Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You? (R)



On TV there were still stories I could sink into. Film noir, fast stories of desperate men and dangerous women. Betrayals in half light. And there were flesh-and-blood faces and friends who walked through those days, occasionally lifting me out of my self imposed retreat from Daphne’s happiness and direction. I hid too from the guilt of my recurring shameful thoughts, thoughts I could not and would not share with my best friend. But the retreat into fantasy wasn’t enough any­more; I couldn’t disconnect. The television’s comfortable offerings of make-believe were interrupted more and more frequently by glimpses of those bleeding children in the jungle and those dancing children in the streets of California. I couldn’t turn away.

The night everything changed was a real drencher, coming down in steamy sheets, misting off the pavement. Fred’s van shot through Providence’s back roads in an odd, uncharacteristic silence; its occupants together but isolated, by all definitions sober. Not that the four of us were tense   we had become by then tighter than family, there had simply come over us a slate gray cloud of discontent and restlessness. A heavy thunderhead bound to burst.

“Fred – watch out-!!”

It was Daphne’s voice that split the foggy silence in the van like captured lightning. Fred’s reflexes were equally abrupt, swerving the big green crate sharply out of the path of   whatever that four legged shape in the headlights had been. We shared a terrifying six-second spinout about which my clearest memory is of Shaggy actu­ally giggling all the way through it.

Once the rocking stopped and we each took jittery inventory of our wounds (none to be found), we scrambled out of the van only to discover it two wheels deep in a sodden ditch. It took Shag, Fred and I pushing from behind while Daphne worked the pedals to get the van back on the road; the wheels spitting mud and pebbles at us all the while. And we three, looking like refugees from some cheesy ‘50s horror flick, Night of the Mud Fiends maybe, had a silent, smiling audience to the whole slapstick fiasco. It’s somehow fitting that Shaggy was the one to spot him.

“Hey, pooch! Like, woof!”

Now, I would not presume to say that a two and a half-foot, sixty one pound Great Dane with a perpetually cocked eyebrow changed our four lives forever, but as Alice had her white rabbit so we had this unlikely guide into Wonderland. It stood across the road eyeing us with utter amuse­ment, its coat slick as an eel’s from the rain and its panting sounding for all the world like a giggle.

Fred was not laughing and very nearly took off the dog’s head with the tire iron for the damage his beloved van had suffered. Daphne calmed him down and Shaggy and I slowly made our way for the stray dog. We held out our hands and made babyish noises to keep the animal from becoming alarmed. We needn’t have bothered. This tall, lanky thing with big clumsy paws just sat back on its haunches and waited, completely unconcerned at our approach. Its tail even wagged.

Against Fred’s vengeful wishes, we coaxed the stray dog into the van. It hopped right up and took command of the space, doing a round of the perimeter, and shooting us a look of “Well? Coming or aren’t you?” Once we climbed in – Fred back at the wheel and Daphne turned around in her seat to take a gander at our new acquaintance – we shut the doors. And that’s when the dog started to shake the water off its hide in great, violent gyrations like a hula dancer on speed. Shag and I dropped back and used our arms to block just in time while the ever-lovely Daphne got a faceful. She was laughing and sputtering and the Great Dane’s expression suggested he was at least half as amused as we. It was five-way love at first sight. Well, maybe four-way. Fred took one look at the muddy paw prints tracked across his make-out mattress and just fumed.

“Alright. Let’s find whoever owns the damned thing.”

Providence is not that big a town so it’s not surprising we undertook a block-by-block, house-by-house, search-and-return mission on behalf of that name­less, faceless kid who would indubitably be crying his/her eyes out over his/her errant best friend. Mostly we were met with the kind of stares and terse politeness that one might reserve for the Manson Family. No, no one knew the dog and why would anyone in their right mind be carting it around in a downpour? After awhile we stayed in the van and simply drove in wider and wider circles, training one half-attentive eye out for “missing dog” flyers on the telephone poles that slipped past us in the wet dark. We turned on the radio, we hummed along, we kept driving.

Neighborhoods thinned, streets became interstates, there were no more telephone poles. We kept driving.

It was around the time that Rhode Island became Connecticut that it dawned on us what we were doing. And yet we never spoke it out loud. Say what you will about the frivolousness of our quest and the disparity of our eventual destinations, we never turned back. We kept driving.

Five thirty-five AM. Somewhere outside Rochester, NY, the slightest suggestion of salmon pink and royal blue stretched quietly along the sky’s basement and we rolled through the ghost hours in a cartoon-garden van, its shudder, bump, and rumble having lulled Shaggy and the dog to sleep with only us bleary-eyed gals to keep Fred company. Craning around to take in the picture, I had to laugh. Daphne, her eyelids drooping and fluttering, raised her head and assembled a ravishingly drowsy smile. We were looking at our new dynamic duo, the enormous clumsy beast wrapped up in the accommo­dating limbs of the other enormous clumsy beast. They both breathed in deep with a synchronized little wheeze. They both drooled. The sweetness of the scene was cavity-inducing. On an impulse I serenaded them in my best pseudo-Ol’ Blue Eyes with:

“Strangers in the night, exchanging glances, scooby-dooby-doo…”

The Great Dane lifted its head as if in answer and fixed me briefly with its blank, moist eyes before settling back onto Shaggy’s chest. From out of nowhere, Shaggy muttered, “He heard his name.”

Nothing else and his wheezing was rejoined.

The three of us over-laughed in the wired, frantic way that belongs to the wee hours. The cackle of the fatigued. We kept driving.

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