Somewhere between my ears I’m hearing the song Mr. Bojangles. The song tells the story of an old busker who traveled the South dancing for coins with the love of his life, his dog. He’s a perpetually sad character because “his dog up and died……… twenty years he still grieves.”
I’m not perpetually sad but I understand how Mr. Bojangles feels. My dog up and died some twenty plus autumns ago. I told a girlfriend once that my dog was the love of my life. She said “I’m glad you had one.”
Duke was an outlaw dog, a street stray. My buddy Ricky and his brother Winky were doing construction in Hartford Connecticut when the dog, now named Duke would loiter. They would toss him bits of sandwiches and donuts so Duke hung around. That was ok but the animal control officer didn’t see it that way. He saw a dog with no collar, no tags, an outlaw dog. He arrested Duke and cited Ricky as the presumed owner.
Now Ricky and Winky were what might charitably called adventurous boys or maybe bikers with a sense of frontier justice. The construction job had just then ended, Ricky was heading to Massachusetts but the dog was in the pokey. Now the dog pound was old school, just a shack with a chainlink fence around it. This was in the era before the advent of security cameras, ground-motion detectors and outer space observation posts.
So Ricky and Winky just jumped the fence, grabbed the dog and left town. Ricky did need to go back to Connecticut for something. While there he thought he should resolve this animal citation so as not to have a pesky charge against him in case he got flagged for being a biker in Connecticut. That seemed to be a crime back when.
He told the animal control officer that it wasn’t his dog, just a stray. He added, “Hey, maybe I’ll take him. Where is the dog, anyway?” The charges were dropped and that was the end of it.
Now Duke really was an outlaw dog, free but a wanted criminal. To keep it short Ricky traveled for his work so Duke gravitated to me. I fed him regularly so he stayed for twelve years.
Imagine an old-time movie. Calendar pages fly by. Duke had become a celebrity of sorts. He had taken up residence with me every day at my movie house downtown. He was still an outlaw dog as he just roamed free, no collar, no leash, no tags. He was Newburyport’s last free-roaming dog. He became known as “the theater dog.” It was the end of the era when you just let your dog out. He would roam around and come home when he pleased.
More calendar pages fly by. Mike Dukakis, Governor of Massachusetts, had been nicknamed “Duke” by the media. Duke, the Governor, that is, had just been elected to his last term. He had not yet declared himself available to lead the free world. That would come later when he ran for President.
At that point Duke, (still talking about the governor here) did a “thank you” tour of the provinces to connect with his supporters. He stopped by Newburyport City Hall for a brief photo op. It was a lovely day so the event was moved outdoors.
A crowd gathered. Duke, the dog, that is, hated crowds. My guess is that Duke the Governor did like crowds. I liked Duke the Governor but I loved Duke the dog. As it happened Duke (the dog, again) was on a stroll downtown and by chance passing City Hall just as Duke (the Governor) was speaking.
As Duke (the dog) hated crowds he began to bark. The he barked some more. Then he barked even more. Duke, you know which one, barked so much he disrupted Duke, the other one, in hisspeech. The mayor at the time was quoted as saying, “Get that stinking theater dog out of here.” He didn’t say “stinking,” actually but something on that order.
I wasn’t there but even if I had been, what could I have said, “Shut up, Duke”?
Later that very same day the Newburyport animal control officer came by the theater, quoted the mayor and told me to “control that stinking dog.” He also employed more common language.
So now Duke the Dog was a multiple offender. As it all predated the cyber era no thread was ever made to connect the two offenses. Me and the dog got away with something. So that’s why I understand Mr. Bojangles.