Introduction: A Modernist’s Rant
Living in L.A., I’m forced to be around more dogs than you could shake a stick at (you could shake a stick at them, but most have never seen real sticks, on account of faith in the superiority of the twenty-five dollar doggie toy). Big hunting dogs that owners believe will stop yearning for the countryside, little dogs bought to teach kids responsibility that end up teaching parents the delight of working as primary canine caretakers, giant potentially vicious attack dogs bred to guard oligarchs’ estates that are stuffed into tiny apartments with small children, and, of course, fitdogs that attend a Santa Monica day spa and high end gym, designed specially for dogs to work out with personal-trainers.
I’ve stopped answering my phone, because most calls have something to do with solving someone’s dog problems. Most of the time, it’s too late to turn back the clock on an ill-thought-out dog-purchase, and once they fall for the pooches they can’t be expected to reason, because those puppies are “just too cute for words.” Now I field calls dealing with doggy favors. I feel like some sort of private investigator whose phone rings off the hook. Everyone thinks if you need to find this missing dog person, that’s me; or if you need to figure out what’s behind that closed doggie door that makes the pet close to them so dog-gone crazy, that’s me too; and if you need someone to hide to see if the dog cries when no one is around, that’s definitely me. Too much doggie who, what, when, where, why, and how for me to continually pick up the phone. I made an exception this week, when I flipped the phone from perpetual mute to that distinct old-school telephone ring. Not because I thought it was ironic, but because I wanted my next dog call to come in the old-fashioned way.
Despite the way in which I recollect the following anecdote, the dog facts can be confirmed by outside sources to be completely true. However, they may have been slightly stylized by my self-image as it relates to dog problems, which could only be characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity; or in a word, noir-ish.
This is how I remember it:
The Case of the Lethal Lupine Latency
I hated dealing with the cops, but Rocko was a good one. Too idealistic to succede as a cop, but a little too perceptive to stay idealistic. I could use him, but I had to watch him go through these growing pains like watching a young pup chase his tail. He stood in my office with yet another attempt at leaving the force. I wasn’t too keen on the cops, but I knew I had a reliable one with Rocko. One who could watch my back. Rocko was going to have to stay around for a long time or else I might not get the opportunity to.
“So why don’t you just go then? What are you standing around my office wasting my time for?” I chided him.
“So you’re just gonna let me go?”
“What do you want me to do, ask you to marry me so you’ll stay?”
“Well, why don’t you come with. These European intellectuals are just the kind of people you’d like to be around. They’re very informed with what’s going on in the world, and they know how much of a hoax it all is.”
I grunted, “I’d sooner herd sheep than move to Europe. The last thing I’m doing is wasting my time with some European highbrows. And neither are you.”
“I am so,” whimpered Rocko, “I’ve got my bags packed and I’m getting my ticket tonight.”
I started back in on him, “Now just you wait, before you go blowing your money on a ticket that you’re not going to use-”
Just then the phone rang. I let it ring a couple. “Am-scray!” I told him. And out the door went Rocko.
“Doghouse Reilly,” I said as I put the phone to my ear, “No, unfortunately, that’s my real name. Wish it was Phillip Marlowe, but it’s Doghouse Reilly, and I’m not getting paid for this call.” On the other end of the line, I hear an exasperated dame. I’m off the phone in 1, and 15 minutes later she’s reclining in the chair in front of my desk. She’s got those shapely legs that make me suspect she might be trying to pull one over on me. Or maybe all shapely legs make me suspect that, probably because whenever I’ve had the wool pulled over on me there’s been a pair of those shapely legs close by. Her beautiful eyes looked stressed and there was a chance it was genuine. Still I always take everything from those legs with a grain of salt. Or was it supposed to be salt from the eyes?
“You know why I’m here.” She said.
“And you know I’m not doing your dirty doggy chores for you.” I snapped back. She nodded as water welled up in those beautiful eyes. I finally took my feet off my desk.
Maybe I had been too rough on her, and Rocko. It was salt pouring out her eyes, but I take my pours with no salt. Seemed like lately I’d been treating my friends and clients like dogs, but I didn’t know if that came with the territory or the bottle.
Apparently, she’d been watching some millionaire’s dogs. Some real high-falutin’ art collector types hired her to watch the house while they vacationed in Italy for a month looking for the next big art score. Two Australian shepherds live at the place, Gustopher and Houdini, both sweet as peach pie. Now the dame takes care of them, and everything started out smooth as French silk. The dogs are obedient, they hadn’t been causing trouble, they’re cute as buttons, maybe Houdini’s a bit rambunctious and tries to slip out of his leash, but they’ve already got the harness thing so that’s all right, until some aberrational behavior from Gustopher had her ready to head for the hills.
“So what was this aberrational behavior?” I asked. She shuddered a bit and couldn’t seem to tell me. I came around to the other side of my desk and leaned against it. I tried to put out my hand to her shoulder but she pulled away.
“I don’t want to tell you, because then you won’t want to help me.”
“If helping you has something to do with me workin’ like a dog or for one, you already know you aren’t gettin’ any help. Were the dogs more work than you’d anticipated?”
“Yes.” She cried.
“They usually are. That’s no big surprise. But what’s got you so upset? Must’ve been some scare.”
“I don’t think I can do this anymore.” She blurted out. “As I took them for a walk today, Gustopher, the nicer, super-smart one attacked this nice, meek lady on the sidewalk!”
“Yeh, sounds nice and super-smart, alright.” I chimed in.
“We were walking just as we had every day for the last week and this nice lady, Donna DeWolfe, from down the block, was just minding her own business when all of a sudden he let out a big bark and jumped at her throat like the Hound of the Baskervilles. He even tried to take a bite at her. Luckily, he couldn’t bite her because the leash restrained him just an inch from her neck. If it had been me, I would have freaked out.. having a big dog jumping on you all aggressively like that.”
“Look, lady, I don’t even know you that well-“
“Not you, Gustopher. Who wants a big dog snapping at their neck? No thank you. Thank god Mrs. DeWolfe took it well. I don’t think she called the cops. The owners didn’t tell me about any of these tendencies when I agreed to take care of the dogs, and now I’m afraid. I need to get out of this mess.”
“As much as I like to help anyone get out of dog messes that aren’t doo, this looks like one you’re staying in. At least for a month.”
“Then you have to help me with their next walk.” She pleaded.
“I’ll do no such thing.”
“Why do you hate dogs so much?”
“I don’t hate dogs. I hate the owners that don’t train them right.”
“Really, everyone says you think dogs are stupid.”
“Stupid? They’re not even smart enough to be stupid. It’s instinct I tell ya, that’s all they know.”
“Then why do you hate their bad behavior so much?”
“They’re not even capable of bad behavior. It’s the owners with the bad behavior when they don’t teach these mutts right.”
“Not Gustopher. He’s been trained by the best. Trained by The Moroccan Mad Dogger, Ceasar Salima, you heard of him?”
“Sure, short guy with lotsa scars and a fez. I’ve heard of him and even from him, but I can’t say he’s easy on the ears.”
“The owners speak all kinds of languages. They met the Moroccan at an art gallery in France. You don’t like accents?”
“This is not about me, it’s about a dumb dog.”
“He’s smart. Real smart.”
“We’ll see about that.”
She started to throw her arms around me, but I just stood there with my hands in my pockets. She whispered in my ear, “Thank you so much. See you at 8:30, tonight.”
“By the pier. Linnie Canal. And you’re going to help me walk the dogs?”
“Just this once, that’s all you’re going to need.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Look lady, do you want my help?”
She exited. I sat back down at my desk and racked my brain, or what was left of it. I needed to calm my nerves, but there’s only so much calming that can be had from a bottle with a juniper berry on it. Maybe there was no solution, or maybe it just wasn’t good enough gin. I sat and pondered how a dog trained by the Moroccan could act up like that.
Finally, I picked up the phone and left Rocko a message, “Like I was saying Rocko, you’re not moving to Europe to mobilize some system take-down. That’s not happening, and before you blow your money on a ticket, meet me at 8:30 at Linnie Canal Park.”
The dusk had just turned dark blue to match the water, as I strolled around the corner. I saw a big police man had already arrived. Naturally, Rocko took to the pooches. The dame had them tied up outside, but she kept her distance across the yard. She looked nervous to let big Rocko play with them, but these dogs seemed to like Rocko.
“So how can we trust them again?” she asked as I untied their leashes from the rail.
“They’ve been trustworthy the whole time. This meek lady that was attacked, was she wearing a white sweater?” I asked, as I threw a white sweater at Rocko.
The dame covered her mouth. “Yes, she had white sweatpants and a big white sweater. How did you know?” She turned to Rocko, “Did she report it to the police?” She held her wrists out waiting to be handcuffed. I gently slapped them down.
Rocko kept that same look he always did on his bright face, “I don’t know nothin’ about nothin’. What’s going on here, Doghouse?”
“What’s going on here is you’re modeling this here sweater for us.” Rocko put the sweater on, and I directed him to walk around the block the other way. He started to question, but I reminded him he was off-duty, didn’t know nothin’ about nothin’, and was about to save a lot a dough.
Reluctantly, Rocko marched around the block, I walked the dogs as the dame clinched tight against my other arm, still a little scared of Gustopher. “So this lady was walking the opposite direction, as you on the sidewalk. Wasn’t she?”
“Yes, how did you know that?”
“And you said she was meek, huh?”
“Yeh, what are you getting at?”
“Me? Oh nothing, just ‘meek‘… one might even say she was a little bit sheepish. Eh?”
Just then Rocko approached and I told the dame to prepare for a scare. She clinched my arm tighter, and as we crossed paths with Rocko in the white wool sweater, Gustopher let out a big bark and leapt for Rocko’s throat. I yanked on the leash just enough to keep Rocko from getting nipped, but the big dog’s weight did knock Rocko over to one knee. Gustopher whimpered that he had done something wrong and tried to lick Rocko’s face to apologize.
“So you see, lady, DeWolfe was wearing sheep’s clothing. Now let this be a lesson to you, Rocko. Maybe you should stick with the flock.” I said. “Australian shepherds had sheep herding trained into them for so long it’s a part of their DNA. Walking around this town, you’d think these dogs were designed to chase frisbees. Not true. A thousand Moraccans couldn’t stop them from nipping at anything sheep-like that’s going against the herd. And you’d find the same thing on the other side of the pond with those European eggheads if you were foolish enough to go, Rocko. Smart, real smart, but they’ve had a thousand years of training from monarchies to be docile sheep themselves. Sure, they bleat a good game, but at the first sign of getting nipped, they change their course. You’d be better off with an apple pie induced heart attack right here. It’s in your DNA.” And with that I handed Rocko the leashes and didn’t bother with a goodbye as I knew I’d be seeing him the next day. He just muttered “Thanks Doghouse. My family does have a history of heart disease.” while still sitting on one knee watching me walk away to settle the score with the dame.
For more from D. Johannes…