Rin Tin Tin
Saturday, November 19, 2011
To make a long story short, I like dogs more than people, and I just found a terrific book.
To make a short story long, a long, long time ago I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out; then I crashed with some fellow UMass '71 dropouts, Cyndi and Elaine, who had a place in Cambridge. Cyndi had a dog named Jackson, and I liked Jackson a lot. I think I might have been walking Jackson when Armstrong set foot; I know that I babysat him while Cyndi hitchhiked to Woodstock. (By the way, I got a first-hand report about that subsequently romanticized event from her: "It was a mess; it was rainy.") I liked the companionship of Jackson so much that I decided that I would get my own dog as soon as I got my own place.
A couple of days after I got my own paid-for spot in an apartment that fall, I put out my thumb on Mass. Ave. to catch a ride to the regular Sunday music and culture festival on Cambridge Common. A convertible pulled over; they were going there to find a new home for this gorgeous little German Shepherd named Poobah, whom I immediately adopted and renamed Hund.
Hund and I grew very close and nearly inseparable. Our friendship passed in a time when I could take her to the grocery store; to the bars (where I would put my ragged jacket on the floor under my stool or bench, so that she could lie down in the comfort of knowing I wouldn't leave without my jacket); to the dentist (I am not making this up.) And, yes, she did perform the classic function of preventing a mugging on at least one clear-cut occasion and, I am sure, many unknown occasions.
She wandered off one night when I left her alone.
Like anyone else, I used to have unpleasant dreams about some aspect or other of the vicissitudes of my life. Nightmares stopped as I got older and tougher. The last bad dreams to leave my sleeptime were those about Hund's disappearance. Such a circumstance may or may not reveal too much of my psychological health, but I offer it as evidence of the extent to which I like dogs. Although modern city dogs are very different from the critters we knew forty years ago, e.g., they are now genderless, I seem to have considerable company nowadays among the general populace in my canine affinities.
There is a good reason people like dogs. Most familiar farm animals were domesticated about ten thousand years ago. Dogs were domesticated sometime between a hundred thousand and thirty thousand years ago —and they are still not farm animals, so elemental is their symbiotic relationship with humans. I therefore claim that I am not too nuts to like dogs as much as I do. I don't keep one anymore, because I couldn't keep one the way they're kept these days in the city, as pets rather than as adjuncts. However, I do carry MilkBone with me, and most of the dogs in my neighborhood react when they see or hear me. (Some know the sound of my housekeys, and some know the sound of my car door!)
Did I mention that I am making a short story long?
Hund was a shepherd. She was so smart that she would challenge any man who came to my home to visit, and, when a woman came, she would jump on me. Smart and highly devoted dogs, German Shepherds, and still my favorite breed.
I was excited when I heard that Susan Orlean was working an a book about the most famous German Shepherd of them all. Then Wednesday night, there she was on this edition of The Colbert Report talking about her Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. As a fan of Golden Era Hollywood, I have always known that Rinty was a superstar, but Ms. Orlean's revelations about him during the Colbert interview made the book irresistible. I was glad to find a copy today at the Harvard Bookstore. (Click link for availability at the store.) Who'd a thunk there'd be copies left, after that interview, in the middle of this dog-nutty town?