The Blue Dog
Dear Phantom Reader,
Have you ever done anything you regret? I don’t necessarily mean the bigger stuff, like breaking someone’s heart or betraying a friend, which of course you’d never do. I mean those little things that seemed harmless at the time or were based more or carelessness that callousness. I think we all have these stories. Here is one of mine and the physical proof.
When I studied music at Mills College back in the late 90s, I was determined not to get into debt. My father was completely obsessed with money and absolutely horrible with managing it. I had seen first-hand the chaos poor money management brings into your life, not to mention the emotional control those who have money can wield, in this case my father’s parents, but that topic is too large a can of worms to open up in this modest little post.
So anyway, I got a meagre scholarship and I took out a small loan to pay for school, and my father did the same. But it was far too expensive to live on campus, which meant I had to live at home. I studied full-time and worked full-time, selling romance novels and true crime mass market paperbacks at third rate mall bookstores or slipping Hush Puppies, glittery ballerina flats or Timberlakes onto the sweating feet of children at an upscale children’s shoe store. 40 hours at work, and the rest of the time at school or in the practice room meant I didn’t have time for much of a social life, but luckily I was mostly too tired to notice.
To give myself that college student feel I was missing, I spent most of my study time at one of the many cafes near the UC Berkeley campus. I loved the buzz and chatter of these students, in their early 20s like I was, but likely living more carefree lives. Or maybe not? Who was I to assume. At least I made room in my budget for endless cups of coffee. My meals I mostly brought from home.
One day, tired of the cafes lining Telegraph and Bancroft Avenue, I walked down College Avenue in Oakland instead. Before heading to a cafe to study, I wandered into an antique shop I had never been to before. Although the shop mainly had antique furniture there also was a small shelf of home decor. On that shelf was this little blue dog.
I instantly fell in love with him, with the color and the little details like his exposed ribs and the curve of his tail. My love must have been obvious because the shop owner soon came over and talked to me. The dog was from pre-war China and was being sold together with the little statue of a Chinese woman sitting beside it. The price for both together was $20.
I told him I was really only interested in the dog but he said he was only willing to sell them together. I told him I didn’t have 20 dollars on me. Would it be possible to put the set on hold? If I saved up my coffee money for a couple of weeks, maybe I could have splurged, although the truth is, I probably would have never come back.
But what the man said was, “You seem like such a nice and honest person. Why don’t you take the figurines and bring me the $20 some other time.” I took him happily up on that offer and planned to come back sometime soon when I finally had the cash.
I did mean to go back and never doubted that I would. As broke as I was, I still could have scrounged up 20 bucks. But College Avenue was a bit off the path from the places I usually went and I was working and studying full-time. I never did make it to the shop to pay for my little dog.
When I moved to Berlin a year or so later I still thought about the nice gesture the man had made and about how I wanted to make it right. Sure, it had been a while, but maybe I could send the money anonymously or send a family member or a friend by his shop to settle the bill.
One day, when I was visiting California I decided to finally settle the debt. I went to College Avenue, $20 in hand, not caring if the man got angry (not that likely) or didn’t even remember me (more likely). He had shown me a random act of kindness, and I wanted to make things right at last.
But when I got to where the shop had been I saw that it had gone out of business. I hope the reason wasn’t because of the man’s naive kindness to strangers like myself. Either way, this post is a small gesture to say I’m sorry. The little Chinese woman figurine broke years ago, but I still have my little dog.
Until I had my kids, I was sure the perfect life was one you could live out of two suitcases. Two suitcases filled with all you hold dear, all your other things objects that can be left behind at any time with no regrets. Although I live a much different life now, I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever return to this philosophy later in life. How many of the things I own now do little more than weigh me down? Probably more than I even realize.
But if I did ever pack up those two bags and go again out into the world as I did when I left California and the loneliness of my (at least debt free) college days behind, that little blue dog will definitely come with me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll still find some way to pay for him after all those years. He deserves nothing less.