The Common Good
March-April 2000

Animal House

by Ed Spivey Jr. | March-April 2000

I am personally against dogs having credit cards.

This is the second issue of the New Millennium, a time period which, I believe, has way too many consonants. But overlooking that for the moment, this issue of the magazine provides a unique opportunity to establish a record for those historians who, a thousand years from now, will dust off the Sojourners archives from the year 2000 and try to get a better understanding of why, for example, we didn’t outlaw telemarketers when we had the chance. (Year 3000 audio-clip: "Good evening Mr. [your name]. We are telepathically interrupting your thoughts to announce important vinyl siding news!")

By "jumping ahead" and imagining what the Year 3000 celebrations would include, we’re certain that host Dick Clark would want to know more about what we did in the Year 2000, besides drinking all that extra water we thought we’d need. What seeds did we plant for the next thousand years? What lessons did we want to impart to our descendants who, at the beginning of the next millennium, will probably still be going through the toilet paper they inherited from us.

WE UNDERSTAND this quest for historical knowledge because, in the year 2000, we likewise wanted to look back and appreciate the important milestones of the First Millennium, such as the invention of scurvy. ("Yorik...dude, you don’t look so good. I’d loan you my leaches but I had to pawn them. The wife’s got a birthday coming up.")

Sadly, records from that time show little evidence of intelligent life—such as early humor columns—even though historians agree that impoverished laborers toiling under uncaring feudal masters probably could have used an occasional joke, not to mention work gloves. (Actual serf quote: "Excuse me, would somebody please hurry up and invent the weekend?")

In fact, the one example of early humor that has been unearthed—an excerpt from a Year 1000 celebration roast—gives only a cursory description of life in those times: "The other day I was talking to this really old guy—he looked to be about 26, maybe 27 years old—and he said, ‘Take my wife...and these festering sores from some painful and incurable disease... please!’"

"Hahahahah! What a nut!"

As you can see, we gain no real understanding about life 1,000 years ago, except for the part about having the same health care we have now. That’s why it’s important at this pivotal historical moment that we carefully think about the major questions of today so that future generations will understand why, for example, Larry’s dog was mailed a credit card application.

Larry works here (and so does his dog, sometimes. Well, maybe he’s not actually working when he sits there and growls. No, wait, I’m thinking of another staff member). The application that came in the mail was addressed to "Shorty Bellinger," which, while not his legal name, was given to him because he is, in fact, quite short. One of those Datsuns, I think (which looks wrong on paper, but it got through spellcheck so it must be okay). Fortunately, family members intercepted the incoming application before it could be filled out. And they continue to be vigilant on Shorty’s daily walks since he keeps making excuses to stop by the local notary public "just to get help with a few personal papers."

Still, one must assume that floating around in the computer databases of this country is one "Shorty Bellinger," who will soon be inundated with the false hopes that he may "ALREADY BE A WINNER!" or could "receive valuable motel discounts as a member of AARP!" Not to mention the great rates he could get by changing long distance companies.

I am personally against dogs having credit cards. If I may be serious for a moment, I feel that nonhumans shouldn’t have the ability to incur debt (not including Rep. Dick Armey, who growls and drools—and occasionally lifts his leg to scratch at something—every time he talks about national spending priorities).

Clearly, animals lack the intelligence to be responsible with credit cards in this, the nation with the highest consumer indebtedness in the world. No, wait...wrong argument.

For example, take our two cats (please...and we’ll throw in a year’s supply of litter), two of the most irresponsible creatures on the planet. How could they handle the demands of credit when they have never once helped pick up around the house? To my knowledge, their only achievement has been to come up with the term "lolling."

Our frogs are even worse, since they never come out of their little tank. Who knows what they’d do if they were issued credit cards and dropped off at the mall for a couple hours. (Although, to be honest, they would probably just take over the closest water fountain. KID: "Mommy, I want a drink but there are too many frogs!" MOM: "Don’t make up stories, Billy.")

The only animal in our house remotely capable of responsibility is our bird, Corey, who frequently joins us for breakfast. He is very focused and organized and spends most of the time walking from plate to plate, systematically picking up our vitamin tablets and dropping them onto the floor. (I could have used him once when we had lima beans. Ugh.)

By the way, if you’re wondering why we have a quantity of animals that in most jurisdictions would require a zoo permit, child development experts contend that children learn important lessons from caring for their pets. Which is why we got the animals in the first place. So our kids could learn responsibility by watching their parents take care of them.

ED SPIVEY JR. is art director of Sojourners magazine. He was just kidding about getting rid of his cats. Sort of.

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