By Bob Huber
In the years when I was forming, I attracted several pet dogs of dubious persuasion. One of them was so ugly we named him “Gag.”
It was actually my father who named the dog while deep in the throes of a terminal malady called Boozus Griefus, or as they say in medical circles, an awful hangover. When he first saw the homeless dog, and he said, “Oh, gag!” and the name stuck.
Dad wasn’t normally that chatty during daylight hours because of his nightly soirees to Larsen’s Saloon. At sundown he donned his drinkin’ clothes — a gray rabbit skin Mackinaw and a floppy-eared Russian winter hat — and strolled off to town. My mother wouldn’t let him drive or wear anything else. “Easier to spot in the snow,” she said with her Nebraska wit.
After a night out, Dad aired his drinkin’ clothes in the harness shed. They were often mud crusted and smelly, because Dad employed a pinball path home, sometimes on all fours, often through stinking swamps and manure piles.
The next morning Dad always repented, rubbing his swollen eyes and mumbling about cheap gin and stale beer. Coincidently our neighbors often claimed to have seen a wooly bear with floppy ears in the area, which meant a hard winter was a-coming.
Gag, meanwhile, overlooked Dad’s shortcomings but refused to become a bona-fide member of the family. He made it clear from the start he was just passing through on vacation and didn’t want anything to do with learning new tricks.
Gag’s only stab at frolicking involved his public display of canine hygiene, which he never failed to demonstrate if we had company. Whenever he went into that disgusting routine, I clapped my hands together and thanked God I was too young to bring girlfriends home.
Gag finally left one day after Mom took him to task. She said, “If you put another road kill on the back porch, I’ll make fur-lined slippers out of your worthless hide.” Gag left that day, never to return. He wasn’t much, but he had his pride.
But Gag’s antics were trivial compared to a ruthless canine named Wolf that I attracted each Sunday morning on my paper route. He was a massive gargoyle with tyrannosaur ancestry who harassed me and my newspapers to the point where I thought movies of the Frankenstein monster and the wolfman were comedies.
He always waited for me in the gloom before dawn as I pedaled into his territory, my bike bogged down with heavy papers. His strategy was to spring out of the shadows, knock me down, and scatter my papers to the four winds.
I never knew when Wolf would attack. His camouflaged coat of gray matted hair and floppy ears matched the early morning murkiness that every paperboy detests.
I asked his owner, a kindly lady named Mrs. Maughan, if she could please restrain Wolf on Sunday mornings, but she said, “Wolf won’t hurt you, boy. He sometimes nips me when I feed him — see these scars here? — but he wouldn’t hurt a child.”
When I told Dad about Wolf, he shook his head, which was painful in his delicate condition, and said, “Get a stick — Oh God, I think my eyes just fell out!”
If Dad had seen Wolf, he would have suggested more than a mere stick. What was called for was a six-foot shillelagh. I compromised with a baseball bat.
So I pedaled along warily on a particular dark and fateful Sunday morning, and for the first time spotted Wolf before he saw me. He skulked in the shadows of a leafless lilac hedge. I yanked out my bat in Don Quixote fashion and charged, screaming.
I took Wolf by surprise. He glanced up too late, and I smacked him on the head as I pedaled by. He barely had time to utter a weak, “Oooof!” and fell into the lilacs.
I cried, “Tally ho!” just like Errol Flynn and pedaled away without looking back.
Later that day, Dad staggered into the kitchen, kneading his face, and he told my mother, “Essie, I’m hanging up my drinkin’ clothes for good. I can’t take these hangovers anymore.”
“What’s different about this one?” my weary mother asked.
Dad sighed. “My head feels awful, like someone clobbered me with a ball bat on my way home.”
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.