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Saturday, Sept. 6, 2008

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

A dog by any other name


OK, I admit it. For humor's sake, I do on occasion stretch the truth.

But this time, believe me, there is nothing elastic in what I am about to tell you. It's a stone cold fact. Here it is:

My old college roommate has named his dog after my wife.

"Is this some sort of a prank?" I ask him, "Like the time you filled the phone receiver with shaving cream while I was sleeping. Then turned off the light, left the room and phoned me."

"Ey!" he says. "What's the big deal? I thought you'd be thrilled."

"Why would I be thrilled? You've named your dog after my wife. What happens when we visit and she sees her name nailed to your doghouse!?"

"What? You think she'll try to go in?"

"No. I think she'll turn around and go back."

"Listen, you don't understand. This is a very good dog."

"I don't care if it's Rin Tin Tin!"

"Oh, I wouldn't have a shepherd. It's a Lab."

I slap my forehead, a sound I am sure he can hear all the way to Chicago. He starts talking faster.

"But not just any Lab! A cute one. Adorable even. And gentle. And smart. So. . . I thought your wife's name would be the perfect fit."

"Listen," I tell him. "I want you to rename your dog."

"I can't do that. Think of how traumatic that would be. The poor dog wouldn't know who she was."

"So? What do you suggest? That I rename my wife? Maybe call her 'Lassie' or 'Daisy' or something? Talk about trauma."

"I think you're taking this way too serious."

"Oh yeah? Well, how would you like it if I named our dog after your wife?"

He laughs from across the ocean. "How ridiculous! No one name's a dog, 'Jeanette! ' "

"You're missing the point here. This is my wife you're talking about, the wife of a good friend. And you have taken her name and given it to an animal."

"So what? It means we think about you guys every time we feed her. Or take her for a walk. Or whatever."

"Like when she barks all night? Or pees on the floor?"

"She doesn't do that. She's smart."

"OK. How about if I named our dog after one of your kids? What would you think then?"

That makes him pause. . . "I thought your dog was dead."

"I'll dig it up. And then I'll stick it in front of our front door with your son's name around its neck. How would you like that?"

"First, I think you people overseas are nuts. Second, I bet your neighbors there would agree."

"Well, I think it's nuts to name a dog after my wife."

"Hey, you would not believe how bright this dog is. I can take a hot dog, see, balance it on her snout and then say anything I want, like: 'Eat it, girl! Chow down! Yeah! OK!' whatever, and that dog will not flinch a single muscle. Until I say the secret word. Then, and only then, will it eat the hot dog."

". . . So? What's the secret word?"

"I can tell you're impressed. It's special."

"Oh, c'mon. It's not that special. I'm sure my wife could do the same. With practice."

"But our dog learned it in just a day."

"And the word?"

He hesitates. "I can't tell you. It's a secret."

"Oh c'mon."

"These are trying times. Maybe our call's being monitored. What if the wrong people learn?"

"We're talking about a hot dog!"

"Besides, I know you, you're gonna go tell everyone. Put it in the paper even. Soon all Japan is gonna know."

"Our friendship is on the line here. We're old roommates. We don't keep secrets."

"OK, OK. The secret word is. . . 'Go! ' "

I put my head in my hands. Only to hear him say. . .

"Just don't tell the terrorists. I don't want them messing with my dog."

I return the topic to where we started.

"I can't believe you named your dog after my wife."

"How's this for an idea? If it bothers her, just say we didn't name the dog after her, just someone else with the same name."

"And when I call you an 'idiot,' I don't really mean you, I mean some other idiot just as stupid."

"That shaving cream gag still has you upset, doesn't it?"

"This is not about me, it's about my wife, the dog!"

"Like I said, she's a beautiful dog. That's why we had to give her the best name."

We hang up with nothing resolved. Minutes late my wife comes home.

"Hey, remember my ol' college buddy? Guess what? He named his dog after . . . um . . . me."

She shakes her head. "Poor dog."

I swallow. "I suppose it could have been worse. It could've been you."

"Now that," she smiles, "Would be one lucky dog."

I guess so, I tell her. And feel pretty doggone lucky myself.



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