The Girl With The Black Lab

The Girl With The Black Lab

Serendipity is a funny thing.

The Merriam-Webster definition is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for,” but I rather like “the occurrence and development of events by chance” better.

There’s something contradictory — tragically ironic, even — about the concept of serendipity. It suggests incredible things can happen by sheer happenstance and in the complete absence of planning by those fortunate enough to experience it. “Serendipity is a common occurrence throughout the history of product invention and scientific discovery,” Wikipedia says.

But instances of what I’ll call “pure serendipity” are rare indeed. Scientific discoveries, for example, are very often made by scientists or, at the least, people who conduct experiments. Similarly, two people who meet by chance at a coffee house in Manhattan and subsequently change the world after becoming friends and starting a company (or a revolution) were probably at least open to the idea of collaboration, association or, at the least, having a latte in the presence of other people. Neither is an instance of “pure serendipity.”

That speaks to the internal contradiction of the term. You may not be actively seeking “agreeable things” or fortuitous developments, but most people consciously put themselves in situations where such occurrences are at least possible. What is “networking” if not that?

More than a half-decade ago, I transplanted myself from Manhattan to another island. This one has less people. Less than a year after that, I divorced the only companion I’ve ever loved: Expensive, dark liquor.

Isolated, and lacking an excuse to frequent even sparsely populated local bars, the odds of experiencing serendipity fell to something like zero. For me, serendipity is seeing a dolphin when I wasn’t trying to spot one.

Pure serendipity probably doesn’t exist, but on the rarest of occasions, we can stumble onto something close.

On Thursday evening, I took a short drive to what counts as a “crowded” beach some five miles down the road. With just a few exceptions, “crowded” is a misnomer here, especially in the off season, but if you try, you can find a few dozen people, even on an October evening.

This particular stretch of coastline has one main access point, and for whatever reason, there’s no plastic mat to bridge the parking lot and the beach. The absence of such an eye sore (usually the mats are bright blue and ruinous from an aesthetic perspective) is purposeful in residential communities, but at public access beaches the mats are helpful because the walk from the parking lot can be quite long and exceptionally arduous when the sand is dry — like trudging through six feet of dirty snow on a sidewalk in Yonkers.

Vacationers routinely misjudge the distance. They can’t see the water from the parking lot, but they can see the end of the trail. It looks deceptively close, but if you’re hauling or dragging anything, especially a large animal, it’s a frustrating trudge.

As I made my way, I saw a girl up ahead struggling to coax what looked like a Labrador puppy through the sand, an endeavor that was going about like you’d expect. I stopped briefly and spoke, not to be friendly, but to acknowledge the struggle. “It’s further than it looks.” She didn’t seem amused. The Lab did, though. So I leaned over and said hello, which seemed to please him quite a lot. Not that it’s difficult to please a Lab puppy. I left them to toil.

The problem with walking on public access beaches with a single entry point is similar to the problem one runs into when walking in a neighborhood that’s arranged in a circle — namely, if you pass a person once, you’re highly likely to pass them again.

This is an especially vexing issue for me, because on the occasions when I pass a neighbor and I’m compelled to begrudgingly engage them, it’s difficult to know how to end the conversation. “Have a good evening” doesn’t work if one of us doesn’t immediately go inside, because we might well pass each other again going opposite directions within minutes, at which point we can either laugh, ignore each other or say “have good evening” a second time.

It’s a bit easier with strangers on the beach. You’re not compelled to acknowledge them at all if you pass them again on the way back, but when there’s a dog involved, it can be unavoidable.

And, so, a half-hour later, on my way back to the wooded parking lot, I found myself approaching the young lady and her Lab again. Naturally, it sought my attention, although she, like me, would have rather not.

If you’re a local and you’re interacting with a tourist, it’s a kind of social faux pas to let too much time elapse without stating the obvious in the form of a question. I complied with the mandates of polite decorum.

“You here on vacation?”

“Yeah. From New York.” She was a late-twentysomething, wearing dark sunglasses at 6 PM.

“Where in New York? I moved here from New York.”

“Manhatt– well, I work in Manhattan. In finance.”

I wasn’t going to engage. I didn’t care, she wasn’t interested and, more to the point, everybody says they’re in finance.

I must of accidentally smirked. “Goldman. FX.” She said it flatly, but insistently. The implication was that I could piss right on off with any condescension I might be harboring.

“You’re at Goldman?” I looked up from the Lab who was, at that point, caked in sand and keen to chew a hole through the heel of my shoe.

“Well, I was.” Her tone softened a bit, perhaps sensing I might have some conception of what she was trying to convey. She told me she left for a startup.

I asked if the culture at Goldman drove her away. “It was actually the opposite,” she said. The bank was too careful, apparently. Bungled efforts to avoid the appearance of misogyny often went comically awry.

She described the first instance of someone saying “f–k” around her and apologizing. “He said ‘Sorry ‘hun’.”

I laughed. “That’s even worse.”

“I know, right?”

“Condescending.”

“Like I’d never heard the word ‘f–k’ before.”

We talked for a few minutes. Or as much as the Lab would allow while competing vociferously for attention.

Once the proverbial ice was broken, she cursed every other word. As if trying to make a point to old colleagues by swearing repeatedly around me. She told a few stories, all of which seemed embellished. But that was fine.

“You know, I used to –“, I mentioned an old employer.

“I f–kin’ love –!”, she exclaimed.

“Then you’ll hate me.”

“Oh my god, you’re –.”

“That’s right.”

“What do you do now?”

I told her.

“If it’s a liberal site, I won’t read it,” she said, rekindling a defiant cadence, then dropping it to marvel at the impossibly long odds of the conversation she was having.

“You probably think I’m a spy or something.” It was the first time she’d laughed. She was arrogant. And I would know.

“Nah.”

“Well, we’re going back in the ocean,” she said.

“Check out the site.”

“I will.”

“No you won’t.”

“I will, but if it’s liberal I won’t read it.”

Pure serendipity. Or the closest thing to it.


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