Wednesday, 3 October 2012

I'm still someplace

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In his wonderful book, Chuck Reducks, the late-Chuck Jones — a true legend in the world of animation who, amongst countless other achievements, created characters such as Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, and also directed what is widely considered to be one of the best cartoons ever made: What's Opera, Doc? — credits his beloved "Uncle Lynn" with teaching him "everything [he] would need to know about animated cartoon writing" during his early years, going on to paint him as a hugely positive influence in his life in general and an "ideal uncle" whom he "worshipped."

Uncle Lynn also knew how to write a beautiful letter. One day, soon after the sad death of the Jones's dear family dog, Teddy, Uncle Lynn sent the following to young Chuck and his siblings.

(Source: The magnificent book, Chuck Reducks; Image: Chuck Jones (right) with his siblings in 1916, via.)

Dear Peggy and Dorothy and Chuck and Dick,

I had a telephone call last night. "Is this Uncle Lynn?" someone asked.

"Why yes," I said. "My name is Lynn Martin. Are you some unregistered nephew?"

"This is Teddy." He sounded a little impatient with me. "Teddy Jones, Teddy Jones the resident dog of 115 Wadsworth Avenue, Ocean Park, California. I'm calling long distance."

"Excuse me," I said. "I really don't mean to offend you, but I've never heard you talk before—just bark, or whine, or yell at the moon."

"Look who's talking," Teddy sniffed, a really impatient sniff if ever I've heard one. "Look, Peggy and Dorothy and Chuck and Dick seem to be having a very rough time of it because they think I'm dead." Hesitate. "Well, I suppose in a way I am."

I will admit that hearing a dog admit that he was dead was a new experience for me, and not a totally expected one. "If you're dead," I asked, not being sure of just how you talk to a dead dog, "how come you're calling me?" There was another irritated pause. Clearly he was getting very impatient with me.

"Because," he said, in as carefully a controlled voice as I've ever heard from a dog. "Because when you are alive, even if the kids don't know exactly where you are, they know you're someplace. So I just want them to know I may be sort of dead, but I'm still someplace."

"Maybe I should tell them you're in Dog Heaven, Teddy, Maybe to make 'em feel—"

"Oh, don't be silly." Teddy cleared his throat. "Look, where are you?"

"Oh, no, you don't. We're trying to find out where you are," I barked.

"Hey, I didn't know you could bark." He sounded impressed with my command of the language.

"Wait just a minute," I said. "You had to know where I am, or you couldn't have called me on the telephone, right?"

"Boy, you know so little," said Teddy. "I simply said I called you long distance. Who said anything about a telephone? They asked me if I knew where you were, and I said you were someplace else, besides 115 Wadsworth Avenue. So they dialled someplace else and here I am and here you are."

"Can I call you back?" I asked dazedly. "Maybe that'll give me a clue."

"Be reasonable," said Teddy. "How can you call me back when neither you nor I know where I am?"

"Oh, come on, give me a clue," I begged desperately. "For instance, are there other dogs around there? I've got to tell the kids something."

"Hold it," said Teddy, apparently looking around. "I did see a pug/schnauzer with wings a minute ago. The wings could lift the schnauzer part of him off the ground, but the pug part just sort of dragged through the grass bumping into fireplugs."

"Fireplugs?"

"Orchards of them, hundreds of 'em. Yellow, red, white, striped. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have to pee anymore. I strain a lot, but all I get is air. Perfumed air," he added proudly.

"Sounds like Dog Heaven to me," I said. "Are there trees full of lamb chops and stuff like that?"

"You know," Teddy sighed. "For a fair to upper-middle-class uncle, you do have some weird ideas. But the reason I called you was Peggy, Dorothy, Chuck, and Dick trust you and will believe anything you say, which in my opinion is carrying the word 'gullible' about as far as it will stretch. Anyway, gullible or not, they trust you, so I want you to tell them that I'm still their faithful, noble, old dog, and—except for the noble part—that I'm in a place where they can't see me but I can see them, and I'll always be around keeping an eye, an ear, and a nose on them. Tell them that just because they can't see me doesn't mean I'm not there. Point out to them that during the day you can't see the latitudes and you can't really see a star, but they're both still there. So get a little poetic and ask them to think of me as 'good-dog,' the good old Teddy, the Dog Star from the horse latitudes, and not to worry, I'll bark the britches off anybody or anything that bothers them. Just because I bit the dust doesn't mean I can't bite the devils."

That's what he said. I never did find out exactly where he was, but I did find out where he wasn't—not ever very far from Peggy, Dorothy, Chuck and old Dick Jones.

Sincerely,

Lynn Martin, Uncle at Large