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A Sardine on Vacation, Episode 14
Social Pets

To the archived articlesI can't say anything more about my case of reckless endangerment until it comes to trial. However, there's no stopping Joe T., Frank Weathers, Wal-terr, Dull Bill, Melinda (whom you'll meet eventually), and even strangers at the bar from discussing the larger potential of my misfortune.

Namely, the movie version of the trial. Or one of the many lawyer series episodes. Who would play me, the lawyers, Doctor Coughlin, as well as themselves! Talk about narcissistic!! Frank wanted Wilfred Brimley because their mustaches match; Joe T., Warren Beatty or Johnny Depp; the Sardine, John Lithgow.

"But Joe," Frank replied, “Beatty's too old for you."

Joe didn't care; besides, Beatty's legendary sexual prowess was enough. Didn't JFK want him for PT 109?

I shook my sardine head. It wouldn't have occurred to Joe that Beatty would sooner smear his body with hot tar than appear on television and eat tar than play Joe T. on that television series.

"Who is going to be a lawyer?" Joe said.

The real one or the one playing him in the mini-series?

“I’m serious.”

My old pal, McNulty.

Frank and Dull Bill nodded. McNulty was semi-retired. Age seventy. An honest lawyer, at that, about as rare as a self-respecting insurance agent.

McNulty! That shock of white hair (jet black in his early days) announced his visits to house or taproom a block away. A stiff walk with his shoes pointed slightly in opposite directions for each step. The man was my personal antidote to the crude curiosity seekers who inevitably surrounded me in every column. A cure for the common mindset expecting thrills every minute. A literate man much more than most could dream to be. I first noticed him when he outlasted a would-be literati in a Shakespeare quotation showdown that lasted an hour and a half.

I knew I had to introduce myself to this guy. His white hair, the long sad but unbitter face. His deliberate walk and speech. Drunk or sober he unfailingly quoted Wallace Stevens, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or Edgar Lee Masters. Real conversations. Topics pursued for sheer pleasure and more than twenty seconds.

And he won the Shakespeare showdown drunk as hell!

McNulty always brought a book with him to the bar. If he couldn't get one kind of conversation (from Dull Bill and Joe T. or patrons like Frank Weathers) he could resort to his book. Nor did he dismiss the Internet addicted person as fast as I would have. A very tolerant man.

When he came in later that day, I told him about the casting crew in our midst. How McNulty would become famous.

"I had heard. Who is going to play me?”

“Dick Van Dyke,” said Frank.

“Yeah, Frank was going on and on about the Grisham things.”

Grisham things?

"I don't remember exactly. Whatever, Frank treated the subject as if it were some species of pet.”

L.A. Law reruns?

"A television show, but not that one. Just like a pet," McNulty mused, "a social pet."

What’s that?

"My name for a book or t.v. series or anything else, I suppose, which people hold in not so much high esteem but uncritical esteem, as they might regard a dog or cat or bird. Those especially 'petted socially' would be the most popular shows, movies, authors, personalities. You know, Princess Di, Grisham, Stephen King, those lady authors with three names."


"They're like wonderful companions which make life more enjoyable, more fulfilling, not to say time-filling. Maybe it's the lawyer in me. I have to look for the ultimate motivations. Few things should be beyond criticism. Maybe retarded people, babies, the terminally ill. But not television shows.”

I guessed that Frank wasn't too happy when McNulty criticized his lawyer show for not being very realistic.

"I told him it was pure junk and harmful to the people's understanding of the law."

McNulty would have been on safer ground criticizing Frank's hairpiece. Did he mind if I used the concept in the Sardine column?

"I don't care what you do with it."

I just thought I could expand the reach of the "social pet" as a phenomenon in a society on vacation. Our world has been overrun by social pets.

“Just don’t go after lawyers,” said McNulty.

“Or bartenders,” Wal-terr chimed in.

“Or newspapers,” said Father Grindgrad.

Just lawyer shows on television.

“I hope I didn’t create a monster,” McNulty said.

I had only expected to wake up one.

The Sardine's essays, articles, and stories have appeared around the Internet in the last few years at 3 A.M., Facets, Eclectica magazine, Fiction Funhouse, The Fiction Warehouse, 5_trope, and several film journals. Who and what he is probably will be revealed at various points through the articles appearing at this site. If you want to reach him, his address is