Rick's Space: Two literary lions write about dogs

Travels With Suzy




It’s amazing how many otherwise sane people I know think dogs play a part in the afterlife.

Some think they will return to Earth as a dog, and therefore they should give dogs all the love, respect, and liver bits they can in the fervent hope the favor is returned to them in the next life.

I believe a variation of the theme: that every dog I’ve ever had waits for me in the next life, waiting to guide me through the Pearly Gates to everlasting bliss.

I’ll die and there they will be, on Judgment Day. If St. Peter doesn’t want to let me into heaven — a reasonable decision given I’m a stone-cold sinner — I could unleash (literally) Suzy, the first dog I ever had and one of the sweetest ever, for a little talk with St. Peter. Suzy had a way with males. Consider this ribald tale, which is true.

When I was about 10, there was a dog on our block in Sag Harbor I befriended. It seemed like years and years passed, and every summer we would return from the city and the dog would be still be there, sound asleep on the hot tar in the middle of Howard Street, and Suzy would saunter over. She had him at “Hey, yo.”

Many times over the years, the strangest vehicle I’ve ever seen would be parked on the street: an old pickup truck with all sorts of accoutrements hanging off the camper that sat in the pickup bed: brooms, tarps, pails, poles, pot and pans, and the like. I only saw the gentleman who drove it a couple of times, coming and going. The guy (at least according to my aunt) and a lonely lady on Howard Street (who I won’t name) enjoyed the same conjugal bliss privately that Suzy and the dog did publicly.

I was the only one not getting any action on Howard Street.

But I digress. Back at the Pearly Gates,  If Suzy somehow fails to persuade St. Peter to let me into heaven, I’ll have to send the big dogs in, the muscle. The fiercest was Fang, my German Shepherd. He wasn’t the least bit violent — he was a sweetheart as well — but I taught him to do the guttural growl on demand, which never failed to scare the hell out of people, especially when the fangs came out from under the upper lip. I lived in an apartment in Newark for 10 months in the worst neighborhood imaginable, and no one gave me any trouble — not with Fang walking next to me.

I didn’t plan on having a dog that big. I had just lost my previous dog, a mutt named Duke, who weighed about 20 pounds. Despondent, I went to the folks on WLNG who dutifully put it over the air. A woman called to say she had Duke — in Southold. “Is he about 20 pounds, black, a cocker spaniel mix?” I asked excitedly. He was indeed, she assured me. My girlfriend drove all the way up there and came home with Fang, a 70-pound Shepherd. “Honey, do you REALLY think this dog looks like Duke?”

“Well, kind of,” she replied. I kept the Shepherd and got rid of the girlfriend.

Fang’s only flaw was he had a bladder problem. Instead of letting me know he had to go out, he’d tinkle in my shoes. I went through a lot of socks that winter. He’d also spray my guitar, which is why I play off-key to this day.

If reincarnation is in fact what happens after this life, and if we do come back as dogs, I’d like to point out I don’t want any baths. It’s not that I am a dirty human being; it’s just that I’ve never had a dog that liked to get a bath.

Also, do not give me a cute name. The other day I was walking around Maidstone Park and every dog owner I encountered was guilty of that particular sin. I would ask people the names of the their dogs and they would say stuff like This is “Boopy Bon Bon” or “Hairy Paw-ter” or the equally obnoxious “William ShakesPaw,” or even “Baconeater.”

And no ribbons behind my ears, no bejeweled collars, and no designer haircuts, either. Respect my dogness.

I would also like a guitar and a fire hydrant.

By the way, the dog in Sag Harbor, Charley, had a best-selling book written about him. It turned out his owner was John Steinbeck. Consider the fate of these two Sag Harbor-based literary lions: Steinbeck is considered one of the greatest writers of all time and just had a park named after him in Sag Harbor. And then there is, well, me.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com