I have intimated in these pages about the effects that animals have had on my poor wrecked body: the allergies… the asthma… the dry humping; not for me the cuddly puppies and kittens that everybody ELSE in the world seemed to be enjoying. Even John, Jean and Judy (the Catholic school versions of Dick and Jane) had pets– Puff the cat and Spot the dog cavorted across the pages of my first grade reader, leaving neither dander nor stains behind to vex their sickly readers.
It was determined early that I was allergic to dogs and cats after a protracted series of allergy scratch tests performed by Dr. Gennarelli (and Nurse Isabel) and then analyzed at Dr. Horace Greeley’s Laboratory on Clinton Street: “One Block from Borough Hall Subway Station” was the cry. Little bits of allergens had been pricked into my Q-tip-like arms until the areas either turned red, grew itchy, or sloughed off. It turned out that I was allergic to chicken, mixed cheeses, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, oats, bananas, grapes and raisins, hops (beer), tea, household dust, mixed grasses, ragweeds and cocklebur, and mixed trees. I still have the report, dated October 12, 1960; I was 4 years and 2 months old and it’s signed by Horace Greeley himself. (His son Norman carries on the tradition.)
When I got older, the allergies got worse, and I was taken to Dr. Grolnick (and Nurse Cohen) on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn. This time it was patches, and I looked like a quilt for a doll bed by the time they got through with me. The results were even more glum: all of the above, plus most hair and fur bearing animals, and chocolate. Chocolate!
Thus began the long series of Easter Sundays which featured the Bunny bringing me white “chocolate,” while everyone else got the standard brown– yet coveted mine, because it really did taste so much better.
I’ve already mentioned in an earlier post the day I came home from school to discover that our dog Bow Wow had been sent “to a farm.” His official name was Toby, though my grandfather called him Canino– “Little Dog.” He was actually my mother’s dog, but lived with my grandparents after it was determined that he was making me sick. We had fun times, though. Bow Wow would bark from somewhere in the house, and I would run looking for him on my chubby legs. He’d suddenly dart in front of me from under a table, and I would trip– SLAM– onto the hard floors. Nice Little Dog! I wonder what they made him do at the farm… pull a plow? Herd sheep? Guard the hen house?
Even with Bow Wow gone, I still had to deal with other dogs and cats who lived on my block. I could never get too close to them because I would break out in hives and start wheezing, but I still had to live with them if I was to play outside: this was Brooklyn, and there wasn’t a lot of room. (And I wasn’t allowed to cross the street until I was seventeen.)
Prince lived next door with Mr. Milazzo. Prince was white, and sported a big chrysanthemum tail that always showed evidence of his most recent bowel movement. Mr. Milazzo, who was so old he was mummified, walked this dog constantly. In Winter they would arrive back from their trips to McKinley Park, each heavily marked with snowballs that had been lobbed at them.
Max, a German shepherd, lived two doors down with the Andersens. I was terrified of Max because German shepherds still had that lingering World War II Nazi dog reputation, and the Anderson children were half German, so there you have it. Max barked and snapped at everything and everyone all day, and I steered clear of him. Luckily he spent most of his time in an enclosure above a garage.
Tiny WAS Tiny, one of those rat-like dogs who never grow bigger than a loaf of Wonder Bread, and his bark was probably worse than his bite– though I never chanced it. I can’t tell you how many times Tiny would corner me in Edward and Tommy Jones’ yard, not letting me move an inch until my friends called him off.
Holly was my other grandmother’s dog. I spent MANY wheezy Sundays over her house, often relegated to the front stoop or the back yard while everyone celebrated indoors. Do you know what it’s like to have your Christmas presents handed to you through the basement window? “This one’s for you, Jimmy! And don’t leave the wrapping paper on the steps!!” One time we four kids filmed a family movie, and our sister Lois played Holly. Ever imaginative, Lois tucked black socks over her ears and used a third sock as a cool tail. We have film of her loping across the living room sniffing us in our various disguises. If this was ever leaked to You Tube, we’d all be arrested
Sa-Soo was Aunt Terry’s little dog; I would always say “shouldn’t her name be SASSOON, like the hair designer?” And she would fix me with that Aunt Terry face and say “it’s Sa-Soo.” I don’t remember much about Sa-Soo except for the fact that she always seemed to be followed by a cloud of shed hair.
Montana is Lois and Mike’s Yorkshire Terrier. I take Claritin when I visit her; she takes umbrage when she visits ME because I can’t have the dog in my house. Enough said.
Beauty was a black and white cat who belonged to the family who owned the Launderette up the corner. We never saw her much– she lived mainly on a windowsill above the store and hardly ever came outside, so I was safe.
Smoky was a gray cat that belonged to Laraine’s grandmother, and I actually named him but never really got credit for it. Mrs. Small didn’t like me much as a kid– I know, hard to believe!!– yet started calling the cat Smoky after I suggested it. This was almost fifty years ago; get over it, Little Jimmy!
I had to be content with reptiles: the pathetic turtles from Woolworth’s in their ovoid plastic environment decorated with one sad palm tree; four salamanders named for the characters in To Kill A Mockingbird– I kept them in a giant brandy snifter filled with water, and they swam and swam and swam and SWAM for their lives for days until they finally all drowned, exhausted! I was from Brooklyn- how was I supposed to know that I should have provided them with a rock to rest upon; and a little frog that my sister Gina murdered after it leaped from her palm, his hind leg snapping after having gotten stuck between two of her fingers. (She folded him back up and placed him back into his tank, thinking I would never notice.) (PS This was the same sister who once enquired “when Jimmy dies, can we get a dog?) I’ve had parakeets, too– I was more afraid of them than they were of ME.
If I want pets, maybe I should just raise oysters.