By Bob Huber: CNJ columnist
When we lived in the boondocks outside Santa Fe, I woke one morning to the sound of a whining dog. That wasn’t unusual, because we had half a dozen semi-literate canines at the time, stray animals that showed up each day for breakfast.
But I peered out the window anyway and saw a spotted pup knee deep in snow and shivering. I’d seen the animal before. It belonged to our neighbor, Ned Fricker.
“It’s Ned’s dog,” I told my wife Marilyn. “I’ll bring it inside.” It wasn’t the first time I’d made such a mistake. Obviously the word was out in dogdom that we maintained a soup kitchen.
The morning was bitter cold, but once I had the dog thawing by the kitchen stove, I phoned Ned. “Your dog’s here, Ned. I’ll bring it over. Meet me at the fence.”
“OK,” Ned said, “but say, I didn’t leave my feet at your place the last time I was there, did I?”
I should mention that Ned was a scholar who had been conducting hands-on research into alcohol consumption for 40 years. His aim was to answer the nagging question, “Is booze really a plague on life, or is it just your wife grousing?”
But Ned was a dedicated researcher. Realizing early on that he had neither the resources nor the desire to probe the habits of other drunks, he sacrificed his own body to the study.
So committed was Ned that he hadn’t drawn a sober breath since Ted Williams struck out in the ninth inning of a 1939 Red Sox-Phillies game and did away with Ned’s chance to win a $50 baseball pool. After that, he kept a close watch on Red Sox blunders and recited them endlessly when he was in his cups, which was also endless.
But Ned was not your typical scholar. He was bent, lean, shaky, toothless, sallow, dirty, and absent minded. His watery eyes meandered in different directions, and his feet wandered without regard to his legs. He was not the picture of a Nobel Prize recipient.
Each winter Ned dressed fashionably in baggy, layered clothes that arrived three seconds ahead of him. In fact, he dressed that way year around, and at night too. His wife had left him years earlier, but he didn’t care, because he didn’t notice.
Anyway, I carried the dog to the fence, because the ground was buried beneath crusty snow that collapsed with each step, acting like a bear trap on my shins.
As I stood at the fence with his dog in my arms, Ned stepped out and began an awkward journey toward me. He pinballed through some pinion trees, bounced off an abandoned 1952 Buick, and tripped over a stump, falling flat into a deep drift.
But he finally made it, and I handed him the dog. He nodded and mumbled something about missing the little devil and staggered back through the drifts. I plowed my own trip back home, and a half hour later the phone rang. It was Ned.
“Say, Huber,” he said. “This ain’t my dog.”
“Hold on, I’ll check again.” I heard a thump, then Ned was back on the phone.
“There are definitely two dogs here. I banged my head on the wall to make sure.”
So a few minutes later I stood again at the fence and watched Ned step out his back door with the spotted pup in his arms and make the same perilous journey. He finally reached me breathing heavily and held out the animal.
“When I saw two of them, I thought I had the clammy flimflams again,” he said.
Back in our kitchen with the pup in my arms, I told Marilyn, “Ned’s pathetic. He didn’t even recognize his own dog.”
Marilyn rolled here eyes. “Speaking of pathetic, you got the wrong dog. The one you had earlier had brown eyes. This dog has one green eye and one yellow eye.”
I looked and said, “You know, this means Ned really has had two pups over there all along, and we just inherited one. Maybe this is the mama. We may get more.”
And that’s how we acquired one more animal in our menagerie. One by one, three more spotted pups emigrated from Ned’s place to our halfway house. Ned never noticed, and I didn’t call him.
Did I mention that our new pup was pregnant? We named her “Prolific,” and all her pups were retarded, proving the old adage — “Never let a good deed go unpunished.”
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.