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The Dog Who Wanted A Person Part 6

Huleekalabulee woke to roseate fingers of dawn tickling the eastern sky. His stomach growled and he thought of Rex saying, “Actually food is everything. Food and a dry place to sleep.”

“I see his point,” said Huleekalabulee, donning his now empty saddlebags and emerging from his cozy den. “I don’t entirely agree, but I see his point.”

After knocking over a garbage can and dining on two perfectly good pieces of pepperoni pizza, Huleekalabulee trotted north on the narrow two-lane road that followed the contours of the lake until he came to the four-way intersection Rex called The Place Where You Must Make A Momentous Decision.

“If I go straight,” said Huleekalabulee, recalling Rex’s description, “I will enter a vast wilderness, the next town many miles to the north. If I turn right, I will be on a road that climbs for a few miles to the top of a mountain and goes no further, the mountain also a wild place where no dog can survive for long. If I turn left I will descend into town and be heading due west toward the beach. And if I choose the town way, I will first enter a neighborhood of old houses surrounded by orchards and pastures, then I must traverse a neighborhood of apartment buildings and stores, and should I survive all that, I will finally arrive in a neighborhood of many kinds of houses beyond which lies the beach and the deep blue sea.”

Huleekalabulee looked back the way he came and was tempted to retrace his steps and hang out near Rex and Myron and hope for the best. And he might have done so had not a large brown and white and black dog come loping up from the lake to engage in conversation with Huleekalabulee.

“I say,” said the large brown and white and black dog, his accent distinctly British, his size approximately Huleekalabulee’s, “would you happen to know the best way to get to the beach from here? Best as in least likely to be attacked by wild animals, vicious dogs, and irrational human beings?”

“Left,” said Huleekalabulee, nodding. “You would turn left here and descend into town. Or so I’ve been told. That’s what I’m about to do. Go left. Though in truth, I’m lost. You?”

“I used to feel lost,” said the dog, nodding sympathetically. “When I first set out on my journey many moons ago I felt utterly lost, helplessly lost, miserably lost, irredeemably lost. Now I don’t feel so much lost as in search of, if you get the distinction.”

“I do,” said Huleekalabulee, cautiously approaching the dog. “You seem like a decent sort. I love your accent and how your use of words verges on the poetic. No. Spills over into the poetic. Should you have an equally positive impression of me, maybe we could go in search of together.”

“Love to,” said the dog, sensing in Huleekalabulee a noble soul. “Safety in numbers. Joy in companionship. I’m Toshiro. My mother was an Anglo-Scottish border collie with a touch of English Deer Hound, my father a purebred Bazenji. What’s your name?”

“Huleekalabulee,” said Huleekalabulee. “My mother is a Golden Retriever, my father a big brown mutt of unknown antecedents.”

“Say your name again, please,” said Toshiro, the look on his face suggesting both amusement and curiosity.

“Huleekalabulee.”

“Sounds distinctly mystical to my ears,” said Toshiro, nodding thoughtfully. “An incantation. A beckoning of the spirits.”

“Which spirits are those?” asked Huleekalabulee, greatly relieved to have found a likeable companion.

“Friendly spirits,” said Toshiro, heading west with Huleekalabulee. “I’ve had enough unfriendliness to last a lifetime.”

*

As Rex foretold, their road descended from the lake into a region of old houses surrounded by orchards and pastures and fields.

“Soon the people will be getting out of their beds,” said Toshiro, scanning the area for likely places to hide. “My instinct is to rustle up something to eat before the sun arises and either lay low until dusk or find a less-travelled path.”

“Agreed,” said Huleekalabulee, liking the way Toshiro’s mind worked. “The hound who told me about this way to the beach said there is a place near here where people come to ride horses. He said he’s often had good luck with the garbage cans thereabouts.”

“Excellent info, my friend, coinciding with a whiff of horse poo,” said Toshiro, wrinkling his nose. “Ergo, horses must be coming up soon. Might be guard dogs. Often are when horses are involved, but certainly worth a look-see.”

Another hundred yards of fast trotting brought them to a wide gravel drive transecting fenced pastures before ending in a large parking area at a big outdoor riding ring and stables, no people in evidence. There was, however, a large elderly hound on guard, his once black coat now speckled with gray.

“Halt. Who goes there?” said the old hound, his voice deep and gruff.

“Couple of friendly young chaps looking for breakfast,” said Toshiro, stopping several yards from the old fellow. “I’m Toshiro. This is none other than Huleekalabulee. We heard tell of a cornucopious garbage can hereabouts.”

“Aye,” said the old hound, showing no signs of aggression. “Right over there. Full of yesterday’s after-school snacks. Moms bring their daughters to ride horses. The girlies throw most of the food away except for the candy bars. Won’t be much good in there, but you’re welcome to what you can find. Or you can have my leftovers from yesterday. The stable people always fill my bowls with kibble before they close up for the night and I never eat more than half a bowl by morning, not since I lost most of my teeth.”

“What a good job you have,” said Huleekalabulee, smiling at the old hound. “You ever have any trouble?”

“Back in the day,” said the old hound, clearing his throat, “I’d chase away the occasional mountain lion. And one night a horse thief tried to get by me and I caused such a ruckus he fled, but for the last few years things have been pretty quiet. My name is Cassius Andronicus Magnanimous, by the way, but everybody calls me Cassius.”

After a quick peek into the garbage can, Toshiro bowed to Cassius and said, “We would love to nibble your kibble, kind sir.”

“This way,” said Cassius, leading them to his little house attached to the stables. “The horse people will be here as soon as the sun takes to the sky above the hills. You don’t want those people seeing you or they’ll call Animal Control faster than you can say Jack Robinson.”

“Can you recommend a hiding place?” asked Toshiro, gladdened by the sight of two brimming bowls of kibble.

“Aye,” said Cassius, squinting at the brightening sky. “Half-mile down the road here you’ll come to a pullover on your right. From there you can follow a deer trail down the steep embankment to the creek that’s but a trickle this time of year. Follow the trickle downstream a few hundred yards and you’ll find hiding places galore.”

“Can we follow the creek all the way to the ocean?” asked Huleekalabulee, pausing in his kibble devouring to look at the Cassius.

“As for the ocean,” said Cassius, shaking his head, “I cannot say if the creek bed goes that far. I’ve never gone beyond the graveyard because the trees and fields end at the graveyard and thereafter all is concrete and terrible roads. I’m no coward, but such a place terrifies me.”

“Ah the graveyard,” said Huleekalabulee, his eyes lighting up. “That’s where Rex said we should spend the night.”

“Rex?” said Cassius, blinking at Huleekalabulee. “Did you say Rex? Big chocolate ridgeback?”

“You know Rex?” said Huleekalabulee, excitedly. “He’s… he’s my grandfather.”

“Well I’ll be a blue-nosed gopher,” said Cassius, grinning at Huleekalabulee. “Rex and I go way back. When did you last see him?”

“Just yesterday,” said Huleekalabulee, overcome by a wave of nostalgia for the good old day. “He’s still going strong at twelve.”

“Good to know,” said Cassius, smiling at memories of Rex. “Good to know. Rex and I met many a time and oft in our salad days whilst courting the same dames. Came to snarling and snapping at each other a few times, but we never had a serious fight. Terrific hound, Rex. Say hello for me if you ever see him again.”

“I will,” said Huleekalabulee, the serendipitous unfolding of the day filling him with hope. “I most certainly will.”

Sugar Mornings

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The Dog Who Wanted A Person Part 5

Later that morning, Rex and Huleekalabulee reached the park beyond Mona’s park, a forest of oaks and pines surrounding a man-made lake where people came to picnic and camp and ply the waters in canoes and kayaks and small sailboats. Hiding places were less abundant than in Mona’s park, but Rex led Huleekalabulee to a huge old oak tree with a hollow trunk quite removed from the nearest camp or trail.

“Here’s where we part ways,” said Rex, giving Huleekalabulee a friendly nudge. “A pleasure knowing you.”

“Likewise,” said Huleekalabulee, returning the nudge. “When I get settled with my person or people, I shall endeavor to come visit you, if you wouldn’t mind a visit from me now and then.”

“You’re always welcome to drop by if you’re in the hood,” said Rex, gazing fondly at Huleekalabulee. “Don’t make a special trip just for me.”

“But you are special to me,” said Huleekalabulee, with a tear in his eye. “You’re the closest thing to a father I ever had.”

“Bit of advice,” said Rex, winking at Huleekalabulee. “Sentimentality won’t fill an empty stomach. Kapish?”

“I know,” said Huleekalabulee, shrugging. “But food isn’t everything.”

“Actually it is,” said Rex, turning to go. “Food and a dry place to sleep. See ya.”

And Rex was gone.

 *

Huleekalabulee ate a few hunks of turkey jerky, ruminated about life, and realized he was not actually longing for a person. In fact, he didn’t particularly like most of the people he’d met so far in his life.

“I like dogs,” he said, looking out of his tree-trunk den, the day sunny and warm. “I like Rex and Myron, and I even like Drago and Killer. And I really really really like Mona.”

“Do tell,” said a husky female voice.

“Mona!” said Huleekalabulee, bounding out of his den. “What are you doing here?”

“Need a little more good loving, Honey Boy,” she said, kissing him. “You up for that?”

“Do dogs bark?” said Huleekalabulee, spinning around in a circle. “You bet I’m up for it. And then we’ll go back to your ranch and live happily ever after. Okay?”

“You are such a romantic,” she said, kissing him again. “But no. Not a chance. The last thing Diana wants is another dog.”

“But what if you have puppies as a result of our loving?” asked Huleekalabulee, nuzzling Mona.

“No if about it, Sweet Stuff,” said Mona, dizzy with lust. “Ten weeks from now… puppy time.”

“Okay when you have puppies. Then Diana will have several more dogs. So why not me, too? Please? You’ll love living with me. I’ll help with the pups, keep you warm on cold winter nights, and any time you want to…”

“No more talk, Lover Boy,” said Mona, leading him into the hollow trunk. “Right now we’re all about animal husbandry. You the husband, I the animal.”

*

Their tryst at end, Mona sighed contentedly and said, “Huleekalabulee, you’ve done well. I am indubitably enceinte. Many thanks for your copious contributions to the procreative process. Now I’m gonna trot home, eat a hearty meal, take a long nap, and get ready for the coming of the pups.”

“You’re sure you don’t want to introduce me to Diana?” said Huleekalabulee, longing to go with Mona. “If you like me, she probably will, too. Don’t you think?”

“Please don’t take this wrong,” said Mona, looking into Huleekalabulee’s eyes, “but the truth is… I don’t like males. Dogs or people. Diana feels the same way. You were a superb mate, but this will be my one and only litter, so… sayonara Daddy-O.”

“Wait,” said Huleekalabulee, following her out of the den into the bright light of day. “You don’t like me? You sure seemed to like me? You even gave me a slew of new nicknames reflecting how much you seemed to like me. Honey Boy. Sweet Stuff. Lover Boy. And lastly Daddy-O. Those are terms of endearment. Right?”

“I desired you,” said Mona, matter-of-factly. “Craved your vital ingredients. But I don’t need you anymore. I love Diana and she loves me. I want no one else, person or dog. And when you find your person you’ll understand where I’m coming from.”

“But I don’t particularly like people,” protested Huleekalabulee. “I like dogs.”

“I hear you,” said Mona, trotting away. “You’re a dog dog. I’m a person dog. A one-female-person dog. Some dogs are people dogs. Some dogs are even cat dogs. As you move through life you will discover there are all kinds of different kinds of dogs. Nature or nurture? Who can say?”

“May I at least come visit the pups?” asked Huleekalabulee, calling after her. “I’d love to see the combos resulting from the mingling of our potentialities.”

“Please don’t,” said Mona, glancing back at him one last time. “You won’t be welcome.”

*

“Gosh,” said Huleekalabulee, hunkering down in the hollow trunk of the ancient oak and consoling himself with his last few pieces of turkey jerky. “So far my quest isn’t turning out like any of the inspirational dog stories I used to listen to with Mom.”

Then he drifted off to sleep and dreamt he lived on a beautiful farm with Myron and Rex and Zazu and Mona.

When he woke a few hours later, he was thirsty and hungry and sad. But rather than mope around feeling sorry for himself, he went in search of water and vittles.

Water was easy. The lake was nearby, the water tasty, and his oak tree den was in the least visited part of the park, so there were few people around. He waded into the lake up to his knees, had a good long drink, and then followed his nose through the woods to a clearing where four people were sitting at a large wooden picnic table eating hamburgers and French fries.

One of the four people was a woman, the other three her children. Huleekalabulee watched the foursome from behind a tree at the edge of the clearing, and he could tell at a glance the woman would chase him away if he approached. However, he felt fairly certain that one or more of the children might be inclined to feed him. In his one year of life, Huleekalabulee had learned that the younger the person, the more likely he or she would be to give him food or be easy to take food from.

After several minutes of patiently watching and waiting, Huleekalabulee was pleased to see the woman get up from the table and go away with the oldest of the three children. This left the two youngest children at the table: a four-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy.

When the woman did not immediately return, Huleekalabulee trotted across the clearing to within ten feet of the picnic table and performed a few of the many tricks Mom’s people, Alex and Monica Kronkite, had taught him. He spun around in a circle three times, went up on his hind legs, and then lay down and covered his eyes with his paws.

“He’s so cute,” said the little girl. “Can I feed him, Larry?”

“Mom said we’re not supposed to,” said Larry, looking to see if their mother was returning, which she was not.

“I don’t even want the rest of my hamburger,” said the little girl, pouting. “Or my French fries. Please, Larry. Can I?”

“Okay,” said Larry, who not so secretly wanted to feed the dog, too. “He seems nice.”

So the little girl flung her half-finished burger and bun at Huleekalabulee and he caught the mess mid-air and swallowed the entirety in a single gulp.

Excited by the dog’s remarkable dexterity, Larry threw a succession of French fries in Huleekalabulee’s direction and the agile hound caught them before they hit the ground.

“Do more tricks,” said Lena, clapping her hands.

No problem thought Huleekalabulee, sitting on his haunches and pawing at the air, his theatrical begging inspiring Larry to fling an entire burger, sans bun, to the hungry hound.

As he deftly caught the burger with his incisors, Huleekalabulee saw the children’s mother returning, and so ran away to dine on the burger in the privacy of his lair.

“That was lucky,” he said, licking his nose to garner the last remnants of burger grease. “And now I will wait until tomorrow when, at the crack of dawn, I will make my way to the next place Rex told me about where I hope to safely sequester as I make my way to the beach.”

Questions

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The Dog Who Wanted A Person Part 4

Leaving Drago and Killer dining on bloody steaks, Rex and Huleekalabulee resumed their trek via the creek bed in high spirits, having been informed by Drago and Killer that the person who used to raise goats is now raising ostriches and is therefore no longer shooting dogs because ostriches can easily kick the poop out of even the most enormous dogs.

“What a relief,” said Rex, stopping to have a drink from a pool of water. “I wasn’t looking forward to crawling on my belly through dense undergrowth for half-a-mile, and now we’re just rollin’ along, singin’ a song, side by side.”

“Are we sure Drago and Killer know of what they speak?” asked Huleekalabulee, having a quick drink, too.

“Drago and Killer might be vicious,” said Rex, sniffing the air. “But they know the lay of the land.”

“So…” said Huleekalabulee, clearing his throat, “at the outset of our collaboration you mentioned your motives for joining me, for which I am most grateful, were not entirely altruistic. Care to elaborate?”

“Ah,” said Rex, walking on. “Yes. Well. As I’m sure you’ve sensed, I am not fixed, which means I am still called to pursue females of our species, and I have it on good authority that across the road from the park where we’re going there lives a lovely hound ripe for motherhood. This comely dame, so say my sources, has no interest in lesser dogs. Thus I thought to present myself to her and see if she might be inclined to trip the light fantastic with me.”

“I see,” said Huleekalabulee, choosing his words carefully. “And I, as I’m sure your proboscis has informed you, am also not yet fixed, but I swear to you I shall not interfere in your courtship.”

“Appreciate that, Huleekalabulee,” said Rex, picking up the pace. “Thus we shall not have to fight.”

*

They arrived at the park an hour before sunset, and seeing no park rangers lurking about, Rex and Huleekalabulee crossed a neglected baseball field to a copse of alders transected by a burbling brook where they hunkered down in a grotto formed by the propitious coming together of four massive boulders.

Shedding their saddlebags, they refreshed themselves with long drinks from the brook and then followed their noses to the ranch across the road from the park where a large lovely female hound awaited her suitors.

A four-year-old Lab Malamute with big black eyes, silvery brown fur, and a fabulous physique, she was exactly Huleekalabulee’s size. And when the lovely hound smelled and heard and finally saw Rex and Huleekalabulee approaching, she came halfway down her driveway to see what the winds of fate had blown her way.

“Well well well,” she said, her lip curling to show fang. “Finally some big handsome fellows come to court Mona. But what else besides good looks have you got to recommend yourselves? I’ve waited four years and I’ll wait another four before I’ll have the pups of louts.”

“I like a female who speaks her mind and speaks it well,” said Rex, his tail held high in honor of Mona’s charms. “My name is Rex. My father was a mighty Ridgeback, my mother a brilliant Chocolate Lab. Our children will be big and strong and handsome, and good swimmers, too. I’ve battled a puma and lived to tell the tale, never been sick a day in my life, and you, my darling, are very much my type.”

“Got it,” said Mona, turning to Huleekalabulee. “What’s your spiel, kiddo?”

“Oh gosh. I’m just a one-year-old questing for a person,” said Huleekalabulee, blushing. “Rex is showing me the ropes as I make my way to the ocean. I’m greatly drawn to large bodies of water and not really looking to…”

“What’s your name?” she asked, a tender quiver in her voice.

“Huleekalabulee,” he said, smiling shyly. “You’d do well to hook up with Rex. He’s kind and generous and strong and intelligent and…”

“Did you say… Huleekalabulee?” said Mona, breathing hard. “Say it again.”

“Huleekalabulee,” he said softly. “Huleekalabulee.”

“Zounds,” she said dreamily. “What are you… some kind of Serbo Croatian mesmerist?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” said Huleekalabulee, lost in the depths of Mona’s big brown eyes. “My mother was a Golden Retriever and my father was a big brown mutt. But if I could choose my father, he would be Rex.”

“Noted,” said Mona, glancing at Rex before returning her gaze to Huleekalabulee. “Tell you what. I’ll weigh my options and you two come back tomorrow morning and we’ll see what develops.”

“I shall barely sleep,” said Rex, bowing gallantly, “as I await your decision, dear Mona.”

“Whereas I will sleep like a log,” said Huleekalabulee, disingenuously. “Because I am definitely not in your league, Mona. No howl, no way.”

*

Settling down for the night, lulled by the burbling brook, Huleekalabulee and Rex drifted off to sleep, Rex dreaming of Mona, Huleekalabulee dreaming of…

Huleekalabulee’s eyes popped open as a tantalizing scent set his nostrils a’quiver. He listened to Rex snoring sonorously and deduced the old dog’s sniffer was not what it used to be.

With the stealth of a cat, and almost-but-not-quite against his will, Huleekalabulee got up to investigate the source of the irresistible scent. He walked out of the alder copse, and there on the outfield of the neglected baseball field, her silvery coat shimmering in the moonlight, stood magnificent Mona.

Huleekalabulee approached her, his tail wagging furiously. She touched her nose to his, her tail wagging with equal enthusiasm. Then they sniffed each other from head to toe, gave each other several sweet kisses, and Mona said in a deep husky voice, “Now’s the time, Sweet Stuff. Time your love came tumbling down.”

*

Rex woke at dawn to find Huleekalabulee sprawled nearby, snoring loudly.

Ah youth thought Rex, recalling how soundly he used to sleep when young and exhausted after a long day of running and playing. This is my chance to make time with the lovely Mona unencumbered by my young companion.

So Rex had a good long drink from the brook, and as the morning sun painted the treetops golden, he crossed the road to Mona’s driveway and waited for her to come out to him.

After a short infinity, lovely Mona emerged from a dog door onto the front porch, her sweet smile giving Rex the impression she wanted to mate with him.

But then she said softly, “Dear Rex, had you been a few years younger I would have chosen you. But I was drawn to younger blood. Forgive me.”

“Nothing to forgive,” said Rex, smiling bravely. “I appreciate your kind words. Adieu.”

“Oh Rex?” said Mona, calling after him. “Take good care of that young friend of yours. He’s really something special.”

“I think so, too,” said Rex, feeling a surge of paternal pride. “Today I’ll guide him to the park beyond this one and then loose him upon the world.”

“The park beyond this one,” said Mona, reverently. “Safe travels.”

One Fell Swoop

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The Dog Who Wanted A Person Part 3

His route to the ocean decided upon, Huleekalabulee bid Myron and Zazu adieu, made the next right onto a two-lane road sans sidewalks, and trotted north along a slender footpath adjacent to the road.

“I love this place,” said Huleekalabulee, smiling at puffy white clouds in the cerulean sky. “All this open space and trees and fields and orchards and hills and dales. Who wouldn’t want to live around here?”

Having said this, he came to a winding drive leading to a big red farmhouse, and halfway up that drive sat a big old hound, a chocolate brown ridgeback, gazing intently at Huleekalabulee.

“Hello,” said Huleekalabulee, stopping at the mouth of the drive. “Are you by chance Rex, friend of Myron?”

“Who wants to know?” asked the old hound, his voice deep and rumbly.

“I’m Huleekalabulee,” said Huleekalabulee. “I’m a one-year-old searching for a person to call my own. Just had a long chat with Myron about the good long way to the beach. He said he got his info from you. If you’re Rex.”

“I am Rex,” said the old hound, standing up and walking stiffly down the winding drive until he was a few feet away from Huleekalabulee. “Kind of late in the cuteness game to be looking for a person, aren’t you?”

“Maybe so,” said Huleekalabulee, nodding. “But I remain optimistic. Seems to be my nature.”

“You abandoned?” asked Rex, squinting at Huleekalabulee. “Happens to lots of one-year-olds. Once the cute puppy phase passes and poop fatigue sets in… the shelters are full of youngsters. Most humans, if you’ll pardon my French, are fickle as merde.”

“Even so, I’ve got to try,” said Huleekalabulee, bravely. “It was very nice meeting you, Rex. Myron spoke highly of you. I’d love to keep chatting, but I want to get to the park before dark and find a place to spend the night.”

“Good plan,” said Rex, sitting down to give his right ear a good scratching. “Only there’s a problem.”

“What’s the problem?” asked Huleekalabulee, innocently.

“Between here and the park,” said Rex, ceasing his scratching, “live two vicious farm dogs who would surely do you harm, and if you somehow manage to get by those two, there’s a crazy human who raises goats and therefore shoots unfamiliar dogs. With a gun. Kills them. Dead. Kapish?”

“So what do you recommend?” asked Huleekalabulee, shivering at the thought of vicious dogs and death. “Myron said this was the safer way to get to the ocean?”

“Well it is,” said Rex, now scratching his left ear.

“Therefore?” said Huleekalabulee, waiting expectantly.

“I’ll come with you,” said Rex, nodding to affirm this. “You seem like an affable mutt and you’re a fine conversationalist and I haven’t been to the park since spring. Be nice to see the leaves changing. Hold on a sec while I get my kit.”

“Wow,” said Huleekalabulee, greatly relieved. “This is very kind of you, Rex.”

“My motives are not entirely altruistic,” said Rex, trotting up the winding drive to the farmhouse. “I’ll explain later. For now, I suggest you hide in the bushes until I return. Humans around here are wary of dogs they haven’t seen before and are quick to call Animal Control.”

So Huleekalabulee stepped behind a bush, and luckily so, because while he waited for Rex, three pickup trucks went by, each with a large dog riding shotgun and looking for trouble, or so Huleekalabulee surmised.

“Here I am,” said Rex, outfitted with well-worn saddlebags. “We’ll go via the creek bed and stay out of sight of the road until Drago’s Farm. Creek’s but a trickle this time of year.”

“Sure is beautiful around here,” said Huleekalabulee, trotting along behind Rex and noting the old dog’s stiffness had disappeared. “Do you think your person might possibly want another dog in the family?”

“Sorry,” said Rex, glancing back at Huleekalabulee. “I’ll be Louise’s last dog. She tells me so evenings of late when the peach brandy loosens her tongue and she pokes at the fire with her long stick. ‘I’m old, Rex,’ she says with a plaintive sigh. ‘If I’m still alive when you’re gone, I’ll sell the place and move into my daughter’s guest house and have a cat or two.’”

“How old are you?” asked Huleekalabulee. “If you don’t mind my asking.”

“I don’t mind,” said Rex, stopping to sniff the news at a local pissing spot. “I’m soon to be twelve. Hey get a load of this.”

Huleekalabulee sniffed where Rex was sniffing.

“Good grief,” said Huleekalabulee, alarmed by the pungent scent. “Who the heck is that?”

“That’s puma piss,” said Rex, wrinkling his nose. “Ever seen a puma?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” said Huleekalabulee, his hackles on the rise. “What’s a puma?”

“Mountain lion,” said Rex, looking for other signs of the mighty feline. “Giant cat. Bigger than moi. Fought one once when I was five. He killed three of Louise’s chickens, then he killed my good friend Cecil, a Boston Terrier poodle, and then before he ran away, he gave me a gash on my snout the scar from which still aches on cold nights.”

“Yikes,” said Huleekalabulee, glancing around nervously. “I thought this was the safer way to the beach.”

“It is,” said Rex, chuckling. “Don’t worry. Pumas only attack little dogs. The one who recently pissed here is, I believe, a female, and she won’t mess with two big hounds like us. Trust me. I know my pumas.”

*

A mile further along, Rex explained, “Soon we’ll come to where the creek bed is blocked by a wall of stone atop which runs the road. The drain pipe running through that wall is too small in circumference to accommodate hounds of our height and girth, so we must ascend to Drago’s Farm and traipse along the road for a hundred yards until we are able to descend once more into this commodious creek bed.”

“Is Drago’s Farm where the vicious farm dogs dwell?” asked Huleekalabulee, trying not to panic.

“Indeed,” said Rex, winking at Huleekalabulee. “But they know me and I’ve brought along a treat for them. Fear not. As long as you’re with me, they will not hurt you. But do refrain from making eye contact with them, for they are both easily incited to riot, if you know what I mean.”

“I can contribute turkey jerky to the bribe,” said Huleekalabulee, eager to help.

“We will sup on your turkey jerky tonight,” said Rex, bouncing his eyebrows. “But for these blokes… raw bloody steak.”

And sure enough, upon climbing out of the creek bed and resuming the footpath adjacent to the road, Rex and Huleekalabulee arrive at a gravel driveway guarded by two very large dogs, one a German Shepherd, the other a tawny English Mastiff.

The big dogs come charging down the driveway, murder in their eyes, but when they recognize Rex and see he’s chummy with Huleekalabulee, they slow to a walk, hackles bristling.

“Well if it isn’t old Rex,” said the mastiff, his upper lip curling to reveal fang. “Haven’t seen you in ages. Thought you might have croaked.”

“Hello Drago. Hey Killer,” said Rex, avoiding eye contact with either of them. “I’m still going strong. You’re both looking well.”

“We’re peachy,” growled Killer, the German Shepherd. “Who’s the punk?”

“This is Huleekalabulee,” said Rex, gazing at Huleekalabulee. “For all I know he could be my great grandson, but whoever his progenitors he’s my pal and we’re going to the park. Brought you a couple steaks in thanks for letting us pass unscathed.”

“Hulee what?” said Killer, scrunching up his cheeks.

“Kalabulee,” said Huleekalabulee, looking skyward to avoid eye contact with the dangerous dogs.

“What kind of name is that? Navajo?” said Drago, the mastiff. “Hopi?”

“Maybe,” said Huleekalabulee. “My mother is a Golden Retriever, my father a big brown mutt.”

“Fascinating,” said Killer, studying Huleekalabulee. “You look kind of Italian to me.”

“I was gonna say French,” said Drago, smiling hopefully at Rex. “But whatever his origins, steak sounds divine.”

Lions

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The Dog Who Wanted A Person Part 2

Having escaped the creepy neighborhood of giant houses guarded by professional attack dogs, Huleekalabulee found himself on a street of small cute houses.

“This feels better,” said Huleekalabulee, stopping to pee on a fire hydrant.

“Wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said a sleek brown and white dog sitting on the front porch of a little blue house. “Because unless she’s taking a nap, Mrs. Tuttweiler is probably watching you with binoculars from her front window and ready to call Animal Control if you so much as lift your leg.”

“Darn,” said Huleekalabulee, grimacing. “I really have to go.”

“Note the big hedge about thirty feet further along,” said the brown and white dog. “Duck behind there and Tuttweiler won’t be able to see you.”

“Thanks,” said Huleekalabulee. “Very much appreciate the tip.”

“No problem,” said the brown and white dog. “You seem like an affable mutt. You live around here?”

“Hold that thought,” said Huleekalabulee, dashing to the hedge. “I’ll be right back.”

Having emptied his bladder on the far side of the hedge, Huleekalabulee retraced his steps to chat with the brown and white dog and found the hound sharing his porch with a beautiful shorthaired gray cat.

“The wanderer returns,” said the brown and white dog. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Myron. And this is my feline housemate Zazu.”

“Buenos dias,” said Zazu, assessing Huleekalabulee with a practiced eye and sensing no threat. “Como se llama?”

“My given name is Huleekalabulee,” said Huleekalabulee. “But I’m hoping to come up with a shorter more rough-and-tumble name.”

“Good idea,” said Zazu. “Huleekalabulee is a marvelous moniker. If you were a cat, I’d say keep it. But you’re a dog. Thus the music and poetry of your name will be lost on most of your kind. So yeah, let it go.”

“Any suggestions?” asked Huleekalabulee, panting hopefully.

“Do you have any special talents?” asked Myron. “Fast runner? Ferocious fighter? Wily problem solver? Irresistible to the opposite sex?”

“Fairly fast runner, though not exceptional,” said Huleekalabulee, quickly self-assessing. “I had an aggressive older brother, so I’m an excellent fighter but prefer rational discourse for resolving conflicts. I’m smart, but wouldn’t describe myself as wily, and, well, come to think of it, female dogs do seem to like me.”

“Then how about Romeo?” suggested Zazu, batting her eyelashes.

“The problem with Romeo,” opined Myron, “is though females may like that name, males will want to kick your butt for presuming to be some kind of dog’s gift to females.”

“What does your person call you?” asked Zazu, enthusiastically licking her chest.

“I don’t have a person,” said Huleekalabulee. “I’ve just today embarked on a quest to find him or her or them.”

“Whoa,” said Myron, taken aback. “Aren’t you starting your search a little late in the cuteness game? I secured my person when I was a roly-poly cutie pie puppy. And just ten months after Tina adopted me, I was the nondescript brown and white pooch you see before you.”

“Oh I don’t know,” said Huleekalabulee, smiling at Myron. “I think you’re still pretty cute.”

Myron blushed. “Really? You do? Seriously? That’s the first time I’ve had the adjective cute applied to me since, well, since I was the aforementioned cutie pie puppy all those years ago. Wow. Really? You think I’m still pretty cute?”

 “Unquestionably,” said Huleekalabulee, nodding emphatically. “Verging on handsome.”

“You’re a most unusual canine, Huleekalabulee,” said Zazu, admiringly. “Reflexively kind, refreshingly honest, and sweetly encouraging of others. Baby I’m amazed. Pero Myron es correcto. Tina brought me home when I was ten-weeks-old and so cute every time I saw myself in a mirror I’d swoon. Now… not so much.”

“My sibs got chosen when they were cutie pie pups, but not me,” said Huleekalabulee, remembering his brother Jurgen as a pup playing with Mr. Zimbalist who became Jurgen’s person. “I think as far as puppies go I was fairly non-descript. So I guess my person will have to recognize my nobility of spirit and my inner beauty and…”

“Have you been listening to inspirational dog stories?” asked Myron, arching an eyebrow.

“My mom loves those stories,” said Huleekalabulee, feeling nostalgic for Mom and his food bowl and his red tartan dog bed in the garage. “Her people gave her a new Doggie Bedtime Stories CD every Dogmas. So, yeah, maybe I am something of a romantic, but I honestly believe there’s a person or people out there waiting for me, whether he, she, or they know it or not.”

“I wish you good luck,” said Myron, still tingling pleasantly from being called cute. “I’m tempted to suggest you try with our person, Tina, but I won’t because almost every day now when she picks up my poop she says, ‘I will never have another dog.’”

“Poop fatigue,” said Zazu, nodding thoughtfully. “Happens.”

“This has been fun and informative,” said Huleekalabulee, grinning at Myron and Zazu. “I could hang out with you guys all day. But I really should be going. Any advice about the best way to get to the beach from here?”

“Shortest way is to turn left at the next intersection and go straight down the hill through the middle of town,” said Myron, his eyes narrowing. “But that way is so dangerous. Crazy fast cars and gigantic buses and terrifying trucks and hordes of people and gendarmes on every corner. The much safer though longer way is to turn right at the next intersection and skirt the north edge of town. You’ll find two big parks along the way full of places to hide and sleep. Creeks to drink from. Garbage cans full of picnic leftovers. Fields. Forests. Cows. Horses. Sheep. Country dogs. Takes a couple days to get to the beach that way, but that’s how I’d go.”

“Have you made the trek to the beach from here?” asked Huleekalabulee, feeling confused and overwhelmed and on the verge of tears.

“I’ve gone the short way on leash with Tina,” said Myron, nodding. “And I’ve heard detailed descriptions of the long way from Rex. You’ll be going by Rex’s place if you make the next right. Big red farmhouse. Rex is an elderly Australian Ridgeback Chocolate Lab. Tough as nails with a heart of gold. If you see him, please tell him Myron said hello.”

“Bon voyage, Romeo,” said Zazu, yawning majestically. “And now I’m off to the sunny kitchen windowsill for yet another nap.”

Missing You

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The Dog Who Wanted A Person

Part One

Once upon a time there was a dog named Huleekalabulee. His mom called him Hubu or Hubee, his brother Jurgen called him Hube, and his sister called him Bulee. Huleekalabulee’s sister was named Venus.

One morning Huleekalabulee’s mom served Venus and Jurgen and Huleekalabulee their breakfast and said, “Well today you are all one-year-old and you will have to find new homes because I am officially done being your mom. You can come visit me on Dogmas Day and for Dogster and Doggiving, but for the other days you’re on your own.”

“Fine,” said Venus, who was a very beautiful dog and looked more like Mom, who was a Golden Retriever, and less like Dad who was, according to Mom, a big brown mutt. “Jenny Jones who lives next door adores me. I’ll go live with her.”

“Whatever,” said Jurgen, who was quite handsome and looked like a giant Cocker Spaniel. “Mr. Zimbalist who lives across the street already built a house for me in his backyard. I’m outta here.”

“What about you Hubee?” asked Mom. “Where will you go?”

“Well,” said Huleekalabulee, who was an affable big brown mutt, “I guess I’ll do what the dogs in all my favorite dog stories do. Go on a quest to find my person.”

“Good luck with that,” said Jurgen, sneering cynically. “Those are just fantasies, you know. In reality most mutts end up lost and desperate and hungry.”

“Yeah,” said Venus, also sneering cynically. “That’s why Jurgen and I pretended to like Jenny Jones and Mr. Zimbalist. So we wouldn’t end up lost and desperate and hungry.”

“It’s true, dear,” said Mom, who liked Huleekalabulee and found his naiveté charming. “It’s a person-eat-person world out there. You’d better find a person while you’re still kind of cute.”

*

And so after breakfast, Huleekalabulee packed his saddlebags with his favorite squeaky toy and seventy-seven big hunks of turkey jerky and embarked on his quest.

For starters he walked as far as he usually went with Mom’s humans, Alex and Monica Kronkite, which was to the top of Bullwinkle Butte. From there, Huleekalabulee could see the whole town spread out below him, with mountains to the north and south and east, and the ocean to the west.

“Wow,” said Huleekalabulee. “What a great big world it is. I guess if I could live anywhere I’d like to live near the beach. So that’s where I’ll begin my search for a person to call my own.”

He started down a path going west and only went a little way before he came upon two old mutts blocking the path. One of the old mutts was black, the other a dirty blond.

“Slow down,” said the old dirty blond mutt. “Where are you going?”

“The beach,” said Huleekalabulee. “I’m questing for a person to live with.”

This was so funny to the two old mutts, they laughed for five minutes until the old black mutt said, “Hey, what’s your name?”

“Huleekalabulee,” said Huleekalabulee.

Hearing Huleekalabulee’s name made the two old mutts laugh for another five minutes until the old dirty blond mutt said, “What are you… Hawaiian?”

“Not that I know of,” said Huleekalabulee. “My mom is a Golden Retriever and my father was, according to my mom, a big brown mutt.”

“A bit of advice,” said the old black mutt. “Out here in the rough-and-tumble person-eat-person world, you need a rough-and-tumble sort of name.”

“Or at least a shorter name,” said the old dirty blond mutt. “Who can remember Hakableebleenoonoopoopee?”

“But my name isn’t Hakableebleenoonoopoopee,” said Huleekalabulee. “My name is…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said the old black mutt. “Whatever it is, it should be shorter.”

“What are your names?” asked Huleekalabulee, wondering if either or both of them had a person or people.

“I’m Butch,” said the old dirty blond mutt.

“And I’m Garth,” said the old black mutt.

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” said Huleekalabulee. “And now if you’ll excuse me I want to get to the beach before…”

“Not so fast, kiddo,” said Garth, growling to add menace to his speech. “Why should we let you go by without biting you?”

“Why would you want to bite me?” asked Huleekalabulee. “We just had a lovely interlude full of laughter and potentially helpful advice. Why spoil such a happy time with conflict?”

“He makes a good point,” said Butch, nodding. “I haven’t laughed so hard in years. Not since that person, remember? The jogger? Stepped in my fresh pile of poop and slipped and landed on her face in your fresh pile of poop?”

“Now that was funny,” said Garth, remembering the glorious moment of their poop triumphant. “Okay Hukunanazulu. Go on. And good luck. You’ll need it.”

“One more bit of advice,” said Butch, as he and Garth stepped aside to let Huleekalabulee go by. “If you go to the beach, people will call the park rangers, and if they catch you…”

“You don’t want to know,” said Garth, ominously.

“Only dogs belonging to people are allowed on the beach,” said Butch. “Dogs on leash.”

*

The path took Huleekalabulee down from Bullwinkle Butte into a part of town where he’d never been before. The houses here were much bigger than the houses in the neighborhood where Huleekalabulee grew up. And around each yard was a tall fence or wall, and the driveways were gated, and those gates were closed.

“Smells very unfriendly here,” said Huleekalabulee, wrinkling his nose.

And just as he was about to leave the street of giant houses, a very large dog with pointy ears and shiny black fur came rushing through the one gate that wasn’t completely shut, and stood between Huleekalabulee and a neighborhood of small pretty houses where human children were playing happily on little lawns and there were no fences or gates.

“Hold it right there,” said the very large shiny black dog. “Just where do you think you’re going?”

“To the beach,” said Huleekalabulee. “Dog willing and the creek don’t rise.”

“Not likely,” said the big pointy-eared dog, his voice full of growls. “I’m a professional attack dog and it is my job to try to bite you and possibly kill you.”

“Why would you want to do that?” asked Huleekalabulee, aghast. “I’m just a lost one-year-old who will never ever ever never ever never ever come back here. And I will give you ten pieces of delicious turkey jerky.”

“Make it twenty pieces and I’ll put on a convincing snarling and lunging act but not bite you,” said the big galoot.

“Twenty it is,” said Huleekalabulee, shaking out twenty pieces of turkey jerky from his saddlebags.

“Yum,” said the big black dog as he chowed down. “By the way, what’s your name?”

“My name is…” And then Huleekalabulee remembered Butch and Garth’s advice. So instead of saying Hulee etcetera, he said, “Hercules.”

“Bit of advice,” said the big black pointy-eared devourer of jerky. “With a name like Hercules you better be one mighty strong canine or lots of dogs are gonna try to kick your butt.”

“Thanks for the tip,” said Huleekalabulee, hurrying away. “I’ll definitely consider alternative monikers.”

Boody Boody Ba

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Birthday 71

When I was six-years-old, sitting at my desk in Mrs. Bushnell’s First Grade class, I became aware that though I had the brain and body of a child, I was also a conveyance for an ageless, genderless, and fantastically wise consciousness that had been around long before Todd was born.

I remember being unsurprised by the presence of this consciousness in six-year-old Todd, and for several minutes I observed and understood my classmates and teacher and the objects in the classroom with this newly revealed consciousness and not with the consciousness of a child.  

I understood that my body and brain and self would continue to grow and change over time, but this other consciousness, this ageless consciousness, would remain unchanged throughout my life. I also understood that I could access this consciousness and the vast reservoir of knowledge and experience it possessed, but I might not.

And then, before my awareness of this other consciousness became submerged again in the sensations and thoughts and feelings of a six-year-old human child, I was informed that I would become aware of this other consciousness a few more times in the course of my life, and each time this awareness overtook me, I would remember the moment in Mrs. Bushnell’s class when I first encountered this ageless, genderless, fantastically wise consciousness that existed long before Todd was born.

And just a few days ago, this ageless consciousness made itself known to me again, and I had a vivid recollection of that marvelous moment in Mrs. Bushnell’s class sixty-five years ago when this other aspect of being alive was made known to me.

Starting when I was about nine, and for a few years thereafter, I would be sitting quietly, usually outside, and I would see the myriad pieces of the great cosmic puzzle coming together. And I was certain if I could sit very still and give my undivided attention to this coming together of the pieces, the puzzle would complete itself and I would understand how the whole incredible construct of life worked.

And time and again, just as the final pieces of the puzzle were falling into place, something would interrupt my concentration, and the nearly complete construct would collapse.

One time it was my mother calling, “Dinner’s ready!” Another time it was my dog barking at a squirrel.

Eventually those close calls with perfect understanding ceased to occur.

No One Knows

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Gate of Ten Thousand Things

My dream from a few mornings ago.

I am in my office with an old friend and his young son. We are looking out the window at the metal gate in our deer fence and my friend’s son asks wistfully, “Can I go out that gate and go all the way around the house and come in through the gate of ten thousand things?” And I know he means our front gate with the two old bells.

Then the alarm went off and I woke up.

The gate of ten thousand things reminds me of my short story Ten Thousand Things, one of the forty-two stories in Buddha In A Teacup.

Ten Thousand Things

Esme watches herself in the mirror putting on lipstick. She frowns at her myriad wrinkles and snorts at the absurdity of the thought that she has grown old. She is eighty-six.

Esme is standing in front of her house when her son Bill arrives. He is fifty-eight. Before he can get out of his big blue pickup truck, Esme barks at him. “Move the garbage can out to the curb. Sweep up these pine needles. They’re unsightly.”

“Ma,” he says, working hard to stay calm. “How about saying hello?”

She flounces around the nose of his truck to the passenger door as if nothing has been said by either of them.

She climbs in and puts on her seatbelt. “I don’t know why I bother,” she complains bitterly. “They haven’t had a decent fair in twenty years.”

“We don’t have to go,” he says, gripping the steering wheel. “This is supposed to be for fun, Ma.”

“Of course we have to go,” she says, sneering imperiously. “It’s a tradition.”

Inching toward the fairgrounds, traffic snarled, Esme shakes her head and says, “I told you so.”

Bill turns to her. “Ma. How old am I?”

“Horrendous heat,” she says, fanning herself and making a spluttering sound. The day is mild, the truck air-conditioned. “Why do they always have the fair when the weather is so awful?” She sighs. “Worse now, of course. We never had smog like this.”

Bill resists the temptation to point out that she is part of the current We. He closes his eyes, wondering again why he bothers to do anything for his mother.

They come to a dead stop. Esme sighs—an audible moan—exactly as she has sighed ten thousand times before, but this time, this ten thousandth time, something gives way inside of Bill, something in his heart. He touches his sternum with the middle three fingers of his right hand and for one stunning moment he feels such overwhelming pain that his vision abandons him in a flash of light—and the pain is gone.

He turns to look at his mother. She is glaring at the road ahead as she always does, but he sees something in her face he has not been aware of before—nobility and strength.

“What could it possibly be?” she asks, her voice no longer grating but musical—a viola taken to the edge of sharpness. “We aren’t going anywhere.”

“It’s the Grand Coulee Dam, Ma,” he says, feeling a gush of love for her. “They brought it in last night with sixty-five thousand blimps.”

“Don’t be absurd!” she cries, trying to contain her mirth, but the word blimps unglues her and she bursts into laughter.

In line to buy tickets, Esme scowls at the list of admission prices. “This is an outrage,” she hisses. “This is robbery. Why… when I was a girl it was practically free.”

“Free love,” says Bill, stepping up to the ticket window and beaming at the sweaty young woman glued to her stool. “One outraged old woman and her suddenly euphoric son.”

“She your mom?” asks the young woman—two tickets emerging from two slots in the metal counter.

“From her womb I came,” says Bill, feeling downright reverent.

“Then she’s in free. It’s moms in free this afternoon.”

“You here that, Ma? Free.”

“Don’t believe it,” says Esme, her eyes narrowing. “They’re just trying to sell us something.”

In the beer garden, Bill sipping stout, Esme having lemonade, three knobby-kneed men in faded lederhosen play a peppy little polka.

“Shall we dance, Ma?” asks Bill, nodding. “I think we shall.”

“Don’t be absurd,” she says, frowning at him. “With my hip? Are you drunk?”

“I’ve had a conversion,” he says, seeing everything as if for the first time. “I stepped over a line or my heart broke or I forgave you or I forgave myself. I don’t know. But I’m not mad at you anymore. I actually love you.”

She shrugs. “Well la dee da.”

“Shoe bop shoe wah,” he says, bouncing his eyebrows.

She looks at her watch. “It’s late. We haven’t seen the quilts yet.”

Making their way through a flood of humanity, they are momentarily separated—Esme crying, “Bill! Don’t leave me!”

Bill makes his way to her and says, “Here I am, Ma.”

She clutches his arm and stamps her feet. “This is awful. I hate this. They ruined everything. It used to be so nice and now look at it. Garbage everywhere. No place to sit. The restrooms are filthy.”

“Do you want to leave or do you want to see the quilts?”

“I want to see the quilts,” she groans. “But how will we ever get there?”

“We will sing songs,” he says, taking her hand. “From all our favorite musicals.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says, allowing him to lead her along.

“We’re off to see the wizard,” he begins. “The wonderful wizard of Oz.”

“Judy Garland was a drug addict,” says Esme, nodding emphatically. “I could never forgive her for that.”

“Why not?” says Bill, giving his mother’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Let’s forgive her.”

“Oh, look,” says Esme, pointing at the sign above the pavilion. “We’re here.”

“I never gave a hoot about quilts,” says Bill, sitting beside his mother on a cushioned bench to take a long look at the grand prizewinner. “Now I’m in love.”

“These are nothing,” says Esme, dismissing everything in the vast room with a wave of her hand. “When I was a girl, we really knew how to make quilts.”

“This is phantasmagoric,” says Bill, gesturing at the giant blue field dotted with stars and sheep and bubbles and clouds. “I believe in this.”

“It’s big,” says Esme, nodding. “I’ll give it that.”

“You’re just you,” he says, looking at her. “And I’m just me.”

“I’m out of gas,” she says, leaning against him. “Take me home?”

He walks her to her front door. “Shall I come in? Cook you dinner? Rub your feet?”

She turns away and fits her key into the lock. “Not like it used to be,” she sighs, opening the door. “Don’t come in. Place is a mess.”

“Ma?” he says, deftly sending the word into her heart.

“Yes, dear,” she says, turning to gaze at him. “That’s me.”

fin

Bill Evans

Buddha In A Teacup on Apple Books

Listen to Todd read Ten Thousand Things on YouTube

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Mr. Nail

I’m fascinated by how we learn things. I recently read that there seems to be a strong correlation between the elimination of handwriting from the American school curriculum and the steep decline in academic test scores. I have also read that many children with learning disabilities have overcome their learning disabilities by developing  handwriting and memorization skills.

memorize: commit to memory, learn by heart

Mr. Nail was my English teacher for my senior year of high school. If I ever knew Mr. Nail’s first name, such knowledge is lost to the sound and the fury of the intervening fifty-four years. I want to call him Hank Nail, but that’s just a funny guess.

My sister Kathy was one of Mr. Nail’s star students a couple years before me, and she also starred in the Shakespeare plays Mr. Nail directed. However, Mr. Nail’s fondness for my sister did not extend to me. Why? I had a long-established habit (since First Grade) of occasionally making unsolicited comments during class, which comments often got laughs, and sometimes big laughs.

And though for the most part Mr. Nail tolerated my spur-of-the-moment comments, he clearly preferred being the one who got the laughs. Thus my friends and I were under the impression Mr. Nail didn’t like me. However, in retrospect I think there is a chance he secretly did like me, and he appreciated the lift in the collective spirit my occasional verbal intrusions imparted to our academic experience.

Also in retrospect, I think Mr. Nail was a very good teacher, though much of what he taught was lost on me as my mind was frequently elsewhere during those long hours of incarceration. He was little interested in right answers and very interested in the elegance and power of good writing, and he was always keen to discuss the deeper meanings of words and stories and plays.

Once a week (and we all wished he would do this every day) Mr. Nail would open his big dictionary at random and read an entire page out loud to us, a practice I found delightful and instructive and inspiring. I began reading the dictionary on my own, learned many fascinating words and factoids that way, and eventually purchased a fat two-volume version of the Oxford English Dictionary which makes for great random page reading.

When we undertook to study a play by Shakespeare, Mr. Nail’s specialty, he would spontaneously cast class members as the characters in whatever Shakespeare play we were reading and have us read a scene aloud. At scene’s end, to demystify the bewildering passages, he would pontificate on the historical or symbolical meanings of particular words and phrases. He thought Shakespeare was terrific and wanted us to think so, too.

My favorite thing Mr. Nail did was give us weekly updates on his hobby, which was entering contests sponsored by magazines and newspapers and manufacturers and food purveyors and towns and cities and churches and non-profit organizations. I don’t know if these kinds of contests are a big deal nowadays, but in 1967 there were so many such contests that Mr. Nail subscribed to a weekly newsletter to keep up with the thousands of contests happening year-round. And he entered dozens of these contests every week!

In his contest updates he would tell us how many contests he’d entered in the last week, which contests he was most optimistic about winning, and if he’d had any wins. Many of these contests merely required contestants to fill out entry forms and send them in. But some of these contests required little essays, and those were the contests Mr. Nail excelled at. He’d won many prizes over the years including a refrigerator, a washer and dryer, a bicycle, groceries, lawn mowers, gift certificates, and a considerable amount of cash.

The crowning glory of my time with Mr. Nail came shortly before the end of the school year when Mr. Nail told us he’d won an all-expenses-paid two-week trip for two to Europe. Through the fog of time, I seem to recall he won that trip by writing a five-hundred-word essay about unique uses for a small canister propane torch, but maybe not.

Whatever For

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Insect Poems

In a recent exchange with Max about poems and poetry, Max inquired of two poems I wrote in the early 1970s that are the first poems I published, both appearing in the delightful Santa Cruz free weekly newspaper Sundaz. I received no pay for these poems but was thrilled beyond words to be a published poet.

The first of my poems to appear in Sundaz was that clicking sound? A year or so after that clicking sound? debuted, the poem was included in a chapbook anthology of Sundaz poems called the the. I no longer have a copy of the the, but I still have my poem.

that clicking sound?

we have a hundred men downstairs

each employed

in some

part of the process;

breaking

the backs

of crickets

The second poem of mine to appear in Sundaz was pilgrimage. Coincidence or not, pilgrimage also mentions insects. Well, more than mentions. In each poem insects are the denouement.

pilgrimage

went to see the saint,

the martyr,

found him

sitting by a wall

his tears falling on

ants

Reading that clicking sound? fifty years after it appeared in Sundaz, I remember the moment I saw the poem in the paper.

crickets

at a sunlit table,

his mug casting a long shadow,

a young man leafs through a slender newspaper

and finds a poem about crickets by someone

who has the young man’s name.

Told You