One-Point-Eight in the Morning

August 31, 1994|By ISAAC REHERT

Some people crave variety, others of us are satisfied with sameness. Some people are forever searching for a new way, a way they've never gone before; others of us are happy doing it the way we've always done it. It takes, I am glad to say, all kinds.

Walking with my little dog, I have a fixed routine. It pleases me, and I think it pleases him. His manner as we walk together -- his steady stride, the proud way he holds his shaggy head and tail -- seems confident, happy. As for me, I believe I could find the way with my eyes shut, as if my feet all these years had been carving ruts in the road. If something happened to me I'm comfortable he'd have no problem finding his way home without me at the other end of his leash.

Our time is first thing in the morning. Clock time varies -- now that I'm retired I don't keep a rigid schedule -- but our walk through the neighborhood is still, unvaryingly, the first activity of the day.

We start out down the hill past the apartments, turn left at the school and then right, around the red brick building. To the grass circle and through it, past the Park Department bench that used to be a tribute to the former mayor but now merely proclaims a ''reading zone,'' down past the block of town houses, and then back.

It's exactly 1.8 miles -- I've clocked it with the car. At a brisk pace, it takes 35 minutes. Dr. Paul Dudley White, President Eisenhower's physician, used to say for your heart's sake you should walk your dog every day, even if you don't have a dog. People who don't know us sometimes comment, ''taking your dog for a walk, are you?'' When I'm in the mood, I answer, ''No, he's taking me.''

But in truth, not many people along our route don't know us. That's one of the joys of sameness: people do know you. The woman with the little Yorkie behind the big fence knows us as we walk by and her little fellow yaps and yaps at Rags through the gaps in the palings. When we first started, years ago, she was apologetic. Now, she just looks down lovingly and forgivingly at little yappie Yorkie and shakes her head. She knows Rags and I aren't intimated or angry.

We don't always promenade at exactly the same hour, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant, I've read, used to do. When he passed, people would reset their watches. They can't do that with us.

Some mornings, when school is in session, we pass at just the right hour to watch the janitor raising the American flag on the chalk-white flagpole. There still are not many children around to make a rumpus, so it's quiet enough to hear the soft metallic bong where the pulley strikes and bounces against the steel pole as the red, white and blue rises jauntily to the summit. The janitor, a gray-haired woman, knows us and waves a friendly greeting.

If we're a little later, we meet the children walking to school, the little ones hand-in-hand with their mothers, the older ones making the trip on their own. Early in the school year, we can recognize timidity, the dubious way the little ones approach the school. Later, we can see they're more comfortable, even eager, excited. If we were more observant, over the years, we could tell when that momentous passage from anxiety to ease and adventurousness takes place, but we haven't been. Something we might train our minds to in the future.

The houses in our neighborhood are mostly little red brick square single-family dwellings, and it takes a little while, if you don't look with that purpose, to distinguish among them. But gradually, differences do appear. Some, on their porches, have gliders; others have folding lawn chairs. Some have little trees on their lawns; with others it's just grass. An occasional end-of-group with an especially large yard has a top-of-the-ground round plastic swimming pool. At our early hour we don't see anyone swimming.

When the weather's torrid, as so much of it has been this season, we don't see many people on their porches. But as soon as it cools off, as it has done a little bit today, there they are, worshipers of outdoors, sitting, lounging, chatting over a cold drink. We wave as we pass and say hello, as if we know them, and they wave back as if they know us. In a sense they do, and we do.

There are always birds. We take casual note of what's in season. In the spring it's robins -- whole flocks of them -- bobbing on lawns and piping from trees and house cornices before they settle down for the summer season to the routine job of raising their families.

Right now it's finches; they seem to stay all year, like the house sparrows. And mockingbirds -- especially mockingbirds -- that settle over the rooftops on the uppermost rung of TV antennas and shout their way through their bounteous repertoires. Not long ago I saw what I thought were a pair of towhees and stalked them into somebody's yard, but lost them there.

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