Thursday, July 27, 2006

Living Proof (Revisited)

Weeks upon weeks ago, I recorded a nugget about a house sitter who tries to dispose of a dead dog, only to have her plans thwarted by a thief. To this day, that entry continues to be the crowning achievement of this blahg. In it, an urban myth is (unintentionally) perpetuated because, at the time, I (naively) believed that I was unearthing an original, groundbreaking story.

It was not until last week, when a friend of mine, an avid Google user, revealed to me that this story is not my story at all. Nor does it belong to “Brian” or “Sarah.” In actuality, it truly is an urban myth.

Google: dead dog, suitcase, subway

See here, here, here and here. Most especially, make a point to drag your mouse over to that last link, wherein a young woman from a small town relates the story to her grandmother, spurring a local rumor mill.

There is no factual origin to the legend, no matter how far back in Google you search; the myth, being urban, belongs to the city. I chose New York for the setting, while others placed it in Chicago and Boston. For the purposes of this blahg, however, I will maintain that the myth belongs to New York.

Here, today, I could go into a discussion on the source of urban mythology, distinguishing it from that of old fashioned mythology, or folklore, and examining the transportation of such stories, from that of the spoken word, i.e. The Iliad, to the Internet.

I would rather save that dissertation for another day.

Now. As I mentioned in my original post, and as exemplified in the above links, the details of this tale are subject to change. Yet the story itself remains the same. The narrative structure allows for such a rambling of imagination that the particulars are of little importance.

At its core, no matter how it is shared, this story is contained by clear levels of loss.

To begin with, you have the loss of responsibility as Sarah (whose name will now be taken out of quotations) fails to fulfill her duties as a house sitter. How hard is it, really, to take care of a dog? One would think that if a friend had enough confidence in your ability to take care of his dog, you would do everything within your power to prove their trust was not misplaced. Yet Sarah failed this task, thus leaving the dog for dead.

Then, you have the death of the dog, an obvious loss on all fronts. The couple, who Sarah was house sitting for, has lost their canine companion; Sarah has lost her trust; the dog has lost its life.

The real sense of loss within the story, though, is found in the character of the thief. Imagine, the lone thief, scraping by on the streets of New York, never knowing where his next meal is going to come from, never having a morsel of hope for a world that does not revolve around larceny. For the thief, life is already one uncompromising source of despair, and, in a story revolving around loss, he has nothing to lose.

So imagine, then, the hope Sarah’s suitcase offers to the thief. The suitcase being the heartbeat of the story, even though it contains a dog with no pulse, signifies the thief’s final escape from a life of poverty.

Consider the meaning of a suitcase. Conjure up images of WWII, Jews being expelled from their homes, with only one suitcase, everything precious contained within a small box with a handle; young girl moves to big city, bearing only one suitcase, but loads of motivation; refugees leaving New Orleans, throwing their most valuable goods into suitcases -- you get the point.

If the dog, which Sarah left for dead, was of a more compact size, say, that of a chihuahua, she could have done without the suitcase. Therefore, the entire story would change. Would the thief have bothered Sarah if she were just carrying a plastic bag or a designer purse? No. It is the mystery behind the luggage and the weight of the suitcase, symbolic and concrete, that compelled the thief to steal it.

Let’s say the dog within the suitcase weighs about 75 pounds, and the suitcase itself weighs about 25 pounds, so that the thief is running down the street with a 100 pound load. And you better believe that even if it was one of those suitcases with wheels, a thief is not going to take the time for a leisurely stroll. He’s going to hoist that case over his shoulder and run for dear life.

And the entire time he’s running, he’s envisioning how the possessions of that suitcase will liberate him from the confounds of poverty, ultimately changing his world for the better. He’s already planning how he’s going to spend his money. That evening, he will take his girl out to a real nice dinner, maybe buy a decent television set, a suit to wear to job interviews…

At last, the thief stops running. He’s about ten blocks away from the subway station where he first encountered Sarah. (Twenty New York city blocks equal one mile.) He drops the suitcase on the ground with a heavy thud, glances over both shoulders to make sure the cops have not followed him, falls to his knees, and struggles for a bit with the combination lock, before finally opening the suitcase.

Is the dog staring up at the thief, glassy eyed, or did Sarah bother to close its eyes before packing?

Defeated, the thief weighs his options. He now has even less than what he started with: the contents of the suitcase have no value, not even on the black market; his energy is spent; Sarah has probably filed a police report by now; he’s even more hungry, due to the tremendous physical activity of the crime; the time of his day has been wasted, lost forever.

Meanwhile, a couple of lovebirds are vacationing in the Bahamas, sipping Pina Coladas out of coconut shells, or whatever, discussing their defeat against the city of New York. They decide to cut out of that city, while their losses are still low. Better to be above the rat race, looking down, than smack in the middle of it, right? This is it, they determine, let’s take the dog and move to the suburbs.


Anonymous H.A.Page said...

My daughter sent me this post yesterday, via an email. Well-written! My oldest daughter thinks this is true; I think it is an urban legend. The story I wrote several months ago continues to get a ton of searches from Google.

Glad to have found you; love your writing, especially about the Hamptons, since I've yet to go there as a NYC newbie. I'll link to your Hampton's article in my space.

NYC Cheers!

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About twenty years ago a couple my wife and I knew asked us to look after their cat while they were out of town for a week. We said yes. A couple of days later, on their way out of town, they delivered their beautiful white, long-haired cat, along with bowl, food, and litter box with bag of litter.

The cat was old and dear to them. They gave it a hug and left. We went outside to wave goodbye and strolled back into the house. The cat was dead. We stood there, stunned beyond words. What were we to do? We had no phone or address to give our friends the cell phones back then.

After discussing it, I put the cat in a paper bag and put it in the freezer. That was the best we could do. Somehow burying it or having the dead animal patrol pick it up seemed indecent to the cat and our friends. We spent a week in agony trying to figure how to tell them the news.

Upon their return to town, they dropped by to pick up the cat. All I could do was hand them the paper bag from the freezer with our regrets. Incredibly, they were not shocked. They said they had known their cat was near death and hadn't wanted to go through the ordeal of seeing it die!

We decided we wouldn't continue that friendship any longer.

9:20 PM  

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