From my vantage point, the problem is obvious: the blind man wants to go up the stairway and his guide dog wants to go down. The solution is being negotiated — the man’s wagging his finger at the dog and the dog’s wagging his tail. The man’s lips are moving, but I can’t hear a word, me being inside looking out.
I’m sitting in my easy chair, red pencil in hand, manuscript in my lap. The blind man and his big, black dog are standing out on that skeletal staircase — more a fire escape, really, cast iron exposed to the elements. And tonight, the elements are blowing a gale off that great lake.
Looking out as I do, curious who’d be out on a night like this, I see the blind man trudge up the stairs, grabbing the railing with his right hand while his left holds onto his dog by its handle, its harness I guess they call it. The dog’s leading the man, pulling him, really, when all of a sudden the dog does a 180 and starts down the stairs.
I don’t know why the dog decides to head down the stairs, but he’s a Lab, so it’s food, probably. Or another dog, maybe. Anyway, when the dog swings around, I don’t know how the man’s shoulder doesn’t pop out of its socket. But it must not, because the man’s not howling in pain, which I wouldn’t hear anyway, but I’d sure see the look on his face. As it is, the dog nearly drags the man backwards, ass over teacup down the stairway. But he stays upright, hanging there, all splayed out like Christ on the cross.
When the blind man finally gets his footing, he lifts that dog’s front half clear off the ground by its harness and puts him back so the dog’s facing up the stairs. Then the man points up the stairs with his right hand. But no sooner does he put his foot on the next step up when, don’t you know, that dog does an about-face and starts down the stairs again.
Now I’m wondering if the blind man and his dog can agree on anything. And I’m curious what the man’s going to do next. Well, instead of giving the dog what for, with the finger-wagging and the harness-lifting, he sits down on the step and puts his head in his hands. And it looks to me like he’s either going to crack up or break down, so I’m thinking it might be time to call the cops or the SPCA.
Then the blind man reaches into his overcoat and pulls out this strap and fits it around the dog’s nose and fastens it behind his head. And the man does this real gently, all the while talking to the dog, which I can’t hear, but I see the frost coming out of his mouth. And the dog licks the man’s face and I see the frost coming from him, too. Then, they stand up and the man takes hold of the harness and the dog leads the blind man up the stairs and they get to Upper Michigan Avenue just as the #147 pulls up and they get on the bus and away they go.
Well, I watch all sorts of folks from my vantage point — drunks and cops, lovers and thieves. I’m putting them all in my novel. I write what I see: struggles for dominance. Handcuffs and nightsticks, headlocks and knives are currency in those transactions. I’ve even seen how a Taser quells the headstrong. But the blind man didn’t use that kind of paraphernalia and I for sure didn’t see any electricity or the dog’s hair stand on end.
No, the blind man only had that strap gizmo to calm his dog. Tomorrow, I’ll call around to zoos and animal places so they can clue me in on how that thing works. I reckon it’s just a muzzle-type what not, but it sure had a peaceable effect on that dog.
All of which leaves me pondering. What I’ve just seen — how once the blind man stopped the rough stuff and used his magical strap to get through to his dog — maybe is a metaphor for something bigger, something we can all learn from. Like how we humans can live together better, and animals too. I have deep realms to delve into. I’ll heat up some cocoa because a nice hot beverage helps me think things through.
I bear witness and testify about the world from my window. I’ll keep watching, watching for people and things I can put in my novel. I see them all from my vantage point — calm and furious, cowed and untamed, all who rise and all who fall on that steel staircase.