Alís Best Friend
††††††††††† Iím a dog. Whatever you have surmised
from observing my colleagues, the fact is that you have
never been a dog and it is unlikely that you ever shall
be one. You probably donít care one way or the other,
but Iíve heard some of you longingly sigh my way, ďAh,
itís a dogís life.Ē With a cell phone pressed against
your ear in one hand, the other slopped with latte foam
from which your pinky dangles a key ring, you envy me.
††††††††††† Letís start with fundamentals. Like
you, Iím a sentient being. The scruff of a strong fingers
scratching behind my left ear and down the neck feels
delicious. When Al flavors my morning bowl of dry chow
with bacon grease from his breakfast, Iím beside myself.
I hurt too. A disapproving scowl breaks my heart. And
the rocks hurled at me by Billy Wagoner sting my backside.
††††††††††† Feelings? I know them. I sense when
Al misses Ruth. The mistress died two leaf-falling seasons
ago. Broke the old guy up something fierce inside. When
she was in charge, this house was shipshape, I can tell
you. No treats for Edgar (the wizened tabby cat) and me
except on Christmas Eve, Halloween, and Easter Sunday,
and then sparingly so as not to ďspoil these mangy critters.Ē
Al adored her. If Iíve heard him once, Iíve heard say
a hundred times to an old friend or even a stranger that
she, ďmade a gentleman of me.Ē I can attest to that truth.
Sheís gone and while thatís sad, it does mean treats more
frequently, daily, in fact. You see, Al takes to walking
most mornings, except when the snow refreezes dangerously
slick. Heís not inclined toward windstorms either. But
Iíd say that a good three hundred days out of the year
we ply our trade through the neighborhood. He gabs; I
sniff. We both munch popcorn.
††††††††††† Al knows no strangers. As we walk,
an unfamiliar face is an opportunity, a door of invitation
to him. He knocks gently, then with the slightest opening,
heís through that door with a smile, and a handshake,
and a not a few words. We meet up with lots of folks in
the park. By city park standards itís smallish but adequate
with a fine assortment of trees that provide pleasure
to both nose and bladder. The boss keeps me on a leash,
the old-fashioned chain kind, so we manage to tangle ourselves
around a park bench when I rouse from my lethargy by a
taunting squirrel. But mostly I sit and yawn, scratching
when necessary, while Al warms to a conversation. Sometimes
I sleep in the sunshine, especially when he drags on about
foreign policy. I find the pavement cool against my belly.
At that point, I get positively dog- tired, even though
I try to be halfway attentive for selfish reasons, because
the popcorn is doled out when the conversation ends. We
know a keen passion for popcorn.
††††††††††† Once week or twice, if weíve been especially
gluttonous on our walks, Al fires up the gas stove after
supper. No air popper for us. Our corn is popped in one
hundred percent real butter melted in the bottom of a
cast iron pot. He keeps the unpopped corn in a Mason Jar.
In the process of jerking the pan across heat some kernels
burn black, lots fail to pop at all, but oh, the majority
get drenched in butter and then stored in Tupperware bowls.
††††††††††† In the early morning, Al dresses and
snuggles on a khaki jacket with two large side pockets.
If the air is chill, he wears a fleece sleeveless sweater
over the top. Unfortunately, the sweaterís pockets are
smallóthatís where the boss stuffs popcornóso I prefer
the khaki jacket. He stands over the counter dipping into
the Tupperware and cramming his pockets. Lots of freebies
hit the floor.
††††††††††† He favors the back door. Iím skittish
about that brat up the block with a pitcherís arm. I look
behind me several times as Al strolls down the alleyway
and breathe freely when we turn up the sidewalk to the
park. At that point, my buddy tosses a few kernels my
way. It used to be a reward for a trick Iíd learned. Not
anymore, weíre both too old for that anymore. It is important
to add here that Al has no reservations with regard with
regard to apportioning the popcorn. We share.