Dogs and Politics

THE BOSS LED THE WAY OUT to the front porch. We all tailed him out like a procession. The photographer went to the second car and unpacked a tripod and the rest of his plunder and got it rigged up facing the steps. The Boss was standing on the steps, blinking and grinning, as though he were half asleep and knew what kind of a dream he was going to have.

"We'll just take you first, Governor," the photographer said, and the rest of us eased off the porch and out of range.

The photographer hid his head under the black cloth, then he popped out again all agog with an idea. "The dog," he said, "get the dog in there with you, Governor. You be petting the dog or something. Right there on the steps. It'll be swell. It will be the nuts. You be petting that dog, he's pawing up on you like he was glad to see you when you come home. See? It will be the nuts."

"Sure, the nuts," the Boss said.

Then he turned toward the old white dog, which hadn't moved a muscle since the Cadillac pulled up at the gate and was lying over to one side of the porch like a worn-out fur rug. "Here, Buck," the Boss said, and snapped his fingers.

But the dog didn't show a thing.

"Here, Buck," the Boss called. Tom Stark prodded the dog with his toe for a little encouragement, but he might just as well have been prodding a bolster.

"Buck is gitten on," Old Man Stark said. "He ain't right spry any more." Then the old man went to the steps and stooped down with a motion which made you expect to hear the sound of old rusty hinges on a barn door. "Hi, Buck, hi, Buck," the old man wheedled without optimism. He gave up, and lifted his gaze to the Boss. "If he was hongry now," he said, and shook his head. "If he was hongry we could guile him. But he ain't hongry. His teeth gone bad."

The Boss looked at me, and I knew what I was paid to do.

"Jack," the Boss said, "get the hairy bastard up here and make him look like he was glad to see me." I was supposed to do a lot of different things, and one of them was to lift up fifteen-year-old, hundred-and-twenty-five-pound hairy white dogs on summer afternoons and paint an expression of unutterable bliss upon their faithful features as they gaze deep, deep into the Boss's eyes. I got hold of Buck's forelegs, as though I were girding myself to shove a wheelbarrow, and heaved. It didn't work. I got his front end up for a second, but just as I got him up, he breathed out and I breathed in. One gust of Buck was enough. It was like a gust from a buzzard's nest. I was paralyzed. Buck hit the porch boards and lay there like the old polar-bear rug he resembled.

Then Tom Stark and one of the reporters shoved on the tail end and I heaved on the front end and held my breath and we got Buck the seven feet to the Boss. The Boss braced himself, and we heaved up the front end, and the Boss got a gust of Buck.

That gust was enough.

"God's sake, Pappy," the Boss demanded as soon as he had mastered his spasm, "What you been feeding this dog?"

"He ain't got any appetite," Old Man Stark said.

"He ain't got any appetite for violets," the Boss said, and spat on the ground.

"The reason he fell," the photographer observed, "was because his hind legs gave down. Once we get him propped we got to work fast."

"We?" the Boss said. "What the hell you mean we. You come kiss him. One whiff would curdle milk and strip a pine tree."

The Boss took a deep breath, and we heaved again. It didn't work. Buck didn't have any starch in him. We tried six or seven times, but it was no sale. Finally the Boss had to sit down on the steps, and we dragged Buck up and laid the faithful head on the Boss's knee. The Boss put his hand on Buck's head and looked at the photographer's birdie. The photographer shot it, and said, "It is the nuts," and the Boss said, "Yeah, the nuts."

The Boss sat there a few seconds with his hand on Buck's head. "A dog" the Boss said, "is man's best friend. Old Buck, he's the best friend I ever had." He scratched the brute's head. "Yeah, good old Buck," the Boss said, "the best friend I ever had. But God damn it," he said, and stood up so quick that Buck's head slid off his knee, "he don't smell a bit better'n the rest of 'em."
"Is that for the record, Boss?" one of the reporters asked.

"Sure," the Boss said. "He smells just like the rest of 'em."

- - - From All The King's Men
Robert Penn Warren
©1946 Harcourt, Brace & Co.

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