The Koi Pond

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Embarrassing things happen in this life. Sometimes other people embarrass you, sometimes you embarrass yourself. Most of those times you sigh and feel glad that no one is watching - or worse yet - filming.

That was before the age of the cell phone, where every stupid thing you do ends up on You-tube before you can even get home to hide under the pillows in your bedroom. What's particularly bad - I mean utterly without redeeming value - is when you film yourself getting embarrassed.

I need to step back a bit before I go on. I live in the City of Austin in the Great State Of Texas. I know, say 'Texas' and you think of rednecks and cowboy hats, rodeos, and idiotic politics, but that's not Austin. If you are old enough to remember the Cold War, you can think of Austin as the Berlin of Texas - a small liberal blue dot in a sea of redneck red. Putting a Trump-Pence sign in your yard might get you picketed by the Homeowner's Association and probably garner invitations for psychiatric counseling at the neighborhood free clinic.

Persist in your aberration and you may end up joining the bums in a tent under the I35 overpass and hanging out on the street corners with a sign saying 'Anything Helps - God Bless.' Why is it all the street-corner beggars have to invoke God? I never could figure that one out.

OK, I may be exaggerating a little bit, but Austin is not your usual Texas city. Its motto is Keep Austin Weird and we Austinites take it seriously.

I was sitting on a stone bench in the Zilker Botanical Gardens, watching the koi swimming around and playing with my new toy. A while back I had a senior moment and left my camera tripod behind me somewhere. Please don't ask me where, if I knew that I would have gone back and gotten it. I did the next best thing and ordered a new tripod, and when it came it had a neat little doohickey to put your cell phone in so you could attach it to the tripod. Not only that, there was a little button that connected to your cell phone via Bluetooth so you could take pictures remotely.

I just had to try it out - I'm a technology junkie - so I set up my cell phone pointing at the Koi Pond in the Japanese Garden, sat on the bench with the little button in one hand and a paperback in the other, and proceeded to wait for something interesting to happen.

As it was a weekend, it didn't take long. A teenage couple came by and started hopping between the rocks in the pond, so I started the movie function and filmed the cute girl flirting with her boyfriend, who was trying to impress her by being macho.

A while later some kids came by and watched all the koi gather hoping for some food, but the poor koi were disappointed. Next a five-year-old hopping on the stones, then a couple of twin boys daring each other to jump in, then a gaggle of Asian tourists. Sitting still on my bench I don't think any of them realized I was taking their picture with my little magic button.

Things were just rosy for most of the morning as I enjoyed watching the people in the shade of the trees. Not exactly cool, however. As the old boys say down here, it's hot as a billy goat in a pepper patch. In midsummer temperatures of 100°+ are not unusual, but with the trees and the water it was tolerable.

I spied a family group heading along the path, Grandmother, mother, child in a shocking pink tutu skipping along and another child in a stroller. Then there was the biggest Saint Bernard I had ever seen. Zilker is dog-friendly, but mostly you see small dogs; Chihuahuas, toy poodles, that kind of thing. Sometimes even a lab or a golden, but a Saint Bernard? Don't they run around in the Alps with brandy kegs? What the devil was this big lunk doing in the heat of an Austin summer? It had to be roasting in that heavy coat.

As they neared I pushed the button and started filming, so I can exactly describe just what happened next. If I were to try to rely on my own personal memory I would have been hopelessly confused, but the camera doesn't lie.

Skipping child in tutu spies the brightly colored koi massed at the end of the pond and starts running. Saint Bernard notices running child and takes off after her, snapping the Grandmother's hold on the leash. Mother tries to speed up, but the uneven stonework of the path is too much for the baby carriage, so mother and child block Grandmother and they can't catch child in tutu.

Child in tutu arrives at end of pond and kneels down to 'pet the fishie,' declaiming her intent loudly for all to hear. Child in tutu actually manages to touch the fishie and is surprised by the slimy feel, thus child in tutu falls into the water.

At this point, an out-of-focus figure in jean shorts appears and heads for the pond, reaching for child in tutu. In the background, the Grandmother, mother and child in stroller are sorting themselves out while the Saint Bernard is rapidly approaching.

Child in tutu starts to panic so Jean Shorts figures what the hell, these sandals will dry and enters the koi pond, which is maybe eighteen inches deep. Child in tutu grabs on to Jean Shorts for dear life and Saint Bernard decides to join the fun, leaping into the koi pond. With the unerring directional sense of an Alpine rescue dog, Saint Bernard barrels into jeans shorts just as he stabilizes child in tutu and they all get a thorough dunking.

By this time, the koi in the koi pond are long gone, rightly assuming that whatever it was that fell into their pond was not food. Considerable splashing ensues as Jean Shorts once again rescues child in tutu while Saint Bernard doggy paddles about gaily. Jean Shorts places child in tutu on the brink of the pond just as Grandmother and Mother arrive with a highly bemused look on their faces, trying hard not to laugh at the plight of this stranger and the child in the tutu.

Mother offers Jean Shorts a hand and Jean Shorts exits water. Before anything much can be said, Saint Bernard exits koi pond and vigorously shakes off the water, soaking Mother before she can comment on Jean Shorts timely rescue.

Things might have ended there except for the duck.

Duck, you ask? Where did a duck come from? As the various characters in our drama start to introduce themselves a duck glides in and lands in the koi pond. A mallard duck, if you're curious, and it nestles its feathers together and starts to swim. Naturally, this excites the curiosity of the Saint Bernard, who found some inner hunting instinct more properly belonging to a golden retriever, so Saint Bernard once again dives into the pond to retrieve the duck.

This was complicated by the leash that was now securely wrapped around the Grandmother's wrist, so she naturally follows the dog into the pond. It was perhaps fortunate that Grandmother had released her hold on the baby carriage before the hunting instinct overcame the Saint Bernard so the child in the carriage remained dry. Externally, that is - no guarantees about the diaper as I didn't have time to check that out.

The duck quickly finds a reason to be elsewhere, leaving the disappointed Saint Bernard and the now dripping Grandmother standing among the lily pads. Hands on hips, the waterlogged woman glares at the Saint Bernard and says emphatically "Raleigh! How could you?!"

Child in tutu finds this exquisitely funny and begins to laugh in her high voice, which quickly spreads to Mother and Jean Shorts. Raleigh decides that he's had enough swimming and scrambles out of the now koiless pond, dragging Grandmother along as she still has the leash around her wrist. Jean Shorts captures the Saint Bernard before Grandmother ends up with brush-burns on top of soggy clothes and offers a hand to Grandmother, who accepts and exits the pond.

Grandmother and Jean Shorts stand clinging to each other, and Jean Shorts notices that Grandmother's eyes are directly in front of his. Grandmother apparently notices the same thing and gets a funny look, almost like she was going to kiss Jean Shorts. Jean Shorts notices and freezes a moment. The tableau breaks and reality comes tiptoeing back in, but something interesting seems to have happened.

On the soundtrack you can hear some laughter in the background as this entire farce had not gone unnoticed by others enjoying the day in the Japanese garden. Without further ado, Saint Bernard again shakes the water from his coat, drenching anyone within twenty feet.

All pretense of order has fled by this time, as the only one who is not thoroughly waterlogged is the child in the stroller, whose sun shade protected the tyke from flying freshwater.

At this point, child with tutu flings her arms in a deathgrip around Mother and tells the world how much she loves her mommy. Grandmother smiles and looks at Jean Shorts and says "After that introduction, I think I just may have to marry you, we've become so close."

"If you have a stock of nice, fluffy towels in your linen closet I just might accept."

"If I don't we could ask for them as wedding presents. You aren't taken already, are you?"

"I got taken to the cleaners once years ago and then got tossed back like… like a koi in a pond, I suppose."

"I see you excel at water ballet. Do you practice often?"

"I'm afraid the performance was improvised."

"Darn! I think we should get together and choreograph a water ballet - my daughter is too conservative to do anything like that so I need a partner in crime to make sure Kristie grows up right."

"We all have to do our part to keep Austin weird."

"Besides, anyone who rescues both me and my granddaughter is fine in my book."

"Do you make a habit of propositioning waterlogged strangers?"

"Nope. That was improvised, too. Damn good thing you aren't reading an e-book or you'd be out of luck right now."

"At least I could drop my paperback quickly without worrying about breaking it."

"I'm into e-books these days since I have an apartment that won't hold too much extra stuff. I sold most everything when I came down here to be with my daughter and her family."

"I guess this is a memorable way to welcome you to the weirdness that is Austin. I'm Vic, by the way."

"I'm Gloria and that's my daughter Lola and her daughter Kristie. The one in the stroller is Shawna."

"Under the circumstances, 'pleased to meet you' seems a little out of place."

"Why not? I almost feel like we've wandered into a Candid Camera setup, but that show went off the air ages ago."

"Oh no!"

"Now what?"

"You did wander into my own personal version of Candid Camera. I've been filming the entire thing!"

"No way!"

"That's why I'm here, to take pictures of people with the new remote control toy for my phone. I started it when you got about halfway down the pond with the family."

"This I've got to see! Lola! Vic here tells me he's filmed the entire thing!"

"Nooooooo…" came Mother's reply.

"I'm afraid so. See that cell phone on the tripod over there? I was taking pictures of people watching the koi."

"Promise me that you'll never let Jerry see it!"

"Jerry?" I asked.

"My husband. I'd never live it down."

"I suppose…"

"That doesn't apply to me!" enthused Gloria. Hey Vic, want to come over for supper and watch videos?"

"Mother! You wouldn't!"

"Of course I would. You like Thai food, Vic?"

"Uh, sure… I eat at the Thai place a block from my house a couple of times a week."

"See! It's fate."

"I really need to go home and get out of these clothes."

"Not a bad idea. I have a change of clothes in the car - essential supplies when you have a baby that pukes without warning."

"Mother! Let the man have a minute to breathe before you go inviting yourself to his home."

This sure was keeping Austin weird!

"Sorry, Vic. I get enthusiastic sometimes."

"That's all right. I wouldn't mind the company."

Now I'm the one going weird!

"See! The start of a beautiful friendship. I haven't found many friends down here my own age. Want to be the first?"

"You make it sound like we'll be going steady."

"Well, I did ask you to marry me."


"Be careful, Gloria. I do still have my mother's engagement ring in my dresser drawer. Keep this up and I may have to get on my soggy knees."

Now where did that come from? Was Gloria infecting me with her brashness?

"Oh darling! This is so sudden!"

Cue the theatrical hand to the forehead.

"Mother, it's as sudden and subtle as a heart attack."

"My heart is all aflutter, dears."

"That's called a-fib. You need a cardiologist for that, not a jeweler. Do they have one of those heart thingies up at the office?"

"Mommy? I'm wet."

Trust Miss Tutu to get the conversation back to reality.

"I know honey. We need to get to the car and find your clothes so you can change. Too bad I can't change your grandmother…"

"Ah, but the shrinks tell us you have to want to change, darling. No such luck. You won't try to change me after we're married, will you Vic?"

"Wouldn't think of it, but you might change your mind about me when you know all my secrets."

"Ah! A Mysterious Man! You old enough to remember The Shadow, Vic?"

"Only from my parents memories. More like Captain Kangaroo."

"You're not wearing green jeans, though."

"Nope, just jean shorts."

"Almost like swimming trunks."

Raleigh interrupted me with a cold nose before I could say anything.

"Oh jeez!" complains Lola. "I've got to ride home with a wet dog!"

"Vic, I just decided I should bum a ride home with you," opined Gloria.

"That's cruel, mother."

"No, that's practical. I'm too old to put up with a wet dog in a car. Besides, my fiancee is taking me out for Thai tonight."


"Let's blow this joint, Vic, before she deflates a tire or something."

I've asked this before, but how do I get into these things?

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