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The Yankee Express

Day Old Cheese

Lincoln gobbles up a slice of day old cheese.

By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire
The cat is out of the bag. I’d do almost anything for my dog. Even if that means hustling a slice of cheese for him. Here’s the story. 
Lincoln has been on a strict diet due to a few senior issues, along with a firm desire to offer him the very best nutrition amid his golden years. He’s made it to the final stretch. A bad habit needed to go. 
Dunkin’s Munchkins.
I cannot possibly put a price tag on the joy accrued from countless Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru runs over the last ten years. In Pavlovian fashion, Lincoln came to associate the entire Dunkin experience with pure joy. He learned the physics of my Honda Pilot while it rounded the drive-thru, the peculiar way in which a square box speaks, and the sweetened scent of the air while, head-out-window, he sniffed and salivated. Every moment became one step closer to the blessed window, where kind people wearing brown and pink passed out small, edible balls. He studied these people over and over again, fixing his eyes on their hands from the vantage point of the opened back seat window. His chunky smile puffed to the very sight of them until—suddenly—the people appeared before his very eyes.
“Oh my gosh that is the cutest dog I’ve ever seen! Can he have a munchkin?”
“The driver in the car behind you wants to pay for your coffee.”
“Do you mind if I post your dog on my Snapchat?”
Lincoln became a Dunkin’ celebrity, the doggie in the window who cost nothing to flirt with. Shamelessly, he lapped up every handout.  
“There’s jelly in this ball!” He could barely hold back his joy for the donut holes and held me accountable for extras given. “Not to be a nudge, but I saw the person place a tire-shaped ball in the bag.” He stood formidable, propped like a security g                                                                              uard on the console, a spot of jelly at his nostril while he held me hostage at the wheel. “Lincoln. Go sit down, please.”
I had created a monster. “Is this what heaven feels like?” Yet it was a happy monster. He inhaled crumbs from cracks between the leather seats and stalked wedges of donut beneath them. Like a drunken toddler, Lincoln was high on Dunkin’s munchkins. I needed to act fast, and help him attach “an experience” to a Dunkin’ run, not a donut hole.  A clean diet had already made a significant impact on his health. His golden years were becoming brighter. He needed to stay the course. But how?
“Can my dog have a slice of day-old cheese, please?” I spat a tried solution from the passenger side of my husband’s Infiniti one day. “Day old cheese?” A rash climbed his neck. “You can’t just ask them to give you a slice of cheese!” He chided me with authority.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” I puffed. “They’re a billion-dollar conglomerate. Our dog may not be alive tomorrow and you’re worried about them losing a few pennies.” Lincoln narrowed his eyes to the conversation. “I bet they throw away day old cheese anyway.” His blonde lashes still, he transcribed the braille of our conversation with intellect. “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. Cheese. Wah, wah, wahhwanna. Cheese. Wahnanna. Cheese.” 
Shhh. Lincoln shuffled back to the window. The kind person was on her way back. He sat politely and broke into smile, a twinkle in his eye. We shut up. 
“You’re such a good dog! Here you go!” 
He took.
The people dressed in brown and pink had so many reasons to say no: 
“We don’t give away cheese.” 
“The practice is not sanitary.”
“Giving away cheese is against policy.”
“You need to pay for what you take home here.”
Instead, the kind hearts of Dunkin’ Donuts enabled a troubling sense of entitlement. 
“Oh my gosh – look at him! Can he have two slices?”
“He is the cutest.”
“I’ve read his column! One more slice for Lincoln!”
They passed the cheese. Lincoln licked his choppers. 
We drove away in silence. I couldn’t help but reflect on my behavior. Had I committed a small crime? A spot of guilt poked at my conscience while I fastened my seatbelt and thought harder. How inappropriate was my request? Like the warm scent of buttercrunch, the truth came to me. I was able to trace my behavior back to my ancestry.
My late grandmother, Madeleina Stelluti-Palumbo, an Italian immigrant, was a phenomenal cook. She was also fanatical about ensuring that not a morsel would go to waste. She would find a snip of arugula and turn it into a stew. Or whip up a frittata using overripe peppers and a few eggs. She would even napkin-wrap slices of bread taken from restaurant tables, and stow them away in her purse. “Me save,” she’d say. 
Deep down, was saving cheese in my DNA? 
My gaze settled on Lincoln. He laid comfortably in the back seat and licked his leonine paws, thoroughly satisfied with how the day had unfolded. Then, at random, he lifted his big head, stared at me, and broke into an easy smile. 
“Good boy, Lincoln.” 
If loving my dog too much is a crime, I’ll have to plead guilty.
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