As dusk settles earlier every day I sometimes find myself running the Bridle Path in Central Park in the semi-dark. It’s tricky, for the path is not only soft and forgiving, but also uneven. Twisted ankles and worse are easy to imagine, so lifting your feet and running lightly are even more important – even for a not-so-light, tall guy like moi.
On the west side there’s a tunnel that’s pretty dark even during the day. The other day I passed through it a little after 7 PM at a brisk pace. For some reason my running buddy Eddie had shifted, un-buddy-like, to the roadway, so I was all alone on the trail. Suddenly in the middle of the tunnel I heard the sound of a dog sniffing, growling and running around, unleashed. Frankly, it sounded to me like a hungry wolf on the loose. I stopped in my tracks and felt my heart rate increase even more.
Like my father used to say when he told us his fantastic, thriller-like stories before bedtime: Goede raad was duur. (‘Good advice was expensive.’ It sounds better in Dutch.)
I slowly moved toward the end of the tunnel, even though there was hardly any light there. Meanwhile I could feel the dog move alongside me. Then I heard the owner’s voice: ‘Don’t worry, he’s friendly.’ I ran forth and replied tersely over my shoulder: ‘That’s what every dog owner tells me before I get attacked.’
It’s true. I can’t count the times when dogs scared the hell out of me as I ran by. Dogs in the northern Italian country side are particularly aggressive and scary. But in American and Dutch cities they are not much better. Only once blood was drawn (my blood) – I should have gotten a shot, in retrospect. But it was always scary, they always made me run like the wind, and these encounters often made me wonder what the words ‘he’s friendly’ really mean. Also not helpful: ‘She never behaves like that!’
But ultimately I love dogs. If I had the space in my home and neighborhood I would like to have one to run and walk and talk with.
For this I blame Tommy, my parents’ crazy dog whose official Polish name was Thomash, and who has been known to respond to the name Stommy (a Dutch wordplay meaning something like ‘Little Stupid’).
We were great friends until he died last year, after 14 good years on this earth. When he was young he would run with me – and easily outrun me. My Mom said we were alike: fast, a little wild, always hungry, and blessed with too much energy. I do like to think that I was always a touch smarter. For one, he didn’t write, which he made up for in pure speed and focus when we were on the road. Also, he never smoked, which made him smarter, come to think of it.
When I visited my hometown of Nijmegen, he would never bark when I entered. Instead Tommy would –even in his final, blind, painful days– start rolling on the floor without fail, crazy happy to see me. I felt just the same way.