Tag Archives: dogs

The Humor and Home of James Thurber

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Cartoons and funny articles in a style that is spare and gentle.

James Thurber was one of the most beloved humorists of the last century and his cartoons were regularly featured in The New Yorker for over 30 years.  I recently visited his boyhood home in Columbus, Ohio, where the stories about Thurber’s childhood explained a lot about his gentle and quirky humor, particularly the tales about his delightfully cooky mother and his love of dogs.

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Thurber’s drawings are spare, simple black lines and experts speculate that it may be due in part to an eye injury he received as a child. If your knowledge of Thurber’s work is limited to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and its recent movie incarnation, I suggest reading The Thurber Carnival, a collection of his short stories and drawings for a better look at the author/illustrator. For example, one of my favorite of Thurber’s canine characters is Muggs, in “The Dog That Bit People.” Muggs, a really crabby Airedale, was one of the family dogs (Thurber owned 53 during his life). Muggs bit everyone except Mrs. Thurber who always defended him.  Thurber writes, “Mother used to send a box of candy every Christmas to the people the Airedale bit. The list finally contained forty or more names.”  Like most authors’ homes, Thurber’s house offers a view of life in a slower, though with Muggs around, not necessarily a safer era.

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James Thurber’s home in Columbus, Ohio.

Apart from the stories and drawings, one of Thurber’s most important legacies is the Thurber Prize for American Humor that is now awarded in his name from the non-profit that runs the house and the many Thurber House programs for writers. Winners have included Jon Stewart, David Sedaris,Calvin Trillin and most recently Minnesotan Julie Schumaker for her hilarious book Dear Committee Members.  See my article in the Minnesota Women’s Press on Julie Schumacher.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top–Dog on the Roof

With his crazy mismatched eyes, this Husky looks a little threatening, like he’s about to pounce and make a tasty dinner of you.  Instead, he was just hanging out on the roof of a building in San Andres Xecul, in the highlands of Guatemala, very curious, watching us gringos go by.  For more on my bike trip there, see my previous post, Poco a Poco.

Embarrassing Dog Stories: Poo and Poetry

Dogs. If you love them, you’ll appreciate the stories that follow. If you don’t like dogs or

What?  Me digging?  I haven't been digging.  Spring for dog-lovers.
What? Me digging? I haven’t been digging. Spring for dog-lovers.

are an extremely fastidious person, you should stop reading now and wait for my next post, which will undoubtedly be more literary and appropriate. However, when such great stories come my way, I must share them. I thought this was going to be an April Fool’s story, but it’s true…

The weather is warming up here in Minnesota and a winter’s worth of dog poo is thawing out of the snow right now. Cleaning up that nasty stew of poo is an annual ritual for local dog-owners, and the other day my friend who has two Golden Retrievers raked up three huge bags of dog poop. Because you don’t want such foul things festering in your garage, she put the bags by the garage door waiting for garbage day.  The following day (not garbage pick up day) the bags disappeared. She couldn’t figure out what would have happened to them…..

until she saw the receipt from a local charity thanking her for her donation.

Of course, I’ve been repeating this story all over, which has led to other people telling me their embarrassing and slightly gross dog stories. I heard one from a friend in NYC.  Her German shepherd died and the only way she could only think of to get it to the vet was in a large roller bag.  She was held up on the street and the robbers took the bag!  Surely, that’s the definition of karma.

Please, please, send me any great embarrassing dog tales you have. Click below to send your comment. I love to hear (and share) them.

And now, because you may be grossed out, because you came to this blog expecting something literary, and because April is National Poetry Month I’m going to elevate our discourse by sharing a dog poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, from her book Red Bird.

Percy and Books
Percy does not like it when I read a book.
He puts his face over the top of it, and moans.
He rolls his eyes, sometimes he sneezes.
The sun is up, he says, and the wind is down.
The tide is out, and the neighbor’s dogs are playing.
But Percy, I say, Ideas! The elegance of language!
The insights, the funniness, the beautiful stories
that rise and fall and turn into strength, or courage.
Books? says Percy. I ate one once, and it was enough. Let’s go.

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Poet Mark Doty loves dogs. I love dogs. Hearing Doty’s poems about his dogs made me love poetry.

I never thought a Golden Retriever would lead me anywhere literary. My own Golden

Jake and pals.

Retriever, Jake, has led me a lot of places—swamps, the neighbors’ back yard after he ate all the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at their daughter’s birthday party, wading in lakes after balls that he refused to retrieve…. never to poems.  But Mark Doty’s Golden, Beau, opened my eyes to the potential of reading poetry, and just in time for National Poetry Month.

Doty appeared at the Hennepin County (MN) Library Foundation’s Pen Pals series last week. He’s funny, entertaining, insightful, and has a beautiful voice, which makes me think that poetry is best read aloud, by the poet—so intimate.  He writes about many other things, but he got me with the dogs.  Of course, even those poems are about more than canines; they’re about aging, joy, love, living in the moment.

After I finished blowing my nose and blotting my eyes in the back of the auditorium, I told Doty I’m a convert. Check out his poem Golden Retrievals on the Poetry Foundation’s Web site.

I’m off again: muck, pond, ditch, residue of any thrillingly dead thing. And you?