TO THE DOGS by Jack Murphy
Anyone who has lived in New Paltz for any length of time, from week-end visitors to lifers, can surely come up with an interesting story about one or more representatives of the homo-erectus residents, but what about the other species we’ve shared our town with? I could tell you stories about my life in New Paltz, and about my many human friends, but I was recently thinking about a dog I knew, and I realized that there were as many unique Paltzonian canines as there were people, and decided to tell some of their stories.
I’m not an animal behaviorist, but if I were, I might seek grant money to conduct an intensive research project titled “The Effect of the Sixties on the Canines of the Wallkill Valley.” No kidding, the more I thought about the dogs I knew, it was the group that lived here through the Sixties that were the standout dogs of all those I’ve ever known. I guess it was possible that they were the hippies of their kind. I don’t know if they used drugs or meditated, but they seemed to like the Stones and the Dead, and they certainly liked to run around and party. Some of them wore scarves and tie-dyed tees, and I suspect some of them were devotees of the Free Love movement.
I’ll start with a story about my namesake. There was a big black mutt I met at the old Homestead, back when Mario owned the place. I was told that this dog was named Murphy, so I liked him right off, after all, we may have been relatives way-back when. I don’t remember if anyone actually owned Murphy. I once thought Jimmy the Irishman laid claim to him, but Murph may have been a free agent who worked the field. He was very independent and self-sufficient, and it was his ability to take care of himself that I’ll always remember. He had a trick, which I’d heard of and finally witnessed one afternoon.
This was back when the Grand Union supermarket occupied the building which now houses our Post Office. The entrance and exit doors of the Grand Union were automatic. You stepped on the mats in front of the doors and they opened. The meat department was right down the first aisle, a straight shot from the doorway.
Well, one day, I saw Murphy trotting over towards the supermarket. As I watched, it appeared he was casing the joint, making sure no employees were stocking the shelves in that aisle leading to his buffet counter. Then, when all situations were go, he pounced on the door mat, and as the door swung open, he dashed down to the meat counter, quickly made his selection, what looked like a 2-3 pound roast, spun around and raced to the door mat, stood on it and waited for the door to open, and made his escape. He ran off behind the building and down onto the rail road tracks.
I heard that the manager had tried to find, and present a bill to Murph’s owner, to no avail. I don’t know how often this happened, but I heard it was fairly common. I wonder if Murphy’s friends thought of him as Billy the Kid, or maybe Robin Hood, if he shared his swag.
It was routine to see a few dogs leashed to the parking meters outside any of the bars on Main Street during the late sixties and early seventies. And it wasn’t that unusual to find some of the better behaved ones, inside the bars. I was a bartender during those years, and I had a few regular canine customers who would bring their owners in for a shot and a beer every day.
One of my favorites was Satchmo. He was a black lab mix and lived with Vince Holland. I was working at St. Blaise one spring day, and had the door propped open to air the place out. Vince had stopped in looking for someone, and not finding them, left saying he was going to look for them up at P & G’s. A few minutes later, in walked Satch. I said hello to him, and asked him if he was looking for Vince. He nodded in assent, and I told him Vince had gone to P & G’s. He turned around and trotted down the steps, and turned left. I walked over to the door and looked up the block, and saw Satch reach P & G’s door. He waited a moment for someone to go in or come out, and once the door opened, he was inside. I imagined him, as I remember seeing him more than once, propped up on a stool at that front end of the bar, with his back to Stormy, the bartender, staring out the window.
Satchmo seemed to understand English better than some of my regular customers. Sometimes even better than his master, who when he got together with his brothers, Jake and Larry for a few drinks, communicated in some ancient, mumbling, grunting, wordless language, only they knew.
During the happy, hippy days, not many of us had cars, and hitch hiking was an accepted mode of transportation. Maybe the Peace movement instilled a sense of security about sticking out your thumb and taking a ride with the first vehicle that pulled over, or there really was a brotherhood of sorts that said “Thou shalt never pass a hitching hiking brother if there is any space your VW van”, but whatever the reason, it was more common (and probably safer) than it is today. And it was not just people who hitched rides.
There was a dog named One, short for Hey One, who came from a litter with another dog named Hey Two (I don’t recall if there were more). One lived out at the Red House on North Ohioville Road, with John Bestard and a slew of other people. John used to work at the box factory on Water Street, and would come into town by himself for work. At some point during the day, One would decide to come into town, and if none of the residents of the house were making the trip, she would walk down to Route 299. When she got there, she’d head for town.
Sometimes though, maybe she just got tired of walking, you would see her sitting by the side of the road, seemingly watching the passing cars for someone she knew. If she spotted a car or person she recognized, she’d stand up and her tail would start wagging, and if you pulled over she’d hop right in the car. She was comfortable in cars, and would just sit there until you got to where she was going, and then she’d signal you by leaning on the dashboard, or barking out the window. You’d just pull over and let her out. She often got around like this, and had probably done better than many of the two-legged hitchhikers when it came to getting rides.
DUKE and BARON
While I was an art student at the college, I knew two dogs who were housemates, and lived above the Surprise Shoppe on Main Street with my friends, Fred Hoffman, a fellow art student, and his wife Pat, who worked in the Smiley Art Gallery on campus. Duke was a small dog, very friendly and not much trouble when he was the only dog living there. Then, Fred got a Siberian husky named Baron, who obviously had some problems during his formative years. He and Fred didn’t always see eye-to-eye, which led to some discipline issues, and from that point on, I think much of what Baron thought about, day in and day out, was giving Fred grief.
Unfortunately for Duke, as he was too gullible and naive to realize what Baron was up to, he became an unwitting pawn in the ensuing battles between Fred and Baron. Fred and Pat would leave the apartment in the morning to go to the college, and that’s when Baron would come out from under whichever piece of furniture he had spent the night hiding beneath, always just out of Fred’s reach, and proceed to demolish anything and everything he could get at. When you entered the apartment after one of Baron’s devastations, you knew it was his personal handiwork by the glare in his eyes, just visible under the couch, and the satisfied growling. Besides, nothing like this had ever occurred when Duke was the only dog of the house.
Baron would rip up the couch, and when Fred and Pat came home, he would be hiding under something. Meanwhile Duke would greet them at the door happily wagging his tail, with a remnant of the slipcover Baron had shredded hanging from his mouth. Fred would flip, yell at poor old Dukie, and go hunting for Baron, who when found, would growl, snap and snarl, and resist all attempts Fred made to get at him. This daily destruction went on for a while, but let me tell you the most colorful story about Duke and Baron.
This particular event actually took place over a few days, but it started the day Baron found Fred’s oil paints. Fred must have left the house in a hurry that morning, and left his entire supply of artist’s oils on the kitchen table. There were quite a few tubes of paint in this cache, but by the time Fred returned, every single tube had been bitten and chewed and mauled, and there were paint stains and paw prints everywhere. This time, Baron’s guilt and complicity was evident; he had crimson feet, cobalt blue chin hairs and a multi-hued snout sticking out from under the sofa. Playful Duke, on the other hand, was sitting by the door, looking like he had just come from some “happening” where everyone was into body painting. What a mess! But that isn’t the end of the story. Duke apparently acquired a “taste” for oils that day, and must have ingested quite a few tubes of paint. Fred called a vet, and was told that Duke would probably be all right, none of the paints were really deadly, and that they would just pass through his system. And pass they did, for about three days. Duke was leaving a trail of droppings that rivaled the most outrageous Grateful Dead tie-dyed tee shirts you’d ever seen. As an art student, I was aware of some of the questionable, so-called art being produced in those days, but this work of Duke’s “coulda’ been a contender.” He was way ahead of his time, and the elephant dung used in the “Sensations” show at the Brooklyn Museum a couple of years ago, pales in comparison.
KLOTZ and BLANCHE
When they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, someone must be thinking of Klotz and Blanche. They were a famous bulldog couple that allowed Richie Bernard the privilege of taking care of them. Blanche was pretty typical of female bulldogs, and even though we humans may not find bulldog looks that attractive, or get turned off by snot running down the snout and mixing with a constant stream of drool, other dogs, not just bulldogs, seemed to find her inviting. Or, maybe she was just a tramp.
Anyway, other dogs would decide to get amorous with Blanche, and Klotz would respond by defending her honor, or his territory, quite violently. Klotz was a real scrapper, and proudly wore his wounds as badges of honor. This, of course, did not make him any easier on your eyes. And it hadn’t been any easier on his. He lost an eye in a battle with Joel Fabricant’s Newfoundland on Church Street one day. The Newfoundland had him by the jugular, and wouldn’t let go until Joel hit him on the head with a 4×4.
Klotz’s vet sewed his eyelid shut with a leather button holding everything closed. He presented quite a dashing profile, protruding lower jaw, a few chipped fangs sticking out between his slimy, drool covered lips, a constant runny nose, some scars and usually a few fresh wounds, and the eye patch. He looked like the meanest pirate you could imagine. And the rest of his build and stature was pure bulldog also. He was built close to the ground, bowed legs in the front, a barrel chest, short skinny legs bringing up the rear, and his stub of a tail. He was the terror of Church Street. I don’t remember any humans ever being attacked by Klotz, but then again, I don’t remember any humans making advances to Blanche.
If you need any material for a bad dream, put yourself in the position Woody Woodruff once found himself in. He was traveling back across the country, from San Francisco to New Paltz, with Richie Bernard and his girlfriend, Dolores, and Klotz and Blanche. They were traveling in an old, non-air conditioned Rambler station wagon, with all their combined gear stowed inside the car. Richie and his girlfriend rode up front, and Woody had to share the back seat with the dogs. Imagine over three thousand miles in a hot car, sharing a seat with two pacing, drooling bulldogs. This is not the bad dream part. That began when Blanche went into heat somewhere west of the Mississippi. Think about it that before bed tonight.
CHANNER’S HOUND DOG
I can’t remember this dog’s name, and I don’t know if anyone knew his name. The way I remember it, this stereotypical looking hound dog ended up hanging around the old College Union Building front steps, and lounging, or maybe it was lazing, around on the grass on the quad. He didn’t seem to belong to anyone, and didn’t seem to go home to any place. He just started hanging out with the rest of us at the CUB. After he had established himself as a regular, and began making friends, he somehow ended up crashing at Hal Channer’s house. This was not really very unusual, as there were already a number of humans, who had also spent the day hanging out on the steps of the CUB, and were also crashing in Channer’s basement. (It was, after all, the Center of the Universe by Harold’s own calculations.)
What is really memorable about this hound dog, was that one afternoon, while a couple of the regular hanger-outers were playing guitar and harmonica, doing their best to sound as bad as the early Bob Dylan recordings, this old hound dog joined right in, howling the blues like Willie Dixon, and never missing a verse. Everyone was stunned, but then again, this was the sixties, and this particular group of people may have been herbally stunned somewhat to begin with, but stunned nonetheless. It seemed like this dog knew all the standard blues. Whatever song someone would play, he knew the words and would howl along. He became a real attraction, and people would come just to hear him sing. Unfortunately, his career was cut short by the wrath of the House Mother of College Hall. She obviously was not a music lover, and had Security roust the music makers, Hound Dog included, from the steps.
THE REST OF THE PACK
There were quite a few other mutts in the pack whose personalities, or quirks, made them stand out in the crowd.
Bertha was a small dog with a long black coat and a bushy tail. She was Gene and Susan Hines’ dog. One Halloween, Susan painted a white stripe from the tip of Bertha’s nose to the tip of her tail, and was telling everyone at the costume party at the Rock Cliff House that Bertha was dressed as a skunk. She did look just like a skunk, and every one was pointing and laughing, and it must have been just too much for her self-esteem. She had this look of total embarrassment on her face, and kept trying to avoid anyone she knew. It reminded me of one summer day when I was a kid, and my father gave me what I considered the worst baldy looking crew cut you could imagine. I vowed to stay on our back porch until my hair grew back. I’m sure Bertha was as glad when that stripe was finally washed off as I was once my hair grew back.
Holly Reisner had a malamute named Moot, who could not walk past the Tripod Studio building. As soon as he saw his reflection in the black enameled steel exterior, he went wild, smashing his head into the wall trying to kill this other malamute that was so bold as to invade his turf.
Denis and Anne Minervini had an Irish setter, Bird Dog, who was a good friend of mine. He spent many nights at my house watching TV and sleeping on the couch while Denis was playing drums for Eddie Kirkland and Anne was waitressing at CAVU. Bird was a bit high strung, and he got in trouble now and then for doing stupid things, like the time he ate the entire headliner of Anne’s Volkswagen convertible.
For a while, I shared my apartment with Lucy and Win Bottum. Lucy was of an indeterminate smallish breed, but she had a weight problem, so small was not an apt description of her. She had short legs supporting a dense black tubular body about the size of two, forty-pound bags of potting soil. When she walked, she sort of swayed from side to side. She was put on a diet, but the best laid plans … etc. Unfortunately, the diet plan was destined for failure from the start. Just out our back door, and across the field and railroad tracks, was J & D’s Dairy Bar. They sold milk, soft ice cream and hot dogs, and once Lucy discovered this oasis for beggars of soft ice cream and hot dogs, she was sneaking over there on a regular basis. No one could resist her eyes, and, as she resembled a baby harp seal, she attracted many kids who wanted to feed her. This went on for a while, until someone told Win they saw Lucy hanging around the picnic tables behind the store every day for a week. That was curtains for Lucy’s free-range feeding habits. Win grounded her, and she was tethered to a dog run in the yard after that.
I met a German shepherd, Rommel, who lived in the Boss American gas station up in Rhinebeck. Being a playful dog, but spending all his time in a gas station, his usual toys were nuts and bolts and assorted automotive parts, which, because he chewed them, left him with stubs for teeth. No matter how hard his owner tried to keep dense metal parts out of Rommel’s jaws, he always seemed to be cracking something between his teeth.
He had a son, Zeus, who became Rob Minervini’s dog. Zeus was your basic rebel, and not a homebody. Any chance he had to hit the road, he was gone. Rob tried to straighten him out by enrolling him in Captain Haggerty’s School for Dogs down near Wallkill, but even the Captain’s strict, fascist style of indoctrination couldn’t break Zeus. He eventually headed off into the setting sun, never to be heard from again.
Then there was Spot, need I say he was a Dalmatian? He moved in with Steven Kolpan on Mulberry Street. Spot was fairly crazy, and one of those dogs who were always jumping up on you, but that was nothing compared to his really bad trait. Spot had a serious flatulence problem, and it wasn’t just the toots, it was the unbelievable, bring tears to your eyes, rank odor released, that could clear a room in seconds. I lived across the street, sometimes I’d see people fighting to get out the front door, and knew Spot had just cut the cheese. There was one advantage to having Spot around. You could always blame the dog.
There were others, and some were just regular dogs, but still part of the New Paltz hippy community of the late sixties, who deserve mention. Church Street would not have been the same without Taurus hanging around Laurie Della Villa’s store. Debbie Perkins had a great dog whose name was Noah. Wolf and Rolf Horst were inseparable for years.
I’m sure I’m forgetting somebody important, but if I did, I’ll toss him or her a bone some other time.