I’ve jst been infored that Cheecj, is no more
A boy, his dog, five kids, two witches
and a posse of squirrel-loving, New Age vigilantes (2006)
On a beautiful summer afternoon, not so long ago, a small group of shiny, happy children, who were oh-so-briefly ‘in my care’, had the terrible misfortune of meeting the Wicked Witch of the NDGDogPark.
It was a splendid Saturday afternoon and my fetching red-haired companion of late – a six-year-old golden lab/shepherd/husky mix, named Cheech – was gamboling with his many four-legged friends inside the fenced compound on Montreal’s west side. Ever mindful of my obligation to scoop up and disappear any treats my canine companion might produce from his hind orifice, I always try to keep at least one eye on Cheech. However, when Cheech and his pals are in good form it is impossible to not keep both eyes riveted on them, as they chase and wrestle each other, running and leaping in a graceful ballet that could never be bettered by any two legged creatures – not even the small, young, uninhibited, fearless ones made of rubber.
On this particular visit to yonder dog park, Cheech and his pals were, indeed, in fine form and I sat on a bench and watched them with a genuine sense of awe, oblivious to the fact that a small boy – who could be referred to as a young man, I suppose – had joined me. “Which one is yours?” asked the… youngish male humanoid seated next to me.
“The one that won’t stop barking,” I answered, before screaming the futile words that had become my dog park mantra that summer “CHEECH! Less bark, more play.”
“Cheech is your dog?”
“Yeah. You know Cheech?”
“Everyone knows Cheech,” replied my new friend, with a smile. My benchmate spoke no lies, for Cheech is certainly one of the best known and best loved dogs to frequent the park. Cheech, who was brought to the big city from his vast Yukon playground by my friend Vince, is a Buddhist. A bouncy Buddhist. With his moon in anarchy. I, by contrast, am a bouncy anarchist (funarchist would be a better word), with my moon in Buddha.
Both of us are magnificent but mangy beasts – Cheech having an aversion to water and I to hairbrushes and razors. We share the same shade of red hair – a light hue that some call strawberry blond. And we are both largish compared to others of our own species, although I must confess that Cheech is much more fit than I.
Cheech is endowed with incredible charm and is a shameless flirt, as I, myself, had been, once upon a time… perhaps when I was as fit as Cheech is now. Oft times, Cheech prefers the warm caress of human hands to anything his dog friends can offer him, which, of course, is why, “everyone knows Cheech.”
“Which one is yours,” I ask.
“Oh… I don’t have a dog anymore. He died a little while ago,” replied the demonstrably grief-stricken lad.
“Are you going to get another one?”
“Yeah… but for now I just come here and play with the dogs.”
“At least you don’t have to clean up the poo!” My friend smiles and chuckles, then quickly glances over his shoulder, recognizing the joyful, laughter-laced shrieks rapidly approaching the fence as those of children known to him. Four girls. All eight or nine years old. I would come to learn that they are all sisters and cousins of my young friend.
The girls bunch up at the fence, their curious eyes and hungry minds scanning the park. They see their brother/cousin and scream his name, “Marcus!” Marcus is already gleefully trotting toward them and I go back to minding Cheech’s business. After a couple minutes Marcus returns and says, “Hey mister, can those girls come inside?”
I will always introduce my gentle beast to any curious child that can easily be turned into a dog and animal lover – I’ve met far too many kids that are afraid of dogs – so I smile, wave at the girls and bid them join us. Ten seconds later Cheech is being petted by six or eight little hands attached to little girls with very big eyes. And then came the Wicked Witch.
The Wicked Witch of the DogPark is a gratuitously nasty, bitter, withered old crone with an unsightly mop of blond steel wool on her head. A extravagant gossip, the old sea-hag is never averse to eavesdropping on any conversation and starting implausible and sensational rumours, a loathsome practice that I have taken advantage of in the past. Unsubstantiated rumours have it that the Wicked Witch of the Dog Park was, once upon a time, a happily married woman with several children, although I find it all a little hard to believe.
“Those kids shouldn’t be in here,” the Wicked Witch cackles at me, pointing her gnarled finger at the silent children.
“Those kids are with me,” I answer in a tone that makes it clear that I will not tolerate any of her shit and will, in fact, smite her and do so happily.
“You’re going to take responsibility for them?”
Before I can answer, one the girls looks at the Wicked Witch and asks, in all seriousness, “Are you the boss?”
I feel no urge to suppress my joy at the question, a fact that enrages to Wicked Witch, who is rendered speechless and can only glower at the little girl. Giggling, I tell the kids, “No. She’s not anyone’s boss and you don’t have to listen to anything she says.” Two of the girls still look at the Wicked Witch with frightened expressions but the others are delighted that I am seeing her off.
The Wicked Witch has gathered her meagre wit and dubious courage enough to offer a parting shot, “Okay… well, you’re responsible for them….”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,… keep moving.”
Then the little darling who asked the question the first time, asks it again, this time of me, “Is she the boss?”
I know an opening for a story when I see one. “No, she’s not the boss. She’s the Wicked Witch of the DogPark.” All four of the girls look to Marcus for confirmation. Marcus, apparently a born player who understands the game is on, nods his head.
“No lie,” I reply. “She just got out of jail, last week.” Dead silence and wide eyes. “She was in dog jail!”
“Yes, dog jail.”
“Why was she in dog jail?”
“A long, long time ago, the Wicked Witch had children of her own. But she was mean to them. So the police came and took her children away and put her in jail. But the jail was full, so they put her in dog jail. And she was there a hundred years. Now she hates children but loves dogs.” Cognizant of my duty to allay any fears I have instilled in the innocent children, I assure them not to worry because, “she has no power over humans, so don’t be afraid of her. She’s only a dog witch.”
Fears allayed, the kids go back to playing with several dogs until a nearby church rings the six o’clock bells, telling the kids that the pool is now open to them and off they scamper.
Cheech has become bored of his canine companions and is poised at the fence, ready to do another jailbreak in pursuit of squirrels. Before he can jump the fence, I open the gates and call him and the hunt has begun.
As Cheech is chasing squirrels hither and thither I spot yet another wicked old witch. This particular witch happens to hate dogs but love squirrels. I’ve had several run-ins with the squirrel witch in the recent past and am expecting another attack. But this time the squirrel witch is not alone.
The most recent dust-up between myself and the squirrel witch is playing through my head as I keep one eye on her and her posse of conscripts and one eye on Cheech. Two days earlier the squirrel witch had snuck up behind me and screamed. “Murderer! Murderer! Get that murderous beast of yours on a leash!” My response was to laugh and walk away. But the squirrel witch was not deterred. At first she stormed off in pursuit of Cheech, a gambit that no healthy, able-bodied human was capable of succeeding in. Realizing that there was no chance of catching a healthy dog, the squirrel witch turned and began another attack on me.
She started by calling me, “Anti-life,” and concluded by insisting that I, “have no penis.” I foolishly engaged the squirrel witch with logic, explaining that dogs are hard-wired to chase squirrels and that it was all a part of Mother Nature’s plan. Being a lunatic, the squirrel witch could only continue to shriek about my allegedly missing masculine appendage. I countered by taking the moral high-ground that vegetarians hold over carnivores and asking what she’d eaten for breakfast.
Then, from out of nowhere, a thirty-ish man with a two year old child on his back sniped at me, “So, your dog is going to eat the squirrels after he kills them.”
“What the Hell do you care? Do you lose sleep knowing that cats are chasing birds and rodents?”
Dude did not like that. He puffed himself up and asked if I wanted my ass kicked. I laughed and enquired as to whether or not he was teaching his child a valuable lesson, which further exacerbated him.
Cheech had wondered over to see what all the fuss was about and the squirrel witch actually took a swing at him with her purse. As Cheech easily dodged the bag I found myself mentally imploring him to rip the squirrel witch’s arm off, before realizing that I was becoming as insane as our two foes. I shook my head, chuckled and said, “C’mon Cheech, let’s leave these mental cases alone,” and that was the end of that battle in the ongoing war with the squirrel witch.
But on the beautiful Saturday afternoon where this tale began the squirrel witch had managed to enlist the aid of a posse of garishly clad fifty year old women and one SNAG from the New Age church across the street. After deliberating for about five minutes, the posse descended upon my good self.
At first, the posse was cautious and curious. They explained that the squirrel witch had told them that I was actually training Cheech to hunt squirrels. Astounded, I laughed and replied, “The women is obviously deeply disturbed and quite likely mentally ill,” before adding, “you should be worried about getting her some help, not about my dog doing what is perfectly normal for dogs to do.”
The SNAG puffed himself up in defence of the womenfolk and insisted that he was gong to call the police. I howled with laughter, reached into my pocket, produced a quarter, pointed to the payphone on the edge of the park and told him to please do so.
Confused, defeated and dejected the blue-purple-green swarm fled after assuring me, “We will pray for you.”
Good fuckin’ God, how many times have I heard those words in my life