In the portrait, taken sometime in the Whimsical 90's, his eyes are a cool cowboy stare, his young gun eyeballs throwing a wad of hot lead into the putz taking the picture in some photography studio at Sears or JC Penny. Regal, poised, the very soul of swagger, his rugged good looks are chiseled into the frame for future generations bounding up and down the stairs in my mother-in-law's house to observe.
And to top it all off, when the picture making went down: he wore a blue bandanna.
Around his neck.
Not a kerchief. Not some silky city-slicker lady scarf that some men choose to wear. Oh no. This was a pure blue badass American bandanna. A biker rag.
Come to think of it, it was the 90's...hell, he might have even been a Crip. That's just how he rolled.
One thing is for sure, though. He was a hell of a dog.
Legend has it that Spliff sired quite a few offspring in his time. Over the course of his 17 years (thats like 3000 dog years or something), I like to imagine certain scenes...
A man opens his blinds one early summer Sunday morning. He takes a sip of his apple juice and smiles the smile of the truly blessed. Today is the Lord's Day, he whispers to the songbirds twittering in the treetops. He smiles knowing that his family, his wonderful wife and his seven lovely children are down in the kitchen preparing the traditional Before-Church breakfast of Canadian Bacon and waffles shaped like angels. The sun shines its ever-loving light down upon his shaven cheek and he feels the presence of Jesus Christ the Son of God in the warm glow that bathes his chosen soul.
He looks down into his yard, his property. He thanks the Founding Fathers for their strict laws of Liberty that allow him to be able to keep this sacred plot of stone and sod sealed off from the world. It is his, safe from, well, safe from the Mexicans...there: he said it and he feels good about it too, by golly. His eyes circle his yard like prison yard lights. And then.
A white dog, the size of a teenage racoon! And its fucking the shit out of the family Collie. Or Lab. Whatever.
"Stop!," he chokes,"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
But its too late. Breakfast is friggin ruined. The whole holy fucking day is ruined. His blessed eyes are stung with the whipped dust of blatant balls-out Sunday morning dog sex.
His family is devastated. Not just by what has happened, but also by how Dad is handling it.
An hour later, 8 yards away...Spliffer is behind a poodle. The world keeps spinning, bro. Even on Sunday.
I formed a club a few years ago, before Violet was born. Before we got Milo/Crazy Train/Frat Boy KegStand Labrador. The club was called The Wasatch Mountain Rangers and it had three members. Me, Max (our first lab), and Spliffer. That's it. At our first meeting we congregated around a road-kill the Highway Department dumped on our hill and took an oath to be forever loyal to our fellow members and to always chase deer if deer are around, no matter what.
I spent countless hours then watching up on the mountain side as, at first, a few brown swooshes would burst from some distant scrub bushes (deers). Then, The White Blur (Spliff), followed closely by The Black Smear (Max). I'd see them for maybe ten seconds and then they'd all disappear into another thicket. A minute later, the same scene would play out, except this time they were going back in the othere direction again! It was wonderful, just to stand there, a half mile below, and watch this ridiculous pagent go on and on and on.
Then, after an hour or so, I'd cut the deer some slack and whistle the whistle of The Wasatch Mountain Rangers and both fellas would come slamming down the hill to me, long strings of wild spit hanging from their snouts; their panting perfectly in time with the exploding of their crazy hearts; their eyes sparkling with life's fire.
Then we moved to New York City and I had to leave the club to Spliffer, by his lonesome, because he needed to stay behind in the West.
Samuel Clemens once told a man that he was lucky Saint Peter didn't have to choose between the man and his dog at the Pearly Gates. If he did, Clemens told him, you wouldn't be getting in.
He's old now and his eyes are grey and its time, blah blah blah. I hate the goodbye part. I knew this dog when he could run and fuck and eat and shit all at the same time. He would lay in the dark mines beneath the small bed my wife and I shared, for hours. I'd write songs up above, on the surface. And he'd mine dreams of deer down below. Then, at around 3pm, I'd give the whistle and he'd shoot out from under there like a hairy white bullet.
Then, we'd head for the hills. Us Rangers.
People are gonna cry around here in the next few days. This is a house with a lot of life in it. A baby and two mamas and a daddy and two wack job labs and two Meerkat Manor pups. Someones always barking. Someone's always tracking dirt across the kitchen linoleum. But lately, it aint Spliff. He is tired. Monica brought him home some 17 years ago, a chipper wee lad with an eye for the ladies. And he brought this Butler family a lot of joy, a lot of laughs and smiles.
But, he's tired.
Looking at the portrait in the stairwell, I have to laugh. With that blue bandanna around his neck and his ears shot up at full attention, he's so handsome and dapper.
He looks like Patrick Swayze. Seriously.
Goodbye old friend. I hope you had fun chasing deer with me. I'll see you before long and we'll do it all over again.
Serge (aka: dude with treats)