GROWING UP, I DIDN’T HAVE A DOG. We had tree frogs, horned toads, all kinds of fish, basilisks, iguanas, even a Tegue lizard, but nothing with fur or feathers — I was too allergic, too asthmatic — so I squeezed the most dog essence I could get from every canine encounter.
It all started with Paulie Goodman’s Dachshund, Rusty — a clever, softspoken fellow (Rusty, that is).
Then there was Paulie’s dog, Ginger, a Boxer, who left Brooklyn for thewest coast in 1961. Ginger was followed by… Ginger, Paulie’s German Shepherd, the first dog that I really could converse with and really got to know.
Another most impressive dog was the mastiff I met on Bedford Avenue in front of Dr.
Winston’s house. (I can picture him completely, but I can’t remember his name.) I’d never seen such a beast of a dog in all of my (at that time) six and half years. When I stopped petting his massive head, he calmy but firmly grabbed my entire arm in his jaws. “Oh, he’s been taught to hold like that, don’t be alarmed, he’s quite gentle, really,” his owner told me. Amazed but not the least bit frightened, (or concerned that my favorite sweater, the white one with the black elbow patches and shiny metal buttons, would soon be dripping with his doggie saliva) I looked into his earnest eyes and thought to myself, “WHAT A GREAT DOG!”
The dogs I have known have truly shaped my life: My parent’s rotund Irish Terrier, Colleen, who my brother and I agreed looked like a russet version of Shari Lewis’s hand puppet Lambchop; My first encounter with a Bodhisattva, manifested in the luminous presence of my Bernese Mountain “dog-and-a-half” Beau (that's how big he was)— standing watch by an injured robin; Taking in the sight of Inuk, a Canadian Inuit dog, the gentle princess of Spitsbergen (right) and one of my wheel dogs, on guard for polar bear during a sun-filled night in Svalbard.
Of course there’s the charming and more than slightly daft Raoul S., a recent canine acquaintance. Now nearly ancient, a life-long, Parisian terrier mix, Raoul S. (left) literally bumped into me at the gravesite of Man Ray in Montparnasse. The sweet vagueness of autumn dusk coupled with his poor eyesight (diminished by years of writing late into the night) led to this chance encounter. Through books and repeated pilgrimages to New York museums, I’ve come to regard Man Ray as one of my visionary heroes. Raoul S., on the other hand, knew Man Ray. In fact, Raoul S. was instrumental in arranging Ray’s move to Paris. He later introduced him to Tristan Tzara (although Raoul S. always thought of Tzara (right) as he first knew him — that wild Romanian — Samy Rosenstock.)
Quite a dog, that Raoul S., quite a dog.