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CHRIS ERSKINE / THE GUY CHRONICLES

A Wet Dog, a Cold Boy and Fall's First Fire

September 30, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

He is emotionally attached to everyone he has ever met, a gentle and quiet friend, a dog with no attitude, here in an age when attitude is everything.

"Hold still, buddy," I say as I give him a bath on this early autumn day.

As I wash him, he jumps up in the utility sink and puts his paws on my shoulders. Then he rests his chin on my chest. Almost foreplay, this bath. The kind of stuff that gets presidents in trouble.

"Just sit down," I say.

And right away he doesn't sit down. The dog is convinced that if he sits down he will drown, apparently believing that he breathes through his tail.

So he stands on his hind legs, shivering in the tub, trying to wrap his paws around my neck and slow dance.

"Just sit down," I say again.

You know how they say there's no such thing as a bad hug? They are wrong. This is a bad hug. It's wet. It smells like a dog. It's a bad hug.

As he hugs me, he begins to nibble my ear, thanking me for this warm bath, a bath he's needed for weeks now but nobody has had time for.

"Having fun, Dad?" the boy says, standing at the garage door laughing at the bad hug.

"Next time, it's your turn to wash the dog," I say.

"No problem, Dad," the boy says.

Of course it would be no problem for the boy. It is the same boy who once took a 45-minute shower and came out completely dry.

And he bathes the dog the way he bathes himself, at arm's length, so that the boy--and the dog--barely gets wet.

Whistling as he works, the boy fills the garage utility sink part way, then spritzes water here and there like they do in church, so that the dog is merely damp, never wet. Never cleaner than when he started.

"This is how you wash the dog," I tell the boy, grabbing a plastic cup and pouring water over the dog's head and down the front of my shirt.

"You have to be brave about it," I say.

The boy is leaning on a rake resting, watching me wash the dog. The boy hasn't done any actual raking yet, so apparently he is trying to get a little ahead on his resting, banking some rest in case he needs it later in life.

"Hey, Dad," the boy says.

"What?"

"You're wetter than the dog," he says.

"Exactly," I say.

With that, the dog shakes himself, sending water around the garage for about 20 feet--like a hairy little sprinkler--soaking everything in sight. Except the boy, who manages to step back in the nick of time.

"That was close," says the boy.

"Yeah, you almost got wet," I tell him.

With that, I grab a leash and head down the driveway, the dog leaping and jumping as we go.

This is his favorite part of the bath, when I blow-dry him by running down the driveway. Up and down the driveway we go, trying to get him dry before he can roll in the grass and get dirty all over again.

Then we head for the street, taking advantage of this cool fall day to take a long walk before the big ballgames begin.

He's a high-maintenance dog, this cocker spaniel, with his flowing blond hair and big chocolate eyes, confirming once again that the prettier something is, the more care it takes.

But he is a good and devoted companion, probably the only friend I have who would actually kill for me, who would risk his life to save mine.

Whatever threatened me, he would kill. Squirrels, hamsters, butterflies, small moths, doesn't matter. In an instant, he would lay down his life.

"This way," I say, tugging on his leash and leading him down another road.

Like Thoreau, the dog and I prefer walking west, down along the empty lots, in the general direction of Dodger Stadium 20 miles away.

As we walk, we smell a fire in a fireplace, the first fire of fall. It is a good sign, this first fire, a signal that maybe the cool air has arrived in L.A. a little early this year.

"Maybe we should make a fire, too," I tell the dog.

Lately, I have been talking to him more. Partly because he hangs on every word. Partly because he doesn't talk back.

"You and I will grab some wood and make our first fire of the year," I tell him. "What do you think?"

As always, he considers this a good plan. He likes all my plans. Not once, in all his years, has he ever criticized one of my plans.

"I think that's what we'll do," I tell him as we arrive back in the front yard, where there is a rake but no boy. No pile of leaves. Just the rake.

"We'll make a fire and watch the game," I say. "And maybe we'll even dry off."

Inside we go, where somebody has already made a fire. There is a boy in front of it. And the TV is on. In the boy's lap, there's a bowl of nachos, half gone.

"I got cold," the boy explains.

"At halftime, you go rake," I say.

"No problem, Dad," he says.

And the boy, the dog and I curl up in front of the first fire of fall.

* Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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