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Canis Mythicus
A creation story that makes sense
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Canis Mythicus A creation story that makes sense

Once upon a time, back in my teaching days at Minnesota State University in Mankato, the Chair of the Agronomy Department, Dr. Mohammed Azad, lived in the modest white stucco house clinging to the James Avenue hillside like the American middleclass clutching by its bloody fingernails to its disintegrating economic status. Mo had two PhDs—agronomy and hydrology—so I called him Dr. Dr. I often queried him in the words of Harry Nilsson: “Doctor, Doctor, ain’t there nothin’ I can take, Doctor, Doctor, to relieve this belly ache?”

I’m an atheist; Mo was a Bangladeshi recovering Muslim. He’d come whistling down the sidewalk on his way to catch the bus, swinging the old-fashioned leather briefcase his father had bought in London when he was a student and given to Mo when Mo moved to the States. I’d be sitting on the porch reading, and I’d holler, “Yo, Mo!”

Mo would stop and poke his head through a thin spot in our hedge and reply, “Is that Teresa Dave-Ass on his porch daveno reee-ding like one little girrr-l?”

In a moment of weakness induced by Mo’s post-Simpsons martinis, I had revealed how the kids in elementary school teased me about my name.

Before you call me a bigot and admonish me for not allowing this man the dignity of his name, let me say that we grew to be friends watching The Simpsons. He didn’t specify the show when he invited me over to meet his favorite TV character. He told me he’d blend me up one chutney squishie. I didn’t know what chutney was, let alone something called a chutney squishie. When I wasn’t reading student work, all I watched on TV were the animal shows. Mo’s favorite character was Apu, the Indian from India, who runs the Kwik-E-Mart.

I know what you’re thinking: “How is it that a cultivated fellow like Dr. Mo Azad, a guy with two PhDs, would tolerate— let alone enjoy—a cultural stereotype like Apu?” The answer is that Mo didn’t have a gram of pretense or political correctness in him. I suppose the answer could also be that Mo was Muslim and Apu is Hindu. Yes, Mo was in recovery, but the residue of any monotheist delusion is tough to shed. I prefer to believe that Mo’s expansive heart had room for a good laugh on anybody.

What Mo’s heart did not have, however, was room for dogs. This was the only character flaw I observed Mo to suffer; it clung as tenaciously as a devout dingleberry. So, of course, I went right for it.

This was a golden time for Beck and me and the kids, who were still in high school. One February, our dog Snickers gave birth to six pups in a big cardboard box in the dining room. As the trees filled out and the cattails grew so high we couldn’t see the marsh across Stoltsman Road, we did get to see the momma ducks lead their ducklings across the road, creating traffic back-ups that were fine with everybody. (It’s hard to find a duckling-hater anywhere.)

The pups were now knee-high and ready to give away, except for Norton the runt, who—at that stage of his evolution— looked more like a possum than a dog and barked like a seal. We decided that Norty’s utterance wasn’t a bark at all; we called it a barp. Norty barped like a seal forever; years later, at a gas pump east of Sturgis, South Dakota, a few days before the legendary Harley-Davidson rally, his barp aroused the attention of the famous actor Peter Fonda, who walked over to the old Ford with me, peered into the cab at Norton considering what he might be, and refused to acknowledge that my Dear Nort was a dog at all. It was Fonda’s contention that Norty might be the infamous Chupacabra. Gawd, I hated it when people said that.

Snickers was a Siberian Husky-Golden Retriever mix, and the puppies’ father was a Golden; the pups themselves were beautiful, wonderful American mutts, except our beloved, oxygen-deprived, always-last-to-the-tit mutant Norton, with whom I identified most closely, and who seldom left my side for 12 years rich to overflowing with love as true as a dear friend of any species.

I would gather my attack pups around me on the porch and wait for Mo. I’d hear his door open and close, then the leather soles of his wingtips on the sidewalk.

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