DON’T POOP UNDER THE LAUNDRY LINES

“Please don’t poop under the laundry lines.”

Of course, that’s exactly where the dogs wish to poop. With so many interesting smells around, why shouldn’t they add theirs?

Bernie loved to clean up dog poop in the yard. I wish I had a photo of him doing that. There are thousands of photos of Bernie, yet there isn’t a day when I don’t think of some episode or other and say to myself, I wish I had a photo of that. The photographer Peter Cunningham followed Bernie over decades in different realms of his life—street retreats, Greyston Bakery, Auschwitz, family occasions, searching for traces of his family in pre-Holocaust—and death (Bernie’s body lying inside the oven of the crematorium seconds before I pushed the button, and before that family members writing him messages on the cardboard casket in which he lay).

But did he get that all-important photo of Bernie cleaning up dog poop? No, he did not.

So let me do this with words. Imagine the man in his daily robes: blue jeans, a Hawaiian shirt, suspenders, and sneakers, with his iPhone, cigar, and a pen in his breast pocket. A voice calls from upstairs: “Bernie, don’t forget the dog poop!”

“Oh what a good idea!” says he.

“Scooper is in the garage.”

Who else but Bernie dresses for collecting dog poop? He searches in the closet for his red beret and the proper outdoors vest. Then he opens up a cigar, trims the edge, and plops it into his mouth as he gets the scooper.

Outside, he takes a few extravagant puffs, watching the smoke go up to heaven, and makes his way to the laundry lines, home base. He’ll always find something under the laundry lines. After that it’s a slow circle to the northwest, checking the perimeter, around the chair on which he likes to sit during the summer, under the forsythia, around the Kwan-Yin who smiles at all the gifts the dogs have laid down for her, then further down to the shed, and back again.

He collects a few piles, then pauses, leans against the blue scooper, and contemplates the air. It’s dangerous to send Bernie to collect dog poop because his brain gets busy hatching new devices and plans. Once, long before we were a couple, we both sat at an airport waiting for a flight. “What are you thinking, Roshi?” I asked him after he hadn’t talked for a while.

“I’m thinking about the AIDS center,” he said, “and about the application for funding that we sent in to HHS. I like to follow each scenario in my head. Scenario A, we get the funding. If we get the funding, 3 sub-scenarios about how to use the money. Each of those have different scenarios, too, so I like to follow that in my head. I think I can do that till about the 8th sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub scenarios. Then there’s Scenario B, if we don’t get the funding. That too has sub-scenarios: we stop the work completely, we just do the building, we limit the number of people we take to start with, we cut down on something else in order to keep this going. Each of those has sub-scenarios, too, and each of those sub-scenarios has sub-sub scenarios, and I like to see how many I can keep track of in my head.”

I never asked again.

Cleaning dog poop is the best place for him to do his endless cogitations, and I think of him standing in the middle of the yard, leaning against the scooper, forgetting what it is he’s supposed to be doing, puffing on his cigar, watching the smoke disappear into the air like so many of his ideas and plans.

Did it bother him that they disappeared like that? I don’t think so.

“No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”

You could find the no-trace in the piles of dog poop I’d find after he came home, leaving a stump of unfinished cigar at the bottom of the garage stairs, taking off his red beret and vest.

“There’s still poop out there,” I’d point out.

“You have to leave something for next time,” he’d tell me.