Duke Zanesville’s Dog and Cat Art Gallery
Duke Zanesville’s Dog and Cat Art Gallery By Duke Zanesville I came out to Long Island because my Brooklyn, New York, landlord evicted me; he refused to put up with the mounting olfactory evidence that I had too many cats. Figuring Suffolk County was the promising land of open spaces where I could find an abode where no neighbor would be living so close as to notice wisps of feline fragrance, I scanned the advertisements in Newsday, and found a yard – in the town of Medford. Granted, Medford is not exactly a legendary landmark on Long Island; it does not share the same notoriety as the Hampton’s, Montauk, or even the North Fork, but the unassuming hamlet does possess the possibility of low-key freedom with its large tracts of land dedicated to such industrial enterprises as round-the-clock truck repair, and is a location where awful smells (as well as loud noises), are not only tolerated, but legally acceptable. So to begin with, in my very first paragraph, may I point out BOLD LETTERS OF GRATITUDE that I, and my “family,” had no place to go when I got evicted, I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t for the east end of Long Island to whom I will always be deeply indebted. The van I rented (which will never smell the same) transported the 18 cats and the 3 dogs I had accumulated. First, let me explain how I began acquiring the cats, then I shall endeavor to amuse you with stories of how a rather naïve, emotionally immature adult acquired several dogs, which is to say serendipitously. Planning has never been my strong suit and I do not intend to offer any defense for my largesse accumulations for which I am without doubt guilty – but with an explanation. I came to ownership quite naturally; whenever I saw a homeless creature, I felt a need to feed it. (Parenthetically, I feel a need to house homeless people). But flesh-and-blood, breathing and responsive creatures are my personal obligation, the reason for my existence, and my justification for living another day – with a smile. The first cat was a kind of forced upon me by the chief of security at the affluent condo I was working at parking cars at night in Miami (and writing movie specs by day). The guy was an Alex Baldwin type tough-guy who knocked on my valet hut door holding a small tuxedo kitten in his hammocks arms and suggested I give it a home. It didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time, not like some endeavor which would have the gravitational force of grabbing me by my life threads and spinning me around in a kind of Jackson Pollack swirling canvas. Little did I know that the little kitten would set my life on an uncontrollable roller-coaster course of dislodgements and woes that would lead me to sit in desperate despair trying to edit down to 1500 words so I could get some electricity. To the contrary, having a kitten seemed like an agreeable situation; I was living alone and I even had a room to live in, not to mention the boundless benefits one derives from sharing their life with a pet. The room I rented was on Miami Beach, and to my great surprise I discovered that the peninsula was inundated with homeless pets. The psychological effect upon me of seeing homeless creatures wandering the sunny streets and back alleys was so profound that I soon assumed the sacred role of stewardship for some twenty cats. From those informal gatherings at meal time, I picked out a grey and white kitten who seemed to be living under my dwelling anyway to be a companion for the tuxedo kitten I had benighted “Prince.” I named her, “Duchess.” That’s how the cat’s line began; the happenstance of how I got my first dog was like this: I spotted a homeless man sitting on a bench in a small park guarded by two large noble-looking dogs, like twin lions at the gate and picked up a box of extra-large dog biscuits and offered it to him. The man was neither friendly nor unfriendly, but bore the countenance of world-weary gentleman, who had recently done hard time. Anyway, if I was Steven Spielberg I would have cast him as an ex-felon. I told him – and this underlines the significance of the oft-mentioned advice – be careful what you wish for – “I would love to own a dog like one of yours, someday.” You could have heard the distant growling of thunder upon my pronouncement of those innocent words. Some days following, there was a knock at my door. A tall thin beauty, a kind of cross between Christie Brinkley and Brooke Shields, stood in the door’s threshold holding a puppy with long ears. Speaking in the friendliest conversational tones, she announced she was the girlfriend of the homeless felon who sat in the park. Why do felons get all the girls? She was a perfectly sexy Calvin Klein model, or even a stylish true west Ralph Lauren’s icon, except for an almost imperceptible sense of someone who had gotten a little lost tripping on drugs, but miraculously found her way back to rejoin the human race – and with great enthusiasm and purpose, no less. I supposed she was on methadone. She said she had found the pup running around the neighborhood, and he was without a home; her boyfriend informed her I was looking for a dog. I held out my arms and took him in; dubbed him “Duke,” and that dog has never stopped running. Belonging to any religious institution has many benefits: One day, there was a knock at my door. A couple, who attended the same religious institution as I, was standing in the doorway. He, a handsome Brad Pitt-look alike who was studying Podiatry, smiled uneasily, as his bride, a stunner (!): a drop-dead Jennifer Lopez look-alike, but with a strange, nearly indecipherable East European accent, explained why she was holding a dog in her arms (against her ample bosom, I might add). Despite my psychological shortcomings, I said, “No!” However, she went on to explain, as far as I could understand, that the dog, adorable beyond words, with wet love-filled eyes, like Jeff Zucker’s, had quite comically ambled into her husband’s classroom while he taking final exams. I tried to articulate the word “No” by pursing my lips in an exaggerated fashion, but to no avail; as they say this girl wouldn’t take no for an answer. The gorgeous sister said she would adopt the cute dog herself, but she already had two. And I only had one. I opened my arms and accepted the loving creature with what grace I could muster. Caring for so many animals could not be accomplished on the salary and tips of an overnight valet, and when a once in a lifetime career opportunity at Pizza Hut fell through, I packed the dogs and cats into a rented van (which will never smell the same) and drove to New York City. (The first real estate agent said if I got an apartment it would be a modern New York City Real Estate Miracle). My new Brooklyn neighbor’s son was a wise guy Billy Crystal look-alike. There came a knock at the door. He was standing next to his Kelly Ripa look-alike girlfriend, who was holding a puppy. The short of it was I had to pay twenty dollars for the privilege of saving the pup’s life. (The kid had figured out the old bastard that moved in next door could be had). My situation was becoming a Seinfeld episode. Here on Long island, I call my place “The Duke Zanesville Dog and Cat Art Gallery,” a kind of artist’s installation, but so far Larry Gagosian hasn’t come calling. The local dog police did come by, though. My heart sank to my knees. The chief inspector, a lean and stoical man, who favorably resembled the handsome Carl Ichan, found the dogs to be in good condition. His lieutenant, a Martha Stewart look-alike beauty with a badge, said I was lucky. Why, I asked? The town ordinances, she explained, limit animal ownership, but since you’re in an industrial zone – there is no limit. I’ve never been bothered by the pounding of the trucks in the middle of the night since then. It’s been a decade plus, and the truth is I need a charitable hedge fund investor like Phil Falcone, or a wise-hearted investor like Jon Chanos, or a soothsayer like Ron Perelman, to help me create a no-kill shelter to feed and care for homeless dogs and cats out here. I fear the next knock at the door, but, in the meantime, I’ve got to say, thank god for the east end where I’ve been able to keep my family together.