Not being a believer in signs from God, Buddha, Mohammad or -- in life's more hurried moments -- those posted by highway employees, I was not fazed by Murphy's yanking me by his leash toward every entry of the church.
Not the first time, at least.
A few days later, though, we passed St. Cecilia's again. This time my companion leveraged all his 75 pounds of fur, paws and tongue against me to essentially hoist my stumbling legs up not one but two side staircases leading to these reported portals of salvation. At one point, he leaped at the closed red doors and I fell to a hard stop with my hands on the stone threshold.
It was a midweek afternoon; the parking lot, empty; the air, still. I'm sure the church was unoccupied, so unless the Holy Ghost was inside test baking a batch of hosts in new savory bacon, liver and beef flavors, I failed to comprehend my Labrador retriever's sudden desire to get religion.
When the weather cooperated and time was inconsequential, this church tended to be on one of our long, meandering routes. We had passed it, as well as the Greek Orthodox church next door, a hundred times before without incident beyond the occasional need for him to pee on a non-burning bush as dogs tend to do. He would halt and linger to sniff around the church-run elementary school on the rear of the property, but that made sense. A building full of PB&J smeared, irregularly bathing miniature humans who can be taken down with a good sideswipe of the tail is, to a dog, like a bar with free happy-hour appetizers, dollar drafts and no bouncers checking IDs is to a college freshman.
After this second incident, which required much dragging and coaxing to get Murphy the mile and a half back to our house, I made up my mind. We'd walk that way again tomorrow and if Murphy wanted to take me to the Lord, well, I just hoped He had brought enough Snausages for two.
There we were, ambling through the back entrance to the church property the next day. Murphy made his usual lunge for the elementary school, but the snap of chicken jerky in my pocket steered him back on the possibly righteous path of faded asphalt leading across the parking lot to the church's basement door.
It was there, at that spot where I once entered the building as a member of the Holier Art We Than Thou Youth Group, that Murphy -- dear divine Murphy -- veered left.
Around on the church driveway we went without him making a single glance or motion toward the church. Instead, Murphy led me over a stone wall into the parking lot of the neighboring Greek church. He sniffed the lot and surrounding woods as I smiled because I wouldn't mind trading cup of sacramental red and a side of guilt for an occasional shot of ouzo and a gyro.
But again, we bypassed this house of worship and headed back to the sidewalk and the way home.
That's when the lightning hit. Not a literal one like that which allegedly knocked Paul off his ass, blinded him and led him to become a disciple of legendary outfielder Minnie Minoso (hence, the founding of St. Paul, Minnesota). More like a metaphorical one made of watermelon rinds, potato chips bags and hot dog bits.
For Murphy suddenly bolted next door for the baseball fields outside a public elementary school. Here, he ran around in circles: sniffing, snorting and munching everything the fourth and fifth grade students had dropped, dribbled or simply failed to put into the trash earlier that day during their end-of-the-year picnic.
He scoured those fields for a solid 15 minutes and no jerk of the leash or jerk holding the leash was going to get him to leave this puppy paradise.
I dropped the leash and let him scrounge for a while until I got tired of waiting. I started walking home in hope he'd miss that thinning-haired kid who feed him and follow. When that didn't happen, I gave in. I walked back, put my arms under his belly and lifted him up, carrying him across the field until we finally hit the cracking, secular public sidewalk once more and began the back to our heathen den.
The lesson, however, had been learned: While "dog" spelled backward may be "god," you must also remember that "food" spelled backward is "doof."
My Uncool Past
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