patty, her sisters, and spike, the transvestite doberman
Spike Endorfer il Duce, named for a British comedian, a fourteenth-century Teutonic knight and a twentieth-century Italian fascist, is a superb animal, a Doberman Pinscher of distinction, born of an ancient and well-documented lineage. He holds his head proudly and carries himself with the restrained dignity of his kind. His tail and ears are properly clipped, and he is trained to the highest standards; he is more than a pet, he is a canine samurai, a four-legged knight errant, a policeman for the home, ready at all times to serve and protect. He is, by any standard, a fine example of a strong and excellent breed.
An itinerant soldier at the ripe old age of two, Spike found permanent employment with Patti’s family, as pet and playmate to the children, guard dog and symbol of security to Patti’s parents, frightening icon to any seeking to harm or threaten his adoptive family. When he first arrived, Spike stood nearly as tall as the youngest child; was, in fact, large enough and strong enough to serve as steed for the mounted cavalry of Lilliputian riders. He was also still puppy enough and playful enough to do so cheerfully.
When they were young, Patti and her sisters would dress Spike in their little-girl clothes: Dresses and skirts and blouses; hats and cute nighties; taffeta and crinoline; lace and satin. And once, to their mother’s horror, Patti’s brand-new yellow angora sweater, the one with the brightly colored fishes swimming across the front. They would paint his doggie nails with Max Factor fingernail polish and style his short wiry hair with their tiny doll combs. They would accessorize him with ribbons and bows. And then, because they were frightened of being frightened, they would pull him up onto the couch with them while they watched Dark Shadows.
In my imagination I can see them, three little girls, as cute as a whole box of buttons, huddled together on the couch with their afternoon cookies and milk and their wonderful strong dog to protect them from the vampires and monsters and ghoulies. The girls are wearing their spring dresses, their shorts and tee shirts. Spike is wearing a jeweled collar and a ruffled pink skirt. On his head is a soft, pink doll’s hat, while his bobbed tail sports a matching pink ribbon and his nails are painted in Summer Harvest Peach or Passionate Plum.
The room is dark, the curtains drawn against the afternoon, after-school sun, because that’s the only way to watch Dark Shadows, after all. The distinctive and familiar blue television light washes about the room, casting horrific shadows in the corners where the nasty things hide. Whenever Barnabas Collins appears, the little girls squeal, momentarily startling Spike. The girls huddle closer together, cookies forgotten, and wrap their arms around the reassuring strength and warmth of their stalwart pet. They peek, wide-eyed, past the bulk of the dog, shivering in the way that only little girls who know they are perfectly safe can shiver at pretend danger. Spike remains unmoved by both the televised terror and the fantasized monsters. That’s his job.
I can imagine Spike’s thoughts at these moments. Deep in his great canine brain he puzzles over his situation: A powerful man-killer, bred and trained to be the cutting edge in home and personal security, reduced to modeling the latest in toy-store and Garanimals fashion. He would gladly, perhaps even joyfully, give his life to protect these children from danger or harm. He would shrug off the burns and the pain to drag their unconscious bodies from the flames and smoke of a house fire. He would leap at the gunman’s arm, his body absorbing the piercing bullets, to shield these innocents from injury. He would jump into the swirling, chilling waters to pull a child from the sharp rocks and pounding current of a flooding river. He is proud to stand this duty, honored by the trust placed in him, justifiably complacent that he is qualified to work in the service of this family. He knows nothing else.
But, at this moment, I can also imagine that Spike is grateful that the room is dark, that no one other than his young charges can see the depths of his degradation. His strength, however, is such that he remains unmoved by the conflict of duty and dishonor. This is his job as well.
But I can hear, all along the quiet suburban street, a charming lane lined with split-level homes and carefully groomed lawns, the other dogs gossiping and whispering behind their paws. “Have you heard what goes on at Spike’s house? With the doors closed and the lights out?” The dogs titter their throaty doggie-titters and shake their furry heads. The Poodle two doors down is heard to say, “Shameful, simply shameful.” All the while he’s thinking he’d like to get to know Spike better; ordinarily, he knows, the other dogs are teasing him. In the Poodle’s musings, the disdain of the others naturally binds him to Spike: Misery and company and all that.
The Pit Bull on the next block sagely suggests therapy, in his best dry and sarcastic manner, an intellectual twinkle in his eye and a wry laugh in his voice; and thinks to himself that the next chance he gets he’ll rip the throat out of that pussy Doberman. The Collie across the street expresses her disgust in haughty snorts, but finds the whole idea strangely exciting. She doesn’t know why: Introspection is not a trait for which Collies are well known. Over the backyard fence lives the simply gorgeous German Shepherd who walks with a Lipizzaner stallion’s perfectly measured goosesteps, and wears his meticulous grooming with Aryan pride. He says nothing, unwilling as usual to lower himself to the gauche conversation of the hoi polloi, but smiles inwardly and dreams of sharing makeup tips with his neighbor, even if the object of his fantasies does look a bit punk, with his shaved hair and bobbed tail. Dogs of a feather, as it were, he thinks.
Whenever Spike is around, the other dogs treat him, outwardly at any rate, with respect, but tell off-color dog jokes with oddly pointed punch lines. “Did you hear about the gay Chihuahua? He wanted to be queen for a day!” “How many Pomeranians does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, they’re too busy fixing their hair!” A little known but unsurprising fact: Dogs, the world's foremost authorities on scatological humor, are very easily amused. The Cocker Spaniel twins, generally clueless about pretty much everything, giggle excitedly and dance around, enjoying the other dogs’ merriment and happy simply to be included in the group for a change.
Spike, confused by the tenor of the conversation and the jokes, often wonders at the wary eye he gets from the Pit Bull and the slightly puzzled come-hither look he gets from the Collie; more, that damned Poodle is becoming entirely too familiar.
And he doesn’t care to even think about the German Shepherd and the vibes he gets from that Prussian fairy.
When school lets out for the summer, his situation grows desperate, his degradation plumbs new depths and thereafter plummets for the abyss. Now his three diminutive mistresses have all day to make up and play out their games, the full twenty-four hours of each and every day to entertain themselves at his expense. The girls, naturally, have no idea of the humiliation they are perpetrating on their beloved pet. They are but children, of course, and Spike, for all intents and purposes, is their babysitter. The words cross-dressing and transvestite have yet to enter the combined vocabulary of all three children and the dog; wouldn’t carry any real meaning for any of them even if they had. I imagine Spike groaning inwardly and shaking his proud head in resignation and despair. If he were just a bit smarter, a smidgen less caring, a tad less devoted, he might realize that he is stronger than the three of them put together and could easily avoid their attentions with no harm done and without relaxing his vigilance a whit. But, somehow, I feel certain that this insight never crosses his mind. It’s all just part of the job, ma’am, all just part of the service here at Chez Spike.
As the long, lazy summer wears on, Spike is seen on occasion behind his house, yard-long ribbons tied to his neck and tail. The ribbons fly out around him as his tiny charges chase him about the lawn, giggling madly and running themselves ragged in their playful attempts to catch hold of the multicolored streamers. And, on at least one delightful July afternoon, Spike is spied in the front yard, wearing a lovely mauve bonnet, complete with veil, no less, as the rail-thin Patti, just beginning to show promise of the graceful woman she will someday become, leads him in stately parade across the grass for the entertainment of her little sisters, future beauties in their own right. Spike, of course, is colorblind; he can’t even see the color mauve, for God’s sake.
These events do not go unnoticed by the local pack. The attacks on the Doberman’s character, however tangential, continue, grow more pointed each day.
In the end, the great hound reaches the last of his patience. It begins in late August, with a rambling monologue by the Pit Bull on Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture? Spike listens patiently, even attentively, for him to finish, and then coldly and efficiently fulfills that arrogant poseur’s fondest, most deeply hidden desire by mauling him severely. The Collie, too, gets her wish, in the middle of the afternoon in the center of the front lawn, in full view of the neighborhood’s grade-schoolers, who crowd the sidewalk in open-mouthed shock and wonder at his concise demonstration of one of the more fundamental aspects of life in the animal kingdom.
At first, Patti’s parents are concerned by these events, certainly, but not yet truly worried. In mid-August, however, Spike chases off the Avon lady with a bare-toothed growl that would freeze the blood of the most bitter of ex-spouses. Two days later, he drives the mailman stumbling from the porch, the dog landing on the poor fellow's chest with all the force of the powerful killer that he is bred to be. The children are absolutely thrilled by Spike’s performance: They never have liked that prissy Mrs. Finch with her cheek-numbing pinches and perpetual smell of lavender, and that old mailman is scary! He has a heavy, twisted beard and long hair, just like a pirate, and he would never give them the mail, even when they waited outside for his arrival, even that time they were expecting their Cap’n Crunch Super-Secret Mystery Decoder Bracelets!
Their parents, on the other hand, take a much dimmer view of the big animal’s behavior. No one, other than the Pit Bull, had yet been hurt, but who would he turn on next? I picture their father’s dismal estimation of the potential legal liabilities while Mom worries about her carpets: What if Spike takes to marking his territory? And the little girls? What about them? Spike would never hurt or frighten them, of course, but no one knows that except the girls and Spike, and they don’t get a vote.
So, the tears and protestations of his children notwithstanding, Patti’s father makes arrangements for a job for Spike, as stud at a local guard dog school. Allow me to pause here for a moment to repeat myself: Stud at a local guard dog school. Just imagine that, Spike the transvestite Doberman, ending his days in canine comfort; three hots and a cot, no nail polish or ribbons, no parades on the front lawn, no fancy hats or dresses. He will, in fact, have no responsibilities whatsoever, other than the occasional obligation to mount a purebred bitch in heat. And, ultimately, isn't that all any warm-blooded male animal really wants?
I imagine Spike smiling.