Friday, August 28, 2009

Trilingual Pets

I speak very little French nowadays. I studied the language for about nine years in the Great State of Maine as a child and as a teenager. My accent got good, as I am a fair mimic, and my French grammar, as with my English, was learned as much through my knuckles as it was through my noggin. Given two weeks in France, people think that, partly because of my size XL nose, I am a native.

I do not speak French to Puck.

Puck, my dog, grew up in New York City, as I did not. I lived in Spain for a few years as Puck did not; however, having lived in Madrid and on the Island of Majorca, I returned to the USA, years before Puck was born, with but a rudimentary knowledge of the Spanish (less so, Majorquin) tongue. My friends overseas were either American or British, or they were Spaniards who wished to learn American vernacular. I studied the Spanish language while I lived there, but, in large part due to my own laziness, I lapsed. Hell, I taught English while I was there to people who insisted that I not speak Spanish during the lessons. There is another aspect that displaced Americans and foreign Europeans – Dutch, German, Irish, English, Belgian - found it a relief to speak English to somebody, anybody.
When I returned to the USA, I found that my fledgling knowledge of Spanish helped a true communication with the people who work in bodegas and elsewhere in the service industry. That I tried to communicate in Spanish made many daily acquaintances pleasurable and entertaining. I helped them out with their questions about English, and they were happy to oblige my grammatical queries. I would ask (and still do) a Dominican counter person or a Columbian waitress, for instance, what is the difference between a certain phrase in Castellano, versus the same in South American or Caribbean Spanish.

I do not speak Japanese, but, in a Pavlovian manner, I enjoy learning things which appeal to me. So does Puck.
The Raunch Hands played a short tour of Japan, again, long before Puck’s birth, and our entourage – and please do not diminish the exact meaning of that term – referred to me consistently as “gitchee guy.” “Tsandra-san” was another moniker, but I understood that one (“Chandler, sir”). I asked what is the meaning of the word “gitchee,” and I was told that it means “cool and crazy;” although, they said “clazy.” I translate the term to mean “nutty.” “Gitchee guy” also pairs up with “gitchee gar,” meaning, “gitchee girl,” so the idiom is not gender-exclusive. I selectively learned that term, and “arrigato,” as my only Japanese words.

Now back to little Puck, the eternal puppy.

Certainly, he is not little; however, I think of him as such, and that is a defining element in our man-to-dog relationship. In our early days, I gave him a ham bone, which he promptly took into his mom’s (my girlfriend’s) bed. I scolded him, and I tried to take that bone away, to bring it into a drool-proof environ. I know, now, what Siegfried and Roy dealt with daily. Puck bared his teeth and lashed out at me with same. I was frightened, but I realized that I had to put him in his place. I yelled at him in the way that I reserve for the microphone in a rhythm & blues performance, and my howl, though much out of fear, beat him down. I felt like a lion. He unequivocally understood what I meant, and not only did he drop the ham bone, but he perceived, in no uncertain terms, who was his master. That instance changed our relationship.
Certainly, Puck responds to the sound of my voice, as much as he recognizes my scent... umm, as, admittedly, I do his; however, we refer here to language. When I use the words, “walk,” “food," “treat,” “ball,” or “beach,”, Puck knows exactly to which I refer, and he is a ready dog. When I tell him, as his affirmed master, to “stay” or to “behave,” words which he very well knows, he makes a decision.
Puck is trilingual, and there are no three ways about it. Not only does he know the above English words, but he responds well to “enough,” and the phrase, “knock it off!” When we walk together, he knows the Spanish terms “vete” and “venga” and “basta,” and, I hope he finds endearing the term “idiota,” which he hears from time to time when he would, and does think he should, “walk,” when to a person who is lucidly aware of rapidly moving automobiles and who is not color blind and who, by the way, is holding the leash, knows better.
Happiest of all languages that little Puck understands, is my microscopic knowledge of Japanese. When I call him “gitchee guy,” he knows exactly what I mean. When I call him by his name, in whatever tone, to him, it could really mean anything, “Wanna Treat?” “Wanna ball?” “Wanna go to the veterinarian?” etc. When I call him “gitchee,” in any circumstance, will he follow proper direction, but he, under more comfortable, domestic conditions, happily, obediently, soundly, plunks his big, furry, black head on my chest. Those eyes, that sighing breath...

65-pound little Puck, indeed trilingual, is cool and crazy.

The rock 'n' roll element.