Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dogs and Difference

Breakfast! Throughout the 44 years of our relationship, Joe and I have loved going out for breakfast. We very seldom go out for lunch or dinner, except when we are on the road of course, because we like our own cooking and enjoy making meals together. But breakfast - that's a meal that begs to be put in front of you by someone else. After living here for five years we discovered a wonderful neighbourhood breakfast spot.

The problem with seeing it was that we'd always seen it. We'd driven by it every time we'd been to the city for over 30 years. But then one day, a day out wandering, I actually saw the place. Saw that the patio was accessible, saw that breakfast was being served, saw that it was two blocks from where we lived ... and seeing made the idea of going possible. Ever pick up something in your house and say, "I didn't realize we had this." Well that's what happens when you have but don't see.

I have to gird myself before going somewhere new. I noticed that this was a spot for locals the moment I looked at the people packed around the tables on the patio. They chatted with each other hollering from one table to another. Anyone new coming in would be scrutinised. My size and my chair draw attention in predictable ways, stares and silence. Yep, I can quieten up an area just by entering it. I think I've discovered that for the eyes to fly open the mouth has to slam shut - there's got to be a science behind that.

As I expected, when we went through the little gate and onto the patio, we did so in silence. The sound of the chair scraping on the ground echoed in a space suddenly empty of everything but me. I know, and can almost time it to the exact moment, that seconds later conversations would resume. First in whisper - "Do you see the size of him?" - then as they bore of that, back to chat and gossip. Both Joe and I know, and have reckoned with the fact, that it will take six or seven times before we go from 'look at that' to 'locals' ... it's a transition we've done millions of times before.

But this time, it only took the once.

The patio is popular for a couple of reasons: it's outside and you can bring your dogs with you. Clearly by the number of pooches there, many come for breakfast or coffee as part of a ritual on their morning walks. Dogs aren't shy of saying hello. Over the course of breakfast little faces looked up at us with curiosity, never laced with hostility. To a one, because I love dogs, I said hello to each pooch and Joe and I petted each dog, while being brought into conversation with the owner. We learned the dog's name, heard a joke about the dog's temperament, and got permission to pet.

That little bit of contact,that tiny moment offered that allowed me to demonstrate that difference doesn't mean different sped the process of introduction up to light speed.

The next morning we went there, maybe two days later, as we approached I heard chairs moving aside, a pathway being cleared, as they made the way to an empty table open for me. The dogs all perked up remembering that we were friendly and a bit easy with pieces of toast. We were greeted, and that was that, we were locals.

Dogs can be the alchemy that turns hostility to hello.

Magic indeed.


pattib said...

Absolutely! As a volunteer puppy-raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind, I bring my Future Leader Dog with me wherever we go--and what an icebreaker! Our current puppy is a 10 month old Golden Retriever named "Dutch." My husband likes to say that sometimes angels have four legs. :)

Anonymous said...

Dogs don't know difference. They only know love.


Princeton Posse said...

LOL I love the line "a bit easy with pieces of toast". My dog would love you, esp. if there was peanut butter. Years ago I had a 3 legged dog. We met so many people, I often thought the dog met more people than I did.