Here are chapters one and two of “The Whining Mill”, the new novel from Professor Dave. I hope you enjoy it. 

1 – That Darn Gum

We are, simply, the sum of what we do in this life. Some may tell you the journey is half the fun. I disagree. I believe it is closer to seventy-five percent. We are not just the total, the end, the product; we are the nicks, cuts, bruises, and smiles we collect along the way. The way I see it, if the smiles and the laughter outweigh the injuries, you win.

My journey through life to this point can be measured in pants.

We will get to the pants later.

One afternoon, not too long ago, my only thought was, “I need a smoke.” I hate these kind of gatherings -well – hate is too strong a word. Let us just say I was a bit uncomfortable at them, which is saying something since I am usually at home wherever I am or whomever I am with. Before you get to lecturing me, yes, I am in the medical profession, and yes, I know I should not smoke. It is my only vice, and I am working on getting over it. Slowly. The problem is that I enjoy it too much. I really do.

The sun was hanging lazily in the sky, but summer had not yet tightened its grip on Nyagg, which the locals call “The Agg”, and it was pleasantly cool. I excused myself from the conversation that had me tugging at my collar frequently and headed out onto the back porch. There were eleven other people at the table, so I would not be missed immediately. I soon discovered I was not the only lost soul seeking solace from the social conventions of in-law gatherings. Another man had sought the peace and separation of the back porch. I think his name is Jerry, or Jack, or something; I know he is one of the boyfriends of one of my girlfriend’s siblings. He was standing where I had planned to go.

I was at the house of the parents of my girlfriend, Sarah, whom you will get to know well through these pages. Her father, Lou, is a bold, loud man who has been everywhere and done everything. At least twice. Her mother, Sophie, is more soft spoken, but carries herself with a manner that says, “I’m really in charge here.” They are lovely people, and they adore me (as far as I know,) but I can only take so much sometimes.

The gentleman who had preceded me onto the porch nodded in recognition as I walked out, as men will do, and as I reached the railing, we both turned to face the expansive yard. A breeze kicked up and made the trees dance, as if for our benefit.

“Hey man, Mike, right?”

“Mark.” I corrected.

“Yeah, yeah, Mark, right, sorry, how are ya, man?” He extended a beefy hand in my direction. ‘Drake.” pointing at himself, saving me the admittance I had remembered his name incorrectly. “You’re a vet, right? That’s friggin cool.” Yes, Drake, it is.

I smiled at him. I shook his hand back, careful to put a bit more strength in the grip than I normally would. Peacocking, my girlfriend Sarah would call it, but hey, I am a guy. It is what we do.

The porch we occupied, attached to the house of my girlfriend’s parents who I can only take so much of, was suddenly an oasis of peace and serenity. We were just two men, strangers on a train, enjoying a smoke in the afternoon breeze. I like my girlfriend’s parents, I really do, but sometimes her father’s stories of the “good old days” can be a bit tiresome. I find myself wondering how many of them are actually true – or how many have an inkling of truth and then are embellished in the telling. I have heard the same story about the time forty men came to his rescue when he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I think the nationality of the rescuing men has changed a few times. It could just be me.

Drake and I stood smoking and leaning and glancing across the large backyard, sharing a common “glad to be here and not in there” moment that neither of us needed to voice. Cigarettes never last long enough in these circumstances.

A minute or so later, I felt a bump against my leg. It was not from the direction of Drake, but from behind me and to my left. As I looked down, Drake followed my gaze and jumped back involuntarily at the sight on the porch.

A small, grey squirrel was desperately trying to get my attention by repeatedly bumping his nose against my pant leg.

“Holy crap, what the heck?” inquired Drake with genuine surprise in his voice. He seemed suddenly embarrassed by his reaction to the tiny creature once he had regained his composure.

“I don’t know, let’s see…” I replied, and leaned down towards the small rodent, putting my arm down to the ground. As I expected, the squirrel scampered up my outstretched arm, and settled in my hands, now cupped in front of my chest, and looked up at me expectantly. Drake took another exaggerated step back and mumbled something about those things having rabies and carrying disease. I mumbled something in reply while searching the squirrel for the reason he sought me out. I spotted it almost immediately. He had a wad of gum stuck to his fur just to the left of his mouth. It looked like it had been there a while, and it was probably driving the poor thing nuts. I laughed at my own joke. Nuts, indeed. Ha ha.

“I see, little guy, I see, hold still.” I transferred the calm and composed little squirrel into the crook of my left arm and took out the pocketknife from my pants pocket.  I opened the scissors with one hand, and slowly put the two blades between the gum and the squirrel’s face. One quick snip and it was done.

I lowered my arm, the squirrel jumped down, turned and looked at me, then scampered off the porch.

I put the knife away and looked up at Drake with an expectant look on my face. He was at the back of the porch looking at me with a mixture of disbelief and trepidation. He finally spoke.

“What just happened?” he managed.

“Looks like he got some gum stuck…” I began, but Drake interrupted me.

“NO. I mean, like,” he stammered, “what the heck just happened?”

At that fortuitous moment, my lovely girlfriend, the light of my life and the best person on the planet, appeared from around the side of the house and made her way to the porch with that “I know what you’re up to” look on her face.

Drake leaned in to see who approached, and settled back for a moment, still looking tense and a bit shaken.

Sarah noticed his countenance and asked, “You okay, Drake?”

Drake, in a misguided attempt to reclaim his manhood simply shook his head, pointed at me, bobbed his index finger up and down a few times,  and went back into the house. Sarah looked at me expectantly.

I said, in muted, nonchalant tones, “Squirrel. Gum. Stuck. Scissors, well…”

She smiled knowingly, let out an audible sigh, and retreated in the house the way Drake had gone. Before going, she muttered, “Don’t stay out here too long, mister” with mock consternation in her voice. I smiled. I turned again to the backyard, spied my now clean-faced little friend scamper up a tree trunk, and I lit another smoke.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time.


2 – A Furry Book Critic

Nyagg is a small town between two giants. I live here, have my veterinary office here, and Sarah’s parents live here. Sarah, as I mentioned before, is my girlfriend. I find myself saying that a lot, since she is such an awesome soul, and I suppose I still do not truly believe she chose me to love. I am just lucky I guess. Sarah did not grow up in Nyagg, but I did. Her parents moved here from somewhere farther east on Long Island a few years back, and Sarah attended the same high school as I had, but I am a few years older than she is so we did not cross paths in high school. We actually did not meet until a few years after she had graduated college. A fresh college graduate seeking a teaching position, Sarah moved in with her parents in Nyagg –and I became a lucky guy.

I often wonder about her parent’s move from Eastern Long Island to Nyagg, but her father is not very forthcoming about the reasons, and Sarah does not know. I get the feeling something in her father’s business or dealings precipitated the move, but I am not sure.

When I said Nyagg is situated between two giants, I mean giants financially. Originally settled in the 1700’s by the Tabak clan, Nyagg rests on an exclusive chunk of real estate on Long Island, New York’s north shore. Surrounded by affluence and influence, Nyagg keeps its middle class head down most of the time. The best cars in Nyagg are the ones that pass by on the single lane road that joins Glen Cove to our east and Great Neck to our west. It is a great place to live.

On that particular sunny afternoon, Sarah and had I left her parents’ house after a few more hours of uncomfortable tolerance and drove home to our split-level ranch-style house a few blocks from her parents’. I had heard the story of the forty men in the bar again before we left, and this time they were Columbian. I think they were Italian last time, I do not remember. At least they both end in ‘ian.’ They certainly were not Amish.

The house we live in now, the split-level ranch-style, is the house I had grown up in, well, kind of. My parents relocated to Florida a few years back, and I bought the property and the house from them. Before they had even crossed the Queens line I had the house razed and built the ranch/office combination I had always dreamed of. My father says it is still weird to come back here to the oh so familiar with a strange house occupying the land. Back to Sarah’s parents’ house for a moment. Drake had stared at me the rest of the evening, which I found infinitely amusing. I made sure to offer no explanations just to further enjoy his discomfort. I do enjoy this most of the time.

The best thing about my relationship with Sarah is that we get one another. I know when to leave her alone, I know when to dig and find out what is on her mind. She can read me just as well, but since I am a man, that is easy. We are much simpler creatures. There is a tacit communication that exists between our souls (she accuses me of over-romanticizing sometimes) that makes it unnecessary for us to speak. What a great girl. On that ride home, we said nothing, I drove with a silly half-smile on my face and Sarah checked her mail and appointments on her smartphone while we made the quick journey to our place. Poor Drake.

Me? My name is Mark Canis. I am 37 years old, not tall, in pretty good shape, and I have a great sense of humor. At least I think so.

I am not sure why you should care who I am or even that I exist. I am not a celebrity; in fact, I am a pretty ordinary guy. I am a veterinarian, a good one, and I love my work. Those that know me would say it differently though, they would say my work loves me.

No one is beating down my door for my services, although I do have a healthy practice that makes a nice living. Sarah is a teacher, and between the two of us, we do all right. To my parents, I am still a child, and to my friends I am a bit of an oddity. To me? Well, I am just me.

My entire life I have found that I truly did not care what others thought of me; that is, until I met Sarah. She was the first one who made me worry about my appearance, my breath, and whether or not I had matching socks on. The funny thing is she really does not care about those things. There was another girl in high school, who you will hear about, but her ministrations to my appearance and wardrobe back in high school were simply products of the time and my complete lack of education in the subjects. It was Sarah, my girlfriend now, who truly changed me.

My life is no better than yours is, I am sure, but there are some things that happen to me that do not happen to the average person. Things involving animals happen with me in a way that do not happen with other people often, if ever. One of the things I hesitate to point out so early in this manuscript for the risk that I may lose you, dear reader, is that I was commanded to write this tome you are holding by an American Eskimo named Max. Not the human kind of American Eskimo, the canine kind. Pure white, with a sharp, engaging face and a curled-up tail, American Eskimos are simply beautiful to behold. I never knew dogs were aware of the human need to write things down; that is apparently ignorance. Dogs know much more about us than we think.

Before you toss this manuscript off as a whack-job fantasy or science fiction journey, I must implore you to read a bit further. This is a partial memoir.  I say partial because I am still alive. I am sure more fun is in store. The story you are about to read is not only a wild and interesting yarn, but it is true. I lived it. Vicariously, so will you.

I mention that Max ordered me to write this as a partial disclaimer. This book was not my idea. It was his. Now that you are wondering (since you are still here,) let me explain.

Max is an ordinary American Eskimo dog. Bright, energetic, an enigmatic grin plastered on his furry face all the time, much like any other American Eskimo dog.

What is different (or is it ‘who is different?’) is me. I can feel what Max is thinking. I can communicate with Max in unspoken terms that we both understand. I have always had this ability. I had always wanted to become a veterinarian – and this was a convenient fact since the state has these silly little laws about treating animals and operating on them without those letters DVM behind your name. In one manner or another I have been doing it since I was about eight years old, so I figured I would get the letters. My evaluations at veterinary college were laudatory. “Incredible instincts. Great command of myriad animal types. Superb manner with patients.” Yeah, yeah. I knew all that already.  I needed the letters behind my name to open up shop, so I got them. I enjoyed that journey too.

Max is the property of an old and dear friend of mine, Carlo Rockman. Carlo is a retired police detective who served this area for over thirty years. Carlo and I met while we were both on the job, as they say.  I, a struggling undergraduate working a summer job while home from college, and Carlo, a newly shielded detective, found ourselves at the same Mobil gas station on the overnight shift. I was working the pumps; Carlo was on an extended stakeout to catch car thieves who had recently taken to grabbing cars at gas stations while their owners fueled them up.  Our nightly vigils at the pumps became bull sessions, which grew into philosophical musings. Carlo was worldly and wise then; he is now a philosophical force to be reckoned with. When the world is running down, I run to Carlo to have it pumped back up again.

Max, the American Eskimo, came into Carlo’s life just before he retired. A case brought Carlo to a housing tract on the south shore of Long Island where a double-murder suicide had just taken place. A scared, shivering Max, just out of puppyhood, stood vigil over the scene when Carlo and his partner arrived. The pup immediately gravitated to Carlo, and since his owners appeared no longer able to fill his food bowl, Carlo took Max home with him. They have been together ever since.

One day at a backyard barbecue that Sarah and I attended at Carlo’s, Max brought me a piece of paper. The events in this memoir had recently unfolded, and I suppose Max felt some rather human need to see it on paper. At first, I could not understand the reason behind the dog’s insistence on me taking piece after piece of paper from him, and I finally stopped accepting the bizarre offerings. It was not until someone handed me a pen and I began to scribble on the paper that Max settled down and stopped bringing me sheets. Where he was getting them from is still a mystery, but that panting grin when I began to write was unmistakable. A true canine literary agent, Max was. Therefore, I continued to write. You are holding the result in your hands. They say the publishing world is “dog eat dog,” but Max hates that expression.

Max is also a great editor. Carlo, one of the few people in the world who knows a little about my gift, has read every page of this memoir to Max throughout its creation. When Max put his head down or let out a whine, Carlo would make a note of it and pass it on to me. Max is a tough critic, but the final version you are reading is better for it.

When I looked deeper into the pages that Max had rejected with his body language, I detected a pattern. If I expressed self-doubt, Max would put his head down. If I digressed too much, a prone Max would let me know. Max is obviously an action junkie, anxious for the story to be told in a succinct, fast-moving way. I told you he was tough.

I am getting a bit ahead of myself here, so I need to back up a bit. The barbecue at Carlo’s, which introduced me to the literary agent side of one of my favorite canines, happened much later. The barbecue was one of the first relaxing moments I had had after the events of the few weeks prior. I promise, dear reader, you will get the whole story. There are some important background things we need to cover first. So let’s go.