Each house in the neighborhood has a yard. Each yard has a fence. Behind each fence is a dog. Inside that dog’s mind is the unknowable.
But inside the stomach of the dog that is behind the fence in the yard of the house three blocks due west of here, on Arcadia street, sits Smokey Joe. That’s where he lives now. Inside the belly of a great dane named Ricki.
It wasn’t always like this. I can recall times, not long ago, when Smokey Joe used to come around all the time, with stories and sing-a-longs and recipes for homemade candy we could try ourselves. A cross between hobo-clown and adventurer, philosopher and forest-man, never seen with less than a day-old scruff and sunny, blue eyes, Smokey Joe was always there with a banjo and a sack of fresh okra, just in case any one of us kids was running short on songs and Vitamin A or C.
It was said he was the son of a rich, but troubled couple in the Grosse Pointes. They buried each other alive when Smokey was just a boy and left him in charge of 1/3 of the Midwest’s Iron Square Business. Joe sold it within three months and had the mansion sunk into the Detroit river’s freighter trench.
From then on he spent his days chasing dogs and having adventures. And he was handy too. He’d just as soon teach you a gypsy’s dance as fix your roof. The kids in town loved him but the adults, as grateful as they were for his lessons on personal hygiene, never quite trusted him. The older men got especially uncomfortable when Smokey Joe would invite the children to help him burn huge piles of his inherited fortune each Fourth of July.
“Don’t worry, kids, we’re just helping it find its way back to hell!” Joe’d shout as we’d shovel piles of cash into the flames.
The situation reached a peak though, three years ago when Smokey Joe, partly in jest, partly as a protest, painted each member of the Chamber of Commerce completely yellow, from head to toe, while they sat during their monthly meeting.
After a lot of angry speeches and threats to rewrite the laws, everyone in town settled on the idea that Smokey Joe should be fed to an animal. Fortunately for Joe, Town elders had long since liquidated the zoo and its assets and reigned in the illegal alligator trade. All that was left was a giant, old, gentle, toothless Great Dane named Ricki.
Never has a creature been so docile. Old Smokey Joe just slides right in and out of its mouth when the mood strikes him. He keeps Ricki happy with plenty of rainbow sherbet and never makes any campfires.