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The Truth, Mainly - 06/01/1992

Expensive motels spoil wicked dog

In this season of our national discontent, Ned, the one-eyed Beagle with the mismatched jaws and the headstrong personality—he whose picture is in the dictionary next to "bad dog"—has grown openly rebellious.

He's been digging out from under the chainlink fence around our yard.

It's not what you think. We had him fixed when he was a pup and he has no interest in sordid affairs of the glands. It's garbage he's after.

He wanders up and down alleys in our neighborhood, tipping over trash cans, inspecting their contents, eating anything that amuses him. Then he waddles home, his stomach grotesquely distended, a bit of cottage cheese stuck to his ear, a smear of marinara sauce on his neck, a strand of spaghetti looped inside his collar.

It's not because we don't feed him enough; he just likes the thrill of disobedience. I think it has something to do with watching Murphy Brown. If she can cause riots in L.A., think what she can do to a Beagle already predisposed to wickedness.

But my wife says Ned is rebelling because I constantly contrast him with our previous dog, St. Sherman. (We had him canonized just after he died in 1986.)

"Sherman never tried to bite us when we brushed him," I tell Ned when he growls at the brush. "Sherman was a good dog."

"Sherman," Ned looks as though he'd like to say, "was an obsequious toady, a brown- nosing groveler, a tail-wagging sycophant. He was not the dominant wolf in the pack. He was not a purebred Beagle."

"Don't get elitist on me," I say. "He may have been a mixed breed, but he was canine virtue personified. He came when we called and he stayed when we told him to."

Ned rolls his good eye. The next time he's outside, he'll sniff around St. Sherman's grave in the day lilies and, if he sees me watching, do a little Beagle boogie on it.

It's probably true, as my wife reminds me, that I remember Sherman through rose-colored retrospect, that I get my feelings about him all mixed up with my feelings about our kids who were home then and who liked Sherman a lot.

They liked him so much they made me grant him tenure after a probationary period of only two nights. When we went for ice cream cones, they made me buy one for Sherman. When we went on vacation, they made me take him along.

And I learned if I could somehow convince my kids that what I wanted would also make Sherman happy, I could get them on my side.

There was a time, for example, when I thought it would be neater than anything to live on an acreage outside of town. We'd take Sunday drives in the country, looking for abandoned farmhouses.

The Truth, Mainly


"We don't want to live in an abandoned farmhouse," my kids would say. "We'll run away if we move out here."

"But think of Sherman," I'd say. "Think how happy he'd be living on a farm. Don't be selfish. He won't live nearly as long as you will and we ought to try to make him as happy as we can."

"Well, all right," they'd say, "if it'll make Sherman happy. But we move back to town if he ever dies, okay?"

Or I'd suggest camping out on vacation instead of staying in expensive motels.

"We don't like camping," the kids would say. "The toilets stink."

"Think how happy it'll make Sherman," I'd say. "Don't be selfish. He's not going to live as long as you do."

"Well, all right," they'd say, "we'll camp, but we get to stay in expensive motels if Sherman ever dies, okay?"

My wife would tell me I was a pretty good father, but manipulative as hell. I'd tell her I couldn't help it, could I, if Sherman preferred camping.

But Ned, as my wife has always been quick to point out, would rather stay in expensive motels. He likes sleeping in the middle of the extra bed.

So when I suggest that maybe we could save some money by staying in a campground, she tells me that we shouldn't be selfish, that we can go camping if Ned ever dies.

She spoils that dog rotten. I think that's why he digs out from under the fence. Murphy Brown is partly responsible, of course, but my wife spoils that dog the same way social programs like Headstart and Medicaid spoil poor people and make them riot. When I tell her all that, she says yes and she supposes tax cuts for rich people will eventually make them riot too. Then she says something about sauce for the gander being sauce for the goose.

I worry about her. We don't even have a goose. I don't think campgrounds let you bring in a goose, but I don't try to explain that to her.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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