My mother dropped some coins into an empty 12-ounce can of Budweiser (which she had washed out), because someone had told her that the improvised device was an effective way to keep your dog from pissing on the floor.
It was our family’s first dog: a sad, dumb, pure English bulldog named Crash. The dog was so pure in fact that he would eventually suffer from every ailment his breed was known to come down with. Crash was a checklist of genetic failure. But he didn’t look like a failure. No, he looked about as beautiful as one of his kind could look. And he looked really confused—especially with that silly underbite of his—whenever my mother would yell “NO!” and shake the can of nickels at him.
There were two problems with shaking the can:
1. It didn’t work. Crash still pissed on the floor.
2. The sound was even more grating to us humans.
This piss deterrent didn’t last long. One day my mother stopped shaking it, and eventually Crash stopped lifting his leg in the apartment—perhaps out of boredom. Or maybe it was because my parents had his balls cut off.^
In the era of the Jerky Boys, when everyone relied upon landline phones, crank calls were common. Frank Rizzo and Sol Rosenberg copycats would ring, and almost always my mother would be the one answering their calls. We had one phone—it was in the kitchen. This was before caller ID—so my mother was left yelling and cursing at the hacks on the other end of the line, often around dinnertime.
Then one day someone convinced my mother to blow a whistle into the phone whenever a crank caller rang. It was probably the same someone who claimed to know the urinary behavior of English bulldogs. Because:
1. It didn’t work. In spite of the shrill whistles the crank callers still crank called.
2. Have you ever heard a whistle blown at full-lung inside an apartment’s tiny kitchen? Because. I. Have.
We were fortunate that the whistle went the way of the aluminum can. And eventually the crank callers stopped. Whether or not they’d lost their balls, I don’t know.
I wonder why my mother put herself and us through those awful sounds. It must have something to do with control. Human beings are willing to put up with just the right amount of torture, as long as it’s self-imposed. I know it’s painful, but I’m the one choosing to do it.
But in the end you’re left shaking a can of nickels at a dog… You’re blowing a whistle into a telephone…
I know I’m guilty of this too. But I’m interested, reader. What’s your can of nickels? What’s your whistle?
OK. Now stop it.
^ Years later, after we moved into a house, we’d find Crash floating dead in the swimming pool… What does a can of coins sound like shaken under water?