Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Attack of the dog people

Nameless humans pay homage to canine cult in the park

BYLINE: joe o'connell    
DATE: October 9, 1997 
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX) 
PAGE: 64
They lapse into baby talk, are convinced proper training is the key to a healthy relationship with their ``kids,'' and have pockets that stink of liver. They are Dog People, and, praise Lassie, I unwittingly have been sucked into their cult of canine personality.

It started innocently a few years ago when my sister and her family moved into an apartment that didn't allow pets. Their pooch needed temporary shelter and I provided it. My young nephew had named the critter Patch after a star of his favorite movie, ``101 Dalmatians,'' but, while Patch certainly was animated, his spots looked like they'd been left out in the rain. 

Patch had so much nervous energy that he once ate an entire couch. There was no getting around it, I had to walk him or face the consequences.Easy, I thought. At least it will keep him far from my cat, whose disgust was marked by hairball projectiles aimed at Patch with hair-trigger accuracy. And, hey, I lived down the block from a hike-and-bike trail and the exercise couldn't hurt. 

I attached the leash to Patch's collar and we were off, and running. He strained at the cord and pulled me down the trail, leaping randomly to the left, the right. By the time we'd reached the designated off-leash area, he was calm, so I gave in to his smiling eyes and their pleas for a little freedom to roam. Patch walked with me for a few yards, then stopped, looked both ways, and ran all the way home at top speed. 

If at first you don't succeed, get stupid again. This time Patch was the picture of poise. At least until radio personality and jogger extraordinaire Jody Denberg ran past at a steady trot. Patch, an apparent music buff, --decided to race the KGSR deejay.I bought a longer leash and started training the errant mutt. Over time he settled down, and I exhaled and began to notice a few details about life on the hike-and-bike trail.

 For instance, a male walking solo is given a wide berth and wary stares, but provide the same guy a dog to walk, and he's judged to be a harmless, all-around fun potential dog-sitter. How could anybody with that cute of a pooch be anything but? 

That goes double if the judgment is being made by one of the Dog People. You see, as I soon learned, Dog People travel in packs.Discover more than a few unoccupied square feet of green space in Austin, and you can bet Dog People were there first with their dogs' legs raised in unison to mark the spot. Every day after 5 p.m. Dog People cluster at covert locations around Austin, recruiting others to join them in the ritualized fun. After all, dogs are social, and it's much easier to stand around and watch them play with each other than it is to actually walk. The logic was enticing. 

Patch and I arrived every night at 4:59 p.m. sharp to see his friends. I had officially joined the cult.Membership has its privileges. I was invited to my first dog birthday party as ``Patch's Daddy,'' because Dog People don't know each other's names. 

I was given directions to a West Austin home and told to bring a gallon of vanilla ice cream: dogs can't handle chocolate. The crowd was already off-leash when I got to the small, well-kept house. Claws clicked across the hardwood floors in glee as a videotape of the Westminster Kennel Club show played on the TV in the background; Dog People exchanged knowing glances. 
Spike in business attire.

Our host, Cricket's Mom, had prepared two standing rib roasts, and the mouth-watering aroma wafted toward us as we rushed the table. I sat by the parents of Sasquatch, a hulking black lab known for her psychotic infatuation with large rocks, and the father and visiting grandmother of Thurber, a smallish, peppy critter. 

Dogs perched eagerly by our sides throughout the meal as we, the doting parents, were instructed to feed our kids at least as much roast beef as we consumed. Patch was in heaven. If I weren't already his official Dad, he would have eagerly slapped a paw print on the adoption papers. 

His love grew to new heights as I served him a heaping bowl of ice cream before scooping out the scant leftovers from the carton for myself. The Dog People looked on approvingly and began to discuss the merits of the new flea pill.Thus went my exotic life as a Dog Person, until the day the other paw dropped. 

My sister's brood had purchased a house and a large back yard awaited Patch. My cat burped up a hairball and licked herself in glee. Dog People friends shunned me. People on the hike-and-bike trail averted their eyes when I passed. I was crushed. 

Desperate people do desperate things, so I bought my cat a harness and a leash.I wasn't crazy; I knew she wouldn't go willingly -- at least the first time. So I primed her with a mound of catnip until her eyes were bloodshot and droopy. Then I quickly pulled the harness out of its hiding place and attached it and the leash before she could focus. 

We made it to the staircase easily, but then kitty curled into a ball like a pill bug. I had to drag her down, one step, one plop at a time. Outside it was overcast, and a light mist was falling. She perked up on the trail, walking slowly and sniffing, almost like a dog. Hey, I thought, this just might work! 

Then one of the Dog People approached. My cat arched her back and bounced wildly through the air like a, well, like a cat who's been mistaken for a dog. I grabbed for her, but she got to me first, claws imbedding themselves deep in my chest. 

The walk home was an awkward dance of pain.Six months later I embraced my Dog People-ness, and Spike entered my life. He's a pure-bred, gangly dalmatian who has yet to eat a couch but has eaten almost everything else (including cat food) not nailed down or hidden on top of the refrigerator. Recently Patch came back to me as well, and he and Spike couldn't be happier. Most evenings you can find the three of us at the park cavorting with our pals. I'm the one wearing half-eaten shoes. You know, the guy who smells like liver.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dammit Doll, vent your frustrations!

Stuffed creature helps folks deal with rigors of everyday stress

(I wrote this story for the Temple Daily Telegram in 1989. It was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in every major newspaper in Texas--including the Austin American-Statesman from whose archives I grabbed this. Since newspapers had a larger subscription base back then, it's not a stretch to say 2 million people read this little article.

I'm posted it here because I was shocked to see someone got away with trademarking Dammit Doll. Basic research tells you that name and the doll dates back many decades. If someone wants to call this guy on the trademark, here's your proof!) Oh, if you want to make your own, here's the pattern!

DATE: March 5, 1989
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

TEMPLE (AP) - A retired City of Temple employee has found a cure for the everyday stresses of the working world and it comes in the form of the Dammit Doll. Inez Hargrove has shared her secret - the Dammit Doll - with a number of current city workers. The odd-looking doll has a triangular-shaped head, a scruffy mustache and a handy instruction manual.

"When you want to throw the phone or kick the desk and shout, here's a little Dammit Doll that you can't live without. Just grasp it firmly by the legs and find a place to slam it. As you whack its stuffing out, yell Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!" the instructions read.

Hargrove started giving the dolls as presents after getting the pattern from a friend who made them for a church fund-raising event. They became so popular she went into business.

"I always say it's not a cursing thing," she said. "You're just taking your frustration out on the doll and saying her name - Dammit, Dammit, Dammit!"

The strange creatures have popped up on desks all around the Temple Municipal Building. "When you want to say things and you can't, you just beat that thing," said Mary Goad, administrative assistant in the planning department. "You get it out of your system. I hit my desk with it."

Laura Doughty, a city legal secretary, has sent about 20 of the dolls as gifts to friends in faraway places like Montana, Tennessee and Illinois.

"There was once that I grabbed it and started beating it," Doughty said. "It made me laugh. It keeps things light and things shouldn't always be serious in life."

The little stress relievers have become such a hit that Hargrove can't keep up with the orders from friends and friends of friends. She has sold about 100 of them, each made in about 2 1/2 hours and sold for $5.

"I just think it's something people enjoy," Hargrove said. "I've never seen anyone take it in their hand and read it that didn't laugh."

She even gave one to her church pastor who displays it proudly in his office. "I guess we Baptists just have more slang than other people," she said with a grin.

The secret to the doll's construction is extra stuffing in the head and legs that are limber enough to provide a good grip, she said.

"You hit it on the back of the head," Hargrove said. "I haven't got a report of anyone beating them up (to destruction) yet."

Here are two letters to the editor that later appeared in the Austin American-Statesman after this article ran:

DATE: March 28, 1989
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman

Doll promotes violence

Re: March 5 Associated Press story, "Dammit Doll, vent your frustrations."

What a disturbing picture - a doll that you can "slam" around in order to vent your frustrations. This was the story we read March 5 - the same week we heard about the man convicted of murdering a baby by "slamming" it against a wall or by "fierce" blows to the head. If we, as a society, do not begin to recognize our problems with violence and learn more positive means of dealing with our frustrations, I believe we can only expect to see more and more violence.

If Inez Hargrove, who makes and sells the Dammit Doll, wants to do something with her time, now that she is retired, she should volunteer to help out in a children's program or at the local battered women's shelter -maybe then she will understand what violence is doing to our society.

San Marcos

DATE: April 12, 1989
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman
COLUMN: Letters

Dolls redirect abuse

Re: Roxanne McKimmey's March 28 letter, "Dolls promote violence."

If it weren't for Dammit Dolls, then we would use real-life dolls - our children or husbands, wives, family pets, etc.; beat them black and blue, and like the song Dear Mr. Jesus, we would write: "Dear Dammit Dolls, I didn't mean to slam you at all, but my kids are screaming and my husband has the flu, and I'd rather use you than make them black and blue. Please help me, Dammit Doll, on those days when I want to climb the wall. Because you see, I don't want to hurt anyone at all."

Suggesting that Dammit Dolls promote violence is as absurd as saying that little boys who play with G.I. Joe dolls will grow up and want to spend their vacations in El Salvador.

We do have one complaint against Dammit Dolls. When are they going to make a Spanish version for Hispanic people to vent their frustrations?

So we say let the senior citizens make the Dammit Dolls and have fun in whatever way they choose. For if we all don't take life a little more lightheartedly, we may all end up victims of abuse.