Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Guest Post: A Dog Day of Summer by W. Bruce Cameron
This is what happened.
You woke up this morning at 7:00am. It being a Saturday, I was still asleep. You became concerned that I might be getting too much rest, so you came over and shoved your wet nose in my face.
When I rolled over with a groan, you realized your intentions had been misunderstood. You watched me lie there, my breathing slowing, for a full minute before you barked in frustration.
“No barking,” I muttered. “Lie down. Sleep.”
You sifted carefully through this statement, completely comprehending that I had not used the word “bacon.” You barked again, and then again.
I rolled over and looked at you. “What? What is it?”, I asked you.
You wagged excitedly. Yes!, you thought. Let’s get up! Now your barking and yipping took on a frantic note. Time to get up! Time to get up!
“Okay, okay!” I said. I got out of bed and got dressed. You watched attentively. I went into the kitchen and started the coffee. You raced over to your favorite spot in front of the fireplace, stretched out on your dog bed, and fell asleep. I suppose you thought that as long as one of us was awake, the house was secure and the other member of the team should use the opportunity to catch up on some badly needed rest.
Me. I needed the rest. But you were the one who slept.
You roused yourself, of course, when I brought breakfast to the table. You sat alertly and obediently at my side, watching every spoonful of oatmeal as I raised it to my lips. My attention was riveted by the newspaper because I have several excellent ideas for fixing all the world’s problems and want to be prepared for when the President telephones. You put a paw on my leg.
I looked down at you and realized you had not been informed of recent developments concerning my bloodstream and the amount of cholesterol that’s floating around in it like an oil slick. “It’s oatmeal,” I said to you.
You swallowed, nearly swooning with food lust.
“You wouldn’t like it. Get your paw off my leg. No. I will not feed you.”
You heard a firmness in my tone and dropped your eyes in a wounded fashion. Okay, I guess I’ll just die of starvation but I’m willing if it will make you happy, your expression said. You fell to the floor dramatically, your face a study in tragedy. You took a long, shuddering sigh, then glanced up at me to see if I was buying it. I was back to reading about world events.
Well, this was intolerable. You jumped to your feet and walked over to your empty food bowl, which you pointedly licked, your dog tags clanging against the metal rim. Your whole life, the rule is you don’t get to eat until I do, but that doesn’t prevent you from staging your regularly scheduled protest demonstration each and every morning.
I ate as much oatmeal as I could swallow, which wasn’t much. The doctor says replacing bacon and eggs with this stuff will help me live longer. My response: Why would I want to?
When I stood up from the table you began doing your dance, a dervish’s whirl, whipping yourself around in circles while still keeping your eyes on my face. I don’t understand why your head doesn’t twist off when you do this.
“There is no bacon,” I warned you. “You really don’t want my leftovers.”
You nearly passed out at the word “bacon.” You were panting and trembling and drooling as I picked up your bowl and put in dog food. I turned to look at you and you froze, your gaze intent.
“You really want oatmeal?”
Yes! You danced some more. Yes! Yes! Yes!
I shrugged and shoveled some of the vile stuff into your bowl. Maybe you’ll live longer, too.
I put the bowl on the floor and you lunged for it, inhaling your meal, choking your food down as if I were about to take it away from you in mid-meal, which just for the record I have never, ever done. And then you froze. You pulled your head back a little, sniffing. Then you turned and stared at me.
Hey, your look said, what the hell is this?
“I told you. It’s oatmeal.”
You went back to eating, but now, instead of great gulps, you ate daintily, chewing with just the front teeth, as if you were trying to skin a tomato. With every swallow you shot me a searing, accusatory glance.
When you were finished I peered into your bowl: A slimy pile of oatmeal lay at the bottom. You watched grumpily as I cleaned it out.
Normally when I go back to brush my teeth and get ready to face the day you follow me and tangle yourself in my legs, but normally there’d been a tiny piece of bacon for you in your breakfast bowl. Without the bacon, life just seemed to have lost its purpose. This particular morning you went back to lie in front of the fireplace, sighing mournfully.
You didn’t rouse yourself until the next-door neighbor went out into his back yard, and then you hurled yourself against the back window, barking ferociously.
“Hey,” I said, “cut it out. You know Mr. Morton, you like Mr. Morton. It’s his yard, for heaven’s sake.”
You wouldn’t listen to my treasonous suggestion that we leave the invader alone. Then Mr. Morton started trimming his hedges, which so offended you that you nearly strangled on your own barking. You banged your face against the window, drooling and snapping your teeth.
“Okay! Okay!” I shouted. I went to the front door and opened it and you pushed me out of the way, your face set in a lethal snarl, your legs scrabbling for purchase. You rocketed out into the yard, a dog on a mission of death, straight for Mr. Morton, who looked up at your murderous approach.
Then you seemed to have second thoughts. Maybe I was right, maybe Mr. Morton was a nice guy. Maybe he should be allowed to trim his own hedges in his own yard without being killed by a dog attack. And hey, wasn’t there something interesting to sniff at the bottom of this one tree, here? Can’t we all get along?
Mr. Morton patted his thighs and you went over to him, wagging your tail, and then flopped over for a belly rub. I watched your complete submission with an ironic expression that was completely lost on you when you came bouncing back into the yard. It’s Mr. Morton!, your expression said. We love him!
“Okay, come on in,” I said, holding the door open.
You started to obey, and then you stopped, a thought flitting into your brain with such clarity I could actually see it register. It was a beautiful July day. I was probably going to sit at the computer all day long. There were scents to follow and bushes to mark, and, most important of all, there had been no bacon.
Your ears flattened themselves on either side of your head, a sure sign that you were thinking of being a bad dog. You glanced down the road, toward freedom.
“Come here,” I said sternly. We’ve practiced this command over and over—when I use that tone of voice, you know from experience that I am asserting my alpha authority over you, and that also, if you do as you are told, I will give you a treat. The powerful combination of dominance and reward are as compelling to you as a T-bone; it’s as if I’d turned on my Star-Trek tractor beam and was pulling you with inexorable force back into the house.
You took off.
“Come! Stay! Heel!” I shouted. These are all words in your limited vocabulary, and they all mean you are supposed to do what I say, so you increased your speed, until you were galloping like a greyhound after a rabbit.
You know that you are superior to me, physically. I may be able to throw a Frisbee, but you can chew one up. I can hurl a tennis ball down the street, but you can catch it in mid-air and then soak it in saliva so that I won’t want to touch it. And you can run faster. I will never catch you.
Your favorite playmate in the world is a black Labrador named Napoleon. Once you felt you had traveled far enough that I would never be able to find you, you veered through some back yards over to Napoleon’s kennel. He greeted you joyously through the fence, and his owner went out to let you in to wrestle with your playmate.
Caller ID told me who was phoning me. I picked up the phone. “I know,” I said.
My neighbor told me you were welcome to stay as long as you wanted. I sighed and said that no, I felt that would only reïnforce the behavior. I got in my car and drove over there.
You looked up, startled, when my car’s familiar sounds told you I had arrived in Napoleon’s driveway. Despite the fact that every single time you have ever run away you have gone straight to Napoleon’s house, you are dumbfounded that I have tracked you down.
I got out of my car and stood with my hands on my hips, which is the posture I adopt whenever you get into the garbage or chew one of my shoes or do anything that I know you know is bad. You lowered your head. Napoleon used the distraction to jump on you and put his mouth on your neck. You whirled and put your mouth on his neck. The wrestling recommenced.
“Hey!” I called out sternly.
You regarded me, puzzled, not sure why I sounded so mad. Then you remembered, and you dropped your head again. Oh yeah, the running-away thing.
I let you out of the kennel, pushing Napoleon’s eager head back so he didn’t get out too. You were slinking, now, your belly close to the ground. “You were a bad dog,” I told you.
Yes, a very, very bad dog. So bad, your expression said as I led you to the car. I opened the passenger door and you slipped inside, hanging your head. A bad, bad dog.
I went around and got in my side. You greeted me as if you’d been locked in the car for an hour, licking me and wagging your tail so hard it sent ripples of energy up and down your whole body. Car ride? Your expression said. We going for a car ride?
I spoke sternly to you, delivering my lecture on Expected Dog Behavior, but it was such a grand day you were too happy to pay much attention. You stuck your nose into the wind through the open window, took in several deep sniffs, then brought your head inside and sprayed me with a wet sneeze.
“Yuck!” I said.
We pulled in our driveway and you spotted Mr. Morton and began barking ferociously. Let me at him, I’ll kill the bastard!
“Stop it,” I told you. I clicked the leash onto your collar and you gave me a wounded look. What’s that for?
You continued to growl and bark at Mr. Morton while I went around to let you out. I snagged the end of the leash and you strained against it, begging for an opportunity to attack our neighbor. He waved at me and I waved back.
Struggling, I pulled you back into the house and shut the door. I removed the leash and you went to the window, still snarling, as Mr. Morton put away his hedge clippers and disappeared through his back door. The fur was up on your back, but you gradually began to stand down from full alert. You’d scared the guy back into his house, thus saving all of us from his mad hedge clipping. You had protected our property.
“Okay,” I said. “You are not supposed to run away, do you understand me? You come when I call.”
You responded to the one word you recognized, “come,” by trotting obediently over to me and sitting alertly at my feet. See what a good dog I am? Want me to heel? Stay? You name it.
“I have to work on a column. We’ll go for a walk this afternoon, okay?”
Walk? You liked the sound of that, but then you groaned when I went over to the computer and sat down at the keyboard. Not again!
I began to peck away. You sniffed around a little, and then an inspiration hit you and you went to your food bowl. You dipped your face into it, inhaling deeply. Then you raised your head and gave me a look of pure, stunned, disbelief.
What?, your eyes seemed to say. No bacon?
I looked away, concentrating on my column. It was due the day before, which meant I really needed to finish it in the next day or two. My editor and I have an agreement that it’s not really, really late until it is three days late, so I try to adhere to a strict schedule of only being two days late though usually I’m four days late.
You came over and put your head in my lap. I looked down at your sad eyes and realized that I had never been so hungry—whatever they put in oatmeal, apparently they leave out food. You whimpered.
You’re starving, you seemed to be saying to me. I don’t want you to starve.
You’re my best friend in the world—if you were worried about me, didn’t that mean something?
I made BLT’s for lunch, reasoning the doctor had only warned me about bacon for breakfast. You were really happy when I slipped a piece of it to you under the table.
And I was happy too.
Posted by Kari Olson at 8:28 AM