The White Shoe Irregular:
It was fun while it lasted.


Tom Johnson

I don't often go to the beach, as I live so far inland, but when I do go I always wish I had a pair of big dogs to bring. They would have to be strong dogs, with chests like refrigerators and legs like steel. If I had big dogs I would bring them to the beach with a whole bucket of balls. Here you go, boys. I would hold the tennis ball above their noses, shaking it back and forth, and then launch it miles down the beach. The ball would go so high the dogs would lose it in the air but continue running in anticipation. Then the ball would drop to the sand and roll into the surf that is just washing in, and immediately afterwards the dogs would crash into the waves and snag the ball in their jaws, one dog chasing the other as they run back to me and drop it at my feet. Immediately I would throw another, and another, and another, all day, and they would love it.

I've never really had a dog. When I was two my mother says we had a sheepdog of sorts, that it chewed up our shoes so we got rid of it. Its name was Happy. Happy was replaced by a little mutt puppy that peed all over the house, and although mother laid newspapers everywhere and carried it outside when it started to pee, the dog never learned. We never had a dog after that. We lived in apartments. Both parents worked. We went to school. That's too cruel to do to a dog, my father said, leaving him there all day.

The solution: Rent-A-Pet! People will go to a nice long beach, lots of sand and surf. My shop will be thirty yards inland, right beside a surfboard shop and a bikini store, and between a hamburger and a G-string they'll stop in for canine. People will come into my shop and look around. I won't have little kennels stacked on top each other, just eight or ten big pens, full of strong dogs, labs, retrievers, Rottweilers, shepherds, Whippets, a Greyhound, one Great Dane — two of each kind, except for the Great Dane. The Dane has his own pen.

I will train the dogs from birth, teaching them to respond promptly to customer commands. One set of commands for the customer, one for me. There'll be a pamphlet with simple instructions for the customer: Go, Stop, Heel, Get the ball, Shake, Roll over, Speak, C'mon. Mine will be in reformed Spanish. Latinos and Mexicans, however, must still use the English commands. I will always have complete control of my dogs.

You will have to be at least fourteen years old to rent one of the hounds. Each of the dogs will be harmless, but there will still be a form to fill out, saying something to the effect that if this dog goes nutso you can't sue me. If he bites you or someone else I am not responsible. You assume full responsibility for the dog.

Tennis balls must be purchased new every time. I don't want you bringing me back a couple of slobbered and dirty balls covered with teeth marks. If you bring them yourself that's fine, but they must be new. I want to see the can opened in the store; they need to be clean. If you buy the balls from me, each can costs four dollars. For an hour the dog will cost you ten dollars. I could charge more, but when I was fourteen, ten dollars was a lot of money. If you want two dogs, they will cost you ten dollars each. Standard prices for everyone. You cannot check out all the dogs at one time. The Dane runs alone.

Each dog must be leashed until you reach the beach area. You cannot take the dog into the city or around the roads. You cannot take the dog into y our car, and if you try to steal one of the dogs or if one of the dogs comes back hurt, you pay a hefty sum. If you throw the ball repeatedly into heavy surf, or riptide areas, or even more than fifteen yards into the water, you lose your deposit. I still haven't decided what the deposit will be. The dogs can swim of course, but they're not lifeguards. If you don't bring the dog back, you should not come back either.

Finally, everyone who rents one of my dogs gets an emergency air horn. Should you happen to lose one of the dogs, sound the air horn and the dog will return to you. The dog should recognize you by the orange vest and orange hat which you will wear, but if the dog does not relocate you even after several blows of the air horn, check back at the shop to see if he inadvertently returned home.

One day, after moving to New York, I was walking along the busy sidewalks when I saw a sign soliciting a dog walker. Apparently, people in New York are too busy to walk their dogs, so they hire others to walk their dogs for them. It is quite common, actually, and after I saw that first sign I saw many more. I never called any of them, though, even if the situation seems like it would be ideal. Dogs in New York must stay on leashes most of the time, and the few places they are allowed to run unleashed — caged in pens — are not large enough to run at all. I will have to do the running myself.