Sunday, February 19, 2012

On the Move with Chesty and Rocca - on the Plane

I read an excerpt from this book at Ozark Writers League this weekend and folks said they liked it.  They laughed out loud, and that's all the encouragement I need.  
You can catch up by going to the previous post, of course, but to the gist is: Two clueless gringos move to The Republic of Panama with two giant service dogs, Chesty and Rocca.
We pick up the story as my husband, Jack, and myself board the plane to begin our journey.

  My husband is telling his new friend and fellow traveler about the history of the Cane Corso breed and how these dogs were trained by Italian ranchers to grab the bull by the nose and hold the huge animal while the farmer cut the throat at butchering time. Jack pays no attention whatsoever to me, his panicked wife. Rocca and I are pushed forward into our assigned seats. I am against the window. Jack has the aisle seat.
 I instruct Rocca to lie at my feet, wedged in between the seat and the bulk head, with her head facing toward the outside of the plane. My feet rest on Rocca’s back. Chesty lies with his head sticking out the aisle. The dogs are butt to butt. Okay. This is uncomfortable, but it might work. If the flight from Tucson to Houston isn’t any longer than ten minutes.
   “Jack,” I say in a quiet voice, trying to keep the panic smashed down where it will only eat a hole in my stomach lining instead of leaping out my throat and spilling all over the inside of the airplane. “I don’t think this is going to work.”
   “What? See, nothing to worry about. The dogs fit just fine in this space,” he says with his usual enthusiasm for impossibly difficult situations.
   Maybe it’s just me. Flying with both of these dogs in the passenger section at our feet, this is a sane idea?
   Now the situation moves beyond difficult and I am absolutely positively sure we’ve crossed that demarcation line into full-fledged-screaming-crazy-land-wacky-this-can’t-be-doneville. The head stewardess tells Jack that Chesty’s head cannot extend out into the aisle. People might trip over him. Which means that one of the dogs is going to have to lie on top of the other dog.
   No way Rocca is going to allow Chesty to lie on top of her so we maneuver ourselves out of our seats. This proves the most difficult for Rocca as she is stuck and has to grunt and groan and look balefully up at me until she manages to wiggle her way out of this predicament into which we have placed her. Once in the aisle, we think our way through this arrangement like those big footed clowns at the circus trying to fit into the Volkswagen before the start of the greatest show on earth.
   Chesty has to be able to see out the aisle. He’s had far too much training in watching Jack’s back to handle anything else. Rocca has to be the dog on top. The dogs have to be placed so that Chesty can’t look at Rocca and stir her up into a froth of irritation. 
All right, let’s try this. 
I squeeze into the tiny space between the seats and the bulkhead wall with Rocca and she sits while Chesty and Jack get into position with Chesty’s butt extending to the front of my seat. Then Rocca lies down with her butt on top of Chesty’s hunches. 
Yeah. This is just perfect. I can’t see why this isn’t going to work for the four hour flight to Houston. 
Both dogs look as though they are going to begin, the moment we get off the plane, a serious search for new owners. My feet are now perched on Rocca’s back which is on top of Chesty’s back.
   Then things get interesting. 
There is a passenger in the aisle who claims to have a ticket for the middle seat, the seat between Jack and me. An older woman who’s on her way to visit her grandchildren for the week. There are no other seats available. Jack gets up, Chesty goes with him, Rocca sits up. The poor woman seats herself in the middle seat. Rocca lies down. On the woman’s feet. I have Rocca get up, freeing the woman. The old lady puts her feet up on the seat.
   “See how this is going to work out!” Jack says, “Who’d have thought we’d be so lucky as to end up next to a woman agile enough at her age to sit with her feet perched up on the seat like that.”
   Jack sits and then backs Chesty into his space. Rocca lies down, wedging herself yet again into her allotted space on top of Chesty. Chesty looks goofily around, his rump pinned, his tongue hanging from the side of his mouth.
   Are we having fun Dad? Is this the adventure you’ve been telling me about? Huh? Is it? Huh?”
   I apologize to the woman, who tells us that this will be a wonderful story to tell her grandchildren. Sure, as soon as the feeling comes back into her legs and she can actually exit the plane. Jack tells her the holding-the-bull-by-the-nose story and I don’t even interrupt to ask why in hell the farmer would be butchering a bull. Wouldn’t it be a steer he’d be killing? Somehow this detail just doesn’t seem like a relevant point at the moment.
   Remember those treats we brought so the dogs would be chewing and swallowing at takeoff and landing? 
These turn out to be a really bad idea. First of all getting anything out of my little daypack, which is on my lap, means moving around at least a little and there really is no room to move around. No room at all. But, more importantly, Rocca has decided in true female fashion, that all of her difficulties are the fault of this stupid male dog on whose butt she’s being forced to lie. She not only does not believe he is worthy of a treat, she doesn’t think he should be allowed to live. 
The instant I break the seal and she smells the liver, she starts one of those low elephant rumbles of which I am all too familiar. I correct her, stuff the liver treats back in the backpack and beg the stewardess to put the pack in the overhead compartment instead of on my lap where the smells are going to waft down and cause a scene I am desperately praying to avoid. Rocca settles down and, in this fashion, several lifetimes later, we make it to Houston.
   The old lady’s grandchildren are there to greet her at the gate and she introduces us and the dogs to everyone. How else would they possibly believe her story? After meeting her family, we make our way to the gate for our Continental flight out of the country, to Panama City. We check in and again, not one single official person blinks at the two dogs with whom we’ll be boarding. 
Evidently, as long as something, anything, is on the computer screen, it’s no problem. Now, sitting in those plastic chairs that are all attached together and to the floor, in the Houston airport, we lose our concentration for a moment and Chesty turns around and LOOKS AT ROCCA.
   Rocca, already madder than the proverbial wet hen, leaps up and jumps into the middle of this stinkin’ male dog who is the cause of all her freakin’ problems. Every single damn one.
   Chesty wiggles his tail and does his “Aren’t I the cutest thing you’ve ever seen” routine and I correct Rocca and move her away from Chesty. 
The whole episode takes no more than three seconds. It clears all the seats around us for a good thirty feet. Jack and I act as though this is no big deal. Nothing to worry about. We move the dogs and go right on with our conversation about who should go and get us a Starbucks coffee. 
Amazingly, it works and the stewardess let us board the plane with both dogs where, the good news is, there’s no one in the middle seat between us and the bad news is, Rocca has now decided that that freakin’ boy dog had better not even THINK of looking at her.


  1. That is soooo funny. Having been a passenger on those flying sardine cans they call air planes, I can't imagine even one dog much less two in that space. I could so see that scene as it unfolded. Great job. By the way, I was looking at booking a flight before reading this, I may have to rethink that trip. :) Nita

  2. Oh my lands. Here I thought traveling with my aged, sickly cat in first class was a challenge. You've forever changed my thoughts of that trip. :-)