Little Richard, Hooch and Harry Baals
As many of my readers already know, I am constantly amused, motivated and inspired by the little things in life, particularly details that may otherwise be missed and occur during my dog-show-judging travels. More often than not, these occurrences are found within a conversation, a single moment of time, a small action, a visual, leaving me gobsmacked and saying to myself: “You can’t make up this &%*$, if you tried.”
Well, my recent judging soiree in Fort Wayne, Indiana, did not disappoint.
It all started when departing Richmond at 6 a.m. to Chicago, Thursday morning. Fortunately, I was upgraded to first class for both segments – Richmond to Chicago / Chicago to Fort Wayne, and the planes were packed full.
The gentleman sitting next to me on the segment from Richmond to Chicago appeared to be in his late 40s or early 50s, thin but not in a fit kind of way. Maybe a compulsive nail biter by the state of his fingers and nails? I asked myself, while surmising that he might be suffering from a recent negative experience due to his inability to sit still and focus and his constant viewing/scrolling of photographs depicting a black dog of the generic Pit variety.
On reaching cruising altitude, the American Airlines flight attendant went from side to side taking drink orders prior to serving, writing each response on a piece of paper. I ordered coffee and water.
He spoke: “I will have a double of whatever bourbon you have and Coke, light ice, please.”
“Good Lord, this guy is truly suffering – double bourbon and Coke at 6 a.m.!” I mumbled quietly to myself.
“Is Woodford okay?” the flight attendant asked. A forward-moving nod of the head confirmed the selection.
His double was consumed in record time, followed with a duplicate order. I continued to nurse my coffee, wondering if a Titos and club soda with a splash of cranberry might have been a more appropriate response. When his second round was delivered, he appeared to relax a bit and started to speak.
“Good morning! I’m Jay – I’m sure you’re wondering why I am drinking this early.”
“Actually, not at all. I just figured you were taking advantage of the first-class perks,” I laughingly replied. “I’m just a mess – been traveling for days, and found out that Little Richard died while I was gone.”
Now, I knew immediately he was not speaking of the real Little Richard, as he passed away from bone cancer in May 2020. I did not say a word and let him continue.
“See here! This is my Little Richard.” His Apple iPhone proudly displayed a black Pit Bull curled up between two skinny legs, which I assumed to be his.
“I’m so sorry for your loss” was all I could muster at the moment, knowing full well it was not the time to share my status as an adjudicator of dogs in fear of a never-ending conversation about LITTLE RICHARD, and wishing I had ordered the Titos.
“I named him Little Richard because whenever I played his music he would sing along. I got him when he was two years old from rescue and changed his name from DIESEL to LITTLE RICHARD after his joyful response to ‘Tutti Frutti’”:
Tutti frutti, oh rootie
Tutti frutti, oh rootie
Tutti frutti, oh rootie
Tutti frutti, oh rootie
A wop bop a loo bob a lop bom bom
“My mother, her name is MARY-ALICE, lives with us,” he continued. “I tried to get her to stop driving over a year ago, and she refused. Well, last night she decided that a drive to the local Stop & Shop was necessary. I have no idea what she needed to buy, I only know that when she backed out the drive, she rolled over Little Richard, not once but twice. She wasn’t even aware of what she did. My neighbor, who arrived home shortly after Mom left, found him. I have pictures if you would like to see.” He scrolled through his gallery in search of dead LITTLE RICHARD with his right hand, sipping his morning eye-opener from the left.
“Oh, no! No photos of dead dogs. I’m really sorry,” I replied quickly, and turned my head the other way. “Okay, curl up and pretend to fall asleep quick,” I said to no one, wishing him only the best during his grieving, nail-biting, double Woodford-and-Coke-gulping release.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a man filled with empathy and compassion for the underdog. (No pun intended.) However, at six in the morning, on my way to judge three dog shows, my affect meter is not fully charged. I was relieved to find out that JAY was connecting to Oklahoma City and not on the flight to Fort Wayne.
(HOOCH) For those of you who have never attended or had the pleasure of judging the OLD FORT CLUSTER, it truly is a five-star experience. The GRAND WAYNE Convention Center is remarkable, and the entire city is engaged in support of the purebred-dog community. The cluster hosted numerous specialty shows this year, including the Dogue de Bordeaux National Specialty Show. I share this tidbit of information as during my three-day performance (yes, there are those who have referred to my judging as performance art), I was stimulated by a frequent public announcement that “HOOCH” from the 2021 Disney reboot series of TURNER & HOOCH was on site posing for photo opportunities in support of Dogue de Bordeaux breed rescue.
After the completion of the Australian Shepherd breed judging, I made a mad dash to Cluster Coordinator GREGG to coordinate my very own personal meet and greet with the drooling junkyard dog that was inherited by a U.S. marshall, SCOTT TUNER, and becomes his partner in a K-9 unit.
GREGG sent word to HOOCH that I was on my way. Prior to my rendezvous with the canine celebrity, I spruced myself up in the men’s room – washed my hands, adjusted my bowtie and wiped the reflective sweat off my bald head.
The fee to mingle with HOOCH was $25. I happily handed HOOCH’s agent two twenties. “Please, keep the change!” I offered, making a mad dash to the staging area.
Lowering myself onto the decorative bench, I made sure to strike the perfect pose for HOOCH’S entrance. The agent proceeded forward with the star-studded canine, handed me his leash and HOOCH sat to my left with dignity, Hollywood nobility and grace. Photos were being taken in every direction.
I lost control and for a brief moment lapsed into an OBE (Out-of-Body-Experience). Season one / Episode 3: “Diamonds Are Furever.” I played the role of U.S. Marshall Scott Turner and tracked down a notorious fugitive jewel thief while HOOCH was obsessed with a squeaky toy. “Squeak, squeak, squeak – HOOCH, look this way,” the agent called, snapping me back to my celebrity photo shoot.
Scrolling through the variety of photographs, thankful they are not of poor dead LITTLE RICHARD, I found the perfect shot that captured the HOOCH moment, and then returned to my judging duties of the day.
(HARRY BAALS) On the last day of judging and prior to my early morning flight back to Virginia, my dear friends and fellow judges DOT (Daughter of Thor) from Illinois and NANCY from California, who has been traversing the United States from coast to coast in a motorhome, chose to join me for dinner at a local Thai restaurant. I drove DOT’s Ford Explorer to and from the restaurant, picking up NANCY at the RV park connected to the convention center. On the return to the RV park after dinner, GOOGLE Maps provided oral instructions that differed from our journey to the restaurant.
“In 300 feet, turn left on Hairy Balls!”
“I say, what did you just say? You did not just tell me to turn left on Hairy Balls?!”
This left the three of us in fits of hysterical laughter. “Look there is the sign, Harry Baals. Can you imagine his poor wife – Mrs. Harry Baals,” NANCY laughingly shared.
“Well, Harry Baals had to have been rather important to Fort Wayne, if they designated a road after him with that name,” I offered, knowing I would rely on an in-depth HARRY BAALS GOOGLE search.
HAARY BAALS was an American politician who was the Republican mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, from 1934 to 1947, and from 1951 until his death in 1954. In February 2011, there was a new government building built in the area, and Harry Baals – yes, it is pronounced BALLS – was up as a potential name for the new building. However, it was determined that it would make Fort Wayne the target of late-night television jokes. “Scratch ‘Harry Baals’ off list of names for government center,” NBC news reported.
As I said earlier: It’s the “You can’t make this &%*$ up” moments in life that can inspire joy and laughter. Allow yourself the opportunity to laugh a little. Don’t take yourself too seriously. If you’re fortunate to be bumped to first class at six in the morning, have a cocktail. Think twice when naming a child or registering a dog, and if you have the chance to get your photo taken with HOOCH – just do it!