You Just Never Can Be Sure
Thomas Calabrese –The Crest Recreational Park in Oceanside, California was never intended to be an off-leash dog park, but it evolved into one. I actually believe the City only put up the sign that read; All dogs must be kept on leash, as their protection from liability if some incident should occur. The police and humane society had higher priorities than monitoring this one park anyway.
There were the usual precautions that responsible dog owners took to avoid problems. They made sure that their dogs were socialized before releasing them. Different groups of owners came at various times throughout the day. Some preferred walking together along the circular path, others found a favorite area to sit, stand or play fetch. The late afternoon or early evening crowd, depending on the time of year, congregated at the southwest corner of the park. This was the greatest distance from the parking lot and next to the children’s playground.
On those rare occasions when a park-goer called to complain about the dogs being unleashed and notified the Humane Society or the Police and they showed up, the one word warning, ‘Leash!’ echoed across the grassy knolls and the dogs would be immediately restrained. By the time the officers exited their vehicles and walked across the large open field which was three hundred yards wide, owners were sitting or standing innocently with their pets leashed, in full compliance with the city ordinance. After a cordial warning and the appropriate time to watch the officers drive off, things returned to normal.
I know what you’re thinking. These were a bunch of lawbreaking individuals whose actions were devious and deceptive. Of course, the pet owners had a different perspective, they were content that their dogs were having fun. Since no harm was being done, there was no reason to over-complicate things.
The years passed and while the original intent may have been exercise for the animals, it soon became evident that the owners looked forward to the park almost as much as the dogs. Anniversaries and birthdays came and went, some couples got married and others got divorced. There were promotions, raises, demotions, bonuses and transfers. Some companies went out of business and others expanded.
Marines and their families moved into the neighborhood after being transferred to Camp Pendleton, while others left for different duty stations. Some finished their enlistments and went back home with their dogs. A few stayed in the area and used their educational benefits to attend school and some found employment. Maybe this question is appropriate; what happens at the Crest Dog Park? Answer…Life happens.
These weren’t life-changing experiences, they were more like life-enhancing ones. What made this situation even more unique was that even when owners didn’t feel like going to the park, their dogs were always in the mood. Some would have a touch of the flu, a sore back, a bad day at work or were just exhausted to make the effort. Somehow, they found that extra motivation in the soulful eyes of their four-legged companions to make it to the park. You’d hear somebody lament, ‘I didn’t really feel like being here today but my dog wouldn’t leave me alone,’ and before they knew it, their energy level increased and their mood lightened up.
I suppose dog park social dynamics aren’t that much different from people who develop friendships in fitness centers, bars, book clubs, car clubs, etc. How do the lyrics from the theme song on the old television series, Cheers go? …‘Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came. You want to be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You want to be where everybody knows your name.’
Another unusual aspect of these friendships is that people could create an alternate identity if they desired to. Nobody was going to make the effort to verify or even act remotely suspicious about the veracity of any statement as long as it is kept in the realm of even remote possibilities.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it affected people differently at the park, just as it did most people in the world. The younger people who traveled, attended concerts and patronized restaurants and bars on a regular basis found their lives drastically altered, since most of their recreation had been abruptly taken away. The older people and individuals who were less adventurous or socially inclined, only had to make a few minor adjustments. The Dog Park didn’t change, it was the one constant in everyone’s lives.
There’s something about nicknames that has always intrigued me. Sometimes it has to do with the person’s name and other times it has to do with their occupation or hobby. A nickname can be derived from a person’s unique behavior or it can mean exactly the opposite of the individual’s abilities. It’s like an inside joke where you have to be there or know the person to truly appreciate the nuances of their nickname. You don’t want to use a nickname that is demeaning, insulting or makes the person feel bad about themselves.
I remember one incident when I was a boy and one of my friends had a younger sister and brother and their names were Diane and Mark. The nicknames weren’t really nicknames, they were just different names. We began calling them Delores and Mortin, nothing too creative or imaginative, but what made this situation so interesting was one day after school when Diane and Mark were in the backyard playing and their mother called to them to come in. They continued to ignore the maternal order until their mother screamed, “Delores! Mortin!” This immediately got their attention and when they came inside, their nicknames were forever etched into their existence.
Then there was the high school quarterback with a strong arm and heavy feet called ‘Fleet Pete’, an ironic label considering his lack of speed. Then there was the student who was short in statue and loved to play golf. His moniker became, ‘The Gulf Shrimp’. Enough about the past, let’s get back to the present and Crest Recreational Park. That’s where this story takes place.
The ‘One Upper’ was an elderly lady who was always quick to point out that no matter where you went or what you did, she went there first or did it better. ‘Mark of Death’ was a man well-informed about the ongoing statistics of Covid-19, especially the death count. His sidekick was ‘Skip-A-Rope’, whose stories left out key elements. ‘Nurse Ratchet’ was an emergency room nurse at Tri-City Medical Center. ‘Angel Eyes’ worked for a local optometrist. ‘Ichabod Interphase’ was studying computer science at Cal State San Marcos.
‘Travelin Man’, Enrique Nelson got his name from rock n’ roll icon Ricky Nelson’s song, ‘I’m a Travelin’ Man’ because he was half Hispanic and traveled to Mexico on a regular basis. ‘Dazzling Debbie’ designed earrings for a jewelry company. ‘Rip’ was a parachute instructor for the Marine Corps, and got his name from rip cord. There was the ‘Great Randini’ a former small time actor who relocated from Tinseltown. Add to the list, ‘The ‘Luca Geniuses’ a naïve couple who got the name Luca from their dog, Luca. ‘Life of Riley’ got her name from the old 50’s television show starring William Bendix, called, ‘Life of Riley’. She was always in an upbeat mood and even though she was young too remember the show, it still stuck. ‘Nails’ worked at Home Depot and Chef Girlyardee would never be confused with Chef Boyardee. Then there was ‘Rock Bottom’ who was always looking for the best deal and ‘Arnold Ziffel’ who loved anything with bacon. ‘Walking Dead’, because she was a big fan of the series of the same name. She would do four laps around the park before joining the others.
‘Captain Johanna of The Wild Blue Yonder’ was a psychologist with the Air Force. ‘Returner’ liked to go shopping on Saturdays, then return most of them on Sundays. ‘Numbers’ worked as an accountant for an Oceanside medical device manufacturing company. The ‘Guzzler’ was a seasoned happy hour veteran and could tell you where the best ones were from San Diego to San Clemente. Paige the teacher was called the ‘Book of Life’ and the ‘Narrator’ gave play by play commentary about the dogs’ activities. ‘Dogfather’ was Italian and brought pepperoni snacks for the dogs to snack on.
You’ve probably heard about Rob ‘Gronk’ Gronkowski, the football player and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, actor and former wrestler, but I bet you’ve never heard of the legendary ‘Guac’. He had five avocado trees in his backyard and was an expert on making Guacamole.
The months passed and the COVID-19 restrictions continued throughout California, as San Diego County fluctuated between purple, red, orange and yellow. Governor Gruesome, his nickname, wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer and while he was preaching about following the science, he was ignoring it when it conflicted with his own activities. He shut down businesses and took away people’s livelihoods while he was eating at the ultra-expensive Greek Laundromat in Calistoga, while continuing to receive a steady paycheck.
The people at the dog park took reasonable precautions and used common sense, but they still let their dogs play together. Governor Gruesome, had no credible scientific evidence when he told people to stay home, so when this career dictatorial politician talked about a lockdown, the park-goers ignored him. They would discuss the tiers and how it affected the other aspects of their lives, but that was all. Like I stated earlier, the police weren’t inclined to enforce the leash law, so they had even less interest in telling people to go home. Since the beginning of the pandemic, not once did a police officer come to the park and order anybody to leave. From 2020 to 2021, many Californians went from reluctant compliance to outright defiance and the dog owners were a small part of that rebellion. It wasn’t unanimous because a few decided to stay away and play it safe. It was their personal decision and everybody wished them well. When it came time to go, the basic response was ‘we’ll see you when we see you’….then they were gone.
The core group of the dog owners basically remained intact and not because they were reckless and refused to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation, but they refused be spoon fed a dose of political garbage.
There were many conflicting stories and suggestions from far too many ‘so called’ experts. Masks…no masks, zinc, Vitamin D, elderberry, blueberry, strawberry. It seemed that some dog owners had their own methods of increasing their immunity from COVID-19. The ‘Guzzler’ swore by the combination of Kombucha tea and tequila. ‘Guac’ said avocados were the secret anti-oxidant and was eager to share his recipes.
There were occasions throughout the year 2020 when dog owners mutually agreed to exclude two subjects from topics of conversation; COVID-19 and politics. After that, pretty much anything was open for discussion, like where to get the best take-out and who knew a good plumber, carpenter, tree-trimmer, etc.
The ‘Returner’ had been to Home Goods and told ‘Life of Riley’ about the good deals she found. ‘Chef Girl Girlyardee’ made it a deal to trade six of her signature fish tacos for a large bag of avocados from the ‘Guac.’ Off to the side, ‘The Great Randini’ was discussing war movies with ‘Rip’.
‘Captain Johanna of the Wild Blue Yonder’ was giving advice to ‘Angel Eyes’ about her daughter’s recent marriage. To put it simply, it was just another day at the dog park. When the opportunity presented itself, ‘Dazzling Debbie’ discreetly told the group that March 7th was ‘Nurse Ratchet’s’ birthday. It was mutually agreed on the following Sunday, everyone would bring something for an evening celebration.
The weather could not have been better, it was still warm at 6pm with a slight breeze blowing over the hilltop. The sun was slowly setting and the vivid colors of orange, red and traces of white clouds mixed in to create an artist’s dream. To the east, the faint presence of a full moon was visible in the eastern skies. The regulars got to the park an hour early to make sure the picnic tables were set up. There were additional snacks for the dogs as well. ‘Dazzling Debbie’ made sure ‘Nurse Ratchet’ was appropriately delayed by going over to her condo to solicit her opinion on a piece of jewelry she recently created. .. it was a credible ruse.
The checkered tablecloths covered the two picnic tables and plates of food were set out. ‘Chef Girlyardee’ handled the main course which consisted of fish, chicken and beef tacos. ‘Guac’ made three different kinds of guacamole and ‘Life of Riley’ made a pineapple upside down cake. The ‘Luca Geniuses’ brought various pastries. ‘Arnold Ziffel’ made bacon wrapped appetizers and ‘Guzzler’ brought the liquid refreshments. ‘Great Randini’ handled the entertainment by bringing some classic rock n’ roll on his cellphone. Everyone else brought something to eat or a gift for ‘Nurse Ratchet’.
It was a festive evening at the Crest Recreational Park and not just because of the birthday celebration, but because there were other groups in other areas of the park, indulging in various activities, playing catch, flying kites or socializing. About an hour into the birthday celebration, ‘Rip’ noticed several black SUV’s with darkly tinted windows pull into the parking lot. A dozen similarly dressed men exited the vehicles and entered the park. Apparently, he wasn’t the only person at the celebration to notice the men. ‘Rip’ began walking toward them and he was followed by the ‘Guzzler’, ‘Guac’, ‘The Great Randini’ and the rest of the group.
When the men began shooting at a family sitting on the grass, ‘Rip’ pulled out his Sig Sauer P365 and returned fire. When he looked to his left and right, he saw his dog park friends had their weapons out and were also shooting. Four of the attackers quickly went down, which discouraged the others. They made a hasty retreat to their SUV’s with their wounded comrades and raced off. The family was saved and when the dog owners looked at each other, they nonchalantly put their weapons away and went back to the birthday celebration.
The only comment came from the ‘One Upper’ who said, “My pistol holds more rounds than yours.”
It was later found out that the family that came under attack was currently in witness protection. They had been relocated from New York to Oceanside, after the father who was in Governor Andrew Dumbo’s (his nickname) administration, agreed to testify in a federal indictment against the power-hungry politician for falsifying the count for COVID-19 deaths in the state of New York.
The assassination team was picked up at San Ysidro border crossing and were part of the infamous Chinese Triad organized crime syndicate. The FBI interviewed those at the dog park and took their statement. The family was relocated to a safe-house in Eden, Utah and placed under the protection of an elite agent whose call sign was, ‘Snake’. He got that nickname from the biblical story about Adam and Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
It was back to the normal at Crest Recreational Park within a few days. The regulars never found a reason to discuss their weapons skills or that particular incident on March 7th. It goes to show you that no matter where you are or who you’re talking to, even if it’s Under the Dog Park Moon, you just never can be sure what people with unique nicknames are truly capable of.