A Shaggy Dog Story

Calls of nature and the lewdness of squirrels

By Brian Doyle | February 13, 2015
Flickr/William Pitcher
Flickr/William Pitcher


A student asks me casually if we still have a land-line telephone at home, and I say no, we had to give that up, despite the nostalgia attached to the burly sturdy tactile beige plastic phoneness of the phone, because someone taught the dog how to use it, and the dog, no fool, started calling me twice and sometimes three times a day, carefully poking the numerals with his epic claws, and maybe you can roll with three calls a day about how six squirrels are at the door taunting him and making lewd and vulgar gestures that are totally uncalled for! and he saw a sharp-shinned hawk in the holly tree in the front yard! and the mailman left a tall white box that oh my gawd, he is absolutely sure is smoked fish, could that be the smoked sturgeon we got last time or is this smoked salmon or smoked tuna but not god help us those awful smoked oysters you got that one time when you lost your mind and ate nothing but oysters for 10 days, remember that time?

That the telephone at home only rang when solicitors or robo-politicians wanted our money was finally a problem; that the children kept knocking the receiver off the hook in their terrific sumo matches and the receiver was scratched and torn and dented and dinged almost beyond belief was a problem; that occasionally the receiver was not replaced correctly in its cradle and eventually the phone would make a shrill screeching complaining noise that made our teeth hurt was a problem; that the numerals 2 and 7 were utterly worn away through some mysterious accumulation of calls using those numbers was a problem. But the primary problem, at least for me, were these two and sometimes three excitable calls during the day, reporting that he had just woken up from a most excellent nap during which he had a dream in which he ate most of an elk calf! and that the last child out of the house that morning had forgotten to leave him water in his bowl so he found a beer and now he felt all Episcopalian! and he had found a leopard slug in the nether reaches of the cellar and after a terrific battle they had grudgingly worked out a treaty and a weekly meeting with tea and cucumber sandwiches!

Initially I found these calls entertaining; for one thing, he had the habit of whispering in his gruff baritone, although I often pointed out there was no particular reason to whisper, if no one else was in the house with him. But then I began to weary of the calls, a little; you can only hear bitter complaints about lewd squirrels so many times before you lose interest in the lewdness of squirrels, and with total respect for how cool it is to see a falcon snatch a speeding duck in flight, I am not sure I need to hear about every single time someone sees that happen.

We discussed using the phone only for emergencies; we discussed what a poor idea it was to randomly call Greenland or American Samoa to hear cool accents; we discussed how frightening it must be for the poor girl calling to sell us a bedraggled libertarian candidate to hear a savage snarling roaring bellow rather than the usual curt brusque no; but finally we made the decision, as a family, to cancel the land-line altogether. Someone’s feelings were hurt, but one of the many things I admire about the dog is that he doesn’t wallow, and that he recovers his equilibrium pretty quickly—faster, I must say, than some other members of the family, including, I confess, myself, although that is perhaps because someone is still paying the bill for that Samoan call, while someone else pretends to be dozing and dreaming fitfully of elk when I mutter, American Samoa!


Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Comments powered by Disqus