WHEN I WAS A KID, my brother and I wanted a dog. A big dog. A dog like Marmaduke. Or "The Shaggy D.A." Or Rin Tin Tin. Instead, my parents got us a mixed breed named Rusty, and because my brother and I were interested only in playing with him, my parents were trapped into poop duty.
In later years, I made myself a promise: I'd ignore my children's pleas for a dog, and by doing so, avoid my parents' fate. For years it worked. My wife and I never had to clean up after anyone with more than two legs. But something's changed. Something evil has made my family love tiny dogs. Not only do the kids want one, but LaVeta does, too.
And she wants to name the little bugger Mr. Skeffington.
It's like I'm living two nightmares at once. Not only does my wife want a dog that she can carry around in her purse, she wants to name him after one of those 1940s, black-and-white Bette Davis movies that I hate.
I'm sorry, but I won't have a rat dog named Mr. Skeffington. So like any self-respecting husband, I decided to take a stand. I looked my wife straight in the eye . . . and begged.
"Please, LaVeta. Please tell me you're not serious," I said. But when I saw the look on her face, I knew she was.
Silently panicking, I tried to think of what prompted this. Was it our daughter, Eve, who says she wants to dress two Yorkies as a bride and groom and march them down the aisle at her wedding? Could LaVeta want a tiny dog as an accessory for her designer handbags? Whatever the reason, I knew I had to stop it, so I shifted into lawyer mode.
"Think it through," I said smugly. "What would a day with this dog actually look like?"
"Lots of hugs and kisses and sitting on Mommy's lap, since my children are too big for that," my wife said. "I'm sure the dog's morning greeting would be friendlier than what I get from all of you."
But we're not morning people! I thought. It's nothing personal!
Before I could get that out, though, she was talking again, and this time, I wasn't quite sure how to respond.
"Mr. Skeffington would be in the kitchen with me while I make the children's lunches."
Great, I thought. Dog hair in my kids' food.
"After that, I would get the dog something to eat," she continued. "Our day would be filled with lots of love, and when he rides with me to pick up Little Solomon from school, I would put his little dog coat on him. It would be tweed - only tweed and plaid would be good enough for Mr. Skeffington. In fact he'd have a whole set of clothing: A raincoat, a little sweater-jacket, and reindeer ears at Christmas."
I began sweating bullets as I imagined the ridicule I'd face if anybody saw a dog walk out of my house wearing reindeer ears. I was desperate, and that's when I found my voice.
"What if the dog had to step up and provide security?" I asked.
"He wouldn't be for security. He'd be for companionship."
"What about me? Don't I give you companionship?"
"That's different," she said.
"Well," I sputtered, "could you unconditionally promise me that I would never have to walk or feed this dog?"
"The same way I do the bulk of the work with the kids, I would do the bulk of the work with Mr. Skeffington," she said coolly. "I don't expect you to participate in this."
"Do you remember what happened when Jasmine brought one of those little dogs into our home?"
We both paused, recalling a special visit from LaVeta's niece, Jasmine, and her dog, Sassy, a shih tzu. Turns out Sassy's breed was aptly named, because Sassy pooped on our floor.
"That dog was just visiting!" I said earnestly. "Imagine what one of them would do if it actually lived here!"
LaVeta was unmoved. She said she was planning to set up a little bed for Mr. Skeffington in the dining room, right near the scene of Sassy's crime.
By then I was resigned to my fate, so I asked the only question I had left. "Why do you want to name the dog Mr. Skeffington, anyway?"
"Because the name just sounds nice and proper, like me," she said. "Besides, the dog will have a lot in common with the character from the movie. Bette Davis married Mr. Skeffington because he was loaded. My Mr. Skeffington is going to be loaded, too - loaded with love and smiles and happiness."
Oh, well. Looks like it's going to be reindeer ears after all.