There are few things less awkward than walking the neighborhood carrying a plastic bag of poop. Nothing dignified about it. There you are, hiking the streets, leash in one hand, and a bag of your dog’s poop in the other. At our very first turn, Sam squats. This means I’ll be carrying poop in a bag for several blocks.
Like I say, no dignity.
“You couldn’t have waited?” I ask.
Sorry, Sam says, kicking grass with her hind legs.
I shake the bag and tie it up tight. We continue eastward.
It’s late afternoon, a good day, sunny and close to 50-degrees. Not bad for mid-March. Sam’s doing a bit of her usual sniffing, and I’m looking around. Robins are out. There’s one by the base of a maple tree in the parkway. The old gold-colored Plymouth Fury, circa maybe 1975 or so, remains parked in the next-door neighbor’s driveway. I have never seen it on the street, or heard its engine churn since I moved to the area three years ago. In the distance, I hear children playing. A basketball strikes pavement. All is normal in the neighborhood. But, as we make our way along the first block, I notice for the first time, a section of the concrete sidewalk where a child has pressed the imprint of a hand, like the hand of a celebrity on the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The imprint appears to have been there a long time. So has the sidewalk. How did I ever miss this? And above the hand, scratched in the concrete, is the name Molly.
“Who do you think Molly is?” I ask.
Sam looks at me between sniffs and wonders, I don’t know, but she certainly was here, and she wanted everyone to know it.
Kind of what we all want, to be sure everyone knows we’ve been here, that we made a mark in the world, small or big. We want people to recognize we spent time on this Earth.
It’s a rather deep thought so early in the walk, and it loses its significance a bit when I’m still holding the bag of poop. This is the Yin and Yang of walking Sam. Introspection, meditative thought. . .and poop. But, as we keep walking, I wonder if both of these realities aren’t intrinsically connected. My hopes for these walks with Sam are that they open up something new, something meaningful each day we head out. Walking can be the catalyst for mindful and creative purposes. But also, like any endeavor we consider significant, each walk comes along with the utterly mundane, the everyday, the bland realities of living. You cook a romantic dinner, you still have to wash the pots and pans. You step out for a daily meditative, restorative walk, and you still must reach down with an open plastic bag and scoop up your dog’s excrement.
However, the cleanup of Sam’s poop is also a symbol of community. Sam squats in a neighbor’s yard, and you wait patiently to take care of the mess. A neighbor sees you and what does he think? He’s a good neighbor. A good guy. He’s doing the right thing. So, carrying the poop is a badge of honor. And, oddly, at the same time I consider this, I am taking a moment to examine the delicate hand of a child stamped in hardened cement, the hand of Molly, who once found such joy in marking her spot in the world.
The Yin and the Yang.
Sam and I consider heading north now, but decide to stay eastbound. And within a short block, there is another hand in the concrete, and next to it, yet another. Not the left and the right of one, but the hands of two different people, children. No names this time, but it appears dates have been inscribed in the concrete. The numbers, however, are unreadable, worse for the wear.
Sam sniffs the hand imprints.
We make our way one more block and then head north, passing empty garbage cans that had been dragged curbside the night before and are now left empty and discarded after the work of waste haulers. Some of the cans are overturned. A woman uprights one and rolls it to her garage then disappears inside her home. In a moment, she returns, walking out the front door holding a dog in her arms, cradling it like child. From across the street, Sam and I see her and the dog. Sam’s ears perks up. The dog is white; it looks to be a bulldog—chunky and compact. Sam and I continue to watch the woman carry the dog down three front steps, across the lawn and driveway, and then, as delicate as placing a bouquet of flowers on a dining room table, she lowers the dog to the sidewalk, pats its head, and takes the leash.
“Hello,” I say from the other side of the street. “Couldn’t help noticing you were carrying him.”
The woman smiles, adjusts her watchman’s cap, and begins to walk south. “Sometimes he needs a little kick-start, you know,” she says.
I laugh. But I’m not sure she gets the joke. It looked so amusing, her carrying the dog and then gently positioning the animal on the ground. But to her, it was an act of kindness, something motherly. Then, as the woman and the dog begin to walk parallel to us, I see that the dog is lumbering, its short, squatty legs, trying to pull it forward. The dog is old, tired, and reluctant to be out in the world. But the woman insists. It’s good for you, I can hear her say to herself. And with this, I know she’ll walk him around the block, take it slow and steady. She’ll be patient. She’ll encourage. She’ll allow him to do his outdoor duties, and like a good neighbor, she’ll pick up his poop in a plastic bag and carry it home to toss away in the garbage can she only minutes ago had retrieved. Then, as gently and kindly as she did before, she’ll lift the old dog into her arms, and carry it inside. She’ll offer water and food, and allow him to sleep off the exercise in a soft cotton dog bed. But she will know, and the dog will know, too, that no matter how old he gets, he is not yet ready to give up making his mark on the world. He is not yet ready to end his walks, no matter how difficult or painful, the world is still waiting for him, and the old bulldog has something yet to give. He just needs a little help.
Sam and I take the corner and head south toward the house. And there, in the sidewalk, is yet another child’s hand, another symbol of life, another mark on the world in old cement, another young person proclaiming their existence. Sam and I stop and take a closer look, and I wonder: If they could, would dogs do the same, mark their paws in wet concrete? Claim their place?
“Sam, how about you, would you cast your paw in the sidewalk?” I ask.
You bet, I can hear her say as she sniffs away. That old bulldog would, too. We all want some monument to our lives, proof that we were walking here together.
“Pretty profound, Sam,” I say.
Well, I’ve got to be the one to say it, don’t you think? Because there is no one who is going to take you seriously while swinging around that bag of poop.
Sam offers a look of minor disgust, then steps ahead of me, pulling on her leash to lead me back home.