Friday, March 12, 2010
Just the other morning, the police disrupted the idyllic main street coffee house in Montpelier, Vermont. They were after me. Of course.
If you have read this blog before, than you are already familiar with the scene of me working in a public location. Writing is always a challenge, but it pales in comparison to the challenge of avoiding the unsolicited comments and conversation of strangers that seem to befall me as if by magnetic attraction.
On this particular morning, Capitol Grounds was packed. The shrill blast of the milk steamer and conversations of customers blended into a cheerful, cacophonous white noise. I was typing, leaning forward in concentration and every so often rubbing my forehead with my right hand. Typical stuff.
And then the police came in and broke it all up.
Let the record show, counselor, that these events took place on the morning on March 10th, 2010. I had risen early and driven an hour up 89 to have breakfast with an old friend. She called to say she was going to be a little late, so I took the dogs on a quick walk before tying them in front of the diner. I ordered corned beef and hash. The two of us ate for approximately 51 minutes, and afterward I took the dogs for another little walk around town.
It was early spring in the capitol of our rural state, blue and calm and a warm 48 degrees in the sun. Montpelier is an eclectic town of local-food restaurants and book stores clustered around the gold-topped State House. I tied up the dogs in front of the cafe, ordered an Americano and opened up my laptop. From my seat at the window I could see the dogs, sunning themselves like seals and accepting the steady stream of attention offered by the people passing by.
I was halfway through my work when a policeman in his blue starched uniform entered the building. He was talking with the woman behind the counter, and I was unaware of his presence until he turned towards the cafe and announced, "Excuse me! Can I have every one's attention, please!"
The place fell silent. There must have been fifty people there, all looking this young, crew cut officer of the law. He was unusually short. He hooked his thumbs into his gun holster, leaned back on his heals and addressed the crowd. "Who is the owner of the two dogs tied up outside?"
I raised my hand. Fifty heads rotated in my direction.
You know that sudden, irrational guilt you feel when you see a police car on the interstate? You think, oh my God am I speeding? I'm speeding! Did I use my glove compartment to store illegal drugs again? Did I? I don't think I did? Oh god, maybe I did and I forgot? Logic goes out the Subaru window- this feeling is instinctual.
Well believe it or not, I have nearly kicked that instinct. I used to date a cop, and judging from the stories he used to tell me, he was very, very bad at his job. This guy could have had his own CHiPs-esque sitcom. Getting a glimpse of the more human, slam your thumb in the patrol car door and cry while giving a ticket side of the police force had negated my fear considerably.
Regardless, when this police officer outed me to the entire cafe as the perpetrator, I ran through a quick mental checklist. Had the dogs been barking? No. Had they made a mess of the sidewalk as Hometeam has been known to do on certain irritable banker's floors? No. Is it illegal to tie your dogs up on the street? It wasn't yesterday. Were they out there smoking a fat spliff? Were they?
"People are concerned," said the cop, still addressing the entire coffee shop. "There have been a few calls, people wondering if those dogs had been abandoned." Oh. Of course people suspected these two healthy, pure breed dogs were abandoned, at 1:00pm on this sunny day on that busy sidewalk.
"Well....they're not." I offered lamely. Everyone was looking from me to the cop to me again. The officer paused.
"Well, I just need- okay, you know what? I'm just going to go around and talk to you."
He walked around to my seat, and I was aware of how sheepish and embarrassed he looked. I was fondly reminded of my ex boyfriend. "Sorry about that....so---uh...." he brought out a little notebook from his back pocket. "I just need some, uh, some information." I could tell he was ad-libbing. "What's your name?"
I gave it to him. He wrote it down.
"And what's your birthday?"
I gave it to him. He wrote it down. I wondered what he'd ask for next. "You know officer, those dogs haven't been out there that long." He scratched his head and looked down. "I know. I just, I'm just required to have a conversation with you. And okay, I did. Sorry about that. You have a good day." And he walked out.
I turned back to my computer, feeling the eyes of fifty strangers boring into me. What were they thinking? Did they want me to skulk out of there without making eye contact, load my neglected dogs into the back of my car and head for home, where surely there was a dirty toddler and a screaming infant neglected in a crib?
Actually, just the opposite. The rest of my understandably unproductive work day was punctuated by people interrupting me, RE: the dogs. "Hey- beautiful dogs you got there! What are those, shelties? Such well behaved dogs!" Their comments smacked of support and solidarity.
Alright people, I thought, as you were. Public humiliation is nothing new to me. This may have phased some, sure, but compared to other glaring moments in my life, like falling down an entire flight of stairs in front of Lorenzo, my former future husband in Chile, this occurrence did not register on the mortification scale. I thought it had been pretty funny. And totally ridiculous.
Eventually I packed up my laptop and headed for the counter to pay, where the barrista apologized profusely. "I suggested he go around to everyone and ask them if they owned the dogs," she explained, "but he said it would just be easier to announce it to everyone. I bet that was really embarrassing."
I have heard this about motherhood: the first time the baby throws up on you- not spits up but really bblllaaarrrghhhhssss- and your first concern is for the baby and not for yourself, then you know you're really a mother. That is the way I felt, not as a mother but as a writer. You know you're a writer when life throws up on you and your first thought is 'This will make really good material!'
I considered this as I untied the dogs. A man was approaching me on the sidewalk, punk looking with a swagger, over sized headphones over his ears. He was rapping out loud and spitting as he walked. And I thought, 'Yeah, come over here! Spit on my shoes! Tell me something crazy! This will make the perfect end to this story!'
But he didn't. He swaggered past without a second glance. And as I took my neglected, starving, totally unloved dogs for their third walk around town, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.