Bilingual dog of Boyle Heights, short story excerpt

By Roberto Juarez

The year was 1966, I was in the army and stationed at Fort Ord California. An army buddy of mine was living off post and had given me a puppy; I could not keep him in my barracks, so I sent him home to my family in Los Angeles; Boyle Heights, to be exact. I had seven brothers and sisters living at home and I knew that the puppy would get all the love from them. I also knew that he would get discipline from my mom and be tolerated by my dad. They named him lieutenant

The years passed quickly and I was released from the army and went home to Boyle Heights. I lived with my family for a while until I was able to rent my own apartment. It was during that span of time that I learned that Lieutenant was bilingual, among other things. My brothers had tried to train Lieutenant into another rin-tin-tin, or lassie, (canine stars of the late 50’s early 60’s), but the most he would do is sit. I don’t think it was his training, he was just tired, but it made my brothers happy to think their training had worked.

It was about 8 am on a Saturday morning when I was awakened by the sound of my mothers’ voice. She was in the back yard and from the tone of her voice I could tell that she was upset. I sat up in bed and listened. “Andabas en la calle, orta vez, (you were out in the street again). “Mira que fachas” (look at your appearance). “Te andabas peliando”, (your were fighting).“Quantas veces te ha dicho que te quedes en la casa”, (how many times have I told you to stay home).

I was not sure who my mother was scolding; all I knew was that one of my younger brothers had probably been out last night and now was in trouble. I got up and walked into the kitchen and looked out the window. I could see my mother in her menacing pose, one hand on her hip and the other holding the broom, many was the time that I had seen that posture, so I knew that someone was in big trouble. My mother is not a big woman, but that broom and tone of voice made her ten feet tall. I could not see who was the target of my moms’ tongue lashing, until I saw him try to move away.

“Donde vas”, (where are you going), my mom scolded. It was then that I got a good look; it was Lieutenant. When he heard my moms’ voice he froze in place, he assumed the same posture and demeanor that we all did when our parents were reprimanding us. His head was slightly bowed and his eyes were cast down. Every so often he would glance at the broom, making sure it was not moving towards him. Like the rest of us, he stood there and took his tongue lashing, without a whimper. Lieutenant was holding up pretty well and I was proud of him until…”y te vas a vanar” (and you are going to take a bath), his head went up, I could swear that I saw his eyes open wider, his ears went forward as if making sure of what he heard and in a flash he turned and headed for the back yard, out through the open gate and down the alley and out of sight. “ya veras quando vuelvas cabron” (you will see when you come back, little goat).

I started to laugh uncontrollably; my mom came into the kitchen and asked me what I was laughing about. With tears in my eyes from laughing, I told her that I did not know that Lieutenant understood Spanish. “Si intiende, pero es como ustedes y se ase tonto” (he understands, but like the rest of you he acts dumb), she replied.

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