It Shouldn't Happen to a Dog

  No place is perfect. Not even Brooklyn. Things happen there that could give you clots on your heart, make you wonder who dumped such rotten eggs on a community with so widespread a reputation for peace, quiet, and world famous Nathan's hot dogs. No other hot dogs can be mentioned in the same breath, no matter how much garlic you add. But you can't cover up the actions of mean people in a place by boasting about its other attributes. The Harrakins enjoyed it just like everybody else, from the majestic old bridge to the tourist attraction of the Half Moon Hotel where the gangster Abe Reles was pushed out of a top story window. The Harrakins often strolled on the boardwalk, and sometimes they gorged at Nathan's, but mostly they paused to examine the spot where Abe Reles smacked into the sidewalk in front of the Half Moon and gossip about it with onlookers, showing off their knowledge of it since they lived right there in Coney Island. It was a little freaky, Harrakin hinting he saw the body, since he was in jail at the time.

   They lived in the back streets there, not far from where the elevated lines terminated. They were a hit or miss family, the paint peeling off the stucco of their two story house, their small front garden an Eden's curse, the back garden piled with empty crates. They were chip-on-the-shoulder friendly, if sloppy, and would agree to a favor but never remember to do it.

   Mr. Harrakin was thin and bony and cracked his knuckles a lot. He worked as a waiter in a bar and had hit the numbers a couple of times. Mrs. Harrakin was tubby, walked with a waddle, and could have posed as a beauty parlor's "before." They had a cat that finally left them, but they never neglected the kids and always had a nickel for ice cream when the wagon came around. At one time they decided it would be a good idea for their youngest, Buddy, to have a dog. The first thing Buddy wanted to know was whether it would bite him. His older brother, Roy, who more often than not played hooky from school, thought it would be fun, though Diana, now fifteen, agreed, but said the one thing she wouldn't do was wash it. I used to visit my friend Marty who dated Diana and he didn't think they were animal lovers at all, but they sure managed to find a dandy little pup. She brought it around to Marty's a couple of times but couldn't stand it jumping on her.

   Blackie was a totally black mutt except for a white star on his forehead for which he showed no vanity. A small, skinny dog, he had a piercing bark, like an opera singer, and was fast and frisky, getting under everybody's legs, tripping them up, and he knew it, a regular comic. Six-year-old Buddy was encouraged to teach it to fetch. But after throwing the stick haphazardly a number of times and confusing the dog by tossing it among the crates in the back yard where Blackie failed to find it, Buddy decided to show him how. He happened to be eating a bag of marshmallows at the time, his favorite confection, when he put the stick between his own teeth and began running up and down the alley. A neighbor saw him and called the police to report a boy running in the street foaming at the mouth and barking. It was the first of many problems the dog posed for the family. Another was Blackie's love for riding in automobiles. Since many models were open touring cars, Blackie would manage to jump into the back seat, lie low until the driver started the car, then leap into the front seat, scaring the driver into screaming and jamming on the brakes. The driver then got out to look for the owner of the dog. On one of these occasions Mr. Harrikin gave and took a black eye.

   One day, as Mrs. Harrikin was wrapping up the garbage in some sheets of the local newspaper she saw an ad with a picture of a fluffed-up afghan in an announcement about a dog show which featured featuring hundreds of dollars in prizes for Best in Show as well as blue ribbons for the winners. An office had been opened on the boardwalk. Afraid the newspaper was days old, Mrs. Harrikin threw the leash around Blackie's neck and went to the indicated address on the boardwalk, which turned out to be next door to a shooting gallery. She had dressed hastily in a ratty-looking cardigan, a flowered skirt further enhanced by catsup stains, and a pair of galoshes. On hearing the rapid-fire shots Blackie broke loose and streaked away to the beach where Mrs. Harrikin recovered him when he jumped on somebody's blanket and grabbed their lunch. She gave the woman fifty cents as reimbursement and dragged Blackie back up the stairs to the boardwalk.

   "How do I get my dog into the show?" she asked the couple behind the counter who gazed at her with aborted smiles.

   "Is that your dog?" the gentleman asked, gazing at it with disdain.

   "Of course it's my dog. I wouldn't bring somebody else's dog," she said feistily.

   "There is a twenty five dollar registration fee," the lady said.

   "This is just a small dog. This is not a greyhound. Look at him."

   "It makes no difference, the size of the animal, madam. The registration fee is the same for all."

   "Well, that's a dirty trick," Mrs. Harrikin declared.

   "Besides, you need papers," the man continued.

   "I'm a full U.S. citizen. I was born here. I can prove it."

   "Not for you, for the dog."

   "Lemme show you this dog," Mrs. Harrikin said, and put it on the counter where it gave two angry, coloratura barks.

   "No! Please! Remove the dog! Remove the dog at once, madam!" the man commanded. He reached for the dog, who snapped at him.

   "I'll give you five dollars cash," said Mrs. Harrikin.

   "You do not understand, madam!" the man said in a loud voice. "Only pedigreed animals are permitted. This is a mongrel. We award best in show prizes only to dogs with full pedigrees."

   "Oh, yeah?" said Mrs. Harrikin. "Why can't there be a Best Mongrel in Show? What's wrong with that?"

   "There is no such category, madam, and I beg you to take your dog and leave these premises." Blackie had backed up toward the standing desk lamp, lifted his leg and gave a short squirt. Mrs. Harrikin snatched him, dumped him on the floor and waddled out to the boardwalk, Blackie prancing triumphantly at her side.

   That night, she told the family what had happened, but nobody was impressed with their failure, and Roy said, "Well, that's what he is. He's a mongrel. It ain't his fault, but that's what he is."

   As it turned out, Buddy was too young to look after the dog full time, neglected to take him out enough, and Blackie was obliged to stain the beat-up carpet again and again despite the cries and admonishments of the others who caught him in the act. Roy had no time for it, and Diana ignored him altogether. Mrs. Harrikin found herself embarrassed standing at the curb while Blackie stared soulfully up at her and did his business choosing the exact moment when her snooty neighbor, Mrs. Van Shmantz, came out in her high heeled shoes and Irish tweed coat.

   "You're making a regular toilet out of this street," she hissed.

   "I suppose I can do what I want in front of my own house, you know!" Mrs. Harrikin replied. "Our mortgage is paid up."

   Harrikin's socks had a certain appeal for Blackie, who ran off with them one at a time, leaving him with all mismatched pairs. Two months later the idea of taking care of the dog had settled into a deep, nagging malaise and he was left without any defenders. When the idea was first proposed to find another home for him, there were no strong objections but no action was taken. Only Roy showed any affection at all, and that in a limited way, saying he wished he had the time to teach Blackie a few tricks. But that never materialized, and in the end they sought someone to adopt him. The one person who showed any interest asked if Blackie had had all his shots. It turned out he hadn't had any. Roy was delegated to abandon Blackie in a distant neighborhood in hopes that some kind family would open their door to him, which he did. Blackie found his way back each time. In desperation, Diana agreed to take Blackie with her the next trip she took into the City.

   One Saturday afternoon she put Blackie's leash on and walked him to the elevated line. They took the Sea Beach train to Canal Street in Manhattan where she was going to meet Marty after work. It was a new experience for Blackie and he was excited and happy as they roared through the tunnel and over the bridge. At Canal Street she led him out of the subway and started to walk with him amidst the surging crowds. She unhooked the leash and let him dash off. When he looked around for her, she was gone. He pranced wildly about, ran across the traffic-heavy street dodging cars. I was in Marty's office looking out the window and saw the whole thing. Alarmed, the dog thought he saw her and sped wildly in the wrong direction. I had already run down the stairs and for fifteen minutes couldn't find him. I had almost given up when I saw him curled in a doorway, trembling. I called to him and bent down as he hopped into my arms with a yelp. I didn't go back to Marty's. I didn't want to see Diana. I took him home.

Home    Storybook

Right Out Of Ripley  |  What's In A Name  |  The Day I Almost Became A Vegetarian

Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life  |  The Nervous Young Man  |  Everybody's Wild About Harry

The Planet According To Higgins  |  More Stories!

Copyright August 3, 2000-


Home More Stories Right out of Ripley What's in a name The day I almost became a vegetarian Ah, sweet mystery of life The nervous young man Everybody's wild about Harry The planet according to Higgins