Two friends, five strings, four paws: one adorable phenomenon

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Michelle Wong, Copy Editor

If the weather is good out on the quad, take a good look around you. You just might catch a glimpse of Illinois Wesleyan University favorite wiener dog, led by a bearded man plucking away at the banjo.

For many years, Wesleyan students have watched this intriguing phenomenon, yet these characters have remained mostly enigmatic… until now.

I guess it’s this mystery that led me to finally chase down Thomas Zona, a professor of Chemistry at Illinois State University.

I pulled him aside, and he smiled agreeably. He answered each of my questions with careful consideration while glancing from side to side, as if ready for the next adventure.

We started with the banjo. Professor Zona acquired his first banjo in high school, where it gathered dust for the next couple decades. Little did he know, he’d have to first fall in love with his guitar.

As Zona’s skill level grew and his relationship with his guitar deepened, he developed his plucking technique — one that transferred seamlessly to the banjo. This current banjo is a Deering, a brand Zona claims offers the best sound for a reasonable price. And what a beauty it is.

The wood is a dark tone to contrast the typical white head that almost all banjos have.

“I got it for my 50th birthday,” he said with a nod. “My main advice is the usual, though. Practice a lot!” Zona practices a lot himself, and occasionally performs around town with his band, The Twilight Zona.

He says he comes to the IWU campus because it’s beautiful, his son Jasper (the unicyclist you may know of) enjoys it and it’s a good place to walk the dog while getting his practicing in.

For inspiration, Zona prefers the old rock ‘n’ roll, blues and of course, jazz. This explains why his wiener dog is named Django after Django Reinhardt the jazz guitarist (pre- Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 flick, Django Unchained).

The young, long-haired miniature Dachshund was picked up on a whim one year, as the family was driving up to Maine for holiday. While passing the border of Vermont, the Zona family spotted a sign alongside the road advertising puppies. The rest is history.

As we talked, Django casually bounded off across the quad, his bouncy red fur cutely emphasizing every movement, until he is out of sight. When we finally catch up to him, we find instead a small flowerbed, tremoring ever so slightly.

Then Zona calls out his name, and the plants wiggle a little more, as if playing a game. Sure enough, when Zona pushed away the flowers, Django emerged, pleased with himself. Zona scooped him up, ready for a photo op.

We ended our conversation with a closing remark of advice from Zona to IWU students: “Don’t sell yourself short. Do what you like!”