I wanted to take Dempsey to a local video store, where he might meet a future Tarantino, but having not rented a movie from a store since about 1998 (thanks, Netflix!), I had no idea where to go. A friend recommended a place not too far away.
"You'll love it!" she said. "They have thousands of movies that the major chains don't carry."
When Dempsey and I got there, we believed it. The aisles were narrower than at the chains, and the shelves taller. The movies, instead of being displayed with the covers facing out, were shelved with the spines out, as in a bookstore or library. This would definitely be a new experience for Dempsey!
It was a busy night, but Dempsey and I somehow managed to find a quiet corner to train. It was perfect. This aisle was deserted, and though there were a couple of curious kids, they were polite enough to stay out of the aisle and watch us from the front of the store. Only one customer came by, a man wearing sunglasses and a hooded sweatshirt. Perfect! Dempsey had been afraid of hooded sweatshirts when he was younger, so this would be good practice.
I thought the man seemed afraid of Dempsey, so as he approached, I increased Dempsey's reinforcement rate: Click. Click. Click, click. Clickclickclick. And it worked! Dempsey politely maintained his drop, showing not the least fear of hooded sweatshirt man. In fact, I thought the man seemed more afraid of Dempsey than Dempsey was afraid of him.
At this point, I decided to test Dempsey's drop as I pretended to browse through the shelves. With Dempsey lying at my feet, I started reading the spines of the DVDs on the shelf in front of me: I Am Curious, Rochelle Rochelle, Steam: The Turkish Bath.
Hey, wait a minute... we're in the "adult" aisle! I had a Joycean epiphany, where I saw everything again in a completely different light.
The "thousands of movies the major chains don't carry"? This wasn't the complete works of Fassbinder, but the "mature" videos, like Bikini Team Bloopers. I didn't know people still went out and rented videos like that. I mean, isn't that what they invented the Internet for?
The man in sunglasses and hooded sweatshirt? That wasn't a fashion statement. He was trying to be incognito.
The fear I thought he had of the dog? That was his fear of being seen. And my clicking, instead of reassuring him that I had control of my dog, probably only exacerbated his anxiety. He already felt radioactive, and the clicks sounded like a Geiger counter: "Yes, yes, that's him! He is the one who is icky and contaminated!"
The kids staying politely out of the aisle? Their parents probably made them.
Their curiosity about their dog? Probably curiosity about me: "Hey mister, why did you take that sweet innocent little puppy into the adult aisle? Don't you know he's not old enough, even in dog years?"
I could feel myself blushing as I realized where I was. I thought of following hooded sweatshirt man's lead and putting on sunglasses, but the only pair I had were Dempsey's retrieve pair, which are a woman's style we got at the dollar store, bright pink and big. This, I thought, would make me more conspicuous coming out of the adult aisle, not less.
Oh, well. Nothing to do but a brisk walk out of there. "Dempsey, let's go!"
Luckily, everything turned out fine. For the kids in front, Dempsey demonstrated his skill at retrieving credit cards, and outside the store, hooded sweatshirt man -- his name is "Steve" -- stopped to say hello to Dempsey. Nobody asked why we were where we were.