Even fairytales, or perhaps especially fairytales, should always tell the truth. So, here’s one truth: Big Dog was a bad dog. Just ask any of her neighbors. She had bitten more than her fair share, and if some of them had also torn into her from time to time, well, that still was no excuse. And Big Dog was more than just bad; she was paranoid, aggressive, proud, and full of contradictions. Sentimental and social, she wanted to belong, but never quite figured out how to ingratiate herself to others. But there are other truths. Harder truths. Truths we don’t like to acknowledge. Even in a fairytale such as this we want distraction and entertainment, not uncomfortable, complicated truth. Such truths make us angry and fill us with righteous outrage, especially since such truths unsettle our comfortable state of denial. Nonetheless, let’s begin.
Once upon a time there was a dog of immense size, immeasurable paranoia, immodest pride, immoderate violence, and immutable affection, devotion, and warmth. Most of her neighbors were rightly wary of her, but most respected her and tried to keep a prudent distance so as not to trigger a predictable canine reaction.
Collectively, most of her neighbors were also part of a gang, the Neighborly Alliance against Treacherous Organisms, who were in their own words a purely defensive organization, despite several recent violent incursions into the territory of other neighbors, like Serby and Libby, who had not attacked them at all. But as Sam, their leader, explained after the Gang attacked Serby, “If we have to use force, it is because we are [Exceptional]. We are … indispensable… We stand tall. We see further into the future.” When one of the younger boys wondered about Sam’s use of the term “force”, Sam patiently explained that the semantic difference between “force” and “violence” is obvious: When we kill and destroy, it is called “force”; when the bad guys kill and destroy then we employ the term violence. It is crucial to always maintain this distinction in order to safeguard our moral superiority.
Sam seemed never to tire of trying to fix other neighbors’ problems. Not so long-ago Sam bravely kicked and battered a little, rabid dog named Irqi. Irqi was indeed a nasty creature, but in subduing him Sam caused the deaths of thousands. Yet, that was really OK because even though Irqi’s neighborhood was torn apart, Sam was able to sleep easily at night knowing he meant well. He always meant well, and that made all the difference.
For Sam, more than the other members of the Gang, interfering in other neighborhoods had become a way of life and a way to greatness. But Sam saw those other interventions as minor compared to the gnawing issue of what to do about Big Dog. As of late Big Dog had gotten increasingly aggressive and irrational. The larger the Gang got, the more wary Big Dog became. She started to growl more often, even as she tried to keep her distance from the Boys.
This frustrated some of them, especially Sam. Thankfully, Sam had a plan; Sam always had a plan for making things better. Sam didn’t want to risk his own life getting too close to Big Dog, but on the periphery of the Gang’s neighborhood lived a little boy named Ukie, who more than anything wanted to be one of the big boys. Behind his back the other boys would laugh at him, knowing that he would never really make the grade, but dreams are potent things and Sam carefully manipulated Ukie into thinking he too could be a big boy if he just tried hard enough. It helped immensely that Big Dog had once severely ravaged Ukie, almost killing him years earlier. Ukie hadn’t forgotten that horror and he was more than ready to prove himself worthy of the Gang.
This plot to cause friction between Ukie and herself seemed so unfair to Big Dog. For had she not, in a desperate attempt to make herself less frightening to the Gang, performed a stunning act of self-mutilation years earlier? Big Dog was hopeful in those days that she might be accepted into the Gang; she would often talk about “Our Common [Neighborhood] Home.” But that effort only made the boys mock and pity her, even as they continued to fear her. Even more recently, Big Dog had actually stood with Sam, coming to his aid when Sam was unexpectedly attacked one bright September morning by another dog from a far-off neighborhood. Big Dog joined the rest of the Gang in trying to track the perpetrator down and even allowed the Gang access to her own territory. But this also was of no lasting value. The Gang never felt any gratitude and certainly did not change its plan of defanging Big Dog.
Some of the more squeamish boys had once hesitated in going along with Sam’s plan to confront Big Dog and his response was firm and direct: “F— the EU[nuchs].” As far as Sam was concerned, the other boys existed to do his bidding. Whenever they balked, or even just politely questioned his views, Sam would petulantly accuse them of being ungrateful or having gone soft. He would then stamp his feet and threaten to go home and leave them to fend for themselves. Sam didn’t always play well with others.
In order to get all the other boys in line, Sam patiently explained to them that everyone, including Ukie, ought to have the right to join whatever organization they wanted to, even though Sam would never have allowed any of his closest neighbors to join an organization that he perceived as a threat to himself. (Indeed, in the past some of Sam’s smallest neighbors, like Grenady and Nicky, had tried to stray to far from him, and had to deal with severe consequences.) The real purpose behind the conflict between Ukie and Big Dog was only explained much later: “We want to see [Big Dog] weakened.” Weakened? Well, euphemisms are useful. What Sam meant was that he wanted to eviscerate the dumb dog. She won’t even be a dog after we’re done with her, he laughed. When we’re done with her, Big Dog will be just a pathetic, fangless, friendless mongrel. To Sam this was wholly justified because this was, as he once put it, “a struggle of absolute good against absolute evil.”
So together the Gang, many unintentionally, started to help Ukie draw Big Dog into a confrontation. But it was paramount that Big Dog be seen as the aggressor or else Sam’s plan wouldn’t work. Sam trained Ukie to walk ever closer to the border between his land and Big Dog’s land, and to invite members of the Gang to visit more and more frequently. Sam even started to brag that Ukie would soon become part of the Gang. Big Dog got more and more nervous. She sensed she was being cornered, surrounded. Although Ukie and the Gang posed no real threat to her, Big Dog was just a dog and became increasingly rabid about protecting her territory. This was just what Sam predicted and wanted. The more growling Big Dog made, the more justified the Gang would be in supporting Ukie.
Sam explained the plan to Ukie: We are not attacking Big Dog; she has nothing to fear. But we need to warn her not to attack you. From now on when you walk near the border with Big Dog, be sure to carry a stick. If that doesn’t tame her, then start swinging the stick more and more rapidly, thrusting it towards Big Dog. But don’t actually strike her. Never strike her or enter her territory. Remember, we are a purely defensive gang. We don’t attack unless attacked first. So just swing that stick closer and closer, more and more aggressively, so she knows she better not attack you.
These actions brought Big Dog to a state of frenzy, and she began barking incessantly. Some of the boys worried that by carrying a stick Ukie might be seen as threatening, but that was laughed off. Everyone knows, Sam explained while rolling his eyes, that we only use our sticks defensively; that dog is just looking for a pretext to bark and bite. Besides, Sam insisted, everyone has a right to carry a stick. Everyone has a right to shake a stick. Everyone has a right to join whichever gang one wants to join. It isn’t harming anyone. It’s completely harmless.
Finally, Big Dog had had enough. He crossed out of his own territory and lunged at Ukie. Ukie fought back bravely and refused to give ground. Even the gang members were astounded by Ukie’s resilience and courage. Big Dog, too, was shaken by Ukie’s determination to fight. Big Dog mauled Ukie, tearing off one of his arms and putting a huge gash across his belly. But Ukie wouldn’t yield. The Gang, pushed into action by Sam, started providing Ukie with bigger and better sticks with which to counter Big Dog’s attacks. The sticks proved effective, especially after Sam secretly sent trainers to show Ukie how to use them. Sam sending trainers was not exactly legal, but for a good cause it was always ok to bend the rules.
Some of the boys started to worry that they might be blamed for the bloodshed. One in particular, named Frank, was the worst type of ally. Frank thought he had a right to his own opinion. He had been a thorn in Sam’s side for decades; Frank had even dared to criticize Sam’s enduring war for freedom against Irqi years earlier. Frank started to say unhelpful things such as that it was important not to “humiliate” Big Dog, but Sam knew better: humiliating Big Dog and putting her in her place was exactly what this fight was all about. Sam calmed the other boys: Don’t worry at all, he said soothingly. We’re all going to look like heroes. Our neighbors to the Left and those to our Right will join together in a mindless churning of righteous outrage. We have plenty of stooges to advocate our position and each pundit’s drivel will begin with a sentence about Big Dog’s “unprovoked” attack on Ukie. This will assuage the worried and inspire the fools who inhabit our neighborhood. We didn’t provoke her, Sam smiled. We didn’t hit her; she bit Ukie. We didn’t threaten her; she threatened Ukie with her barking and snarls. Remember: the people in our neighborhood like things clear and simple. Unprovoked, unprovoked, just repeat it. Say it and write it often enough and it will become the truth.
Ukie howled in pain as Big Dog tore into his flesh. In unison, all the Boys howled in indignation and righteous outrage. Sam howled the loudest. For Sam’s howl of indignation was heightened by a seething growl of malign triumph. Fool, Sam muttered to Big Dog, now I’ve got you where I want you. When some of the boys saw how terribly ravaged Ukie was, how bravely he fought, and how much horrific pain he was in, they grew somber. But not Sam. Sam oozed triumphant. Sam was tough and brave. He was more than willing to fight to the last Ukie in order to hurt Big Dog.
The bloodier the fight became, the more certain the Gang was that they had done the right thing. They started patting each other on the back and commending themselves for having the foresight years earlier to expand their organization right up to the border with Big Dog. Just imagine, they declared, if we hadn’t expanded Big Dog might have already taken over other neighborhoods. And it was especially wise of us, they added, to give bigger sticks to Ukie. Everyone knows that the best way to prevent canine conflict is to get really close and shake a big stick at a dog.
Days passed, weeks passed, and the days and weeks turned into months. And still the fight went on, but slowly Big Dog wore herself out. Bleeding from a hundred small wounds, she started to limp back toward her territory. The Gang whooped and hollered with joy. Sam, seeing his chance, leapt forward, catching Big Dog from behind. As he pounced, Big Dog fell to the ground and Sam gleefully dug his knee into her soft underbelly. Sam yelped triumphantly while Big Dog gave out a painful groan that sounded eerily human. It made Sam howl with laughter: no one could ever really mistake Big Dog for a human. She was a monster.
With his knee still firmly planted in the filthy mongrel’s belly, Sam grabbed the pliers from his back pocket. The mutt writhed and whimpered softly as Sam grabbed a canine tooth with the pliers. One sharp yank and the cur’s pitiful yelp brought a smile of sheer joy to Sam’s face. Sam’s mouth foamed as he laughed and as he wiped the spittle from his lips, he nodded to his pals in hearty camaraderie. The simpering dog groans—groans emanating from pure evil being vanquished by pure good—made Sam’s heart flutter and his entire body throbbed with righteous pleasure.
Ukie, still bleeding from the brutal attack and his right arm permanently severed, stood in a daze of pain and glory. He bathed in the praise of the other boys, never realizing how he had been used. It was true that Ukie might never recover from his wounds, but neither would Big Dog. Ukie, Sam confided to no one, was a necessary sacrifice for the greater good of all. Ukie would never see the deeper reality. It was, after all, Big Dog that had gnawed at his body and inflicted this horrible pain. Not Sam. As Sam put it, we have given Ukie a great deal of support. We may not bleed with him, but we certainly cry for him. He will never suspect us. We will send him lots of gifts, we’ll pay his medical bills, heck we’ll even get him a new prosthetic arm. And lots and lots of new sticks. Ukie is brave and tough, Sam observed, but he’s also naïve.
Epilogue: The huge Shar Pei from a distant neighborhood sits quietly on a hillside, its snout heavenward, sniffing the air. It smells blood on the horizon; the shrieks of Ukie and Big Dog wafting through the air intrigue him. The tang of fear is growing everywhere. The Shar Pei watches warily and smiles wryly: Sam’s self-righteousness will be his undoing. It will be easy to enlist Big Dog, he muses, when the real struggle begins. Big Dog will become his lapdog. And the Shar Pei will be far better prepared for conflict than the foolish Big Dog that tried for too many years to be one of the Gang.
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The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.