A Love For All Creatures, Great And Small
By Tom Danehy
OCTOBER 20, 1997: WHEN I WAS a kid, we were so poor we had a tumbleweed for a pet. It was cool. We didn't have to feed it and we could take it for a walk on a windy day.
That's about it for me in the pet department. I never really wanted one. I had six sisters, so there were enough strange smells in the house as it was. Mainly from their failed attempts at cooking Italian.
That and lots and lots of hair spray. Remember that story about the girl with spiders in her hair? Couldn'ta happened with my sisters. Ain't a spider alive could've bored through that protective acrylic shell.
Almost none of my friends had pets, either, mostly for economic reasons. The guy who lived next door to me had so many kids in his family, whoever came home last got to sleep on top.
Living on the other side was a kid who had lots of pets, but I found out he bred them to help in his real passion--becoming an explosives expert. For years we thought those were boogers on his shirt. Turned out to be frog entrails, painted on his shirt at high speed.
I asked him once what he wanted to be. He said a weatherman.
I said, "That's cool, but you have to study a lot of meteorology."
He said, "No, a Weatherman. As in Underground."
"Don't be an idiot," I laughed, before stopping abruptly when I realized the last guy who had laughed at him hadn't been seen for awhile. Although there was this one spot on WeatherBoy's T-shirt that looked vaguely familiar.
I backtracked. "I don't understand. There's no weather underground. It's always 68 degrees. I read that somewhere. Unless you go too far down and run into people with red pitchforks where it'll be really hot."
I knew I should have paid more attention during Catechism class.
He stared at me like he was sizing up my various orifices for an M-80 or two.
"Yeah," he explained, " I'm already in a cell. I was talking to my leaders Bill and Emily the other day and they're certain that we can have the country in martial law by the election of '72."
They just missed. I always wondered what happened to that guy. I'll bet money he's a Republican now.
I've always been fascinated with people who have pets. I don't know how they do it. I've played in football games where I came off the field covered in mud, blood, spit, snot, and vomit--none of which was mine--and it never bothered me. But just let a dog think about licking me and I'm shrivelled up in an "Oh gross!" shell.
I read the book The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris back in college. He argued pet owners are inherently selfish, choosing to lavish love and attention on animals because it's a lot easier than dealing with their fellow human beings. A dog might break your screen door, but he ain't gonna break your heart. (Oh God! I think I just wrote a country-western song!)
For the most part, I've found pet owners to be the same as everybody else. Most are cool, although some have hairy clothes.
One of The Weekly's editors has a dog who always greets me when I take in a disc. She sniffs and licks and won't take "Shoo!" for an answer. I can handle her, though.
A few pet-owners are selfish, like the phlegm-wads who take their dogs to the public parks and don't clean up after them. We have a park in the middle of our subdivision. When my kids were younger, I'd take them down there to play. We'd see men who let their dogs do their business and then hustle away. I'd take a shovel, pick up the stuff and deposit it on the doorstep of the offending pet-owner. Sometimes they'd even see me and yell at me as to what I was doing.
I'd say, "You forgot this at the park." You don't want to mess with a stay-at-home father with a shitty shovel in his hands.
Several years ago, my kids got a kitten from a neighbor. They named it Garfield. (Originality just runs in this family.) I made a sandbox for that critter and had to clean up after it. I also fed it. After a while my hands smelled like an old-time Catholic school lunch room on a hot Friday. Rancid, aggressive tuna.
He up and left one day, presumably because he found somebody stupid enough to let him in the house. I knew better than that. One of my older sisters used to live in a penthouse apartment in Santa Monica. She and her husband had cats instead of kids. It was vulgar. Their place smelled like George Wendt's underwear after a week of eating sausage in preparation for doing that "Da Bears" skit on Saturday Night Live.
One thing I did learn: Those things really do land on their feet, although their ability to walk afterwards is in inverse proportion to the height of the penthouse patio from which they were tossed.
Years have passed since Garfield left, and I've been successful at deflecting the kids' call for another pet. Mostly by saying those five magic words, "I ain't cleaning that up." But the other night they went to a carnival at Amphi and each won some goldfish. When I came back from the basketball league on Sunday, there was an aquarium with fish, a thermometer and an oxygen bubbler making a noise I'm sure I'll get used to before I die. If I live to be 278.
They even let me name one of the fish. I named a big one Tim Robbins, since he played a fish in The Shawshank Redemption.
Last night I noticed a new smell in the house. You know, one of those smells that make you afraid to look in the crisper in the refrigerator for fear the lettuce has become "let's not."
It was the water in the tank, which has become cloudy and stinky after four days. I asked the kids who was going to change it. They both muttered something about homework and slinked away.
And so it begins again.
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