I'm confused about the name of the dog nuzzling me nose to nose. Is this Pippin, Rosie, Enzo or Ellie? There's at least six of these small breeds: Shih Tzus, Pugs, Beagles, Spaniels, Terriers, Cockapoos, and mixes of them all, that wander the dog park and eventually wind up on my lap.
While I fancy the larger dogs -- the Goldens, Labradors, and blends of the two -- these big guys are like adolescents, racing after each other, wrestling a bit, and then resuming their manic chasing.
"Which is yours?" The question came from a fairytale blond seated next to me on the bench. While she waited for my answer, her eyes tracked the tiny mounds of grass, trees, and ponds, ready to coo when I pointed out my pet.
I hesitated a bit, and then confessed, "Um, I don't have a dog." I said this quietly for I didn't want the word to spread that I was an imposter, someone pretending to have a pet and worse, planning to snatch one.
"I just moved into the building a week ago," I quickly added, "and don't have a pet. But, I've had Golden Retrievers in the past and miss being around dogs." What I didn't say -- because I wanted to avoid pity or solutions -- was that my budget couldn't squeeze in bills for vet, dog food, or boarding during planned trips to Los Angeles. Those details could wait.
This must've mollified her, because she then introduced me to a bench friend and pets. "That's Enzo and my Ellie," she said. At the sound of their names, the two dogs paused briefly in their rounds, lifted their button-sized ears, glanced toward their owners, and then renewed their mini trots.
My plot was working. I remembered how my two dogs swiftly introduced me to friends in new neighborhoods, so I was trying it again, but this time, without my own furry one in the crowd. I knew that dog owners are drawn to each other like long-lost relatives. Instead of DNA, the bond is affection and addiction to animals.
But as I think of it, there was one dog-induced friendship that didn't go smoothly. The time was 1990; I was 52 and separated from my husband of 30 years. While a bit sad at the split, I was also giddy because I relished the fresh freedom. "I eat pizza on the couch while watching TV," I told friends, which at the time seemed the epitome of new beginnings.
With my Golden Retriever, Sasha, I met -- let's call her Lauren -- and her dog Midnight. (Not his real name either.) She was likely 20 years younger than I, but we bonded because we were single women with dogs.
Lauren and I met daily. We walked our dogs together. We visited each other's homes. We sat on bare and carpeted floors to continue our conversations and simultaneously stroke our pets. We were best friends. Then David entered the picture. (Of course, fictitious name.)
I had met David at a singles event and was immediately beguiled because he was the opposite of my husband. David smoked small cigars and pot, drove fast, ate revolting food, and was into New Age philosophy. And because I was feeling like a kid released from a long, intense residency in a boarding school, all of this made me aflutter.
Now, one of David's proclivities that I didn't include in the above line-up was that he related easily to women. Because of that, he had many female fans that relished his heart-to-heart conversations.
Lauren became one of them. "We're only friends," she said, when I claimed discomfort about their intense relationship. David seconded, "You have no reason to be jealous."
But their words didn't appease; I coveted their intimacy. Eventually, I wrote a long -- quite excellent and well-reasoned -- letter to the both of them, breaking off my bonds. They protested I was off base, but neither chose me over the other.
Now that I consider that time with Lauren and David, I wonder who was the imposter in that dog-engendered relationship? Was it Lauren posing as my friend so she could snuggle with David? Was it David believing his female friendships wouldn't evolve into something more? Or was it I, in a pseudo romance where I pretended to embrace David's unhealthy and risky lifestyle, but in truth rejected it?
Okay, I'll cop to being a bit of a fraud 35 years ago, but today in this dog park, I'm not trying to fool anyone: Bring on the pooches.