When I was twelve, my mother and my newly acquired stepfather moved our post-divorce family to Newport Beach, California, along with my black Labrador retriever, Skipper. Skipper did not like Newport Beach. Although he was living in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Southern California, his new back yard was limited to a small cement patio; coming from his former living quarters, with a back yard replete with grass and flora and swimming pool, he was apathetic to the trade-off of status and an ocean-view. Despite his growing depression, he never lost his inflamed sexual appetite. Even the leg of a patio chair served his purposes.
Skipper was not the only one having trouble adjusting to paradise.
Soon after our move, I took Skipper for a walk, and he chose a choice piece of lawn in front of a mansion that overlooked the ocean. He did his sniffing thing, becoming more agitated and excited at one particular section.
His hind legs scrunched and he plopped his rear close to the grass, in position. His legs trembled and he pushed out a green-tinted (what had he been eating?) poop, and then another, and then one more: three logs, a defecation code, pointing to the sea. Amazingly, they were the same size, as if he’d measured them with a ruler.
Since our move, I’d made a bad habit of not bringing the obligatory plastic baggie for excrement disposal during our walks. Along with my general adolescent indolence, it was a misguided rebellion, using my dog’s waste product as a temporary graffiti marker in the perfectly groomed, staggeringly beautiful surroundings.
Just as we were making our get away, a hand grabbed my elbow and pulled me back.
“Pick it up,” a man ordered. He was middle-aged and balding, with glasses.
I explained that I didn’t have a baggie.
“Use your hand,” he said, shoving me, so that I had to crouch on the grass. He continued to grip my arm, leaned over. “Push it in the gutter.”
I begged the man to allow me to go home and get a baggie.
He wore Bermuda shorts and flip-flops, but he looked uncomfortable, as if he belonged in a business suit. His feet were pale and his legs were hairy.
“Do it,” he said.
Humiliated, I rolled the three sticky segments with my fingers, one at a time, across the sidewalk and another patch of grass, until they dropped into the gutter. I did it as fast as I could and I had to scoot on my knees as I moved. The man continued to grip my arm, moving with me.
“There’s more,” he said.
I felt the tears on my face. He was referring to the glistening byproduct left on the individual blades of grass, wanting, I understood, for me to use my fingers to pinch and slide the residue off.
Instead, I stood, and he pushed me. Skipper and I ran. The palm trees, mansions, and grass blurred together. I was crying loudly.
Dogs weren’t allowed at Big Corona Beach but we went anyway. I left my shoes in the sand, and I unhooked Skipper’s leash, so that he could swim toward a group of seagulls lolling on the current. There were blotchy marks on my arm where the man’s fingers had gripped me. The waves crashed around me, and I lowered my hands, so that the foam washed my fingers.
I vowed never to tell anyone, and to get my revenge.
I was going to do the old tried and true light a paper bag full of dog poop and ring the doorbell and run trick, appreciating the idea of the man stomping out the fire and getting Skipper’s dung all over his nice Italian leather shoes.
As it turned out, I was too afraid. What if I wasn’t fast enough? The man had really scared me.
I settled on cracking a couple of eggs in his mailbox.
I wish I could report that Skipper and I carved out a fulfilling existence in our new surroundings, but the truth is that we never adjusted. And one afternoon, I came home from high school to discover that my mother had sent Skipper packing. For the best, she said, informing me only that his new home was on a farm somewhere, and that he had enough room to run and run and run to his heart’s content. And it was that image of Skipper that consoled me, imagining him chasing all kinds of fowl and farm animal; playing an endless game of fetch; attempting coitus with varieties of things, both animate and inanimate; and, when in repose, resting in a patch of shade, and panting slightly—tongue quivering at the side of his mouth, eyes squinted—in complete pleasure.
As for me, I continued to rebel against Newport Beach, mostly in ways nonproductive. And twenty-three years since the day I came home to find Skipper gone, I still carry a photograph of him in my wallet.