April 23, 2006
Maybe you've read how, about a month ago, a coyote was seen wandering Central Park in New York City. Evidently, the 35-pound Hal - as they decided to name him - was viewed as such a threat by the urban hominids that they sent dozens of police officers as well as a helicopter to give chase. And terrified little Hal did indeed give them a run for their tax dollar. "Hal proved," reported the press, "quite adept at avoiding capture, jumping into the water, leaping over an 8-foot fence, ducking under a bridge and scampering through the grounds of a skating rink."
It made me a bit proud of my canine brethren, but then I got to thinking, "Why bother?" And why bother to report the strange story across the whole human world? I think maybe humans are fascinated by the story partly because coyotes put them in mind of the old Road Runner cartoons, where a coyote's chase of the speedy little bird proves as fruitless as it is relentless. "Poor little Road Runner" is a torment to old Wile E. Coyote, a kind of Tantalus of the tarmac. Traps and trains, rockets and widgets, bullet and mallets: nothing ever works for Wile E., as Road Runner endlessly evades.
Alas, the humans of New York City were not using some absurd, animated Acme flying machine to catch poor Hal, and so they succeeded. Hal couldn't defy gravity or disappear into painted tunnels. He was run down and tranquilized. Then he died. The humans blamed heartworms and rat poisoning, but you've got to wonder how an animal so feeble was able to leap so high.
Here's my impression when I start pulling the story apart (in the much same way I used to unhinge books from their bindings when I was a pup): I think people were so intrigued partly because of the "Super City vs. Wild Animal" angle and partly because, as I said before, it reminded them of a cartoon from their childhoods. And I think the RoadRunner cartoon was so popular because it dealt with an existential dilemma facing humanity.
The RoadRunner is a metaphorical represention of his fellow bipeds, the humans, who seem to defy all the laws of nature. With their technologies, they travel their roads at blazing speeds, they fly off cliffs without ever falling, they seem utterly unconcerned by their fellow beasts, who just can't lay a finger on them. Again and again, they defeat and bewilder the wild things that would consume them. Road-Runner Humanity is the unconcerned trickster, sticking out his tongue at Nature.
And yet...the humans are also Wile E., with all his frustrated chasing and striving and craving, with all his weird machinations that blow up in his face again and again, with all his superfluous and yet somehow endearing cunning. Yes, Wile E. is not just Nature red in tooth and claw but also High-Tech Humanity itself.
Oh, I know it may not make sense except in some pre-logical, dream-like way, but I'm sure that humans are both Wile E. and and Road Runner, a species ceaselessly and often hilariously divided against itself. Thus, in one of the hugest metropolises of the world, humans absurdly give chase to their own wild selves, tranquilizing and restraining that wildness.
But humans should never forget they they are the trickster Coyote as well as the infallible Road Runner. The Coyote is a dark, clever skulker that needs to live in the shadows of civilization, in the secret hearts of dogs and hominids alike. Humans shouldn't work too hard to subdue that wildness or they may destroy an essential part of themselves, leaving behind a poor poisoned corpse riddled and tortured by Heartworms.
April 16, 2006
The first thing that strikes me is how quietly they congregate in the semi-darkness. They arrive singley or in small groups like tall, elegant shorebirds silhouetted against the lighter color of the sand. Some unfold beach chairs and speak with one another in soft voices; others just stand silently, their hands folded in front of them or behind. I can hear the small waves lapping on the beach.
At first, I can't understand why I'm on the leash. In this park, I'm usually free to roam and swim. But this morning is different. I pant and look at the humans, puzzled and put out. But I also sense the difference of the occasion.
As it grows a bit lighter, a man steps in front of the loose congregation and welcomes us. There's a soft hymn, which stops me panting and sets me listening. Then the man tells the story of another morning long ago, of some people entering a tomb empty of a friend's body and yet inhabited by angels.
And as the story continues, the shoreline grows brighter and the sun begins rising over the water. It's a fine morning, and the people begin to sing again, this time more loudly. At the same time, we hear other distant voices rising up as well, voices coming from other congregations of people along other parts of the shoreline. I hear even better than they, of course. I hear not only their hymns but the songs of the birds in the palms and oaks behind us, of the quickening breeze, of a seagull calling out somewhere on the shoreline. Even the smells change. There's a quickening now, an indefinable sense of excitement. They stand and hold hands, and I stand as well, in anticipation. There are hugs and people stroke my back, and my tail wags.
In the end, I get to swim after all. It's not a baptism, exactly, but at least a kind of celebration. Most of the people have gone but I remain, swimming in waters now dazzling in the morning light, watching as a single bright sail moves across the newly blue horizon.
April 08, 2006
Oompah: HanktheDog is here and I've got to say that it's hard for me to speak with you because I'm feeling betrayed. More to the point, I suspect that you've misled your many tens of readers through your online misrepresentations. There's evidence from in-depth reporting carried out by MyPoorSmokingDogs.Com that you've "exaggerated" a number of events in your blog. For example, is it true that your packmate Molly really once transformed a snarling, belligerent brute into a dog of stone? I remember reading that and thinking, "Wow, that's astonishing, but it's this dog's blog so it must be true." But now all your readers are left wondering. So tell us, did it really happen the way you've described?
Hank: Well, not exactly, see it's a dog's pespective on....
Oomphah: I see. And how about the time you claimed to consume a leather-bound Shakespeare. Our research shows that William Shakespeare has been dead for, well, a pretty long time. Did you really consume him? We have our doubts. And it's not at all clear that this particular poet even bound himself in leather. So, we've got to question...
Hank: No, I meant a book of Shakespeare's writings. And, to be honest, I didn't really chew it up that much, though I did mangle some other great books pretty horribly. That Shakespeare volume had been pretty well pre-chewed by a family dachshund years before, but I thought....
Oompah: Hmm. So, instead of eating a famous playwright, you merely pulled down a pre-chewed volume of his works and claimed the deed as your own. I must say, Shame on you! Bad dog! Very very bad dog! You've so disillusioned me that I'm beginning to believe that there's no such thing as blogging dogs.
Oompah: Oh no... Don't tell me.
Hank: Well, see, there's something called a literary conceit, and...
Oompah: Do you even have a dog?
Hank: Of course, but...
Oopah: Do you have something against dogs? Perhaps all your bushes yellow and all your flowers beds are dug up. Pehaps you raise the hackles on a dog's back from 30 paces away. Perhaps you're even a blogging cat.
Hank: Look, Hank's a very real and exceptionally sweet Labrador. It's just that...
Oompah: So there is a real Hank. Yet you've assumed his identity? I imagine that will put in a lot of people's doghouses. I'd call it Labsploitation and a crude attempt to convince the world that dogs see the world in much the same way people do.
Hank: Actually, I do worry a little about that sometimes, because dogs aren't people and we shouldn't expect them to be, but I assume our readers know that. It's all in fun, after all.
Oompah: So it's all about the entertainment, is it? Let me tell you, HanktheDog, you've really saddened me today. The next thing you'll be telling me is that I too am a fictional character, that absolute truths are hard to come by, and that not all memoirs are 100% fact, even Memoirs of a Geisha.
Hank: Well, to tell you the truth...
Oompah: Oh, just stop your noise, you dumb dog!
April 01, 2006
Did those clever scientists and engineers ever really consider what their Faustian technology would lead to? Did they ever visualize the misapplication of their genius?
I think not. Those brilliant Japanese engineers with their penchant for building the best cameras in the world never really thought through what price would be paid by a wide assortment of dogs, cats and new-born babies the whole world over, chronically blinded by flashes, deafened by clicking shutters, under the kind of intense digital scrutiny usually reserved for movie stars, high-security prisoners, or blue-haired retail shoppers.
In my case, it is mostly Molly who has documented my life so thoroughly that Mike and Jason continuously tease her about how the vast majority of the family photos are not of her spouse or son but of "the dog." (I know they're jealous when they won't even use my name.) Well, I'm afraid the ratio has only become more lopsided since she got her digital camera. No longer inhibited by the fiscal and physical limitations of film, there's little to stop her from indulging her shutterbug passion.
As befits her role as my own personal paparazzo, Molly has, over the years, caught me in many a compromising position: asleep on the sofa in all my naked splendor, frolicking at the beach in carefree and unguarded moments, hanging with my neighborhood homeboys, fending off the amorous intentions of Miss Lucy Lou, mixing it up with Mike when I'm feeling feisty, venting my spleen on my stuffed animals, etc. (Yes, like Michael Jackson, I have lots of stuffed animals. I admit it. So what?) These are, of course, personal moments. Remember last week's photo about "wintering into wisdom"? Well, that was taken just when I'd just woke up, making me look like a skid-row derelict who'd been off on bender. Can't a dog just live his life?
But then, to be perfectly honest, like many a minor celebrity, I don't honestly mind the attention that much. Deep down, I think, most Labradors love to vogue. Many's the time that Molly has gone off grumbling that I'm always ready to pose, ruining a candid photo. But hey, my philosophy is that if you can't avoid them, it's best if you always try to give them your best side. If they're going to take my picture, then I'm going to make love to the camera. Seems fair, doesn't it? I get seen as photogenic, they get seen as taking a decent picture, and the tabloids have one less picture of a Labrador pulling his hat over his face.
It's the one great rule of celebrity. Even when you're feeling put out, always smile for the camera. It's the best revenge.