I didn’t have a normal childhood. I remember making a perfectly reasonable, second-grade-request to my parents for a dog. Specifically? Lassie. And if they couldn’t kidnap the TV star hound, any loyal look-alike would do.
Childhood. We begin that lifelong process that begins with, “If only I could get a …” Steak knife? Toy? A smile from the tall girl in sixth grade? Hot rod? Motorcycle? Girlfriend? Wife? Trial separation? Just a walk on the beach…? If only I had a dog like Lassie, my soul would be complete.
There’s a universe of truth to that whim.
I never had a dog until I was in my 30s. My parents really went all-out lawyer on me and did get me a dog “…just LIKE Lassie.”
It was a stuffed golden border collie. Not taxidermied, as that would have been completely albeit not surprisingly creepy. They handed me a stuffed little Teddy-doggie doll with a pink ribbon collar. As if, in the pre-Pick-Your-Own-Whacko-Gender 1950s, I was giving off effeminate vibes to my alleged parents. I found the pet somewhat lifeless, like a Rotary luncheon. I complained. I wanted a REAL, LIVING pet. Syntax is so important. Dad comes home one day, all smiles.
“I got you that pet you asked for, son…”
Yes. Yes he did. Ducks.
Two of them.
Not Daffy. Not Donald. Although keeping company with either could get you thrown in the kiddy drunk tank. Just two little ducklings. Don’t judge me. I’m not a duck guy. Ducks don’t fetch. Beautiful girls don’t stop to cuddle a duck and ask what’s its name and leave their phone number. You never see a movie star or football player stroll into the Children’s Hospital with a mallard under his arm and say to the little girl in the head bandages: “I brought you Quacky. It’s an emotional support water fowl. Here. Let me put it on the pillow next to your bandaged head but don’t directly look at it or it will pluck your eyes out. As if you don’t have enough to worry about.”
The girl looks at the duck, throws off her covers, bounces barefoot out of bed and sings: “Sweet Mary and Joseph, I’m — HEALED!!”
Dad was agrarian, having been raised on a Depression-era farm that grew wormy cabbages and dirt clods. They made it a point not to name their animals.
One night, Mom, Dad and I are at the dinner table and I noticed my chicken tasted funny, which wasn’t abnormal because both parents were, as the French say — chefs maladroit. Those two could burn water.
Not an unusual question at supper, I asked — “What am I eating?”
Dad’s one-word answer? Yup.
Because Mother Nature equips ducks with an extra layer of fat keeping them warm and dry for all their time spent in water, duck also tastes — “greez-zeee.” I use my own spelling because simple “greasy” does not capture of how filthy, unholy “greez-zeee” my little mouth felt. I was engulfed in a Lady Macbeth insanity, trying to rinse that I Just Ate My Own Dead Pet That I Never Liked Anyway taste from my mouth.
Thirty dogless years go by.
A recent ex calls to announce Las Vegas (where we were married) would be welcoming her and a male escort for a long weekend. She had acquired a Bichon Frisé. Could I be a dear and watch Nicky for a few days? Sometimes against my better judgment, I’ve attempted Christianity. Brother’s/Ex’s Keeper, yada yada. I should have said, “No.” But something just clicked. That darn little white dog. The door closed. He watched it for a few moments, tail wagging slower and slower. Then, he did a leaping 180 and happily faced me, as if to say: “Thank God she’s finally gone whatta you wanna do? Play cards? Volleyball? Tug of war? You’re a pretty big guy but don’t be fooled. I’ll pull your bloody arms out of your sockets. Sure is just SWELL meeting you hey tell me about your day and don’t leave anything out!!!”
Weekends drifted by. There were calls in between, asking for dog-sitting extensions. The last call was an exhausted and theatrical confession that my former bride had made a terrible mistake. With her lifestyle, she had no business owning a dog. Could I keep — das Wonderdog?
I should have poured it on, demanding dog support and dogimony. Instead, I said, “Yes.” I was blessed with one of my life’s best relationships. Nicky died in my arms, 13 years later. I felt his soul leave his body. Someone once noted that everyone says they have the best dog in the world — and they’re all not wrong.
Nicky was one of the most polite creatures I’ve ever met. He went everywhere with me — ranch chores, road trips, hiking, work at The Signal, crowded costume parties in Beverly Hills. In the most chaotic environments, he never required a leash. A half-step behind my heel, Nicky trotted merrily along. He wasn’t needy. Nor whiny. “Kind,” best describes my friend. Put out a bowl of water and he’d nap by my feet at the office while I pounded out yet another foolish world-peace column or 48 reasons why Mayor Jo Anne Darcy would make a better prom date than Marilyn Monroe.
This column needs hinges as I have a thousand stories about my Nicky, my Wonderdog.
My favorite stunt? Signal Publisher Tony Newhall would sometimes visit the peasants at the other end of the plantation where the dirt is. I trained Nicky to do a special trick.
“Go ask Tony for a raise!” I yelled across the newsroom, con gusto. “GO ASK TONY FOR A RAISE!!” Nicky would madly gallop to Tony, stand on his back paws with his cute little front paws sticking out, pirouette and beg.
How any man with a heart could resist forking over a few lousy, measly bucks to a dog that cute is beyond me…
John Boston is Earth’s most prolific humor/satirist. Visit johnbostonbooks.com, buy some, enjoy, leave 5 stars on Amazon, tell others, repeat.