(With apologies to Harlan Ellison for the title)
Sept. 16 | Day 10: We got up early on our last full day in New Orleans and walked over to Café Du Monde, where the beignets and cold milk are the best, and cut through Jackson Square on the way back.
The Square1 is crowded with tourists, street vendors and what looks to be homeless people, who’ve taken the lead in commandeering metal park benches that line the street.
Linda wants to look at some shops along St. Peter Street and I investigate one or two myself and find high-priced stuff I don’t need. She’s in someplace that sells linen or something and I’m dawdling on the sidewalk when I hear raised voices across the street behind me.
I turn to see a group of six or seven apparently homeless guys on a bench angrily yelling at another guy nearby, also apparently homeless, with a medium-sized black-and-white dog. The dog owner is folding up a sheet of plastic.
“Don’t you hit that dog!” one of the bench dwellers says to the owner.
“That is not cool, man!” says another.
The owner says nothing. I’m standing there trying to figure out what’s happened. The dog is on a leash and is following the owner, who’s finished packing his stuff and is walking off. The dog — and this is important to me — does not seem cowed or afraid.
The bench guys, briefly united against a perceived cruelty, settle down.
Linda returns and I tell her what happened, adding that I did not see the guy hit the dog and that the dog seemed okay.
We walk around the Quarter for a while longer, trying to savor this last day, knowing we’ll suit up and head into Mississippi on the motorcycles tomorrow.
But now there’s a nagging thought at the back of my mind as we range from Chartres to Royal to Bourbon Street and beyond. Is that guy abusing his dog?
Linda and I have two dogs and four cats back home at Starbase 8 in Virginia. So we love dogs and cats and the notion that there’s a dog suffering out there on Jackson Square starts to consume me.
We make a reservation at Irene’s Cuisine for that night, our only dinner in the Quarter. We’ll walk there, of course, but now I have an idea.
“This is going to sound crazy, but I want to go by Jackson Square,” I say to Linda. “Let’s see if we can find that guy and his dog. I want to know.”
My understanding wife consents to this ridiculous reconnaissance. Night falls as we regain the square, still sprinkled with tourists, and we walk the length of St. Peter Street twice under streetlights.
“We’re probably not going to find them,” I say, resigning myself to it, and suddenly, there they are.
There they are. We sort of surreptitiously follow them for a short distance — I want to see the relationship between the guy and the dog.
He’s a young guy, middle 20s, I think, and there doesn’t seem to be any abuse going on. We approach by asking about the dog, what he is, his age and that sort of thing. Linda pets the dog, who looks happy.
The guy thinks his dog is a mix of Dalmatian and some other breed. He came from friends who couldn’t keep him. The guy says he was living somewhere but has been on the street for a while.
“Would you have some change you could give me?” he asks, and I make the biggest mistake of the New Orleans ride and give him three measly dollars from a pants pocket, not wishing to pull out my wallet on the street.
He takes it with thanks but I sense he’s a tad disappointed that it’s not more. Or maybe that’s my projected guilt.
Linda gives the dog a final pat and we say good-bye and watch them disappear into the night. The intersection ends there; we go to dinner and back to our lives, and he and his dog continue with theirs.
I’m relieved — greatly relieved — that the dog is okay but I kick myself a hundred times for not giving more to his owner. I’ve failed to live up to the example set by the baseball cap gentleman in Selma, Alabama, six days ago. All because I didn’t want to take out my wallet.
Later that night, I offer a bit of karmic atonement by donating online to the New Orleans Humane Society. But it isn’t enough.
The next day, two guys — the first with a baseball cap, the second with his dog — haunt me as I pack up the bikes. They stay with me as we ride north toward Hattiesburg, Miss., to pay tribute to a U.S. Navy pilot who died in Korea 67 years ago.