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Christmas story

December 17, 2011

[20th J.P.'s Moment of Common Sense, my weekly oratorial exposition on Broad View, KBZZ 1270 AM Reno.]

The magic sneaks up on people, no matter what the circumstances and no matter how much they resist. You see it in the way strangers interact in public places – the closer it gets to Christmas, the more we smile, do things for each other, and appreciate life. The Christmas spirit is an annual miracle, gift-wrapped and special-delivered to people who don’t believe in miracles anymore.

Thirty years ago, I needed some of that magic. I was alone on Christmas Eve for the first time in my life, wallowing in self pity because of a broken marriage, waiting for midnight when my daughters would come home from visiting their mother. Two months earlier, for better or worse, I’d gone outside my home looking for company. I’d bought myself a dog.

With a dog you’re never alone, right?

I like fast dogs, so I bought a Saluki and let my daughters name him. They named him Jack Rabbit, which was weird because he looked more like a deer than a rabbit. But hey, they were only three and six years old. Jack was a tall, gawky, emaciated-looking greyhound with big feet, fluffy ears, and the firm conviction that he could outrun anything that moved.

By Christmas Eve, Jack and I were so bonded as best friends that he could tell something was wrong the moment I woke up. There’s no way to explain Christmas Eve to a dog, although I tried and he seemed sympathetic. The weather made matters worse. After snowing for a week, it warmed up and rained the day before, then switched back to cold for the night, freezing the rain into a crust of ice on top of the snow. Then it warmed back up for Christmas Eve and started drizzling, so it was dreary, wet, and slippery outside. Walking was almost impossible.

I learned about the walking difficulty when I discovered we were out of dog food. A 7-11 store was only a hundred yards from my house, but it took me a half hour to get there and another half hour to get back... which didn’t help my mood.

Jack was raised from birth on Eukanuba dog food and nobody fed him table scraps, so in his whole year-and-a-half of life he’d never eaten or digested anything except Eukanuba. Unfortunately, 7-11 sold Bench & Field, a very rich dog food that requires time for a dog’s digestive system to adjust. I filled his bowl about three o’clock in the afternoon, heard him chomping away in gleeful lust at finding something different to eat about five o’clock, and it was about seven o’clock that the eruptions began. I was lying on the couch watching television, wrapped in my foul mood, and he was lying on the floor next to me. Suddenly his head came up in alarm, and a second later the worst smell in the history of the universe wafted over me.

“Holy cow, Jack, what’s wrong with you?” He was looking at me for reassurance, frightened by his own rumblings, but all I could think about was my singed nose hairs.

We settled back down for a while, but then his head jerked up again, and the smell wafted over me again. It was awful, like a skunk got hit by a car, rotted in the sun for two days until it was eaten by a vulture, then the vulture died from food poisoning and fell into a sewage treatment pond, where tiny crabs nibbled on it and laid eggs in the body until Jack swam out and retrieved it and rolled it in dead fish before bringing it home. Or worse.

I decided we better go for a walk before Jack’s methane emissions caught a spark and burned down my house. It was a miserable walk. The frozen crust on the snow was so slippery I could barely keep my feet under me, and even with four of them Jack was uncertain. Plus the eruptions were coming more often, scaring him with their violence and pungency. Normally he ranged far and wide ahead of me, exploring and sniffing as dogs tend to do, but this time he stayed right next to me.

“Get away from me, you foul smelling mutt!” I shouted, but the shouting just worried him more, which made him inch closer. There were no sounds with his outbursts, but I could tell the ruminations were painful because of the way his body would stiffen. That was my only warning when another wave was coming.

I pushed at him and cursed at him, and called him horrible names, but Jack wouldn’t leave my side. I tried speeding up, but it was impossible to get away. So we shuffled along, side by side, moving slowly over the wet ice, ensconced in a methane fog of such noxious intensity that squirrels passing overhead on tree branches wobbled and felt faint.

“Please, Jack, please walk somewhere else,” I begged, but the pain in my voice only added to his insecurity, so he leaned into my legs to get closer. Finally, desperate for a breath of fresh air, I broke into a run, slipped, and fell flat on my back. With ice water soaking into my jeans, and the smell still surrounding me, right then for a split second I thought life couldn’t get any worse. Then Jack was there. Looking down at me with concern, he lifted one big paw and placed it in the center of my chest, as if to say, “I’m here, buddy, whatever happens I’m here for you,” and then he finally broke the sound barrier with the most explosive fart of the whole evening, scaring himself half to death.

Right then, flat on my back on the wet ground, I started laughing and felt my whole attitude change, my self pity disappearing like it was excised by a surgeon. Suddenly I knew everything in my life would be okay, and would always be okay.

That... was either the Christmas spirit sneaking up on me, or a lack of oxygen.

"It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air." – W.T. Ellis

From Reno, Nevada, USA       

December 25, 2011 - Merry Christmas JP that article made me almost bust a lung. - Devin C., Washington

December 21, 2011 - What a great story, sad yet funny. I don't love all dogs, but I loved him. I still have his collar to this day in a special place to remember him. - Samantha, Michigan
J.P. replies: You have Jack's collar? After all this time? That's pretty cool, Sam.

December 17, 2011 - I hope this was a true Christmas story - for a much better story - watch this. - Ted, California
J.P. replies: I've seen that video, Ted. It's very nice. As for my story, it is true... except for the wobbly fainting squirrels, which may have been the product of my overactive imagination.

December 17, 2011 - I have to say this is the most touching Christmas story I have heard. Being a dog lover myself, a good dog will be there for you till their death. A dog`s only fault...they don`t live long enough. - DeBoe, North Carolina

December 17, 2011 - You know, J.P., throughout the year you speak your mind on a lot of subjects, and most of the time I don't voice an opinion. Not because I don't have one, but because I'd just rather keep it to myself, and most of the time it differs from yours. But alas, we have that right, and I can still love and continue to respect you. But at this time of the year, I wait to hear this story, and no matter what I think of your opinions, you made me laugh my ass off when I read this one. Thanks for sharing it love. Merry Christmas from Tennessee. - Star, Tennessee

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