Walking the DogbyDear_Dora©
Jesse and I took three years to move from Colorado to Oregon. We had both retired early (in retrospect, a great decision), because we had the means to, and because we wanted to be nearer to our only child, our daughter, and her children.
But it's just appalling how much junk, how many THINGS a family accumulates living four decades together. We had lived over thirty years in the same house, and I had often joked that if we ever decided to move, I would just burn it down.
When the time actually came, that started to look more and more like an attractive option.
We were spending so much time in Portland that it made financial sense to buy a condo there as an outpost. By that time, we owned our Colorado house outright, so we re-financed it and used the proceeds to just buy the condo outright, but now we had a small mortgage on our old house again.
We started the transition to our new home by boxing up all the non-essential items that we wanted to keep and shipping them to ourselves at the other end. Every time we visited, whenever we could get a little of our daughter's time, we'd get together and open boxes, going through the painful decisions of throwing the stuff away, figuring out a place to keep it in one of our houses, or sometimes just sighing, putting it back in the box, and putting the box back in the mini-storeroom. We did pretty well keeping that to a minimum.
Eventually, we bit the bullet and put our Colorado house on the market, which is a lot of work. Right about then, too, the real estate market tanked. We sold it, but I figure we got maybe $50,000 less for it than if we had sold it two years earlier.
But, we took the long view; we had bought the house for only $55,000 in the first place and had had a great life there for over thirty years. We sold it for six times what we had paid for it, and had the proceeds to help fund our retirement in Oregon.
The "big move" was not really very much at all. We had already fully furnished the condo with things from our Colorado house (and a few new things), so we just gave away or sold all of our furniture except for a couple of items. Same with our clothes ... most of what remained in Colorado went to Goodwill.
When we finally moved into our condo for good, it was the Spring of 2008. We were both getting pretty creaky by then, Jesse more than me. We suffered from middle-class-American-lifestyle syndrome: too much worry, too much sedentary work, too little exercise, too much food. We went on the South Beach diet together and walked a lot, which was a wonderful way to spend time together.
Portland is well-known, and accurately so, for being a wet climate. But Spring and Summer there are actually a lot like Colorado. Hot, dry, lots of sunshine. Don't tell anybody or they'll all want to move here. (Actually I think the word must have leaked out!) Lots more oxygen in the air, though, which we both appreciated.
Over the years, Jesse and I had gotten in the habit of pointing interesting things out to one another, especially "people-watching" things. If I saw an especially hunky guy and felt that Jesse might miss seeing him for some reason, I'd always poke her in the ribs, lean over near her ear and whisper, "Jesse, look to your left."
She'd swing her head over, trying to look casual about it, and ogle the stud who was passing, then say something to me like, "No George Clooney, but nice. Thanks!" She in her turn had pointed out many good-looking women to me over the years, too. It was a gentle way of actually flirting with each other.
But it wasn't always sexy-looking people. One day, we sere having lunch in a restaurant, and Jesse patted the seat of the empty chair next to her and said, "Jim, why don't you move over and sit here next to me." I was sitting across from her at a four-top table, so I moved our coats and swung into the seat at her side.
"Watch this guy over there by the door!" she said in a whisper.
I glanced that way, trying not to be too obvious. The guy was talking, talking, talking, gesturing grandly with his fork, seeming to lecture his companion, a mousy little woman across from him. I looked at Jesse with a question on my face.
"Just keep watching! Maybe he'll do it again!"
After a few moments, the guy was quiet, and the woman responded, apparently with a question. The guy shrugged and, using his fork, scratched his scalp in thought. He then went on eating as if scratching yourself with table-ware in a restaurant was an everyday occurrence.
I had everything I could do not to do a spit-take and spray my soda all over. I choked, trying to swallow, and the two of us burst into laughter. Suddenly, WE were the focus of attention of all the other patrons.
Another time, and probably my favorite example of how generous Jesse was to me, was once when we were moving a new, heavy doghouse into the backyard for our little spaniel, Rusty. The two of us were struggling to wrestle it between our house and the neighbor's house on one side, which was a rental. Our block backed onto a regional park, so the back yards were visible only to one another, and very private. One of the girls from next door was out sunning on a lounge chair, and said "Hi" to us as we struggled past. We grunted a "Hi" back and went on about our business.
I was sweating like a pig, and had taken off my glasses so they didn't fall off. When we were done, and had the new doghouse all set in place, we went inside to get a drink.
Jesse said "Well, Jim, what did you think of that?"
"What?" I said.
"You didn't SEE that?!" Jesse said.
"No? See what? I wasn't wearing my glasses!"
"Well, put them on, Jim, and poke your head out the door and take a look next door!" Jesse said with a big grin.
I did, only to see that the neighbor girl, a very cute twenty-something blonde, was laying out topless. And the sight was well worth the effort! She saw me looking at her, smiled, and waved. I waved back and reluctantly stepped back inside.
"Wow!" I said to Jesse.
"You're welcome," she said, with a big smile.
The girl next door (sometimes with a girlfriend) sunbathed like that all that summer, and if I was ever in danger of missing it, Jesse always said, "They're at it again, Jim!"
Sometimes, the amazing sight to see was so obvious that it didn't need to be pointed out. But if we were near whoever it was that was so interesting, or approaching them on the same sidewalk, we would both just keep our peace, then after we were out of earshot, we would just break out laughing, or entertain one another with our thoughts about what we had just seen.
That had happened once when we were out walking as part of our new exercise regimen on our favorite route. Out from the condo, through a couple of neighborhoods, touch base at the Starbuck's in the little mall over there, buy a cup, then walk back.
We generally went out very early in the cool of the morning. Portland is much further north than where we had lived before, and in spite of the onset of daylight savings time seemingly earlier and earlier every year, dawn was getting to be very early indeed. We tried to get out at first light, so we didn't waste a good part of our day sleeping and loafing around. So part of what we saw as we went on our walk was all the working people getting ready for their day – picking up the newspaper off their lawn, setting out the trash, walking the dog, and that sort of thing.
As we passed an apartment complex this particular morning before six a.m., a just stunning young woman came out of the end of the building with a little dog on a leash. The dog was some kind of a terrier, maybe one of those "Jack Russell" ones. I'm not an expert on dog breeds; it was a little dog, and just full of energy.
But the girl was absolutely amazing. She was easily as tall as me, and I'm a little over six feet tall. She looked like maybe she was twenty years old, tops. It was still kind of damp and chilly, so she was wearing a short sort of leather "Eisenhower"-style jacket, a multi-colored striped scarf thrown around her neck, and a cute matching knit hat. But, like kids do, she was also wearing extremely tight and short shorts, the legs of which either didn't exist at all or stopped right at the crease at the top of her thighs. On her legs were a pair of those tall knit socks with multi-colored stripes to match her scarf. The socks came up out of her clogs to the middle of her shapely thighs, leaving a tantalizing strip of flesh between them and the bottom of the shorts. I'd often heard other guys say "Her legs went all the way up," but I never realized until that moment what they meant.
She was just dynamite!
I glanced at Jesse to see if she was aware of this vision yet, only to see Jesse looking at me to be sure I wouldn't miss her, either. Jesse just grinned and raised her eyebrows.
The girl and her dog turned on to our pathway and headed in the same direction as us, maybe fifty feet ahead of us. We were about halfway to the Starbuck's at that point, and we paced her perfectly the whole way there. I'm not ashamed to say that I spent most of that time watching the incredible things that were going on inside of those shorts.
We actually passed her as she was tying up her dog outside the coffee shop, and she got behind us in line inside. The tall girl swiped off her knit hat, and shook her head. Her auburn hair was very short, styled in that crazy, spiky way that looked like it had recently been cut by a stylist with a grudge. Cute as hell.
Jesse glanced at her and smiled, and the girl gave her a 100-watt smile in return, and said "Hi!" in a chipper voice, deep for a girl.
Jesse said, "Hi!" back, and I said, "We were walking behind you on the way over here. Would you be willing to walk back with us, or at least behind us? I need to pay at least a LITTLE attention to where I'm walking!"
The girl blushed, smiled, and just playfully pushed my shoulder away. "Oh, you!" she said, glancing at Jesse, who was just grinning.
I have discovered that girls and women of a certain age are quite happy to be openly flirted with by codgers. I guess they think old guys are safe, and if you do it right and with a smile (NOT a leering smile, just a nice, friendly one), they may think it's kind of cute. Little do they know!
Some tips about this, though: It works best of all if your wife is there by your side, because the girl can see you're on a short leash. Wives, however, differ quite a bit in THEIR tolerance for this sort of behavior; mine realized that I was just kidding (mostly), and accepted me doing it now and then; so use caution, your results may vary!
NEVER tease a girl under eighteen like this! If you have ANY doubt, don't. It's just creepy, and probably illegal (depending on what you say!)
NEVER do this when the girl's husband or boyfriend is with her. Your spouse, yes, hers, no. Even if she might be flattered by what you say otherwise, she will be required to take offense, then HE will be required to poke you in the nose. I recommend against it.
If you decide to spark a group of girls all at once, three's the limit. More than that, and they'll be so tied up in their chatting that you'll never penetrate their consciousness. And ALWAYS, ALWAYS be sure to tease them as a group, even if it's only one girl who is the cutie! They all know who caught your eye, but none of them wants to be reminded of it.
Finally, make just ONE comment and then let it go. It's best to make your pass when the situation makes it obvious that you're going to be out their life in only a few seconds. Like, the lady in the toll station on the turnpike, or your grocery checker in a store you don't use very often. The lady next to you on a six-hour flight, not so much.
Following these rules makes the difference between coming across as an endearing old coot, or seeming like a disgusting old man in a raincoat. Whether you're wearing a raincoat or not.
Actually, making this kind of a comment while waiting in line at Starbucks was not a good choice, strategically. We were probably going to be standing there for a while longer, and not saying anything more would be pretty awkward. Saying anything more would be even worse. Jesse saved what could have been a real embarrassment for me by stepping in with, "Just ignore him and he'll go away!"
"That's okay! I didn't mind!" the girl said, now teasing ME a little. I grinned broadly, and Jesse made a big show of turning me back around to face the barista, and we placed our order.
We took our coffees with us as we walked back, but the leggy girl with the Jack Russell stayed to drink hers there, buying a paper and sharing a muffin with her dog at one of those teensy tables. So, I didn't get the chance to watch her on the way home. Jesse commented on it.
"Maybe next time, Romeo," she said, watching me glance back.
"Sorry," I said.
"It's okay," Jesse said, "I'm know you're just old, not dead!"
We saw the girl, whose name we learned was Lucy Gill, several more mornings on our walks. Occasionally, we would all walk together, and we got to know her a little bit. I guess she got to know us a little, too. She talked about her boyfriend, her job, her other boyfriend, her hopes to go back to "real" college (she had a community college 'associate' degree), her OTHER boyfriend, her roommate, yet ANOTHER boyfriend, her parents and some boys and men she liked. Nothing throws cold water on an old man's fantasies like hearing about five or six in line in front of you!
We told Lucy about our daughter and her husband, our amazing grandchildren, and how amazing they were, and how cute our grandchildren were, and what our old life in Colorado had been like. It was all the small talk that could fit into half-hour segments of our walks. We both liked Lucy very much, but we were amazed that she could juggle such an active love-live. Every day, after we parted ways with Lucy, Jesse and I would speculate and make rude jokes about what her romantic life must be like.
Before we got to our fortieth anniversary in August, I woke up one morning to find Jesse dead in the bed beside me. I didn't realize it at first, but when I did, my mind just sort of checked out for a couple of months.
I was absolutely lost and bereft. I suppose that I must have called 911, talked to the EMT's, called my daughter, gone to the hospital, signed things, made funeral arrangements, written an obituary, attended services, greeted friends and family, and buried my wife, but I really don't remember any of that. I must have eaten, slept, used the bathroom, dressed myself, combed my hair, brushed my teeth, driven our ... my ... car, and all those mechanical things of life for the two and a half months that my mind was somewhere else, but I don't remember any of that, either. Jesse hadn't been sick, or had any real warning signs. She had apparently had a heart attack while she was asleep, and just never woke up.
After a long dark time of being a zombie, one day, I just sort of came to, and found myself sitting in the sun on the balcony of our ... my ... condo, staring vacantly at the woods across the street. I was still wearing the sweat pants and tee shirt that serve as my pajamas. I realized that I had been sitting there all day, and it was now after two in the afternoon.
It was October, almost my 66th birthday. The phone was ringing inside.
I stirred myself and went in to answer it. It was my sister from California. I DID remember that she had been a great comfort to me when she came up to stay right after Jesse died, and helped me through my grief and all the messy details. She had lost her husband when he was only fifty-eight, and knew what I was gong through. Sort of.
"Jim, how are you?"
"Okay, I guess," my tone of voice saying something else.
"Have you been getting out, doing stuff? You can't just sit around and mope, Jim!"
"I know. I do stuff! Just yesterday, I went over and bought some gas for the car. I got it washed, too!"
"Jeez, Jim, you know what I mean!" Molly said. "I'm not saying you have to start dating or anything, but you need to meet some people, make some friends, come out of your shell a LITTLE bit!"
She was right about that. Jesse and I hadn't lived here long enough to really get to know anyone in Portland, yet. We spent most of our time with our daughter's family. It's why we moved here! I said so to Molly.
"Sure, Jim, fine! But take it form me, Shannon and her husband love you and all, but they don't want to be your only friends! She's too nice to say anything, but you know MY girls! When Bob died, they gave me six weeks of sulking and clinging, then told me to quit bugging them all the time and get a life! In a loving way, sort of, but they were right! I started going to the health club, joined a book club at the library, and started going out to the movies once a week. It felt hollow and stupid at first without Bob, but I forced myself, because my girls said I just had to! And they were right! It helped!"
"Yeah, sure, Molly! No doubt you're right!" I said. "Petty soon, I'll feel like doing that stuff. But not yet!"
"Look, Jim, no offense, but you're NEVER going to feel like doing any of that stuff! You've just got to do it! It's like going to the gym. Just DO it!"
"Sure, Molly, whatever."
"You're depressed, Jim, I can hear it. It's no wonder, but you've got to get out of your own head somehow. Go to see your doctor if you have to! If nothing else, get a dog! Benji keeps me sane a lot of the time! I don't know what I'd do without him running around the house!"
I had met my sister's little dog, Benji many times. She was bonkers over that little guy – she took him everywhere with her (as much as it was allowed), and she always wanted to show me photos of the cute things he did. Her obsession with that dog was almost kind of icky, maybe, but I could see what she meant, and what the dog did for her. I remembered when Rusty had died. She was supposed to have been our daughter's dog, but you know how that usually turns out. In reality, Rusty was MY dog, and for years, when I was home, we were constant companions. I truly grieved when she finally died. I'd had more than enough of death.
"I don't need to fall in love with a dog again, and just have it die on me, Molly."
"Jim! What a thing to say! You're worse off than I thought! Do I need to come up there again and smack you around a little, or what?'
"Okay, okay. I'll try to stir myself and get out and do something!"
"Good! Oh, and Happy Birthday, by the way!"
I went through the motions just as Molly had recommended. I went to the library, and it turns out they did have a book club forming, so I joined it. I volunteered to be on the Condo homeowners' board. I offered to ferry Shannon's kids around more, and met some of their friends' parents. I went to the county rec center and signed up for the seniors' workout sessions. I bought myself a swim suit and started swimming every day after the seniors' workout.
I went back on the South Beach diet. It was an easy diet to follow in the first place, and I had lost my appetite anyway.
And, I went to the pound, or what they have here instead, a Humane Society shelter. I browsed the dogs there, and noticed one little spaniel who looked calm and friendly. The tag said her name was Rusty, as a matter of fact, and my heart just melted.
I asked at the front desk, and the attendant said that Rusty had been brought in that day by the adult child of her owners. One of the owners had apparently been placed in hospice care, and the other one couldn't care for the dog alone. Rusty was four years old, housebroken, good with kids supposedly, and the family who had brought her in had donated her adoption fee to make sure she would be adopted and not put to sleep.