Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Marley And Me

Here's the first chapter from the book 'Marley & Me'by John Grogan. 

The Perfect Dog

 In the summer of 1967,  when I was ten years old, my father caved in to my persistent pleas and took me to get my own dog. Together we drove in the family station wagon far into the Michigan countryside to a farm run by a rough-hewn woman and her ancient mother. The farm produced just one commodity - dogs. Dogs of every imaginable size and shape and age and temperament. They had only two things in common: each was a mongrel of unknown and indistinct ancestry, and each was free to a good home. We were at a mutt ranch.

 "Now take your time son," Dad said. "Your decision today is going to be with you for many years to come."

 I quickly decided the older dogs were somebody else's charity case. I immediately raced to the puppy cage. "You want to pick one that's not timid," my father coached. "Try rattling the cage and see which ones aren't afraid."

 I grabbed the chain-link gate and yanked on it with a loud clang. The dozen or so puppies reeled backward, collapsing on top of one another in a squiggling heap of fur. Just one remained. He was gold with a white blaze on his chest, and he charged the gate, yapping fearlessly. He jumped up and excitedly licked my fingers through the fencing. It was love at first sight.

 I brought him home in a cardboard box and named him Shaun. He was one of those dogs that give dogs a good name. He effortlessly mastered every command I taught him and was naturally well behaved. I could drop a crust on the floor and he would not touch it until I gave him the okay. He came when I called him and stayed when I told him to. We could let him out alone at night, knowing he would be back after making his rounds. Not that we often did, but we could leave him alone in the house for hours, confident he wouldn't have an accident or disturb a thing. He raced cars without chasing them and walked beside me without a leash. He could dive to the bottom of our lake and emerge with rocks so big they sometimes got stuck in his jaws. He loved nothing more than riding in the car and would sit quietly in the backseat beside me on family road trips, content to spend hours gazing out the window at the passing world. Perhaps best of all, I trained him to pull me through the neighbourhood dog-sled-style as I sat on my bicycle, making me the hands-down envy of my friends. Never once did he lead me into hazard.

 He was with me when I smoked my first cigarette (and my last) and when I kissed my first girl. He was right there beside me in the front seat when I snuck out my older brother's Corvair for my first joyride.

 Shaun was spirited but controlled, affectionate but calm. He even had the dignified good manners to back himself modestly into the bushes before squatting to do his duty, only his head peering out. Thanks to this tidy habit, our lawn was safe for bare feet.

 Relatives would visit for the weekend and return home determined to buy a dog of their own, so impressed were they with Shaun - or 'Saint Shaun', as I came to call him. It was a family joke, the saint business, but one we could almost believe. Born with the curse of uncertain lineage, he was one of the tens of thousands of unwanted dogs in America. Yet by some stroke of almost providential good fortune, he became wanted. He came into my life and I into his - and in the process he gave me the childhood each kid deserves.

 The love affair lasted fourteen years, and by the time he died I was no longer the little boy who had brought him home on that summer day. I was a man, out of college and working across the state in my first real job. Saint Shaun had stayed behind when I moved on. It was where he belonged. My parents, by then retired, called to break the news to me. My mother would later tell me, "In fifty years of marriage, I've only seen your father cry twice. The first time was when we lost Mary Ann" - my sister, who was stillborn. "The second time was the day Shaun died.

 Saint Shaun of my childhood. He was a perfect dog. At least that's how I will always remember him. It was Shaun who set the standard by which I would judge all other dogs to come.

                                          And Puppy Makes Three

We were young. We were in love. We were rollicking in those sublime early days of marriage when life seems about as good as life can get. We could not leave well enough alone.

 And so on a January evening in 1991, my wife of fifteen months and I ate a quick dinner together and headed off to answer a classified ad in the Palm Beach Post.

 Why we were doing this, I wasn't quite sure. A few weeks earlier I had awoken, just after dawn to find the bed beside me empty. I got up and found Jenny sitting in her bathrobe at the glass table on the screened porch of our little bungalow, bent over the newspaper with a pen in her hand.

 There was nothing unusual about the scene. Not only was the Palm Beach Post our local paper, it was also the source of half of our household income. We were a two-newspaper-career couple. Jenny worked as a feature writer in the Post's 'Accent' section; I was a news reporter at the competing paper in the area, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, based an hour south in Fort Lauderdale. We began every morning poring over the newspapers, seeing how our stories were played and how they stacked up to the competition. We circled, underlined, and clipped with abandon.

 But on this morning, Jenny's nose was not in the news pages but in the classifieds section. When I stepped closer I saw she was feverishly circling the heading 'Pet - Dogs.'

 "Uh," I said in that new-husband, still-treading-gently voice. "Is there something I should know?"
 She did not answer.


 "Its the plant," she finally said, her voice carrying a slight edge of desperation.

 "The plant?" I asked.

 "That dumb plant," she said. "The one we killed."

 The one we killed? I wasn't about to press the point, but for the record it was the plant that I bought and she killed. I had surprised her with it one night, a lovely large dieffenbachia with emerald-and-cream variegated leaves. "What's the occasion?" she'd asked. But there was none. I'd given it to her for no reason other than to say "Damn, isn't married life great?"

 - Debolina Raja Gupta


  1. i love the movie of this in same title.. Marley is soo funny, but make me tears when he became ill

  2. Yes Blair, I loved the movie too. Marley made me smile and laugh so much, more so cause he was the same as my own pet, and the same look too. Mine was a rescue too. And when he gets sad, I couldnt stop the tears, as I remembered the time my own doggy passed away. Thanks for stopping by. Do follow my blog if you like it and I'll follow back too.