Rants & Essays
For Better, For Worse
By Robert Fulghum
A man and woman I know fell in BIG LOVE somewhat later in
life than usual. She was 39. He was 47. Neither had been married before. But
they had seen the realities of that sacred state up close among their friends.
They were determined to overcome as many possible by working things out in
A prenuptial agreement over money and property was prepared
by lawyers. Pre-emptive counseling over perceived tensions was provided by a
psychologist, who helped them commit all practical promises to paper.
Get married once, do it right, and live at least
agreeably, if not happily, ever after. So they hoped.
Two issues they discussed thoroughly were pets and kids. He
agreed, reluctantly, to children if they should come, but said no to
petsand certainly not both.
The man was not enthusiastic about dependent relationships.
She, on the other hand, liked taking care of living things. Especially children
Okay. They had two daughters in three years. Marriage and
family life went along quite well.
The children reached school age. The mother leapt eagerly
into the bottomless pool of educational volunteerism. The school needed funds
for programs such as art and music. The mother helped organize a major-league
auction to raise money. Every family agreed to provide an item for the
Remember, the mother was fond of dogs. She had raised dogs
all her life. She planned to use her expertise to shop the local puppy pounds
to find an unnoticed bargain pooch and shape it up for the auction as her
contribution. With a small investment, she would make a tenfold profit for the
school. And for a couple of days, at least, there would be a dog in the
After a month of looking, she found the wonder dogthe
dog of great promise. Male, four months old, black with brown eyes, tall,
strong, confident and very friendly.
To her practiced eye, our mother could see that classy genes
had accidentally mixed here. Two purebred dogs of the highest caliber had
combined to produce this exceptional animal. Most likely a black Labrador and a
Weimaraner, she thought. Perfect.
To those of untutored eye, this mutt looked more like the
result of a bad blind date between a Mexican burro and a miniature musk ox.
The fairy dogmother goes to work. The dog is inspected and
given shots by a vet. Fitted with an elegant collar and leash. Equipped with a
handsome bowl, a ball and a rawhide bone. Expenses: $50 to the pound, $50 to
the vet, $60 for equipment and $50 for food. A total of $210 on a dog that is
going to stay 48 hours before auction time.
The father takes one look and pales. He wouldnt give
ten bucks to keep it an hour. Dog, as the father names it, has a
long, thick, rubber club of a tail, legs and feet that remind him of hairy
toilet plungers, and is already big enough at four months to bowl over the
girls and their mother with its unrestrained enthusiasm.
The father knows this is going to be ONE BIG DOG. Something
a zoo might display. Omnivorous, it has left permanent teeth marks on a chair
leg, a beeper and the fathers favorite shoes. The father is patient about
all of this. After all, it is only a temporary arrangement, and for a good
On a weekend night the school affair gets off to a winning
start. Big crowd of parents and many guests who look flush with money. Arty
decorations, fine potluck food, a cornucopia of auction items. The mother basks
in her triumph.
Dog is placed in the car before going on the auction block
so the family can get something to eat. When the father checks on Dog a little
later, he finds it methodically chewing the cars seat belts.
After a little wrestling match getting Dog into the
mothers arms and up onto the stage, the mother sits in a folding chair,
cradling Dog with the solemn tenderness reserved for a child, while the
auctioneer describes the animal and all the fine effort and equipment thrown in
with the deal.
What am I bid for this wonderful animal?
A hundred dollars over here; $200 on the right; $250
in the middle.
There is a sniffle from the mother. Tears are running down
her face. Dog is licking the tears off her cheeks.
In a whisper not really meant for public notice, the mother
calls to her husband: Tom, Tom, I cant sell this dogI want
this doghe loves meI love himoh, Tom.
Every eye in the room is on this soapy drama.
The father feels ill, realizing that the great bowling ball
of fate is headed down his alley.
Please, Tom, please, she whispers.
At that moment, everybody in the room knows who is going to
buy the pooch. Dog is going home with Tom.
Having no fear now of being stuck themselves, several men
set the bidding on fire. Dog is going to set an auction record. The repeated
$100 rise in price is matched by soft, Please, Tom, from the stage
and Toms almost inaudible raise in the bidding, five dollars at a
There is a long pause somewhere past a thousand
dollarsgoing once, going twice
A sob from the stage.
And so Tom buys himself a dog.
The noble father is applauded as his wife rushes from the
stage to throw her arms around his neck. A memorable night for the PTA.
Now I see Tom out being walked by Dog late at night.
Hes the only one strong enough to control him, and he hates to have the
neighbors see him dragged along by the most expensive dog for 100 miles.
Dog has become McNeill. He is now big enough to
plow with. McNeill may be the worlds dumbest dog, having been to
obedience school twice with no apparent effect.
Tom is still stunned. He cant believe this has
happened to him.
He had a deal. Kids or pets, not both.
But the complicating clauses in the fine print of the
marriage contract are always unreadable. And always open to revision by forces
stronger than a mans ego.
I say he got off light. It could have been ponies or llamas
or pot-bellied pigs. The love boat always leaks. And marriage is never a done
deal. It would have been something. It always is.