There’s no food on the streets of Vineyard Haven. At least not for long. And that includes anything that might resemble food. For each morning on my walk, at the end of the leather leash in my hand is a golden street sweeper. His name is Floyd. For more than 10 years, just about his entire life, he has lived with my wife, Paula, and me.
A yellow Labrador retriever, he was born and bred in West Tisbury. We brought him to live with us in South Natick and smoothly he made the trip back to the Island last year when we took up permanent residence in Vineyard Haven.
Seven days a week, Floyd and I go out about 6:45 a.m. and explore our new surroundings as year-rounders. My aspirations mainly involve getting some exercise, getting the mail, getting a coffee and/or bagels, getting my dog some exercise and an opportunity to express his bodily functions.
Floyd’s “aspirations” mainly involve heaving shards of found baked goods he has somehow neglected to swallow or beach discards temporarily lodged in the back of his throat.
Before leaving the house, I throw on familiar clothes I find conveniently lying on a chair, feed Floyd, replenish the cache of dog cookies in my pocket, take the plastic bag off the morning newspaper (just in case of any canine no-no’s) and off we go. To bring myself to a state of consciousness, I sometimes tease out a haiku as we start walking. My brain is barely awake, but just enough to cough up 17 syllables – the format for a Japanese haiku: five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third.
Vineyard Haven dawn
The ferries stretch, the sea yawns,
Gulls announce the sun
A good way to get to know your town is to walk your dog through it. Floyd is not only a one-man sanitation squad but also an absolute social magnet.
The usual route is to walk against Main street traffic, go down the hill at Owen Park and head for a beach stroll. On our way we sometimes pass women engaging in the admirable pursuit of better health. First, we might encounter the calisthenics brigade below the bandstand. Some get distracted long enough to ogle and oogle Floyd, then get back to work.
Second, there’s the rowing team. Most mornings as we turn onto the beach we might see a half dozen women, sometimes with an occasional man, pushing out in the Grace boat to strengthen their upper torsos while cruising the harbor. They will row if the temperature is not below 20 degrees and the winds are not above 20 miles per hour. This 20/20 rule has nothing to do with vision, since each time, someone asks if Floyd can join them and grab an oar. I keep expecting him to sit and show off his front paws, demonstrating that he lacks thumbs.
As we head down the beach toward the Steamship Authority office, sometimes we’re passed by an image usually reserved for dreamscapes — some well-dressed woman with a briefcase flying through the sand in high heels, hoping to catch the 7 a.m. boat. Cars pull into the bus circle disgorging large backpacks that have children dangling from them. They’re on their way to the same boat, off to school in Falmouth.
We pass the Black Dog Bakery, or try to. Floyd usually picks up the scent of muffin crumbs around the store’s outside bench. When the right aroma crosses his nostrils, he asserts his independence. Leash or no leash, I cease to exist. I know as I’m calling out his name, he’s saying to himself: “Floyd? Who’s Floyd?”
After gathering the mail at the post office, we make our way up Main street, turning the corner at the Mansion House, where the health club beckons all customers of the Black Dog, Mocha Mott’s and Waterside to work off those baked goods. The health club is a goal for my wife’s walk. Why she goes and pushes herself can best be summed up in another haiku:
The lass is always leaner
On the other side
Invariably we meet up with another dog attached to a human, and the dogs go through the greeting ritual as if they were saying to each other, “Smello!” It’s at times like these that Floyd reminds me he is actually an animal. Sometimes he does something or reacts in a way that makes me think he needs a dog shrink or at least I should be writing a letter to Dear Labby.
Floyd has managed to befriend every dog owner who carries treats. That’s primarily because I’ve become his enabler. I’m not so much his guardian as a walking vending machine. His mouth, always at the ready, gives amused passersby the impression that he’s in the middle of a conversation.
Thanks to the kind folks at the Green Room and Waterside, Floyd can stop at water bowls and wash down the treats. Then it’s back up Main street to our home. Along the way we pass people lost in thought or insulated with ear buds. They look down at the approaching dog and their blankness gives way to smiles. It’s enough for me to come up with a corrupted haiku:
He shows me the way
A boy in a dog suit
On a scent
Arnie Reisman and his wife, Paula Lyons, regularly appear on the weekly NPR comedy quiz show, Says You! He also writes for the Huffington Post.