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Puttin’ On The Dog

If you're the type of person who, for fun, profit, or because of some undiagnosed mental aberration, regularly begins sentences with the words, "Did you ever wonder…?", e.g., a stand-up (is this designation really necessary? Are there sit-down comics? Squatting comics? Stretched-out-on the-sofa comics?) comic, blogger (whatever that is. I mean, I know what it is, but I've never read one. I presume there's a lot of that did-you-ever­wonder stuff going on), newspaper columnist (a critically endangered species with but a few remaining extant examples), or maybe just the designated “funny one” in your social circle, then you know there are certain subjects away from which it is wise to stay. It may be that the traditional tools available to the humorist are powerless in the face of monumental absurdity, viz., the incompetence and stupidity of Donald Trump and his coterie of henchmen. Parodying a parody only becomes grotesque; let the show play out undisturbed for all the zany hijinx and laugh-out-loud shenanigans one could ever hope for.

A subject may be dated and inappropriate, like observations of variations in behavior along ethnic or racial lines. Was this sort of thing ever funny? Doubtful.

Mostly, though, topics are verboten by virtue of being played. Tired, trite, worn-out, wrung dry, devoid of whatever humorous essence they may once have had. For instance, do I really need to hear or read another accounting of a 4-year-old instructing an adult in some aspect of technical expertise?

I get it, they're growing a better class of kid these days, and to the post­millenials, we baby boomers are as Neanderthals, primitive preliterates. In my (and our) defense, I spent my gestation period marinating in an amniotic slurry of jug wine and nicotine. The mere fact of mv being upright and coherent at this late date speaks volumes to my resilience and stalwart nature. Your average 10-year-old may be able to outthink me but I could probably take him in a fair fight.

Or, say, the differences between cats and dogs. It's true that a dog will literally kill itself for a pat on the head and a “good boy,” while a cat could not give even the barest suggestion of a fuck whether you live or die, may in fact wish you dead, holds your approval in utter contempt, and regards whatever incidental pleasure may devolve onto you resulting from its own pursuit of contentment as collateral damage and an unavoidable sacrifice.

It's true, and George Carlin delivered the definitive take on it years ago, rendering further commentary unnecessary. But I think I'm going to go ahead and contradict myself, because it turns out I do have a fresh perspective and some light to shed on a shady spot. A dog will do anything at all within its meager range of abilities to garner approval from the master and subject itself to pretty much anything with tail-wagging equanimity as long as it's getting some attention, with one notable exception: clothing. No dog in history has ever been willingly outfitted in human, or humanesque, garb.

Certain particularly craven, subservient breeds will reluctantly suffer themselves to be so clad, but it clearly flies directly in the muzzle of good sense and taste, not to mention the laws of theology and geometry.

I don't like to anthropomorphize animal emotions. I believe they have them, just not human ones, especially those uniquely evolved by humans to make other people feel bad, like shame. You wouldn't think an animal who will calmly and brazenly lick its own genitalia in mixed company would be capable of shame, and yet… strap a hat and sweater onto any self-respecting canine and you will see something very like it in their attitude of cowering abasement.

It doesn't take a licensed dog psychologist to tell you what a dog does or doesn't like. They are neither shy nor subtle when it comes to airing their preferences. Rattle a bag of kibble in a dog's hearing and ask it if it would like to eat; you will be met with immediate and unequivocal approval. Ditto jingling the keys or dangling the leash and floating the possibility of a ride or a walk; every possible means at that mutt’s disposal of joyfully expressing the concept of "Oh, fuck yes!" will be energetically assayed in a leaping, bounding, dance of joy.

Conversely, produce some doggie clothing and say to your (former) best friend, "Hey, buddy! Wanna get dressed up?" and you will get precisely the same reaction as if you'd raised a hand menacingly and snarled, "You want a smack in the chops?", that is, cringing, terrified, befuddlement and a clear question in the eyes: what did I do wrong?

That, of course, is the essence of the uncomplicated canine worldview: I'm a good dog/bad dog, master is happy/angry. Cats, untroubled by moral niceties and oblivious of anyone's feelings, will simply kill you if you try to dress them up and, after polishing off a few of your choicer internal organs, go find a more tractable "owner" who will leave them alone to shred the couch arms and nap in sunbeams.

I mention this as an introduction to my assertion that a person who will subject a dog to this kind of treatment neither respects nor understands them, is a cruel and unfeeling monster, and likely voted Trump. If you must dress something up, I understand the Bradford Exchange has any number of human and animal simulacrums available for purchase by love-starved shut­ins. Babies, monkeys, aliens, what have you, all custom-crafted in lifelike rubber, and regardless of how you treat them they will gaze adoringly at you for all eternity. This is a better option for you than a live animal with feelings who may be driven to suicide by your sartorial meddling.

Now, I hate AA meetings. Not as much as NA meetings, but I would still rather undergo dental surgery. It's only one hour, but man, if there's a better illustration of relativity and the elasticity of time, I'd like to know about it. One hour of 12-step time equals roughly two days of something even marginally pleasant in time perceived.

Nevertheless, there is one meeting in Fort Bragg I found slightly less torturous than the rest, a Sunday afternoon gathering at the Episcopal Church.

One reason, of course, is that it's such a lovely building. I can endure all manner of unpleasantness for the privilege of being sheltered by interesting architecture. Also, there were a number of intriguing people there who elevated the discourse slightly above the usual recitation of dogma and rote platitudes. In particular, one woman with a terrific sense of humor with whom I, after several meetings and apres-meeting chitchat, was getting on famously. I think she was gay, which I only mention as an affirmation of this incidental aspect of my personality: lesbians love me. It's a gift.

Some daughters of Sappho at an orientation-specific bar in San Francisco called the Round-Up where I was musical entertainment, token breeder, and de facto mascot, once even called me "The Dyke Whisperer."

Anyway, (we'll call her) Kelly invited me over to her place for some fried abalone one Sunday post-meeting and I accepted, despite my opinion that a breaded and fried bicycle tire is indistinguishable from that particular mollusk and of zero interest to game wardens besides.

When we got to her house we were greeted at the door by a very excited Chihuahua, doing the usual prancing and vibrating associated with the breed. "This is Pancho," Kelly said.

"Hiya, Ponch," I said.

"Have a seat, I want to show you something. C'mere, Ponchie! Let's go, boy!" She and the dog disappeared into the back and I took a seat on the couch, scanning the room for any obvious indicators of my lifestyle assessment. No Indigo Girls CDs or Xena Warrior Princess DVDs, though that might have been too obvious. And dated besides.

The room was decorated simply and tastefully with a minimum of ornamentation — slightly austere, even. All I could divine from its arrangement was the influence of a sensible, orderly, discerning mind who was — Great Caesar's Ghost! Kelly came back into the room bearing Pancho before her in outstretched arms. "Look, isn't he just the cutest thing you've ever seen?" she squealed.

The unfortunate beast was decked out in a tiny sombrero and gaily colored serape. A drooping bandido mustache dangled from his muzzle. Kelly set him down on the floor where he stood, back hunched, quivering, looking up at me pleadingly as if to say, "Kill me, please."

I established a mind-meld with the dog — another gift — and reassured him that help was indeed on the way. When Kelly went into the kitchen to begin the laborious process of rendering the abalone fit to eat, I stripped Pancho of his finery and tossed it into the fireplace. Pancho showed his appreciation by leaping gleefully about and yipping with joy. "You guys having fun out there?" Kelly called from the kitchen.

"Oh, yeah. He's teaching me Spanish," I said.

"Pancho!" I whispered. "You wanna get outtahere?" The mind meld was still in place and he assured me that yes, he'd had quite enough of the racist and species-unsuitable treatment he'd been suffering.

I spirited him away to a safe house and contacted some people I knew who operated a sort of Underground Railroad for formerly costumed pets, and by morning he was on his way north to an idyllic pastoral habitat where all manner of beasts ran naked, wild, and free.

Before you judge me, I maintain that I am a liberator, not a thief, and that all living things have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. In this regard I have much in common with President Lincoln. Humans should not wear fur, and animals should not wear clothes. Period.

It occurs to me that I accidentally dropped a million-dollar idea at the beginning of this piece, so if you're the first person to drag a couch out on stage and tell jokes from a comfortably reclining position, I'd at least like some credit.

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