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It's Nelly's World

Good Medicine

alec vanderboom

One day, there were two people who didn't know what they had gotten themselves into. (Actually, every day of recorded history there are two people who don't know what they're getting into, but that belongs in another story.) They had brought home a little puppy, and it might as well have been that they brought home a small ocelot.
They neither understood her, nor she them. They certainly didn't know what they could do about the fact that she stayed up most of the night chewing on electrical cords and the legs of the furniture and sometimes the legs of the people themselves.

Finally, it was time to call in the authorities. The one who showed up at their house took five minutes to assess the situation. She clearly understood ocelots.
She pronounced the remedy: "What you need is the Park Cure."

The next day she showed up in her car at 7:30 in the morning and drove the woman and her wild animal a few blocks away, into a world of green. This was another place entirely, one the people had vaguely known existed--they had probably walked by it, and maybe even through it, once or twice--but they had by no means known what it really was. It was a new universe separate from the one in which they had previously lived. It was to become home for the woman and her dog. For one thing, it would be a living National Geographic special on domesticated animal behavior into which she'd step every morning. She learned many, many things. And it would also be an education in human behavior, too, which was far more convoluted and strange than anything the dogs could concoct, even with their sudden alliances and just as sudden antipathies. At least they would handle these directly, quickly, and decisively. The same could not be said of the way the humans did things.

The place where the Park Cure was effected was Brooklyn's Prospect Park, an Olmsted-Vaux park every bit as beautifully drawn as Manhattan's version. In those days, though, it was not as renovated as it is now, because the Big Money had yet to migrate over the East River as it has recently done, with its imperative for the fixed-up and polished. In those days, it belonged solely to the dogs and their people, who wandered every morning its derelict fittings and rotted bridges, its overgrown plantings and scary corners. Oh, forgive me. Those were inhabited by others: the homeless and the shady, so it was not only the dogs and their people. The dogs would find the only things the homeless had to give to the world, underneath the bushes, and so the people would have to take their dogs home right away and bathe them several times. As for the shady, every once in a while a dog would find one of their leavings, with the coroner coming after.

The people would walk slowly, talking, and the dogs would race and play. And that was all there was to the Park Cure. The puppy would go home exhausted, and sleep instead of chewing everything in the people's apartment. The people were happy.

Among the woman's allies in her new pack was a nurse, who had a beautiful ringing laugh, and who brought needles so she could give the dogs their inoculations in the park, which made them much happier than being dragged to the vet's office and pricked there, without the solace of their friends and the beautiful green world around them. It made the people happier too, to not have to pay the vet for the disadvantage. Another was a man whom, the woman realized, she could only have encountered in this place, and so she was to remain grateful to the park forever for making this impossible meeting possible. The park was the small pointed oval where the circle of the man's life coincided with the circle of the woman's. This former boy of the streets of the Bronx was known informally as the Mayor of Prospect Park, and he was there every day, rain or sun, ice or heat, with his gold dog Daisy, whose name would soon be black under the skin of his arm, when she too went the way of all of us. Daisy was what we came to refer to as a Brooklyn Shepherd, a very particular and prized breed.

The packs, human and canine both, sometimes changed their shape and size, expanding or diminishing as people came and went, as people do. The core remained hard and true, though, and they soon could no longer tell whether they needed to go to the park every day for their own sake, or for their dogs'. They couldn't tell the difference, because there was no difference.

The woman would carry the friendships, and the memory of those mornings that felt very much like freedom in a physical form, wherever she would later go.

The varied terrain, the winding paths and open vistas, the copses and reflecting pools, the swans in the water (and occasionally moving to attack the dogs), gave definition to the morning walks, as the parts of the day do to a life. There was real and wild beauty here, even if it was devised by the hand of man. The same could be said for the dogs themselves, made from the clay of nature but shaped by us. And then returned to nature again in a park.