Never Cry
Never Cry "Arp!" And Other Great Adventures
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Annotation: A collection of twelve stories about the misadventures of Crazy Eddie, Rancid Crabtree, Strange, and Retch Sweeney in the Great American Wilderness.
Catalog Number: #212003
Binding Type: Perma-Bound (from Original Hardback)
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition Date: 1996
Pages: 133 p.
Availability: Special Order Only - Contact Customer Service at +1 800 637-6581 or +1 217 243-5451
ISBN: Publisher: 0-8050-4662-3 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-0175-1
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-8050-4662-5 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-0175-4
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 95039420
Dimensions: 20 cm.
Language: English
Reviewing Agencies: ALA Booklist (8/1/96) , Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books , Horn Book (4/1/96) , Kirkus Reviews , School Library Journal , Wilson's Junior High Catalog
Word Count: 27,879
Reading Level: 5.5
Interest Level: 9+
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.5 / points: 4.0 / quiz: 16984 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.8 / points:7.0
Lexile: 920L
Never Cry Arp! and Other Great Adventures
Skunk Dog
WHEN I WAS A KID, I used to beg my mother to get me a dog.
"You've got a dog," she would say.
"No, I mean a real dog," I'd reply.
"Why, you've got Strange, and he's a real dog, more or less."
Strange was mostly less. He had stopped by to cadge a free meal off of us one day and found the pickings so easy he decided to stay on. He lived with us for ten years, although, as my grandmother used to say, it seemed like centuries. In all those years, he displayed not a single socially redeeming quality. If dogs were films, he'd have been X-rated.
I recall one Sunday when my mother had invited the new parish priest to dinner. Our dining roomtable was situated in front of a large window overlooking the front yard. During the first course, Strange passed by the window not once but twice, walking on his front legs but dragging his rear over the grass. His mouth was split in an ear-to-ear grin of sublime relief, and possibly of pride, in his discovery of a new treatment for embarrassing itch.
"Well, Father," Mom said in a hasty effort at distraction, "and how do you like our little town by now?"
"Hunh?" the pastor said, a fork full of salad frozen in mid-stroke as he gaped out the window at the disgusting spectacle. "Pardon me, what were you saying?"
During the next course, Strange appeared outside the window with the remains of some creature that had met its end sometime prior to the previous winter, no doubt something he had saved for just such a formal occasion. As he licked his chops in pretense of preparing to consume the loathsome object, Mom shot me a look that said, "Kill that dog!" I stepped to the door fully intending to carry out the order, but Strange ran off, snickering under his breath.
"More chicken, Father?" Mom asked.
"Thank you, I think not," the priest said, running a finger around the inside of his Roman collar, as if experiencing some welling of the throat.
Fortunately, the dinner was only four courses in length, ending before Strange could stage his grand finale. A female collie, three dead rats, and the entrails of a sheep were left waiting in the wings.
Mom said later she didn't know whether Strange was just being more disgusting than usual that day or had something against organized religion. In any case, it was a long while before the priest came to dinner again, our invitations invariably conflicting with funerals, baptisms, or his self-imposed days of fasting.
Strange was the only dog I've ever known who could belch at will. It was his idea of high comedy. If my mother had some of her friends over for a game of pinochle, Strange would slip into the house and slouch over to the ladies. Then he would emit a loud belch. Apparently, he mistook shudders of revulsion for a form of applause, because he would sit there on his haunches, grinning modestly up at the group and preparing an encore. "Stop, stop!" he would snarl, as I dragged him back outdoors. "They love me! They'll die laughing at my other routine! It'll have them on the floor!" I will not speak here of his other routine.
In general appearance, Strange could easily have been mistaken for your average brown-and-white mongrel with floppy cars and a shaggy tail, except that depravity was written all over him. He lookedas if he sold dirty postcards to support an opium habit. His eyes spoke of having known the depths of degeneracy, and approving of them.
Tramps were his favorite people. If a tramp stopped by for a free meal at our picnic table and to case the place, Strange would greet him warmly, exchange bits of news about underworld connections, and leak inside information about the household: "They ain't got any decent jewelry, but the silver's not bad and there's a good radio in the living room." The tramp would reach down and scratch the dog behind the ears as a gesture of appreciation, and Strange would belch for him. Face wrinkled in disgust, the tramp would then hoist his bedroll and depart the premises, no doubt concerned about the reliability of food given him by a family that kept such a dog.
My friends at school often debated the attributes of various breeds of dogs. "I tend to favor black labs," I'd say, going on to recite the various characteristics I had recently excerpted from a Field & Stream dog column. Somehow my classmates got the impression that I actually owned a black lab and had personally observed these characteristics. While I was aware of the mistaken impression, I didn't feel it was my business to go around refuting all the rumors that happened to get started. Sooner or later, however, one of these friends would visitme at home. Strange would come out of his house and satisfy himself that the visitor wasn't a tramp in need of his counsel. That done, he would yawn, belch, gag, and return to his den of iniquity.
"That your uh dog?" the kid would ask.
"I guess so," I'd reply, embarrassed.
"Too bad," the kid would say. "I always thought you had a black lab."
"Naw, just him. But I'm planning on buying me a black lab pup first chance I get."
"I sure would," the kid would say, shaking his head.
As a hunting dog, Strange was a good deal worse than no dog. Nevertheless, he clearly thought of himself as a great hunting guide. "Fresh spoor," he would say, indicating a pine cone. "We can't be far behind him. And for gosh sakes shoot straight, because I judge from the sign he'll be in a bad mood!"
Chances of shooting any game at all with Strange along were nil. He had no concept of stealth. His standard hunting practice was to go through the woods shouting directions and advice to me and speculating loudly about the absence of game. I would have had more luck hunting with a rock band.
Strange did not believe in violence, except possibly in regard to chickens. He couldn't stand chickens. If a chicken walked by his house, Strange wouldrush out in a rage and tell the bird off and maybe even cuff it around a bit in the manner of early Bogart or Cagney. "You stupid chicken, don't ever let me catch you in dis neighborhood again, you hear?"
Some of our neighbors kept half-starved timber wolves for watchdogs. Occasionally one of these beasts would come loping warily through our yard and encounter Strange. Since Strange considered the whole world as his territory, he fel =no particular obligation to defend this small portion of it. He would sit there, figuratively picking his teeth with a match, and stare insolently at the wolf, who was four times his size, its lip curled over glistening fangs, hackles raised, growls rumbling up from its belly. After a bit, the wolf would circle Strange, back away, and then lope on, occasionally casting a nervous glance back over its shoulder. "Punk!" Strange would mutter. Probably the reason none of these wolves ever attacked Strange was that they figured he was carrying a switchblade and maybe a blackjack.
Despite the peculiar passive side to his character, Strange did commit a single act of violence that was so terrible my mother actually considered selling the farm and moving us all to town. At the very least, she said, she was getting rid of Strange.
The episode began one warm spring evening when my grandmother sighted a skunk scurrying under our woodshed.
"He's probably the one that's been killing our chickens," Gram said. "I wouldn't be surprised but that he has his missus under there and they're planning a family. We'll be overrun with skunks!"
"Well, we'll just have to get him out from under the woodshed," Mom said. "Land sakes, a person can scarcely get a breath of fresh air in the backyard without smelling skunk. Maybe we should get Rancid Crabtree to come over and see what he can do about it."
"He'd certainly overpower the skunk smell," Gram said, "but I don't see that's any gain."
"What I mean is," Mom said, "maybe Rancid could trap the skunk or at least get it to leave. It's worth a try."
"I don't know," Gram said. "It just doesn't seem like a fair contest to me."
"Because Rancid uses guns and traps?" I asked.
"No, because the skunk has a brain!"
Gram and Rancid were not fond of each other.
The next day I was sent to tell Rancid we needed his expertise in extracting a skunk from under our woodshed. His face brightened at this news.
"Ha!" he said. "Thet ol' woman couldn't figureout how to git a skonk out from under yore shed, so fust thang she does is start yelling fer ol' Crabtree! If thet don't beat all!"
"Actually, it was Mom who told me to come get you," I said.
"Oh. Wall, in thet case, Ah'll come. Jist keep the ol' woman outta ma ha'r."
When we arrived, Gram was standing out by the woodshed banging on a pot with a steel spoon and whooping and hollering. The old woodsman nudged me in the ribs and winked. I could tell he was going to get off one of his "good ones."
"Would you mind practicin' your drummin' and singin' somewhar else?" Rancid said to her. "Me and the boy got to git a skonk out from under thet shed."
If Gram could have given the skunk the same look she fired at Rancid, the creature would have been stunned if not killed outright. The glare had no effect on Rancid, however, since he was bent over laughing and slapping his knee in appreciation of his good one. It was, in fact, one of the best good ones I'd ever heard him get off, but I didn't dare laugh.
"All right, Bob Hope," Gram snapped. "Let's see how you get the skunk out from under there. Maybe if you stood upwind of it, that would do the trick!"
"Don't rile me, ol' woman, don't rile me," Rancid said. "Now, boy, go fetch me some newspapers. Ah'm gonna smoke thet critter outta thar."
"And burn down the shed most likely," Gram said.
"Ha!" Rancid said. "You thank Ah don't know how to smoke a skonk out from under a shed?"
Fortunately, the well and a bucket were close at hand and we were able to douse the fire before it did any more damage than blackening one corner of the building.
During these proceedings, Strange had emerged from his house and sat looking on with an air of bemusement. There was nothing he loved better than a ruckus.
"Maybe we should just let the skunk be," Mom said.
"Land sakes, yes!" Gram shouted at Rancid. "Before you destroy the whole dang farm!"
Rancid snorted. "No skonk's ever bested me yet, and this ain't gonna be the fust!"
After each failed attempt to drive out the skunk, Rancid seemed to become angrier and more frenzied. Furiously, he dug a hole on one side of the shed. Then he jammed a long pole in through the hole and flailed wildly about with it. No luck. He went inside the shed and jumped up and downon the floor with his heavy boots. Still no skunk emerged. At one point, he tried to crawl under the shed, apparently with the idea of entering into hand-to-gland combat with the skunk, but the shed floor was too low to the ground. Then he grabbed up the pole and flailed it wildly under the floor again. Next he dropped the pole and yelled at me, "Go git another batch of newspapers!"
"No, no, no!" screamed Mom.
"Leave the poor skunk alone," Gram yelled. "I'm startin' to become fond of the little critter!"
Rancid stood there panting and mopping sweat from his forehead with his arm. "Ah know what Ah'll do, Ah'll set a trap fer him! Should of did thet in the fust place. No skonk is gonna ..."
At that moment, the skunk, no doubt taking advantage of the calm, or perhaps frightened by it, ran out from under the shed and made for the nearby brush.
"Ah figured thet little trick would work," Rancid said, although no one else was quite sure which trick he was speaking of. "And this way, there ain't no big stank, which is how Ah planned it."
Then Strange tore into the skunk.
The battle was short but fierce, with the skunk expending its whole arsenal as Strange dragged it about the yard, up the porch and down, into thewoodshed and out, and through the group of frantically dispersing spectators. At last, coming to his senses, the dog dropped the skunk and allowed it to stagger off into the bushes.
Strange seemed embarrassed by his first and only display of heroism. "I don't know what came over me," he said, shaking. "I've got nothing against skunks!" Still, I couldn't help but be proud of him.
The skunk was gone, but its essence lingered on. The air was stiff with the smell of skunk for weeks afterwards.
"That dog has got to go," Mom said. But, of course, Strange refused to go, and that was that.
It was years before Strange was entirely free of the skunk odor. Every time he got wet, the smell came back in potent force.
"Phew!" a new friend of mine would say. "That your dog?"
"Yeah," I'd say, proudly, "he's a skunk dog."
Collection copyright © 1996 by Patrick F. McManus
Skunk dog
The mountain
Reading sign
Kid brothers and their practical application
Never cry "Arp!"
Real ponies don't go oink!
Secret places
A really nice blizzard
Muldoon in love
Not long for this whirl
The night the bear ate Goombaw.