Years ago, my father and I had owned a dog named Lenny. He was named after Lenny Bruce. He was a funny dog.
I mentioned before that Lenny was a funny dog and this is true, but not merely in the sense that he was humorous. For you see, Lenny was also marvelously strange, which is a valence funny can, and indeed, I would submit, should assume in the highmost cases, if such cases are to be assayed for evaluation by degree.
As an example before I get to the main part of what I’m talking about and to illustrate what I mean preliminarily, I’ll say that Lenny especially was fond of the sort of funnyness that belongs to the genre of “visual puns.” One of the drollest instances of his work in this arena involved his penchant for coming around corners equipped with some subtle affectation, such as an argyle sweater vest of subdued olive and grey, or making his face up to look like a Weimaraner (he was half Canaan, half Airedale, if I had to guess) as if to suggest that he was also turning a sort of corner in his own life. Another of his favorites was to appear to us after we called his name wearing a bemused expression and a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard slung around his neck. This was around the time of Mama Said and Lenny took every chance to capitalize on the namesake he and Mr. Kravitz shared. Needless to say, these displays never failed to bring my father and me to the floor.
Such became our fascination with the remarkable animal that one of the favorite pastimes my father and I developed in those days was the making of noises toward Lenny, simply for the purpose of observing his reaction. Despite the aforementioned acuity with puns, which so elevated that highly denuded form as to render it sublime, I believe Lenny’s chief talent and greatest achievements came in this even more derelicted arena of comedy, where he easily surpassed Jack Benny. Put simply, he could shatter with a cock of his head.
A well-played joke is like a complex machine disguised as a simple one. At the heart of every truly great routine lies a mystery that cannot be unraveled by merely peering closer, which presents the brink of an abyss and asks flatly if you will chose to step over. I have no doubt that Lenny’s greatest moment belongs in this rarefied echelon, though I cannot to this day say that I am closer to understanding what it is he meant.
It was a cool afternoon in late summer, the lawn grass high and wetly ripe with green aroma, the sky milky and overcast with grey clouds like curls of hair. My father and I were seated in the living room, he reading the paper and me falling asleep with a copy of the interminable Treasure Island. There had been a slight fog on the pond that morning and we were all feeling a little bit nautical, I suppose, so it seemed somehow fitting when suddenly my father decided to press his palms against his lips and make the long, lowing sound of a foghorn.
Lenny, who was lying nearby, perked up as soon as he heard it.
My father pressed on to see what fun might come of it and I, bored as I was, I decided to harmonize. Lenny stood up and came closer, looking back and forth between the two of us, with a look of genuine confusion. As we continued, his confusion turned to panic and he began to pace, going back and forth between us in search of some sort of answer. I would’ve stopped, for I didn’t want to tease Lenny, but then I saw that he was working something out. He had gone to the window and was gazing intently at something in the distance, whimpering softly. I indicated this to my father and he suggested that we let Lenny outside to see what would happen. When we did, he quickly bounded off and out of sight. We followed his tracks to the bank of the pond where they disappeared. We looked out onto the calm water and saw no sign of him there either. What we did see, however, was a beautiful birch canoe, empty as our incomprehension in that moment, so like Lenny in its affectless charm that we could not help but laugh gaspingly as it bore down upon us.
Seth Blake is a writer from New Hampshire.