It was on a Saturday afternoon just over two years ago that I first noticed the man and his dog in the reading area of our local Barnes & Noble bookstore. It was obvious that the dog was a service dog, but the man did not appear to be blind or disabled, although he did not look quite well, either. Though I was dying to speak to the dog, give him a pet or two, I did not approach, for I know that you aren’t supposed to distract a service dog. The girls and I frequent this bookstore nearly every Saturday, weather permitting, except on weekends that daughter Chris has a band commitment, and I had never seen the man and his dog before that particular Saturday, yet several staff members appeared to know him well enough to greet both the man and the dog. After an hour or two, we left the bookstore and I put the man and the dog out of my mind.
The next Saturday when we went, there were the man and the dog again, in the same place. I noticed a little more, such as that the man had next to him a large tote bag, and every so often he would reach in and get a treat for the dog. The dog was mostly well-behaved, but occasionally curious about somebody passing by and as he started to follow them, the man would give the lead a little jerk.
And this was the pattern for the next several Saturdays. I learned the dog’s name before I knew the man’s, for occasionally the man would say, “Skipper … lie down”, but Skipper never spoke the man’s name. One Saturday early on, a young boy around 8 or 9 came into the bookstore and, as is the nature of a boy, he gravitated over to Skipper to pet him. The boy was of Middle-Eastern descent, a cute little guy with glasses as thick as Coke bottles, and while his English was quite good, he had a distinct accent. The man seemed to brighten in the presence of the boy.
As the weeks passed, the man, recognizing me as a ‘regular’, began to occasionally make a bit of small talk, and I learned his name was Chad. The boy, also, became a regular … his name was Mohammed. Mohammed and Chad bonded, and they each gave something of value to the other. Mohammed gave Chad, I think, a sense of purpose, and Chad gave Mohammed lessons in history, English, and just about any topic that came up in their conversations. And Mohammed loved Skipper.
Over time, our bits of ‘small talk’ progressed, and we would have robust conversations, often delving into politics, and of course the ‘man’ in the Oval Office. As we learned a bit about each other, I told Chad that I write a socio-political blog, but that these days it is more political than social, and I offered to email him a link to my blog, but he informed me he had no computer, only his cell phone, and no email address. He asked if I could print a few and bring them to him, which I did, and he said he enjoyed them very much.
We became friends of a sort, I sometimes took little treats for Skipper, and Chad offered to take the girls and I out for dinner one Saturday evening, but we had just come from the restaurant across the street. Chad always had a warm hug waiting for me. He could converse on nearly every topic imaginable, had traveled far and wide, and knew something about everything under the sun. He shared so much of this knowledge with Mohammed and it was heart-warming to watch them together.
Admittedly, sometimes the conversation was a bit more than I wanted, when I really wanted time to quietly peruse a few books, but Chad seemed so lonely that I never had the heart to walk away from a conversation with him. I discovered that he had no family nearby, he was 70 years old, his wife long since dead, and he had lived with his mother until her death, and that he was in very poor health. The reason for a service dog was that he frequently had seizures, and Skipper could detect them before they happened and warn him to sit or lie down. He was hospitalized a number of times during the year and a half I knew him, but he rarely missed a Saturday at Barnes & Noble.
Everybody … well, most everybody … loved Chad & Skipper. The staff at the Starbucks café loved them, the bookstore staff did, and most of the regular customers came to know and love them. People would wander over and chat for a few minutes, some even brought treats for Skipper. A few customers occasionally seemed annoyed at finding a dog in the bookstore, but they were the exception.
Christmas 2018 was just over a week away, and I knew we wouldn’t be going to the bookstore for a couple of weeks, so I brought a Christmas card for Chad & Skipper, and we talked for a bit. His daughter and son both lived in Florida with their families, and they had been trying to convince Chad to move to Florida where they could help him. He didn’t want to go, had lived in Ohio for most of his life, and yet, he really had no life here. His life was the public library and Barnes & Noble, for he spent every day, seven days a week at one or the other place, and yet, I rarely saw him with a book. He came there for companionship, for someone to talk to.
That was the last time I saw Chad & Skipper. When the holidays were behind us, the girls and I resumed our Saturday ritual, but for several weeks I didn’t see Chad. I finally asked a friend of mine who works at the bookstore, and she told me that they had gone to Florida for Christmas but would be back in the spring. It is now July, and they haven’t returned, so I’m pretty sure his kids convinced him to stay down there. I have only seen Mohammed once since then.
So, you ask, what is the purpose of this little story? Nothing, really, just musing on how sometimes people wander unexpectedly into your life, stay a short time, then they are gone, but yet they leave behind a little piece of themselves, a memory that brings a smile. I will always cherish the memory of that brief year-and-a-half, and Saturdays in the bookstore chatting with the man and his dog.