Woh. My sister has been getting deep again. Just because she has a permanent identity crisis, it doesn’t allow her to project it on to HIM. The fact is that nearly every time we had one of these failed shopping missions, HE went back the next day with perfect clarity and bought whatever he couldn’t quite bring himself to buy the day before.
But before I tell you more about that, I want to put the record straight on something else. Apparently I’m a complete numbskull who can’t count to two. And apparently I make a complete fool of myself every time I take public transport. Let me tell you that I have an impeccable record and on only one other occasion have I put it to you that it wasn’t my fault. It was at Queen’s Street Station in Glasgow and goody two shoes was hanging on to the bootstraps of his lordship as she does when she feels vulnerable. (Poor thing!) I was fed up with playing to the crowd of fans on the platform and decided to slip on to the train. It’s true I saw my sister and him get on the train opposite but somehow thought they must all join up somewhere or other. Those lines in Scotland kind of go round and round the mountains. A few minutes later I saw HIM very agitated getting off the train opposite and run up and down the platform with sis in tow. I thought the sensible thing was to stay put and retain my dignity. Eventually HEe saw me – I was hardly being discrete with a full left profile to anyone who wanted to admire me as I framed myself rather artfully in the carriage doors. HE came storming over and asked me what I was doing on the Aberdeen train when we were going to Edinburgh. Well, you can imagine that such a question was pretty meaningless to me so I just gave HIM a humble doggo look, which I do rather well, and loped across to the other train which seemed no obvious improvement on mine. And I swear I cannot think of another mishap besides that. My reputation needs to be defended and defended it will be.
Oh, and you may have heard about the day we brought Waterloo Station to a halt. Well, that’s an exaggeration to begin with. We simply required that the escalators be switched off so we could ascend to overground level. It was nothing really. Except me and sis had to sit at the foot of the escalator and howl for a good few minutes before London Transport did the right thing. And thousands of commuters just had to learn a little patience.
Now as for this shirt story, well it’s getting a bit tedious isn’t? Especially compared with my adventures. Anyway the very next day after HIS painful deliberations, HE came home with a shirt in a Trotsky & Spencer bag and a £25 price tag. There was no delight in the purchase, but neither was there any pain. HE had simply got up and made a decision: go to a middle range high street outlet and buy something mid-range, decent quality, decent value, a low risk from HIS own interrogating demons.
I can remember once HE told me about a silent comedy star, Buster Keaton and some book HE’d been reading which had touched a raw nerve. HE told us that this book had helped HIM to realise just how much Buster looked at the social world as if he was an alien, the world outside himself was like some sort of mechanised fairground. Somehow HE felt he had failed to be marked by its customs and social ‘laws’ of behaviour, the way most humans are from the moment of birth. But far from wanting to enjoy his alien, outsider self, asserting his independence, his separateness, he was desperate to reach across the space between himself and others. This Buster apparently makes people laugh by trying so hard, ridiculously hard to engage with a world he doesn’t really belong to but which he is desperate to be accepted into. He is desperate to learn the rules, and to apply them so that he can be recognised as ‘normal’. The comedy is partly in the rules themselves which the more you consciously think about them, the more absurd they are; and partly the comedy is in the personal failure to meet their demands: the absurd failure to succeed in being absurd. Absurdly normal.
I can understand this so well. I mean what does a dog do in this world but learn as many human rules as he can work out and then try to abide by them. Bones come to those who try. I mean, to be honest, I have no real idea what’s going on (though I’m not a numbskull). I pick up the cues, the gestures, the sounds – remembering the bottom line is always to please. I think that this is what this Buster Keaton feller was up to. He just wanted to be ordinary, to be a paid-up member of society. And we laugh because, despite his very best efforts, he kept fouling up. (Heh, don’t go there. I rarely foul in public and my personal hygiene, as well as being my own affair, is a complete red sardine here.)
From what I understand Buster helped HIM to gain some greater self-understanding – and encouraged HIM even more to approach the challenge with good humour. HE told us that someone called Sam Beckett had contributed much too – and that an old friend had once flattered HIM by saying that one day HE would be a dead-ringer for Sam-the Man. HE showed us a picture – it looked like the face of a really old beaten up Irish hound. And I guess this Sam guy never wrote a play about shopping. And shopping, as you must have worked out by now, was one of the supreme tests for HIM. This may seem bizarre to you and me, man and dog alike. For example, shopping to me is easy. All I used to do was go into a pet shop, tear open a plastic bag of gravy-coated biscuits and HE had to buy them. It’s not brain surgery, is it? (And no, I haven’t had any of that. It was enough to have my bollocks removed – which is yet another traumatic story ……). Of late, with my sis and I fending for ourselves, we have let go of shopping altogether. We’re back to foraging these days. To the manor born.
For HIM I think shopping was the ultimate test, simultaneously for HIM the mundane and yet deeply conflicted frontier between the self and the world. HE told me and sis often that we were so lucky to be dogs (usually while answering emails) and HE complained a lot about how impossible it was as a human being to live ethically in an unethical world. HE told us that almost everything HE did through the day ran the risk of ethical compromise. But HE also felt that to be fully adult, mature was to come to terms with this rather than run away from it. And this is where Buster Keaton comes in as the only way he could work toward a more engaged relationship with this world was by confronting the madness. And he could always have a laugh and he specialised in laughter at his own expense.
He came home with the Stalin & Spencer shirt and said to the pair of us, “I hope you two can now understand a little better the struggle to be fully human.” And then laughed and laughed. I think he thought we were quite lucky to be dogs.