We’re playing in the back yard, soaking up the last warmth before another cold front rolls in. I’m kicking a miniature soccer ball around and Caleb and Eli are squealing as they chase it, periodically whacking me in the shins with their little sneakers. Caleb has learned to throw his body into mine in order to make space to steal the ball. Eli hasn’t learned this, nor has he learned that the only place where the ball absolutely will not be is where it lies when he begins one of his full-tilt charges. I feel a little guilty, like when you give your dog a peanut butter cracker and watch him lick at it incessantly after it gets stuck to the top of his mouth. But if you can’t enjoy your children, why have them?
I pick up a little red ball and say, “Hey boys, watch this.” I drop-kick it high into the air, inspiring them each to utter “ohhhhh” as it launches. It arcs as the earth pulls it back home, and then it lands with a thud on the other side of the short picket fence running along the edge of our back yard.
A relevant piece of information in this story is that our neighbors own two gigantic furry beasts that are “dogs” in the same sense that Hummers are “passenger vehicles.” No kidding, when we first moved in and before I was sure they couldn’t get over the fence, I kept my handgun close by when the kids were out back. But the dogs proved fairly passive and immobile, and today they weren’t even outside.
Or so I thought, as I put my hands on top of the fence and propelled myself over it.
Now, if you’re a giant, hulking, protective canine, and you want to catch someone invading your space, about the only place you can hide in that yard is behind a little scrap of tall fence that precedes the long run of short fence comprising most of our border. This is how I know he wanted me to jump the fence, because he was crouched behind the tall section. Had this been a court of law, I might have gone free with this proof of entrapment.
But this was not court, this was High Noon, and my gun was safely, uselessly tucked away in my bedroom. As an aside, I know they have statistics on how locking up your sidearm leads to fewer accidental shootings, but do they track the cost of fewer on purpose shootings? Just pointing out that gun safety isn’t always.
Not that I could have blamelessly shot the creature; I was in his yard after all, and it’s just not Christian to jump your neighbor’s fence and shoot his dog. That may be something they would do, say, in New York City — if they had guns and yards, that is — but not down here. It’s not that we’re less violent, mind you, it has more to do with the fact that if you shoot a man’s dog down south, he’s liable to jump your fence and shoot you back.
I confess that this thinking has only occurred in retrospect. My immediate thought as I landed to the sound of a deep, fearsome growl was less edifying. Think Sergeant Hulka in “Stripes,” as the errant mortar round whistles toward him, and you have the extent of my eloquence in a moment of duress.
Now here’s an interesting geographical tidbit about Tony’s back yard: it’s sloped, such that the fence is considerably taller from the other side. I wouldn’t have known that, had I not been standing seven feet from a furry monster with an alarming ability to accelerate. Were I not over there with him, the difficult return leap would have given me comfort as I contemplated his irritation.
But I believe in a God of miracles, and more importantly in this case, a God who equips our bodies with a natural wonder-drug called “adrenaline.” Adrenaline, I can now attest, has the remarkable property of enabling one to leap with all the vigor and dignity of a cricket on crack.
As I scrambled back over the fence, I saw the distinctive personalities of my sons on display. Caleb stood a safe distance from the fence and pointed out that I was leaving his ball to the mercies of the dog. Eli, meanwhile, had laid hold of the fence with both hands and was halfway up it.
I landed and peeled the brave little idiot boy off the fence as the dog reached the opposite side. I swear I could smell human flesh on his breath. Or maybe it was just squirrel. It was definitely something that had been a reluctant meal. I shepherded the boys away from the fence, to the sounds of Caleb’s protests.
“But Daddy, you forgot my ball!”
“Dude, did you see the big dog?”
“Yeah, and he’s gonna eat my ball!”
“Would you rather him eat your ball, or your Daddy?”
Not yet instinctive in his telling of little white lies, Caleb weighed the options.
“Listen,” I said as I maneuvered to obstruct his line of sight, not wanting him to suffer the trauma of seeing his ball devoured, “we have other balls.” Having just come close to providing a new chew toy to a waist-high carnivore, I was exquisitely aware of this fact, let me assure you.
He contorted his body to look around mine, equally determined to see. “But not another red one.”
The dog sniffed the ball, harrumphed, and squatted down beside it to taunt us. Not wanting my sons to see their old man bested, I came up with a brilliant solution. “Hey boys, let’s throw the Frisbee!”
“Oh, okay,” said Caleb.
“Frisbee!” shouted his brother, no doubt thinking this would present another opportunity to climb into the mouth of danger.
“You know, the wind isn’t very strong back here. Let’s take it to the front yard.”
I think I saw the dog smirking as we left him in possession of the red ball. Yes, fine, you’re the bigger dog. But my sons still think I’m tougher than I really am, and for all your ability to intimidate, you still have to scratch yourself with your teeth. So bite me.
Figuratively speaking, of course.