The Girl in the Park

by Paul Morantz, copyright 2010

I was camped in Androssen, Scotland, 1970, watching the sun set from the beach sand.  I had no idea how cold the winds would get and by late night I would be inside the public bathroom for warmth.  Like a homeless man I had to awake occasionally to the noises and smells of buses stopping  and tourists using the latrine.  I was so happy for the morning warmth that led me to exit that smell.

They key moment was before the cold, when the sky was orange and gray. I left my down sleeping bag to approach a family by the water that had my curiosity.  It was the black and white dog leaping into the ocean after a Frisbee, running with the kids, perpetually happy.  The first Border Collie I ever saw.

I was to learn they were bred long ago by taking the best working dogs along the Scottish-English Border. The real Lassie in the famous book was a Border Collie.  I snapped a photo and showed it to a girl friend, Kimi Moore Peck, who was at that time writing the screenplay Little Darlings.

Border Collies then were hard to find. The AKC would not recognize them, the rumor being they feared BC’s would then dominate Frisbee and obedience competition. Eventually BC owners started their own registry.  But they were rare in the United States in early 1973 when I had to put down my child hood dog Troy, a poodle, who had been with me since I was ten.   

Kimi came by as a surprise and took me to a home in the Valley where I selected a female border collie pup I named Cresta after the street I was raised on.  While throughout the remainder of my life I would never be without a BC, Cresta’s life was short.  She was run over 10 months later and died in my arms.

Kimi helped me find another, Devon and when I read the parents of Cresta had another litter I came home with Tommy expecting to give Devon away.  But when they came for Devon I could not do it.  Instead I moved to a tiny house in Culver Blvd that had a yard and cost $70 a month.  With Cresta, I had the practice of coming home from work and taking her to Rancho Park, along Pico Blvd. east of Overland.  There was a group of us that let our dogs run free and play sans leashes (although sometimes we were raided by the dog pound).  We all became good friends.  I continued to come regularly with Tommy and Devon.  They loved the park, and the beach, too.

And so one day at the park, while my dogs frolicked with the pack, I met the girl.

I no longer remember her name.  I believe it started with a “D”—Debbie maybe.  The last name was not one I heard before and had several syllables. She was about 5’5” and was wearing I believe blue genes.  Her blouse was light.  Her hair was dark, eyes blue and skin white; more cute than beautiful. Snow White like. And of course she had a small dog. I have struggled most of my life to keep her image. Today nothing is really left except a glimpse of her to my left as we walked and an image of her as we faced each other as it was time to part.

I remember really nothing of what we said other than we talked non-stop as we walked together around the park.  There was the usual first meeting stuff, a lot of talk of dogs, about what we did, our goals, ideals and dreams.

At USC I had a lot of great girlfriends.  While it was fun to date around a lot, the truth was I was a closet romantic. I had been ready to meet the right girl since I was 20 and was disappointed I had graduated still single.   Yet– as clearly as anything I ever knew– after that hour and a half walk around the park the search was over.  Decades later there would be internet dating services and match shops thst if they existed then and we had filled out questionnaires everything would match.  I knew it.  In the park I had find the girl.  I doubt she could ever guessed it but my decision to marry her was made.  It took just 90 minutes.

For almost unexplainable reasons I never asked for her phone number. I gave her my card which had mine and invited her to dinner that Saturday.  She said she would let me know but she might have plans to be out of town with her parents. For some reason I was too shy to ask for her number, and didn’t think it was so important to ask for so soon when assuredly we would be meeting in the park afternoon after afternoon.

But I never saw her in the park again. She never called and I’m sure she must have believed I could have found her. But every thought of spelling of her last name could not be found in any telephone book or by any information operator. I drew a picture and tacked it on park trees like a wanted poster. Her description was given to all my dog park friends.  I theorized that maybe she walked her dog in Cheviot Hills around Rancho Park and had just turned into the park that day. So I used similar time periods to drive around Cheviot Hills looking. Eventually I accepted it as hopeless, considering even that she may be avoiding me for sensing my interest and not wanting to hurt my feelings. She did have my card.

About 4 months later as Christmas approached I opened an envelope– another card from another friend I thought.  But this was to be different. It was from her. She asked if I remembered her, saying that once we had met and walked in the park. She even remembered the names of my dogs, Tommy and Devon.   It was clear from her writing that she had been expecting I would call, her assuming somehow I had the means. I put the card down. I was the happiest man on earth and did an imitation of Gene Kelly Dancing in the Rain.

But my celebrating stopped abruptly as it had begun. Neither the card or the envelope had a return address or telephone number. I returned to hunting for her in the park and Cheviot Hills with no luck.  Five years later when I would be hospitalized by Synanon’s attempted murder on my life and the notoriety brought in daily bags of mail from friends and well-wishers, each day I hoped that I would find one from her. After all a photograph of me, Tommy and Devon had appeared in the Los Angeles Times.  If she saw it, I thought, maybe she will write again.   But it didn’t happen.

I often think there was something more I could have done, if I could go back in time I would have hired a professional. In time the movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills was released starring a border collie named Mike. The movie put Border Collies on the map and today they are the dogs most used in movies and commercials. Now recognized by the AKC they also win all the trophies. I have since owned Olivia, Nicki, Starr and Glory.

So why write this? Who knows? I hope that she had a good and wonderful life, and that if a miracle can happen that somehow this finds her just—like a message in a bottle set free on an internet sea. Maybe one day some how she surfs the web. Maybe she still remembers my name. Maybe she too still has fading images of that boy in the park who she never knew so desperately tried to find her.