Even in hot weather, I take one hot bath a week in order to soften the calluses on my feet so I can razor them off and sand them down. As soon as my left hand hit the water, the bruise I knew Pickering had inflicted – along with a superficial bite – bloomed into a pool of purple. The bruise has faded, but the area remains tender and the bite itches.
As do the bites from the chiggery flies in Hillside Park. They have no respect for repellent and seem especially fond of the skin just above my anklets.
The heat has broken, sort of, so I’m writing this after a shower. I have a quarter-sized bruise on my arm, a sign of Hermia’s affection. This really is how she shows true love: she jumps and bites. Or maybe she jumped and bit when I held a squeaky ball aloft.
Not long ago, two golden retrievers crossed Columbia Heights for a walk on the Promenade at exactly the broad entrance from which Bangor, Allen and I were leaving. Bangor and Allen have some weird aversion to golden retrievers (the gentlest of dogs until they sometimes cross a line deep in their nature while playing) and they went berserkers. I wrapped both leashes around my right hand and leaned back like a water skier. One hundred pounds of outrage and bloodlust fractured the cartilage in the knuckle of my right index finger.
Forget about opposable thumbs. It’s Mr. Pointer that differentiates us from gold fish.
Then there was my graceful trip on some uneven sidewalk on Willow, which brought me down on top of Bangor, who growled, whipped around and then got slurpy with concern. My baseball cap fell off in the melee and Pickering was already eating the brim by the time a fellow-dog walker rushed over to help. “Just hold the dogs,” I asked.
“Sit,” he told Bangor and Pickering, and told them again. Pickering and Bangor looked up at him with curiosity. Sit? Was there maybe a cookie in it?
I had a bloody knee and when I told dog walker friends that I’d fallen, their reaction was an avid, “Let me see, let me see – ooh: good one!”
“What are those scratches?” Sylvie asked of the long red marks up my calf.
“Allen humped me. I was wearing shorts.”
In the middle of the sidewalk, four people pulled up their pants or their sleeves and pointed at bruises, scrapes, scratches and braces that Bowser or Fido caused in a jump or a lunge, the stairs, the trips, the ankle-turning surface of the dog run, bending and walking that tax our bodies.
“My knees are killing me,” Marjorie said.
“It’s my shoulders and lower back,” I nodded. “The leashes at a forty-five degree angle are killers.”
“What do you do for the pain?”
“Three Naprosin in the morning,” I told her. “Stretching out my lower back by doing lunges on a stoop really helps. And thank God for my cheap massage place on Grand Street.”
“How much, how much?” everyone clamored.
Sometimes dog walkers talk about the best looking dogs. Sometimes dog walkers talk about the worst behaved dogs. We always talk about the weather and about not being paid on time. And we always talk about what hurts today.
Today it’s my forehead (Hermia raised her head as I was bending over to leash her) and my cheek (Hope, an Italian greyhound, wanted my attention and used her raptor nails to get it). And my back, shoulders and hands, of course.
BHB columnist Frances Kuffel has lived in the Heights for twenty years. Her dog walking clients include Augie, Barley, Boomer, Faith, Gus, Henry, Hero, Panda, Roger and Zeke. For more information, visit http//franceskuffel.net, http://caronthehill.blogspot.com, or http://www.flickr.com/photos/kuffelscrapbook.
She is the author of Passing for Thin