Gone to the Dogs: An Even-Numbered Day on Good Harbor


The City Council unanimously voted in favor of adopting a proposed ordinance change that allows dogs to run free on Good Harbor Beach on even-numbered days.   – The Gloucester Daily Times (Nov. 11, 2014)


It is high noon on Good Harbor Beach. The water shimmers in the mid-April sun, and Gloucester’s dogs are relishing their newfound freedom. Stubby schnauzers race alongside loping hounds. A curious Shih Tzu leisurely inspects the hindquarters of an unflappable St. Bernard. Mutts of every conceivable parentage leap and splash and dart, spurning the leashes that dangle pointlessly from the pockets of windbreakers. Everywhere their barks are clear and sharp—almost martial—as if saluting the city council for liberating the four-legged from their six-foot nylon shackles.

Crane-Beach-Dogs[Unleashed on Good Harbor]

Yet somehow the joyful mood has bypassed one pair of dogs, who sulk and slouch against the dunes, passing a paw-rolled American Spirit cigarette between them. Both are AKC purebreds, but neither likes to talk about it. Listlessly, they watch two lab puppies tumble after a tennis ball.

“Christ, what a scene,” says Walter, a white Bichon with a bearded muzzle groomed to a state of artful dishevelment. In lieu of a collar, he sports an organic cotton keffiyeh.

“A travesty really,” says Simone, a standard poodle whose fluffy black pompons are purely ironic. “Good Harbor is officially over.”

“Gawd, is that Coco over there?” Walter indicates a perky spaniel flouncing past some pups of dubious ancestry.

“Ugh. What a literal bitch.”

BichonWalter[Walter at home, ready to enjoy some Dave Eggers]

For years Walter and Simone have frequented Good Harbor in the off-season.  And they had been among the select few who flouted Gloucester’s leash ordinance, scoffing at their tethered peers, running circles around the skittish and pooch-averse. Now, on an even-numbered spring afternoon, they are just another pair of law-abiding family pets, as square as hamsters in a cage.

“If I wanted to frolic with the canine bourgeoisie,” says Walter, “I’d drag my owner to the Stage Fort Dog Park.”

Both shiver at the idea.

Once destined for the show ring, Walter got the boot from private training school at age 2. For a few weeks, he was technically a stray, a biographical footnote he always manages to drop into conversation. Simone too boasts a champion’s pedigree, and her mother’s Best in Class at Westminster furnished a sizeable trust fund. But this detail is strictly on the down low.

article-0-1C6A21B300000578-456_634x445[Simone, delivering a sassy remark]

“It’s like that artisanal kibble stand over on Commercial Street,” says Walter, lighting another cigarette. “One favorable review in The Times, and suddenly the place looks like a puppy mill.”

Just then two human beachgoers—a middle-aged couple in pastels—park their blanket not more than ten yards away. They kick off their dock shoes and proceed to unpack a large wicker picnic hamper.

Simone surveys the contents: fruit salad, a rotisserie chicken, and what appears to be real china and cutlery. “Classy affair,” she says.

Walter avails himself of an extra long drag. “A year ago, I’d be making a beeline for the water,” he says. “Returning with a coat full of sand and saltwater. And shaking off all over that mofo.”

“But now?”

“Not so much.”

Simone permits herself a little snort. “I get it,” she says, snatching the cigarette. “If you’re going to drop a steaming turd on somebody’s quiche, you want it to mean something.”

“Exactly,” Walter says, practically growling. “Fucking with picnickers, nipping at little kids’ fingers—these used to be acts of courage, of resistance against the whole power structure. Now they’re just ‘accidents’ our owners can smooth over with half-assed apologies.” He gestures at a nearby pack and thumps his tail on the sand for emphasis. “These mutts risk nothing more than a waggled index finger.”

“What about animal control? They’re supposed to fine owners who can’t manage unleashed dogs.”

Walter shoots a look at Simone, who is trying to maintain a straight snout. But the notion is just too funny.

By now the picnickers have distributed fruit, slathered the chicken in mint yogurt, and commenced eating. Simone’s black nose twitches, and Walter whines a bit, attracting the attention of the woman.

“Oh, look at that darling little Bichon,” she says, tapping her husband’s shoulder. “He looks hungry.” She holds out a chicken wing and makes kissy noises at the pair.

Walter’s body is taut and quivering.

“Easy, boy,” Simone says. Then, at the couple she yips: “We’re vegan, you assholes.”

The woman recoils. “Goodness,” she says, glancing at her husband and dropping the wing. “Not as friendly as they look.”

Walter hears a familiar whistle from the direction of the wooden footbridge. “Guess that’s my cue,” he says, extinguishing a final cigarette and slowly getting to his paws.

Simone waves goodbye and watches as Walter trots past a host of doggie temptations: an unguarded bag of chips, an overfriendly toddler, and—as always—Coco’s shapely rump. Somehow, he manages to leave all this to the mainstream dogs. Somehow, he makes even obedience look cool.

No Snark Sunday: Boston Stronger

I’m seeing a lot of crap on my social media feeds about particular cruelties that should be applied to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev the recently convicted Boston Marathon Bomber.

Can we just not?

I’ll be honest here, I don’t want to stand next to you at the playground if you seem to spend your off hours thinking up highly-detailed Medieval-style cruelties that can be applied to another human being, no matter how loathsome. And the willingness for people to try and support about the most anti-American thing you can say, “We shouldn’t even have bothered to have a trial” followed by some kind of town-square-type justice proposal that sounds like it’s out of the KKK lynching manual makes my skin crawl.

I understand the passions of the moment during the attack. I was there myself. But it’s been two years. We need to fall back on that thing we call “having a civilization worth defending.” The anger we felt in the moment needs to give way to what makes us better than the Tsarnaev brothers and what they could ever try to pass off as some kind of “philosophy.” That thing is called The Rule of Law. You should check it out, the Babylonians dreamed it up then those crazy Jews turned it into a groove successful cultures have rocked for over eight thousand years.

The bombers’ plan to scare us and make us cow backfired so spectacularly because Boston is and always has been the place where, for all our (many) faults, in the end our belief in that rule of law, along with our general sense of ethics and morals, actually mean something. Not bullshit posturing like the Indiana idiots who want to let people refuse to make pizza for gay weddings (because Jesus never would have made some kind of concoction for a party full of “undesirables”), but here we actually have a history of giving a shit about real matters of human dignity and decency.

From the original patriots desiring freedom from actual tyranny to the abolitionists fighting against slavery to things like healthcare and (again) gay marriage, good education for all and the support of the rational disciplines of science, technology and the environment, we’re undisputed leaders. The 24th city by size in our country leads in a huge number of categories from our average public school students (who challenge countries like Finland and Japan) to our social outcomes where we have the lowest divorce rates, low crime rates, low teen pregnancy rates, all that stuff that would make a social conservative get warm in sinful places. We punch so high above our weight class not because we move our mouths around, but because we actually do the hard work of understanding root causes and then taking the actions which will make the outcomes we want real.

I know it’s more emotionally satisfying to just talk tough and then never actually do anything meaningful to solve the problems at hand, but that crap doesn’t fly here. Move to fucking Florida if you want that shit. Living here takes work. You need a snow shovel and a brain and a tough skin. And you have to use all three in equal measures.

And sorry, but that means not going all Atilla on pressure-cooker boy who’s name I hope to never have to try and spell again and who I plan on beginning to forget about starting the day after his sentencing. That’s my plan and I hope you’ll join me in it.

Oh, and for all you death penalty fans out there, read what the parents of Martin Richard, the 8 year old (my son’s age at the time of the attack) killed in the attack have to say about seeking the death penalty in this case.

“As long as the defendant is in the spotlight, we have no choice but to live a story told on his terms, not ours,” they said. “The minute the defendant fades from our newspapers and TV screens is the minute we begin the process of rebuilding our lives and our family.”

They’ve had to think about this a lot. Maybe we should listen to them.