Saturday, December 27, 2008

Animal Tales

Len Klein
Memory Sketch # 27
Friday, November 09, 2001

It was the Fall and I was living back home in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and going to Lew Wallace Jr. High School 66, while Lorraine, who lived permanently in Coney Island on twenty-ninth street, was attending her local Jr. High. Unlike the Summer, when I was staying in a bungalow on twenty-eighth street, I now had to travel for about one hour to get from my house to hers.

This was the first Lorraine, Lorraine Berliner, who was my girlfriend when we were both thirteen and fourteen. On this particular day, I was walking along twenty-ninth street in Coney Island going to Lorraine's house. I was just looking forward to getting there and focused on the pleasure of seeing her, when through an open yard gate, right near where I was walking, a cat came tearing out, turning past me running full speed down the street. I barely had time to turn my head, when, following the cat came what I perceived as a giant German Shepard hot in pursuit. But, how could I besure, as the growling dog came at me, that I was not the object of his attention. The whole thing was over in a split second, but my heart kept beating at an accelerated rate for quite a while longer. Lorraine must have thought I was really excited about seeing her.

One nice day, my cousin Dan and I were spending the afternoon together and we were out walking. We must have been about ten years old, and as we walked along, we decided, because we had come upon some line rope, to tie ourselves together. So, we each tied a loop around our waist and walked along in this manner with the rope between us. We were in Dan's neighborhood but on streets that were unfamiliar. There seemed to be barn like structures on that street, with chickens and such inside. We stopped to look inside one of the open structures and as we entered, we saw, in the dark of the far end of the barn, a growling guard dog get up and start after us. We turned and ran out as fast as we could, running along the street. The dog, a black beast from hell, came tearing out of the barn door, gaining on us. We were both scared out of our wits. As I was running down the street, the rope suddenly tugged at me. Dan was no longer running along the sidewalk, but had started to cross the street. I had no choice but to follow him, and by doing so, I followed him into safety. Once we left the sidewalk, the dog stopped pursuing us, although he kept up a growling, sound attack, which was really frightening. We were hyperventilating, scared, relieved, and disbelieving, all at once, even as we realized that the dog had been well trained not to cross the street. We proceeded to walk away, not wanting to provoke the beast further by running, and we were very happy to turn the corner. That was hell of a nightmarish experience that has never faded from my memory. I keep thinking about what would have happened if we had kept running along the same side of the street that the dog was on. We would been dog meat, and I don't mean puppy chow. Today we would easily identify the dog as the kind that kills kids, gets lots of publicity, and then very little gets done about them.

At 880 Saratoga Avenue we had a Parakeet named Mr. Green. When out of the cage, the bird liked to stand on the head of my little sister, Rochelle, and to play kissing games with my sister Linda, which she had taught Mr. Green to do. With Arnie, it would reach into his mouth and pick the food from the inside of his teeth. Arnie was also trying to teach it to come to his finger when the bird was flying around the house, but I don't recall him being very successful at that. Mr. Green was with us for a long time and we allenjoyed him and his antics. If I remember correctly, it was Arnie who cleaned his cage, while everyone else just played with him.

Also at Saratoga Avenue we got the first family dog, or maybe it was the second. It was a little black puppy that Rochelle named, 'Baby.' The care and feeding of Baby fell to my mother, who had insisted that it not happen that way, but... She did get some help from Arnie, and, of course, we all played with it. Arnie would take the dog in his car, in the late evening, to various places where the dog could run free. One such place was Idlewild Airport, in Queens. Remember Idlewild? On the airport grounds the dog would run around the fountain pools, and so would we. Baby lived a long time, and after the house on Saratoga Avenue was sold, my parents tried to take the dog with them into their new apartment, in Rochdale, but it was not allowed. So, they took Baby back to Saratoga Avenue where the new owners of the house were willing to have him. We knew it was the best possible solution, but it saddened us all.

Of course, I already related the story of the cat house in "The Lot." They were a family group of cats and kittens, that lived and played in the lotnext door on Chester Street. There were times when I played with them everyday despite a sickening allergic reaction to cat fur that hit me everytime: my eyes would redden and itch, and to my great frustration, my nose would just keep dripping, often accompanied by repeated sneezing and a loss of concentration and memory.

Looking back, it seems just plain stupid that I would subject myself, time and time again, to such torture and sickness that followed my play. But, itis true that at that time I didn't realize just how much my overall health was affected by the cats. Most of the time I just thought something was wrong with me. I guess I was right, but it was something I could have changed.

When I was about eight or nine years old the family went to the country for the summer. It was in upstate New York, probably not too far from the Catskills. We stayed at a farm which belonged to the Glogger family, and which we simply referred to as Glogger's. Like many others, we had a room to sleep in and the use of the communal kitchen area in which to cook and eat. There was a pool near the house, and the daytime was mostly spent sitting around or dunking in the pool. One day a rather large snake was discovered in one of the rooms and a large man, interestingly named Mr. Sampson, who was staying at the farm house, got the snake out of the room and laid it across the road so that a vehicle could run over it and kill it. A quite typical human reaction to being scared by anything. However, to everyone's dismay, none of the vehicles that came by would ride over it. Finally, all the frustrated people had to relent and let the snake go, and it slithered off into the field.

Another time I was sitting on the grass at Gloggers's with several boys and girls watching a local stray dog gnaw on a bone. When the dog was distracted, I showed off my bravado and kicked the bone away. The little dog came at me and grabbed my leg giving me several bites. I was scared shitless. Then I realized that he had just pressed my leg, not breaking the skin at all, but punishing me for mistreating his bone. I was amazed at his skill in dealing with me, and I learned the lesson he taught; if its not your bone, don't mess with it.

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