Dances With Jackals - Umberto Tosi
|Marcos Rodriguez Pantoja|
poses for Matthew Bremner's
recent Guardian profile.
Deja vu: My Dog's Name, the novella I've been revising for inclusion in Sometimes Ridiculous, my forthcoming softcover story collection, has a similar, archetypal plot. A boy, presumed buried by a mudslide, roams the Hollywood Hills with a family of coyotes. I wrote it back 2013, having never heard of Rodríguez, at least that I can recall.
It was an experience with some visiting friends that set me to writing the novella, although I didn't know where it would go at the time. Holly Wilson, a contemporary, Native American artist who resides in Oklahoma, her husband and their two young children were staying with my inamorata Eleanor Spiess-Ferris for a week here in Chicago. Their seven-year-old son kept telling us about a dog that he absolutely knew he was going to get for Christmas. His mother kept shaking her head. Gently, she corrected that he couldn't have a dog because of allergies. The boy continued talking blithely about the dog, nevertheless. He described it vividly. It sounded like a magnificent animal. Its ears would be upright and pointed, grey eyes alert. It would look like a German Shepherd, but more massive and all black, with medium-short hair.
"I'm naming him Anubis," the boy declared.
"Like the Egyptian god?" I inquired, figuring this as a teaching moment, "with a jackal's head?"
|Anubis guides the dead, and oversees the weighing|
of hearts to determine their eternal fate.
Who knows? I mused. Come Christmas, perhaps the jackal-headed deity might take a break from guiding the dead and overseeing the weighing of their hearts, to ride shotgun with Santa and grant the boy's wish.
That night, after the boy went off to bed, his mother explained that her son had gotten the dog's name from House of Anubis, a mystery TV series then showing on Nickelodeon. No matter. Disguise it all they want, I thought to myself: Who is to say that Anubis didn't guide those Nickelodeon writers to Hollywood from the underworld - or maybe from Belgium, where the show idea had originated?
In any event, after Holly and her family went back to Oklahoma, I started writing what I thought would be a boy-and-his-dog story. As these things go, however, personal memories and myths soon seeped into the scene. Like Holly's boy, I had my own imaginary dogs as an only child whose parents moved from New England to California and around the state during and after World War 2. Pets were out of the question forever, it seemed.
|Native American contemporary artist|
I got to know a family of coyotes when I lived in the Hollywood Hills as a young father working at the Los Angeles Times during the 1960s and '70s. My headlights would catch their jaded yellow eyes as they stood, long-legged on the side of the winding, unlit, canyon road that led to my peeling, Mission Style home. Their matted fur showed buff, grey and lemony. They were dream characters emerging from the chaparral, suspended between past and present - between a starry infinity above and a vastness of city lights in the distance. I got to leaving chipped bowls of water and kibbles for them on my overgrown flagstone patio, where I hope to glimpse them through the window of my study while I sat at my Underwood typewriter trying to write the great American novel.
Coyotes are an American jackal. They've managed survive nearly every kind of environment, our suburbs and even big cities. We see them here in Chicago, where they like to prowl golf courses and cemeteries and, do their part to keep the rat population at bay. Natural historians say that jackals, similarly, prowled the cemeteries of ancient Egypt. This likely gave rise to the jackal-headed Anubis as guardian of the dead. It's no wonder they keep finding their way into my stories.
|The Capitoline bronze.|
Oh yes - and our friend Holly wrote and told us that her son finally did get his Christmas dog. In fact, they got two, one for her son and one for his younger sister. Both are Portuguese Water Dogs, the same hypoallergenic breed as Bo and Sunny, the dogs that President and Mrs. Obama bought Malia and Sasha back in those brighter days when they were America's First Family.
(Parts of this article excerpted from a 2013 essay I wrote for Center for Humans & Nature's City Creatures blog.)
Dances With Dogs