The Sheriff of the Park

Les Guliasi —


fixedw_large_4xPoint Isabel is the largest off-leash dog park in the country. The two sections of the 53 acre park are divided by Hoffman channel and connected by a wooden bridge that once served as a train crossing. Located on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay, a stone’s throw north of Berkeley, California, the park has sweeping views of the San Francisco skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Tamalpias and the Marin Headlands, and various islands that dot the Bay, including Alcatraz, Angel Island, and uninhabited Brooks Island just off shore.

Its official name is Point Isabel Regional Shoreline. Though managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, the dog park is governed unofficially by a volunteer organization, PIDO—Point Isabel Dog Owners Association. Point Isabel’s website boasts that “well over one million visitors come to the park each year, most of them dogs.”

Aside from its off-leash policy, the park has other unique features: Mudpuppy’s Tub and Scrub, a dog-washing facility, especially popular during the muddy winter rainy season, and the Sit & Stay Cafe, both of which are operated by an enterprising gay couple. Only in the Bay Area!

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Winston

I started visiting Point Isabel on a regular basis several years ago when my good friend Victor inherited a sweet German Shorthair Pointer rescue, Rosie, from his ex. Now retired, Victor settled on Point Isabel as the preferred place to let the energetic Rosie run loose chasing balls. My typical routine for exercising my beloved English Setter, Winston, was to run with him on the myriad trails of Tilden Park in the Berkeley hills. Accompanying Victor at Point Isabel afforded us time to hang out together, watch seabirds in flight, talk politics and the issues of the day, and solve the world’s problems, especially those of our mutual friends, members of the esteemed East Bay Men’s Sensitivity Poker Group.

Dog walking is the raison d’être for most of the park’s visitors. Yet Point Isabel has also become an important social gathering place for many of the regulars. Visitors at the park typically relate to one another initially through their dogs. Once discovering things they have in common, friendships develop. At the Point, normal social barriers of race and class are broken down. Here, familiarity does not breed contempt. The unusual collection of people who visit the park represent a true blending of the rich tapestry and diversity of people in the Bay Area, brought together by a common interest in dogs.

Our Pack

It wasn’t too long after finding a set time around the noon hour to meet at the Park that Victor and I recognized the same familiar people with their same dogs day after day. First, there was Alan, a lawyer, who had recently retired from his position as an administrative law judge at the state workers’ compensation board, and his two dogs, an elderly Australian Shepherd, Patty, and Callie, a McNab. Of the many random dog park friends we have assembled over the years, Alan is the only one among them Victor and I might have met through our professional or social circles.

There also is Terry, a retired University of California, Berkeley employee, and Ellen, an energetic African-American septuagenarian, and their Australian Shepherds, Abbey and JoJo. Callie, Abbey, and JoJo are working dogs; workaholic being a more apt description. Constantly needing to work, these dogs ceaselessly chase balls and each other, happy as the day is long. Ruby, a ball obsessed Corgi, officially a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the preferred breed of Queen Elizabeth, belongs to Carol, a school teacher, whose second dog is a terrier mix named Harry, a little dog with a Napoleon complex, making him the biggest little dog in the park.

dogcollage-correctedThere are Matt and Hari, both retired scientists. Matt, a ukulele playing physicist and software engineer, and his cute little mutt Daisy, and Hari, a UC Berkeley neuroscientist, and his new Rottweiler, Jethro. When we first met Hari, he had another Rottweiler named Teddy. We actually got to know Teddy long before we became acquainted with Hari. We would sometimes spot Teddy roaming the park alone, essentially taking himself for a walk. Teddy would eventually mosey over to us and just hang out. You see, Hari would arrive at the park, open the car door, and let Teddy go. Teddy was happy to be set free and would take off on his merry romp. After a couple of hours spent reading a book or scientific journals, Hari would emerge from his car and walk the park to find Teddy. Once the two of them reunited, Teddy would lumber over to Hari and off they would go. Thus was their relationship, characterized by an unusual kind of freedom and a secret pattern of mutual trust known only to the two of them. As Teddy began to age, Hari and his wife Tammy adopted a companion for Teddy, a black lab named Bucket. Bucket, it was assumed, would outlive Teddy and eventually replace him in the household. Those plans, unfortunately, did not materialize. Bucket died before Teddy, and soon thereafter Teddy succumbed cancer. Now Hari and Jethro soldier on.

Of course, a large open space is an ideal venue for professional dog walkers, and Point Isabel is no exception. Jim, a retired utility worker living on state disability as a result of a workplace injury, is a regular, as is Caitlin, recognizable by her friendly but unmistakable businesslike demeanor, and her tongue-wagging Spinone Italiano, Tristram. Perhaps the most popular, from the dogs’ point of view, is Esben, another guy whose state disability affords him the opportunity to spend his days at the park. Esben has devoted himself generously to the cause of German Shepherd rescue. He always has no less than four Shepherds ranging from puppies to the very old. Some of the dogs he fosters and others he keeps if he can’t find a suitable home. All the dogs love Esben. Why? Because he carries enough dog treats to feed an army. Once the dogs gain sight of Esben, or smell his presence from as far away as several hundred yards, they take off sprinting to greet Esben to beg for their tasty snacks. Never satiated they follow Esben as if he were the pied piper, hoping for more treats until Esben’s stash is cleaned out. Esben’s nickname, unbeknownst to him, is Burger King.

Others who became members of our troop are Tamara, a dance therapist and the widow of an Academy Award winning Hollywood screen writer who nobly came to the rescue of several blacklisted colleagues by hiring them when no one else would, and her bandana garbed Collie, Sunshine. There are Marc and Carl, a gay couple with their two dogs, a mixed breed pit, Morgan, they affectionately call Fatty, and Hunter, a German Shepherd rescue. There was the time that Marc threw a party at the park to celebrate Morgan’s fourth birthday. The menu was complete with an elaborately decorated birthday cake made of liver and abundant homemade treats for all.

Some months later we met Donna and her black-and-white spotted mixed breed, Charlie.  Professionally, Donna is a medical educator, but on the side she has a business manufacturing and selling “pussy puppets.” Donna’s trademarked Wondrous Vulva Puppets, made of velvet and silk, are anatomically correct props, devices used by medical professionals and therapists to “take the shame, mystery, and porn out of the conversation of women’s bodies and sex education.” Only in the Bay Area!

No urban dog park would be complete without its legion of pit bulls. The term “pit bull” refers to a type of dog with features resembling American Kennel Club breeds such as the American Staffordshire Terrier and the American Bull Terrier. Pits get a bad rap because of their reputation as mean fighting dogs. Recall Michael Vick. However, pits are generally intelligent, lovable, loyal, gentle, and sweet if raised properly. Remember the Little Rascals and their sidekick Petey with the ring around his eye? Pit Bulls are the favored dog in the American urban ghetto. Point Isabel, located in an urban area, is close to the cities of Oakland and Richmond, well known for their poor neighborhoods, high crime rate, drugs, and gang warfare. Therefore, it’s not entirely uncommon for the occasional aggressive pit to visit the Point. What is unusual is for dog fights to break out. At the Point, even the dogs seem to respect the good-natured atmosphere.

Our random assemblage of dog park friends—our pack—would not be complete without representation by pits. The sweetest of the lot, by far, is Panda, a burly black-and-white linebacker of dog whose owner, Steve, manages a night club in San Francisco. Roy, a marijuana toting ex-con who was struggling to straighten out his life and deal with his anger management problems, has a small chestnut pit named, Veda, the love of his life. And finally, Thelma, whose pit, Baby, is as sweet as can be, except when she’s not.  Without provocation, Baby has had an occasional dust up with other dogs and once attacked Callie, putting her out of commission for a few weeks while her wounds healed.  Baby has since been muzzled but frolics along happily with the rest of the pack. Thelma and Roy are from the underclass, chronically underemployed, living at the edge of society.  Roy’s life seems to have turned for the better as he scored a job as a bus driver for the City of San Francisco, and now rarely comes to the park. Thelma, between jobs, would visit the park with her beloved Baby, always sporting her oversized Oakland Raiders jacket. One could always expect to be greeted by Thelma with a great big hug and a “How you doin’?”  We talk about politics, the latest headlines in the newspaper, public scandals, right-wing conspiracies, and always about Obama, her Obama. In conversation we tease each other and casually toss around racial slurs and gender stereotypes, mockingly, as a friendship-bonding ritual. Trust is never at issue. Friendship, bridging the divide of race and class.

This our pack.  A crazy assortment of Bay Area denizens. On the surface we are plainly different from one another in many respects, but whatever differences there are we share a common bond because of our love of dogs. Our dogs brought us together in the first place and, because of our dogs, our differences have been supplanted by friendship and our lives vastly enriched.

The Sheriff of the Park

And now we come to Darren, the Sheriff of the Park. Day after day, Victor and I would see Darren walking his two mixed breed pits, Merry and Pandora. No matter what time of day when either Victor or I would deviate from our normal routine and visit the park early in the morning or late in the day to catch the red glow of the sun setting behind the Golden Gate Bridge, one could expect to find Darren at the park with his two loyal followers in tow. For a long time we would merely exchange a casual nod and a pleasant “hello” with Darren. But after some time, we began to converse.

Darren led a fascinating life. He told us that he was taking a year off from his career as a professional bass fisherman to attend to his father’s failing health. Originally from Oakland, Darren’s main residence now was a house on a lake in North Carolina because it was centrally located to most of the major bass fishing tournaments he chose to participate in. Darren owned seven fishing boats that he kept in dry storage facilities scattered geographically, mainly in the Southeast, in relative close proximity to his fishing events. Darren’s typical schedule during the 10-month fishing season, January to October, required him to fly either from Oakland or his new home in North Carolina on Thursday to pick up one of his boats and drive with boat in tow to the location of the weekend fishing tournament. Afterwards, he would drive back to put his boat in storage and fly home. Darren would do this week after week during the competitive fishing season. Now single, Darren explained that this grueling scheduled cost him his marriage, but that the joy of competitive fishing, not to discount the lucrative sponsorships and annual earnings in the “high six figures,” kept him motivated to continue to compete on the circuit.

Now, Darren seemed content to spend his days at Point Isabel. Maybe the Point gave him the respite he needed from the demands of competition and his grueling travel schedule. What fascinated us about Darren was the ease with which he could glide, almost chameleon like, from one new adventure into another during the time off from his real job. First there was the speaking part he lucked into for the making of the 2011 Steven Soderbergh film, Contagion. Darren’s role came about happenstance. Reluctantly talked by a friend into going to Candlestick Park, the former home of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers, to stand in line, possibly for hours, waiting for a call to be an extra, Darren was spotted by the casting director and plucked out of the line because he looked right for a part they had in mind. Darren was cast as an extra in the role of a lab technician in a scene featuring Gwyneth Paltrow. Garbed in his white lab coat, Darren so impressed the director that he was offered a small speaking part. We were impressed, not only with Darren’s stroke of luck, but with his newly acquired status as a card carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild, a requirement for earning his pay as a movie extra. We were equally wowed by the stories Darren told us about how much fun it was to be behind the scenes of a major motion picture production and about the rapport he developed with the cast and especially with Gwyneth. Darren’s short movie-making career kept him away from Point Isabel for a few weeks during the shooting of his scene, but when he returned he resumed his normal daily routine of hanging in the park out with his dogs.

Our pack eagerly awaited the commercial release of Contagion. We even organized a group outing to see the movie together during the first week of its showing. Unfortunately, we were gravely disappointed when we didn’t see Darren in the movie nor his name in the screen credits, apparently a victim of editing. Darren’s 15 minutes of movie fame were left on the cutting room floor.

Darren’s next adventure was auditioning for a spot on TV’s The Iron Chef. Darren seemed to be a good cook. He was always fixing up special meals for his dogs. Darren bought a food dehydrator and made fruit rolls and jerky, which he generously shared with us and our dogs. I like to cook, too. Darren and I shared recipe ideas and cooking techniques. If my cooking was rather ordinary and pedestrian, Darren’s, in comparison, was exotic and high tech, a requirement, I assumed, necessary to qualify for Iron Chef competition. There were days with no sight of Darren. When he returned to the park after a few days away, Darren explained that he was spending his time at home experimenting with recipes. Occasionally he would bring one of his latest concoctions to the park to share and we would enjoy a mid-day snack. One day at the park, after being gone for a few days, Darren sported a new look. His medium length black hair was now cut short, punk style with spiky blond tips. Ever the chameleon, Darren’s new hairdo evidently was intended to look the part of a chef and to impress the judges. Darren waited months to learn his fate. We all did. Did he make the cut? Would we ultimately see him on TV? We never did find out.

Darren’s generosity was not limited to sharing food experiments with his friends. He told us that prior to his career as a professional bass fisherman he had a successful business in Oakland as a contractor, and he offered his services to any of us in need of home repair.  Hari and Tammy were the first, and only, ones to seek Darren’s help. They needed some windows repaired and replaced in their home near the UC Berkeley campus. Darren graciously obliged, and Tammy was eager to go forward with the project, that is, until Hari saw the cost estimate, which he considered to be outrageously expensive and nixed the deal. Of no apparent consequence, life at the park continued as usual.

Darren did miss fishing and time on his boats. Victor had once owned a motor boat and Hari had recently bought a sail boat for excursions on the Bay. Thus, there were the endless stories about boating and sailing that the rest of us naturally found boring. (How many times did we hear that the two happiest days for any boat owner are the day you buy a boat and day you sell it!) Fortunately, because of our friendships, we were tolerant of each others’ storytelling and kvetching: me with frustrations about work or my latest triumphs on the golf course; Alan laboring to finish the semiannual publication summarizing recent workers’ comp case law; Donna struggling to find a manufacturer in the U.S. or Asia for her pussy puppets; Ellen with her aches and pains, for which we extended our sympathies; Terry, our resident curmudgeon, who would complain just about anything and everything, in the most endearing fashion; and collectively our moaning and groaning about Obama not doing enough to stand up to the intransigent right-wing conservatives in Congress to press for a more progressive agenda and an end the damn wars.

But I digress. Back to boats. We were considerably impressed when during the spring Darren proudly showed us pictures of his latest acquisition—a new 55 foot luxury yacht.  Purchased from a dealer in San Diego, we eagerly awaited Darren’s maiden voyage up the coast to the Bay Area. But first there were a few problems to solve. For one, the boat had a defective propeller and a new one, on order, had to be shipped special from France. That was understandably going to take a while. Next was the issue of where to dock the boat in the Bay Area. There is no shortage of harbor space around the Bay, but Darren decided to buy a home in Alameda, an island adjacent to the City of Oakland that formerly housed a now shuttered naval air station. The Alameda marina was an ideal place to live in a house on the water, and many of the homes come with their own private boat slips. Of course, finding the right home at the right price, negotiating the purchase, and awaiting the customary escrow to close would also take time. We were assured, nonetheless, that the boat would be brought to the Bay Area, home ownership or not, sometime in the fall, but in plenty of time for a group voyage at the annual holiday Parade of Lights along the Oakland Estuary to enjoy the many festively decorated yachts. We were told to save the date for the first Saturday of December. We were all invited, all except Hari, a harmless oversight or a deliberate slight for nixing the window repair job? Meanwhile, Darren decided take a break from Point Isabel and, with his new girlfriend, travel around the state.

First, there was the ill fated trip to the Mendocino Coast. With internet reservations in hand, Darren and his girlfriend, along with the two dogs, of course, arrived at their hotel at night only to find that the place was sold out and Darren’s reservations cancelled. Claiming that the mistake was the third-party internet provider’s, not Darren’s nor the hotel’s, the proprietor nonetheless found a nearby hotel that would take the wayward travelers. However, the new accommodations were far inferior, not the ocean front room Darren had supposedly booked. No pushover, Darren, upon his return home, contacted the local ABC TV news station’s consumer advocate for help to expose the internet provider’s shady business practice. Naturally, Darren was victorious. He told us that the station would air a segment about his story the following week, so we each set our DVRs or watched the six o’clock news live eager to see Darren on camera. Once again, we were disappointed when no such airing occurred. Evidently, more news worthy matters were given priority by the local TV station. Darren, however, did receive a refund and we all celebrated the fact that because of Darren’s noble persistence we could chalk one up on the side of the consumer.

Undeterred, Daren next decided to travel to San Diego to visit his new yacht, a trip he made a few times over the summer. His first trip led to good fortune. On the way home from San Diego, Darren decided to spend the night in Ventura, a city located on the coast between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Darren and his girlfriend fell in love with the area and with the house they rented on the beach. Wouldn’t you know it, the very house they rented was up for sale, and Darren quickly made an offer that the owners accepted. We were all invited to stay at the house over the summer, but no one’s immediate travel plans included a trip to Southern California. We saw Darren less frequently now as he split his time between the Bay Area and the new beach house in Ventura. Upon returning from one his trips, now back in Oakland, we learned about the unfortunate event of a break-in the last time he was home in the Bay Area when the beach house was vacant. The police reported that a group of local teenagers had broken into the house and vandalized the home, breaking windows, destroying furniture, ripping up carpets, and spray painting walls, nothing that money and an insurance claim couldn’t remedy.

Darren again decided it was time to get away. His girlfriend needed to visit her parents in Dallas, and Darren decided to go along for the trip. Darren was excited because he would be one of the very first passengers aboard the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Well, all the anticipated excitement of the trip was soon shattered during the time spent time with the girlfriend’s family. Darren was caught in the middle of dysfunctional family dynamics which, in this case,  were exacerbated by underlying racial tensions. The in-laws were surprised to find that their white Southern Baptist daughter was dating an Asian-American man. After all, this was Texas, not the liberal Bay Area.

Now, back in Oakland, things continued to take a turn for the worse for the Sheriff. On a walk through his neighborhood one of Darren’s dogs was attacked by a dog on the loose. Because Darren’s dog was part pit, the animal control authorities assumed it was the perpetrator and quarantined Darren’s dogs. At about the same time, Daren was quarreling with his sister over the care of their father. Darren wanted to fix up the family home to make it marketable, but the sister, in denial about their father’s  rapidly declining health, wanted to maintain the status quo. The sister brought suit against Darren, which forced him out of their father’s house. Making matters worse, the experience in Dallas marked the unraveling of Darren’s relationship with his girlfriend, with whom he was now staying. One day Darren arrived at the park with a cut above his left eye, bruises on his arms, and cuts on his hands. Darren told us that the bruises were from being struck by his girlfriend, and the cuts on his hands from the knife she was threatening him with as he tried to restrain her. The two tried to work thing out but Darren reported that his girlfriend was becoming increasingly out of control and ever more violent. After fending off a second attack and no longer feeling safe in her house, Darren obtained a temporary restraining order from the court, but he was the one who had leave. Now, banished from the family home and out of his girlfriend’s house, Darren need to find a place to stay. To the rescue came Marc and Carl.

Marc and Carl had recently moved into new a rental in Oakland. The house was big enough to accommodate Darren and his two dogs, and Carl’s job as the manager of a pre-Olympic youth volleyball squad involved weekend travel away from home. Marc and Carl expected little in exchange for temporarily putting a roof over Darren’s head. Darren, accomplished in the kitchen, agreed to cook. Sure the guys enjoyed the gourmet meals, and the four dogs now living together were rewarded with specialty treats, leftovers brought to the park for the rest of the pack to share. Meanwhile, nothing had been resolved on the legal front, either with the lifting of the temporary restraining order against the girlfriend or with the spat with his sister over the rights to the family home. In papers filed with the court, Darren pleaded for custody of his father and possession of the family home. After all, in contrast to his sister, Darren had the means from the wealth he had accumulated from years on the professional fishing circuit and the moral high ground he assumed he had earned as evidenced by putting his lucrative career on temporary hold for the past year while attending to their ailing father. With no resolution to either of these legal tussles in sight, and showing no progress in the search for a new place to stay, Marc and Carl, after a few weeks, felt that Darren’s constant presence in their home began to crimp their lifestyle. It was time for Darren to find a place of his own and he agreed to be gone by the time Marc and Carl returned from one of Carl’s weekend volleyball trips.

When Marc and Carl returned late Sunday night, Darren was gone, and so was the jar of loose change they had saved for petty cash, a few hundred dollars found stashed away in a dresser drawer, all of the booze from the liquor cabinet, and whatever food was stored in the pantry. That was it. Darren was gone, vanished from our existence. No one knew of his fate. There was no known address for him, and no one has dared to try calling his cell phone number.

Truth Revealed

Darren’s disappearance deprived us of closure. We naturally wondered what happened to Darren and his two dogs. Of course, Marc and Carl were angry about being ripped off; we all were. Vic and Ellen grudgingly accepted the fact that they would never see one red cent of the money they had loaned Darren when, on occasion, he absentmindedly “forgot” his wallet at home and needed a few bucks to carry him through the day. The skeptics among us could care less. Terry and Donna never believed half the stories Darren told anyway.  Others of us couldn’t let go; we had to find out. Had Darren returned to North Carolina to resume competitive bass fishing? What about the legal entanglements with his sister and girlfriend? Did they ever get resolved?

I did a Google search to see what I might learn about the bass fishing profession and to see if I could track down Darren that way. Indeed, there is such an organization, B.A.S.S., and a Bassmaster website, which is also the name of the association’s magazine. My research yielded no information about Darren—no archived photos of him on the website, no listing of him on the leader board or on lists of past tournament winners, no record of him on previous Saturday or Sunday morning ESPN television spots. My telephone call to the association also yielded no leads. Though polite, the person I reached at the B.A.S.S. association would neither confirm nor deny Darren’s membership in the organization or on tour. That was the first attempt of my detective work.

Alameda County court records were the next obvious place to look. Using the name search function on the court’s website, I was unable to find any cases involving Darren— nothing about the restraining order he filed in connection with the domestic abuse case against his girlfriend, and nothing about the suit brought by his sister in connection with possession of the family home or custody of their father.

I shared with the group what little information I gleaned from my research through the B.A.S.S. fishing association and my lack of success in finding anything whatsoever in the records of the court. My effort inspired Terry to dig deeper. Terry was the biggest skeptic among us about Darren’s escapades. Both she and Donna thought Darren was a bullshit artist, Donna admitting, in her case, that it takes one to know one. Much later, Hari, a sailor and a minor expert when it comes to boats, disclosed that he never believed Darren’s stories about the yacht. For one, the boat that Darren described, confirmed by the pictures he showed to us, was too large to fit in any of the slips in the Alameda marina where Darren was trying to buy a house and dock his boat. Moreover, the boat that Daren described was too large to float in the Oakland Estuary alongside the sailboats gathered for the holiday Parade of Lights. Once the appointed date of  our group outing the previous December came and went, Hari was convinced that the story of the yacht was a complete fabrication. Even if Darren’s other stories were not entirely true, they all seemed plausible and harmless, that is until the time he ripped off Marc and Carl and disappeared out of sight. Until now, no one had suspected that Darren could act so maliciously and betray his friends.

There was one old court record that Terry discovered in her research. It was the divorce decree between Darren and his former wife. If we couldn’t locate Darren, perhaps his ex-wife knew of his whereabouts, Terry reasoned, and without much difficulty, she was able to track down Darren’s ex who still lived in Oakland. The ex-wife had no clue where Darren was. She was slightly amused, but not altogether surprised, to hear about Darren’s fantastic fabrications. His inability to grasp reality was the cause of their divorce. Darren, she explained, was a pathological liar.

The Invention of “Self ”

Clearly we were duped but, by the same token, we were equally to blame, co-conspirators living with Darren in his fantasy world. None of us ever confronted Darren demanding he “prove” that what he told us was real and based in fact. We may have been incredibly naive, yet we were entertained by the stories Darren told. We enabled Darren by engaging him. So what if Darren had invented some of the stories or embellished facts to fit a narrative. What was the harm? As humans, we want to believe. We instinctively act to make our world understandable and fit events into a coherent pattern, even if means imposing rationality and order over what might in fact be irrational and senseless. The dog park was for all of us a timeout from normal everyday life—a break from work, a way to avoid household chores, a time to get a little exercise and fresh air, to enjoy the scenery, to spend time with our dogs, and for social interaction with once-upon-a-time strangers who became friends and pack members.

But what caused Darren’s sudden turn? There was no prior evidence of aberrant behavior that would have caused us to be circumspect. Did he suddenly go off his meds? Was he suffering a psychotic episode? Darren’s behavior up to that point showed no such signs. It didn’t seem likely that Darren had plotted to steal and take off for good. It all seemed so hasty, but maybe, in his mind, he saw an immediate opportunity to get off the merry-go-round. Maybe it was the only way Darren figured he could save face and relieve himself of the psychological burden of perpetuating a grand deceit and the need to constantly reinvent his “self.”

Postscript

Months after Darren had vanished from our lives, by chance, Hari saw Darren with his two dogs in San Francisco. Hari had berthed his sail boat at the South Beach Marina and was taking a stroll along the Embarcadero. They passed each other on the sidewalk but no words were exchanged and no visual cues of recognition were traded. This must have been their way of mutually avoiding a confrontation. But what ran through Darren’s mind? Did he still carry a grudge against Hari for nixing the window repair job? Was he embarrassed, ashamed, or ridden with guilt? Maybe it was just to painful to admit to his violation of trust and ruined friendships?

One of our pack members did catch sight of Darren one final time. It was late in the day at Point Isabel, near sunset, a time of day when it was unlikely that he would run into any of our pack. Why did Darren return to the park? Was it for the sake of nostalgia? Was it to bid final farewell to the place that was once his favorite place on earth, a place where he found comfort and friendship? He never returned to repay his debts for the money he had borrowed and stolen. Nor did he make any attempt to apologize or to make things right with Marc and Carl. Or to come clean to the rest of us about the fantastic stories he wove.  In truth, no apology could ever make things right. Yet, there was Darren with his dogs, on a hill, far away on other side of the channel, too far away to catch-up even if one wanted to for old-time’s sake, too distant to reconnect, too remote. That was the last time anybody ever saw or heard from Darren.

There is no longer a Sheriff of the Park.

About Les Guliasi (1 Article)
I've had a post-academic career in energy project development and public policy. I am currently a partner in a project to develop a desalination facility on California’s Monterey Bay. I am also President of the Board of the Power Association of Northern California and the Multicultural Institute, a nonprofit organization helping immigrants in their journey from poverty and isolation to prosperity and participation in society. I live in Berkeley, California.

4 Comments on The Sheriff of the Park

  1. This story reminds me of my own run-in with a con artist. I had two boarders living with me in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1980. One of them was a bus driver named Barry who weighed 300 pounds. We needed to add some braces underneath the sagging kitchen floor because the floor couldn’t support his weight. Barry liked to cook and eat A LOT. I liked him. One of the nice things he did for me was to pick me up from JFK in the dead of winter and drive us back to Poughkeepsie. He only lived with me for 4 months before disappearing, owing me money, but leaving me with all of his personal possessions, including furniture and clothes–which included his large bus driver uniform. He also left some jewelry which he had previously tried to sell to my other roommate. It turned out to be fake jewelry. Barry had told us that he had been previously engaged and that one of the rings was a diamond engagement ring. I also inherited from Barry his signed photographs and other paraphernalia associated with the old Los Angeles Rams of the 1960s. (I was a Rams fan too.) After Barry disappeared I started looking at his mail and saw that the checks he had been writing to pay his bills were bouncing, including Blue Cross of Florida–which was the only clue I had where he had gone. But, the funniest thing was when some people from the bus driver’s union came looking for him because he owed them money. I figured that Barry didn’t have long to live. At the next Halloween Party I used his bus driver uniform to go as Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners”.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great commentary! It’s a movie. Blessed are the con men of the world, for they give us stories and lessons!

    The only issue I would take is with the comment “Only in the Bay Area.” The Bay Area has spread its seed successfully up and down the West Coast!

    Like

  3. Les, I really enjoyed reading this story. I’ve never known anyone like Darren, although I’ve met some strange folks after teaching college for thirty five years. A good number of the students I encountered had more than a screw loose, and a number of the faculty fit the same description – but never anyone like Darren. I felt something was amiss with him when you described him as taking a year off from professional bass fishing. The only thing I know about professional bass fishing is what I learned in Carl Hiaasen’s hilarious book, “Double Whammy.” On that flimsy evidence alone, I knew that Darren was not what he claimed to be. . . . Congratulations on a most enjoyable piece.

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