Friday, March 09, 2007

a thing not found and another found ubiquitously

I don't particularly like being in an audience listening to a speaker. So it wasn't characteristic of me to join my classmates in an outdoor auditorium to hear the college president speak to my class on its 30th reunion some years ago. It was, however, typical that I attended so as to be with friends -- going along with the flow. I heard an entertaining, informative, stimulating talk which I've almost entirely forgotten. What remains is the joke with which he broke the ice.

There was this little Quaker lady he said. Little old Quaker ladies are a staple of a certain kind of humor, he explained, Quaker humor in fact. Who knew?

This Quaker lady took a bus one rainy morning, he said. As to the rest, I can't do justice to the full humor of it. So, in precis, she sat next to a middle-aged man in a tweed sport jacket and scraggly facial hair. A true absent-minded professor, he forgot that he had not brought an umbrella of his own and grabbed her umbrella by mistake. She didn't notice until he was off the bus. That afternoon, as it happened, she returned home by bus and, as it happened, he got on and sat next to her. Also, as it happened, he, being the absent-minded type he was, (1) owned many umbrellas and (2) had managed to park them all in his office, there having been a string of rainy mornings followed by clear-skied afternoons and he, absentmindedly, having forgotten to bring any home on said afternoons. On this, likewise unrainy, afternoon he had with him his whole collection of umbrellas, it having sunk-in to his consciousness that (a) there were none at home any more and (b) it tended to rain in the morning. She, seeing him with half a dozen umbrellas in his arms and no rain in sight, and assuming that her own was among them, came to the reasonable conclusion that he was an umbrella thief. Being a proper Quaker lady, she did not make accusations, and, being a kindly Quaker lady, she, while not condoning, did not condemn what she took to be his choice of occupation - disreputable though it may be. And thus she said, with Quaker-lady charm: "Thee has done well today!"

This ranks with the dead dog in the suitcase story as a funny tale that sticks in mind. I'll get to the dog in a minute. You should know I'm one of those who believes you don't have to actually know something, remember some fact, recall some story; all you have to do is know where to find it when you need it. The web works well for that. Most of the time. It has failed me for the past decade with respect to the Quaker lady. I can find no trace of it on the internet. Maybe you can. If so, please share.

The dead dog is another matter. This little item is abundantly present. Just search the terms dead dog suitcase and you'll see what I mean. It is, you'll quickly find, a story that's often presented as true -- it happened to someone's sister or roommate's girlfriend or a best friend's cousin, something like that, and it's just as often exposed as myth: urban legend, joke. Maybe it really did happen once. I know I believed it when it first came my way, back in the 1960s -- told by a friend who said he'd read it in a news item.

Here's one version, interesting because the blogger who's relating it half believes what he's telling us and explains how he's embellished what he recalled hearing:
The other night, at a bar, I heard this story from a stranger, a friend of a friend, named Brian:
Brian's friend, we'll call her Sarah, was taking care of her friend's dog while she was away in the Bahamas. So Sarah went over to the apartment one afternoon to check on the dog. When she got to the apartment, she couldn't find the dog. She looked everywhere: she couldn't find the dog; she couldn’t find the dog; she couldn't find the dog. Finally, she found the dog. The dog was lying underneath the bed, dead.
Sarah didn't know what to do. She called a company in New York that specializes in freezing pets for up to two weeks after death. Sarah decided to take the dog to the repository until the owner came back from the Bahamas.
This proved to be problematic: how is she going to get the dog uptown to the freezing company? The dog was apparently very big and heavy, dead weight. So Sarah put the dog in a suitcase, on wheels, and dragged it to the train station.
At the train station, she was having a difficult time getting the suitcase down the stairs, as the dog was quite heavy. A man approached her and offered his assistance in bringing the suitcase down the stairs. Sarah accepted the favor and let the man help her down the stairs with the suitcase, which contained the dead dog. "This thing sure is heavy! What do you have in here?" he asked her.
Sarah didn't know what to say so she told him it contained everything she owned. The man took one look at Sarah, who was at that point quite frazzled, grabbed the suitcase and ran off into the night, dead dog in tote.

Now. The details of this story are rather hazy. It was told in a loud bar, as a second-hand account. I filled in a few of the details myself; I assigned a name to the girl who was house sitting for her friend on vacation. I don’t know the name of the dog or what kind of dog it was. Additionally, I was unable to find any such company in New York that specializes in dead pet freezing, which makes me wonder where exactly “Sarah” was going with her suitcase that contained the dead dog. What train station was “Sarah” at when her suitcase, containing the dead dog, was stolen by a man obviously strapped for cash? This story went from a second-hand (Brian) account to a third-hand (me). Now, it’s in my blog. If you (fourth-hand) were to recount the story to a friend of yours (fifth-hand), it would either lose several more details or grow completely new details. Except you read it on the Internet, from a blog no less. So does that turn this story into an urban myth?
Addendum: One summer, while maybe 19 years old, I survived on odd jobs rather than one steady one. One of them involved watching over a house whose occupants were summering in Maine. I kept a 12-foot hedge trimmed and fed some birds -- lots of birds. In fact, a third of the dining room was one huge bird cage with maybe a dozen, dozen and a half, occupants. It comes to mind because one died under my care. I disposed of it (simply, easily) and the owner was not upset. No urban legend potential there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really like this entry! But poor dead-doggie.
Did I mention to you how every Italian neo-realistic film I've watched for class had a dead dog in it? Disturbing trend.

Today we watched Mon Oncle by Tati(I think.) Cool movie. Funny, sweet, pretty, weird, longer than it had to be. Also: lots of living, happy doggies. Excellent.

I'm writing a paper about Shoot the Piano Player.

-you had better know who this is