It's good that she runs with me when I take the dog out every other day. (We run on the flat parts and downhill, and walk up the hills. It's a lot like life.) It's the only time that I hear the stories that lie hidden when we're in the car, riding along with that mind-numbed autodeath that seems to come when you're in transit. They call it comfortable silence, but we know it's really the lapse of spirit when the ass is flat. For some strange reason, when the ass in upright and being a part of a blood-pumping, sweating, living and breathing body, the mouth loosens up. When we're at home, the death of consciousness takes over. So these outings, every other day, are the best time to find out what happens between those two ears that border the brain that controls the body which used to sit on my lap and cuddle with me, or play rough on the bed. She'll be driving herself in cars in just a couple of months, so who knows how much longer I have to find out where she's at?
The best age was somewhere around three or four or five. It's hard to remember. You wait so long for them to be able to talk to you, and then there's a point where you wish they'd shut up. That window of perfection is between three and five, for sure.
We take the Lhasa Apso out every other day, and up at the top of the route there's a bunch of houses with a bunch of little kids. They're out there, playing in the yards, almost every time we go by. We know them now, by name and by personality. The ones we pay special attention to are in that three to five age range. She knows that was special. We don't discuss it, but she knows life will never be better than that. She might say something like, "Man, I'm jealous of those kids," and we don't need to dissect that statement. She knows I know and I know it, too. I'm not so old that I can't remember perfect bliss of the moment living.
One of the kids is named Danny. He's a little blonde boy with a touch of madness in him. He'll build little ramps to ride his bicycle over, trying his best to make sure he never has to go to school and get a job. The other day, we're running by his house and he's beating the ground with a plastic hockey stick. I say, "Hey, Danny. What are you doing?" He says, "I'm fighting the fire ants." As we're passing away, I say, "The ants will win, Danny. . . They always win."
My daughter starts laughing like crazy. She thinks this is the funniest thing she's heard all day. She says it reminds her of the bad remake of Invaders From Mars, a stupid science fiction movie we saw a long time ago, about a space craft that lands and this little boy is the only one in town who knows the danger. The aliens set up shop underground and start planting these chips in people, in the backs of their necks. There's this one evil lady (Mrs. McKeltch, played by Louise Fletcher) from his school who is running after him, shouting, "I'll get you, David Gardner!" That was our special laugh-getter for a while. All we had to do, in any situation, was say, "I'll get you, David Gardner!" and everything was funny again.
Before that, it was a thing from the Dracula story. She always loved scary stories, and instead of reading a bedtime story, we'd lie there in bed in the dark, telling made up scary stories to each other. Sometimes we’d make them up together. I’d tell a little part and then she’d tell a little part and we’d keep going until someone would end it. That was hardly fair on my part, since I had a lifetime of stupid horror movies and comic books and my own sometimes very scary life under my belt, and she was having to do what real storytellers do: Make it up from imagination alone. She’d hold her own, however.
One night, I was telling my version of the Dracula story to her, and when it got to the Undead part, I tried to do an echo thing like you hear on bad car commercials. You know: Saying, "Undead. . undead. . undead. . undead. ." with each one trailing off at the end. Well, she starting laughing her little ass off and all the fear quotient of the story just turned to hilarity. That "undead" deal lasted a long time, but the "I'll get you, David Gardner" took it's place eventually. After that, it was the "Piper doon" and "Heeed" from So I Married an Axe Murderer. She thinks like I do, so we usually laugh at the same stuff.
But here's why I'm telling you all this (I think). Yesterday we were running by those houses and the little brunette girl, Katie, who loves my dog, started running along with us. We stopped and started to walk, and she said, "I learned how to jog today!"
I said, "Didn't you already know how to run?"
"Well, running is just another word for jogging, isn't it?"
"Nuh-uh. You gots to do your knees different when you jog."
"Oh," I said. "I think I know what you mean. Well, are you going trick or treating this year?"
"Nuh-uh. The man on TV said kids couldn't do trick or treat 'cause folks would try to poison us. So we gotta go to our church or somewhere elst inside."
My heart sank. My daughter couldn't think of anything to say. We reached the stop sign where we had to turn left and run down the big hill. Katie said, "This is my boundary. I can't go past here."
Her boundary, indeed. I patted her on her little head and said, "Honey, no grown up around here is going to hurt you. I promise. OK?"
I wish I had known something better to tell her. But she smiled, like they do at that age, and said, "Bye." And then she yelled, "Bye, Mitzi!" to my dog as we ran away, down that hill. Leaving her there, still waving.
I’m hoping that one day soon, my daughter and little Katie and little Danny and I can all have a big bowl of buttered popcorn as we watch a public hanging on her big screen TV.