Big Valley, California – The medical marijuana experiments have been going well here for Ralph Weinstein. His research is proving high grade weed and Russian vodka laced with pickled asparagus brine render it near impossible for a writer to write. Not a problem. Ralph often barrels through a block like Alan “The Horse” Ameche in the old days of the NFL when the game was more important than the money. “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey”, Oliver Goldsmith wrote in 1770, “where wealth accumulates, and men decay”. Have I told you about the dog? No, I haven’t told you about the dog. In “An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog”, another Goldsmith poem, a dog goes mad and bites his owner’s hand, and although the man is injured, “The man recovered of the bite, the dog it was that died”. The dog in Weinstein’s tale bit no one (in fact as shall see it has no teeth), nor did it die, nor did Weinstein expire, so we have a fonder ending than Goldsmith’s. Weinstein’s dog story goes like this:
First light comes early on a deep summer morning in Big Valley, the eastward glow so early at 4:30 am it seems intrusive. Nonetheless, Ralph stumbles out of bed to begin yet another day with his usual ritual that initiates with the start button on the coffee maker in the kitchen. He glances out a window and sees a dog curled up on a doormat, a rather forlorn looking black and white Australian Shepard with an unkempt shaggy coat of long ratty hair that has never known a dog groomer. Ralph is never in a great mood first thing in the morning, and he has never shopped at Pets-R-Us, he would in fact like to do a Timothy McVeigh on Pets-R-Us and all the SUV’s in the parking lot too. So it is with a level of irritation Ralph thinks he recognizes the dog as belonging to his Portuguese neighbor farmer Randy whose highest qualities also lie in his mother Marie who makes world class bacalau and so Ralph forgives Randy for not being a responsible pet owner whose sick, cloying, compensatory attachment to one’s pet is the whole first chapter of “Fundamentals of Aberrant Psychology”. Several phone calls to Randy and Randy’s mother finally result in a recording on Ralph’s answering machine, a device he loathes, from Randy informing Ralph that the dog cannot be his dog because, as he records on the infernal device, “My dog is right here with me”.
Then Ralph does what he always does when he’s perched on the horns of even a minor dilemma, he calls his ranch foreman Dave.
Hi Dave, got a strange dog here, thought it was Randy’s, but not the case.
Does the dog have a collar with a tag on it?, asks logical Dave.
Oh shit, Ralph thinks, you mean I’m going to have to touch the little bastard to find out?
Thanks Dave, I’ll have a look.
At this juncture the dog has been drinking out of the stone wabi bowl in Ralph’s wannabe Japanese Zen garden and rooting around in the sagebrush that surrounds Ralph’s house. As Ralph approaches the dog lying now in the shade of the Hawthorn tree at the edge of the lawn, OCD tidy-loving Ralph sees to his dismay with his irritation index climbing that the soiled dishrag of a dog has gathered together various desiccated parts of a stinking deer carcass including a foreleg it’s chewing on. The dog seems friendly enough but becomes so startled by Ralph’s rearward approach that Ralph realizes it’s deaf as a post. Yes there’s a collar around its scraggly neck affixed with a tag issued by Leonard the local vet. Ralph hates calling a doctor especially when it isn’t he who needs one, so it is with a measure of self-discipline Ralph phones Leonard, gets his wife Chris on the other end of it.
Hi Chris, got a lost dog here with one of your tags on it, number 6305, can you ID the owner?
Sure, she says, hang on a minute.
After too many minutes later on hold Chris comes back on the phone, asks, Can you tell me the shape and color of the tag?
Impatient Ralph says, Jesus, Chris, you mean I have to touch the goddamn dog again . . . .but then, thankfully, she recants quickly and says, I need to do some further checking in the files, I’ll call you right back, which she finally does with a name and phone number. Thanks Chris.
Ralph calls the local number and gets a Hispanic woman on the line who laterals the call to her husband who brusquely informs Ralph their name isn’t the name in the vet’s records and furthermore they don’t own a dog.
Hello again, Chris, I called the number you gave me. They said I have a wrong name and they don’t own a dog.
I don’t know what to tell you Ralph, suggest you call animal rescue, the lady who runs it may take 24 hours to call you back but she will.
Ralph phones the animal rescue lady, she returns the call about eight hours later, says basically she can do nothing, but adds quickly “Keep me informed”.
At this point Ralph leaves for the rest of the day to run putative errands with the fervent hope the irksome dog will be gone when he returns. It’s not to be. When Ralph steps out of his truck back at home, here comes the dog, tongue lolling, tail wagging. Ralph glares at the dog with his arms spread, palms up, with an expression of dismay on his aging countenance, and the dog, clearly sensing Ralph’s shitheel antipathy, does an about face and walks disconsolately away with his head bowed and his tail hanging limp. Something rises in Ralph at that moment, a fetching combination of contrition, compassion, and anger that the dog’s owner could be such a heartless prick abandoning it.
Ralph phones A-2 Kathy, his adored neighbor who’s coming over for dinner shortly. A-2 Kathy lives with Bear, an extremely hyper, incessantly barking but inordinately intelligent little bastard of a Schnauzer with whom she has a complex relationship, a stew of love, hate and indifference.
Hi Kathy, the strange dog’s still here, hasn’t eaten a thing, can you bring over some of Bear’s kibble? She does so, two portions of it in fact, and she being the one who observed that the lost bedraggled pooch is toothless, she softens the kibble with water so it can get some nourishment it obviously badly needs.
Someone finally suggests that Ralph call Yvonne, another close neighbor whose reputation as an animal nurturer is well known and highly regarded. She raises Schnauzers (guess where Kathy acquired Bear?) and goats and birds, and in fact a whole menagerie of creatures big and small on the farmstead she shares with her Filipino husband Ted. Ralph loves Yvonne and Ted, has enjoyed many magnificent adobo dinners at their table over the years and he knows their extended family very well, one of their grandsons, Heath, is a good friend, and there’s a strange big-breasted granddaughter for whom Ralph lusts when he is in a deep disordered funk.
Hi Yvonne, got a little sad lost dog here I’ve reported to the animal rescue lady who asked to be kept informed, and said she’ll be back in the area in a few days. Any way you can handle the animal in the meantime?
Of course, says Yvonne, bring it right away.
Ralph thinks the thought but hasn’t the balls to ask Yvonne if she can come over and get it because there’s no way he wants the animal in his truck, and he isn’t sure he can get it in there anyway.
He lowers the tailgate of the pickup and tries to entice the dog to make the leap into the bed, he even makes a half-hearted attempt to hoist it up, but the dog’s having none of it. Finally he opens the door of the truck and motions the dog to get in and is surprised how gently, even sweetly, the dog does so. It’s obvious immediately the dog is not comfortable having boarded an unfamiliar vehicle, it hops from the front seat to the rear seat and then back again, and finally settles somewhat warily in the passenger seat next to Ralph. Ah, Ralph thinks with relief, now I can dump it on Yvonne and be quit of it at last.
Ralph pulls into Yvonne’s big front yard and tries to encourage the dog to exit the truck but it’s cowering, apparently reluctant to enter another unfamiliar venue. Ralph opens all four truck doors just as Yvonne appears from the side yard, she limping and bent, she not her former energetic self as Ralph well knows after some heavy duty medical crap, hip replacement a couple years ago, heart surgery last year, the natural benefits of nearly eighty years of living on this sordid planet. She greets Ralph briefly, then turns her full attention to little lost Fido who has at once exited the truck and is responding to Yvonne’s kind beckoning.
Oh come here, sweetheart, let’s see if you are a girl dog or a boy dog, and with a full hug she gently feels around sex parts says, Oh, you’re a girl dog, and lavishes her full affection on the animal that is now quite relaxed and happy.
Love you, Yvonne, Ralph says as he gets back in his truck with abiding relief he’s done with the dog, I’ll be in touch.
Dave calls the next morning with great news, the dog belongs to the Bricker family way down the road, and they’ve been looking for her since she ran off during a fierce thunderstorm a few days ago, obviously couldn’t hear the thunder but the lightening scared the bejeezus out of her. The kids especially are glad, Dave says, to have her back. So am I, Ralph thinks, so am fricking I. Happy endings are rare in the naked valley, damn rare.