Dogs in Love
by Ivars Balkits, January 10th 2023
On the third wettest November in two decades Chelsea came for a one-week visit to the Cabinoids. One tenth of an inch more, and the wetness would have tied with that of the November ten years before. A San Diego news weather announcer’s figures indicated that much, and she was not known to lie.
Schooner had been “bad dog, bad dog” in the past. He had chewed out the crotches of at least five pairs of his mistress’s panties before she had him fixed. The last and first time he and Chelsea met he had not been yet. And neither had she, but nothing came of that.
Chelsea came to the Cabinoids again, and Schoons would have eagerly awaited her arrival had he been capable. As it was, the two tore across the beach, popping kelp buds, flirting with the waves on moonless, light-polluted nights. It was instant together again. Poons lost all interest in the Cabinoids for the rest of the week. Chelsea was his engine, he her caboose. Together they formed the doggie-train – around the legs of tables, back and forth before the couch, room to room, his nose constantly under her tail it seemed. He licked her parts so much they everted. Chelsea was wet from croup to withers. He attacked her when she got into his food and humped her the rest of the time. “Just like his daddy,” his master said. Poonies was damp, doggy, and wanted release – and would have had he been capable.
After “the weather,” Barry Manilow on the Johnny Carson Show sang, “Don’t make me beg. Don’t make me plead.” The Cabinoids debated whether he had “done something to his nose.”
[ ] Yes [ ] No
Chelsea pined with the patio door between them, but most of the time wished Schoonie-poo was not so ardent, so insistent. She wished she could have a corner, a caress, a morsel, a moment of her own. Schooner just grinned when she expressed her sense of discomfort. He just grinned his golden grin. Chelsea was black; Schooner was golden. She had white armpit hairs.
Barry Manilow sang, “The hottest spot north of Havana.”
The table had been cleared of candied yams, “real yams,” beans, corn, sour cream, mashed potatoes, and of both local and foreign wines. The carcass of the turkey was tucked safely in the refrigerator under a shanty of aluminum foil. The conversation was drifting like a bed of kelp from union-busting to career goals to dogs, children, and back to Barry Manilow’s nose. It drifted like kelp. The doggie train lay like a cutout paper chain before the couch. In his sleep, Schooner licked the black pads of Chelsea’s feet. Chelsea’s legs twitched. Someone suggested an evening of bowling.
That was to prove a pivotal point in events.
The night before, the dogs had barked at a stranger on a boardwalk crowded with people who didn’t know each other. What was strange was that the dogs had rarely barked at anyone strange before. There must’ve been something evil about the man, most of the Cabinoids thought.
[ ] Yes [ ] No
Chelsea had just deposited a half-pound of feces in front of the waves, and because of that, Schooner had a hard time sniffing it. (Not that he was fastidious. It was just that he wasn’t allowed in the water. And knew it.) The Cabinoids et lupi were straining up the stairs from the beach, when the dogs spotted him in a blur of strollers. Despite the late hour, he was at work. He was collecting aluminum cans from large concrete containers spaced out along the board walk every twenty yards. He had a fine, professional-looking cart with plastic bags hooked, ends open, at each end. More plastic bags were neatly piled on a bottom shelf. He was not doing anything one might on first impression construe as either immoral or dangerous. But the dogs started carrying on nevertheless. And the Cabinoids were forced to rush over and yank their collars hard.
“Peace, brother, peace,” the man yelled for some inexplicable reason. He laughed a little because he was scared. He had a yellow baseball cap, a navy blue windbreaker, an oily yellow slicker, a baggy Irish sweater, and some other sloppy, hanging clothing. But what was he? Evil? Well, was he evil? Did he believe, as some do, that , “It’s questionable whether the sight of fornicating dogs teaches children anything about sex?”* Had he a revulsion to zoonoses (diseases transmittable from animals to people)? Had he used dogs as spies in the Second World War, inserting secret messages in their rectums and sneaking them across and behind the front? No, no, to it all. He had never been evil a day in his life to either dog or human. But he was deeply disturbed nevertheless.
The next day, which was the day of the night the Cabinoids went bowling, Puppy found himself in front of a dumpster, staring blankly at these words: “Caution. Do Not Play In Or Around This Container.”
“Peace, brother, peace,” he thought, “but this thing sure has me. What is it with me? I’ve never been a real puppy miller, even though that’s my name. I’m not a member of any religion that believes keeping a pet endangers entry to the next life. I’m not of any ethnic group that eats dogs. And I’m not a vivisectionist.”
Puppy Miller quit work for the day, deciding to go to the library to read up on dog behavior, but stopped first for a bicarbonate at a waterfront bar called Tugs. Or it could’ve been a waterfront bar called Tugs. It could’ve been a hangout for cutthroats, carnies, bikers, bankers and other social debris. And it was.
Meeting him at the bar, Puppy met Barney. This led to his decision to enter the house.
Barney is a one-armed man who hocked everything for a Stetson hat; that was gone, replaced by a watchman’s cap. Immediately, he tried to trade Puppy a thin, goldish cigarette lighter for a couple of Blue Ribbon drafts. Otherwise, he didn’t say much, just listened to Puppy talk. Puppy told him about the dogs. He told him the whole sordid story. At the end of the narrative, which was unnecessarily long, convoluted, and full of such tangential detail it completely obliterated the main point, whatever that had been, he spoke of his fears, and pride, and guilt.
“I stood earlier before the dumpster, imagining how the veins would sproing out of my arms, like snapped guitar strings, had I climbed into that container to slit my wrists. Or how I would hold a rifle by its trigger with both thumbs, the barrel-end in the crease between my eyebrows, or how later I might lock myself on a rooftop and take some pills. I imagined what it would be like to play in that container and asphyxiate from the gas of rotting fruit.”
Barney finally spoke. He said the superstitious belief Puppy had of the ability of canines to detect, through some sixth sense, the moral worth of an individual, likely stemmed from a practice in an (unidentified) country, where dogs were made crowned heads of state. If the dog licked the hand of a subject brought to it, favors were conferred on that individual. If the dog growled or barked, the individual could be jailed or even suffer an excruciating and barbarous death.
Barney then spoke to him of the value of “returning to the scene of the crime.” “Go in there and make friends with the dogs,” he suggested. “You followed those people home after the encounter. You know where they live. It’ll release you to confront those animals, man. It will free you from your phobias and suppositions.”
“So, maybe I would’ve asphyxiated from the rotting fruit,” Puppy went on, as if he hadn’t heard a word Barney said. And he hadn’t, hardly, except that part about entering the house or yard. “Yeah, I’ll do it,” he said, but thought he might go to the Pacific Beach library first to read up on dog behavior.
That what’s happened at the waterfront bar. There had been only one hour of sunshine that day.
That next night Barney, Fred, Wilma and Betty went bowling. They were the Cabinoids. It was only coincidence that their names were the same as the Hanna-Barbara cartoon characters, of course. And Barney was not the same character Puppy had met earlier that day at the waterfront bar, also of course. The Cabinoids led the dogs out the patio door into the backyard, where they pined awhile, the dogs, but then went and lay down beside the outdoor Jacuzzi, still the dogs. They then jumped into an electric-blue Volkswagen, the Cabinoids. Fred kicked the car into gear, and away they went, flapping in the wind.
Puppy Miller was soon beside the fence. For some unknown reason the dogs refused to bark. Maybe they were in too deep a sleep after all that tryptophane found in turkey meat.
“Dipping to front elbows, behind in the air, tail wagging, grinning widely, “ Puppy rehearsed, “These are an intro to play.”
“Dogs fold their tongues back to make cups,” he recited, “when drinking water.”
“A dog runs underwater,” Puppy reviewed in his mind before scaling the fence. Indeed, he had indeed gone to the library to read up on the behavior of dogs. “There is no dogpaddle.”
Meanwhile, Barney (not Puppy’s acquaintance) handed the man at the desk the coupons, but the man said, “We have no lanes open at this time,” and ran off. He and another woman were running up and down the line, lifting numbered shoes up onto the counter, putting other numbered shoes below the counter, taking sheets of paper, making marks on sheets of paper, collecting money, and ringing the register. Barney went back and reluctantly told the rest of the Cabinoids that no lanes were open. The next moment, one was, and soon the Cabinoids were standing at Lane 22 in numbered shoes, clutching unmarked sheets of paper. Wilma and Betty were already looking up and down for a light-colored ball each. “Keep the coupons,” the man had said to Barney, “until when you pay.”
Puppy raised his left leg. He hooked he heel of his dirty sneaker on the fence. His dirty hands were grabbing the pickets. The fence wasn’t so white.
Fred picked out a big, black, three-holed ball. Since the server hadn’t come yet to Lane 22, Fred and Barney went to get their own beers. As they walked back to the lane, the bottles clinked together like dinosaur bones.
It seemed like a scraping sound was coming from the other side of the fence. Puppy stopped mid-scale and pricked up his ears. He sniffed the air.
Betty forgot to let go of her ball on the practice roll. She went flying into the air and landed on her behind. Wilma, Fred, Barney, everyone was concerned.
Puppy leapt over the fence right between the two snarling dogs. He hopped around a bit. He broke the pickets trying to jump back over the fence, landed in the neighbor’s outdoor Jacuzzi, where the neighbors were bathing. They whipped their towels on. The dogs came through the broken pickets. Puppy pulled open the neighbor’s gate to another backyard. Another neighbor was cleaning out the gutters, standing on a ladder. Puppy knocked the ladder. The neighbor fell. Puppy found himself in a back alley with a car coming down the alley fast. The car swerved to miss. It went into a wall. Steam came out. The car had hit some garbage cans. Garbage came out. The noise woke more neighbors. They left their apartments. Everyone chased Puppy down the alley and then the avenue. He ran fast. They ran fast. “Peace, brother, peace,” he yelled. He felt (perversely) like a bowling ball; the pins were getting closer…
“Strike. I got a strike.” Betty was jumping up and down halfway down Lane 22.
A light rain was falling again.
* 1 Beck, Alan M., S.D., Director, Bureau of Animal Affairs, Department of Health, City of New York, Introduction to The Dog Crisis, by Iris Nowell (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 1979), xiv.