My Quarantine Hobby: Getting Lost in Central Park with a Dog Named Bruce

Every day at 3 p.m., Candice Bergen takes her rescue dog Bruce on an adventure in Central Park. Some days are more exciting than others. Photo: Chloe Malle

Every day at three o’clock or thereabouts, my dog, Bruce, appears silently in front of me and stares. This is his idea, this three o’clock walk, and I am happy to take him, even though he gets five other walks during the day.

There’s a small group of us who gather frequently behind the Met on what I think is called Dog Hill. The group seemed to spring up spontaneously around the first days of quarantine and has gradually taken root. People show up starting between 8ish and 9 in the morning, when dogs have to be put back on a leash. There we are, yelling conversationally to one another from an appropriate distance while our dogs race after balls and one another. It has become, by far, the best part of my day. Even when the park isn’t exploding with dogwood and cherry blossoms. Even when it’s raw and rainy. I am there. Every day. It’s a kind of meditation. And it’s a unique way to get to know people, because there’s no agenda. The agenda is our dogs. We know some people mostly by their dogs’ names, and some by their own. Since dog people are nice people by and large, the group doesn’t have a New York edge.

Today, I am wearing my pajamas under a $99 duffle coat from Amazon. It’s my favorite piece of clothing. It has tons of zippers. In one pocket are little biscuits, in another are caca bags, and in another gloves. I wear a bandana over my face. No makeup. Hair in a ponytail. I do not care.

We nip into the park above the Met and walk along a path until we see the new COVID-19 field hospital in the East Meadow, which has been built by evangelist Billy Graham’s son, Franklin. We have been following the hospital’s progress since construction, which was very fast and is now a tidy cluster of white tents that takes up much of the meadow. There is always a lot of activity going on in the central arrival area, where patients are brought by ambulance to one of the 58 beds. Large transport trucks and buses with “Disaster Relief” emblazoned on the sides are parked in front on Fifth Avenue. It is a military operation, impressively organized.

Yesterday we went a new way for our afternoon walk, the one Bruce comes and gets me for. We went south and past the Swiss Cottage, past the rock gardens and over the wooden bridge on the lake. Then we climbed up a trail and found ourselves in a dell where I’d never been. The ground was softened by wood chips. It was just the two of us. And then we emerged as if by a miracle back to the spot where we’d started. This park is magical, I thought to myself. It is a fantastic gift to New Yorkers. The heart and lungs of this city.

Today, however, we take our usual route. When we get to the big hill on the far side of the hospital, I decide it is time to turn back. There is a road that goes past the perimeter of the hospital that is the access to Fifth Avenue. But there are barriers and a guard there, so we head over to the wall and look for an exit. I am not hiking back up any hill.

The wall which borders Central Park on both sides is not to be trifled with. While it may not be visible from outer space, it is a substantial barrier made of rough-cut stone a foot and a half thick and six feet tall. It says “Don’t Mess With Me.” It is a thing. There are alternatives for accessing the park; they are called gates and they are gaping-wide entrances, which is how everyone going into or out of the park enters or exits. Everyone but me and Bruce, who have found ourselves between a rock, literally, and a hard place and too lazy to go back the way we came.

Thankfully, there is a point where the wall is lower. When I stand next to it, it comes up to my waist. There is a bench on the other side, so I hoist Bruce — who is a midsize dog — over the wall, where he lands on the bench. Now I just have to vault over it myself and we’ll be on our way. Except for the vaulting thing. Except for the being-a-73-year-old-woman-with-two-artificial-hips thing. Me, who used to easily swing up onto a horse bareback and cannot now figure out how to get over the low part of a wall.

Bruce, impatient with my dilemma, leaps like a leopard onto the pointy top of the wall to bark encouragement. He is a rescue. My daughter found his brother, whom she named Lloyd (the best dog name ever) and told me he had a brother also up for adoption. I met Bruce and took him home — a home he has destroyed many times over. A home whose halls look like killing fields for his stuffed toys, where there are vast piles of debris. I realize that I am many years too old to have a puppy, but he has matured. There are no more accidents. A few wayward toys, but now the fields are fallow.

Candice Bergen wearing the jacket. Not pictured: her pajamas. Photo: Chloe Malle

I am weighing my options. Do I try to heave one leg up and straddle the wall or push with both arms with no upper body strength and hope to haul myself over? This has been going on so long by now that a couple standing on Fifth Avenue calls out, “Would you like some help?” I say, “Thanks, but I’m 73 and too old to be scaling walls. I’m fine.” They come back with, “Wow! Our parents are 72 and they could never do that!” Should I be flattered? “Well, I haven’t done it yet!” I reply, and notice a few others gathering near the Billy Graham trucks. I could see a sermon hovering in my future. Time to launch. I heave one leg over and the other and land next to an ecstatic Bruce on the bench.

This has been the most excitement I’ve had since the coronavirus hit. Unless you count the time two weeks ago when I bent down in the park to pick up after Bruce and my cell phone fell out of my pocket onto the poop. But that’s for another time.

Candice Bergen is an award-winning actress and New York Times best-selling author. You can follow her on Instagram at @bergenbags.

Candice Bergen Scaled a Wall Walking Her Dog in Quarantine