Guest Post from Michael.
This morning, I give my wife a break by writing a guest post in which I explain the real reason behind her recently revealed opposition to the too-cute treatment of puppies: in short, so that mostly true stories like the one that follows are simply not allowed to happen to anyone anymore.
When I was nine, my family moved to a town whose Rec (short for Recreation and pronounced “wreck,” as in “wreck my life”) Department mailed out dozens of flyers inviting schoolkids to town-sponsored activities. My parents were firm believers in getting me out from under the books I would have been glad to stay home reading, so I was routinely signed up for Saturday morning archery, basketball, wrestling, and other venues to showcase my lack of athletic talent and social skill.
One day, a flyer arrived advertising something very different–a Community Pet Contest, with judges and prizes and everything. Neither my family nor our dog, Frisky, knew a thing about pet contests, but there was no possibility of not signing up–it was from the Rec Department! So we filled out the application, sent in our five dollars, and prepared to show Frisky to the world.
On one hand, I’d swear the flyer didn’t say a thing about it. On the other, I’d hate to think it was my idea. But, somehow, the whole family came to assume without question that Frisky’s preparation should include a costume.
We recruited my grandmother, a talented seamstress, and–long before Harry Potter was born–she poured herself into creating a doggy Wizard’s outfit. The lovingly crafted costume featured a dramatic teal cape with embroidered gold fringe and a pointy little cap with glitter and an elastic chin strap. Though we loved it, Frisky wasn’t so sure, and he let us know it by trying to squirm out of the fitting sessions. (I don’t remember if we made a wand for him to carry around in his mouth. I really hope we didn’t.)
On show day, we drove out to the town park where the contest was to be held, hopped out of the car, tied Frisky’s cape around his shoulders, placed his cap on his head, and struggled to keep him from ditching the whole ensemble as we strode to the little plaza where the three judges had gathered.
We were right on time. And, for the moment, we were the only ones there, giving the judges plenty of opportunity to watch the spectacle of our family wrestling to keep a wizard’s costume neatly balanced on a restless thirty-pound dog. All three looked at Frisky; two cracked a bemused smile; one looked away; none met our eyes. And we waited.
Soon, other families began arriving with their contestants. Another dog, who, oddly, wasn’t wearing a costume. Then a cat, a kitten, another cat: no costume, no costume, no costume. Finally, a parrot, perched on its owner’s shoulder, wearing only the colors God gave him as he chatted happily at passersby.
Six entries. One costume. And now, about twenty people standing as far as they could toward the other side of the plaza, not meeting our eyes.
The judging itself was quick, and, as one might expect for an eclectic pet show in a small town park, based on political good sense. An award for the biggest pet (the other dog), for the smallest (the kitten), for the most exotic (the parrot), for the most well represented (the two cats).
And, in the finest act of political good sense ever, not one remark about anyone’s wardrobe.
We weren’t sure if we were relieved or insulted. But we were finally quite sure we were embarrassed.
Looking back, I’m glad the contest wasn’t wildly well attended. Archery had been much more popular–if the Rec Department had added it to the pet show, they might have gotten better results. Or, given our aim in those classes, maybe worse. I don’t know.
I also don’t know if this episode was, as it sometimes seems now, really any more awful than many other displays of utter social miscalculation to which I would treat the residents of my new town over the next ten years.
What I do know is this: In the end, the judges, exercising the authority invested in them by the organizers of the Community Pet Contest, finally did show us some mercy, and the Rec Department ended up issuing Frisky his own official, signed Certificate of Award.
Thanks, Sweetie. That’s always been one of my favorite stories.
There’s still time to vote in my poll to decide which items will move from my “Too Awful” to my “Awful Cute” column. So far, dog faces taken with a wide angle lens is ahead but a rush of votes could move costumed dogs into contention. Cast your vote today!