Saturday, September 03, 2011

This is not, but looks a lot like, Charlie

Charlie Brown Kaseberg
The Erstwhile Earl of Elm Street

As I have been thinking a lot about our recently departed, Kasey, it brings to mind my favorite childhood dog stories about our dog, Charlie, the world’s most neurotic dog, as my Dad called him.

Charlie was a miniature poodle, taller than a toy or tea cup poodle, but smaller than a standard poodle. He was about beagle or spaniel sized. He had apricot colored curly fur that we did not trim in the annoying and silly style of a classic French poodle with the poofy hips and shaved legs, etc. No, Charlie was scruffy and cute.

At least to look at.

To neurotic I would add Charlie was one of the world’s most duplicitous as well as sexually ambiguous of dogs. (Our one attempt to have him mate resulted in such a hilarious and embarrassing disaster, my Mom could not bring herself to speak of it. Let’s just say when the lady dog made an advance, Charlie ran under the couch and hid) When asked about this topic, my Dad would simply say;

"Charlie squats to pee."

Charlie’s duplicity revealed itself in the fact that Charlie was my Mom’s dog, first and foremost. Their love for each other was limitless and unqualified. As for how Charlie loved the rest of us? Not so much. He tolerated us is how I would describe it.

When you put the leash on Charlie to take him for a walk he wagged his stumpy tail and danced around with joy and was affectionate. He even ran half way up the staircase so you didn’t have to bend over to put the leash on him, an accommodating trick my brother taught him. However, when you bent to unclasp the leash after the walk he would growl and snap. (Let’s add ungrateful to neurotic, duplicitous and sexually confused)

When my Mom came home, even after a quick trip to the store, Charlie would become utterly unglued he was so beside himself with joy. When my brother or my Dad or I came home, if my mother was home, Charlie would dutifully go through the motions of greeting us; he knew it made my Mom happy. If my mother wasn’t home when we came in the house? Charlie wouldn’t even bother to get up.

Duplicity. Thy name was Charlie.

Charlie was living proof that a dog could be too smart for his own good. When my Mom had a fender-bender, Charlie was thrown to the floor of the car. He was fine, but he refused to get in the car after that. He flat out refused. We had to get a sedative and drug him silly to get him in the car for trips to the vet or the groomer.

Charlie loved to stand on top of an upholstered chair we had by the window in our parent’s upstairs bedroom facing Elm street, there he would lord over our street. He would look out as The Earl of Elm Street as my Mom called him, as regal as any king. If he liked or knew somebody, a neighbor or friend, he would woof and wag his stumpy tail. If he didn’t know or like somebody or something he would bark and or snarl. The more he didn’t like something or someone, the more he would bark and snarl.

From the back he looked like a little man standing on the chair wearing a fur coat.

People walking down the street thought this performance was hysterically funny and would laugh and point up at the crazy dog. We didn’t think anything of it.

But Charlie reserved his most furious and judgmental barking for our down-the-street neighbor’s dog, Wotan. (Pronounced whoa-tawn) Although a nice dog, Wotan was not a dog to mess with. Aptly named for the Norse mythology god of war, Wotan looked the part. He was part Huskie and part Rottweiler. When Charlie would bark furiously at Wotan, Wotan would simply give Charlie a look of annoyed disdain.

One day while I was playing with the football in the front lawn, my brother, John, was coming back from walking Charlie and our neighbor was walking Wotan across the street to the park on the corner. Charlie waited until he was in safe running distance of our front door and then he let loose with furious barking and mean snarling at Wotan.

That was it, Wotan had finally had enough. (And part of me didn't blame him)

Wotan broke from his owners hands and ran at Charlie. Charlie and John froze. With a giant leap and one fell chomp, Wotan bit Charlie’s neck. Charlie yelped and then collapsed in a lifeless heap. John was hysterical, Wotan stood over Charlie’s lifeless body. Wotan’s owner was horrified and ran over across the street apologizing profusely and grabbed Wotan by the leash;

“Oh my god, I am so sorry, Wotan has never done this before. My word, I think he snapped your poor dog’s neck. I am so sorry.”

Uncharacteristically stoic, John picked up Charlie’s lifeless and limp body, Charlie’s eyes were closed, his head hung down with his mouth agape and his tongue hanging out, he was as motionless and lifeless as a rag doll. If he was a cartoon character, he would have X's for eyes.

In numb shock, we put Charlie in the house and deposited his curly body on the soft white carpet in the living room and went back outside to talk to Wotan’s owner and shut the door. How on earth will we be able to tell our mother her beloved Chaz-bo, Chuckie-whuckers, Charlie Brown Kaseberg, was dead as a mackerel?

After consoling Wotan’s owner who I remember as being very nice, we walked back to return in the house to put Charlie’s body in the basement as we tried to think of what to tell our Mom. We couldn’t have her walk in and see Charlie’s body. We decided to put his dog bed in the basement and put him in it.

When we opened the front door and looked in the living room, we couldn’t believe our eyes. No Charlie. His body was not there. What the hell could have happened? Nobody else was home to move a dead dog.

After a quick search we discovered Charlie was in the kitchen drinking out of his water dish as pretty as you please as if nothing had happened.

When Wotan attacked, Charlie had feinted. There weren’t even bite marks on the dumb dog’s neck.

The other classic Kaseberg dog story starts a lot more ominously with my Mom slicing open her wrist through a broken basement window.

There were six foxhole-sized cement trenches surrounding our house so the basement could get some light. Cleaning out the leaves in Spring the Fall was a dirty, slimey and thankless task. A window had stuck and my Mom put her hand through it trying to open it.

Once again, John was returning from walking Charlie when the chaos to drive to the hospital ensued.

We piled into the car, my Mom had her bloody wrist wrapped in a green kitchen towel. Before this the colors green and red together meant Christmas. Suddenly they represented abject terror and fear. My Dad drove so fast the police turned on their sirens in pursuit, but then led us as an escort when they saw what was happening.

After emergency surgery and thirty stitches later, we returned home, my Mom’s arm in an ace bandage and a sling.

But where was Charlie?

If we were quiet, we could hear a muffled “har, har, har, har” noise coming from behind the basement door. When I opened the door to the basement landing, we saw, in his haste and worry, John had put Charlie’s leash handle up on the shoulder high hook in the wall, but he had neglected to unhook Charlie’s collar off the leash.

Sadly, the leash was not long enough for Charlie to reach the ground with his front paws. Charlie had to dance around on his hind legs to keep from strangling the entire two hours plus we had been gone. He had been barking so hard and for so long, he was horse. When we finally let him down, he ran to his water bowl and drank water for ten minutes.

As he was a yappy dog, it was kind of nice having Charlie voice lost for a couple of days.

When I was home from college in Santa Barbara one summer, Charlie’s breathing became labored. He was now 15 and showing his age. With my Mom off at work running the Northwestern Kellogg graduate school Non-Profit Department, I had come home early from my job as a sports camp counselor at my old elementary school, Crow Island, to check on Charlie. As soon as I got home, it was obvious I had to call the vet to come to our house, Charlie’s breathing was rough.

I’ll never forget the look of fear in his eyes as he sat in my lap wheezing as I pet him and tried to comfort him. Clearly I was not Charlie’s first choice to be the one holding him at this time, but I was glad I was there for him. And I think he was glad too.

Suddenly Charlie stiffened up as if he was stretching. He looked up and off to something in the distance and then I saw the light leave his bright brown eyes; then his little body went limp, this time for good.

The vet finally arrived, although too late. I had to remove Charlie's collar with his tags and slip Charlie’s body in the black plastic bag the vet held open. His soft and lifeless body reminded me of Morgy, my beloved stuffed dog I slept with as a child. Before this exact moment, I didn’t realize how much I really did love that annoying, crazy dog.

Duplicitous, neurotic, cranky and judgmental though he may have been, you only get one dog of your childhood, and mine was Charlie. And now Charlie was gone.

When my Mom got home, I walked outside to tell her. When she got out of her car, her first words were a hopeful;

"How's Charlie?"

My face was all she had to see. My heart was so broken for my Mom, words would not come out of my mouth. Then she ran past me, inside, and upstairs and shut her bedroom door. It was the first time I heard my Mom cry since John F. Kennedy died when I was five.

Well, if you don’t count the movie; “Gone With The Wind.” Mom was an absolute blubbering fool when she watched that stupid thing.

My Mom was the picture of stoic bravery as she soldered on without Charlie the rest of that summer. But we could tell she missed him something fierce. Something awful fierce. What I didn't know until then, but what we all learn, is when someone you love so much hurts that much, it is a horribly empty and helpless feeling.

By the next summer, Mom could actually laugh at a Charlie story. Like the ones about Charlie's infamous gas problem, a problem we sometimes suspected my Mother occasionally framed on him, as Charlie was the perfect alibi: always right by her feet. And he could not deny it. And he truly was a farting machine.

Charlie was so much of a farting machine his gas magically continued even after Charlie was gone. We apparently had the world's only farting ghost dog.

(So sorry, Mom, you know I love you, but your taste for rank-smelling cheeses had dire consequences for all of us)

My Mom, a good sport, would try not to, but she had to laugh at this story. But after laughing she would wipe her eyes and quietly say;

"Poor Charlie."