I’m fond of my four dogs, but there’s no question they can be pains in the posterior. At the first hint of daylight, the little darlings are up and demanding to be walked and fed. You have no idea how tiring it is to start each morning by forcing my wife out of bed to tend to their needs.
And it doesn’t end there. When I finally manage to drag myself out of the sack, there’s still grooming to be done, more walking and of a longer duration, as well as relentless demands for pats and playtime. Between that and drinking beer, it’s a wonder I have a few hours left over for watching sports on TV and catching the occasional nap.
There’s no question I’d be a more productive person if my pets were of the taxidermed variety. All they’d require for maintenance is an occasional dusting and maybe a little glass cleaner on the eyeballs. And the savings on dog food might be almost enough to cover my bar tab.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not considering having my pooches stuffed and mounted. That would be a little too creepy even for me. But I am convinced that any future additions to the household menagerie should have mastered the trick of playing dead – even if they’re not actually playing.
Over the years, I’ve acquired the occasional stuffed critter at flea markets and junk shops or as gifts from warped friends and insane relations. A slightly moth-eaten mountain goat’s head. A bristly wild boar. A fierce bobcat. A weasel head on a tiny wooden plaque. A lizard surrounding a smoking tray complete with lizard-skin ashtray. The publisher of this esteemed magazine even gave me a stuffed squirrel for Christmas. Actually, it’s just half a squirrel. The back half.
I don’t think there was any hidden message there. If it had been the rear end of a horse, I might feel otherwise.
I also used to have a stuffed horned toad, until one of the dogs ate it. That incident was about as close as I’ve come to adding a canine head to my collection. As it was, I couldn’t muster the least bit of sympathy when the mutt barfed up the spiky tail.
Recently, I read a couple of stories about how, in big cities like London, New York and Los Angeles, taxidermy has become the latest hipster hobby. Young trendsetters have abandoned such previous fads as collecting typewriters, knitting and wearing fedoras to take classes in the craft of making dead carcasses look alive.
Sort of like “The Expendables” movies.
These nouveau taxidermists aren’t content simply to resurrect roadkill. Instead, they’re combining various dead critters to make such unlikely entities as mice with wings, woodchucks with fangs and politicians with moral standards. The cool crowd seems to think this is a bold, new idea, but those of us who’ve spent significant time in some of the nation’s finer traditional saloons know that the demand for weird combinations of fur, fins and feathers dates back to the early 19th century, when no barroom was complete without a half-fish-half-bird display or, at the very least, a jackalope.
My wall features a splendid example of the latter, purchased many years ago as a Christmas present for my wife, who eventually forgave me. It’s so realistic a merging of jackrabbit and antelope that a sizable percentage of the nincompoops who see it for the first time ask, “Is that a real animal?”
Naturally, I always reply, “Yes. It’s not only real, but it’s also incredibly dangerous. With those powerful hind legs, it can leap at you from 20 feet away, driving those antlers right into your heart. I was lucky to hit that one with a single shot in mid-air.
“The fellow I was hunting with wasn’t so fortunate. I have his body mounted in my office with the jackalope still stuck in his chest.”
In recent years, I’ve taken to hanging most of my heads and other assorted animal parts on the walls above the stairs leading to the second floor. I’ve christened this location “The Stairway of Impending Doom,” and I’ve noticed it works quite well as a disincentive to visitors who are thinking of spending the night.
Of course, my undisciplined dogs also help with that. But I find taxidermy is less messy and time-consuming than teaching them to pee in somebody’s shoes.
In addition to acquainting his generation with the latest hipster trends, Al Diamon writes the weekly column Politics & Other Mistakes, which runs in several Maine newspapers and websites. He’s also the media critic for The Bollard magazine. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.