I am enjoying a rural Arizona morning. I am on the patio of a rental house. The birds are greeting the day.
Beside me is a dog. A neighborhood stray maybe. The dog is white, and he smells like a billy goat. I place my hand on his head. He is smiling.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
I’m good at naming dogs. It’s a gift. Show me a dog, and I’ll name it.
“You look like a ‘Duke’ to me. Do you like that name?”
He does not. He sneezes at it. And this is a shame because I’ve always thought Duke was a perfect dog name.
Next door is an old woman working in her backyard garden. I can see her through the fence. She is dressed in a nightgown, white-haired, she is barefoot, smoking a cigarette.
Arizona is a different place than I’m used to. People here talk differently, they dress differently, they do different things.
Yesterday, for example, I saw a young lady in a grocery store wearing a golden leotard with turquoise hair. Her husband was dressed like a wizard.
Even so, people are people, no matter where you are. Leotards and all. All humans have the same basic needs. To love. To be loved. And to eat lots of cheese.
The elderly neighbor woman is digging holes, planting things. Her son is helping, but she is not friendly to him.
“Mom, why’re you planting whole apples?” he says.
“Because I like apples, dumbass.”
“You don’t expect them to actually grow do you?”
“Then why plant them?”
She throws a shovel at him.
This is what I’m hearing right now.
On the street before me, I see a man in a cowboy hat, walking. On his shoulder he is carrying a lizard. A very big lizard.
Like I said. Different folks.
“Mom!” shouts the lady’s son. “Why’re you planting almonds?”
“Shut up and give me that shovel,” she says.
“Mom, let’s go inside, you need a shower. I’m worried about you.”
“Leave me alone you big piece of &@$%.”
I look at the dog next to me. He is as confused as I am.
I still need to find a good name for this dog. You can’t name a dog haphazardly. It takes thought. You might get away with naming a kid Billy, Dan, or Jimmy, but you have to be clever with dog names.
“You know,” I’m reasoning with the dog, “John Wayne’s nickname was ‘Duke.’ Not too late to change your mind.”
He is not buying it.
“How about Moses?”
He looks at me like I’m one brick short of a load.
Moses is a great name. I had a hound named Moses when I was a boy. One day, he was sleeping on a trampoline in the backyard. A storm kicked up. It lifted the trampoline and carried the thing an acre away.
Moses went for a ride and survived unharmed. He never slept on anything but concrete after that.
And again, the man with the lizard is walking by. He’s stroking his lizard’s chin, whispering sweet nothings to it.
I’m beginning to think I’m trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone.
“Hey,” I say to the dog. “How about Matt? Now there’s a good Gunsmoke name.”
The dog frowns.
He doesn’t like that, either.
“Mom!” shouts the man next door. “Stop hitting me!”
The old woman has really lost her temper now. She is swatting her son. She lands a fist to his chin.
He wraps his arms around her in a bear hug. She smacks him, but he endures each blow until she calms down in his arms. Soon, she is sobbing.
“How about Wyatt?” I whisper to the dog. “That’s a nice name.”
He seems to like this title. Who wouldn’t appreciate being named after a famous cowboy sheriff?
“Wyatt it is,” I say. Then I pat his head. “Good boy, Wyatt.”
That’s when I see a girl. She walks the neighborhood street. She is a teenager. Black hair. Sad eyes. She is holding a leash in her hands.
The girl sees Wyatt beside me. Her face lights up. She pats her knees, calling to him. She looks like she’s worried sick.
“Ven acá!” she says. “Ven acá!”
Wyatt’s ears perk up.
I overhear the old lady and her son again:
“I love you, Mom. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” she says, placing her arms around his waist. “I’m sorry I hit you and called you that. I’m not feeling like myself today.”
The white dog bolts for the girl. He races toward her and gives her a slobbery bath. She holds him and kisses his head. And if you’ve ever seen a child kiss a dog, it will make you believe in things. Things like sunrises. And good dogs. And the beauty of family.
The older I get the more I realize that love is everywhere I look.
“Duke!” the little girl says. “Oh, Duke! I was afraid I’d lost you!”
Why that little liar.