Sunday, March 04, 2007

Almost Fetch With Buddy

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Buddy with Alice and I, and his little sister Duchess

We live in paradise, and a beautiful sandy beach in a sheltered cove is just a ten-minute walk from our house. Yesterday Buddy and I were playing on the beach while Alice read her book. Buddy and I were playing “Almost Fetch,” one of Buddy’s favorite games. I get a driftwood stick, a bit smaller than my fist, and throw it down the beach. Buddy races after it, tries to pick it up while running at full speed, usually misses, turns and races back to it, usually misses again, then finally picks it up briefly, flips it in the air, and then watches it land on the sand. Then he waits for me come to pick it up and throw it again.

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Tide-pooling can be fun!

Almost Fetch is really a great game for Buddy and me. Alice likes it too. Both of us know of friends and family who have dogs that are “fetching fools.” As soon as they spot a visitor, they get their ball and drop it at the visitor’s feet. They insist that the ball be thrown for them to fetch, then race back to repeat the process over and over, no matter that the person doesn’t want to play for more than a fetch or two.

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"A whole beach to throw at, and you could hit was the water?"

Buddy’s different. Playing Almost Fetch is never his idea, and he’s ready to quit when you are, and often before. Plus playing Almost Fetch with Buddy means you and Buddy get almost the same amount of exercise. Unlike Real Fetch, where the dog gets the ball and brings it back, in Almost Fetch the thrower has to go get the ball or stick themselves after each throw. All Buddy does is stand beside it and wait for you to pick it up.

Yesterday I decided to make a bit more of a game of it, and now and then after a throw I would race Buddy to see if I could beat him to the stick. I wasn’t surprised that I never even came close, but I was surprised at how easily I could put my 64-year old body into a short sprint over the sand.

Not a plod, a jog, a shuffle, a stumble, but an honest-to-goodness sprint, up on the balls of my feet, knees pumping high, stride long and smooth.

Wow! What a feeling!

I have been jogging almost daily for about thirty-five years. Recently, for just over a month, I hadn’t jogged at all because of a lingering cough and cold. Yesterday morning I restarted jogging, and yesterday afternoon was sprinting. Double wow!

The realization that I was sprinting, even though for only short distances, jogged my memory. How long has it been since I last sprinted? Where was I, and what was I doing?

It didn’t take long for a memory to form. The last time was almost ten years ago. At the time I was working for Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, California, as an internal auditor. Every day, instead of lunch, I would run a double loop of Lake Merritt with buddies I worked with at Kaiser: Jerome, Robin, and Henry.

In multiracial Oakland, our little jogging group fit right in. Robin and I were white, but Robin would use Chinese words he learned from his wife to express his admiration for any pretty girl we saw on the way. Henry was Korean, a calm fellow with a ready smile, strong Christian beliefs, and was the acknowledged expert in the software program we used to record and report our internal audit work.

Jerome was black. And one of the best guys I have known and worked with.

For a white to express admiration for a black person is a touchy subject. Just about anything the white says can be interpreted as patronizing.

We used to joke about a fellow dancing with a girl, who was very pretty even though she was overweight. Searching for a compliment, he told her: “For a fat girl, you sure don’t sweat much.”

Democrat Senator Joe Biden, far from the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer, said of fellow Democrat Senator Barack Obama: “I mean, you got the first (sort of) mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

Then Joe could have added: “and he doesn’t sweat much, either.”

Instead he continued, "I mean, that's a storybook, man."

Anyway, in the full knowledge that anything and everything a conservative white writes about a black person they admire is providing ammunition for someone to call the remarks patronizing and racist, here goes.

Jerome was one of the best internal auditors I ever worked with, and I worked with many outstanding ones. Another that comes to mind from my Kaiser days, John Connors, is also black, also one of the best.

Jerome grew up in Oakland, and was educated in Jesuit schools before he went on to the University of California. The Jesuit training showed in the way he organized and performed his audit duties. He was calm, thorough, and I enjoyed working on his projects.

He was also a good, steady runner, and even though he was only twenty years younger than me, which meant he was already getting ancient, he was ready to push the pace at times.

I remember one time in particular, when we were about a half-mile from the finish of our five-mile run, and he speeded up. Henry, Robin, and I followed suit, but soon Henry and Robin fell back, leaving just the two of us racing faster and faster over the not too-uncrowded, not too-level Oakland sidewalks. The last part of our dash took us off the busy sidewalks and down a walkway beside Lake Merritt, and we were neck and neck and going for all we had.

I had a strange sensation that the faster I ran, the easier it seemed. In my mind’s eye today I have this vision of the two of us, a picture of two football players ending practice. Me looking like a tight end at 6’ 2” and 225 pounds, Jerome like a halfback, on a sprint towards an end zone somewhere over there. And each of us has a ball, and the first one over the line scores the points.

I think I just edged him by a nose at the finish.

I think he believed it was the other way.

However it ended, we both won.

Maybe I can describe how thankful I am now to remember that Jerome inspired me to do much more than I thought I could.

Yesterday playing Almost Fetch with Buddy brought back the memory of how it felt the last time I ran with the wind.

Ran like the wind.

I know I’m going to feel it again.

I’m not sure when, or where, or how, but I will.

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