This story is based on a popular joke which I believe has the wrong punch line, that a talking dog turns out to be a big liar. If one starts with the conclusion, then what might the background be?
Also, please be sure to read the supplementary section in italics at the end of this tale. Your dear writer is looking for a little sympathy and understanding.
The turtle-neck-attired couple Sam and Samantha, otherwise known as Sam One and Sam Too to those in their youthful yuppie set, was in the market for a pet to adorn their recently-purchased and rebuilt townhouse on the fringe of Toronto’s downtown core.
How could they resist the ad in the classifieds? “Owner desires to sell world’s smartest dog. Best offer accepted.”
Sam One called the listed cell number and an appointment was arranged for that very afternoon.
In little more than an hour, the two Sams were ringing the doorbell of a grey-shingled, pink-bricked home in a quiet neighborhood where the city’s outer boundary was butting heads with a more aggressive suburbia.
A somber-appearing man in his early fifties answered the chime and introduced himself as Fabian. The several-days’ stubble on his cheeks indicated an unresolved struggle with a personal demon or two. But he was pleasant enough as he ushered the curious supplicants into his living room.
“So I guess you’re here to meet Herman,” he said. “I’ll go get him. He’s in the rec room downstairs. A word of warning, though. He’s going to be a bit of a shock for you.”
“You’ve written he’s the smartest dog in the world,” said Sam One. “What’s that mean? Does he do tricks? Roll over, beg, chase sticks? Read minds?”
“I know you think you’re being amusing, but reserve judgment ‘til you meet him, okay? That’s all I ask.”
“Sure,” said Sam Too.
Shortly, Fabian returned with a lively bundle of fur that wagged its tail and appeared to make every effort to be endearing to all in the room.
“Oh he’s a cutie,” said Sam Too, bending down to pat the joyful package.
“Sure is.” Added Sam One. “Come ‘on boy, let’s see what you can do.”
“What are they talking about?” asked a voice in as clear and pure a tone as any member of a boys’ choir in a soaring gothic cathedral.
The two Sams wondered where the sound came from.
Tight-lipped Fabian looked resigned to whatever might come his way.
“Lady and gentleman, I have the pleasure of introducing to you the world’s smartest and gabbiest dog. This is Herman.”
“No. No way,” said the two Sams simultaneously.
“Why do people always say that?” asked Herman.
Clearly Fabian had no answer for him. He let the time pass. Experience had taught him there was nothing to do but allow the facts to sink in.
“This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” said Sam One. He quickly corrected himself. “Or heard.”
Sam Too was too stunned to speak. She wasn’t past the jaw-dropping stage.
“Why are you selling this incredible dog?” asked Sam One.
“It’s a personal matter,” said Fabian. “Herman, would you please excuse us for a few moments so I can talk privately with these nice people?”
Herman stopped panting excitedly. He clearly wasn’t happy about the request but he accepted it with good grace.
“Alright, if that’s what you want, Fabian. I’ll go back to watching old Jeopardy episodes. Call me if you wish to discuss anything further. It’s been a pleasure meeting you folks.”
With that, Herman left the room, head held high. A jaunty and self-confident bounce in his stride.
“You’re wondering how I came into possession of such an extraordinary creature? I won him in a poker contest a year ago. We’ve had many great moments together. He’s an incredible raconteur and charming company.”
“Then why are you trying to part with him?” asked Sam Too.
That’s when Fabian lowered his voice and looked around to make sure he wasn’t being overheard by canine ears. “Because he’s a horrible liar. I can’t live with it.”
“Liar? What do you mean?” queried Sam One with surprise. “The occasional fib? A stretching of the truth? How bad can it be? The dog can talk. Who cares what he has to say as long as he can put a sentence together?”
“Sure that seems reasonable enough, but there are circumstances in which too much of a good thing becomes more than one can take.”
The Sams looked at each other and silently communicated their astonishment.
“Let me tell you Herman’s life story, as told to me, and then maybe you’ll better understand my bitterness at finding out how he’s been stringing me along all this time.”
“You have our full attention,” said Sam One.
Fabian settled into a comfortable bark-o-lounger and the other two sat side-by-side on a tattered and weary-looking leather couch.
“Herman claims he’s a cross between a ventriloquist’s dummy and a cocker spaniel.”
“And that wasn’t a clue that he might not always be telling the truth?” said Sam.
“I wondered, but I thought it was possible. This much I do know. He is deathly afraid of woodpeckers and whenever I drink a glass of water, he can’t talk.”
“Cute. That may only prove he has a sense of humor,” said Sam One.”
“He claims he was brought up by Benedictine monks. They’re the ones who taught him to speak.”
“How outrageous is that?” said Sam Too.
“I don’t know. There seems to be some veracity to the story. He speaks Latin and he sure likes his liqueurs.”
Fabian paused to catch his breath. Or maybe to put his thoughts in order.
Sam One and Sam Too looked at each other. This was an experience, the telling of which would earn them centre stage at their next social gathering.
“Then he was kidnapped by pirates and spent a couple of years sailing the high seas.”
“Come on. How could you believe that one?”
“He’s got a girl in every port. He’ll pull out their pictures and regale you with stories at the slightest provocation. Besides, his best friend’s a parrot.”
When Fabian’s concentration drifted out of focus, Sam Too leaned in to speak sotto voce to Sam One. “Notice a pattern in these stories? There seems to be a bird motif.”
“Yes. Next we’ll be hearing how Fabian knows a bald eagle that’s undergone remedial hair replacement.”
“Hee. Hee.” The two of them started giggling. The strangeness of the occasion was getting to them.
“Have you two finished?” asked Fabian, as his thoughts rebounded to the present.
“Yes, sorry, go on,” said Sam One.
“Please do,” echoed Sam Too, looking somewhat contrite.
“Herman finally escaped from the pirates when they anchored in Yokohama for badly-needed repairs. While in dry-dock, he jumped ship and found employment in the nuclear power industry. I know it sounds dangerous but he says his working conditions were perfectly safe.”
“And you believed him?”
“Well, he doesn’t glow in the dark and he says he knows where all the spent fuel cells are buried.”
Sam One could only shake his head. The degree to which Fabian was gullible was unbelievable.
“He eventually wanted to return to this continent. And he has a love for the sea. So he found employment with BP on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Says it was the best job he’s ever had. And he’s never known a company to be more careful in adhering to government safety regulations.”
“Wow. I don’t know what to say. Surely that was a dead giveaway you weren’t getting an accurate rendition from this dog.”
“No, I’ve seen his hardhat and he’s always mentioning some former friend or another he once worked with as a wildcatter. He gets hundreds of e-mails every day and they’re not all spam.”
“Still, you must have had some doubts? Liars can be pretty persuasive, but there comes a time when the truth is eventually revealed.” said Sam One.
Fabian looked distraught. “Yes, you’re right. I was caught up in his spell for a long time. But that all changed three nights ago. After what he told me, I could no longer ignore my suspicions.”
“What did he say that was so terrible?” asked Sam Too.
“For the last year, while he’s been living with me, Herman’s been working with the Maple Leafs. He says the organization is first rate from top to bottom – players, coaches and scouts. He has no doubt this year will be a turning point and the team will definitely make the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup.”
The three of them sat in stunned silence. What could Sam One and Sam Too do but commiserate with their devastated host?
Finally the two Sams stood and started walking towards the front door.
“I’m sorry Fabian,” said Sam One. “We’re going to have to pass on this opportunity.”
“Yes, clearly Herman has no moral compass,” added Sam Too.
“None whatsoever,” added Sam One sadly.
“In fact, he’s just plain mean,” said Sam Too.
“What a cruel thing to do,” agreed Sam One.
“Trying to get your hopes up,” sighed Sam Too.
They both lowered their heads.
And with that, they departed.
Perhaps one has to live in a winner-deprived hockey-mad town like Toronto to get the point of this story. The Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967. In the interim, their long-suffering fans have been given many promises, later to be broken.