Years ago, when I still lived in East Hampton, New York, I met a neighbor. As we got to know each other we began to socialize with one another on a regular basis over the summer. What began as borrowed cups of sugar, flour, or coffee, turned into occasional drinks at each other’s homes, and eventually grew to invitations to our neighborly backyard barbeques. As she accepted my first cookout invite, she asked, “Do you mind if my dog comes too?”
“Of course not: To be honest with you, I get along with dogs and cats better than I do with most humans I’ve met! You’re both welcome, so why don’t the two of you show up at my place around seven this evening and we’ll throw some food on the fire for everyone. By the way, what’s your dog’s name?”
“Yep, I named him shark.”
And I just let it go at that.
At a few minutes past seven as I was igniting the charcoal in the grill, Zooey, my neighbor, and Shark her dog, had made their way from their house to my backyard. After a few neighborly hugs, Zooey handed me a bottle of chilled white wine she had brought along for the alfresco dining occasion, which I promptly opened and poured each of us a glass. Doing my best to be a good host I had also returned from my house not only with the glasses of wine for us bipeds but also a bowl of water for her quadruped companion.
As we humans sat in lawn chairs, sipping our Sauvignon Blanc, Shark took a seat next to Zooey’s and began to study me. His stare rarely veered from where I sat as we drank, threw some chicken, potatoes, and corn on the BBQ, and chatted away as the summer sun sunk lower in the cloudless evening sky. In fact, just about the only time Shark looked away from me was after I had placed a plate of chicken before him that I had considerately filleted and cut up for the dog.
For a moment the animal remained motionless. Shark then looked down at the plate of food, then at me, and finally up at Zooey, who told him “That’s okay, Shark, you can eat now.”
I was impressed. Shark was not only well behaved but he appeared to possess good manners too. The only other time Shark looked away from me was when he twice had to make a trip to the shrubbery that separated our yards to relieve himself in privacy. He may have only been a midsized non-pedigree mongrel my neighbor had picked up at a rescue shelter (or so I was informed of later) but he certainly knew how to conduct himself like a gentleman in mixed company.
When the meal and the wine were finished the neighbor assisting me in the clean-up process told me she’d let me know the next time she would be cooking outside and that I’d of course be invited. Then she and her pet returned to their home. It wasn’t until a few late mornings later that we bumped into each other again while we were both puttering about our respective front yards. Her mixed breed was at her side. A place he seldom seemed to want to leave. After the exchange of the obligatory neighborly salutations, I asked her, “What’s the back-story behind your puppy’s name? Why’d you call him Shark?”
With a pixyish look of mischievousness on her tanned face, Zooey simply responded, “Are you busy doing anything urgently important right now?”
“No, not really, what did you have in mind?”
“Follow us,” was all she said.
I may not have already mentioned it but our houses out here in The Hamptons were within walking distance of the public beach. So, the three of us left our homes with me walking on the roadside of the sidewalk (see, Shark wasn’t the only gentleman in our little trio) that eventually became a sandy shoulder pathway, Zooey flanked in the middle, and Shark walking alongside her to the right. By the time we reached the shore, it was almost noon, and boy, was it ever hot outside! Now standing where the sand met the tarred surface of the already nearly full public parking lot, I could see that while the beach was crowded with most sunbathers on towels and folding outdoor furniture, there were several dozen or so swimmers in the choppy waves.
“Go ahead, Sharky, you can go play now,” Zooey told the mutt.
And with her permission, he tore off running and kicking up small clouds of sand along the way. Up and down the shoreline the beast frolicked and played with hardly anyone paying any attention to him. By this time, he now had even dashed into the shallow ocean coastline to chase receding waves of water and was then chased back to dry land by the incoming ones, barking happily as the game played out. Not being sure where all of this was going, I had to ask, “How does any of this explain why you named your little buddy as you did?”
Turning in my direction Zooey gave me a covert co-conspiratorial wink of one of her dazzling green eyes then whispered in glee, “Watch and listen!”
Cupping her hands along the sides of her mouth in order to amplify her voice Zooey began calling the dog’s name over and over again, “Shark, Shark, get out of the water now, Shark!”
In my entire life, I’d never seen so many people exit the water as quickly as I did on that day. Those closest to land were out of the ocean in a blink of an eye and waving in the swimmers who were farther out to sea. A couple of them even echoed the pet owner’s original cry of “Shark, Shark, get out of the water now, Shark!” Those bobbing in the briny deep blue who were within earshot raced to shore as if they were being pursued by, well, some hungry shark.
While this addition of those on the water’s edge shouting his name may have momentarily befuddled and confused the dog named Shark, he nonetheless ran to obediently return, at the sound of his master’s command, to Zooey’s side. He was, after all, a very good dog, a very, very, good, good dog. Although we were both cracking up with maniacal laughter, we wordlessly decided it was best to leave now lest we be revealed as the ones who had just innocently instigated a false shark alarm.
My appreciation of Zooey’s sense of sardonic humor, as well as Zooey in general, rose by several degrees after that little exhibition. Throughout the remainder of that summer, the three of us shared multiple neighborly visits, many bottles of wine, plentiful pounds of great food cooked out on the grill, and most importantly of all, lots of laughs. And every now and then, the three of us would return to the beach to play Shark’s and Zooey’s favorite beach time prank.