DOG BEAT DOG WORLD

A beagle named Miss P is now America’s top dog. For the second time, a beagle has won the Westminster Dog Show. Tails and tongues are wagging. For me, this news is incredibly wonderful. Here’s why:
Twenty-five years ago this month, before heading out to do my morning TV show, I found a stray beagle on my front doorstep. You might already know the story. Barney was sweet and loving but he was destructive and disobedient. “You can keep him,” said my wife, “but you’ll have to take him to work with you during the day.”
So, I did. Not just that day, but for the next 12 years, and almost 2,500 TV shows. When he died in 2004, I received 3,000 letters and emails. The front page of the Indianapolis Star headlined it this way: “WISH-TV’s Little Bandit Dies at 14.”
A few years later, a friend tried to persuade me to write a book about Barney’s exploits, but I was reluctant. It would be a lot of work—and a tough task for me emotionally. I received an offer from a New York publishing company, yet I wavered until the very last minute. Then something changed my mind. Here’s how I wrote about that moment in my book Mornings with Barney: “The week before I had to tell the publisher my decision, Uno, an adorable little beagle, won first prize in his class at the Westminster Dog Show, the Academy Awards for canines. But I was pretty sure a beagle wasn’t going to win Best in Show. The champion dogs were never from the working-class category.
Shortly after, Uno was proclaimed the world’s number one canine.  He also could have won noisiest in show (not to mention the nosiest) and the hungriest. Finally, beagle owners had something to howl about. Yes, this was the first time a beagle had won the coveted award. The story goes that a beagle had been a contender back in 2003, but he went outside to go to the bathroom and he didn’t come back for three months.
Yes, whoever was in charge of the cosmic sign department had sent me a clear message when Uno was crowned.  The next day I agreed to write the book. I knew there was more to tell about Barney and I was sure that after Uno’s victory, a whole new decade of beagles would be around every corner (and in every garbage can). People would be adopting beagles, so I had to write the book quickly—before they all ran away.
Seven years after Uno’s win and 25 years after I found Barney on my doorstep, another beagle has claimed top prize at Westminster. These past 10 years I was blessed with another beagle—now gone—who was just as troublesome as Barney. “What a good dog,” people always told me about Toby.  “No,” I said, “a GREAT dog. Not a good dog.”
When Uno won in 2008, Gary Varvel of the Indianapolis Star drew a cartoon of the beagle wearing sunglasses and standing on his hind legs alongside a newspaper declaring Uno “numero uno.” He was sporting a T-shirt that said “Joe Cool.” A huge copy of that drawing hangs above my desk, signed by Gary.
I don’t think a beagle will win again for a long time. Three top dogs from the same family seems unlikely. However, I’m not sure Barbara Bush would agree with that.

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DIALING UP PROBLEMS

 

The radio in my car has been broken for quite a while.  The tuner is busted and the tape in the cassette player is jammed with this one educational travel tape that I have been listening to over and over again since our trip to Egypt six years ago.  I am getting a little bored with it, but I know all the major pharaohs of the past 3,000 years and I bet I know more about the Great Sphinx than most people.

I decided to treat myself to a new stereo. The prices seemed reasonable and I really wasn’t looking for many bells and whistles. If there were bells and whistles, I wouldn’t be able to figure out where to ring them or blow them, anyway.

I took the car into an auto shop and waited about an hour. “All done, Mr. Wolfsie,” said Steve. “Just read the directions and you’ll be all set.”

“Read the directions? For what? You turn on the radio, and bingo! You have music. You twist the knob to change the station. You take your CD and stick it in the slot. What else is there to know?”

“Well, you’ll need to pair your Bluetooth with your iTunes. And sync your Pandora with your iPhone. Then link your Voice Control to the speakers by installing a pin number, which you can use to access the Internet through your USB drive and the auxiliary option. You can also access Spotify…

This is not exactly what he said, but he did use all those words. I’m just not sure in what order he put them. The next day, I still hadn’t cracked the code, so I went back to the store. “Look, Steve, I am still very confused.  For example, how do I get an AM station?

“Can’t help you there. No one has ever asked me that before. Did you figure out the hands-free voice control?”

“Not really. How do I do it?”

“That should be easy. Instead of dialing on your cell phone, which is very dangerous when you’re behind the wheel, simply talk to the microphone on your dash and you will be connected to your party.

I hadn’t been invited to a party in years, but when I got in the car, I did want to talk to my son at work, thinking maybe he could explain some of the complexities of the new stereo that still baffled me. I spoke clearly into the speaker, leaning in:  “CALL BRETT,” I said.

“Call Brad,” the device tried to confirm.

“BRETT,” I yelled back.

“Calling Brad.”

“NO, CALL BRETT!”

“Calling Barb.”

“DAMMIT!”

“Calling Damon.”

I broke out in a sweat. I was so frustrated, I needed some music to calm my nerves. Now, according to Steve, all I had to do was say the artist’s name and his songs would play.

“PLAY BOB DYLAN,” I requested. Then I heard this:

“Looking up Bob Dylan on Wikipedia. Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter and artist. He has been an influential figure in popular music and culture for more than five decades…”

Geez, I didn’t want his bio. I wanted to hear him sing. Now, totally at my wits’ end, I screamed at my new electronics. “I CANNOT FIGURE THIS OUT. HOW DO I MAKE THIS THING WORK?” 

Then, a familiar voice: “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.  The answer is blowing in the wind.”

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