Wednesday 28 Sep 2016

Shakespeare, a dog
AJ Robinson

It's been ten years now, since we got him. My wife Jo Ann and our daughter, Alexa, went to the Charlotte County Humane Society in Port Charlotte, Florida when Alexa was five. They got him on William Shakespeare's birthday; so she wanted to name him that.

The lady at the humane society said, "Honey, if you can spell it, you can name him that!"

She didn't think a little five-year-old could spell that name. Well, she didn't know Alexa. You see, she's what's known as gifted; so she was (and is) pretty sharp.

Shakespeare sort of looked like a yellow Labrador that someone cut the legs off of, and he had those big, floppy Beagle ears. So, we pretty much figured he was a Beagle and Lab mix. He was very timid at first; he'd wail and howl if we so much as swung our foot near him. From that we deduced that he'd probably been treated quite cruelly as a stray; been kicked around a lot. Well, with us, he found a home.

One night, quite by chance, we were watching the Marx Brothers movie "A Night at the Opera." Shakespeare was asleep on the floor, and ignored most of it. But, when the actors started singing that beautiful opera music; well, that was a horse of another color.

He sat up, tilted back his head, and started singing along. Now, this wasn't mere howling. No, he actually matched their tempo and cadence; it was quite amusing.

When he was done, we applaud; and it was clear that Shakespeare was happy. He sort of took a little bow.

After that, any time some really good music came on, he sang. He didn't care for the "screechy" girls like Britney, or any of the modern groups. We even took him to an audition for "Ripley's Believe it or Not" to be on their show. We brought a sample of Britney, and the CD for "Les Miserable." For Britney, he sat down and yawned. Ah, but when Cosette began singing about love; oh man, did he let loose with the accompaniment! Ultimately, he lost out to another dog, but he was quite the hit with the staff at the museum, where the auditions were held.

Not long after that, we took him to the Orlando Science Center; to their annual Pet Fair. Shakespeare met a lot of very nice dogs, and growled at some mean cats. He was very popular there; he gave several "concerts." All the boys and girls applauded, and Shakespeare was very happy.

After the fair, the organizers asked us about Shakespeare doing some commercials the next year to promote the Pet Fair. So, next year, Jo Ann took him to all the local TV station, where he sang on the news programs. There she was, "agent" to a new star!

Not long after that, we made quite the interesting discovery. We were watching the movie "The Wiz," and about halfway through it, Jo Ann noticed something.

"This movie's been mixed wrong," she said. "All the songs are slightly off key."

She had a musical background, so she knew such things. Me, I couldn't tell a high C from a flat F, so I deferred to her expertise. Well, at the end of the film, Lena Horne came on as Glinda the Good Witch, and started singing.

No sooner had she started, than Jo Ann said, "Ah, finally, a properly mixed song!"

And, at that moment, Shakespeare started singing. So, not only did he only care for good music, but he had perfect pitch as well.

Still later, I chanced to be home alone with Shakespeare, and I started watching the movie "Raid on Entebbe." It tells the true story of an airplane being hijacked and taken to the African nation of Uganda, back when Idi Amin was dictator, although he called himself, "President for Life," same difference.

Amin was in league with the hijackers, and they demanded that the Israelis release their comrades being held in Israeli prisons. Well, the Israelis didn't believe in negotiating with terrorists, so they mounted a rescue operation; they sent a planeload of troops to get their people back. As the plane flew along, the soldiers looked for ways to occupy themselves: reading, playing cards etc. At one point, one of them started humming a Jewish song. Eventually, they all started singing. Well, from down the hall came Shakespeare's voice. He was singing along with them, and again, he was matching their tone and cadence.

I couldn't help but laugh and say, "Why, Shakespeare, I had no idea you were Jewish."

His next "grand performance" came when we were watching "American Idol." For the initial auditions, nothing much happened. But, when it got down to the final dozen or so, and they started having their full band accompaniment, Shakespeare began to chime in with his "opinion." When a singer proved particularly good, he'd sing along with them. It wasn't long before we realized he was both as critical as Simon, and as good a judge. His "batting average," when it came to picking the eventual winner, was pretty good! We even joked that they should hire Shakespeare as a judge. He'd be perfect; he could sit between Simon and Paula, and keep them from squabbling.

Ever since then, he has been known as "Shakespeare, the opera singing dog."

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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