The term "Creature of Habit" has lousy connotations.
Inevitably, it conjures up the image of some dullard, barely aware of anything, including his own existence, doing same old same old every day in his unchanging world till death do them part.
I object to that image. And well I should, being a 100 percent C.O.H. myself.
My objection isn't based on the stereotyping, but by how far it misses the mark.
For example, there's my morning routine. Each day I wake up as long after dawn as I can, perform my ablutions, and take the dogs out to perform theirs. Then I feed the dogs and cats, drink a bucket of Hammer, and thus fully caffeinated and somewhat functional, pile the dogs in the car and take them for their walk.
The walk is always the same. First, I park on Hope Street, right next to Ken Wilson Field, facing Petrova Avenue. Then we walk around the perimeter, clockwise, till we return to the car.
The ritual is as unvaried as The Baltimore Catechism, so it must be unbearably boring, right? Wrong!
Sure, it's the same route, but it's never the same experience. Each day I notice something I never noticed before. For instance, one day I saw black squirrels running around Jack Sweeny's lawn. This raised a question: I never saw black squirrels here when I was a kid, or even a few years ago, so how did they get here?
I started asking around and eventually got the answer (or at least AN answer) from Whispering Tom Dudones. According to him, Adirondack tree bark has darkened over the years, so the darker squirrel population increased due to better adaptation.
Another day I walk by a bunch of crows perched on the fence. Of course there are always crows on the fence; in fact, no fence seems complete without them. But as I learn, there are bunches of crows and there are bunches of crows. This bunch is a sextet - three adults and three juveniles, and they're giving a concert of sorts. They take turns - first the juveniles squawk, then the adults squawk, etc.
But the squawks are clearly different: The adults' are louder, deeper and more well, more adult. The juveniles' squawks, for all their energy and persistence, still labels them Adult Crow Wannabes.
OK, so maybe neither of my observations is earth-shaking. But they are unexpected and pleasant breaks from what others would consider mind-numbing sameness.
Granted most surprises on my morning walks are small, if not trivial, some can be real Head Rockers. My most recent was an HR par excellence.
It started as a mere blip - in fact, it almost didn't start at all. The mutts and I had almost returned to the car, when something half-buried in the dirt caught my eye. It was black and had red lines on it. I picked it up. It was a metal tag the size of a quarter, and when I brushed it off, I saw the lines were actually the drawing of a spider. I turned it over and on the back was engraved the name Sydney and a Vermont phone number.
It was obviously a dog's tag. But what was less obvious was how it got there. And what was least obvious was what I was going to do with it.
Clearly, the tag belonged to someone. But where that person was; whether they knew the tag was missing; and if they did, whether they gave a rat's rear about it, was anyone's guess.
I mulled over those things and finally decided to put the tag back where I found it. I figured maybe the owner would retrace their steps and find it, and amen to that.
The next morning the tag was gone. Great, I thought, another happy ending.
but only for the moment
I put the whole episode out of my mind till two days later when - lo and behold! - the tag reappeared maybe 10 yards from where I'd last seen it.
So now what?
I had only two options.
One was just to leave it where it was. After that, I could hope it'd vanish of its own accord. And if it didn't, I could ignore it till it got covered by leaves, snow and other detritus, and eventually pretend I never saw it in the first place.
My other option, the only ethical one, was to return it to the owner. But still I hesitated. Why? There was only one reason, one I didn't want to admit - ego.
Let's say I found out who the owner was and mailed them the tag. I imagined the scene: They open the envelope, see the tag and my note and say, "What kinda nut would bother sending me this crappy tag? Doesn't he have anything better to do than play in the dirt? He doesn't need to find a tag - he needs to find a life." And so on and so forth.
How the dog's owner reacted would depend on one thing - the tag's sentimental value. Because by any other measure - economic, aesthetic, utilitarian - it was just a crappy old tag. Sentiment changes all that, but how many people are ridiculously sentimental besides me?
Finally, I just did what should have - checked the reverse look-up directory for the owner's address, and when I found it, sent the tag along with a letter containing the basic W's. Then I put the whole episode out of my mind, where it stayed till just last week, when I opened my mailbox and found an envelope with a Vermont postmark.
Inside was a sentimentalist's Mother Lode.
First was a lovely thank-you card from Lynda, the dog's owner. Next was a note saying the tag had been on Sydney for 12 years and Lynda had indeed missed it. After that was a picture of two lovely boxers, lounging on a bed (a human's bed, lest you wonder) looking like it was just the manner to which they were accustomed. One was of course Sydney, and the other, Isabelle -cohorts in crime. On the back of the photo was a quote: "Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death, can erase our good deeds."
Both card and photo are now on my refrigerator.
The entire experience is forever in my heart.
And guess what? Had I not been a Creature of Habit, neither Lynda nor I would have had this wondrous adventure.
And perhaps even worse, Sydney would've been stuck with a new tag, of no sentimental value whatsoever.