Philadelphia Metropolis


Meeting Sam

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By Abby SandersSam.jpg

I found Sam, a scrawny Lab mix, on the corner of Sixth and Spring Garden Streets during my search for the small non-profit where I was scheduled for an interview. He was sitting with his haunches thrown awkwardly out from under him, the side of his hip resting flat against the concrete. I didn't have time for a proper introduction, so I crouched down, thumped him quickly on his knobby head. He scooted toward me and reached out his chin. He wore a collar but his matted coat looked like it hadn't been touched in at least several weeks.

I eventually found the office tucked behind two large factory buildings, its ceiling bowed down beneath some invisible weight. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, the reality of moving to a new city, renting the lower half of a house owned by someone who has only the most tenuous grasp on the English language, proved far less glamorous than I had imagined. Trekking to the seedier outskirts of the city for interviews only reinforced my aversion. My fourth interview in so many days, I'd had some luck getting noticed "on paper" as they say, making it through "chats" on phones and in conference rooms, sometimes second or even third meetings. Nine months after moving to Philadelphia and taking a temporary job as an Assistant Manager at a retail store, I'd had no further luck.

On my way back, I followed the same wayward street I had come. He was laying in a patch of grass that looked almost as worn down as he did. I sat next to him and scruffed his ears, faintly missing my dogs from home - real home, growing up home. His name tag was partly scuffed, half of the 'm' missing so that it looked like "Sar". At one time he had probably licked water out of a bowl, wagged his tail at the same times every day, maybe snuck naps on the couch. And now he was just a Sar lost on a sidewalk.

My landlord had pets, and as far as I could interpret, welcomed more. But the reality of my situation - financially strained, learning to cope in a new city - didn't seem appropriate. One has to be fully settled to take in a dog.

I called the number on his tags countless times, listening to the phone ring and ring.

My interviews were often for low-profile organizations, hidden in downtrodden parts of the city where real estate was more affordable. I'd begun keeping a collection of Google map printouts on hand at all times, lines spidering across each one, tracing paths to every foreseeable destination and back again. They were carefully stapled together at their intersections and folded into a compact square - a whole taken into parts, the fragments stitched back together in an approximation of the real thing. Pulling this contraption out of my pocket was like seeing a magician tug a knotted silk chain from his clenched fist, each colorful scarf tied uselessly to the next.

I'd slowly learned to navigate to several different parks, where I would sit in just the right direction, my worn copy of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in hand, so that my view was largely unadulterated by the concrete. I'd gradually come to appreciate this and other rituals of daily life: the smell of the Chinatown bakeries on my morning walk to work. Jogging along Penn's Landing on my afternoons off. Although my landlord and I had tested our language barrier as far as it would go, she sometimes left an extra Geback, some type of German pastry, on the kitchen table with my name on it.

I stood up awkwardly, trying not to rip my modest interview skirt, and walked without much of a destination in mind. I'd been resigned to the fact that my life, for now, would be spent getting to whatever's next. Weeks and weeks layered into months searching for jobs, focused solely on some distant time in the future when I would have work friends and Happy Hours. I hadn't even realized that for almost a year, I'd been in a constant, self-imposed transition, waiting.

After about 20 minutes of circling the same block, I stopped and looked at him, sprawled out now, head stretched unnaturally behind him on the asphalt. I made a clicking sound and his head popped up in my direction as if he'd expected me. He came toward me at a gangly trot, his protruding hips bumping up and down. I looped two fingers under his damp collar, and gave a gentle tug toward home. "C'mon, buddy."



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This posting is from Metropolis, the in-depth news and information web site based in Philadelphia. For more Metropolis stories, essays & blogs go to

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