Alís Best Friend


Rick Scheideman


††††††††††† 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.