Saturday, June 28, 2003

The paws that refreshes

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The movies are wrong: all dogs do not go to heaven. Some of them, like Kirby the pit bull from Westport, come to Fall River, where dogs live in circumstances that range from heavenly to purgatorial to hellish.

Kirby didn’t stay long in this city before he was back on his home turf, but if he had stayed here he would have seen that Fall River’s a melting pot. A quick survey on a walk through Kennedy Park reveals that our dog breeds run the gamut from boxer-pit bull mixes to pit bull-boxer mixes. Some live in squalor, others in confinement. Many, like my own dog, Sable, lead lives of comfort equaled only by landed English gentry. Kirby would have found his niche.

The dog of choice in Fall River is clearly the Big Mean Dog. By the way, you’d think the most popular dog in Fall River would be the Portuguese water dog. Like 65-percent-of-all-local-dogs popular. Let’s look into this sometime.

Anyway, a Big Mean Dog can be of any breed, as long as it’s snaggle-toothed and built like a rhinoceros. Kirby is allegedly a Big Mean Dog, which is why the Westport Board of Selectmen allowed him to come here when the many complaints against him forced the board to act — Kirby could easily make new friends in a place like Fall River.

Kirby’s not a big fan of leashes, so he would have fit right in. Big Mean Dogs in Fall River are never on leashes. It embarrasses the poor animals. Their owners sometimes use heavy chains as leashes, but not for restraint — it’s an affectation, like suspenders on already snug pants.

Unlike Kirby, mean dogs in this city often have evil names to discourage strangers from feeding them Snausages, names like Brutus, Attila, Killer, Lucifer. I once met a dog named Hitler. It was galloping rather happily through Kennedy Park with a stick, like any other dog, and the guy was yelling commands at it: “Hitler! Get over here!” I was unsettled more than I can say — which, I suppose, was the point.

It’s difficult to find Big Mean Dogs in Fall River that lead truly happy lives, so the Kirbmeister is probably lucky he made it back to Westport while he could. I’m sure there are many exceptions, but reading the news every day makes it easy to be cynical. Real estate is tight in this city, patience runs thin and not all owners are conscientious. Drive down any street and you’ll see an assortment of mean dogs that spend every minute of their lives locked in tiny cages in back yards, unloved, eating leftover slop, riddled with vermin, and working as living, barking home-security systems. Some are unlucky enough to be owned by criminals who train them to attack cops. A few others, according to the rumors, are bred so people can spend their leisure hours watching them try to kill each other.

Years ago, I heard of a man who was feeding gunpowder to his pit bull. The poor dog sat outside in all kinds of weather, thrashing at the end of a chain. The gunpowder was supposed to keep it aggressive so nobody would break into the guy’s apartment and steal his stuff. The guy isn’t around anymore. I never found out for sure what happened to him, but I like to think that the dog ate the guy, stole his stuff and ran away with a traveling circus.

For every dog trapped in that kind of hell, other Fall River dogs wait in purgatory, chilling out at the animal shelters and hoping nice people adopt them. Hint, hint.

Partly to balance all the bad Dog Karma hanging over this city, I treat my dog, Sable, like she’s in paradise. Sable is a mutt, rescued from limbo 12 years ago by my wife.

First of all, Sable’s in the house. That’s a huge step for some people. My dad often reminds me that in the Azores, dogs were never allowed in the house. They worked for a living, tending goats. Sable has never seen a goat, and if I can help it, she never will.

So while other dogs are chained in back yards, eating gunpowder and the odd squirrel, Sable is sprawled on our couch. If I’m on the couch and she feels like lying down on it, I move. She has a collection of 14 tennis balls, two bones, two ropes, and a badly disfigured snowman squeak toy to keep her busy, but I still leave the TV on for her when we go out without her. I’m pretty sure she appreciates it. Sometimes I feed her treats just for looking at me in a cute way — no tricks required. We both know she can do them.

I’ve been keeping Sable up to date about Kirby and his misadventures. I’m leaving out the part where Kirby could possibly be euthanized if another alternative isn’t found. No use worrying her if I don’t have to.

The other day, I sat her down and said, “Now Kirby’s dad has a lawyer, so this whole mess could be dragged out for years. You know how lawyers are.”

Sable burped at me. She has an uncanny ability to burp on cue.

“He’s staying with the dog officer now,” I said. “I hope they walk him enough. At least twice a day — right, Sable?” I waved a tennis ball in her face. “Goobity goobity goo! Wanna ballie?”

She gave me her paw.

“You got it pretty good,” I said, shaking it.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

I am not the man you're looking for

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I do not work, nor have I ever worked, at a supermarket.

Let me explain. There are some people out there who are utterly convinced that I work at various supermarkets in metro Fall River, and nothing I say can change their minds. You know who you are. Please understand that, in fact, I work only at this newspaper. I am in the grocery industry in no way, shape, or form.

At a Stop & Shop somewhere in this city (I won’t mention which one to protect its identity), a woman who works at the deli counter continues to believe that I work there, and that for some reason I haven’t shown up in several weeks. She has been under this impression for a year or so. It is very vexing.

Every time I see her, she asks, “How come you haven’t been working lately?”

“Pardon me?” I say. She usually catches me off-guard while I’m daydreaming about expensive Italian salted meat products.

“You haven’t been in to work in a while,” she says.

“I haven’t?” I say.

Then after some more circular conversation, it comes out that I allegedly work at Stop & Shop. So I break the news to her: I have never been employed by the Stop & Shop corporation in any capacity.

“Are you sure?” she asks. “You must look just like a guy who works here.”

Every time we finish this little dance—and it’s happened more than a dozen times—I feel vaguely ashamed, like it’s my fault for not working at Stop & Shop. It’s not that I don’t want to work there. I’m sure it’s a fine work environment. If I were a Stop & Shop employee, I’d like to think I could be happy involved in frozen foods, let’s say, or maybe dairy. But I have a job already, which, as it happens, does not involve groceries. I’m willing to take a lie detector test to prove this.

I’ve tried wearing large hats that obscure my face. They don’t work. Also, in recent months I’ve had a beard. The deli counter lady still thought I was the other guy. Maybe my double has a beard, too. It has been cold lately.

For obvious reasons, I’ve started going to Shaw’s. Except that may be over, too. The other day, while I was inspecting their broccoli, an elderly lady asked me if I was in charge of produce. This was in spite of the carriage I was leaning on and the shopping list in my hand. I said sorry, no, realizing that I was wearing a shirt roughly the same shade of green as the uniforms of people who really are in charge of Shaw’s produce.

“You’re not?” she said, skeptical. She left to find someone else—but she followed me for a few minutes, I guess making sure I wasn’t trying to get out of helping her.

I’m not above helping short or infirm people reach the items on the upper shelves. I do that all the time. But because I work at a newspaper, I am not authorized to slice ham or tell you how fresh the peppers are. I’m sorry. It’s just not within my power.

This pattern has plagued me my entire life. It’s not just about working in a grocery store. I look more or less like at least 60 percent of Fall Riverites, being short, stocky, and Portuguese. You will note, by the way, that no one has ever mistaken me for a firefighter or a UPS driver.

Never mind the name. There are many pages of Medeiroses in the phone book. When I was at Durfee High School, my homeroom was almost entirely Medeiroses, and I was one of at least three Dan Medeiroses in the school. More than once I was called to the office to answer for stuff the other Dans did.

But I’m often mistaken for non-Portuguese people, too. My wife and I were in New York recently, at a restaurant in lower Manhattan. At the next table was an old couple. They were half-deaf, so they had to shout at each other to make private conversation. The wife leaned in toward her husband and subtly pointed at me.

He looks like Josh!” she yelled.

My wife found it funny, and started calling me Josh. Very amusing. She doesn’t know the consequences of being mistaken for other people. It’s not all fun and groceries.

One day, when I was a first-grader, I was standing in the recess yard of Small School, minding my own business. I felt a hand grab my shoulder from behind and spin me around—and the next thing I knew some fifth-grader was belting me in the eye.

“Oh man!” he said, his hands at his mouth. “Sorry! I thought you were somebody else.”

I rubbed my face, feeling my cheek swell and bruise. “That’s OK,” I said.

Here’s some helpful information for readers:

My name is Dan. I work at the newspaper. I often buy produce, but I don’t sell it. And if you’re looking for somebody to punch in the face, I’m not him.
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