Feldman’s Best Friend
Between the two of us, Sugar and I were either one dog or one man. Towards the end I was his hind legs and he was my heart. Now that he’s gone I’m going to have to do something about that cavity slightly to the left of my sternum. But Sugar should do just fine on his big beautiful golden wings. Just as an addendum to this piece written when we were still new to one another, I did end up confiding in Sugar and he always listened sympathetically, if with the occasion cock of the head, and he certainly spoke to me.
Feldman’s Best Friend
I didn’t have my first dog until I was 21 and married, too old for a dog and too young for a wife. We couldn’t have major mammals when I was a kid because Clayton and Howie had had a collie before I was born and it came to an untimely end beneath an ice truck. This ban held even though the odds on a pet being crushed by an ice truck were greatly reduced and in fact nearly zero by the time I came along in all that post-war euphoria. The biggest thing we had was a guinea pig, Tony, which Arthur rescued from a research lab he was spending the summer in as a youth-inizer; you could cuddle Tony or make him ride on the special boxcar Artie built for him on the Lionel line. He was great fun until we found him sprawled on the floor beneath his cage having left what appeared to be a note scrawled in his sawdust; I think, like a prisoner released after too long in the slammer, he couldn’t cope with life outside the pen. Other than Tony, there were just the lady bugs that came in under the window I tried threading leashes to, and the usual ill-advised assortment of painted turtles from vacations and goldfish from fairs, and a salamander Arthur found while fishing who quickly went AWOL, turning up months later mummified under his slipper in the closet. We couldn’t prove time of death to determine whether Arthur had actually stepped on him, or whether it just seemed to the salamander like a cozy place to die.
But a boy needs a dog. I’m not sure about girls; mine seem pretty oblivious of theirs; Nora, while she’s done a wonderful doggy memory book of photos and drawings, won’t go so far as to walk him, and Ellie only takes Sugar to the park when she senses there are boys there at the end of their own leashes. A dog helps train you. If you don’t get a dog by a certain age, let’s say 11, you will never know how to scratch anyone behind their ear to give them pleasure or get accustomed to having your commands ignored, and you certainly will never know the feeling of unconditional love. I can’t remember the last time a female bounded up wagging her hinder in unmitigated joy as I cracked the door, unless it was on my way out. Cat lovers like to say this need for acceptance from something that will lick anything is what reveals dog people to be insecure and co-dependent, but Sugar and I just lift our legs to that. While I would only sniff a butt under the most carefully controlled conditions or lick my genitalia if I could, something there is about the dog that speaks to the man. I enjoy peeing in the back yard under the stars with my dog; it’s just unfortunate that the neighbors put in a picture window on that side of the house. I relate to the way he looks around self-consciously when taking a squat because I would, too, under those conditions. I might also eat until I vomit, although I would not, then, have seconds.
Perhaps I got too attached to my first dog, Rocky. I loved the way he had what looked like the outline of his head, ears up, in white on his gold chest, like an emblem. He was completely untrained, and I respected that. When we lived in the country, there was nothing he liked better than a good severed cow leg, which I found touching, even though I had to drive one farm down further each morning to throw it in the culvert. I would say he could retrieve a cow leg from a 2 mile radius; I’m sure with a little practice he could’ve brought home some better cuts, as well. While not quite at the human interest newspaper article level, he had good disappearing/reappearing skills: once he slipped out of the car when we were on vacation in Alberta, only to show up later at the campsite on Highway 1. Back when wife one and I were running a day camp, Rocky once squeezed out of a cracked window in the Bel Air at a Kenosha mall (this dog could’ve been a cat burglar) on a Friday, ran off, and turned up at the first stop on my day camper bus pickup route, 52nd and 5th, the following Monday. Apparently he had bidness that lost weekend, like the time years later in Madison he took off on the Fourth of July and was spotted alternating between two females in heat in Middleton quite a little ways away, despite the fact he had been neutered. Now that’s pluck. I think I may have confused myself with Rocky at times, which is OK for a kid but probably not so good when you’re thirty. When you live along with a dog for a long time differences seem to disappears and it got so that the only difference, as far as I could tell, was that one of us enjoyed rolling on a carp. True, he was high strung and a barker, but I’ve lived with a lot worse since. Rocky and I had ten wonderful years right up until he chased a rabbit across the path of a Blazer and, having lost a step or two by that age, failed to clear the grill (the driver came out yelling “Is he all right? It’s only a light truck!”)
Sugar, of course, can never be my first dog, and that makes a difference, but I can see that many of the traits I thought were uniquely Rocky, turning the head askance, for example, to feign understanding; very nearly forming the word “Out!”; resting his head in my lap like I was the Buddha, are, in fact, dog traits; the very ones that have made us such a successful domesticated species. While Rocky was a mutt, Sugar has a pedigree, which puts him one up on me, but he doesn’t flaunt it. He comes from hunting stock, his sire being Bodacious Black Gunstock: if I ever want to shoot ducks, he would be entirely in favor of it, since, so far, they have proven extremely difficult to swim out to and nab unwounded. Nothing incites him like a duck, unless it’s a Pekinese. Hates small dogs. In fact, he’s not much of a dog lover in general, considering himself to be a furry Feldman and not a yellow lab. At first I felt a funny walking him because he looked like a gentile’s dog, not a Jewish Shepard like Rocky, but now that his whines and mine are pretty much indistinguishable I feel he fits right in. I talk to Sugar, but I don’t confide in him, or have the same kind of emotional dependence like I did with Rocky and with the first wife, for that matter, but maybe that’s just inevitable.
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