East Otis, Massachusetts, in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, is the kind of place that can be seen only from the air. Some wags—especially those who enjoy a little night life, ethnic food, and cable television—have observed that from the air is the only way to see East Otis. There is a reservoir, which everyone calls a lake, in East Otis; and my wife's parents used to have a cottage—two cottages, actually—on the lake. We repaired to this compound several times during the summer. The company was superb, the surroundings tranquil (except for the damn jet skiers), and dogs were allowed. Indeed, I could not say who enjoyed the lake more—Mary Ann and I or our five pugs—although they did grumble occasionally about the lack of good ethnic food.
The dogs all were curious about the lake at first, but none showed any interest in swimming, and all knew not to go too near the edges of the boat dock. The dock, roughly twelve feet wide and twenty-five feet long, extended out over water about four feet deep.
One Saturday morning in June, while the water temperature was still too low for swimming, we took the dogs walking by the lake. They had ventured onto the dock and were sniffing around when all of a sudden Hans, our youngest, who was just six months old at the time, did one of those things that are so stupefying they send time screeching into slow motion.
I was standing on the dock gazing idly over the water contemplating a lunch-time visit to the fast-food trailer that sold clam bellies across the lake. Clam bellies, for the food impaired, are to clam strips what aged provolone is to cheese food. In New England, where the Cabots (or is it the Lodges?) speak only to God, everyone leaves the bellies on the clams, because God put them there for a reason: They taste good.
As I was saying, while I was contemplating bellying up at the fast-food trailer with the tourists, Hans went into a crouch. That is when time began to creep, as Shakespeare once said, in a "petty pace." That is also when the internal music that serves as the soundtrack of our lives went dead. (What do you mean you don't hear music all the time?)
Even though the interval between the time Hans went into a crouch and what he did next was less than a second, it seemed as though enough time had passed to drive to the fast-food trailer and back. For sure, his life flashed before my eyes.
What Hans did next was hurl himself in the perfect approximation of a belly flop straight out over the lake. We knew his vertical leap was impressive. We had the scratches on our kitchen door to prove it. Yet we were not aware that his horizontal leap (political correctness prevents me from saying "broad-jumping ability") was equally impressive. As soon as Hans had disappeared beneath the surface of the lake with a splendid ker-plash, time did the weirdest thing. It went from s-l-o-w motion to fastforward in a rush. Without giving a thought to my personal safety, I yelled, "Quick, Hon, Hans jumped into the lake."
By that time Hans had turned around toward the dock. His stubby legs were churning the water purposefully, while his head floated on the surface like a huge muffin with two prunes for eyes. Hans, like many young pugs, had a touch of the east-west eyes then, and the last thing I saw before his head went beneath the surface of the lake a second time were the whites of his eyes, which were sweeping the sky like searchlights.
Mary Ann rushed to the end of the dock and began to remove her watch. "Quick, Hon," I said. "He's going to drown."
Forgetting about the watch, she jumped into the lake. When she hit the water, she made the kind of sound that someone in the shower makes when someone else in the house turns on the water in the kitchen and the water in the shower drops 50 degrees in a second. Only she made it louder. She also had this look of quizzical apprehension on her face that I had not seen since she approached the altar the day we were married.
Meanwhile, Hans had come back to the surface to see what all the splashing was about. Mary Ann lifted him up out of the water. I bravely grabbed him and placed him on the dock.
Later, friends of ours who own larger, more athletic dogs said we need not have been so worried. Hans would have made his way back to shore. At the risk of sounding argumentative, I must say that it looked to me as if the only thing he was making his way to was the bottom of the lake. Perhaps he was planning to walk ashore.
When Mary Ann emerged from the lake, she discovered that her watch was missing. The lake water being quite clear, we were able to make out the watch, a Timex, on the bottom of the lake. Somebody would have to go back into the frigid water.
Mary Ann changed from her sodden denim jumper into her bathing suit, donned diving glasses, and reentered Lake Hans. Five seconds later she came up from under water and handed me her watch. I held it triumphantly aloft and said, "See, ladies and gentlemen, it takes a soaking and keeps on stroking. Nothing in the world beats a Timex."