How wolves evolved into dogs

I attended a lecture yesterday about wolves evolving into man’s best friend and came away bemused about the accommodations nature makes to this planet. We know all about its savagery.

I learned: That a few wolves 14,000 years ago (doesn’t seem too long ago) began sidling up to man’s encampments for food handouts. The descendants of these wolves became friendlier and friendlier and began to change into dogs. The lecturer didn’t say, but I imagine their changed appearances depended on climate and conditions.

I learned, and this blows me away. It doesn’t have anything to do with wolves or dogs: That Neanderthal Man became extinct because they practiced cannibalism, which caused Mad Cow Disease. Apparently, MCD in England came about because cattle was being fed ground beef. I know I know. I am still absorbing this.

I learned: We are no longer homo sapiens but Homo Sapiens Sapiens, having left the former behind in the evolutionary process.

I admit it is kind of hard to understand that a friend’s bichon frisee, that curly little bundle, used to be a wolf. The lecturer didn’t mention how cats evolved from lions  or tigers. It’s a thought, isn’t it?

From “Meow’s Way,” more gifts

Her gifts also are delivered to my bed. At 10:30 p.m. she explodes onto the bed with a mouse. It is wounded, and I go to the kitchen to fetch an oven mitt. Out the door with the mouse. At 2:30 a.m., she flies up with another. I switch on the light in time to see it get away from her. I bolt out of bed and in the next fifteen minutes we chase it around the room. I yell, over here! Under the chair! Behind the cushion! I am not thinking of what the neighbors might be thinking.

The mouse shows its stuff. Every time Pinky closes in it leaps, squeaking, several inches in the air. Then it is gone behind my dressing table.

Resigned, I pull the heavy dresser out. Pinky and my stick get in each other’s way as I sweep. The mouse comes out, and disappears again, either back inside or somewhere else. At any rate, Pinky gallops up the hall in pursuit.

Apparently it is still in the house. She spends hours guarding the dresser. I think she expects me to take up sentry duty when she has to go outside. While I am in the office, no doubt she believes I am guarding the lizard hiding in the bookshelves.

Loaner once announced a gift of hers by calling from the outside, though the patio door was open. Her small voice probably traveled no more than five feet, yet I heard her and went to see. Lying on the mat was a full-sized rat, its bared incisors frightening in their length. I admired Loaner’s delicacy in bringing it no farther into the house and duly made a fuss over her. Satisfied she had pleased me, she came inside, leaving the rat, and watched TV with me.

Third Place winner Worcester litfest contest

Fiction – 295 words

BEING HELPFUL

I like my job. I like meeting the new ones who come here. It’s not hard to figure out how they are feeling, sad or hopeful or scared or resigned to move to this senior residential community. I figure if anybody was in a position to do something about it, it’s me. They need me for so many things and I always deliver. It’s not just about being a handyman setting up their TVs or whatever it is that comes up. I’m near retirement myself and I listen with my heart and I follow up on what I hear. They offer a lot of entertainment events in this place. There are movies and exercise classes and they bring in singers and jazz combos. I see the old ones nodding in time with the music. Some of them are asleep. There’s a lot to do if you’re up for it, but it can drag on and the years get to be too much.

The latest one to arrive was so crushed she may as well have been crying out for me. Her daughter didn’t look so good, either, but she went on in a grim sort of way signing papers in the marketing office while I was fixing the copy machine. I’ve seen this before. Sometimes it takes months or years and I can tell when it’s time. My instincts were right when Mabel said “Thank you” and closed her eyes. And again it felt right when Sarah held my hand with a look of relief pasted on her 100-year-old face. And there was grizzled old John, finishing up his fifteenth year in this place, who said “Go to it man. I’m ready.”

Like I say, I’m more than a handyman. I am really being helpful. ###

 

 

 

 

 

Lizards

Then we enter the week of lizards. I am usually in the office when she brings her trophies. As she drops it to announce her gift, the lizard darts away and Pinky’s triumph is muffled as she darts after it. I enter the fray, for there are plenty of places for the lizard to hide. It is still hiding in the lowest bookshelf. Pinky thinks so. She spends at least an hour each day keeping vigil there.

A friend asked, Do you get any Blue Boys? I had never heard of Blue Boys. Now I know. The latest lizard is on its back and its belly has a blue stripe on each side.

Watch out for alligator lizards, my friend said. They get mean.

This alligator lizard is about eight inches long, looks like it has just climbed out of the Bayou, and tries to do its best to latch onto Pinky’s tail. I yell, and we both dance around as it keeps lunging. My usual method of ridding the house of gifts is not going to work this time. I fetch a wooden pencil and stick it in front of its nose. Instantly, it chomps down on the pencil, which I lift and raise high so Pinky cannot slap it down. I head for the door, Pinky trotting by my side. Outside, I swing the pencil, but the lizard has such a grip I cannot throw it away. Pinky is frantic to have her alligator back and leaps onto the railing to reach it. Finally, I descend the steps and scrape the lizard off on a tree trunk. The chunk gouged out of the pencil impresses me. At once Pinky plunges into the shrubbery after it.

Gifts from Pinky

For a small cat, Pinky’s tread is not subtle. I hear her drumming down the hall and know something is up. She bursts into my office, carrying something in her mouth. She drops it by my chair and meows several times in case I have not noticed that she has brought me a mouse, which is not yet dead.

Renato, help! Thank you, Pinky. Can you take it away now? Instead, she treats me to a display of toss-and-catch and hockey moves. Her rear end sticks up as she swats the mouse. I am hoping the mouse will soon die or that she will take her operations outside. I stare at my computer screen, type a word: “and,” and have no idea what I was meaning to say.

Finally Pinky is done and strolls off. I fetch several paper towels and go to dispose of the mouse. I have received anonymous gifts on my front doormat, as well, in various stages of dismemberment.

Each day after the first mouse, I receive a bird, a second mouse, another bird, no end of gifts of esteem, topped by a little snake. The snake is dark gray, with a bead-like band around its neck, and has a pattern of red dots under its pointed tail. It is still alive, too. Luckily, it is parked on the inside doormat. All I need do is lift the mat and dump the snake into the brush in front.

By now I am hardened, until she brings a bird that is alive. My course of action is clear. I must wring its neck and put it out of its misery. Instead, I lock myself in the bathroom, where I stay for ten minutes. When I emerge, Pinky and the bird have disappeared.

Pinky and the gang

In bed, Pinky either camps at my feet or comes to my side for a session of scratching and paw holding or head cupping. While we sleep I sometimes hold her foot, just to stay in contact. She works her legs like a forklift operator, levering right and left or away. I obey, because it amuses me to do so. I have not smiled in the dark recently that I can recall.

I went out back one day and spied Loaner lying near my lemon tree. I was happy to see her and called her name. She replied with a perfunctory meow, her gaze fixed on something under the lemon tree. The object of her attention was round, with pink, star-shaped toes and a long pink fleshy nose. Upside down and helpless to right itself, it waved its feet and uttered “bleahhhh.” A mole! Loaner patted it, gently, then returned to watching. Soon Pinky appeared and also settled down to view this new thing. Then Au Au came. Down the path a vividly orange cat made as if to join us then, seeing me, veered off into the brush.

We crouched there for some minutes, with me wondering what I should do about the mole. I pitied it, yet was reluctant to break up the cats’ fun. This is what cats do, I reasoned. They hunt, they learn, they play. Who was I to spoil things for them? With this excuse to do nothing, I did not move. Pinky dabbed at the mole, and so did Au Au. The mole owned a velvety gray fur coat. In books I read trappers wrapped their rifles, knives, and Bibles in moleskin. Was that the real thing, or some kind of fabric? Those were my pseudo-scientific speculations; I can’t say what the cats were thinking.

Suddenly, Pinky and Au Au rolled the mole into the open and began playing soccer with it. Loaner got up as I hesitated, about ready to rescue the mole. She headed for the steps up to the house. I followed. We were to be alone together! After she had her milk treat, we spent a sweet five minutes with her on my lap. I must sit on the floor for this now, as she will not go near any chairs or couches tainted by Pinky or Au Au. I try carrying her to a place to sit but she wails in protest and struggles to get free. But my lap, isn’t it tainted as well?

When she left, I went outside to check on the soccer game. Pinky and Au Au were gone. I hunted, and found the mole intact, upside down again, and wedged under a rock. I lifted it by its rat-like tail and dropped it into the thick brush not too far, I hoped, from home.

Oakland Book Festival

On Sunday I will be holding down a table at the Oakland Book Festival, displaying my books and hustling for new members to our California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch. It will be a three-hour stint, from 12:00 to 3:00 and it promises to be a very hot day.

This is an annual event that brings out hundreds of browsers of 80 authors. Our neighboring city Berkeley just held their book festival drawing just as big a crowd.
We aren’t exactly rivals, more like sisters.

Come by to Oakland at Frank Ogawa Plaza if you like!