Yorkies of the Baskervilles In Richard Lucas’ ‘The Dog Log’

By Ernest Kearney  —  In his 1944 play No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre famously penned, “Hell is other people.”  In The Dog Log, the epistolary memoirs by Richard Lucas, I’m sure the author might insist Sartre apply the adjunct “And Yorkies too!”

Lucas’ humorous, cantankerous, philosophical, introspective and oh so entertaining ontological tome emerged from a dilemma most of us have had to endure; the dreaded pain in the ass neighbor.  For Lucas, this timeless predicament came with two small yapping variations. 

In the bungalow behind his own on Los Angele’s West Side was the ground zero of hoarders: A labyrinth, overflowing with the wreckage of a life miss-lived  and reeking of dog piss; dwelled, therein, a small, round, half-blind, partially deaf octogenarian minotaur with an “ostrich figure” named “Irene.”

Joining Irene in her task to dump the torments of hell on Lucas were two pint sized furry furies, Sophie and Nelson whom he describes with simmering bitterness. 

Sophie –

“Beady little glassy brown eyes snarl from her pointy face, and her sweaty black nose twitches constantly like a divining rod to the devil’s lake of fire.”

And Nelson with his

“feces-stuck scruff”,

the canine Hare to Sophie’s barking Burke. 

“He’s mute,” writes Lucas, “the best kind of Yorkie.”

Failed rock star, ex-South Central high school English teacher, newly dumped by the love of his life, and barely scraping by as a freelance graphic designer, Lucas has withdrawn into his rent controlled ossuary, seeking to disappear like Gollum in the bowels of the Misty Mountains or Jack Torrance in the emptiness of the Overlook Hotel.

He wants to be alone with his regrets, his bitter memories and a box of cheap wine from Trader Joe’s.

But keeping Lucas from entering that perfect Zen state of self-pity is the jarring discordance of Sophie’s never-ending yodel of yaps –

“She barks like she has three heads.  It’s like the screeching metal emergency-braking wheels of a freight train that’s about to hit a school bus filled with screaming kids.”

After an abundance of ignored appeals to Irene, Lucas turns to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station for relief, and is told the only hope he has of forcing Irene do something about her dogs is by taking her to court.  He’s instructed to keep a record, a running account of all offending barking, day and night, covering a minimum of six months to show the judge.  And so, Lucas takes pen in hand and sets to chronicling, for the unknown member of the Sheriff’s department who will eventually review his testimony, all the suffering inflicted on him by that four-legged Chinese water torture with fleas.

Hence you have The Dog Log.

I first encountered Lucas’ work when his play Bono and the Edge Waiting for Godomino’s earned the TVO’s Best Comedy Award in the 2017 Hollywood Fringe.  In this superbly clever reworking of Waiting for Godot Lucas transposed the characters of Estragon and Vladimir with Bono and David Evans (aka “The Edge”) of the iconic band U2.

In merging “the lifestyles of the rich and famous” with Beckett’s masterpiece, Lucas unified their stereoscopic visions into a narrative doppelganger that succeeded in delivering an inspired double-dose of absurdity.

Bono and the Edge Waiting for Godomino was a well-crafted and intelligent work, so I expected to find both qualities in reading The Dog Log.  Happily, in that expectation, I was not disappointed.

Lucas tells his tale with a profusion of humor, and I actually found myself laughing out loud as I sat reading it in the Barnes and Noble café.  The narrative also ripples with references that naturally flow from a former educator and lover of great literature. 

Between snickers and chortles, Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov pops up, Nietzsche has a moment, and Lucas manages segues from Kierkegaard to Johnny Cash and Rear Window.

What I hadn’t anticipated in giving myself over to the journey held within the covers of The Dog Log, was the depth nor the darkness of some places the author chose to take his reader.

Pathos doesn’t drip off the pages of Lucas’s work, it catapults.

In weaving his web of weltschmerz, the author shifts between droll humor and painful honesty, at points bringing his readers uncomfortably close to the edge of an emotional abyss, yet thankfully always preventing them from plunging over by a lifeline of insight.

At the core of The Dog Log is the subject of connection, and the art and folly of its application. 

How do we connect with those we love, those we cringe at, our families, strangers on the street, those we’ve lost, those who have left us, ourselves, our memories, and those who yap ceaselessly.

With a style approaching Japanese senryu, Lucas takes us down dark paths, but the light at the end of his tunnel is a reminder of a too often forgotten truth, that, as Robert Ingersoll wrote, “We rise by lifting others.”

The Dog Log’s final destination is a celebration of humanity’s consummate trait, and the saving grace of our species; we create relationships.  In doing so, not only do we learn about others, but more importantly we learn about ourselves. 

The Dog Log by Richard Lucas will make you laugh, and make you cry, it certainly did me.  But it will also remind you of something miraculous; that by reaching out we discover the possibilities of love and family in the most unexpected of places and may even find salvation in a yapping Yorkie.

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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