D. E. Larsen, DVM
We watched as Blackie hurried across Main Street, almost in the crosswalk and with no regard for the traffic light, his long leash trailing behind him. Blackie was a Dachshund cross, solid black in color, and the structure of a Dachshund.
Blackie was always in the lead and always seemed to know where they were going. And not too far behind, came Gus. Gus, with his narrow brimmed hat, cocked to the side of his head and sporting a grouse feather stuck in its band.
Gus was much slower afoot than Blackie and walked with a broom. He walked a little bent over, favoring his lower back. He always gave the appearance of someone who just got out of bed and dressed quickly. Never getting everything on just right. His shirt was half tucked in, and his greying hair was sticking out from under his hat in all directions.
Blackie was at the clinic door now, patiently waiting for Gus to arrive. The leash strung out on the sidewalk behind him. This leash was Gus’ way of complying with the city’s leash law. Gus was schizophrenic. Medication keeps him functional in the community, but if he is off medication, he has problems, and he is well known to the police.
Ruth opened the door for Blackie and waited a couple of minutes for Gus.
“What are you two up to today?” she asked.
“Blackie thinks he needs to see the Doc,” Gus replied, leaning on his elbows on the counter to catch his breath.
“Come on Blackie,” Ruth says, as she gathers up his leash. “Let’s go get your file.”
Gus always played the role of being a little dense or slow. But, the reality was he was as sharp as a tack. If you wanted to know what was going on in town, all you had to do was ask Gus. He knew everything about everyone and every business. He just had difficulty articulating the facts in a manner that anyone could understand.
Blackie was due for his annual exam, vaccinations and a heartworm test. We would have mailed a card tomorrow. That is how well Gus kept track of things.
Blackie was an excellent patient on the exam table as long as you talked with him and took things slow. If you tried to zip through the exam and stick him with a needle without adequate conversation, he would get a little snappy.
“Gus, I see that Blackie is doing well,” I said.
“He does okay, you send the bill, gal over at the DQ has a problem,” Gus stammers.
I have found that Gus will carry on 2 or 3 conversations at the same time. Giving snippets of each sentence stitched together in a manner that is almost incomprehensible if you don’t listen very carefully.
“John takes care of it, I think her boyfriend left,” Gus continues. “I will get your sidewalk, maybe she is pregnant.’
Gus kept track of all the drama in town, I never knew how he came up with his information. I think maybe people didn’t pay attention to him, thinking he was never listening.
“I ran a guy off last night, John says Blackie owes some money,” Gus continued.
“Blackie’s bill is fine,” I said. “You don’t worry about Blackie. We will take care of him.”
“They didn’t like me in that jet,” Gus said. “That guy next door doesn’t like me; in Korea, they were mad. I only moved it a little.”
Gus must have been in the Air Force, he often spoke of being in a fighter jet and taxiing it a small distance. I would guess that probably ended his military career. And there were several folks in town which he had altercations with in the past. Those seemed to stick in his mind and come out once in a while.
Gus was not allowed in any of the bars in town because if he drank, especially if he forgot his medication, he would become violent and unmanageable. It was not unusual for Gus to require a few weeks in the state hospital in Salem to get straightened out.
John related one trip he made, taking Gus to the state hospital. John said that Gus babbled all the way to Salem and then was real quiet when they were waiting to see the doctor. John said that they saw a new, young doctor that day. When the doctor was interviewing Gus, Gus was as normal as John had ever seen him. Just when the doctor was getting ready to send Gus back home, Gus snapped back into his incomprehensible babble. John said the doctor’s eyes just popped.
But, for all his problems, Gus did pretty well. His family had provided him a small house. Gus worked every day, sweeping and cleaning up small areas. He got funds, probably SSI, and maybe some state funds from time to time. He swept sidewalks in front of businesses and looked after small things out front, like bums hanging out. I took care of Blackie. The A&W fed him lunch and dinner at times, although he usually had to eat outside. Some of the women in town would clean his house on occasion.
If everyone on public assistance did a fraction of the work that Gus did, communities would be far better off. And that segment of the population would be looked upon with better favor.