Shannon Cain’s The Necessity of Certain Behaviors was the winner of the Drue Heinz Literary Prize for 2011, showcasing a collection of short stories that speaks to us about love, need, and irreversible actions. What is necessary, what behaviors do we implore when seeking freedom, family or peace? When you are in love with a man and a woman, how do you decide between the two, amidst puppies and wives and a bed filled with the ghosts of your lovemaking? Would you be willing to deal drugs, to sell a large quantity of pot in order to keep your family intact, to chase that plastic package into a dark river, riddled with fear? A mother caught in a steam room masturbating her way into another world, another life, the one she wishes she had lived, cannot overshadow her own daughter’s questionable love for a teacher, a coach, an older man. Lost in the jungle, one woman finds that her sexuality knows no boundaries, instead captivated by the slick dark flesh of men and women alike, trying hard to leave behind the civilized world, in order to embrace her true self. A queer zoo, Bob Barker, and a AAA travel guide eager to get off the beaten path, round out this body of work, the stories in this slim bound volume heartbreaking, alluring, exotic, and lush.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Oh, man. Writing on a Saturday, when it’s so nice outside? Ugh. Feels like weekend homework – something I’ve avoided forever. And yet, here I am, as promised. Today’s story is both sad and adorable like Old Yeller. You know what else is sad and adorable? I once heard a friend refer to that dog as “Old Yellow”, which she assumed was the dog’s full name.

Whoops!

When I was six, I lived out on an old ranch outside Nocona, Texas. I had a horse named Elmer (named after the glue, because he was totally old and about to die when we got him) and a collie named Patches. My older brother had a mutt named Buster, but I always thought he was a Dalmatian because he was white with black spots and I had read that book a hundred and one times.

Buster was neutered, but Patches had not been spayed and the first time she went into heat, we started noticing a little stray dog hanging around. I thought he looked like Benji, but as I have already established, I was not super good at knowing what dogs look like, basing all my dog breed knowledge on fictional dogs from story books.

My dad did not want Patches to get knocked up. The last thing we needed was a bunch of puppies. So whenever he would see stray-Benji hanging around, he’d yell at him or wave his arms menacingly to get him to run off.

But stray-Benji always came back.

Eventually, my dad had to get sinister and teach stray-Benji that when he said, “Go on, get out of here!” he meant it. So he started throwing rocks in the general direction of the dog. I know. It sounds pretty mean. Imagine how I took it, being a six-year-old Benji fan. But he assured me that he was just throwing the rocks near the dog to scare him away, and would not hurt the dog.

Not hurting the dog didn’t teach the dog anything, and stray-Benji kept coming back. We lived out in the country where our dogs ran around free, and as long as Patches was in heat, and stray-Benji was hanging around, we had to keep them apart, which was kind of a pain in the ass.

So my dad got out the heavy artillery: a pellet gun. This sent both my brother and I over the edge, as we were certain that our father was on his way to becoming a dog murderer.

“Hello? Special Victims Unit? Come quick!”

Again, my dad assured us that he was only going to shoot the gun in the air, hoping that the loud noise would scare the dog away for good. It did not. Eventually he took aim at the dog, swearing to us that he would just hit the dog in the butt, and that a pellet gun could never do any real damage.

You guys see where this is going, right? I apologize in advance to the tenderhearted.

So, “Sharpshooter McGee” accidentally hit the dog in the spine. The dog went down, and my brother and I saw everything. My dad had succeeded at keeping stray-Benji off our ovulating collie, but had failed at keeping his children from crying and screaming, “YOU KILLED HIM!” over and over and over. He promised us that the stray dog was just fine, then he picked up the dog and rushed him to the vet.

All that dog wanted was some sweet collie tail, which I assume he is getting a lot of in Heaven.

The thing is, my parents couldn’t really afford to get my dog spayed. And they couldn’t really afford to raise a bunch of puppies. A strapped budget had gotten my dad into this mess, and now he had to cough up the dough to have this poor stray dog put to sleep. And after that, even though we couldn’t really afford it, he had to bring home a live dog and convince us it was the same dog he left with.

My dad worked for an airplane parts manufacturer at the time, and there had been a stray dog hanging around the factory for weeks. He and the other guys at work would feed her scraps, from time to time. She was a beagle mix and she was more than happy to come home with my dad and pretend to be another dog, if it meant two square meals a day.

The other thing she was is pregnant.

She gave birth to eight puppies a few weeks later, which completely thrilled my brother and me, and almost made up for the fact that our accidental-dog-murdering dad tried to fool us with a fake-stray-Benji.

While the origins of San Diego’s name remain murky for some, The Nervous Breakdown is staying as classy as ever by celebrating it’s 5th birthday with TNB’s Literary Experience in San Diego, CA on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 7 p.m.

This event, like the tasty waves rolling up to its bikini-speckled beaches, will be epic.

To commemorate this auspicious occasion, TNB is unleashing a seismic event full of outrageous readings, delicious birthday cake and a special musical guest.

WHEN: Thursday August 25, 2011. 7 p.m.

WHERE:  The Historic Ideal Hotel and Tea Room
540 3rd Ave.
San Diego, CA

 

1) Fenwick-Barnes Syndrome, or ‘Metaphoraphobia’

Pathology: Extreme credibility; Inability to understand metaphor
 
Common symptoms: Fear of phrases like ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’ or ‘You’re driving me crazy’; Fear of Civil War Reenactments; Fear of puppet shows; Fear of team mascots; Fear of emoticons; Fear of Halloween; Fear of Kabuki; Fear of one’s mom using different voices for the different characters in storybooks; Fear of religion; Inability to understand bar graphs and/or finding them to be merely pretty
 
 
2) Osterhaus Syndrome

Pathology: Extreme gustatory sensitivity; Addiction to sex
 
Common symptoms: Experiencing uninterrupted state of orgasm while eating bag after bag of “Vinegar and Salt” flavored potato chips; Mouth sores; Halitosis
 
 
3)Ving RhamesProsopagnosia

Pathology: Inability to distinguish faces from that of actor Ving Rhames
 
Common symptoms: Not enjoying the films of actor Ving Rhames; Fandom of actor Michael Clark Duncan deviating slightly above statistical norm
 
 
4) Jameson Syndrome, or O.C.D. with Situational Anthropomorphization

Pathology: Compulsion to anthropomorphize everyday household objects
 
Common symptoms: Paranoia as to why the automan is always shutting you out; Separation anxiety whenever keys are misplaced; Staging funerals for worn out undershirts; Taking dishware back to the store where purchased for it to ‘visit relatives’; Allowing coatracks to ‘go on vacation’ to the attic once a year; DVD parades; Shoe-horn bar mitzvahs; Picture frame Quincenaras; Thinking the salt-shaker is a total asshole
 
 
5) Riggs Syndrome, or Puppy-Eating Disease

Pathology: Compulsion to eat puppies; Inability to understand the concept of ‘cute’; Moral ambivalence
 
Common symptoms: Favorite food being Puppy Tartare; Being the only member of the ‘Puppies Are Delicious’ fan club; Often bringing own lunch to work
 
 
6) George Foreman‘s Disease (no relation to the boxer/grill entrepreneur), or Amnesiac Akinetopsia

Pathology: Inability to visually interpret motion, i.e. vision is experienced like a series of “frames” rather than as a continuous film; Inability to experience the passage of time
 
Common symptoms: Belief that people on roller coasters are really over-reacting; Adding the sentence, ‘Did you get my last message?’ at the end of all emails; Believing IKEA to be a completely normal place; being terrible at boards games involving little plastic hour-glasses; Favorite sport: curling; Favorite book: Gravity’s Rainbow; Commonly misunderstanding of the lyrics, ‘I want to rock and roll all night / And party every day’; Having a hard time determining when ASAP is; Often missing the bus

Contrary to popular belief, the most dominant dog in any given pack is rarely the first one you notice.

Like any dictator, an alpha dog may be either benevolent or tyrannical, but unlike many human dictators, alpha dogs are never emotionally fragile, touchy, needy, or exceptionally demonstrative.  They just don’t generally stick out unless something has gone seriously awry.

Recently at the Random Writers Workshop in Bakersfield, Calif., we held a little creative nonfiction contest. Nothing big. I just promised to let the winner hijack my TNB account!

I got a stack of entries and carefully read through them. I wrote lots of chicken scratch in the margins. I crossed out phrases. I offered advice. I even begged for more detail and storytelling from some members.

One piece stood out. Joyce Kennedy’s “The Dog Whisperer” grabbed me as not only an interesting read, but one that enlightens us a little about who she is as not only an author, but someone who has special powers over talking to the beasties of the world.

I’ll let her tell you about it. Let the hijacking commence…

******************************

I’m known as an animal whisperer to my friends.

So I wasn’t too surprised when a friend stopped by one afternoon with a pet carrier. “Please, take her,” she begged. “No one seems to be able to do anything with her.”

Opening the carrier door, I looked in at a raggedy mutt that not even its mother could love. I wondered how anybody could mistreat such a small bundle of trembling flesh. The poor thing was so frightened that we had to drag it out by brute force.

It was such a skinny little mite, that overpowering its timidity wasn’t all that hard.

Now, I already have two dogs and two cats, so having another animal to communicate with wasn’t high on my list of things to do. Besides, I had just brought my old Tom, “Duke,” home from the vets after surgery. It seemed he’d been “catting” in one of the neighbor’s yards who owned a Pit Bull that managed to tear his face and throat open.

“I can always put him down,” the vet said when I complained about the cost of surgery.

“Over my dead body,” I stormed. “This is my ninja cat. He took out an intruder who broke into my house. I won’t let him down now.”

My time was already taken up with caring for Duke. But who could resist those terrified, owl eyes that looked up at me from the tattered remains of a puppy now stripped of all its fur. It had been so filthy and matted, nothing else could be done.

She fell at my feet, too frightened to stand or move.

I’ve always been a softy, and I didn’t disappoint my friend this time. I reached for the trembling bundle and cuddled it up under my chin. “I won’t hurt you,” I whispered. “Do you want to come live with us?”

About this time Tiger, my two-year-old, tailor-clipped Maltese, had to have a closer peek. His curiosity had him bounding waist high to get a better look. He kissed her face, checked out her badly infected ears, and greeted her with a few encouraging nudges.

“I think she’s deaf,” my friend explained. “She doesn’t respond when you call her. And she won’t mind. She’s just a bad girl.”

“Well, it’s obvious you don’t understand poodles,” I said. “They’re a vain animal and she’s in disgrace with all her hair cut off, but I can fix that.” Rummaging through my storage closet, I located the box of critter supplies, and pulled out several small sweaters. “Okay, little girl,” I coaxed her, “Which one do you want to wear?”

She timidly rose and checked out my offerings and finally indicated she liked the orange sweater. “But of course,” I exclaimed. “She has a new orange collar. Told you she was a special lady.”

Her ugliness now covered, she rose to follow my boys about the room, although she didn’t seem to understand the art of playing. She didn’t understand much of anything that was happening. When I called her name, she stepped toward me, then stopped. Her big questioning eyes kept looking at me.

With mind-melding ESP, I listened to her mind chatter, but I didn’t understand her thoughts any more than she understood mine.

“What kind of a home did she come from?” I asked.

“Well, my neighbor kidnapped her from his grandparent’s back yard,” she explained. “They hadn’t been feeding her, or allowing her in the house. She’s had nothing but a bare, dirt kennel to live in. And they’ve never brushed or groomed her. He just couldn’t leave her there.” She also said four other people had taken the dog in.

I listened to the young poodle’s mind chatter again.

“Of course, she doesn’t understand what we’re saying,” I said, realizing the problem. “She doesn’t know any English. She only knows Spanish.”

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Joyce Kennedy writes as JoEllen Conger with her twin sister, Joan Powell. They have released seven books including two historicals, “The Queen of Candelore,” (2003) and its sequel, “The Future King,” (2009). Their latest book is a “true lies” type adventure. “Freedom to Ride the Wind (2009). Although they live far apart, their writing career keeps their twinship active.