After my sisters had all left the house as adults, my parents and I ate dinner around the little kitchen table.
I don’t think emotion played much of a role in that decision. No one wept, “Oh, we can’t eat at the big dining room table without those wonderful girls.”
We soon forgot that they ever lived with us. It was cleaner that way.
We moved into the kitchen for ease. I mean, shoot: the stove is right there. The refrigerator is right there. If the kitchen were any smaller, we wouldn’t have to serve the food at all. I could just lean back and grab the cottage cheese out of the fridge. Mom could reach with the big spoon into the succotash on the stove top.
It was sweet.
Without my sisters as role models at the table stunting me with a little encouragement, I quickly became one of the adults. That was wise: growing up in my house there weren’t children; there were only little adults.
I began my life as an only child at that table.
It was handy to be an only child. That’s how I learned stand-up comedy.
I learned it in two parts. Whenever I’d finished my dinner, I’d stand up. (That’s the first part.) Then I would stand beside the table and ask to be excused. Because my request was denied, I would stand by and entertain them. They would laugh. Everyone got something out of the deal.
But this is a story about our dog and his allergies.
Charlie was a complex West Highland White Terrier. He was seriously allergic to sun, air and grass. For a dog, this is the definition of inconvenience. Naturally, when we placed him out on the dog line in the back yard, he would bark incessantly at his nemeses.
Because our house was not big on emotional intelligence, no one wondered whether the dog was dying from his allergies. We figured that he was barking at the squirrels. We thought his barking was a lifestyle choice.
Unfortunately, for Charlie, there could be no dogs in our house, only little adults. So he was constantly told not to do things that Mother Nature required him to do. Bark. Lick people, his genitals, people, his genitals. Bark.
We should have just named him “Don’t bark.” Or “Don’t lick.” It would have saved a lot of time.
Barking was not considered Charlie’s native talent. It was considered a curse on the neighbors. How could they live peacefully when our dog is barking? For the sake of the neighbors, we would plead with him, “Don’t bark.” He still barked, but at least the neighbors might hear our scolding and know that we cared about keeping the peace in the ‘hood.
So, really, now, this is a story about one specific dinner.
There we were: Dad (also “Artie”), Mom, Little Artie at the table. Charlie on his line, barking his head off as he slowly twists in the wind, sun, and grass.
Having heard quite enough from the dog, my mom shakes her head and gets up from the table. She walks to the screen door and shouts with determination into the yard (and beyond):
“Artie, shut up!”
My father and I glance at each other. As the only males, neutered or otherwise, named “Artie” on the estate, we recognized our name. She’d yelled, “Artie, shut up!”
My dad stopped chewing and slowly shook his head.
Mom returned to the table, the color drained from her face. She looked at us and quietly asked, “I did it, didn’t I?” She already knew. We nodded.
I couldn’t see Charlie, so I don’t know what he did. He was definitely quiet. He knew his name was a word like “Charlie” or something to do with licking and barking. I can still imagine him in the backyard, stunned into silence, holding his head at The Angle Of Dog Confusion, and figuring that the family was finally on the rocks.
The same, no doubt, occurred to the neighbors. The Iannaris next door surely heard my mother’s shout. Someone must have looked up from their dinner and said, “The Isaacs always seemed so happy. Huh.”