Josh Jensen lived beneath the Burnside Bridge but denied such was true. He said the bridge lived over him. Claimed there was actual difference, and that he’d someday tell me what that difference was, but only with some coffee and some beer and some cigarettes and most of all some woman to draw out the secret, and while he always had beer and sometimes cigarettes, he seldom had coffee and most rarely a woman, and he never had them all at the same time because he was not a king.
All his life revolved around that dog of his, which was some days named Scout, other days Lassie, even sometimes it was Trigger, but it was always and ever the same dog, a dirty Dalmatian mix. That dog was a bundle of muscle, half dog and half crowbar, all covered in spots.
A woman gave Josh the dog. Her name was CG. She hadn’t freely gifted, only left a responsibility, but some people’s responsibilities are other people’s friends, and Josh and I both love that dog in a way I say only men can do. I know I’m wrong but I still say it.
When Trigger was a pup, he’d pee a lot and when Josh and I walked across the Burnside Bridge one of us always used to hold him so he wouldn’t jump off. We worried sick about that. Puppies love licking things, but they ain’t got a lick of sense. We held that dog back from the edge. We’d had friends go over before. Then the city boats come down the river. You don’t know how sad a friendship can be until your friend is a sodden thing on the end of a boat hook, trailing in the water because a wet carcass has too much weight to haul into the boat. They get them little waves slapping ’gainst their faces. I know. I seen this twice, for Josh it’s three, and whenever we crossed the bridge, we tightly held that pup.
And that dog could pee! God! Pee! Jesus triumphant and angels sing—that dog could piss!
It was pee and pee and we’d hold him over the side railing so the pee would cascade down into the Willamette River. One of us’d hold and the other would stand to block the view from cars going by, because if not then there was times cars would stop and shriek, “Don’t throw the dog over! You bums! Don’t throw the dog over!” Those cars stopped in the middle of the bridge. Arms waving. Trigger would be barking and barking, protecting us from madmen, even then. One time the Route 20 bus stopped right there on the bridge! The bus driver didn’t yell nothing at us but she got on her radio and said something to someone, and the bridge sat beneath us waiting, the water farther below, and a cop car soon came racing out and a cop (it was Salmons, the one who beat Chollie for talking back about the free meals) said, “You throw that dog and I’ll arrest you for murder!”
We would never have thrown that dog.
Why don’t people know that?
A man without a job doesn’t mean a man without morals. No man would ever throw a dog into a river. If we didn’t want him, we’d have enough sense to abandon him somewhere and just kick him if he came back.
The woman what gave Trigger to Josh begged for coins and dollars mostly off of Fourth, ranging up and down, not always in one place, and her thing was to talk about making it to Ireland one day. She claimed it was Ireland she wanted, and that while a single dollar wouldn’t get her there, it’d help her forget the failure. It worked as well as anything else. People make up their minds tidily fast if they’ll give money to my kind, and the best line don’t change that any more n’ the worst line.
Her name was Chollie’s Girl. She would never tell us different. We called her CG and gave her some of our food because she was like that, worth the giving of things. We only got to know her some weeks after Chollie was gone. We never knew her and Chollie to be in Portland at the same time. She came along after Chollie took his dive into the river along with a pigeon tied into a plastic bag from Powell’s Books. It wasn’t no real pet. He just didn’t want to check out alone and none of us would go with him.
A day after the river took Chollie inside, he was in turn taken back out. I sat and watched with my back against a tying post for the naval ships. That hunk of metal was too warm in the sun at first, but after I was settled ’gainst it for a couple minutes it began to come all cold. I liked that better. It was sunny that day. I remember how the little waves were shining on the river. John Oats came by and we wondered how they would go about drying Chollie out. We laughed how they’d have to put him on a clothesline. We laughed. We neither of us thought it was funny. We laughed.