Chapter 2: A Polish Year (continued from Jacek)
When Jacek came over a few days later, Ben bounded at the door before it even opened. Jacek wasn’t even past the threshold when Ben was on him like a jackal on rotting meat (no offence to Jacek intended – but in fairness to Ben, Jacek was wearing a leather jacket and had had sausage for lunch; an easy mistake).
“Ben meet Jacek – Jacek, meet Ben,” I shouted over the din of Ben’s barking also known as his greeting.
I’m not sure it was love at first sight, but I do think Ben, in all his enthusiasm, still made a good first impression.
I got Jacek a strong beer and we all sat around the living room and talked, getting to know one another better while Ben played in the centre of the room, squeaking things, killing toys, and throwing his rope toy to Jacek as he pulled with all this strength. Digging his claws into the carpet, Ben was able to pull with many many more pounds of force than he weighed. Indeed, pound for pound, Ben was stronger than any tractor pulling strongman I could imagine.
He and Ben definitely got along, which was great to see and after the visit, everyone was comfortable with the idea of Ben staying with Jacek while we went to Greece; indeed, I even think Jacek was actually looking forward to it.
We spent the next few the next few weeks getting things straightened away with our private classes, finding subs where necessary and giving out tons of homework where it was wanted. Packing at this stage of our foreign adventure was a breeze. God knows we possessed all our backpacking gear and having spent the better part of a year out of the last four living out of a suitcase, we knew how to pack with our eyes closed.
So Thursday after work, I rushed home; we packed up Ben with all his gear and took a cab to Jacek’s. We rarely cabbed it anywhere in Warsaw, but with Ben and his gear, it made most sense. We lived in the south of Warsaw, not too far from the centre – Jacek was in the North and in a section we didn’t know at all.
We got to his apartment after a long and reasonably stressful ride with the vomit-comet on our legs, but we nonetheless arrived without mishap but also knowing we wouldn’t be taking this particular cab again.
Arrived at his apartment, Ben bolted through the front door and with nary a “dzień dobry,” he was past Jacek and was snooping through the apartment for whatever trouble he could find. As we chatted with Jacek and overwhelmed him with care instructions, Ben dashed from room to room like some meth head in search of a lost stash. Most importantly, I tried to get Jacek and Ben to go for a quick walk to the park where I could demonstrate how Ben could run and play fetch and instill the value of burning off Ben’s copious energy. Jacek insisted he’d be fine – that they would be fine. And so, after 30 minutes which felt 30 brief seconds, we left our “baby” with Jacek and hurried home by bus to collect our bags and get ready for our red eye that night which would land us in Athens at 2:00am the next ‘morning.’
Greece was phenomenal and as tempted as I am, I won’t digress from Ben’s story to share that story. I will say that for a man that had been dreaming of visiting Greece since he was 10 years old and reading every scrap of Greek mythology he could find, our 16 full days did not disappoint in the least.
If arriving at 2:00am into the middle of a sleeping foreign city were not crazy enough, our return home was a connection from Xania, Crete, to Athens around 2pm … and our flight out of Athens would leave at midnight. While exhilarated by the trip and our adventure, and very itchy with some nasty skin rash I contracted at the midpoint of the vacation, we nonetheless arrived back to Warsaw, and our apartment, on Sunday, February 16, at 7:00am! We immediately collapsed into bed and fell very fast to sleep.
I’ll quote verbatim what happens next from my travel journal for that day … the last entry for this trip:We arose later that day at noon, fully unpacked, assessed our gift purchases – and contemplated wanting them all to ourselves – and then phoned Jacek to see about collecting Ben. So at 6:00 [and with a bottle of ouzo and bottle of J&B that I had searched high and low to find at the duty-free shop at the airport], we went and got him, the worry and excitement building all the way as we wondered in what state of health we’d find him. And WHAT a welcome we received! Though all we saw at first was a blinding blur of golden fur, we thought him bigger, and we hardly recognized the hairball which welcomed us on a scale I’ve never seen nor could have imagined. He DID indeed remember us and was so very glad of our return. And on this happy note I’ll end. What a fantastic 16 ½ days!
* * *
It would be perfect if the story could have ended there – but, as you might surmise, it didn’t. Almost every Ben story has a footnote; certainly this is true of every story of him being cared for by some naïve friend who thought him ‘just’ cute.
“How was he,” I asked, not yet knowing to be nervous when I asked that question.
“We had fun,” said Jacek, enthusiastically, before pausing and adding, “and Ben had fun eating my video tapes.”
Jacek pulled out a few of his prized bootlegged VHS tapes of favourite foreign films to show me what Ben had eaten: the boxes were in tatters; and the tapes themselves were covered in dents and marks I recognized all too well as the work of his teeth.
Apparently Ben also chewed through a leather shoe and an old copy of a Polish-English dictionary.
I put my hand to my temple and rubbed, dropping my head in shame. “Oh, Ben ….”
Continued next … Chapter 2: A Polish Year – Intermezzo