Being bits of wisdom gleaned from daily walks with my dog, Coffee. He left for stars unknown in 2010.
Occasionally while Katherine and I are in the living room watching TV, one of us will say “Look, there’s a large animal lying on the carpet.” We both then stare in mock amazement at the snoring tonnage of Coffee J.Dogg.
We spend a whimsical moment or two wondering aloud that civilized society allows such big honking wildebeests into its living quarters.We have this silly conversation a lot—our attempt to keep from taking the nature of things for granted.
It’s almost as if we were saying “Holy moley, a mouse just ran across the floor.” Almost. Every now and then when that actually happens, silliness gives way to shrieks and murderous fricking and fracking.
One night when I was a boy, a bat got into our house. The chaos it caused as we scrambled for cover amid weeping and gnashing of teeth couldn’t have been greater had a squadron of Cossacks crashed through the door.
My father went immediately to the front closet, looking, I prayed, for a riot gun. But he emerged from the closet with his business fedora pulled tightly over his ears and in his hands a broom and dustpan.
It took him 45 panicky minutes to corner that dipping, darting bat. All the time my father was egged on by our barking, yipping dog, Rascal Slade. This was a seriously deranged, hyper-active dog, a mixed up Chihuahua-terrier detested through the neighborhood by man and beast.
He growled and barked and nipped at everything. He’d bitten every one of us—except the old man—at least once during our seven-year love-hate relationship. He dragged his butt on the rug, he had fleas, a $20-a-month digitalis habit and the breath of a dead uncle. Yet no one ever went after him with a broom or a dustpan.
In fact, we humans have long drawn a somewhat irrational line between ourselves and the animal kingdom. You see dogs but not squirrels having free roam of a house. Cats, ferrets, rabbits and hamsters, yes; but never pigeon, bear, possum or mole.
Sometimes somebody will fall in love with a large pig and invite it into full family membership, but they are always the weird family down the street.
When I was a newspaperman in Denver I wrote a story about a young loon who owned a leopard and couldn’t understand why the neighbors were freaked to the max. I’ve written stories about people with exotic snakes.
Somehow, it just wouldn’t be amusing or wondrous if one night I said to Katherine “Look, dear, there’s a boa constrictor lying on the carpet.”
Most civilized people understand the fine line between the wife-eating snake and the slipper-eating dog. Part of it lies rooted in our upbringing—learning which fork to use for the salad, which Hawaiian shirt not to wear to a wedding, what form of gushing white lie to recite when your aunt gives you a savings bond for your birthday instead of a Remco Bulldog tank.
It all derives from a vast body of Unwritten Rules, those carefully calculated social norms handed down through generations. Unwritten Rules are what make it a taboo to keep a barnyard animal as a house pet, or to cheer at a funeral.
But part of it also stems from the DNA. Scientists, I’m sure, would argue that grace is not something that can be measured and therefore doesn’t exist.
Yet even they would most likely agree that deep within the human package, certain of us harbor wiggly amoeba thingies that push and shove and brazenly emit fulminating fumes without begging pardon, thus relegating the person on the outside of the skin and bones to the status of an ignorant bozo.
Unfortunately, some of us are hardwired to be stupid, no matter how many times our mother tells us she thought she was going to die when we broke the sound barrier during the pastor’s sermon.
As a reporter covering the Colorado State House, I remember the legislator who used to talk with his mouth full of food, usually a cheese sandwich.
The fact that he had nothing at all to say made it an even more degrading sight. Once, in a pique over some bill or other he jammed a pen into the electronic voting apparatus at his desk, causing the system to malfunction.
There stands my model of an ignorant man, full of pushy amoebas and blind to the unwritten rules of decorum.
Yet in that same statehouse, you had the genial chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, who would not infrequently come to work wearing a black wingtip on one foot and a brown one on the other. Sometimes he would notice it himself and smile to friends “You know I have a pair just like this at home.”
There stood a civilized man, one who received the rules from one generation and passed them along to the next. He ended up with a building named in his honor, while the cheese-eater melted into deserved obscurity.
So when we can, Katherine and I try to appreciate the civilized nature of things, but not lose our sense of wonder at the giant hairbag snoozing at our feet.
We feed him the dog food with the tastiest looking picture on the label, we talk to him as if he understands, we guide him through daily sniffouts of the neighborhood and we make sure he takes his thyroid medicine every night.
For he is a civilized dog and we are his civilized, obedient servants.
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013, all rights reserved