"The Tale of the Telltale Tattletale"
Copyright Jim Willis 1998
[Starring the incomparable, opinionated Basset Hound "Alexis," our oldest Bassets, "Daphne" and "Flash," our Giant Schnauzer mix, "Amadeus," and a motley crew of various dogs and cats who we share our lives with.]
I was working furiously on deadline to edit a book manuscript and hoping that the biggest immediate threat to my sanity, Alexis, would stay otherwise occupied. Not likely - I heard the dog door swish and her sable Highness paraded into the living room, weaving her way around half a pack of sleeping dogs.
"You'd better go out and rescue Daphne," she said.
"Alexis, I have to have this manuscript to an express courier by 5 p.m. - what's the problem?"
"Well, she doesn't do reverse, so when she gets stuck in a corner of the yard she bounces back and forth between the two sides of the fence until she starts making that noise."
"You know - the one that sounds like Luciano Pavarotti got his pee-pee caught in his zipper."
"Fine - I'll take care of it, and then you must leave me alone for the rest of the day."
"While you are out there, how about giving her a new mantra?" Alexis suggested.
"Mantra? Daphne is Buddhist?"
"Might as well be. She walks around all day long mumbling 'lovedaddy, lovedaddy, lovedaddy.'"
I went out and pointed Daphne in the opposite direction and she waddled off happily, chanting as she went.
Once again, I took up my red pen and cursed this particular author. "This is not English! It's some alien language!," I groaned in frustration.
I heard Alexis shuffling along the hallway and making a siren noise.
"Wooo-wooo-wooo-double cat calamity in the bedroom," she warned, looking pleased with herself.
"What happened now?" I asked curtly.
"First, Jasper coughed up a hairball the size of a hamster - we're not missing a hamster are we? Then, Fleck must have eaten something baaad. He did one of his projectile numbers. Colorful, I must say - looks like a Disney film back there."
"THANK YOU ALEXIS, I'll take care of it."
Ten minutes later, smelling of pine cleaner, I returned to the impossible task at hand. "If I could track down this author's high school English teacher, I would slap her," I muttered to myself. "I'd like to dangle him and his participles over the edge of a cliff."
Alexis sat near me, pretending to focus her attention out the window, but occasionally glancing me at me out of the corner of her eye. She cleared her throat.
"Were you partial to that soap-on-a-rope you had in the bathroom?" she asked innocently.
"Amadeus ate it," she announced, looking impressed.
"It doesn't matter, it was organic and Amadeus has been eating things larger than his head ever since he was a puppy without ill effects."
"I think you should come have a look out the window," she suggested. "It gave him gas and now it looks like the Lawrence Welk orchestra is out in the yard. Ooooo - look at the size of that bubble!"
"Puhleese, Alexis, go away - go visit the dogs in the back yard and let me work on this book!"
Alexis flounced off, trying to look deeply offended. I continued forcing tenses to agree, sweeping up commas and scattering them elsewhere, and sweating bullets as I watched the wall clock.
Alexis returned a few minutes later and sat down to stare at the back of my head. I ignored her as long as possible. Then, my concentration broken, I swung around in my chair.
"What is it this time?!"
"Apollo and Frasier have dug a HUGE hole in the back yard, and now they are filling it in again," she reported.
"It doesn't matter!" I croaked in exasperation. "The back yard already resembles an exploded minefield - now for the last time, will you please go away?!"
"Hmmph!" she sulked and sashayed through the front dog door.
I made a few more corrections before I heard the door flap creak open and saw her brown snout poking through the opening.
"...did I happen to mention that the Beagle Boys are at the bottom of the hole?" she asked demurely.
I ran out to the yard, extricated a livid Ernest & Julio, dusted them off and placated them with a handful of dog biscuits. I returned to my desk and glanced at the clock before giving Alexis a warning look. She stared at the ceiling unconcerned, backed up slowly and sat down on a sleeping cat.
"Rrrowww!" a startled Sergei sprang up and landed on what he thought was an ottoman, with ears. "Woof!" a furious Flash jumped to his feet, knocking over the end table. the table lamp hung in mid-air for a split second before diving into an easy chair, where Danny the Dachshund was snoring under an afghan (crocheted variety). I watched in horror as dogs and cats erupted into the Flying Walendas.
"QUIET!" Alexis shrieked. Involuntarily, my red pen snapped in half in my hand.
"Have you no decency?" she addressed the bewildered bunch. "DADDY IS TRYING TO WORK!"
She looked at me, my face buried in my arms on the desktop.
"And now look at what you've done," she continued, "you've made him cry!"
Olan Puppy Mills Studios
Copyright Jim Willis 2000
Watching for our rural mail carrier lately has been both a joyous occasion and a reason for dread. We had signed up for a Basset Hound owner Christmas card exchange, and the homemade cards that arrive daily, one cuter than the next, generate a lot of smiles around here. There are Bassets in holiday costume, groups of Bassets posed in front of fireplaces, impeccably groomed Bassets surrounded by immaculately dressed children...cards with stickers, cards with bows, cards with glitter.
I am a decent photographer, if I can remember where I put my camera. I have a computer and color printer ("Which one of you cats upchucked a hairball in my printer?!"). We have five Bassets in our household and the chance of getting all five into the same photo, in focus, properly lit, well-groomed and without bloodshed, is about the same as the Florida Supreme Court determining that I actually won the election. The chance of five individual photos being acceptable and ready for this Christmas...I wouldn't have time to do the math.
I walked my fingers through the yellow pages looking for a photography studio, found one with a national reputation, and made an appointment.
"Darling," I said to my wife, "I have decided to enlist professional help."
"Therapy is nothing to be ashamed of, dear," she replied with encouragement.
"No! I'm taking the Bassets to a photo studio for a holiday portrait. Want to come along?"
"No thank you. I think I'll go do something fun, like have my wisdom teeth extracted."
I got Flash, Alexis, Hyacinth, Gabriel and Gallagher as presentable as possible, which for a Basset means clean ears and neatly trimmed nails. This is not a quiet enterprise. "AAAAGH! Murderer! I'm calling the ASPCA. You cut that one too short, I'm bleeding to death. Mama! My ears, my ears, I'm now permanently deaf. HELP! You got ear cleaner in my eyes. I'm blind. I swallowed a Q-tip, I'm choking."
You get the idea.
Next, I had to get the truck ready with blankets, pillows, paper towels for accidents, and treats to keep everybody happy.
"Is everybody ready?" I asked as I came back in.
"Here, sign this - all three copies," Alexis answered, and laid a sheaf of papers at my feet.
"What is this?" I asked as I flipped through the pages.
"It's from my agent at the William Morris Agency. Photographic model releases."
"Cut the crap, Alexis, and get in the truck.."
The dogs and I drove to the studio in a festive mood, making up Christmas carols along the way. The Bassets particularly distinguished themselves on "Bark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "Oh, Howly Night."
A nervous looking photographer wearing a beret met us in the studio's reception area, Monsieur Lentille.
"It eez a plaisure to meet you," he shook my hand lightly. "And thees is zee little doggies - petite chiens!"
"We will go in now. Please make l'arrrrangement of zee dogs on zee pedestal."
Alexis scowled deeper.
"We will take zees first film wizout flash," he explained.
Flash looked utterly dejected. Alexis smiled.
I figured out that he meant he'd be using natural light. I picked up the dogs, one at a time, and placed them on the different heights of the posing platform, in what I hoped was a suitable "l'arrrrangement." The dogs looked calm and thoughtful, always a dangerous sign.
"Eeez everybody ready?" Msr. Lentille asked, and I nodded.
"OO-ooo-OOO! Who cut the cheese?" Alexis coughed.
"Gabriel," said Gallagher.
"I did not!" protested Gabriel, "it was Flash."
"Hmmph! I vasn't me," Flash said and looked pointedly at Hyacinth. Hyacinth repeated her mistake.
"ACK! *Gag* Get me down from here, I'm suffocating," Alexis howled.
"What is zee problem?" asked Msr. Lentille, obviously not able to understand Basset, which doesn't explain his lack of olfactory sense.
"Whew!," I waved my hand in front of my nose. "That'll be enough of that, please. Now let's compose ourselves and get some good photos.
"Ready?" Msr. Lentille asked again, apprehensively. I nodded and Alexis squinted at Hyacinth suspiciously.
"OW!" Hyacinth howled.
"What now?" I asked.
"Somebody pinched me."
"Alexis!," I said accusingly.
"Not me, I - for pity's sake, wake him up before he....LOOK OUT!"
Old Flash had dosed off and leaned against Gallagher, creating a domino effect. Bassets pitched and rolled, and toppled off their perches. Umbrella lights swayed and dived. Msr. Lentille sidestepped and got tangled in his tripod, and the crash had an expensive ring to it. The mélange of "petite chiens" resembled British fans at a rugby match.
"OW! My tail! Somebody get off my tail. Arf! Get your big paw off my ear! MOVE. Get your muzzle out of my face, poop breath. How dare you. Dad! She bit me in the ear."
"ENOUGH!" I bellowed. Msr. Lentille extricated himself from the crash site, wiping his brow, and moaning over the state of his equipment.
"Mon Dieu! My equipment, she is ruined!" he wailed, wiping drool off his portrait lens.
"Oh, I am SO sorry," I comforted him.
"Sorry! You will get zee bill for all of zees. I am an arteest - zees is a travesty. You will pleeze remove theez monsters immediately. I am summoning zee gendarmes!"
We spent a complicated afternoon and drove home in a subdued mood, too worn out for even one stanza of the "AROOO-lujah Chorus."
"Goodness, you were gone a long time. How did the portraits turn out?" my wife asked as the criminal element filed back into the house.
"They are called 'mugshots.' It was the biggest pawprinting experience the local constabulary has ever seen. I used the holiday postage money to post bail, and nobody is going to believe why our Christmas cards are late."
"Deck the Halls and Alexis, Too!"
Copyright Jim Willis 1998
[Starring the irrepressible Basset Hound "Alexis" and her canine & feline brothers and sisters.]
I put the finishing touches on the Christmas tree and stood back with the animals to admire it. We all instinctively tilted our heads slightly to the right in order to "straighten" it.
"What do you think guys?" I asked.
"It's beeyoootiful!" they concluded.
"Are you sure Martha Stewart recommends attaching ornaments with duct tape?" Alexis asked.
"Martha Stewart does not have badly behaved cats and kittens," I replied.
"Let's follow her example," Alexis said.
"Let's not. Now, Alexis, why don't you entertain the troops with a Christmas story, while I make us some refreshments?"
I walked into the kitchen, from where I watched as a potpourri of cats and dogs gathered around Alexis and the tree. I wasn't exactly a Kodak Moment, but it would do.
"Please, Alexis," they chorused, "tell us about Christmas!"
"Well," Alexis began, pleased with the opportunity to share her encyclopedic knowledge, "Christmas is the birthday of Baby Jesus. Shortly before he was born a bright star appeared in the night sky and - "
"What's a star," Sassy the Yorkshire terrorist interrupted.
"I'm a star," said Alexis.
"Ohhh," the group nodded and pictured a glowing Basset in the sky.
"Anyway, these Three Wise Guys saw the star and decided to follow it so they could bring gifts to the Baby Jesus..."
"What kind of gifts?" Danny the Dachshund inquired.
"Errr, well a package of bacon, a side of beef and a couple of roadkills," Alexis answered.
Winnie nearly swooned at the thought of strangers bearing food.
"So," Alexis began again, "the Three Wise Guys rode their camels day and night and - "
"What's a camel?" Tina the Dalmatian asked.
"It's like a llama with humps," Alexis answered, beginning to look peeved.
Of course nobody had a clue what a llama is.
"Winnie and Daphne had surgery for bumps," someone else remembered.
"NOT bumps - humps," Alexis sputtered.
"Isn't that what Daddy says the Beagle Boys do to visitors' legs?" Sadie the Sheltie asked.
"NO!" Alexis fumed.
"Lovedaddy, lovedaddy, lovedaddy," Daphne announced.
"Dearie, someone will be along with your medication in a moment," Alexis patted Daphne's head. "Try to hold on. NOW, if I may continue...it was a really long journey, because the Three Wise Guys got lost - "
"Because they wouldn't ask anybody for directions, like Daddy?" Blaze the Labrador wondered.
"LOVEDADDY, LOVEDADDY, LOVEDADDY!" Daphne said emphatically, and then had to lie down from the effort.
Alexis gave her a very unChristmassy look and took a deep breath.
"Possibly. Finally, they got to the town where Baby Jesus and his mother the Virgin Mary - "
"What's a virgin?" the kitten asked in tandem.
"It's a lady who makes olive oil," Alexis explained. I glanced at the bottle of "extra virgin olive oil" on the kitchen counter and stuffed a dishtowel in my mouth.
"What's olive oil?" the kittens demanded.
"It keeps olives from squeaking," Alexis replied, "...now pay attention! So, the baby's mother and his father, Joseph - uh, well, Joseph wasn't really the baby's father - "
"Ahhh," the group exchanged knowing looks.
"Did AKC revoke their breeder's license?" Amadeus the Schnauzer asked logically.
"No!!" Alexis roared. "Now listen up. They had the baby in a barn, and he was wrapped in swaddling clothes - "
"What?" the group asked.
"It's some kind of flea protection," Alexis grumped. "IT'S NOT IMPORTANT!"
"It's Hard to Waddle When You're Swaddled," the Beagle Boys began to sing and do the 'Bump' with each other."
"Teeheehee," the kittens chortled.
"Stifle it!" Alexis yelled. "So, The Three Wise Guys got to town and went straight to the mall, where they bought a Christmas tree with decorations and - "
"Das ist nicht za vay vee do it in Deutschland," Winnie commented.
"Ja," Flash agreed. "Vee offen haf REAL candles on our Tannenbaum und -"
"Yeah, well you also drive without speed limits - an entire country with a deathwish," Alexis pronounced. "NOW, IF I MAY GO ON. Everyone arrived at the barn and began decorating - "
"Like Daddy!" Sergei the cat said, surveying the plastic splendor everywhere. Meanwhile the kittens figured they could bring the treetop angel down with one leap, Danny the Dachshund wondered if he'd be allowed to pee on the tree, and Amadeus - who had secretly eaten some of the strung popcorn - was contemplating a bowel movement worthy of the history books.
"...lovedaddy...lovedaddy..." Daphne sighed in her sleep.
"Whatever," Alexis snapped. "And when it was all decorated, they had a party, and this made the Baby Jesus very happy. It was then that he did something amazing..."
"What?!" the group gasped in unison.
Alexis drew herself up to her full height for the announcement:
"Ahhhhh," the crowd, especially the Bassets, murmured in appreciation.
It was then I realized how grateful the entire Semetic community must be that Alexis is not Jewish.
The incomparable "Alexis." Solid sable brown is not a
normal Basset color, but there's few things normal
about Alexis. (We think she might be an alien.)