The World in a Pistachio Shell

Posted: January 30, 2013 in Nonfiction

I grew up in a house full of candy. Five older siblings had filled it up into a veritable Candy Kingdom, and, for the most part, ruled benevolently over their empire. My sisters allotted Nutty Buddies and Hershey Kisses freely and fairly. There were rumors of a tyrannical reign under my older brother Pete; who had hidden candy caches and doled out brutal violence to any wayward pilgrim found searching. But I never had to endure that regime. My sisters shared everything, probably too much. I was a fat kid made fatter by the indulgences of my nearly grown up sisters. In fact, the only thing I really remember ever being off limits, were pistachios.

My sisters laid particular claim to those curious green (and somehow I remember red) kernels of saltiness with their shells still on them. They were forbidden. And as such. I wanted them more than anything else in the whole world. I was a picture perfect little brother.

My chubby fingers couldn’t pry them open, so I’d use my teeth, infuriating my mother. I didn’t really even like them, I only wanted them because I couldn’t have them, and getting into trouble, made them even more alluring.

It was years later, after I’d gained the manual dexterity and phalangal strength required, to pry them open, that I’d learn to like pistachios. And years later, after a failed attempts to mimic sophistication, that I’d learn they were my favorite ice cream, or at least, favorite ice cream not involving brownies, caramel apples or other autonomous desserts.

Something about pistachios and pistachio ice cream still seem comically sophisticated to me.

Pistachios are a favorite snack. I received a three pound bag for the holidays, and it’s been riding shotgun with me since. Some would argue Pistachios and cigarettes aren’t a choice breakfast, and they’re probably right, but in my head… it’s still classy… I’m a goon.

I love them. This knowledge will ultimately ruin the big reveal in this story, but I hope that won’t detract from it. It’s a story about the best pet I’ve ever had, or sort of had, in my entire life.

Juji, short for Juliette Harpsichord: Queen of New Jersey, was my sister’s dog, and I won’t lay claim to her. Juji loved Charlotte first, and best, and most, but she was fond of me. Charlotte begrudgingly admits this, and it bothers her a great deal. She hates that the little Yorkie could acknowledge anybody else even existed, but she did, and she loved me. Charlotte was first, I was second, and most of the world was a distant 3rd. Charlotte’s husband was 4th. Juji hated him. Juji hated him with all four pounds of her body. 64 ounces of “Fuck That Guy.”

A lot of people hate little dogs, and reacted negatively when they first read “Yorkie” a moment ago. Well, those people are idiots. I love little dogs. They’re energetic, playful, and their shit can be cleaned up easily.

A lot of little dogs are a-holes, but that’s because most people who have little dogs let them be a-holes. They buy them and put them in tiny apartments and don’t train them or give them any attention. They grow up to be miniature neurotic messes, and it isn’t their fault. But Jufi didn’t suffer that fate. She was terrific. Well cared for and well trained. She was amazing.

She was loving, and smart, and weird. She stayed playful into her double digit years, and enjoyed the company of loved ones and strangers. Unlike many tiny dogs, Juji had a lot of speeds. She could play and raise hell, or curl up and waste a day. Most importantly, she took her ques for her people, and accommodated as best she could.

On lazy days, Juji loved to sleep in what I came to call “people nooks.” Any curve in the human body were a tiny dog could nuzzle in and rest, she would; the crotch, behind the knee, or between the neck and shoulder. Her favorite spot on me was the armpit. She’d curl up and sleep. I’d wake up at night with a dangerously high, point specific, body temperature, and All the Love in the World.

When a person wasn’t available, Juji nested. She’d hide in blankets and sweatshirts left on couches and chairs. To this day, I find myself checking cushions before I sit down as to not crush her. I used to hear a tiny yelp and see an offended Juji jump out defiantly, give an exasperate head shake and continue with her day, now interrupted. After many scoldings, I adjusted, and the adjustment still holds, years after her passing.

She was a bright dog; a couple of basic tricks, and she would come quickly when you called her. My favorite of her behaviors were naughty; every morning Charlotte’s husband would come to put her in the cage for the day. She’d march along happily with him, even get a bit ahead of him to feign compliance. Then deke one way and bolt towards my room where I slept on a couch. He wouldn’t chase her there, and she knew it. She’d nuzzle into a people nook and sleep triumphantly.

Her amicable nature, and tiny stature, allowed her an unfair place as favorite dog. It’s easier to treat a 4 pound dog to couch time or treats than a 40 pound hound or even a 20 pound show dog. She got to accompany me to stores and in the car. She got a lot of people food. Not a great habit, I know, but… she was awesome, and my principals are easily compromised by clever girls. I’d feed her anything she was interested in.

Will Juji eat a grape? Looks like it. Gummie Bears? God Damn Right? How’s she feel about Banana Chips? For’em.

My favorite thing to split with her were apples. I’m not going to lie to you. You’ve never laughed at anything until you’ve seen a tiny dog muscle her way through a chunk of Granny Smith.

She wasn’t the healthiest of girls. Not from the food, that she took in stride, but from when she was little. She fell off of a bunk bed, and the bump to the noggin stuck with her some. She had seizures occasionally. Not often, but once or twice a year. They were short and not as violent as I’ve seen, but she had them, and they were always, so, so scary.

One day, while watching an episode of “Deadwood,” a show I thoroughly enjoyed, but Juji argued “tried too hard” she started to shake. Badly.

She was wedged in under my armpit, and started to rattle like a little heart attack. I’d been there before, but this was bad. She’d get up, fall over, and paw helplessly at her face. She’d dig and cry and look at me with sad scared eyes. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever seen. Unlike most seizures, this one didn’t pass. Normally, Juji would suffer through one, and then recover. She’d be tired and groggy, but, for the most part, fine once it passed. This one was prolonged and particularly mean.

Juji scraped and dug at her face, she pawed helplessly and trembled and cried. She spasmed through the show. Brief moments of clarity came, and she’d whimper and nuzzle into me looking for comfort. Then, out of nowhere, she’d lapse back into agony. She’d roll and cry and run her face against the ground. I cried a little too. I loved that little idiot.

That day my nephews had a football game. I coached their little kid teams. When my sister got off work I handed her her sad little quivering dog and went to coach the boys. We won (our team was almost unfairly good) but it was really hard to focus on the game. I sort of watched the field while one eye was always on my sister at the sideline, with Juji in her lap. The most disturbing thing was the way she’d periodically recover for just a moment. She’d have moments of comfort and normalcy. She’d start to jump and play before falling back into those dark painful shudders.

My sister cried too. “This isn’t like the others,” she said sadly after the game. “I know” I answered grimly. She wasn’t okay, and she wasn’t going to be. Even if the seizures didn’t kill her, she’d been shaking and suffering now for nearly 3 hours, maybe more. Her brain would be damaged, probably mush. Her organs and body too. I don’t know exactly what spasms are, but I’m sure they wreak havoc on a body. She was such a brave little girl, and even then, in such agony, she had fleeting moments of … fun. My heart broke. They loaded the boys in the truck, and my sister’s husband drove them home. Charlotte and I drove to the vet, to start the sad process of letting Juji go.

We got to the vet and were simply broken. My favorite dog… my favorite animal, people included, was dying.

The vet was a tiny bearded man who somehow always smelled terrific. He was always so professional, and kind. He was patient, and accommodating. He placed his hand lovingly on her neck and stroked her under the chin. He looked into our sad scared pup’s eye and felt her jaw and chest. He looked into our sad scared eyes, and gave a slow and understanding look. Without saying anything or making a deal of it, he slowly reached into his pocket and took out a skinny metal object. He kindly slipped it into her mouth.

And pulled out a pistachio shell.

The little idiot had scarfed down a few, most likely left in a bag on the couch and a shell had wedged into her gum line. It was clearly my sister’s doing, as I never left stragglers.

Once the shell was removed Juji let out a pleasant series of tiny barks and ran around the little metal tray she was resting on. She shook her tail and butt as happily as she could, and tried to eat the shell the vet now held in his hand. She was incorrigible.

It could have been the happiest moment in my life, which is embarrassing, but honest. Juji lived a few more years, and died happily with my sister. And this story is just another happy reason I love pistachios.

  1. enlacalle says:

    Great post and entertaining!

  2. nkcollins says:

    Very well written! 🙂

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