May 12, 2005 started out like any other pre-Katrina day for me in the French Quarter. I’d done laps in the rooftop pool of the Royal Orleans hotel across the street from our house on Chartres Street, brought recumbent wife Millie coffee in bed and walked Millie Dog (there’s a story there) along the levee.
But the mail had come early that day — with a check that I’d been waiting for from an article about New Orleans that I’d written for an inflight magazine months before, and I decided to head to the Whitney Bank branch in the next block right away, unshaven, spikey hair and all.
‘Da Whitney — as it’s known to locals — had banned dogs from its banks … until the day that ageless Bourbon Street entertainer Chris Owens sashayed into the Morgan State branch on Chartes Street with her tiny treasure — who some say was so old that he actually was a wolf, rather than the decendant of wolves — and defied anyone to ask them to leave.
“Next, please!” the teller next to the gaping safe had cried, and I approached his station with my flimsy check. A cold chill swept over me. Even though the legendary manager of the branch, Pat Porter — inevitably seen with a cigar perilously close to falling from his lips — was long gone, the air in the branch was frigid. It was said that under Porter’s management, when a customer opened the door to the branch, the air conditioning could be felt as far north as Shreveport.
Il faisait tres froid in the Morgan State branch that day, but I ambled over to the teller’s station, icicles hanging from my outstretched arms.
“Hey, Mark,” I greeted the head teller, whose eternally-spiked hair matched mine that day. “How’s Toby?” I asked, referring to his dog, whose photo dominated the pile of transactions behind him.
“He’s great,” responded the guardian of the vault. “But I’ve got this puppy that I found tied up outside a crack house in St. Roch that I don’t know what to do with.”
“I have a friend who’s looking for a dog,” I replied, feeling like I’d just deposited ten pieces of Judas silver in Millie Dog’s account.
To this day, I don’t know why I responded that way. (Wife) Millie and I could sit for hours on our sofa, tickling Millie (Dog) and marveling at her imaginative canine responses. And now I was cheating on her (the dog).
“Maybe I could stop by and see if she’s what he’s looking for,” I ventured.
“Great,” Mark replied, “see you this evening.”
The tiny, short-haired, born-to-shed creature that greeted me at the door that evening was the antithesis of our precious long-haired Millie Dog, whom — in accordance with all the ‘what to do when you’re considering a second dog’ advice — I’d brought along for the new puppy’s interview. She sniffed the tiny newcomer with apparent enthusiasm.
Toby hogged the evening with his fascination with my leg, but the tiny puppy just seemed amused with it all.
“Hump on, big boy,” her dancing eyes seemed to be saying, “he’s mine.”
Millie Dog’s fascination with the new puppy — who’d been christened Faith — knew no limits, until she noticed that this audacious little bundle of fur was getting in the car with us to go home. Cold shouldersville.
When we got home and I laid out a second bowl of food for the little interloper, Millie Dog hid the second dish before chowing down on her own. For a moment, I felt instant kinship with our alpha dog.
Soon after my mother arrived home from the hospital with my younger brother, Don, I noticed her feeding him as I slurped down my cereal. It was all too much. “Put that baby down!” I — at the tender age of 4–apparently demanded.
“But he’s so helpless,” Mother reasoned. “He can’t feed himself or tie his shoes, as you can,” she reasoned, channeling every new-baby advice book.
“Then why didn’t you keep him inside you until he could?” I replied, completely ignoring my own post-partum development.
Things only got worse in 2005. The new resident was way too butch to be named Faith, I reckoned. Glancing at the invitation for that year’s Magic in Melpomenia celebration, sponsored by Felicity St. Redevelopment, I considered calling her Felicity. Not much better. But Clio, a nearby street, named for the muse of history, seemed just the spot. So Clio — Cl-10 to some of our friends, became a full-fledged member of our family.
I swear it didn’t bother me when she chewed up my running shoes — just what an “evil bo’weevil” would do, I rationalized. At times, she acted like Clio the Avenger, and the vet pedigreeed her as a new breed: Jackweiler, Jack Russell Terrier and Rottweiler. Weighing in at a frightening full-grown 17.5 pounds, she became The Terrier from Perrier, based on her relocation to our Uptown condo that corners on Perrier Street. And we watched in amazement as a slide in an Audubon Zoo presentation illustrated that such a concatenation was possible.
Madame Clio proved her bona fides soon after on a walk along State Street. There before us stood an immense Rottweiler, whose markings mimicked hers. She sniffed and seemed interested.
“What’s your dog’s name?” I enquired of the man at the other end of the leash.
“Mr. Puppy Pants,” he declared with a garish flourish. Clio growled and backed away, leaving the hapless Mr. Puppy Pants panting.
She had a fling at Madewood in the aftermath of Katrina — with Mr. Lucky Dog, who evacuated to Napoleonville with a friend of ours. I even bought the couple a Michael Graves Post-modern doghouse (still in the box) as a wedding present at Target in Houma during the lazy days of our expulsion. But nothing came of it.
She’s devoted to me, I daresay; and these days she’s known as “la chouchoute de papa,” French for “daddy’s girl.” She’s my companion along I-10 from New Orleans to Madewood, and I love it when she curls up like a Japanese netsuke or dances like Dame Margot Fonteyn for a piece of cheese. She’s a “Terribul Gerbil,” a “Wicked Ticket,” and a “Silly Pukka” — but she’s all mine.
Now approaching middle age, she still leaps like the “Thumper Jumper” she was that first night whenever she hears my car approach. Because she was six or seven months old when she moved in, we decided to make her birthday our wedding anniversary, October 17th — in the same arbitrary fashion that the British determine the date of Her Majesty’s Official Birthday.
Several years ago, I learned from the “Lucy, Our Common Ancestor” exhibition in Houston that canines were domesticated 0.18 million years ago. I constantly remind Ms. Clio how glad we are that her people came to live with our people way back then.