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Lost Dog, Or $500 Payday?

There have been more than a few paragraphs in this organ devoted to tales of my criminal ineptitude, and that phrase can be interpreted both ways: I am both criminally inept, and a laughably inept criminal. I say this not to deflect from my felonious nature nor to be charmingly self-effacing, but as an honest assessment of my character and abilities. There is a reason every single case file involving me — without exception — involves me and me alone, without aide, abetter, or confederate. Nobody wants anything to do with me or my — okay, I was going to use the term "half-baked" here, but that would suggest some baking had been done. Comparing one of my schemes to a loaf of bread, it would only be the possibility of future bread in that the ingredients are all there in the kitchen, tucked away in their respective containers, and those reposing in various cupboards and the refrigerator. It is a loaf in the way a field of cotton is a t-shirt.

It's not like I haven't asked. I might be stupid, but I'm not an idiot. I know that my chances of success would increase dramatically with the inclusion of a lookout or getaway driver or just someone to protect me from myself. But the minute I propose one of my admittedly eccentric but always intriguing plans, like, "Okay, here's what we do. Start a fire, and while the firemen are busy battling the blaze, we steal the fire truck. I’m certain they leave the keys in there" — they sigh and shake their heads, not even bothering to ask what in the Sam Hill I'm going to do with a hot fire engine. Clearly, I am far more a danger to myself than to the public at large and while both issues are at least temporarily remediated by my incarceration, I can't help feeling that some alternative might better serve both myself and the populace and that my case is "special," and you can also interpret that one two ways: as both "unique" and "retarded."

There is a popular belief that your average criminal ultimately pays for around 1% of the crimes he or she commits. I don't know if this is backed up by any actual research or if it's just anecdotal, but if you listen to the tales spun by the jamokes in this place, it's right on target. Me, not so much. I'm probably hovering somewhere in the region of the mid-to high 90s because my calculus of success differs considerably from most malefactors. In the main, for a lick (lick: job, caper, theft) to be considered anything except a dead loss, there must be a) a payoff proportionally significant to the risk involved, and b), and most crucial, no subsequent arrest, conviction, and punishment.

Ideally, zero correlation is drawn between you and the crime by law enforcement. But if they do come sniffing around, one endeavors to minimize evidentiary implications and not give the fuzz anything upon which to build a case. Not so me. Even though I clearly understand how it's supposed to work, I still, in an appallingly irresponsible and self-destructive manner deliver myself gift wrapped to the authorities shortly following my transgression. Perversely, I seem to feel that getting the dough into my pocket long enough to convert it to drugs and to get those drugs into my system constitutes a solid "W," and damn the consequences. This is problematic in that I end up in the very strait from which I now address you for progressively longer stints and that it causes me to justly fear for my sanity. At the very least it is indicative of a simpleminded inability to foresee and forestall negative consequences in pursuit of immediate gratification, much like a child poking at the cookie jar on a high shelf with a broomstick. Toppling the jar will gain him brief access to the cookies and he can probably shove a few into his mouth by the time mom comes in to see what's going on. But then you have to answer for the broken pottery. Usually by the age of six or so the kid figures out how to climb or blame the cat or even to stop obtaining cookies illegally, but I seem to have missed something.

Nevertheless, I do occasionally suffer fits of sanity in which I embark on ventures not guaranteed to have me trafficking in ramen noodles and wearing blue for years.

I was leaving the CVS drugstore in Fort Bragg one afternoon, cutting up through the lot to Franklin, when I saw a lost dog flyer. $500 reward, it said, below a picture of a well loved mutt with a couple of kids. How sad, I thought, and got to thinking about the fate of "lost" dogs. How many are actually lost and been unable to find their way home? Probably not many. I would say that if they are not picked up and chilling at the Humane the odds are they've either run afoul of wheeled transport or predators or are at someone else's house who is either unable or unwilling to find the owner. I remember as a kid having a dog disappear and my parents telling me he "ran away." I rooted for months about the source of that dog’s dissatisfaction with our home, convinced I’d petted him too much or something. If he actually did run away, it probably had more to do with being continually harassed by monkeys (yes, we had monkeys) than anything I did. But the Santa Cruz Mountains held more than a few perils for wondering canines.

Five hundred beans, though: nice payday. Too bad I didn't know where ol’ Sparky got to. Which lead, naturally, to — if I can find a dog with no actual resale value, i.e., a nonregistered nonbreed mutt who was nonetheless deeply cherished and borrow him for awhile just until the reward posters go up I could get in on some of that lost dog money and with minimal risk. Fortunately, the powers that be haven't figured out a way to quantify sentimental value and I could always claim he just wandered into my yard anyway. Dognapping, as a crime, has a whimsical Disney caper vibe to it, unlike my usual low, skulking offenses. I felt positively virtuous as I mentally cataloged likely victims. I lived in a fairly dog intensive neighborhood with a number of them skylarking around unescorted at least part of the time so it shouldn’t take too much to lure one inside, thereby avoiding even a trespassing charge. Dogs are notoriously mercenary with their affections and will accord "best friend" status to whomever gives them a treat. They are whores, really, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. More like jolly, sassy, musical comedy whores.

The following morning I prepared some room rumaki kabobs on the front lawn, figuring the smell of sizzling liver and bacon would be sure to entice any mutt within smelling distance. It worked, sort of — a few dogs showed up, but as there were already a dozen cats encircling me and licking their chops, and several gulls wheeling and squawking overhead, they kept their distance. I tossed a few morsels to the other side of the yard, causing a violent, boiling cat melee.

Choosing a likely victim, a small, friendly looking terrier mix with an identifying bone charm dangling from his collar, I lured him into the house and shut the door. He gobbled up the treats and looked at me as if to say, "What now?"

"Now we wait," I said. However, the more I thought of this little guy's family worrying themselves sick over him, the sicker I felt, even though the degree of their anguish would be directly proportionate to the size of my reward. I’d have to go full Terry Thomas and turn this into a ransom dognapping — at least that way they'd know little bowser was safe.

I composed the note, which read as follows: "If you ever want to see your dog again, put $500 between pages 158 and 159 of Jude The Obscure at the Library by tomorrow afternoon or I'll give him back to you in pieces. You choose. No cops!"

Perfect. However, even though I would by no means ever dismember any living creature, much less one this cute, I hated to think of them worrying I might. Better tone it down a notch.

Next threat: "I have your dog and I'm thinking about keeping him. He's eating well and getting plenty of attention. I think he may have already forgotten about you, but if you want him back, fold 50 $100 bills into origami frogs and leave them under the stack of New York Timeses at Starbucks in the morning."

That, I figured, ought to get their attention. But again, I had second thoughts. A dog is basically a family member, usually a very treasured one, sometimes even more so than the middle child, and I should know. I played second fiddle to a number of pets and articles of furniture in my own childhood. This mutt might be the only thing holding that family together. I pictured them sitting around a cracked formica table, weeping as the little’un cracked open her piggy bank to contribute to the reward fund. Who the hell was I to play Dog?

"Come on, Bowser," I said, clipping a leash to his collar. He spun a few excited circles and I stepped along, glad to be going somewhere.

I knocked on the door of the address on Bowser’s bone, three blocks away. A pleasant, pretty mom-type opened the door. "Hi," she said."

“Hey, your dog found his way into my yard and I just thought I’d walk him back here,” I said.

"Oh, thank you so much. C’mere, you." She knelt and scrubbed Bowser’s ears. “I was just making cookies, would you like a couple?”

It wasn't 500 bones, but they were damn good cookies. I had to call it a win on the whole, And I learned a valuable lesson about trafficking strictly in inanimate objects. People rarely develop filial bonds with generators or bicycles. Anger I can deal with. Somebody is generally mad at me somewhere for something.

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