Like all doting mothers, Ma has pictures of my childhood hidden away somewhere in the storage area of her basement. Years ago, I vaguely remember seeing one of me either sitting on or trying to stand next to a Great Dane dog in the empty lot next to the building we lived in on Independence Boulevard. This event probably takes place around 1954 or ’55 when I am about two years old and soon before we move further west and slightly north to the West Garfield Park area of Chicago.
As I recall, at the time I have a look on my face that does not reveal whether the dog and I are buddies. I do know that today I have mixed feelings about these four-legged creatures. It seems that whenever I am within smelling distance of one (notice I didn’t say who does the sniffing) the animal barks in a language they expect me to understand. It as if they are communicating and do not understand why I don’t respond in kind. Are we brothers of a certain band from a previous life?
There is the time when living in the Austin neighborhood that I am playing some inconsequential version of baseball in the alley behind our house with my upstairs neighbor Ronald. The ball goes into a neighbor’s back yard. Everyone knows not to go into that yard. There is a large wooden fence over five feet high with a sign on the gate that reads: “Keep Out. Beware of Dog” And I have seen the dog when the owner has walked him on a leash in the alley. It is the type that the nazis used in all those WWII movies when they went out looking for escaped prisoners. This particular one has a look in its eyes that says, “I eat short redheads for lunch.”
The fool that I am, I risk going into the yard because I do not hear anything going on in there so I figure the dog is in the house. Naturally, as often happens- I make a big mistake. As soon as I open the gate, I see the dog standing on its hind legs propping itself up against the fence with one front paw and the other is flipping the ball up in the air and catching it ala’ George Raft with a coin. Okay, it seems that way. The next thing I know, the dog is chasing me out into the alley as I back up against our garage door. He has his teeth resting against my left kneecap ready to take a chunk out of it for dessert. Luckily, the owner comes rushing out and saves the day. But, I have that indentation on my knee for a while as a reminder of stupid human tricks.
More than thirty years later, I go to visit my brother in a far away place. At the time, he has recently added a dog to the mix because his four kids insist on having one. Of course, they have no interest in taking care of or training the dog. So, it ends up that my brother spends more time with Dusty than anyone else.
To be fair, his then-ten-year-old daughter takes it upon herself to develop a relationship with the little Lhasa Apso. This includes carrying him about slung over a shoulder as one would a handbag. This type of treatment aids in making Dusty a certified neurotic which makes him fit in right with all the others in my brother’s family. Dusty never quite gets the idea of what housebroken means even if you bark it to him various accents. Nor does he understand what â€œfor the last time, stay off the friggin kitchen tableâ€ means, neither.
During that visit I figure that it is a good idea to try to make friends with the midget. So, I take him and his state-of-the-art extender leash with the two younger kids on a walk to the park down the block. I should also point out that Dusty interprets my strange human grunts as acting on his behalf when I am yelling at my niece to stop treating him so rough.
The next day, there is a worker inside the house repairing the tile floor in the so-called living room/dining room area. My sister-in-law has loosely tethered Dusty to a small pole standing on the front lawn to keep him from annoying the laborer. As I swing open the front door half way out of the house, I shout to her that I am going to take my rental car to go to my sister’s house which is six kilometers downhill away. I proceed to walk down the steep set of steps to the private parking area for the townhouses in their development. There is a high retaining wall for the steps so you cannot see who is walking up or down.
All of a sudden, I hear the clip-clop of something going down the stairs dragging a metallic chain. I immediately put two and two together and race over to the steps and see that Dusty has broken loose and gone down the stairs looking for me. He is standing at the entrance to the stairs and courtyard of the townhouses turning his head right and left trying to see which way I have gone. I grab the leash and walk him back up to his prison area and inform my sister-in-law of what has transpired.
About a month after the visit, my brother tellss me that he has sold Dusty to an older dowager lady who will take good care of him. He says that the kids are too wild in playing with him and he cannot keep acting as policeman as well as calm Dusty down every day.
Five or so years later, just a few weeks ago, my brother informs me that his daughter has found a dog all battered and filthy in a garbage bin when coming home from school. He cleans up Elmo and takes him to a vet and once again his family has a furry member. I suspect that word has barked around in the ‘hood about why Dusty was given his walking papers. Elmo is playful but quiet and knows how to deal with the crazy humans in his new home.