Satchmo: an Ode

For the past week I’ve been felled by some sort of awful respiratory infection. For a bit everyone was telling me that it sounded like bronchitis, and for all I know it might be — I haven’t had time to go to the doctor. It’s getting better, though — I haven’t been feverish in a full day — and I’m feeling generally more alive again.

Very very happy today and this week despite the plague because I am housesitting and looking after my favourite dog in the world. I’m a cat person before all else — I like dogs well enough, but don’t love them. Satchmo, though, is sublimly beautiful and wonderful and oh! I wish he were mine! He has long legs like a deer, big ears like a fruit bat, and a tail like a coiled spring. He is tawny (certain slants of light catch his individual hairs and turn him shades of red and gold, a sundog) but has a chevron of dark fur on his shoulder blades that is shaped like a wishbone, or like folded wings. His eyes are kohl-lined and human, but there’s a wildness to him that makes me joyful to watch — his great passion is chasing squirrels and groundhogs and rabbits, and he is pure poetry when he bounds and flies and leaps through wild grass and yarrow.

He disdains other dogs and is lukewarm to most people he meets, so you know that when he likes you he really means it. I know he likes me for the delighted greetings I get, of course, but there are smaller, quieter ways he shows it, like this: I am afraid of night, of sleep, of being alone, and as if he knows this, he climbs into bed with me and stays pressed against my back until I am almost asleep and then delicately disengages himself and returns to the floor, where he is most comfortable. He’s a sensitive, dear soul.

It’s easier to go out into the world when you’ve got a tall and powerful dog who probably would rip the trachea out of anyone who tried to hurt you. I love going to the Berkeley Marina at sunset and dusk, but when I’m alone I’m always a little afraid of the strange people that I see, and all of the ones who appear not-strange as well. Satchmo makes it all okay — with him beside me I can smalltalk with the interesting characters, like the homeless man in eighties legwarmers, jogging along a path with his leashed pit bull in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other, who stopped to demand if Satchmo was a boy or a girl, and then gave a yeah-I-thought-so nod when I told him and then started running again, shouting at his dog to move her lazy ass and keep up. Or the old, salty man who walked by as Satchmo and I sat by the water, me smoking a windy cigarette and Satch sitting five feet away with his tail uncurled and his ears back, looking at me like, “Why aren’t we chasing groundhogs right now?” As he passed by, the man talked to Satchmo, not to me, about the force of the wind, the level of the tide, the height of the waves. He sounded like a sailor in a 19th Century British novel. When he tried to pet Satchmo I warned, “He’s shy,” and he looked at me for the first time. “I’d give’em something if I had anything, but I don’t. Just got this. You should have one,” he said, and offered me a butterscotch candy. I took it and grinned and wished him a nice evening. He nodded and wandered on, muttering under his breath something about turning to the moors to get out of the wind.

Satchmo is the sort of dog who everyone notices. When I take him out people stop me and admire him, ask what breed he is. Sometimes I like to play small, lying games with people. I’ll make my eyes big and candid and say with complete credulity that he’s part German shepherd, part African wild dog. No one has yet questioned me — probably some people realize that it’s a blatant lie, but I say it with such belief that they’re too kind to argue. Whether I pretend or tell the truth — (“I don’t know, I’m just looking after him for a bit. I wish he were mine, though.”) — everyone agrees that he is not just a good dog — no, he’s a great dog.

And he is. Everyone sees it, you can tell just by looking at him. He’s a great dog, he’s got a gold soul.

I feel like the luckiest girl in the world whenever I get to spend time with him.

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~ by Not Alice on September 28, 2007.

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