Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Nice Dog to Good Family
The flames twitched in their red glass globes. There was an old man sitting on one prong of the horseshoe-shaped bar. He looked aching to talk so I went around to the other side. He smoked a dead cigarette and took deep, hissing breaths while he drank. I couldn't help looking him over, which to him was as good as an invitation to join me. He squinted from smoke rising in weary helices from the ashtray and, pulling at the crotch of his gray work pants, he shambled my way, sat down on the stool next to me, and looked for awhile, longingly, at the seat he'd just come from.
He began with his hands on the bar, palm facing palm, indicating the size of something.
"I had this little dog, see? And screw his little dog life if he didn't give my ass so big a pain it made my throat sore. I named him Chandler -- you know, Chandler, after the detective books. Ate those up back when my eyes worked better'n a jigger of spit. Little brown dog, like a meatloaf with legs. One milky eye," He nearly put his eye out gesturing.
"Perfect otherwise, y'know? I thought, train him not to be such a pain in the rump all the time. There are dog books, ain't there? So I get some: 'Train Your Dog to Drool Pearls and Bet the Horses.' You know the books I'm talkin' about. I read them all and I couldn't find a damn thing in any one of them I wanted to teach my dog. Who cares if he plays dead or shakes your hand? I want a dog can play dead I'll buy a dead dog. Then I think, biggest pain of all is taking this little meatloaf for a walk so he can crap or pee on a fireplug. Middle of the night. Four in the morning. Rain, snow, sleet, hail. Shit."
He relit the dead cigarette, but not much came of it.
"I'm thinking, time to give this dog a little CIV-I-LI-ZA-TION. Who gets up at four in the morning? I'll teach him to use the pot. Not sit on it like you or me, but stand on the seat on all fours and take a wizz or a crap or whatever. Chandler? Well, he's not giving it his all at first. But I give him a few whacks on the nose with the funny papers and some dog cookies, and finally he's at least tryin' it out, standing on the seat, little shaky, but he's gettin' it. Month later, maybe two, and I get up in the middle of the night to pee and there's Chandler standing on the seat, his legs shaking and his eyes real big and scared, but damn if he wasn't doin' it! He's got the form!"
The man set his palms face to face again. He clutched a ball of remorse in the muscles of his throat.
"Sure, he gets a little on the seat maybe, but who cares? He's wizzin' on the pot. I wanna call the Daily Goddamn Planet, sure. Got a dog usin' the can. Page one. And in no time he's an expert -- do it on two legs, big pooch grin on his face. Cocky son of a bitch..."
"He can...?" I tried to help the old geezer out a little and show him I'm paying attention, which I am by now.
"SURE HE CAN! He's some kinda ballet dancer. But things get weird for me, like I start gettin' embarrassed walkin' in on him. Sometimes he's got this look on his face while he's doing his business. Like he wants privacy or something. I say, sorry, and close the door like he's my buddy Randy takin' a dump at work. Excuse me, Chandler. Sheesh, learn to shut the door like a human bein'. A month later and I'm thinkin' I wanna buy him pants or knickers. Some little dog trousers. No way, but I'm thinkin' it just the same."
He took time out for a big ugly sob.
"Well, if I can train him, I can untrain him, huh? I start whacking the mutt on the nose he even looks at the john, hauling him outside next to trees again. But he holds it. I keep the bathroom door shut but I find him straddling the kitchen sink, any hole he can fit his legs around. Sometimes I don't find his mess for a week. And he's getting...savage, biting my hand and nippin' at my pant legs. Now, I love this dog. What I didn't mention, right? Whole story and I didn't even tell you that. I'm a shit. I got a dog uses the john and I can't do nothin'. This little meatloaf and he's lookin' at me like I ruined his life. A few midnight walks, four in the morning...Who cares? Who am I, Professor Henry Higgins? It's a dog. I want a senator or somethin'?"
He gulped for air now, like a dying fish.
"I had to give the dog away. I just couldn't take it. Some nice family never owned a dog. He was lookin' at me all the time, see? Lookin' at the bathroom door, like I'd locked him out of High Holy Mass. And I didn't tell the family, that's how rotten to the core I am. See?"
He looked to see if I saw. I don't think I moved a muscle but he nodded and went on.
"They start callin' me a week later, leavin' messages at work. 'What??!!??,' they're yellin', 'This goddamn dog uses the fucking toilet. Are you kidding me? Whose dog uses the can? We look like we wanted a circus animal? We want a little dog. For our little boy...' Well, I have to move eventually. Get an unlisted number. See, I sold the dog. I'm a bastard. I'm a prick. I sold a crazy circus dog to some nice family wanted a puppy for their kids. Thirty bucks. I kept the money. I moved. Is that a nightmare, or what?"
- Charles Lieurance, Leland Hotel, San Francisco 1989