READ THE FINE PRINT
It is a privilege verging on miracle to walk with a dog. Two separate but slightly overlapping universes with each partner getting a glimpse of the other’s world. Yesterday morning, Shmendrick left his duty post—curled around my ankles, healing my tendonitis and heel spurs—and licked me awake. I threw on some sweats, fed him his breakfast, and let him lead me down to our quad for his walk. The Bauhaus complex had no streets but had plenty of walks and open spaces. Sadly, there was not much accommodation for dogs even 10 years after their presence became officially tolerated.
Shmendrick, what they now call an “All American” dog, the new politically correct term for mutt, likely a combination a German Pincer, a Papillion, and a rock hyrax, began the process of reading his u-mail. He selected a piece worthy of being answered and fired away. From the look on his face, I assumed he was replying to the canine equivalent of a Ross Douthat column. Well, that was the easy part. Now we do the full patrol and the divination of the perfect poop spot.
Scar-back and blonde-tail, two pregnant squirrels, as gracefully as they possibly could under the circumstances, flew down the tree trunk and stood upright, eight protruding nipples apiece, and came within six feet of us. Good girls, they each got a peanut. Shmendrick found a few more u-mails he needed to read, but then turned his attention to the rest of the squirrels showing up for the free feed. Shmendrick was a hunter, but I trained him well enough to sit and stay even in the midst of a wealth of prey. Win, win, win, I thought. In a complete societal breakdown, with Shmendrick and a bag of peanuts, we could snag enough squirrel meat for two or three months of Brunswick stew. And until then, the squirrels get their smorgasbord. Heh. On a trip to Florida, I stayed overnight in Brunswick Georgia. The little diner had Brunswick stew on the menu. When I asked where they got their squirrels, the waitress looked at me like I had horns and talons. Those who do not learn from, etc., etc., etc. My goofy mutt finally found his spot, and naturally went on leaves the same color as his poop. How would he know what color his poop was going to be? Another mystery of the overlapping universes. Canine instinct made him attempt to kick some dirt back over the pile.
Now it was time for him to lead the patrol. The Pincer in him would lead me to any dead thing, no matter how deep it was buried or how far along it was in its decomposition process. Today, sadly, it was a juvie black squirrel. I’m sure I had seen it earlier in the week; it had a little trouble clinging with its left foreleg. Poor thing probably fell during a bad leap. Shmendrick looked at me, and I gave him the leave-it signal. As he retreated, I saw something metallic sticking up out of the leaves, rocks and dirt. Hmm. Copper with two sheaves of wheat. One brownish/greenish really old cent. What was the expression? Was it see a penny, pick it up? No, that’s dumb. If there’s money on the ground and you want money, you pick it up. It’s see a pin, pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck. That’s dumb too. Probably get an infection if it stuck you.
Now I’d have to disconnect from the shared universe-pair. The thing I hate most, using a phone while walking a dog. Only shmucks and millennials would do that. “Hey, Google!” I ventured. “Is it see a pin, pick it up, or see a penny, pick it up?” The AI came up with a list of origins and cross references. It was a British thing. I should have known; we don’t have pennies, we have proper cents. Very simple. A cent is a hundredth. A quarter is a quarter, a half a half. What does penny even mean? I had to think back to Bronx Science and my first programming course. One assignment was making change from pounds into shillings and pence. Pence, not pennies. And we didn’t even get to tuppence, quids, and crowns. And what was the little one, fartings? No, that’s not right. Farthings, that’s it. Only a bunch of cretinous Limeys could make money that complicated. Twelve of one thing, 20 of another, what were they, epistles? Epiphanies? Disciples? Apostles? Apotheoses? Jesus, who had the time for that, what did they eat there, fish and chips? You’re in line for lunch and you have to remember the bible to get the right change.
I started parsing Google’s output. Looked like it could be either pin or penny but the luck component varied by which dropped thing you were about to pick up. Always pick up the pin; if you don’t, before you die, you’ll find yourself in a spot that can only be fixed with a pin. Likely more than just something to hold your pants together if you ate so much you popped a button. I could lay that aside for future reference. For the penny, and just to play the game, I’d declare a cent to be a type of penny. The issue here was heads up or heads down. Pick it up if the head is up. Okay. If it’s tails up, gently turn it over (without breaking contact with the ground) so the next one to see it gets some good luck and you, presumably, get some Karma points. I walked around to the other side and saw Lincoln’s bearded visage. His head. I picked it up.
The luck seemed to be self-executing. I did what anyone with a coin collection as a kid does when they find a coin: check to see if it’s worth anything. Pre-1964 silver. 1945 steel cents. A double-struck proof coin that managed to make it into circulation. Anything with a mis-strike. But best of all, The Cent. The 1909 S-VDB. The cent I found in the “Dog Friendly Area” was The Cent. The thousand-dollar coin. Victor David Brenner’s cent. The understudy who took over when the super-star coin guy, Augustus St. Gaudens, cashed in. Brenner’s lucky break. And now mine. And Shmendrick’s.
My status reports were all in order and filed yesterday; I didn’t have to physically be in the office until three for a meeting. I would take the little guy to the park, let him run around like a moron with the other morons. God, they loved it, and so did we. Shmendrick got into it with another “All American,” a girl about his size and weight. Cavalier and Yorkie? She had striking red hair with symmetrical white blazes and white socks. They started rolling around; the moves they made recapitulated Olympic wrestling. Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe we learned it from the dogs. This peak moment evaporated in the wake of the big dogs taking shots at dominating each other; Shmendrick and his new little friend escalated to a game of who-can-hump-whom. The ginger little girl got the upper paw first; as per dog park etiquette, the humper’s parent would come over to make sure everything was okay with everybody. And I collected another data point for people looking like their dogs. The little strumpet’s mom had hair about the same color red as her dog, kept shaggy the same way, more or less, and with some platinum streaks. It was 10:16 AM. I was about to have my first human contact of the day.
“You know it’s not a sex thing, right,” mom ventured. “Thalassa, is that any way to behave in public?” mom went on.
I hoped my mouth was working properly. “My Anthropology professor taught us that everything is a sex thing. She said that the first sentence spoken in a human language was ‘Lean on your elbows.” The bigger dogs were whizzing through at an accelerating rate, and became less likely to just go through and more likely push up and over. Shmendrick and Thalassa—she must be a lot of fun on a beach—found their own little condo under a classic green park bench. New York City spent about five years in the 80s trying to come up with sleep-proof benches. They finally gave up when they realized that sleep support was a fundamental task of a park bench.
“I’m Layla,” mom introduced herself, offering a hand, which was immediately defended by her dog.
“Jerome,” I replied, somehow magicking Thalassa into allowing me to touch her charge, “Like the Avenue,” I ended with, hoping to see if she was a native or a transplant. I was pleasantly surprised.
“Last scraps of original Beaux-art and Art-deco left outside of Manhattan. I hope they manage to get the mosaics landmarked before they disappear. YOW!” A Burmese almost knocked her on her butt. “You know, our dogs are playing so well, we should see what they do without the threat of canine momentum. Play date?” she asked, taking out her phone. I tried to do this part with a bare minimum, possibly zero, of lying. Definitely zero lying.
“I’m a mathematical models consultant. I don’t have a fixed schedule except for actual face-to-face meetings, but I always have to be reachable when a model heads south. I know I’m free until 1:30 this afternoon. Here’s my card, you can text me your number.”
Layla, for a picosecond, looked at me like I was a moron; fortunately—another stroke of luck?—I picked up on it. “Of course, if you’re free now as well?”
That thousand-dollar coin packed quite a quantity of luck. Needless to say, the play date wound up as a double date. I left her with a bit of magic about betting on the Trotters; I had never shared it with anyone. Maybe the next time we meet in the dog park I’ll ask her out to Yonkers Raceway.
Suddenly I felt like playing the Japanese game. My Grandfather had been in the Army of Occupation in Japan. When I was six or seven, he started teaching me Japanese. He said they were going to take over one day, and that he could give me an advantage. I brought my little puppy home and headed down into the East Village.
The game usually goes like this. I window-shop one of the 30 or 40 Japanese eateries, ranging from street-squid to MomoFuko, always jammed, to the high-end sushi places where they shave the wasabi onto your plate. I would have a late lunch, alone, reading the Wall Street Journal, within earshot of a table of native speakers. When I finished lunch, I would offer my opinion of whatever they were talking about, the latest pitcher from Osaka getting picked up by the Yankees, social justice for the Ainu, how badly the Noh theater touring company did in Tulsa. I loved to see the expression in their eyes. Then I would give a seven-degree bow and take my leave.
Today’s game started out the same way. It was an out-of-the-way place, Just for Fen, surprisingly good noodle bowls. I could hear the techno-funding talk two tables away. After Samsung’s adventures with exploding phones, they developed a protocol for mistake-proof manufacture which was actually 15% cheaper than having their products assembled in China. They were running the program through a subsidiary, Chishima, listed on the exchanges separately. How should I play this? I felt the lucky cent in my pocket and I knew what I had to do. I undocked a Citibike and pedaled up to the coin dealer in Murry Hill, who was glad to take the coin for $850. And then went cross town to see my broker in person, and had him buy as much Chishima as I could get for the cash I handed him. It only took 10 minutes to make it to my office for my three o’clock meeting. It was a little bizarre; the guy flew from Denver to New York just to say yes to our proposal and have a cup of coffee with me. More good luck.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only had Chishima tanked when the market opened in Tokyo, by the time it closed, CHI was dragging Samsung down with it. Still in bed, I clicked the link for NHK and saw an executive type in the “Apology Pose.” The reporter was saying that the American SEC had opened an investigation into fake rumors about CHI and a pump & dump operation. I got out of bed and headed to the bathroom. Of course. A burning sensation when I urinated. I re-googled the stupid Limey ditty and followed all the cross-references. I read the words again. Day. All the DAY I’d have good luck. It didn’t say anything about the night…
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