Bow-wow Buddies of the Barrio
The Beginning of the End of the Beginning
By Tommy Villalobos
Oro was a big-hearted but nosey critter who stuck his nose all over the place and wore big ugly cravats. He liked making buddies and he had many. One late afternoon he ran into Elo who had no idea what a “buddy” was.
The manner of their encounter is worth recounting. Elo spotted a half-eaten fast-food burrito and was sniffing toward it, in no hurry since his mistress had just fed him a sizeable cena. However, from the opposite direction came two mangy dogs and a very large mutant rat with a flowing white beard, all three of the blighters (Elo was part English Foxhound) were strutting with an attitude reminiscent of ravenous wolves in a frigid corner of the Arctic. To them, Elo was a small and sniveling Arctic fox who had overstepped his boundary.
They began their growling in unison. Elo looked to the sky for thunder clouds, never having heard such rumblings from any source.
While his throat was exposed, the large bearded rat leaped for it. Just then Elo dropped his head and, as a result, got his schnoz chomped on by the bearded rat. This caused Elo to emit a mighty yelp. Then the other two joined in, snipping at his body.
Elo had never been around dog-eat-dogs, much less rats with grandfatherly appearances, and didn't know where to turn, but in one of his turns, he saw another, large frazzled dog approach, the most revolting of the lot. He had a massive head which he had twisted into a menacing image of slobbering and threatening terror. He was viciousness within viciousness. He followed with the gravest and deepest rumble Elo was certain had ever been rumbled.
This ugliest of brutes looked like the ring leader that was about to finish him off. He closed his eyes, thinking of his mistress whose angelic face he would never again smother with happy licks. Then he heard the most unearthly cry and ciphered it was he who was yelping his last. Then a second wail of agony, followed quickly by a hideous squeal. Elo opened his eyes to witness Mr. Rat Creature airborne then immediately earthbound, landing on his big head, several rapid head thuds propelling a fair piece down the block. He uprighted himself and using the momentum graciously provided by the beastly thing, continued scampering down the block, his white beard the last of him to dissolve into the surroundings.
He was hoping there was a doggie heaven, for he then collapsed on the pavement. He knew he was breathing his last. Too bad, for his final breath would be of a fast food burrito and not of the delicious meals his mistress prepared for him highlighted by her sweet scents.
His eyes closed, he heard sniffing around him. They were ready for their meal. Then he felt a wet nose, followed by a wet tongue. “Get it over with, you filthy thugs, you horrid scum of Hades! Why torture me?” he yelled.
After this, there was no more sniffing or licking. He opened one eye, then another. Only the terrible dog remained. The repugnant creature looked at Elo with indifference before continuing on to the burrito. Elo noticed that all the unpleasant chaps from earlier were gone. He ventured to rise and walk toward the horror in the form of a dog who was not interested in devouring him after all.
The tan beast was Oro who hadn't eaten a respectable meal in two days and who always became somewhat of a monstrosity when having missed any amount of meals. His movement toward the burrito was urgent and with snarling care. Elo walked after him, tail wagging. Oro turned as Elo approached and, yes, they actually bumped cabezas. Oro snarled with yellowojos, Elo stepped back, puzzled. He had never heard so much snarling over food. Of course, his only experience was eating quiet meals with his mistress at home. And she never snarled at all.
Oro swallowed most of the burrito in two quick gulps. There was a cachito left and Oro looked at Elo. Oro had never met a critter like this before on the streets. No growl, no “gimme some,” no sneaky movement toward the last bite of the burrito. In short, none of the rapacious covetousness that he was used to seeing in the vast majority of the neighborhood denizens. He just looked puzzled.
So it wouldn't surprise anyone who knew Oro that after that final bite, he immediately went over to Elo, a being who was shy but happy, and wore a plain collar, grabbed and hugged him and said, “Let's be buddies. Not just for now or a week, but for a lifetime.”
Elo had to mull this one over in his relatively small mind. He had never been buddies with anyone and felt no need to start now since he had his mistress and she was enough for him. An offer of a lifetime commitment was something he had never considered.
“Do you really mean for our whole lives, yours and mine?” said Elo, scratching behind an ear with a forepaw, clearly confused by the foreverness of affairs.
“That's exactly what I mean.”
“I never knew anyone who wanted to be my buddy for a long time. In fact, I never knew anyone who wanted to be my buddy for any amount of time.”
“Well, buddies we are,” said Oro.
“Not to change the subject but whatever happened to your left ear?” said Elo.
“Because the top half looks like it was clipped off by serrated scissors.”
“Yes, but not by scissors but by a mentally disturbed raccoon. I thought he was the funniest looking critter I had ever seen and I told him so. He took it personally.”
“But how else could he take it?”
“Well, anyway, one word led to another; he called me a perro chato with no bite and I called him a coyote with a mask and tried to prove it by immediately removing his mask.”
“You thought the raccoon was a coyote wearing a mask?”
“I did. And I was going to tear it off. Well, he began yipping and yapping but not like a coyote but more like a hyena. It was then that he bit off part of my ear.”
“He thought it was fake?”
“No, I think it was more because, like I said, he was crazy.”
“By the way, my name is Oro because one of my masters, I forget which one, maybe it was James, no, it couldn't be James….Anyway, he thought my coat looked gold at a certain angle. What's your name?”
“Elo. It was Elote at first but it was shortened to Elo after only a week.”
“Why would they name you Elote? What have you got to do with corn?”
“I don't know. I never thought about it.”
Incidentally, Oro was a German Sheppard and Elo was a hound of uncertain parentage. To each other, they were two dogs and glad of the fact. Oro was between masters, the last one having moved away without leaving a forwarding address; while Elo had merely wandered from his house and couldn't smell his way back. This frustrated him to no end since he was, after all, a hound, although as mentioned, of uncertain parentage. Oro found this amusing to no small degree.
“I never knew a hound who couldn't smell his way out of any problem.”
“Well, you've met him.”
“Does your mistress live in the Hood?”
“Oh, man, you are lost. I mean here, the barrio, East L.A.”
“I just know I lived and was happy with my mistress and would still be so except that today she left the door open. I saw this little gray cat go by and I wanted to make friends. I went up to him barking a friendly bark. He turned, saw me and took off. I ran after him, seeing how much he wanted to play. We ran for a long time until I pooped out as he ran toward a car and disappeared. I then butted heads with you.”
“We're natural buddies. The stars brought us together.”
“You never looked at the stars at night?”
“I've only looked out of our living room window at night.”
“Wow. A wonderful world awaits you,” said Oro, with excitement in his voice. “I suppose you have never smelled fast food blowing in the city air and into your nostrils?”
“I guess not. Don't know what you're talking about,” said Elo, perplexity in his voice.
“I always wanted to meet someone who knew less than me, or rather nothing at all, evidently,” said Oro, giving Elo a second abrazo that Elo this time thought annoying since he did not think Oro's remark was a very nice remark.
Oro then gently pushed Elo a few feet back away from him, gazing on him like a proud father gazes on his child who has just said “¡Apá!” for the first time.
“You know,” said Oro, “we can start a new adventure today, me and you.”
“Sure. What's to stop us? You and I are not tied down. We are not attached to any leash, chain, or rope. You know what that means?”
Oro tore down the block then stopped when he heard no heavy, open-mouthed breathing behind him. He turned to see Elo still standing at the original spot, now scratching behind an ear with a hind leg. He stopped scratching then stared forlornly around him then at Oro. Oro gingerly walked back to him. He had never met such an uncertain creature.
“Don't you want to see the world? It looks like your whole world has been the inside of one casita with one muchacha.”
“Yeah, but I'm getting hungry. My mistress always gives me a chunk of this or a pedazo of that between meals. Then she scratches my stomach or behind my ears, cooing all the time.”
“Sounds cozy. I feel for you. But the advantages of leading your own life outweigh a handout here, a pat on the head there, dripping syrupy palabras pouring into your orejas . Let me show you.”
“I don't know. I'm missing her already. And it's noisy and confusing out here. So much is going on. That confuses me.”
This was understandable, for Elo was given to his mistress as a pup and had known only the inside of her house, nothing else. She would take him to the park in the mornings, but she was right behind him, and he knew all he had to do was turn and see her for comfort and a pat on the head. Then they would immediately return home.
“But,” said Oro, “I also faced the very same thing. Sure, meeting strangers and wacky cosaseverywhere you turn can be scary. Heck, the first time I found myself in the streets, I scared an elderly woman out of her Nikes, which attracted a group of boys who threw rocks at me. She claimed I was an attack dog that had escaped. Escaped from where, I haven't been able to figure out. But that's the fun of being on the loose and on your own. You encounter odd, puzzling circumstances all the time.”
Elo put his head down. The decision that was being laid before him was one he had never been called on to make. His mistress had always made all decisions for him. He did nothing or cared about anything except her. She was his world. She even told him when and where to bark, telling him to “Shush!” whenever he barked at the wrong time or the wrong person. Out here, even barking would be confusing and stressful.
“Why don't you help me find home, instead?”
“No!” said Elo in horror, for he could never think of home as prison or his mistress as a warden.
“Okay, I spoke out of turn. I just want you to go on a few adventures with me. Nothing major. We will just wander a few blocks this way”—he pointed his snout in one direction—”or a few blocks that way”—he pointed his snout in another direction.
Elo followed Oro's snout each time he pointed then pointed his own snout down to the ground, still in the middle of indecision. He felt overwhelmed.
“What do you mean when you say 'adventures'?” said Elo.
“Well, to put it most simply, you start here, go there then turn here then go back there while you think of going over here or over there while really deciding to go back where you came from. It is the most fun thing to do without a leash yanking you back.”
Elo seemed confused. So Oro elaborated.
“Adventures are the grandest of things. We go to new and exciting places, meet most interesting fellow creatures. For example, I met a pig just two blocks from here. Not only that, he had a master. Some guy was walking him on a leash!”
“Yes, I've heard of them. Pot-bellied pigs. Some people prefer them to us dogs.”
With this, Oro heard a whimper come from his new buddy. This was because Elo thought of his mistress and home when Oro had mentioned someone walking someone on a leash.
“Tell you what, go with me on one adventure. Just one.”
“How long will it take?”
“Maybe one hour. Although one adventure I went on lasted over a year,” said Oro with exhilaration in his voice. “That's why everything is interesting because nothing is certain.”
This enthusiasm did not transfer to Elo, for he let out another whimper, which actually moved Oro and at the same time gave him grave concern. This hound was a lost cause.
“Forget the boredom of certainty,” added Oro. “You need the excitement of uncertainty.”
No response from Elo.
Oro walked away, expecting him to wander in the opposite direction looking for home. And he would probably find it and his snugly mistress and regular snacks, petting and sweet words. He couldn't blame him. In fact, he detected a hint of jealousy in his own feelings. After all, he, Oro, had no choice but to go on “adventures.” He had no home, no master, no mistress. Elo had a clear choice and he chose the right one—return to the warmth of home and mistress.
And so Oro, snout to the ground, went back to business, smelling for a prize scrap, travelling down the block. He continued so for a good while, hoping to find a park where people would leave everything from once-bitten sandwiches to half a ham, something he found one time in Belvedere Park. He began to smell that sweet ham while heavy, competitive sniffing came up from behind him. He turned.
“You know, maybe a little time with unstable you and unpredictable meetings would be good for me. After all, I've only been away from home only a short while. My mistress probably won't miss me right away.”
Oro hugged Elo for the third time. This time Elo didn't mind. The two buddies began by sniffing around a banana peel and toward the setting sun.
Author’s Note: These stories are inspired by stories my wife told our son when he was between the ages of 6 and 11 until one day she threw up her hands because our son continued to add characters at a pace that was quickly turning the Oro and Elo stories into a Russian novel.
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