Harmonicas, Snakes, and Other Ways to Irritate a Dawg

Ol’ Topper used to like rock ‘n roll.  I miss that dawg.  He’d lay right down beside the drums and wag his tail to the beat.  He didn’t even seem to mind the heavy metal effects for guitars as long as we didn’t make him wear the headphones.  The current batch of dawgs are not as sophisticated as those older ones when it comes to music.  But I still give ’em a dose of it as often as I can hoping some proper culture will eventually take hold.

Oh, they’ll be patient with a little radio, and can even sleep with the TV on.  But they show no sign of discretion whether it is a music video or somebody cutting down a tree with a chainsaw.  Admittedly, I cannot always tell the difference either, unless I’m looking at the screen.  Even then there can be a problem, because some of the video footage these days doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with the instruments being played.  Sometimes I think they are playing the chain saw.

I recently took up the harmonica again at the request of some friends who thought it would be a nice touch to add to a few songs they were playing, but was not aware at first that those talents would be required.   Actually, I had been asked to fill in some rhythm guitar licks with a band for a couple of their upcoming gigs.  Two of the band members were old friends of mine, and I’d played with them in bands before.  So, I figured I generally knew what kinds of music they liked.  It sounded simple enough, so I agreed.

But on the night of first rehearsal, I was introduced as the guy who would do all the harmonica parts on their song list, and fill in with some rhythm guitar.  Their songlist did not include: “Oh Susannah”; “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, “Chinese Breakdown”, or “Dixie”.  The learning curve was going to have some pretty sharp turns in it, and would have to be taken at high speeds.  I was going to need to find a harmonica teacher that could get me up to speed in a few short weeks, and had no idea where to locate one.

I’ve heard a lot of songs in my life, and have played a few of them, so I expected to fall into some familiar patterns with ease.  But these other musicians were resourceful and clever.  They came up with a list that not only consisted of songs I did not know how to play, but had not even heard before.  Practice, memorization and rehearsal took over my life, and at a time when I was already busy enough to make a good night’s sleep a luxury.  For weeks on end, mealtime became a quick pass through a drive-in fast food establishment so I could drip ketchup on my shirt while heading down the road to rehearsals.

I finally found a harmonica teacher located about as far away as possible from any other place I might have need to be, or want to go.  I had the teacher take a look at the songlist that was challenging me.  Then he got to hear me honk on the reeds a few times to let him know how good I was.  He said it would take me about ten years to accomplish what I said I had to be able to do in just three short weeks.

He kindly helped me realize that I also needed to buy a few new harmonicas, and have my old ones completely overhauled.  As luck would have it, he just happened to be in a position to make those services available to me, and at prices well below the price of buying a new car.

Practice became a constant state of affairs ’til my lips began to blister.  Jumping from “Old MacDonald” to cross harp blues was a bit of a stretch.  Picking out a “Howlin’ Wolf” riff for some reed bending exercise, I went to work.  Lila Bea and Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah were in the den with me, and Im sure they were thinking it was about time for a dawg biscuit.  When I started hitting the high notes, Lila joined in note perfect, and Zipper ran upstairs to see if the buzzer had gone off on the stove.  I kept playing and Lila kept singing along sounding more like “Howlin’ Wolf” than I did.

Zipper came back downstairs and joined in the song.  He can’t carry a tune in a bucket, and soon had thrown Lila off key as well.  Their song began to stray, and the blues took on more harsh tones of just plain old barking.  It was no complement to my masterful playing at all, but was a criticism.  I stopped long enough to put them both outside for which they seemed grateful.  After that, I had no further need of their audience.  I would save my performance for those more properly authorized to offer harsh criticism, and would have no trouble finding them at all.

Once outside, the dawgs started looking about for a game to play.  One of their favorites is to find a stick laying on the ground, and bark at it.  Then, one of ’em will pick up the stick and run with it while the other chases along trying to take it away from them.  It is particularly amusing to them if the stick decides to move on its own, and evidently one of them did.

Copperheads move about this time of year looking for a few last meals before holing up for the winter.  A copperhead is not known for its sense of humor, and shows little patience with being made the object of a tug-of-war.  Luckily for Lila, a copperhead only has one biting end, and Zipper was doing business with it at the time.  All this was unbeknownst to me, for I was inside involved in philharmonic bliss.

Taking a break to grab a beer, and eat some ‘tater chips so I could go back down later and blow soggy bits of ’em into my harmonica, I let the puppies back into the house.  They both went upstairs as far away from the music room as they could get, and found a place to lay down.  It was sometime later that I noticed Zipper was lethargic, and drooling like a Saint Bernard.  I wiped his mouth with a dirty dish rag, and put both hounds back outside before they threw up on the carpet.  I was thinking there was no telling what kind of nastiness they’d been eating, but at the time, I didn’t know it had been a snake.

Brenda came home.  That was a clear indication that honkin’ practice needed to stop for awhile, so I let the puppies back in.  Lila Bea ran around in her usual zany way, but Zipper was moving slowly, so I figured he must really be sick.  That’s when we noticed the swelling under his chin.  It looked like he’d swallowed a baseball, and it had stuck in his gullet.

We arrived at the vet less than an hour before they closed, and it was a good thing.  Zip might not have made it through the night without medical attention.  He was diagnosed as most likely having some kind of allergic reaction to a toxic venom, and was given a shot to counteract it.  They also gave us a bottle of pills to shove down his throat twice a day for the next couple of weeks.  Giving pills to Boston Terriers is not much different from trying to give them to a cat.  You would think that this ordeal would have made an impression on Zipper, but I don’t think it did.

I asked the vet if this might be a learning experience for Zipper, and if there were any chance he might be more cautious of snakes in the future.  The vet smiled at me in that way that you do when about to point out the obvious, and said:

“No, they’re dawgs.  They don’t learn–not about cars, and not about snakes.”

The vet was kind enough to remind us of a few things to buy while we were there, as he had bills to pay.  Lucky for us that he did, because we were very distracted at the time thinking only about our poor dawg.

It’s true what the vet said about dawgs not learning.  Looking back at all the things I’ve tried to teach them, I realize I’ve been running a most pathetic school for dawgs.  They don’t even want to learn stuff normal dawgs do, much less the systematic behavior patterns human beings wish to impose on them.  Besides the dismal failure of music lessons, they aren’t too good at helping out with the chores around here, either.  They don’t seem to catch on to machinery, and seem irritated whenever we crank up coffee grinders, vacuum cleaners, or lawn mowers.

Maybe I’m judging too quickly, and being too harsh.  A mere glance at my own history shows no massive accumulation of wisdom acquired by learning from my mistakes, either.  We once had a cat named Penny Lane who was perhaps better at it.  As far as I know, she never challenged a garbage truck for the right-of-way but once.

“The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won’t sit upon a cold stove lid, either.” ~ Mark Twain

In the matter of learning from their mistakes, cats are superior to humans and dogs. But even dogs don’t learn about cars and snakes. Yet few dogs ever experience more than one hangover in a lifetime.  Perhaps I should study on these things.

I’ve given up on getting my hounds to ride the motorcycle with me.  They can’t reach the foot pegs, and seem to not want to lean properly into curves.  Every time I come to a stop sign, Lila Bea gets off to chase a squirrel or sump’n.  Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah is too nervous to ride very far, and won’t keep his goggles on, much less wear a helmet.  I should have known they had no affection for it by the fact that they always go to the far end of the yard when I crank it up.  It is a curiosity that they’ve learned what the sound of a motorcycle is, but still think it’s okay to chase a wiggling stick.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jane Leonard on October 19, 2011 at 12:39 am

    Van,you are still a genius! Tried to introduce your writings to my son. Do not think that generation knows how to laugh! But Mama does! Thanks Van!


  2. Posted by Betty on October 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Good one!


  3. Posted by little d on October 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm


    “Squirrels, Girls, and Automobiles” Woof!! I don’t know why, but for some reason
    after reading this word quash, I came up with what I just know would be a blues song extraordinaire (see title above). Now, one should know that a blues song with a title this catchy would showcase all the Monica Licks a player could harpoon…

    Its good to hear your Dog Zipper got that lump out of his throat too, I remember when I had mine, I just knew my singing voice was gone forever, and according to some who had heard it before, they agreed. Now, I didn’t see the stick that hit me, but I remember the lyrics she was singing…

    Squirrels, Girls, and Automobiles They’ll get ya every time.

    little d


  4. Posted by Robin Leonard on October 28, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    This was a hoot. Oscar the pug gets hysterical whenever we use the paper shredder. He hates it more than he does the vacuum. I couldn’t seem to master the “lean into the curve” thing on a motorcycle either. I thought I was supposed to lean the other way to counterbalance. My brother does not ask me to ride his motorbike. I’m glad Zipper recovered from the snake. They say whiskey makes a good antidote, but maybe that’s just for humans.


  5. Posted by Mickey Foster on October 30, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    I sort of inherited Barbara Anne’s 2 dawgs when I moved in with her…Barbara Anne is a normal person, the dawgs, however aren’t…Trevor is an apple head bug-eyed chihuahua more than a few pounds overweight- he likes peach yogurt…Poo, a rat terrier, is a most proper older lady except when the phone rings.the noises she makes are not of this earth….sort of a cross between a bark, a howl, a yelp and a young man trying to yodel..Nole, the parrot, tucks his head under his wing every time the phone rings….anyway, I ramble, glad your dawg is still with us……..


  6. Zipper lives!!
    Indulging harmonica playing by his hootin’ tootin’ Papa can’t be easy …. your writing is WONDERFUL Dahlin’


  7. Posted by Marlene Humberd on January 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Glad your dawg did good !!! Probably wishes he’d lost his hearing though . ; ) We’ve had an assortment of “drop -off” dogs here on the farm, but never had one go after a snake. Mainly had skunk run- ins , but did have one bring us home a beaver’s head . She was SO proud of that “gift ” to us……still waiting for the rest of the corpse to show up ! Thanks for another good one , Van ! OGC


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