Authors: Harry Mazer
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For my sister-in-law, Linda Fox, who still kisses dogs. She inspires me with her explosive laugh, her enthusiasm, and her love of all animals.
It happened to me.
To me and Gregory. You can believe it or not, but this is a true story. I was in a dog run in an SPCA facility when I first saw him. I had found myself a little shade and was watching the Sunday afternoon gawkers, parents and their kids lined up oohing and aahing over the cute little pups. Nobody was interested in a mature dog. I didn't expect to find a new family too soon.
My old family had gone overseas and left me here, because there was no place for me in their plans. I don't think this is the time to go into the whole story of my life, because it's Gregory I want to tell you about, but I've
seen a thing or two, and I've had some bad experiences.
What does a dog want? Being a dog I've thought about it a lot. A dog wants to be treated fairly and to know his place. He wants food, shelter, a place to come home to. Responsibility and to have his work appreciated. A dog wants to love and be loved. The same as people.
I got my character from my mother. She was the best mother a dog could have. There were seven of us in the litter. There wasn't a thing we did that she didn't get a laugh out of or didn't join in. Of course, we could be pretty annoying, too, but she nipped us if she had to. The anger came and went in a second. It's the hugging I remember, the hanging out together, the getting into that big, warm, sniffy ball of love. We all loved one another. It wasn't easy breaking up.
Anyway, here I was, and there was Gregory. Just a little kid then, pressed up against the wire, looking at me. It was a mutual thing. I was on my feet the minute I saw him, and got myself as close to him as I could get.
“That one,” Gregory said, pointing to me.
“Good decision,” his father said.
I know it's unwise to generalize about people, but you can tell a lot about a family by the way the kids act around their parents. And the other way around, too. I saw it there in the dog pound, that morning. Kids begging. Whining. Bored. Parents ignoring them. Families without character.
Gregory's father was different. He respected his son's judgment. “You picked the best dog in the place.”
I don't go around inflating myself, but the truth was,
pound for pound, I probably
the best dog there. Not that I was physically impressive. I'm an average-size dog, maybe a little on the small side, but I can handle myself. I'm not talking about fighting ability. I'm talking about brains, and brains don't come by the pound.
Just as you can't generalize about people, you can't generalize about dogs. There are all kinds, all colors, all shapes and sizes. There are mean, scary dogs, but a lot more loyal, friendly, dependable dogs. Smiling, tail-wagging dogs. Play dogs. I-love-you-to-death dogs. Dogs that will go off with anyone. I'd advise keeping a dog like that on a leash. I hate a leash myself, but with some dogs you have no choice. I'm dog enough to say it.
The Oshuns opened their arms
to me. They took me in, made me part of their family. They were Mom and Dad, and Gregory was my best friend. I got my ears pulled and my belly rubbed. At first they didn't know what to call me. I was part spaniel, so I had ears. Mom said my ears looked like big silk purse flaps, and she called me Silky Ears. Nobody else liked that name. Gregory called me Cosmos or Thunder.
“What an imagination,” Dad said. “What a brain. You're a genius!”
“He's the genius.” Gregory pointed to me.
“He does look a little like Einstein,” Mom said, and they all went to look at the picture of Einstein that hung in Gregory's room. “He's got the same serious look, and look at the circles around the eyes.”
From then on, I was Einstein. It was, “Einstein, where's Gregory? Einstein, don't let Gregory out of your sight.” I didn't have to be reminded. Gregory was my boy and I was his dog. I prided myself on doing a good job. I never heard the words “bad dog,” and I never was corrected, and I never ever heard anyone say, “What do you expect, he's only a dog.”
You don't think that's humiliating? How would you feel if you heard, “What do you expect, he's only a human being?”
I consider myself a serious,
one-person dog. That's the one person whose commands I take, the one person I want to be around. The one person I have to be with. Gregory. If he's not there, there's something missing in my life. I'm not scary-looking, like a Doberman or a bulldog, but if I think anyone is threatening Gregory, I can be ferocious. You don't put anything over on a really attentive, watchful dog.
Gregory was curious, always wanting to investigate things. If he saw a bee go into a hole, he'd get a stick and try to get it out. I'd bark to warn him, but he'd still get stung. He sniffed everything. Like me. He'd taste anything, even insects. Maybe he learned that from me, too. I like to snap at flying bugs.
He did have a way of getting into situations. He'd cross a busy street reading a comic. There were moments when all I could do was hold my breath. Like the time he climbed down a cliff over a busy highway. The cliff was so
steep I couldn't follow him. I didn't know whether to wait on top and hope he'd make it, or run around to the bottom and block traffic in case he fell.
That's what I finally did, running out into a four-lane road. Oh, was I cursed and yelled at. “Crazy, stupid dog!”
Gregory came down fine. “Einstein,” he said. “What are you doing down here?”
He was a dreamer. “Einstein,” he said to me once, “what if we lived on another planet?” We were on the grass in the backyard. I was chewing on a bone I'd found in the bushes.
“I'll be an astronaut, and you be the first dog astronaut.” He spread his arms and showed me the way we'd fly and land on a new planet. “I'll call it Smiggy. I'll be the first human to land there and you'll be the first dog. What are you going to say to the Smiggoids? Have you thought about it?”
I gave him a paw.
“That's right, you give them a paw and I give them a smile. You think they know what a smile means? To Smiggoids, a smile could be an insult.” He pulled me around by my muzzle so I could see the smile he'd give the Smiggoids. “Guess what I'm saying now.â¦Phew! You've got dog breath.”
After elementary school,
Gregory stopped playing astronaut and began noticing girls, and I began to hear a lot about one of them. Tina Sparks. How incredibly nice she was, how talented, and what incredible nerve she had.
“Einstein, remember Show Night? Tina got up in front of the whole school and sang and danced. Would you do that? I couldn't. I don't know where she gets the guts.”
I liked Tina. She reminded me of a black poodle that used to live a couple of blocks down from us. That poodle had real class, but wasn't stuck-up. Tina was like that, and she liked Gregory. Everyone liked Gregory. He was nice to everyone, and he played the piano and got invited to a lot of parties.
I went to school with Gregory every day. I hated it when the bell rang and he went in, and I had to stay out. I tried to follow him in a few times and got chased. I'd go around the block and come back. I was always there waiting when Gregory came out of school. Once he hid me in his knapsack, and I went to class with him, until a teacher saw me peering out. We were both sent to the principal's office.
Every morning I had to
wake Gregory up. It was my job to get him ready for school. Gregory was a deep sleeper. You could run over him and he'd go on sleeping. I jumped on the bed, barked, and sniffed around his neck. I loved the way he smelled in the morning. He tried to pull me down next to him. I squirmed free and dragged the covers off him.
If nothing else worked, there was one sure way to get him up: I licked the bottoms of his feet. He'd jerk his legs away and laugh himself awake.
When we went downstairs this particular morning,
Dad was sitting with his coffee and the newspaper. He had it folded to the sports page. “Adler got forty-four points last night,” Dad said.
“He's good.” Gregory went up for a couple of imaginary shots. “How's that, Dad?”
“That's the way. Think tall, Gregory. Friday night's the big game. Coach is going to be looking to you.”
Both of Gregory's older brothers had been outstanding basketball players in high school. Stars. Now Dad said it was Gregory's turn. “You've got a good shot from the outside, and you're smart and you know how to handle the ball. But you've got to go to the basket more.”
Gregory played in every game, but it was mainly to relieve the starters. Every time he went in, Dad was on his feet, cheering. He went to all the games.
“Gregory, you're at the cusp,” he said. “Meaning you're at the edge of greatness. You just have to put it together. Look at your brothers.” Dad got up and took his car keys from the counter. “You and your brothers, each one of you is a star.”
On the way to school Gregory was mumbling to himself. “Dad doesn't understand that I'm short. I'm
. I'm not tall like my brothers. I'm always going to be short. Okay?”
I didn't think short was bad. I was on the smallish side myself, but if I was on the team, it would be different for
me than it is for Gregory. Four legs are better than two. Plus the leaping-ability factor. We canines can leap three or four times our height.
“I don't want Dad to come to the game Friday night, Einstein. He's got his hopes up too high. Stephens Academy is a big game. He's going to expect something
from me. I hate it when he gets that disappointed look. We have to figure out a way so he won't come.”
Then he groaned because he knew there was no way Dad wouldn't be at the game.
I smelled Ron Rathson before
I saw him. I could smell him a mile away. It was that disgusting cologne he used. He was particular about the way he dressed. There was always a crease in his jeans. He wore what all the boys wore, but he didn't look like anyone else, or smell like anyone else, either.
Ron Rat, that's what I called him. He was a smiling, smooth-faced, two-faced, stab-you-in-the-back rat.
He was in front of the school leaning against the wall by the steps. “Hey, Greg-o-ree,” he said. He always had some mean trick up his sleeve.
“Hey, Ron,” Gregory said.
“Hey, Greg-o-ree,” Ernie Taylor joined in. He was Ron's sidekick, a beanpole with half a lemon for a brain.
Ron put his arm around Gregory and gave him a knuckle burn.
Gregory rubbed his head. “That hurts. Was that supposed to be friendly?”
Ron gave him a couple of rapid shots to the arm. All fun, except Gregory was always the one who ended up rubbing his sore arm or pinned to the ground.