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A Wild Old Dog Come to Sit With Me

Chuck Orloski: Although I think my wife likes me, and since fasting was on my mind, I thought I'd test her religion skills, and asked, “Uh, have you forgotten today's Ash Wednesday, Carol... no meat?"

It was a bright freezing Ash Wednesday in South Side Scranton. I had pleasant sensations knowing all 35 elementary school students were safely dropped off at appointed stops, and the pain in my head and gritting of teeth, resulting from gross mischief, came to end.

Wild Old Dog

Feeling slightly better, and not anxious for more of wife Carol's leftover chicken soup, I drove my school bus into a McDonald's parking lot. Lights out, air brake secured, engine in “neutral,” I removed the key, opened ingress door halfway, and stepped into the icy parking lot, surrounded by green and black posters, advertising “Switch to H&R Block; 50% off!?”

Thought of past I.R.S. audits, my temples began to throb once again, checked wallet for presence of sufficient funds for a Big Mac meal. An admitted “backslider,” I took account of Ash Wednesday and fasting admonition, and settled for purchasing as much meat I could afford.

Inside McDonald's, at counter, a young man, wearing a goofy cap, looked at me, said, “Welcome to McDonald's... can I help you? Momentarily distracted, I noticed a very large man depart Rest Room, struggled with his zipper. Perspiring heavily, moisture intermingled with black ash upon his forehead, and sign of the cross barely recognizable.

A hungry Catholic, stung by shock of “ashes to ashes” confrontation, I did not let my conscience get to me, and instead of a mere fish filet and cheese sandwich, I ordered Big Mac Meal; French Fries, Diet Coke ... to go. It badly pained me that Ash Wednesday had to be TODAY, when I had extra bucks, but what the hell – that's life, and why didn't Vatican just place pork butts off limits?

Uh, has anyone noticed how small McDonald's sandwiches have become? I figured five bites into the puny Big Mac, and it's gone forever. That's O.K though..., at least I did not sin by taking Ronald McDonald's name in vain, I boarded the school bus, opened door, took bite, and Big Mac sauce up dripped upon steering wheel. Frowned, but as cleanups were nothing new to me, I bit into the sandwich again, started engine, and looked into the bus's large rearview mirror.

Engine purr, otherwise silence, I noticed an old mix-breed dog, maybe Shepherd & Lab combination, seated midway down the aisle! Startled, I stared at its tall frozen ears, the animal seemed healthy, heaved a long sigh, wagged tongue, it likely distrusted me. As a kid, I watched Old Yeller numerous times, realized stray animals would smell student's castaway food and candies thrown upon floor, stashed inside the bus garbage can. Talented, the dog evidently slipped through the bus's slightly open door, took seat! A turning point for my bus driving experience, the dog sat still... frankly I'd give him an “A” for behavior.

With little enthusiasm, using a portion of my Big Mac as “temptation,” I coaxed and ushered the dog out into freezing parking lot. “Good, boy, good boy,” I said, as he disembarked, took pee on ice, door closed behind its wagging tail. I tossed my burger to pavement, the dog sniffed, curiously moved on.

Was this incident simply mundane, or on Ash Wednesday, was it something spiritually more meaningful? Like an unleashed walker on Road to Emmaus, the dog turned left and headed toward Dunkin Donuts, across S. Washington Avenue.

O hell, I thought, all this was born of a Catholic commitment to FAST from meat, and I caved in! I watched traffic light turn red, three Jewish boys and an old Gentile bag lady saw the smelly dog approach, perceived an existential threat, and ran across busy intersection.

Scranton school bus drivers love dogs because they chase mailmen and motorcycles, not them. Having nothing better to do, I followed the animal as it ambled toward Whitehouse Subs dumpster, found a discarded hoagie upon asphalt, packed with tuna fish, tomato, mayonnaise, and onions, devoured it like ISIS. Uh, tuna? The stray creature's more Catholic than me?

Bus completely empty, content, I recalled a cool line in T.S. Eliot's poem, “I do not hope to turn again... because I cannot hope to turn again” or something like that. Turning east on Elm Street, and “not knowing,” the stray dog approached railroad tracks, I wished it knew enough to look both ways. You know what? I think it liked me, and despite one irate driver throwing middle finger at me while making a sharp left turn, the return trip home to Taylor Borough was not a big pain-in-the-ass as typical!

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Although I think my wife likes me, and since fasting was on my mind, I thought I'd test her religion skills, and asked, “Uh, have you forgotten today's Ash Wednesday, Carol... no meat?"

Curiously enough, safe at home kitchen table, wife Carol informed me about the full bowl of homemade chicken soup & noodles which lay inside our microwave. She said, “All you have to do, Chuck, is heat it up for about three minutes, and have a ball.”

Although I think my wife likes me, and since fasting was on my mind, I thought I'd test her religion skills, and asked, “Uh, have you forgotten today's Ash Wednesday, Carol... no meat?"

“Nope, Chuck... but chicken soups all we got until Friday, payday!” Carol paused, reflected, and recommended, “Well, it's like this – either say an Our Father and Act of Contrition, eat the goddam soup, Chef Boyardee lasagna, or open a can of tuna fish.”

I caught Carol's yazoo, and realizing how I hated tuna, I placed the soup bowl into the micro, pretended to say penance, and beat my breast during the three-minute wait. Grinning, I tasted the soup... yikes, like a ninny, burned my tongue, and I blew breath upon the bubbly surface. “

Tastes really good Carol, helluva job as usual, thank you!” Soon Carol departed kitchen and the drone of our vacuum cleaner was heard throughout apartment. Vrooom... vrooom!

“Hey, Carol,” I shouted, “can I ask you another question?”

“No way, Chuck, I got work to do!" Vrooom, vrooom!

Northeast Pennsylvania Polish girls really know how to hurt. Noise always drove me crazy during meals, and to suppress unnecessary torture, I reached for a Patty Griffin C.D., called American Kid, a gift given to me by my sons, this past Christmas. I had a beastly sinus headache, and took a few nips of rock & rye, an old fashioned remedy for “what ails 'ya.”

I started to think about C.G. Jung, the unconscious, and the stray dog's odd refusal of my Big Mac, and its subsequent ripping apart of the tuna fish hoagie. In other words, I needed folksy Patty Griffin in my life, and I pushed the C.D. into our player, and selected song # 4, titled “Wild Old Dog,” turned volume up loud in order to drown out Carol's vacuum cleaner.

I felt early effects of rock & rye, and heard Patty's angel dust voice, “God is a wild old dog, , someone left out on the highway...'' Son of Sam experience in reverse, a dog did not speak to me, it was Patty Griffin, a lass from from Old Town, Maine, and thankfully, no Robert Plant Led Zeppelin background yelps and moans! She sang, “We dropped (the dog) out on Route 93... but when Uncle Willy kicked him with his shoe, he just climbed on in just like he knew me.” “Slick Willy,” I thought... no, no, such can not be.

Placed shot glass aside, drank rock & rye straight from bottle. However much theology and New Age one had, I endorse all Rabbis, Imams, Monsignors and the 700 Club listening to Patty's psalm, “God is a wild old dog.” Yes – make some sense of this (expletive) world – lots of bad left-right turns, and like Eliot, “I do not want to (expletive) turn again!”

But just as I was finishing chicken soup, lifted and sipped bowl, Carol re-entered kitchen, exclaimed, “Turn that goddam thing down lower, Chuck, you're 'gonna irk the people downstairs once again!” I knew where this was headed, should have eaten tuna, read the stupid newspaper, and tolerated her vacuum cleaner noise.

Maybe Patty Griffin drank straight from the bottle and switched to “H&R Block, 50% off?” (Sigh) Life's a taxed “crap shoot,” and having escorted the stray dog out my bus, I do wish God and my bus company doesn't punish me for negligence. But come Monday morning, I promise to vacuum and deodorize the school bus seat where God once sat.

charles-orloski-175

Chuck Orloski

Author's Note: Patty Griffin's album “American Kid” was released May 2013. She's 51 years old and grew up nearby Maine's Penobscot Native American Reservation.