Of course when you have a restaurant, especially in a fairly small city, many customers become so much more than just customers. You learn what they like and how they like it. Their presence becomes a part of your routine, a stability that anchors you through a turbulent job, because while you have impatient complainers there’s the comprehensive look from the kind regular. Rick Roberts was one of those people for me. He wasn’t my best customer, he could spend hours sipping on refills of iced tea while working on his poetry or reading a novel. He always wanted to know what I had left over, especially if it was something I had made just for my family. It was rare that he ordered a full plate. He would order Monday’s meatloaf special without the mashed potatoes and green beans on Tuesday, cold with some ketchup.
Even for a man in his mid-seventies he was still cool and sexy. His hair pulled back into a ponytail, a well-trimmed, grey beard, his Mexican, cotton button down shirts open revealing his grey chest hair and Buddhist emblem prayer beads hanging from his neck. He rode a motorcycle. He had a bold smile and always called me “baby”, “beautiful” or “sweetie”. And then there was his poetry. I’ve never met anyone that could recite their poetry like him, a trait that I truly admire, because I don’t have it! Some of my most mundane moments were interrupted by Rick reciting a love poem that would move me to tears. One day when he commented on the beauty of one of my female customers, I suggested he ask her out, he was about 15 years her senior, but for most men that would be ideal and he said,
“Baby, I’m at the age when I can still taste, the problem is I can no longer chew.”
So, when one morning last September while standing on line at the supermarket another customer told me that Rick was missing, I knew I was fixing to get bad news. For a few days it was a mystery. Both his motorcycle and dog were in his house, there was no forced entry or apparent robbery. He was not a wealthy man, so very doubtful that he would get kidnapped. He didn’t go out at night drinking and pretty much frequented places close to his home, like my place. We hadn’t seen him in close to a week and actually had been commenting on it, but there had been weeks that he went home to visit family or had come into some money and was frequenting places other than mine. After all, it’s not like he was required to check in with me or forbidden to eat elsewhere.
It turned out that Rick was not missing, he had had a heart attack and died on the floor right next to his bed. The police had looked for him in his home, but apparently not very hard. When they finally did find him, the smell making it impossible for them not to, a close friend entered with the police to identify the body. For some unknown reason the friend did not make arrangements for the dog who was lucky to be alive after a whole week alone with Rick’s body. So, when the body was sent to the morgue Rick’s dog was sent to the pound.
The morning I found out there was a rescue mission going on by 2 of Ricks’ friends who thought that maybe the dog was still in the house, but finally discovered that he wasn’t there. I got on the phone and called the police to find out where he had been taken. To the pound they told me. I called the pound to find out what I needed to pick him up. Just a photo they told me. So, I called the women who were on the rescue mission and asked them if they wanted to go or should I?
“You go,” they said.
“Ok, but I need a picture.”
“The only thing is that the only photo we have is of Mella (Rick’s dog that had died a year and a half before), but they probably won’t notice the difference, because both Mella and Jackie are black and white,” one said. “And also, don’t count on keeping him, because Rick’s family or other friends might want him”
“So, what are you saying? Should I leave him there?” I was annoyed and heart-broken at the thought of Rick’s dog, Jackamo, spending another minute at the pound. So, I walked out of the restaurant at about 2:30 with a picture of the wrong dog on my phone and a piece of meatloaf in a plastic bag and headed over to the office that handles the paperwork for the pound.
When I get there and finish with the red tape, the secretary tells me how to get to the actual pound, which is across the highway from the office down a dirt road. And also informs me that the workers at the pound were called away on an emergency and wouldn’t be back for at least an hour. Hmmm, what to do? Well, I wasn’t going to hang out waiting at the pound for an hour in the hot September sun, so I decide to pick up some things I need and go back to the restaurant. I sucked back an iced tea and had a bite, then called the secretary that had attended to me to see if the dog pound attendants had returned. By this time it’s 3:40.
“Yes, but they leave for the day at 4,” she tells me.
“Well, can you call them and ask them to wait for me? Please tell them I was already up there earlier, I might be a few minutes after 4, but I’m on my way.” She assures me she tell them and I haul ass up the winding highway on the busiest day of the weak in that part of town due to the big Tuesday market. I find my way down the dirt road to a weed-filled lot with metal structure and a locked fence, there are no signs, but I imagine it’s the pound because I can hear the barking and there are a few strays up front. I’m furious and instead of declaring defeat I decide to go back to the office and yell at the bitch I had been dealing with. The first thing she says when she sees me is,
“They were waiting for you.”
“Really? What time is it?”
“4:10,” she says after checking her phone.
“So, they waited maybe 3 minutes? I’ve spent my day trying to retrieve my dead friend’s dog and they couldn’t wait more than 3 minutes? And don’t you think you could have informed me they only worked until 4?” She looks at the floor and kind of shrugs.
“Well, can you ask them to go back? Or can someone else open up and give me the dog?” I ask.
“They’ll be there tomorrow morning,” she says. But if I learned anything from my high school years in Italy, when you really need to get your way with government officials, cry. I plopped my ass down on a chair, curled my knees in, dropped my arms to the side portraying a heaviness that means I’m not moving and just let the tears roll. “You might have to wait a while,” she says.
“That’s ok, I’ll wait.” Shortly a friendly looking man comes out of an office, he has a walkie talkie and tells me he’ll meet me over at the pound. I head back over to the fenced lot with the barking dogs and the nice man opens the gate to doggie hell.
There are about 10 cages of really funky looking dogs. Now my problem is that I only met Jackamo a couple of times and the photo I have is a lie.
“What does he look like?” the man asks. I have to tell him the truth.
“I really don’t know, but he black and white.” There are at least 6 dogs in the cages that are black and white and one female puppy tied to a tree. I know none of these are him, none of them have so much as a collar and none of the males are neutered, but still he takes me in front of each of the dogs like I’m identifying mug shots.
“Is that him?” He asks looking at the black puppy tied to the tree.
“No, that’s a female puppy, I’m looking for a male who’s about a year old.”
“Is that him?” He points to a growling pit bull-like dog who’s standing against the cage.
“No, that’s not him.”
“How do you know?” he asks.
“Well, he has balls, Jackie doesn’t.” They laugh. He calls the dog pound attendants that picked Jackie up and that didn’t wait for me. They tell him he’s tied to a tree, but not the female puppy that’s tied to a tree, but tied to a mesquite tree away from all the other dogs. He walks over a mound of rocks and through some tall weeds and motions me to come. Tied to the mesquite shaking inside a wood dog house is a black and white, mime-faced boarder collie with his tags hanging from his collar. “That’s him,” I declare.
“Does he bite?” asks the man.
“I hope not,” I say. He pulls on the rope to get him out of the house and I hold out my fingers that I had stuck in the bag of meatloaf before I walked in. “Come on Jackie, let’s go baby.” I clasp the leash to his collar and lead him to the car. I open up the bag of meatloaf, but he’s too scared to eat. When I take him in the house his tail is curled between his legs, he sniffs throughout the house, Maddy, our other dog follows and sniffs him. She’s wagging her stump, she’s interested. That’s my biggest worry, that Maddy and Jackie wouldn’t get along, But by the second day it was clear Jackie found his new home. And now it’s clear Jackie and Maddy found each other.