“I like you just the way you are.”– Mister Rodgers
All names, except dogs’, have been changed. Photo of mural by Cyrille Conan on Thwing St.
After teaching my evening class, I took Mr. Chulo, my four-legged friend, up to the park for his requisite second play. With the aid of the chucker (a sort of arm extension with a cup at the end that allows you to throw a ball really far) I hurled tennis balls off of his favorite lump of pudding stone with a force that greatly exceeded my natural ability. The chucker, when properly handled, can turn even the girliest throw into a rocket. To add to the excitement, pudding stone is jagged and uneven, so there was no way to predict where the ball would go. Fortunately, there were no windows nearby.
Mr. Chulo chased after each missile as though possessed, kicking up clouds of dirt in his wake. I marveled inwardly that I never ever got tired of watching him run. He’s a whippet, a smaller version of a greyhound, but not so small as an Italian greyhound.
He’s fast. Wicked fast as they say in Boston. But it’s not only his speed that captivates me. It is his conviction. No amount of uneven, rocky terrain can deter him from his goal, the ball, although to call catching the ball a goal is somewhat missing the mark. When he runs after the ball there is simply no separation. No him and it. When Mr. Chulo runs, he is oneness.
Anyway, after a good twenty minutes or so of this, Bob appeared. Not Disco Bob, but Lucy Bob. You see, at the park when there’s a redundancy of first names, we tend to place the dog’s name before the human’s as a sort of prefix. Lucy, an old heavy yellow lab, and Chulo ran a few circuits while Bob and I fell into conversation. I love these conversations with Bob because he’s, well, interesting: a former high school English teacher, musician, carpenter, former hippy-free-loving-polyandrist, history buff and who knows what else.
On this particular evening, we were discussing the history of Thwing Street, a dead-end street in the Fort Hill section of Roxbury that I happen to live on. The funny thing about living on a street named Thwing is that you have to repeat the name several times and spell it out before people believed that such a place exists. “Thwing Street did you say?” they ask incredulously. Yes, that’s it. And if you think that’s weird, check out the dude’s whole name.
“Drum rrroll, please,” says Mr. Octopus.
Ok, Mr. Thwing, for whom our street was named and who was engaged in the triangle business, involving rum, sugar cane and slaves, had a whopper of a name according to Bob. It was, get this,
SUPPLY CLAP THWING.
Now, as I stood there talking with Lucy’s Bob, the sun setting majestically over Boston, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of place it must have been way back in the 1800’s where a mother could name a son Supply Clap Thwing. What a world indeed.
While musing over this, another neighbor, Carmen, showed up. She’d lost her dog, Celeste, an albino boxer, months ago, and in her grief rarely made appearances in the park any more. But this evening, the tide seemed to turn just a little. She saw Mr. Chulo, who she calls Chalupa, in the park, and bravely ventured in. She threw the ball for him a few times and we chatted. I knew this was a big deal for her to be able to play with another dog without breaking down in tears.
On the way back home, another neighbor, Dave, was in the street helping Carmen unload her groceries. We hugged briefly. He’s a regular in our home on game night. He asked when the Celtics played next. It’s tomorrow night and we are, that is, Mr. Conan, is making lasagna. Come by!
As I left Dave and walked down the hill to our little spot on Supply Clap’s Thwing, I wondered if I had left Roxbury and stumbled into a parallel world of Make Believe until a fragrant cloud of pot smoke wafted oh so beguilingly past my nose. Nope, still in da hood. Nevertheless, I said out loud to the universe and whoever might be listening, “I love my neighborhood.”
I haven’t felt like I actually lived in a neighborhood with, uh, neighbors since I was a small child. Since then I had grown used to not knowing neighbor’s names and thought of them more as potentially hostile people to avoid. But the neighbor thing is nice. It makes me feel safe and gives me a sense of belonging, of connectedness and I have Mr. Chulo to thank for that. He’s changed my life. I used to be such a loner-hermit type but he has helped bring me into community. He has connected me to people because with him, I have to be outside, walking around, each and every day. You get to know people. You get to have conversations.
Seriously, real live conversations! When we are hanging out in the park with our dogs, sometimes for hours at a stretch with other semi-employed dog lovers, people rarely pull out their phones. We are genuinely interested in each other. We play frisbee. In this age of technology, when we are connected, yet alienated more than ever, these daily gatherings in the park are such simple medicine.
“You know, octopuses can also bring you into community. How ’bout a little credit here?” asks Mr. Octopus.
“Sure. Why not? If I can love my neighbors, any thing’s possible.”