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joe's bio

EVERY AUTUMN on the first day of hunting season, deer appear in my backyard. I don't know if they're the same animals every year or how they know so precisely the time to seek a haven from men in plaid jackets wielding fire sticks. One morning the deer are simply there, as if they'd been mailed copies of the hunting regulations.
Autumn also brings rain after the dry summer, and a call from a woman I fell in love with twenty Halloweens ago, when both of us were young enough to believe it possible for two people to carve whatever face they desire on the pumpkin, to create harmonies that would make the music of the spheres sound dissonant. Sometimes the downpour beats on my tin roof so loudly I can hardly hear the phone ring, much less decipher her drowned syllables, bopping along fiber optic cables at the speed of light.
This year when she calls and I relate what tricks I'm up to, the full moon is slipping through unclouded skies into a tangle of leafless alder branches. My clock isn't set accurately, yet it must already be past three in the morning at her house, on the other side of the continent.
I should've figured as much, she laughs into the phone.
Yes. She was, after all, the one who led me through the alleys of Chinatown to an all-night pinball parlor crowded with flipper jockeys jostling machines just right to earn bonus points without forfeiting their games to a tilt. But it wasn't these bumper wizards she wanted to show me. It was a chicken, a rooster that played tick-tack-toe for quarters.
You shoved your money into a slot, pushed a button to indicate where you wished to make an X, and the X would appear on the electronic board beside the chicken's cage. Inside the cage were several trays. Once your mark appeared on the tick-tack-toe board, kernels of corn would roll into one of the trays. The rooster pecked and his O was registered in one of the eight empty squares. Then it was your move again.
The chicken didn't win. Neither did he lose. Every game we played was a cat's game. Chess masters, who are now having trouble defeating computers, those featherless and totally inedible cousins of chickens, would call our matches stalemates. A slow learner, it cost me dozens of quarters to realize there was no way to outwit the crowing Chanticleer. If roosters had fists, I do believe he would've beaten his chest.
TWO WOMEN are sharing my house when the phone rings. I'd met them at a bar, where they were bemoaning the fact that every lodging on the North Coast, every motel, hotel, and bed and breakfast was full. The older woman, an aristocratic, silver-haired wisp with a fairy godmother smile, was downing Daiquiris and attempting to comfort her companion. Tawny, buxom, fortyish, definitely Italian, she would've looked as at home stomping on grapes in a vat as drinking the end result in a dodgy bar. She wet her fingertip with her tongue. Her dark eyes burned holes right through the silver of the mirror above the bar as she used the moistened digit to perform some arcane cosmetic feat to her left eyebrow. I sidled over and told them they could crash at my place.
They looked me over. Satisfied that I was no backwoods ax-murderer, they agreed to follow me to my digs in their car. The aristocrat asked, in a very shy, demure fashion, if there might be a twenty-four hour supermarket nearby. I had everything necessary for the morning at my place -- coffee, tea, bread and the like -- but she insisted. I waited in the parking lot while the women ducked inside to make their purchases. They emerged with a bag just big enough to contain what I guessed to be delicate unmentionables of feminine hygiene. The mystery of why the younger woman hadn't requested the detour occupied me on the drive home. She was obviously the one in need of such paraphernalia.
As usual, I was barking up the wrong tree. Out of the small bag, now resting on my dining table, came a can of gourmet dog food. It was a cold night. I'd already lit a fire in my wood stove and set out a bottle of brandy. The aristocrat was willing to feed her darling dog out on the frosty porch, and then bundle him up with a comfy blanket in the chilly car, but Biffy was such a sweet puppy, smart, extremely well-behaved, and petite. Unable to resist her hopeful pleading, I said it was all right for her to bring him inside, as long as he was thoroughly house-broken. She was out the door and back in a minute, a duffel bag hanging from one arm, the dog cradled in the other. A pampered Schnauzer with snappy black eyes under beetling white eyebrows, Biffy's neat, glossy coat was no doubt the
result of daily brushing and regular visits to the grooming parlor. Not a hair strayed out of place on that dog.
She hadn't exaggerated his exquisite manners. He lay on the floor without moving as she tore the top from a can of pricey dog chow, without whimpering, though there was a hint of a whimper in his glistening, mournful eyes. Unfortunately, Biffy couldn't move. His hind legs were paralyzed. Stretched out flat on the floor behind him, the useless appendages jiggled slightly to the rhythm of his wagging, stubby tail.
She unzipped the duffel bag, pulled out a pair of rubber-rimmed, sprocketed wheels about the size of wheels on a girl's baby doll buggy, knelt down, and screwed the hubs into place, into steel sprockets fitted into Biffy's hip joints, all the while telling me about the clever veterinarian responsible for the surgery. The dog, transformed into a kind of hairy, miniature go-cart, licked his mistress' palm, then propelled himself over to the stove, where his doggy pate awaited him.
PRETTY AMAZING, eh? said the grape stomper. But you haven't seen anything yet.
Indeed, I hadn't. When the dog was finished with his snack, his owner picked up the duffel bag and scattered a score of stuffed animals about the room. The animals were Disney characters, modeled after Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Huey, Dewey and Louie and others.
Fetch mama Goofy.
Sure enough, Biffy wheeled about the room until he found the right plush animal, snagged it gingerly in his jaws, rushed back to the aristocrat and dropped Goofy lovingly into her lap.
Now fetch mama Mickey, she said, encouraging Biffy with a pat.
We're about halfway through the cartoon cast when my phone rings, as it does at least once in the middle of the night every autumn. And when I tell my bewitching lover of many rainy autumns ago exactly what I'm up to, tell her how I'm watching a Schnauzer on wheels fetch plush pin-up favorites from the animated cinema, the deep laughter that once wove a spell around me crackles across all of darkened America and into my ear.
I should've figured as much. Stop already. Goofy? Mickey? By name? You're making me cry. The tears are streaking my mascara.

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