March 20, 2009

In Person:

Papa Al and Miss Sally

By Al Carlos Hernandez

Part of my responsibility as a “pet parent” is to take Miss Sally, our puppy, for a daily walk. Everyday around 5pm, I bundle myself up, negotiate with Miss Thing in securing her collar, putting on her leash, then hitting the road.

We have lived in the same neighborhood for 26 years. It is sobering to realize that it has been only during the last 3 years that I literally took the time and walked around the block of our middle class housing development.

As adults we see life though the windshield of a car or through the dark shield of a motorcycle helmet. Local architecture seems like movie props. Trusted visual friends seen everyday, like Lucy and Desi’s living room. The houses could all be facades for all we know. We don’t see life, we see the illusion of life and only speculate as to what goes on behind the curtains.

I, like many of you, make it a point to look inside as many houses as possible as I drive by so I can judge other peoples whack concepts of interior design. We have seen the same house fronts for years, albeit different paint schemes, different cars, and different neighbors, but we never get to know any but a handful of localities.

As a kid I can remember every house, every crack in the sidewalk, places where every crackpot lived, who had a dog, who was in the dog house, and what most cribs smelled like. Dostoyevsky often wrote about his town, that he knew the awnings, shutters, window panes, ornate doors and door knobs as friends. They were comforting sight visuals that convey the warmth and security of home.

While walking La Mama at a leisurely pace, I experience the houses up close and personal. Player hating the perfect lawns. I smugly glide past yards that looks worse than mine. Each home has a story, a life. If those walls could talk in my neighborhood it would be probably be Tagalog. That reminds me to find a lumpia and adobo hook up for the holidays later this year.

As we walk I can smell the change of seasons in the air as winter is making the way for spring. And, given the dismal state of our economy, this may have been the winter of our discontent. Nature has a way of renewing itself, oblivious to the stock market. It doesn’t appreciate us. We, like grass, will grow, wither and pass away. Life cycles will no doubt continue without us; others are poised to take our places.

How many sons and daughters of warm homes past will not be home this time? Those who rode razor scooters and in line skates while I whipped around town in my two tone Monte Carlo or the crush velvet pillowed van back in the day?

Sally, who is more enthusiastic than I, takes the daily trek to a strip mall about 5 blocks away. My job is to make sure she is safe and teach her how to walk on a leash. Her job is to bite the leash and growl at me when people I don’t know are milling around and admiring her.

To add insult to injury, I have to bring a plastic bag to scoop up and retrieve her “processed lunch” should she have the inclination. She does so regularly in peoples’ driveways while whole families come to the window to admire the cute white fluffy dog with the Michael McDonald looking owner who has hair to match.

I start the walk bundled up for the cold, collar turned up towards the fog. Sally starts out thin and matted but, as she walks, the cold fluffs her out to almost double her size. She leaves the house an adolescent Bichon Frises. I come lumbering back from the other direction herding a sheep.

We walk the neighborhood in relative anonymity. I’m embarrassed to say we only know a few next door neighbors. Those we don’t know grew suspicious when, a few years back, some teenagers spray painted lines on everybody’s cars up our block but ours. I forgot to mention all of my sons grew up here. We live in a society where reputations still matter.

There will be a time, when those who sneak glances at us out the windows will see a bent over old man and a fat white dog shuffling down the street, not knowing, never knowing who we were or what we mean to our families.

Sally and I hope to be in shape to join the parade when the homies come marching home from Iraq and Afghanistan again. Freedom after all, isn’t free.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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