Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Poodle



     I am not sure if everything in this story is exactly how I remembered. Over the years, the details we remember seem to readjust themselves into what we need more than what was real at the time. Either way, it is funny how this story has always stayed with me.

     In the 1970s, Venice, CA still had the feel of the 40s and 50s, wood frame houses, dirt yards, potted plants, canaries on the porch, and the ubiquitous nopal in a corner, often next to the house. 1960s apartment complexes beside residential homes. Kids playing in the street. Across at Oakwood Park, the vatos took up a corner, a group of black men play dominoes, and kids, mixed ethnicities, playing touch football. 

     It was a typical poor neighborhood, mostly blacks, Mexicans, and working-class Caucasian—no, not the Dennis Hopper-type, or today’s techies. The hipsters hadn’t yet discovered Venice, especially not the barrio-ghetto near Oakwood Park. My friend had a wide, long front yard, at least a 150 x 50 lot, the house way in back.

     As I approached, his three dogs came at me, barking and yapping. He called them off, a large bowl of food in his hands. He set it down, and the three of them rushed the food, eating from the same bowl, the two big dogs squeezing the little one out.

     I stopped to watch. The little dog looked like a poodle, kind of a dusty brown color, like a dirty towel instead of a fluffy manicured mane. He growled at the bigger dogs, snapped at them, moved in, and took up his place at the dinner dish, looked like kibble, frijoles and rice to me.

     As I looked closer, I could see the poodle was no mutt. It looked like a real poodle, it’s designer haircut, overgrown by at least a month, or more. All three dogs ignored me as I approached, fearing to lose a bite to the other two if turning away for a second.

     My friend said, “Hey, come on in.”

     “That sure looks like a poodle,” I said, “like a real poodle.”

     He laughs, “He’s even got papers.”

     It didn’t make sense a poodle with these two big dogs, probably mixed breeds, maybe German shepherd and Doberman. So, I ask, “Where did the poodle come from?”

     What I was really asking was why in the hell would you want a poodle—in Venice?

     My friend, at the time, a tree trimmer, did a lot of work north of Sunset, homes to the rich and famous, deep-pocketed folks. He goes on to tell me he was trimming trees for a woman who was kind of snooty, talking always with a poodle in her arms. If she set the poodle down, the little beast would come at him, snapping. 

     When he'd finished trimming her huge oak trees, a three-day job, she asked if he could trim up a few smaller trees in a corner, which ended up being another half-day's work, the poodle sitting in the yard watching, like a supervisor, a sparkling collar around his neck, not a curl out of place. 

     Anyway, when he gave her the bill, the poodle in her arms eyeing him, he included the amount for the extra work. She said she thought he was doing it for free, part of the original bid, and refused to pay, even raising her voice, the poodle growling at him.  Long story short, she didn’t pay the extra few hundred dollars, a lot of money back then, but he still had to pay his workers. What was worse than the money was her attitude, a sign of disrespect. He wasn't about to hire a lawyer and take her to court, which those who are wealthy-deadbeats, know. They just don't pay.

     Fuming, he wrote it off as a loss and swore he'd never work for her again. And he knew she'd call in a couple of years. He was one of the best and cheapest around. Some people have no shame. Each time he drove past her house to do another job up the street, he’d see her and her little dog outside, the poodle prancing around like a prince. 

     One day, as he passed the house, he saw the dog out near the street, doing its business. The woman was nowhere in sight. He pulled up in his truck and told one of his workers to grab the dog. They pulled it inside, and drove off. It wasn't like he'd planned it, a second-degree crime rather than a first. 

     Really, he didn't know what to do with it. He had two big guard dogs at home, vicious, if they didn't know you. Would the poodle get along with his two bigger dogs? Maybe he'd just keep it for a few days and return it. Honestly, he didn't know. 

     He said as soon as he got it home, the poodle started fighting with the big dogs, the poodle holding its own. The first time he fed it, mostly leftovers from dinner, a little meat, rice, and beans, the poodle went nuts, fighting for survival but an obvious lover of Mexican food. From then on, it was the first to attack any meal, pushing its way to the front of the bowl, nudging the two guard dogs aside.

     When I asked if he was going to take it back, he said he still hadn't decided. That poodle had no life with that woman. Now, it plays with the kids and the other dogs. It runs around neighborhood looking for other dogs to play with. "Man, that dog gets chorizo and papas for breakfast, chunks of carne asada for dinner, happy, prob’ly for the first time in its life. I don't have the heart to take it back. It was alone with that woman all day and night.”

     When I looked down at it, it sure did look satisfied. It had finished eating. It sat down next to the other two dogs in the dirt. Someone walked by on the sidewalk out front. The three dogs rushed forward to do their job, barking, threatening, as if itching for the stranger to enter, the little poodle the grittiest of the three. The little dog came back, as one of the kids came out to play with it, pushing it around, the little dog growling, jumping into the kid's arms. 
     Who knows, maybe all those years with the woman it was really waiting around to what, who knows, maybe to just be a real dog? To this day, I don't know whether my friend kept the dog or not. 

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