Shark bait ooh ah ah!
Mom never learned how to change the subject.
She waits until I am comfortable and foggy, pushed back from the table, digesting, to suddenly become all business.
"Now, we need to talk about Oliver," she said. "You have to give him his pills every day."
Oliver is Mom's small, old, white poodle, and he was coming to stay with us while my parents were out of state on a road trip. Like a mogwai from "Gremlins," he comes with all kinds of strange rules.
On cue, having apparently practiced before we arrived, Dad shows up at Mom's side with Oliver's pills and a can of cat food. Mom demonstrates the proper technique on her plate.
"You have to hide his pill in a ball of cat food," she said. "But you have to make two balls. He sees the second one and hurries to swallow them both. If you just do one, he'll chew around his pill."
"Christine, are you taking notes?" I asked my wife. I left out what everyone already knew was the unspoken second part: "Because I'm not going to do any of this."
"Now, he may have a seizure," Mom said in that matter-of-fact way that she has.
Christine made some kind of sympathetic sound appropriate to Oliver's malady. This is really just a formality. She's pretty matter-of-fact herself. Must be something that happens to people who live their whole lives in Maine.
Meanwhile, Dad took me aside to explain that I should put Oliver outside in the cold should he become overexcited. "I didn't know that could happen once they were fixed," he said, and laughed uncomfortably.
"We just lost our dog-sitter," Mom said.
"It's fine Mom, we'll take him."
Days passed like hours the way they do now. I called my house after school and my son, Wesley, answered. Oliver had arrived. "I thought it was going to be Grammie again," he said in that seen-it-all 13-year-old tone he has so recently acquired. "She's called like five times."
"For what?" I asked.
"To check on the dog."
Within a few days, we fell into that routine and it seemed like we had always had a dog. I have to say, though, that when it comes to Oliver, I wasn't terribly impressed.
He's a nice enough dog, but he lacks what Iggy Pop might call a "lust for life."
He sits around and sleeps 90 percent of the time. He doesn't even get all that excited about food. If you look at him, he starts to shake, the way poodles do, and he has that hangdog, clinically depressed look that most dogs seem to have. Why are they so sad?
He only jumps up when you are walking to the door or the kitchen in order to tangle himself in your feet. His primary goal in life, as far as I can tell, is to trip a human headlong and make sure he is crushed in the process.
The kids sing-songed his name for a week: "Oliver, Oliver!"
I kept thinking of the old musical: "Oliver, Oliver, never before has a boy wanted more!"
Oliver can change a room. You sit next to him and feel suddenly saddened, like your hopes have been diminished. Then you realize it comes as a result of his smell, which I would liken to a bubble of sewer gas rising and breaking on the surface of an ocean of spit.
All week, I referred to the dog as a "her." The kids kept correcting me, and I kept forgetting. You would think the name Oliver would be a clue, but poodles lack a certain machismo, and he's eating cat food in the bargain! How embarrassing for him. Oliver is kind of like a male ladybug.
Eventually Mom stopped calling. In fact, she stopped calling so long Christine started pestering me about it.
"You should call your Mom to see if they're all right."
Christine was pretty worried about inheriting the animal, I think, but not to worry. My parents arrived and Oliver seemed very relieved, though still clearly very depressed, to be back in his mother's arms.
And Rockland's Dunkle household is pet-free once again.
Daniel Dunkle is news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife and two children. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.