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Around 11 AM every morning I walk or bike a few blocks to the town square for a few minutes, okay 30 minutes, of peace and quiet for my work-brain and from Morgan’s persistent efforts at attention. Morgan, aka Morg-Morg aka Morgan the Monster. He’s a malamute, 12 months old, weighing 90 pounds with his hips already reaching my beltline. Yeah, he’s a monster. Loves kids, loves kids to wrestle with him and jump on my back and belly. Can’t get enough. Kids know this somehow and they runn to him anytime and anywhere we see them. ‘Ninety-pounds of pure puppy love’ is what I tell people when they see him. Puppies have energy and sharp teeth and short attention spans and are still learning... people and indoors and furniture. And WORK. But Morgan brings 90 pounds of puppy love to the equation. So at 11 AM every morning, in order for me to have this peaceful interlude, I lay a few slices of turkey dogs beside his nose, jiggle a couple of toys and lay them on the other side and tell him ‘Hold the fort, big guy.’ He’s laying on his bed at the window in my office, holding the fort already. Still he sighs and ignores me. I turn the TV on to a show with dogs barking and hope he can handle 30 minutes of alone time - his and mine. I find my usual spot at the picnic table on the square’s east side, spray-painted with gang boasts. Every time I see their markings I laugh and think ‘You’re in rural Iowa, in a gang. K.’ I unload my phone and laptop, my water-filled Yeti bottle filled, our company’s HR reminds us to stay hydrated as we work from home, and a peanut butter sandwich. Then I close my eyes, breath deep and wait. For what? An all-clear signal? Our Great Leader’s voice announcing it’s aok to work in close quarters, or everyone agreeing with Dr. Oz that 2-4% of our children dying would be ‘appetizing,’ so the markets can rally? No, I wait until I hear my own all-clear signal with the words: ‘This too shall pass.’ For 11 days in a row, that voice has spoken. Shooting for number 12, today. And presto, it speaks and I open my eyes. Before I left the house I’d scheduled a few simple email replies to go out during this break. I start a script to change customer records... to document my work process. Hey, it’s a small ethical hedge for my sanity and, really when you think about it, my bosses’ sanity as well. The sandwich and the sun and the fresh air work their magic. All sorts of possibilities rise and drift by in my head, so many that I tilt my head and watch the clouds drift by. They’re as soft and puffy, fleeting too, as the ideas in my head. Inner matches outer and we have harmony. That’s what I feel. And it’s a little reminder (or a taunt) from The Creator that our self-created crap show... ‘This too shall pass.’ My neck hurts, my back starts to grumble and I drop my gaze to the closed signs and empty storefronts surrounding me. And buzzkill, more bitter than sweet. Sweet that it’s so quiet. Bitter that the streets are empty. Even more better ‘cause no one’s working, so no one’s parked out front of their offices and if you’re not working you’re not out buying and ‘sides the quarantine’s still in effect so everyone’s scared to even come out. On a day like this! Whatever, I mumble and tip my Yeti back and drain it. I should text HR and say ‘I’m hydrated,’ but Christy, the HR Director, is very serious. I fold the plastic wrapper of my sandwich, close the laptop and slide them both back in the laptop. My phone, as usual, has no messages. My final act is to scan the square again for signs of life. None. The first chorus lines from John Prine’s “Paradise” appear in my head and I start singing them, loud and proud. “And if you see me tonight... with an illegal smile, it don’t cost very much but it lasts a long while. Won’t you please tell the Man, I didn’t kill anyone... but I’m just trying to have me some fun...” No one’s going to see me tonight. I doubt I’ll have me some fun. But I wont kill anyone or go on TV to suggest we pump bleach into our lungs, either. Graffiti splatters most of the walls in this alley. I’ve snapped a few pictures with my phone for another project - an exhibit of photographs of back alleys and streets at night. For a small town, there’s some interesting things to see late at night Whoo wee. Emerging from the half-shaded alley, I see Morgan perched on his bed by the window - his daytime watchtower and sometime bed at night. I built it for him 6 months ago. Even from across the street the quasi-permanent wet spot on the window is visible. It’s the result of his black nose pressed against it all day, every day. Some nights, too. If I was closer I could see the spot expand and contract with each breath. His black eyes are scanning the street for high-risk intruders like squirrels - he goes wild when he sees one or the sashaying alley-cat to which he mostly grrrs through his teeth. But there’s a new addition: Nora with her Labradoodle... Fifi. Fifi torments Morgan... Nora torments me. We’re a fine pair. We’d watched them one day walk past the house. Hard to miss them when Morgan’s going crazy at the end not sure whether to issue the stranger-danger bark or hey, here’s a cutey bark. After the first three or four times, I closed my laptop and walked over to the window and looked. I said Oooo, you’re right, Morgan, and rubbed his back. He wiggled, hips to neck, to say “Yeah, I know I’m right.’ They walked side-by-side at a brisk pace but not power-walking. For that, I expected she’d have a ‘power-walking outfit’ to wear. Their heads up, eyes straight ahead looking neither right nor left. Purposeful, going places. Tails up but not wagging. Nora was the boss, Fifi was, well, more than an accessory but not a full partner in this enterprise. Note to self, I thought. Yes, it was clear they’d had the ‘Who’s the Boss’ conversation and Nora had won. Morgan and I had had the conversation in a neighbor’s front-yard where I’d wrestled him to the ground in the middle of the day, then arm-barred his neck and whispered ‘I love you, buddy...’ and ‘But I’m the boss’ on a 2:1 ratio of love to boss. Never had a problem after that. Still... I slice up a turkey dog into small treats and reward Morgan with one each time he listens to me. Yeah, couldn’t see them wrestling in their matching outfits- her with black leggings on top of black designer biker boots and a a black fleece vest. Black hair pulled back, black shades. Fifi sported a black collar with pink plastic rhinestones embedded in it. The black and pink leash connected the two. I wondered if her matching pink elements might include a pushup bra. That vision formed in my head until I shook my head and said ‘pay attention’ to Morgan. After that, they’d parade past Morgan’s guardtower twice a day. Once at 10 and again at 3. Always, on time, within 2-3 minutes of the marked hour which is far better than those attending our online meetings. Each time they approach Morgan alerts me when they’re fifty yards out. That gives me time to save my work, mention a bathroom break if I’m in an online meeting and rise up from my chair to stand behind Morgan and watch. Always the same pace, always the same matching posture and a different matching outfit each day. Black was her favorite but sometimes she’d mix it up with midnight blue or kelly green. Her weekend vanishing act puzzled me. Maybe she has visitors or visits someone. Can’t see her being a rebel here. Can’t see Fifi being able stay cooped up either. Last Monday, we almost violated personal spaces and social distancing protocols. Morgan and I were shambling along in the evening, Morgan fascinated by every smell. I was drifting in my head. Leash in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other. We were almost to the corner when they came marching around. Another foot and they could have arrested us for something. Two more and we could have danced. Tango or cha-cha, something where people touch and make eye contact. She rared up on her boot heels, Fifi acting like a teenager seeing their boyfriend in front of her parents. Skittish and looking from her to Morgan, back and forth, her tail a windshield wiper of adventure and unspayed lust. Morgan mirrored her action while I wrapped his leash around my hand and reminded him “Be good.” Neutered doesn’t mean he can’t as I’ve found out. Therein, a tense sexual detente ensued. On a tension scale of 1-10 and 10 being that of the Iraqi generals and General Schwarkopf at the end of the Iraq war... I’d say we were a 10. The slightest wrong move and... well, who knew and I didn’t want to find out. We held our ground and I smirked and Morgan’s lips pulled back so far I thought they might split. She’d pressed her lips into a razor’s edge that ended in a curl at either end. So, I took that as a smile. Fifi’s trembled, she so wanted to jump on Morgan. Nora tightened her grip on the leash and said “Fifi...’ and Fifi gave her the dog’s equivalent of a teenager’s ‘yeah-yeah, I heard you.’ The smile tightened if that’s possible and she knelt at Fifi’s ear and quelled the rising rebellion with a few words, a command to sit and then a treat. Seeing that my smirk got smarter and I held my hand out and introduced ourselves. The kids lay down and tried to touch noses while the adults did the equivalent: chatting about the weather and the noisy trucks. After the third pig hauler rumbled by I saw her neck muscles tighten. A genuine smile replaced my smirk, slow and easy and I’m not sure why. Men and women, there’s even less logic than two dogs. Before she could reach for her phone and its blessed rescue, I said ‘Yeah, I gotta get back to work’ and that made her kinda smile. We nodded again and I said “Maybe, we’ll double-date some time.” From her reaction I could I’d hacked her firewall. Security alerts sounded in her head and she looked over my shoulder then up at the sky . Maybe she had a Predator drone waiting for a shrug or head nod. I froze. Instead, her shoulders slumped and she turned and pulled at Fifi’s leash. Fifi fell into a trot beside her. Morgan and I watched them leave, both our heads cocked sideways, wondering what we did that was so wrong. Morgan let it go with a full body shake and a look up at me as if to ask ‘Had enough?’ We walked off in the opposite direction. Since then, we’ve seen each other from opposite sides of the street. We wave - hers is a little shake beside her leg and mine’s up over my head. Morgan wags his tail, Fifi turns her head. All very nice and polite. Small town living at its best. Their interruptions are now part of the routine. I start at 8 AM. Nora, Fifi and Morgan interrupt at 10 and 3. My outside break’s at 11. Online meetings and daily reports for not one, not two, but three bosses. Because nothing says “I trust you” more than requiring you to report to 3 bosses. Evening run or walk with Morgan done by 8. Read until 9 - Jack Reacher, Dennnis Lehane, The Leviathan series. 9:30 sleep. All good until Nora started cameo’ing in my dreams. Nothing pervy, just her name floating past or a shimmering image of her walking past, smiling. The 3rd morning after her 3rd consecutive cameo appearance I needed to do something. What and why remained a mystery. Coffee always helps. But Morgan doesn’t wait for coffee. So, I let Morgan out into the fenced backyard and watched him through the door. Thinking. Morgan patrolling the perimeter until he was satisfied and then he returned to find me thinking. He nuzzled my hand to say ‘feed me.’ An hour later, having fed Morgan and doubled my morning espresso ration from 2 to 4 shots all sorts of possibilities raced in my head. Plans raced after them like a commuter chasing the last bus. I held my hands out in front of me. A little shaky, nothing a little typing won’t cure. 8:00 AM. My phone dongs and I’m already sitting at my desk, logged into the company’s servers, searching my inbox for the day’s assignments. For a moment I saw myself back in Lindley Park Elementary, sitting at my desk, book bag stowed beneath my seat, papers and a pencil aligned 90 degrees with each other and the edges of the desk. Big smile, ready to say “Good morning, Mrs. Leary.” Here in my little home office I wasn’t smiling, I had no pencils and a ‘Mrs. Leary’ at the company already gave me a check for prompt attendance. In front of me, Morgan lay with his chin on his paws - watching, waiting, adding another layer of snot and condensation to the window pane. Hearing the dong he looked up, thinking it might be the 11 AM dong. He waited, waited. Then guilt-tripped me with a long squint and a pitiable sigh before he lay his head back down and resumed his vigil. I could almost see a thought cloud above his head with ‘gonna be another long day’ in it. Endorphins and adrenals triggered a laser-focus capped off like n ice cream sundae with ever-bright, never-crash, euphoria. My fingers raced over the keyboards opening tasks, completing them, closing tasks. One after the other. Note to self: 4 shots of espresso in the mornings from now no. By 9:45 AM I’d completed half of the day’s assignments, delivered my reports and waited. Boss 1 wrote back “That’s great!” Boss 2 asked ‘what’s up with you.’ Boss 3... silence. Routine. I stood and stretched and looked out at the perfect sky and imagined an afternoon run. 9:58 AM. I’m standing behind Morgan, waiting to see Nora and Fifi and find a clue in why she’s interrupting my nights, too. Daytime’s a diversion. Nighttime’s an invasion. 9:59. No sightings. Morgan’s relaxed, focused. Hands on hips, I’m leaning forward at the waist, not caring if she can see me in the shadows now. 10:00, 10:01, 10:02. I rub Morgan’s back. “What do you think, big guy?” He stays on task. 10:03. Morgan spots them, 2 blocks away. Our hips and shoulders tense, our breaths are short and quick. I shoosh him before he starts to woof and spin around. “Let’s just watch, big guy.” I want to watch for a minute. She’s carrying a portfolio under her free arm. Black, 16 x 24, like an architect might use to bring hard copies to an old-school client. For a minute Hillary Clinton flashed in my mind and the stories of her needing everything printed. I couldn’t see Nora being old-school. She’d whip a client into shape. “No, you’re a big boy now and you can use a computer. Here...” and she’d take the client’s hand and put it on the mouse. ‘Move it.’ I shook that vision out of my head. She walked this morning as she had every other morning and afternoon until she didn’t. She stopped 20 feet from the window and told Fifi to sit down. Fifi complied, of course. Then Nora courtsied, not for our pleasure but to lay the portfolio thing beside her on the sidewalk. She opened it. Big white, heavy stock sheets of paper fell out and lay flat. She lay Fifi’s leash beside her foot the flipped through each sheet. Happy with the results, she picked the stack up and held it to her chest. Morgan still hadn’t barked and neither had I. She slid the first sheet out, checked it again and then reversed her grip so she could turn it around. It said “Fifi wants a play date.” Judging from Morgan’s reaction he can read. He sat up, tail wagging, looking from me to Fifi as if saying “See that? Can-we, can-we, can-we?” I’ve cocked my head so often of late that the muscles ache in the first seconds now. Still, it stayed cocked, a neuromuscular sign of intense attention being paid. She waited as if looking for a signal - Morgan rushing out the back door and magically opening - whatever, she didn’t find. She nodded her head once to acknowledge a second step was needed. She repeated the same movements to produce a second sign. Now, you have to know, I’m a dreamer, a visionary, my brain runs... all day long. Most things people do don’t surprise me. In fact, I can’t remember the last time a person surprised me. Might be why I’m a smart-ass. I might as well see the humor in a situation even if they can’t. But she cocked her head and flipped the sign and it read: “Maybe we can double-date sometime.”
April 24, 2020 18:54

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