Better’n a Poke in the Eye With a Sharp Stick

Rambunctious dawgs can look a bit like the crowd in the emergency room on a Friday night after the local knife and gun club adjourns.  Dawgs often run directly into sharp objects leading with their noses and eyeballs; chew on each others ears, and try to find tender under-belly locations to use as Emory boards for jagged toenails.

Sometimes they are on for a chase with complete abandon of anything but their target.  Because of this abandon and lack of deliberation, they may very well run into everything along the way except the target.  If a rabbit attempts an escape through the briers and blackberry thorns, a pursuing dawg may very well come out on the other side only with tattered ears, eyebrows and lips, but no rabbit.

Just because obstacles are ignored does not mean they are not there, and there is more to hitting a target than just the aim: what stands between the aim and the target can be of consequence.

There is an old wire fence covered in honeysuckle vines in the woods behind my house.  Vegetation has made the wire obscure, so Zipper didn’t see it when chasing a squirrel.  The squirrel slipped through the fence easily without slowing down, but Zipper bounced back like a volley ball slammed into the net.

I watched him do it.  At first, I thought he’d knocked himself out cold because momentarily he just laid there on the ground.  I couldn’t control the impulse to laugh out loud even though I was a little concerned he might have broken his fool neck.  It is a part of the true nature of comedy.

Then he (slowly) got up.  Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah looked to the left and to the right perhaps thinking a truck must have run over him.  Then, standing almost motionless, he  shifted his focus straight ahead.

He stood staring in the direction of the fence (but couldn’t see it) with his head cocked slightly to one side, which is the universal dawg language for “I don’t understand”.  Zip is somewhat leery of that general area now, but to this day isn’t aware of the fence: to him it had been some kind of magic, or maybe the intercession of the Varmit Deity.

Whereas you might walk cautiously around table corners, low hanging branches and limbs, rock walls, landscaping timbers, chairs, and innocent bystanders, puppies approach life at full speed without prudence or concern for their environment: they are republicans.

I suppose vigilance is a trait that requires maturing, but our dawgs will not mature: they’ve had their adultery organs whittled down to a nub to prevent littering.  It was a reasonable precaution since the dawgs cannot read.  Just posting a “No Littering” sign wouldn’t do any good.

Lila Bea sat in the living room last night wagging her tail and showing no signs of discomfort in spite of the fact that her right eye socket was considerably larger than the left one: you could stick your finger in that cavernous opening and touch her brain if she had one.

There were no symptoms of blurred vision or any impairment other than the odd appearance of her lop-sided facial expression.  As you would expect, we have all kinds of ointments and salves for the treatment of such, so I greased her eyeball and repacked the bearings in her eyelids with enough stuff to lubricate the fifth wheel of a tractor.

I knew that Zipper would attend to her and lick off any excess.  He licks with an obsession and cannot control the compulsion to do so.  I worry sometimes that in a fit of self-grooming he might lick a hole in his navel all the way to his backbone.  Before we got him, we used to have to buy Q-tips.

By morning, both eyes looked normal again with no indication of trauma whatsoever.  I was prepared to take her to the vet, but she insisted it wasn’t necessary: the medicated grease must have done its job.  Lila Bea and her goofy eye had bounced back to vibrant health.

I am not that resilient.  If you poked me in the eye with a sharp stick, I’d complain.  I would continue to complain for days and insist on expensive care from expensive care givers.  I would demand an eye patch, a three-cornered hat, a jolly roger flag,  and a parrot, too!

Climbing around on the monkey bars of these thoughts caused memories of a much younger me who was then perhaps more resilient than the current me.  But even in those days I didn’t always see the fence any more than Zipper did.

Back when I was made of iron and sure to live forever, I collected adventures and narrow escapes the way some people collect stamps.  I was not alone.  There were others.

One in particular that comes to mind was a man named Robert, but everyone called him “Doodle”.  More than once, I heard it pronounced “Doo Dah” which is very similar to the last name of one of our dawgs.  Doodle was not a great big man, but he had a great big voice whether speaking or singing.  It was impossible to mistake the huge sound of his:


He maintained a laughter and a smile bigger than he was.  Doodle was a fine musician, and often made his living singing and playing guitar.  As most musicians know, other kinds of work will surely be necessary if your living includes groceries and rent.

He never seemed unwilling to take on any task, and some of his entrepreneurial enterprises would last…weeks!  The only more diverse and illogically arranged resume’ in the world was mine.  We both decided about the same time to go back to college under the assumption that a degree in something might help.  A casual friendship became a much closer one.

He called me once to help him on a job.  I don’t know where he got the steam cleaner, but all of a sudden we were in the carpet cleaning business.

On the way to the job site, he explained the highly technical chemical process we were to use.  There were two primary chemicals to get the job done: Chemical # one, and chemical # two.

Chemical # one would lift out dirt and stains and cause grease and oils to no longer cling to carpet fibers.  I was impressed.  It was basically a mild detergent, but we could charge more if we called it a chemical.

After assessing the size of the room(s) t0 be cleaned, Doodle would add to the cleaning machine a specific amount of chemical # one gauged by an expensive piece of scientific equipment called a measuring cup.  He called it the “calibrated beaker”.

I would then be sent back to the truck to bring in a container of chemical # two.  It was a compound of hydrogen and oxygen (water).  We never turned the tap on at a customer’s house.  I’ve known some house painters who carried jugs of “special thinner” to job sites so the client never knew how diluted the paint was going to be.

The mixture of chemicals one and two would be used to “sanitize” the carpet, and a second pass with chemical # two  was to “neutralize” (rinse) chemical # one.  Then, all the dirty water would be sucked into a holding tank where it would remain until we could properly dispose of it (get out of sight somewhere and dump it).

We had entered the customer’s house through a sliding glass door.  I remember noticing it was dirty and covered with smudges when we came in.  While we were cleaning the rug, The lady of the house cleaned the glass door, but I didn’t know it.

As I walked hurriedly back towards the truck for more chemical, the glass was so clean that I thought the door was still open.  Whap! I didn’t break the sliding glass door, but I did leave a big greasy forehead, cheek and nose print on it.  The likeness of my profile in the smudge was unmistakable: you could have used it to pick me out of a line-up.

Doodle started laughing, and didn’t stop laughing the rest of the night.  The lady had paid in cash, and Doodle wanted to settle up with me right away.  He actually gave me more than I was expecting, so I thought he was shorting himself, and protested.  He reassured me we were even.  He said:

“We’re fine.  Wish it was more, but this is certainly better’n a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”

Since both of us were back in school, and both had a wife and child to feed, money was often tight.  Books and tuition left little in the wild entertainment budget, but we improvised.  We often got together as a foursome to play bridge.

Sometimes before the game, we’d collect some refundable bottles to boost our spending capacity at a nearby convenience store.  We’d split the price of a two liter bottle of coke, one pack of cigarettes, and a six-pack of whatever beer was on sale.  We knew that if we could get the first beer down, the second one would taste just fine.

Sometimes bridge partners will bid or trump in a way that can frustrate each other, so we thought it best, in the name of marital bliss, to never have husband/wife teams.  Our wives would team up, and Doodle would be my partner.  For a change of pace we’d break out the Monopoly game now and then.

Doodle liked Monopoly as long as he was winning.  If he got into a tight and couldn’t negotiate advantageous transactions, he would just flip the board and declare the game over.  A man who had such a generous personality in so many ways was not above a tantrum now and then.  But he carried even that off in a fun way.

Being so spontaneous and not afraid of challenges was his strong suit.  He would serve as an engineer to a power company, survey land, run a laundry and dry cleaning business, front a jazz band, or just about anything you could ask of him, except plumbing.  He said he could do it and had, but Doodle said plumbing was “somebody else’s job”.

I had a project for a Television class, and as usual for all of my classes, I’d done no preparation whatsoever.  I invited several non-theater students to assist me: to them it sounded like fun.  I told Doodle to wear a coat and tie, and all he had to do was just have casual conversations with a few other students while on camera.  That didn’t seem difficult, so he agreed.

I told the other volunteers (a musician, an artist, and a biology major) to just talk with Doodle about their academic interests, and answer any questions he might have.  I positioned Doodle behind a desk, and had the others wait off camera.  When it was time, I signaled for the  music to start.  It was a really cheesy instrumental version of “Baby Face”.  Then I (being the off camera announcer) said:

“The Doodle Faulk Show!”

I kept an eye on the clock and signaled the others when to go “on stage”.  The interviews went quite well, actually.  Mr. Rudy gave me an “A”, and said how smoothly it had run.  Later Doodle suggested I deserved having my ass kicked, but I countered with:

“Man, this went out live and they loved you!  You’re a star!”

He laughed, and said:

“You could’ve at least given me an outline, or suggested a few questions if not a script!  When I heard you say it was my show, I had no idea what to do, and had nowhere to hide!  My heart almost stopped!  That would’ve been murder, you incorrigible *@ss#&!!  And Baby Face!  How am I gonna live that down?!”

I put my hand on his shoulder (to make it harder for him to belt me) and said:

“You were fantastic!  Besides, Rudy gave me an ‘A’.  That’s better’n a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”

Doodle went on to become a teacher, and highly respected by students and faculty alike.  He faced adversity better than most.  Diabetes and eventually kidney failure are tough to deal with, but he fought harder than most.

After receiving the generous gift of a kidney from his sister, he soon returned to loving life again.  We went to see him.  While snacking on tortilla chips before dinner he cautioned us not to “double-dip” in the salsa as his immune system wasn’t what it used to be.  I didn’t realize at the time how serious that was.

I lost Doodle in life, but not in memory.  He was kind enough to laugh at my jokes, and called me “friend”.  Some years after his passing, I met another man who was quick to refer to good things with the “Better’n a poke in the eye” metaphor.

I took to this new friend’s Leprechaunish ways quickly, and in kind of a reflective way, was reminded why I’d always loved ol’ Doodle so much.  The new friend didn’t take Doodle’s place: no, he earned his own place quite fully in his own right, and is like a brother to me now.  It is a precious treasure to have friends.

I’ve learned from many teachers:  some I studied with; others I studied under.  Even my own children have become my teachers.  Perhaps those who take their academics seriously will not want to attempt a mirror image of my trail, but I think somehow for me, this eclectic education has been…Better’n a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  I just hope class isn’t over just yet: there are still a few things I’d like to learn before graduation.

For example, I’d like to learn how in the Hell Lila Bea took Zipper’s harness off today without even unfastening it!  I can’t even do that!


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Sylvia on May 17, 2010 at 9:30 am

    (From e-mail) Another funny, poignant story. Thanks Van!


  2. Posted by twodawgs on May 17, 2010 at 11:12 am

    I was proud to call Doodle my friend too. One of the funniest human beings I ever met.


  3. Posted by Su Watson on May 17, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Dear Van:

    Again you “cracked me up!” I shared a lot of it with Bob.

    What great and funny writing, and a fine tribute to a true friendship.


  4. Posted by bbm on May 17, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    He’s smiling down at you, now.


  5. Van Brown …
    You made me laugh out loud today! I miss Dad so much and truth be told … he was one of the funniest people I have ever known. Your story is an honor to him! Thanks for the memories dear friend.

    p.s. – Doodle is still laughing at you for walking into that glass door.


  6. Posted by Gene Kirk on July 22, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Just saw this. Doodle and I had a lot of memories together. Especially when he and Buddy Davis were singing together. So sad to hear of his passing. Now he and Buddy are both gone. I remember Melissa when she was just a very little girl.


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