Dog Dynasty


It's been getting pretty cold lately, and it's on the way to getting colder. I'm starting to wonder if there isn't something to the old saying about "When hell freezes over." Maybe it is now. If there is a God, perhaps she has just decided to freeze the whole country cryogenically until a cure can be found sometime in the future.

But, in the meantime, when it gets as cold as this, there are certain steps that the average cracker out in the wild with a dog has to take. Trailers — at least the kinds manufactured by Amish con artists — are not able to withstand low temperatures. There are two problems: the first is that, because the entire plumbing system is mounted underneath and exposed to whatever the ambient temperature is, it is easily prone to freezing and bursting. The second is keeping warm inside. This second problem isn't hard to deal with. There is a propane heating system. It makes the camper warm by switching on a heating element under the sink and then blowing the air out by means of what sounds like a surplus jet engine from the Korean conflict. No one worried about quiet engines in those days. If there's sufficient electricity, a space heater suffices.

Keeping the bottom of the camper from freezing is much more difficult. The only way to do it is to create a barrier of some kind, called a skirt, around the entire bottom of the camper. There are commercial systems available for that, heavy canvas that you attach to snaps mounted on the camper.

In search of a cheaper alternative, I had several ideas. The first was simply to wrap it up in that clear plastic wrap furniture movers use, the stuff like giant rolls of Saran Wrap. That didn't work. I finally settled on some cheap foam board. It's a terrible production getting it on. There are all sorts of places where it has to be trimmed and fitted and it's brittle stuff and it flops around in the wind.

If you have a dog watching you when you're trying to do this, the dog assumes you've lost your mind. They lie there, luxuriating in the feeling of freezing grass, and give you that kind of questioning look, especially when the job drags on for hours.

But it has to be done if you're stuck for any prolonged period in extremely cold temperatures. In our case, the idea of traveling farther south was too disturbing. We're in Virginia now. South of here is North Carolina, where it's every bit as cold, and after that you get to where the Trump lawn signs are still up. Most of the rest of the country had the good taste to replace those, in a complicated move that had to have been coordinated by a nationwide cabal of Evengelical preachers, with pre-positioned Thank You, Jesus signs. They were swapped out on the night of the election last year as if someone had thrown a switch. My feeling is that if Jesus had a pickup truck and a baseball bat he'd have driven the backroads and knocked every one of them down.

Well, once I finally got the thing sort of attached, it was time to take Roo for a walk. I knew she was going to go swimming. There's a river nearby and it hadn't frozen over yet, and those are especially hard for her to pass up. I was wearing five or six layers of t-shits, thermal underwear, frayed old Brooks Brothers shirts (they are my last holdout on the way to becoming a complete cracker), scarves and so on. None of it mattered. It was as if I was running naked on the way to an ice bath in Siberia. 

When we got back to the campground, Roo was iced up from her swim. The burrs in her coat were frozen in place. She was feeling great. She wasn't the one who was going to have to spend the next hour cleaning her up. She was a little tired, though, and walking slowly.

Few other people are out in this weather, especially in RVs. An old man was puttering around with something outside a well-kept old motorhome and Roo drifted over in his direction.

We had met him the other day when Roo walked over to him and he turned around and yelled at me: "Hey! That dog's got to be on a leash!"

"Oh, sorry," I said. "She won't bother you."

"I don't care! I don't want to be stepping in any dog crap over here!"

"You won't be stepping in any of hers, mister," I said. No one likes being yelled at.

"I already did! Stepped in some right over here!"

"Well, it wasn't hers, I can guarantee you."

"You better watch out," he said. "I work for the park."

"I don't care of you're the head of the goddamned KGB. You haven't got the right to yell at anybody like that," I said, and I kept going.

A minute later the old guy drove up in a little white car and rolled his window down. I looked at him, wondering now what.

"I'm sorry about that," he said, "and I owe you an apology. I don't know what come over me. Wasn't right what I did. You were right."

"Oh, hell," I said. "No hard feelings." I went over and shook his hand and said, "I'll tell you what. You're a hell of good old coot to say it."

"I don't know," he said. "I'm eighty-five now, maybe that's it."

"Eighty-five? Well, you don't look a day over ninety," I said. Every guy who makes it into his eighties has been on one end or the other of that crack for decades. I told him my name and he told me his was Franklin and I asked him which Franklin they named him after.

"Well, it was 1933," he said, and trailed off. He was hesitant to fill in the rest. To claim the other Franklin he would have had to say it was 1780. I sensed that this might be because of the burden of carrying the name of a Democrat around for nearly a century. A New York Democrat, at that. Everybody knows they're the worst kind. I'm one, myself.

"Franklin Roosevelt," I said. 

He nodded a little gravely.

"He was a great man," I said. "I admire him enough to have a picture of him up on the wall in my camper," which I do. Every time I look at it I wonder if he's buried in the suit in that picture and how well it's been holding up with all the rolling over in his grave he's been doing lately. It's probably more frayed than my old Brooks shirts, which may have been sold to me by someone who sold him that suit, come to think of it.

The subject of the skirting on my trailer came up. He told me that his son had spotted it and told him about it and said, "What's the guy doing? Is he moving in?"

"No, not going to do that," I said. 

The day after Christmas Roo and I were walking back again and there was old Franklin again and Roo trotted right up to him and he gave her a few friendly pats and scratches. A real dog man. You can always tell. Roo liked him.

"Hello, there, Franklin," I said. "How're you doing?"

"Doing good, doing good. How are you?"

"Just fine, thanks. How was your Christmas?"

"It was good," he said. "We had about twenty of the family over to the son's house. And you know what?"

No, sir. What?"

"I thought about you."

"Good thoughts, I hope."

"I thought about you."

"Well, Franklin," I said, "I really appreciate that."

"Okay," he said.