Once a famous 18th Century naturalist and friend to Ben Franklin, Mendel wakes up to discover he’s a black-Lab-terrier mix in this comic dystopian drama where the excesses of American politics provoke a divine act of retribution from ancient Greece.
You never know how things are going to turn out… (Mendel)
You never know how things are going to turn out.
Especially when something truly amazing intervenes.
For instance, I didn’t know that I was going to be reincarnated as a dog when I was exploring the wilderness, or tending my gardens back in Pennsylvania, or writing letters to Benjamin Franklin. Yet, as luck would have it, I became a black Lab mix—the vet says there’s a little terrier in me as well.
I began this life in an old house in the lake region of New Hampshire. According to our vet, I was about six months old at the time.
But I have no puppy memories whatsoever.
I can’t say much about my ‘birth.’ When I first opened my eyes, I was trembling on the floor with a collar and a chain around my neck. At the other end of the chain was a book.
It was in the middle of an August thunderstorm.
Everything shook. The lightning was blinding.
My every movement was slowed by my neck-choking chain with its heavy, leather-bound journal. I felt like a prisoner in so many ways at once that I wished to disappear.
Yet just when I believed I might dissolve into a host of fears, a heartening voice from within invited me to rise to the occasion.
In that same moment, I understood that the book belonged to me.
That it was a tangible link to my past.
As if to reinforce this revelation, I noticed a $100-dollar bill lying on the floor with the face of my old friend, Benjamin Franklin staring back. Ben seemed to have a great deal on his mind with his firm, pursed lips and the tensions evident in his eyes.
I was still shaking when Sunny Morris came in soaking wet seeking refuge from the storm. Her long hair was dripping and her cheeks carried raindrops.
She walked across the room and examined my collar for my name.
But she found nothing.
I was as nameless as the manor that held me.
Then she took me in her arms for a magical moment of comfort as her mouth opened into a warm smile.
“You must be someone’s dog!” she proclaimed, breaking the spell. The idea, logical though it was, seemed offensive.
“Let’s wait for your owner!”
The term I would have preferred was “caretaker” or “attendant.” But I had no vehicle to express my opinion.
This sad limitation came yet more emphatically to my attention when, after shivering anew from the cold, I experienced the urge to urinate. I tried to communicate my sudden need in a symbolic way, crouching on the floor to suggest what I believed to be the correct position for a dog eager to go outside. My new canine instincts helped in this, but nonetheless I feared that I was performing largely as if I were a dog, rather than simply being a dog—exaggerating my postures like a dancer trying to exemplify a narrative far too complex for his or her abilities.
Then I dragged the book and the chain to the door and began to whimper—sullenly at first, but with a fast building fervor. In that moment, I could barely tolerate the sound of my own voice. A sullen, rippling, whine, like a child being tickled and possessed at the same time. The timber was wild, belonging to the womb of nature and the outdoors.
After a difficult few seconds in which I only seemed to frighten my new companion, she finally understood my request.
“Oh, you poor thing! You must have a bladder problem!”
She came to me again, this time undoing my chain.
As her fingers moved against my neck, I watched her smile again.
I responded instinctively by licking her face.
Soon the chain was collected in a neat pile and I was freed from my book. She picked it up and held it as if it were sacred before she set it down beside me.
Then she opened the door she laughed.
“Don’t look so worried!”
Once outside, I urinated into an abyss—superfluously adding my own liquid to the abundant precipitation. And yet it felt good. My first successful ‘bodily function’ in my new form.
After I came back soaking wet from the rain, Sunny said I still looked “worried.”
While I shook the water off my back she began to sing. Her voice was strong and clear, and I wondered then if she’d ever sung in a church choir.
What does the Lord require of you?
What does the Lord require of you?
To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your dog…
She had substituted dog for god and laughed afterward.
Then she winked at me. “Right now, in this very moment at least, you’re my dog—and I’ll do my best to do you justice!” As she knelt down to give me a hug, I hoped we would never part.
We spent more than an hour in that house together, still waiting for my past owner to appear.
No one came.
During that I had to go out to urinate two more times.
Once the rain let up, Sunny took me to Sarras College and her apartment—a modest place with a small living room that opens onto a generous kitchen and a bedroom with an ample bed. In the morning, the sun radiates through a large window onto a plush tan couch with seven green-and-white pillows.
She pulled a knit, wool rug out from her bedroom and laid it beside the couch.
Then she winked at me again. “You can spend the night here, if you like!”
This I did.
The next morning Sunny gave me the name ‘Mendel’ to honor Gregor Mendel, the great nineteenth century scientist whom many call “the Father of Genetics.” To this day, it is a name I still cherish.
Later she posted a picture of me on the Internet. The advertisement stayed up for ten days, but no one responded.
After she stopped advertising I understood her to be, in human terms, my new ‘owner.’ In accepting her in her new role, which required some level of governance (in her eyes) and care (for which I am forever grateful)—I gave her the name, ‘Mistress.’
The general opinion seems to be that Mistress looks young for her age of thirty-five.
Her real name is Megan Morris but everyone calls her “Sunny” because of her patient smile and sparkly blue eyes. She is also a brilliant researcher in the field of genetics, which she pursues at Sarras College beside New Hampshire’s largest lake.
These are things I have learned about her from listening, watching and reading. And yet, despite her intimacies with me, she remains in some respects remote.
Literally a different species.
It is for this reason that I have taken a unique approach to metaphor. I have imagined all the otherwise disconnected human beings that now surround me as dogs. Dogs with unique breeds and temperaments.
Just as I was once a human, with a fully human life, but emerged as a canine of comparatively fine lineage—a black Lab—it seemed only fair and reasonable for me to bring my human family down to my own level. To imagine that they had all once been dogs in a prior life, and then transformed in this next life into their human state with missions and temperaments akin to their breeds.
A symmetry of being that allowed me to adjust to my new conditions far more amenably than I might have otherwise.
Given my name, Mendel, this seemed especially appropriate.
You might even say these were my new “laws of Mendelian inheritance.”
After doing some research, I decided that Mistress was a poodle. A poodle of the “medium” persuasion, which isn’t recognized by the American Kennel Club, though it is by the French.
And why is this?
I will insist that it is not a casual linkage.
Poodles are gifted with “extreme intelligence” and “will attempt to solve problems independently.” Moreover, they are “highly sociable” and “require both physical and intellectual activities.” The validity of this last shall be more apparent in time.
And finally, I should say that Mistress in her many expressions, and especially in the way she looks at me, is with poodle eyes—intimate, sincere and seeking. Her ‘medium’ size is also just, for as she stretches out in a manner to preside over our living room, she is still of modest dimensions, although in no way “miniature” or “toy.”
Sunny is also very dedicated to her work, fully as obedient to her assumed obligations as the most the most perfect example of the poodle breed.
But at that time, she was also very much at risk—struggling to preserve her patents against threats from the government and the megacorporation, Rudmer, Inc. Struggling as well against the machinations of a figure I came to loathe by the name of Jack Marvel.
I soon pictured Marvel as a maniacal creature whose breed I identified as that of wolfdog—cast in the least predictable most terrifying mode. Indeed, wolf-dog hybrids are less predictable in their behavior than either the wolf or the dog. And now 40 U.S. states forbid their ownership. The secret of the breed—their strength and efficiencies in battle—is perhaps why Jack Marvel’s misguided admirers unwittingly applaud his unique DNA and call him “War Dog.”
An epithet which, I must admit, he well deserved.
Despite Sunny’s ongoing attention and care, my first few months I still wondered if I were the one being punished.
If in some inexplicable way, I was being taught a lesson and paying for past sins.
First of all, I had come back to earth as a dog.
But I wasn’t really a dog, or just a dog, so associating with other dogs wasn’t much fun. Their curiosities rarely converged with mine, so they often treated me as an outcast—barking as if I were a stranger or a mailman.
Reading up on dogs didn’t help much. I knew their breeds. I knew their mix. And they were all too fixed in character, unlike my human counterparts, whose canine metaphors carried with them an almost infinite variety of behaviors and expressions.
I also found myself increasingly critical of the book that was joined with me at birth—a book that I came to believe I had written in my former life. Soon all I could see were its failings, revisiting the many things I might have done differently in style or meaning.
Moreover, when I tried to connect the dots—what had happened in those 250 plus years that might have led to me becoming a dog? —nothing came to mind.
And this left me feeling cheated.
Nevertheless, after several months I finally managed to settle into my new life and my old book with more comfort. My journal became a way of reaching back into the past so that I might better orient myself in the present.
Very few people have this luxury.
In fact, I can think of no one else.
While we have the voices of many deceased authors in bookstores, libraries and online repositories, no one outside of sanitariums for the mentally disturbed can claim any one of those voices as being his or her own.
I eventually came to relish the fact that I had such a magical fount to reconsider who I once was, and by association—what I might now become.
These readings were all the richer (but also all the more perplexing) because this unique indulgence was multiplied by a factor of two, as there seemed to be two voices at work in the texts, not just one.
Here are a few paragraphs by the writer I termed ‘the Thinker.
We acquired a Modest house twelve miles outside of Philadelphia. It was just Two stories, with only one room on each floor, but I believed then that we might eXpand it over Time. And with hard work and much Luck, this Came to pass.
Now our house is an Estate.
In parallel, our garden began as a Mere few Flowers. Today the house has more than a Hundred acres of garden and farmland.
Clearly this speaks of a charmed, educated and successful life.
Now here is the other voice—the Adventurer.
Like a Bird I Dreamed often of Flying from ye top of one Mountain to Another. And this Was as I Lived my Liffe. For I so Often Ventured over Peaks and Valleys, And have witnessed Many of the most Desolate, craggy Dismal places Where no Mortal before or After me had Trod.
I do not Adore solitude for Itself. Yet only In these Places can I Explore Nature’s Wondrous productions. I observe the Dances of ye Night Hawk and ye Bumblebees and Ye Wasps and Locusts and Tumble Turds.
This author, on the other hand, appears to be rough and strong and even a little haunted. I concluded that this could not be the same person as the one with his fine gardens, his comfortable estate and his more elegant mind.
I decided that the Thinker was the owner of enterprise, and the Adventurer was the owner’s right-hand man—traveling to rough spots where he might bring back samples of plant and animal life from the wilds.
At times, I dreamed of being the owner, the Thinker, with his more lofty and elegant mind. While at others, I fancied myself as the Adventurer exploring parts of the New World never seen before by any English-speaking gentleman.
And yet I knew I was a black Lab as well.
I was Mendel, trying to create a new life, merging the best of my past, present and future. To make the most of my lot as both man and dog.
A life fully my own—whatever its rewards, its mysteries, its embarrassments, and its terrors.
One morning in late February Mistress took me for a walk. After a cold night, it was suddenly misty and surprisingly temperate. I could feel the seasons changing in a brand-new way, for our planet had warmed considerably since I last remembered it. The weather often shifted as if it were adrift on the ocean, changing course on whim—sometimes minute to minute—from sun to cloud, from stillness to wind and rain.
But that morning I could also feel the earth moving beneath me.
I looked up at Sunny, but she seemed to notice nothing at all strange, as if she were smelling only the air with her thoughts turned inward.
Then I heard machinery from far off construction. It seemed to be fighting with the earth in way that I couldn’t begin to fathom. I remembered Sunny talking about how the last remnants of work had just been completed on the camp next door—an elite government facility called “Arcadian Grove.”
“There’s nothing to worry about,” I told myself, seeing that Sunny was
smiling and at peace with the world. Quite unaware of those forces within me wanting to cry out in alarm. “The earth is only vibrating because of the normal working men and their machines.”
Soon the machines stopped and there was a silence.
For a moment, I felt the earth calm beneath my paws.
But then as we moved through a mist-haloed grove of small trees, I heard a stream running long before we reached its banks. At the water’s edge, with its beautiful moss and stone, I sensed something beyond the stream. Something grabbing, reaching up, rolling through me, crying out, calling for more, and begging for all of nature to come to its aid.
Mistress was still smiling happily. No doubt she was thinking of the workday ahead and how she was close to another breakthrough.
But despite her peace of mind, my entire body was shaking in rhythms with the earth.
Moments later we reached a bend in the trail where two dead trees were lost in an ancient dance. One moved up from the ground like a giant serpent with its huge, fat trunk. The other leaned over us with two of its branches touching in the shape of a mouth, trembling as if to speak.
Instantly a mist rose up to surround both trees, gliding across them in a trance-like progression. The mist quickly shaped itself into what seemed to be two hands. The one poised to reach out for understanding. The other a fist seeking to inflict pain.
Then I felt a force from inside the earth pulling at me yet again. Pulling through my heart. Begging me to stand outside myself, to try to understand what I couldn’t possibly be expected to understand.
In that moment, I knew there was message to me in all this.
That somehow we were in danger.