In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, The Joad family takes only one of their three dogs (all nameless) on their journey of America diaspora west. They leave the other two behind with a neighbor who hadn’t lost his farm to the rapacious banks. Not long after the the Joads depart, their dog gets hit by a vehicle and dies. They don’t grieve. They move on. They don’t even bury it. They should have taken all three dogs. The story might have turned out better. Interestingly enough, members of the new American diaspora unfolding have dogs, a lot of dogs, and would never leave them behind. What changed there? There’s a novel in that question.
Who wouldn’t have wanted to be Jennifer Beals’ dog in Flashdance and get to watch her work out every day? Jesus Christ.
Sometime in the mid 1970s Steve Martin performed a stand-up routine on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show for an audience of four dogs that were on stage with him. Before the performance, Martin asked television viewers to bring their dogs over to the television so they could watch. He waited a bit, then said, “If you’re a human being you won’t get the jokes.” He then began his routine, and within seconds, three of the dogs trotted away, but Martin kept on going. It’s a very funny thing to see a human comedian bomb in front of dogs.
In the third grade, I fell off a shed and broke my left wrist. As some sort of therapy, my parents surprised me with a beagle. I named him Tex and he became my best friend, boon companion. Until we finally confined him to the yard, he would often follow me to school as I walked, wait outside the classroom door, and then I played with him at the recesses until we walked home together. My most indelible memory of Tex involves leaves and football. I would spend hours raking leaves into giant piles that I arranged to resemble an offensive line in football. Tex would stand on the opposite side of the piles. I would toss him a hamburger chew toy, he would snag it with his teeth, then bolt through the piles like the fat fullback he was. I would play middle linebacker, meet him in the hole, tackle him, and boy and dog would roll and roll on the grass, and the leaves would fly and fly. He never fumbled. After the game, I’d rerake the piles and then we’d go at it again. I suppose this wasn’t the most efficient use of the time spent raking, but in reflection, maybe it was because I am writing about it now and crying. We played this game this for years. He knew it was coming when I started raking and waited with the hamburger in his mouth. When he died my freshmen year in college, he was buried in the yard with that hamburger. Raking alone the next fall produced some of the saddest moments of my young adulthood. Raking hasn’t been the same since. I once told a woman I was dating that I grieved more over the death of Tex than the death of my grandfather. She later cited that as the moment she knew she was going to dump me. Another woman I was sort of dating once suggested that my three dogs sleep in my truck outside her home. It was over right there. Another woman I dated once told me it would never work between us because I had three big dogs. Perhaps the truest rock song about dogs is “Gonna Buy Me a Dog” by the Monkees. A man gets dumped by his girlfriend over the phone. She shreds him with invective. What does he do?
gonna buy me a dog [A dog, a dog! Why?]
‘Cause I need a friend now. [Say, you need all the friends you can get]
I’m gonna buy me a dog,
My girl, my girl, don’t love me no how.
Haven’t so many of us been there in one way or another? “Hey Bulldog” by the Beatles is a curious member in the temple of rock songs about dogs. I have listened to it dozens and dozens of times and don’t even think it’s really a song about a bulldog, but rather the bulldog is the narrator of the song and making observations of human beings. Who knows? This interpretation could change if I ever listen to the song on magic mushrooms.