This is not a MoonPie story. This is about a dog, which, if we’re all honest with each other, is even better than a MoonPie. Sam Campbell over at the Chattanooga Bakery would agree with me on this one. I hope. And if not, my dog still loves me. That is because God invented dogs when he realized how screwed up humans turned out to be. The Big Guy was trying to put something on earth he could be proud of. And considering my luck with women, I have to say he did a bang-up job with dogs. My dog is sitting here next to me as I type this, as he loves to do, watching each word appear on the screen.
Rudy often looks at me with an intensity that feels a little uncomfortable, as if he is examining my sincerity or morals or ethics. It may be none of those things. He may just be wondering when the food is coming or why I’m not rubbing behind his ears. Dogs are more observant than people. Everyone knows dogs have a better sense of smell than we do, but I believe they can also see our intentions, our failings, and our goodness. They love us despite our faults. Try that with an ex-wife. This is why my best friends are dogs, Rudy especially.
On a walk last week out behind the house down towards the coffee-colored creek, he seemed nervous as I approached two trees, tall loblolly pines with thick trunks leaning up a gentle hill. In a way only dogs can do, he saw the situation before I knew there was a situation. I was oblivious.
A grunt eased down and out of his fuzzy snout and his body lowered and I took a step too far and it hit me like a hammer in the neck, then in the arm, then the ear.
Yellow jackets are tiny; they live in holes in the ground and come out with an attitude that is about 1,458 times bigger than their size. They are aggressive and will chase you. I mean chase you like Bo Jackson did Brian Bosworth back in the day when he hit that old Oklahoma boy so hard that the big Sooner’s tail pad landed ten yards back in the end zone with his rear end still attached.
The business side of a yellow jacket is almost invisible, but the impact of a sting is like another pro football metaphor: being beaten by Ray Lewis holding fistfuls of hypodermic needles loaded with ghost pepper juice.
Rudy attacked them. They attacked him back, knocking him down in a full run, his writhing Jack Russell torso rolling down the hill, legs churning to gain purchase in the weeds and pine needles, yelps and barking and gnashing teeth snapping the air, hoping to snag a few tormentors.
Running back up the hill towards the house, I swatted and slapped at the swarm, both horrified and impressed by their tenacity. Next to me, however, ran something more impressive: a small dog, even more tenacious than the flying demons, willing to take sting after sting to distract them and protect me. Rudy sailed into the yellow jackets. If he was afraid – and I am sure he was – he did not show it. With each sting he wailed and came back at them.
At one point, ours eyes met and it was as if he was cussing in dog language. I am pretty sure I was cussing in my Southern drawl, which had sped up, considerably from my normal drawn-out syllables into a gumbo of bad language thrown into a verbal blender.
The yellow jackets scored on me six times before I tumbled through my back door into the floor, kicking and flailing. They tagged Rudy for five. I slammed the screen so hard I broke the hinge, breathing hard as yellow jackets caromed into the mesh, thud, thud, thud.
Then I felt one up my pants leg. Another score. More language. More barking. Ripping off my jeans and throwing them out the door, I danced a James Brown number until I was sure no more were on me. Rudy pounced on the straggler and bit it in half, the butt end of the bisected yellow jacket still trying to hump its poison into whatever came near.
We sat in the floor together, swelling and hurting. He pushed his head into my side and closed his eyes. Despite his pain, he licked the red whelps on my arm for an hour, ignoring his own wounds. That is why a dog is my best friend. And that is why I am his.