a dog barks in the distance and Luz takes off running across the field and I think she must be headed home, so I continue on my way. But now she comes racing back to me and her exuberance carries her out into the road where a car screeches to a halt and the human driving the car glares at me and says, “Leash your dog, asshole.”
All of which makes me realize Luz is not very savvy about roads and cars. And given we are fast approaching the coast highway, and given I don’t possess a mobile phone, I decide the only thing to do is take the pup home and call the number on her tag.
The very moment I make this decision, a man I know comes by in his truck with his poodle glaring out the passenger window. I know for a fact this man carries a phone, so I flag him down, point at Luz, and before I can say a word, the passenger-side window sinks down, the poodle yaps at me, and the man says, “I’m late. I can’t help you.” And he speeds away.
Before I can form an opinion of this man’s behavior, another truck comes by, this one driven by a man I don’t know. He, too, is accompanied by a dog. He pulls over and gets out to see what’s going on.
“Do you know this pup?” I ask him. “Name is Luz. Very sweet.”
“I know all the dogs around here. Never seen this one before.”
He squats down, Luz runs to him, and as she is licking him and loving him, the man’s old black hound gets out of the truck and stalks toward me growling ominously.
The man says, “Cool it, Chico,” and Chico cools it.
I smile at Chico and say, “The pup seems clueless about cars.”
The man studies the tag on Luz’s collar. “There’s a local phone number.”
“I know, but I don’t have a phone with me,” I say, feeling ancient and low-tech.
“I do,” he says, picking up Luz and putting her in the cab of his truck. “I’ll take care of this. Don’t want her getting hit.”
“Thank you so much,” I say, bowing to him. “You’re a prince.”
Now the man and Chico and Luz drive away and I understand why the universe arranged for me to walk to town today. Luz needed saving. Who better to save her than a person mistakenly thinking the universe is out to get him?
I walk into town, mail my package, and find nothing in my P.O. box, the important letter I’ve been waiting for still in transit. But for some reason this delay no longer bothers me. I walk the steep hill home, jump in my truck, drive to the farmer’s market, and arrive at Jack’s stand an hour later than usual.
Jack finishes waiting on a woman buying many tomatoes, goes to his truck, and brings forth a behemoth melon, the largest of the season. “I was starting to think you weren’t coming today,” he says, setting the big beauty on the scale.
“I was delayed by the universe for other purposes.”
“Happens to me all the time,” says Jack, carefully calculating the very reasonable price for fourteen pounds of ambrosia.