When Jay and I bought our first house, we agreed to take a dog that his ex and her husband had raised from a puppy. They were giving up an aborted attempt to homestead and had no place to keep him. As the dog had saved my stepson from drowning in a creek, and was depicted as a highly responsible animal, we accepted him without reservation.
‘Beast’ was aptly named. His ancestry was uncertain: he had the size and shagginess of a St. Bernard, and the head and markings of a husky. But his sense of pack responsibility was all timber wolf. In the forested land where he spent his early years, he had been trained to patrol the boundaries of his owner’s territory.
I remember when he was dropped off, his former master showed him the front property line, walking him up and down it. “Beast, guard!” was the command.
And Beast took the order seriously. How seriously, we were about to find out. His stay with us lasted for about six hair-tearing months, and then, in complete exasperation and with the neighbors threatening lawsuits, we found him a home in a rural area with people who had an apple orchard that needed guarding.
On the Saturday morning when this transition was in process, I was waiting for the new owners to pick him up when the phone rings. But it isn’t the new owners, it’s my Mom.
We started with the usual catch-up on family. And then Mom asks, “How’s Beast?”
At least, that’s what I THOUGHT I heard her say. Given the circumstances, it seemed perfectly in context, as I had spoken to her briefly a couple days earlier about the grief this dog was causing us.
As I later found, to my great mortification, what she had actually said was, ‘How’s Jay?”
Out the window, I can see my husband rounding up the mutt from our front yard. Beast had once again jumped over our 6-foot board fence in his desire to patrol our entire property line.
So you can understand the exasperation in my reply. “Oh, I am getting RID of him!”
My mom seemed unduly surprised. “Why? What has he done?”
“What HASN’T he done?” I exploded. “Like right now the place stinks, because yesterday, AGAIN, he prevented the garbage men from picking up the trash!”
Mom was baffled. “Why would he do that?”
“Oh, he thinks it’s valuable, because it’s ours. He thinks anything we’ve ever owned has to be guarded. Ever since we got this house, he has paced up and down the property line, looking menacing. The mailman gave us a notice the other day saying we’d have to get our mail at the post office, because he’s afraid to deliver it.”
My mother is used to dealing with nutty people; she was custodian of her two schizophrenic nephews. Which might explain why her mind immediately jumped to conclusions about Jay’s sanity. “I had no idea he was so disturbed. Can you get him help?”
“I’ve already tried everything I know!” Says I. “I can keep him under control in the daytime. But at night, he just works the window latch and slips out again. And if you tie him up, he just chews through the rope!”
At this point, you would have expected my mother to realize that we were on totally different topics, but the shock apparently prevented her from putting two and two together. As for me, I am oblivious—as I can be, when I’m on a roll and there is a sympathetic ear.
“The final straw happened the other day! A girl came by riding a bicycle, and he cleared the six-foot fence in one bound and took off after her, barking and nipping at her heels!” I exclaimed. “And she was only twelve!”
There was a silence on the line. Then Mom said, “Are you going to file for divorce?”
“Divorce?!” It was my turn to be shocked. “Why would we get a divorce over Beast? Jay is as weary of his antics as I am!”
Randy the Rooster
I have dragged my feet on blogging for years now, because I am only too aware that once a thing is posted on the internet, the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, and those words are PERMANENT. Being the sort of person who thinks out loud, I suffer from foot-in-mouth disease, and frequently have to dislodge my toes from my tonsils. But as I am, after all, a writer, and it is only fair that prospective buyers should have the opportunity to sample my wares, I am resolved to publish my warts and foibles for the world to see.
What gives me courage, however, is that ‘the world’ is not likely to see much of them at all. With millions, maybe billions of people out there blogging about everything from sand sifting to bodily functions, I doubt anyone will see my first posts except those who already know me and therefore, my flaws. That being the case, I am going to start by telling a few stories which are already favorites in the hope that they will at the least, read it through.
So I’m going to start with a joke told me by my dear friend Ann, who’s probably laughing in heaven right now. Ann liked to laugh.
Ann was helping me put up fences on the six acres of urban farmland we leased from BART for our llamas when we were startled by vigorous crowing from the top of the shed. We looked up and there was a tall, red-gold rooster. It wasn’t the first time; being close to the highway meant that people were always dumping unwanted animals, and roosters were illegal in town. What was different about this one was that he was still around a week later, meaning that he had enough smarts not to become dinner for a hungry fox, hawk, or raccoon.
“He needs a name,” Ann said. I’ll call him Randy.”
“Why Randy?” says I.
“After the rooster in the joke,” says she. And she proceeded to tell it.
It seems there was a farmer whose hens didn’t produce very many chicks. So he shopped around for better rooster and found one that was advertised as extremely virile. He drove many miles to fetch this prepotent poultry paragon and put down a good price.
When the farmer got him home, he set him down at the door to the chicken shed and gave him a bit of advice. “Now Randy, there’s a hundred hens in there, and I don’t want you to wear yourself out. You have weeks to get the job done, so take a few at a time.”
He opened the door and shoved Randy in, and that rooster got right to work. The squawking, cackling and crowing were like nothing he had ever seen. The farmer watched in consternation. Randy apparently had no concept of ‘pacing himself’.
When the farmer finished his chores, feathers were still flying in the henhouse, and he became afraid that his valuable rooster would die from overwork in the first day. So he rounded up Randy and put him in the barnyard, away from the hens.
When the farmer brought the cows home, he saw a quacking huddle of geese in the barnyard. Randy was in the midst of them, doing what he did best.
The farmer broke it up and shooed the geese back to the pond. But when next he went by the barnyard, Randy was at the guinea fowl.
By that time it was getting dark, and he knew the guinea fowl would go to roost in the trees, where Randy could not get them. So he went in to his supper, thinking that the next day he would build a pen just for Randy.
But in the morning he saw vultures circling the barnyard, and when he ran to see, there was his new prize rooster, flopped out dead.
The farmer knelt down by the feathered form, shaking his head sadly. “Randy, I told you to pace yourself. But you just couldn’t, and now look at where it’s got you.”
The rooster opened one eye a crack. “Shhh!” he said. He pointed a wing-tip upwards. “Buzzards.”