Hitting the Streets with a Guide Dog

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I was breaking the rules. You’re supposed to go straight home after guide dog school and remain in your own neighborhood for at least a month. I went home for a few days and then hit New York. 

 

If bonding was to have meaning it would necessarily involve taking on the world. Going to the city I was refusing to be timid. Timidity could easily overtake me—I had always been such a localized blind person. I wanted to be like Morris Frank and cross New York’s crowded streets. 

 

Corky was telling me who I wanted to be. I was the man walking 7th avenue in waves of light. I was walking straight out of my spiritual flatness and depression. Even a stroll past a row of ruined storefronts—dead electronics wholesalers, failed restaurants, a tattoo parlor with a cage for a door—even these stretches of capital’s broken dentistry didn’t phase us. Walking was new and was filled with realizations step by step. 

 

Bonding. Love realized. Love going everywhere with you. Love beside you on a bus. Love in the tiniest entrances. Being released into the world with a dog was positively erotic. My daily sense of failure was being replaced by ridiculous levels of joy. 

 

The poet Kabir said: “When one flower opens, ordinarily dozens open.” I was getting it.

 

**

 

We got up early.  We met a policeman on horseback in Union Square. “Jesus,” he said, “that’s a great dog!” “Jesus,” I said, “that’s a great horse!” We laughed. I thought, “what is most alive in us comes out by chance.” I also thought, “sighted people must know this.” I’d been missing out on chance! 

 

**

Kabir again: “If you have not lived through something it is not true.” I felt the enormity of my entrance into a true life. On our second bonding day in New York we rode the subway to Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan to see “The Cloisters”—the Metropolitan Museum’s replica of a medieval monastery.

 

We took the A Train to 190th St.—a trip that would have been unimaginable just a month before. People on the train loved the sight of us. An old man said: “That dog looks strong as a tree!” And she did look strong. I could feel Corky’s strength in large and small ways—through her harness, and when she was simply lying at my feet on a rocking train. Power and contentment are the same. And that was the first time I’d ever thought about it. And lots of things were coming loose in my head. At 18, terribly closed within myself, I went alone to a Duke Ellington concert staged in a hockey arena at the University of New Hampshire. The year was 1973 and there were probably only one hundred students in attendance. At intermission suddenly, there, standing before me was the Duke himself. He shook my hand. Said: “How do we sound tonight?” I said, knowing just enough, “you sound like champagne, sir!” And now I was brave, riding the A Train, getting someplace, getting down into the sharp and joyful. 

 

At 190th St we took the M4 bus about a block. Poof!  We were in the middle ages.

Seeing very poorly is still something. We were going to visit the unicorn tapestries, man and dog. We were in a quest. Corky was pulling hard, happy with the day. 

The tapestries depict a hunt for the unicorn, a creature all school children know. We were early at the Cloisters and a guard offered to describe things for me. With a dog and a kindly stranger I entered the sparkling world of a unicorn hunt.

 

In the last panel a unicorn, half goat, half narwhal, glowing like the moon, sat under a pomegranate tree, radiating magic against a backdrop of stars. 

 

“He looks like he knows you’re watching,” said the guard. “And he doesn’t care. They may have caught him but he’s pure magic!” 

 

I thought of the Zen poet Basho: “Scarecrow about the hillside rice fields, how unaware! How useful!” 

 

I was free. 

 

**

 

Riding back downtown on the subway I thought about unicorns while hugging a dog. Certainly magic has a bright horn and runs fast. I wanted to dance around the railway car.