Thursday, March 17, 2005

Chapter 4: Pop and Pup

I wonder about telling all these anecdotes... maybe it’s not the manliest thing. Is it too "cutesy-wootsey" to write stories about dogs? Then again, Jack London did it. John Steinbeck, too. Is devoting this much attention to a pet something a tough guy would do?

Well, there was no one tougher than my father. Not to say he wasn’t sensitive, he just didn’t express it. Dad might acknowledge that the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life was heart-warming, but he was more likely to shed a tear when he missed hitting a trifecta in the ninth race at Belmont. If the ol’ man had an inner child, then that kid had a bad case of Tourette’s Syndrome.

"Ahh, fuck!" He’d say, "Mike, get this sonuvabitch the hell offa me."

Every night, Max would come over to my dad’s corner of the couch. Raise a paw to shake hands, then the other one, and then clamber up so that his chest was draped across my dad’s lap. Max knew he wasn’t allowed on the furniture (he slept on the floor in my room, never the bed); he just wanted to cozy up to the king of the castle.

The big misanthrope would put down the Daily Racing Form, snub out his half-smoked Salem, and patronize the pooch. "Awright, boy. Enough, you stupid dog." Give him a perfunctory pat on the head and then shove him off. For that moment, Max was happier than he’d been all evening.

I didn’t get it. I’d say, "Max, he doesn’t feed you. He doesn’t walk you. I don’t even think he likes you. Why do you bother?"

My dad shrugged and insisted Max recognized his inherent character. "The dog knows a good soul when he sees one."

Must be blind. That "good soul" wouldn’t let me go out late, just because I trashed that Buick Skylark two weeks after I got my license. Thing was a piece of shit anyway. And hey, I was a senior now, almost eighteen.

Wha’ever. I do wha’ I want!

But clandestinely. Had to wait ‘til everyone went to sleep before I could sneak out for all the cool parties. Quiet... put the shoes on outside... I was almost out the front door... when I spotted my dad in the living room.

I stopped, thinking he saw me... but he was in the middle of doing something. Something that was shocking to behold.

Dad was seated on the floor, petting Max, and telling him in a voice more sugary than he’s ever used on any of his kids: "Yes. You’re a noble beast. Aren’tcha? Yes, you are. A noble beast."

I don’t think I wound up going out that night. This was definitely better than any kegger or trying to score with chicks by sharing a bowl of jello vodka. I had learned why Max loved Dad so much.

The ol’ man was a closet wuss.

But with a dog like this, could you blame him?


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