Like everyone else in my blue circle of friends, I was devastated on Election Night. Until now, I’ve not written a thing about my take on our new president-elect and the ugliness unleashed by his campaign, now amplified by his victory.
Suffice to say that as a lifelong civil libertarian, a person of color, the father of a gay daughter, and a progressive who expected our first female president would build on the policies of our first African American president, I was aghast that America instead chose an aging reality TV star to lead our nation.
The thought of this pretentious gasbag occupying the most powerful office on the planet for the next four years was appalling enough. But when I heard the names of Giuliani and Gingrich, and of Christie, Palin and Bannon being floated as Trump appointees, I got downright depressed, even fearful at the thought of what damage these hacks could do to our country.
And so it was that I found release in the most unlikely of places: a dog park.
Since Friday, I’ve visited the grounds of the former Washington High School four times with our little dog, Charlotte. It’s in Southeast Portland, about two to three miles from our home, but it’s become something of a refuge for us.
The big grassy lawn is bordered on three sides by a cyclone fence. There’s no play equipment, no ball fields. Just a big open area for canines and their humans to mingle in small groups or spread out for a game of fetch.
The high school closed in 1981 because of falling enrollment. It sat there for years, vacant and neglected, until three years ago, when the school district sold the building to a private developer with a vision for transforming it into a mix of commercial office and event space.
These days, a local grocery store chain is the anchor tenant, with administrative offices and community meeting rooms in the remodeled classrooms. The auditorium has become a concert venue — the much-acclaimed Revolution Hall — and creative agencies have moved in as well. There’s also a restaurant on the ground floor, aptly named Martha’s Cafe, with a few outdoor tables on a patio facing the dog park.
The first time we came, Charlotte found a fellow terrier named Sybil to run and play with. Sybil, a Humane Society adoptee, shagged the ball while Charlotte, a rescue dog herself, ran alongside, the two of them racing as if they were greyhounds.
The second time we visited, Charlotte made friends with Moose, a four-month-old pit bull with a wrinkled face and a clumsy puppy gait. Moose was no match for our Terrier-Chihuahua-Pug mix as Charlotte literally ran circles around him, occasionally darting between my legs as I stood chatting with Moose’s owner.
The third time, on Sunday, is when I realized this ordinary park had become a restorative place. There were no dogs around, just Charlotte and me. I unhooked her leash and we walked along the perimeter of the fence abutting Southeast 12th Avenue.
Like so many other places in Portland, there are homeless people camped out here on the sidewalks adjacent to the old school. It occurred to me that with all the bombastic talk of eliminating ISIS, dismantling Obamacare and building a wall, Washington, D.C., is the last place we can turn to for help dealing with our shortage of affordable housing, rising rents and increasing homelessness.
Our walk turned into a side-by-side trot, and then we moved to the middle of the field, with Charlotte zigging and zagging and romping with me as if I were a four-legged playmate. That’s when it dawned on me that she’d lifted my spirits and gotten my mind off the election.
The thought that this scruffy little creature, who was picked up on the streets two years ago, is now so happy herself and such a part of our lives made me appreciate the moment. Whatever darkness I was feeling about our nation’s drift to the right dissipated that afternoon.
It may not have been church, but I left the grassy dog park that day feeling as though things will be OK. Who knows if our president-elect will be a disaster or a stunning success? Either way, I know life goes on…and there’s nothing wrong with a small pleasure like running with your mutt, free of tension and focused on the moment.
I made time again this morning to take Charlotte to the park. There we ran into Diesel, a brindle boxer with a gray muzzle and a playful nature. I smiled again watching our little girl having a blast running with a dog four times her size.