Going To The Dogs                                                                                                     By Paul Roberts ©

A “Question Authority” button is pinned to a poster of the American Gothic that hangs in my room. I suppose that’s what most represents my father’s attitude. He cries in his sleep for justice. He mulls over rights as he cooks his beans.

Peace surrounds us. The flat, dusty lands of Stockton, California carries its solitude like the hump on a camel’s back. And we live on a really nice piece of land. Three acres, with two cabins, and a workshop.

My sister and I gave up asking my father what he did before he did carpentry. I barely remember him leaving in the morning wearing a suit and coming home grumpy.
Sis will be eight this fall. I’m four years older, but I feel like we’re pretty good friends. And we work well together, too.

Father cooks most of the time. That’s because he wants to. I do sometimes, but usually Father cooks and Jamie and I wash the dishes. We also take care of the vegetable garden and feed the dogs. Our garden has peas, cabbage, broccoli, and corn. No carrots. Mother never liked carrots. Father said we don’t grow them out of respect for her memory. Jamie doesn’t feed them yet, mainly because they’re still bigger than her, lol.

Father has been away all day and due back from town soon. “Joe…Joe, I’m home.

“Hi Father”.

“And I brought company. Are George and Penny here yet? This is Dan. I invited him to dinner, and he may even stay the night.”

“Hi Dan”. I marched right up and stuck out my hand.

“Well, hello there, Joe. Pleasure to me you.”

“George and Penny are in the kitchen. Dinner’s almost ready.”

Father said, “Fine, fine. I bet you’re ready to eat, Dan. Hitchhiking can work up quite an appetite. Joe, I picked Dan up just outside of San Francisco. He’s heading east to Colorado.”
Dan was tall and slender, with a couple of days growth of beard. He looked just this side of rode weary. I mean, he looked tired, but not done in.

We sat down to a simple but, satisfying meal. The food flowed freely and so did the conversation. Father was in rare form, probably showing to Dan.

“I haven’t had to carry keys in years. They’re like the chains of society.”
Dan paused in mid-forkful on that one. I kept eating because it wasn’t the first time I heard it.
The evening continued. Dan talked about his college studies in economics. He was taking the summer to travel and discover America. To see firsthand farmlands, steel towns, and the Mecca of finance, Wall Street.

Top of Dan’s list was the Walmart Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. Walmart, of course, the Holy Grail of Consumerism.

Father responded, “Oh no! I’m a prosumer. Oh sure, I consume, but with procreation, proliferation, and prolitariation in mind. Consumerism is a fraud.

Dinner was finished. I picked up my plate and walked into the kitchen. I put the floor between the kitchen table and counter. Jamie did the same, putting her plate next to mine. Then, followed Father, Penny, and George.

We always give our scraps to the dogs that way. Three dogs get awfully expensive to feed. The dogs are trained to wait until all the plates are down and we give the signal.

I was just about to say “OK”, but Father touched my shoulder and pointed to Dan. I had honestly forgotten about him. He was still sitting at the dinner table, but he could see what we were doing. He got up with his plate and walked into the kitchen. “What are you doing?” His face had a puzzled, comical look to it.

Father didn’t say anything at  first. He just went to Dan, took his plate, and put it with the others. Then, he faced Dan. “We’re just giving the dogs our scraps.” He turned to the dogs, clapped his hands, and said, “OK Fellas.” The dogs scrambled , licking the plates clean in minutes.

Dan had a look of horror on his face, recognizing his complicity, although limited, in this heinous act. “That’s disgusting!”

“Oh, come on Dan. It saves a little money feeding them.”

“I don’t care what it saves! It’s the grossest thing I’ve ever seen.” He gave Father a condemning look, expecting to see contrition in Father’s expression.

Father took a step to kitchen cabinets.  “Kids, are the dogs finished?”

“Yes.” Jamie and I said in unison.

“Good. Joe, can you start handing me the plates, please?

Jamie and I looked at each other quizzically, then we stooped down, each picking up a plate. We held them out to Father. He took mine first, inspected it carefully, top and bottom. He nodded with approval, then opened cupboard door and placed it on the shelf.

All the while Dan continued with a steady barrage of alternating condemnations and affirmations. “How can people live like that! I will never accept dinner hitchhiking again! That’s child abuse! From now on I’ll see America by bus or train.”

Dan didn’t stay the night. No, he left without ceremony.

We all gathered at the door, calling out, ”Good-byes” and “Good lucks”.

Then I saw George put his hand on Father’s shoulder. He leaned in very close and spoke softly, but I could hear him say, “Alan, you’ve been holding out on us. There is a mean streak in you.”

Jamie asked, “Father, does this mean we don’t have to do the dishes anymore?”

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