by Dell Franklin
My mostly part-time woman of over 25 years, Colleen, and my full-time dog, Wilbur, and I made a getaway two-day trip to luxurious, upper-than-up-scale Carmel-by-the-Sea to celebrate our birthdays. I found Wilbur in a Labrador rescue shelter down south last Thanksgiving. He’s a hefty, floppy Chocolate Lab with a white beard. He was around 8 when I got him, had been in the shelter over seven months, weighed around 63 pounds, his coat more dun than brown, and he was wild and suspicious of strangers and dogs, with a left front fang pulled, his fleas so bad when they found him abandoned in San Pedro that he had chewed off his original coat and grown a new one.
When I brought him to sleepy, dog-crazy Cayucos, he was hyper-vigilant, and so aggressive (like he’d been in prison) I couldn’t take him to the Morro Bay dog park, where he fought, and had to walk him in places where there were no dogs. His abandonment issue was so severe he wouldn’t let me out of his sight. But eventually he calmed down and adjusted and became a model citizen at the dog park. He now weighs 85 pounds and his coat is a rich chocolate and he nuzzles strangers and plays with other dogs and goes out of his way to make friends with neighbor cats. When a friend visits, he tries to climb atop them, lay his head on their chest, and gaze up with sad, needy eyes, a shameless glutton for affection.
After we settled in our cozy third-story room with private balcony and an ocean view of Carmel-By-The-Sea, I decided to take Wilbur for a walk before a sauna, swim in the pool, shower, and booze hour. We started off down San Carlos Street, headed for the main downtown drag, Ocean Avenue. An athletically thin woman in designer sweat suit, ball cap and shades headed toward us on the same side of the street. She began looking nervous as we approached, Wilbur pulling because he wanted to nuzzle and sniff her two immaculate toy poodles who looked to have come from a dog show. The woman hastily, one hand holding cell phone, the other a double leash, dragged her yipping dogs across the street like a frightened hare as Wilbur quickly dragged me to the tree where the poodles had pissed and lifted his leg. I waved to the woman, but apparently she was no longer aware of my presence and skittered away.
We continued on. A slender man around my age with a mincing walk, whose sparkling leash pulled a small pedigree of Asian extraction, saw me coming and darted across the street as Wilbur continued to pull me along like a cork, even though I weigh 190. I finally reached the main drag, which was a-flow with Asian and European tourists, a few American tourists and locals, flawlessly tanned, sporting $200 haircuts and a thousand bucks of casual wear, who carried tote bags, cell phones and walked manicured mini canines almost as spiffy as their masters.
I noticed that the bejeweled dogs, like their masters, avoided eye contact and marched by an anxious-to-make-friends Wilbur and me as if we didn’t exist and were perhaps a plague. I admit to having worn a $3 pair of thrift store shorts and a dollar T-shirt, and haven’t had a haircut since last Christmas, and won’t shave until we go to the five-star French restaurant tonight, but still, in Cayucos, all us locals make eye contact with each other and our dogs, who are beseeching in their need for a pet, a nuzzle, perhaps a biscuit; while their masters engage in small town chit-chat, the dogs smiling and sniffing.
Up and down the main drag we plunged, big old Wilbur clearing a path as Carmel-By-The-Sea denizens (among the highest dog owning population per capita in the country) avoided Wilbur and me and scurried to the edges of the sidewalk and sometimes into the street! When Wilbur decided to take a shit at a manicured bush on the sidewalk, I was embarrassed, quickly pulled him away, and he was docile as I explained this was not Cayucos, this was Carmel-By-The-Sea, where there were no price tags on any items in any of the myriad galleries and boutiques, not even in the drug store, and it was low class and a poor reflection on your master to shit in the street, even if I did sport a poop bag.
Wilbur held on, though he did pee on everything (I saw no foo-foo poodles and rare breeds peeing) and we continued our prowl, making sure to journey in our rambunctious way to the end of the business section before starting back up the other side of the street, where a local cop on foot flashed us the stink eye as Wilbur lunged at a Cocker Spaniel with fur combed clear to his paws, the master wincing as I held him back.
Finally we veered off the crowded main drag and entered a side street and headed to a residential area, where Wilbur dumped a good load into a bush so dense I could not recover his turds, which was just as well, because I had no intention of toting around a bag of shit in trendy Carmel-By-The-Sea.
We emerged near the post office, across from Friar Tuck’s diner, to the side of La Dolce Vita restaurant, and spotted two park benches in a tiny area with one tree. I was limping badly at this point from recent knee surgery, and Wilbur was winded.
“Let’s take a load off our feet, Wilbur,” I said. “We still got a few blocks back to the room.”
We sat down, me lounging on the bench, Wilbur on his hind legs. Not ten seconds passed when I spotted a beautiful middle-aged woman coming out of the post office, perfectly coiffed, though dressed as if gardening. From across the street she smiled at us and reached into a very slick SUV and retrieved a package and headed toward us in full stride. Wilbur straightened, tail wagging frantically as the woman handed me a bag of treats and immersed herself in Wilbur, who lay his face upon her breast and gave her the needy, sad eyes. The bag held super-nutritional organic beef jerky.
“Oh what a beautiful Chocolate Lab,” she gushed. “What’s his name?”
“Oh, what a perfect name—he is a Wilbur.” She smiled at me. “I think Wilbur will enjoy his treats.”
“Well, thank you. Wilbur’s very pleased.” I fed him a beef jerky and he devoured it.
“Oh thank you, for letting me meet Wilbur.”
They hugged some more, but then she had to leave, wished us a good day, and drove off.
Wilbur and I headed back to our room. More masters and dogs avoided us. So what. Wilbur had chewed four treats and wanted more. When we reached the hotel and our room, I told Colleen everything, ending with the wonderful, beautiful Samaritan giving us treats.
“Oh for God’s Sake,” she scoffed, long suffering. “The woman probably felt sorry for Wilbur, the poor thing being with a homeless-looking, crazy old man.” §
Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he shares his beach shack with the million-dollar view with Wilbur, a rescue dog. Dell is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad who played professionally in the early days of baseball, The Ball Player’s Son.