Podcast: Dogs of LA


Virtual Memories: Merrill Markoe – Dogs of LA

“I hate to find out that people I admire are schmucks.”

Legendary comedy writer, producer and performer Merrill Markoe let me into her home after seeing pix of my adorable greyhounds, and we got to spend an hour talking about how she co-created Late Night with David Letterman, how she was too worried about getting canceled to appreciate changing the nature of comedy on TV, which show she would love to write for if she was starting out today, what Letterman of 25 years ago would have thought of Letterman of today, and more! Along the way, she proves Christopher Hitchens wrong (women can be very funny), weighs in on Steven Colbert’s prospects taking over the Late Show, and talks about her literary influences and favorite cartoonists. And then we get overrun by her dogs, including Wally Markoe:
Wally Markoe

“Had I been able to rewrite the whole thing from the ground up, it would’ve been far preferable not to be involved personally [with the host of Late Night] and to only have been a writer. To have doubled up on that was a real big mistake.”

We also find out about her favorite Stooge, The Merrill Markoe Method of Sleepywriting (which she learned while recovering from a double-hip replacement), how she learned to stop sweating the details and start cartooning, and what she fears will be the first line of her obit. (BONUS: I offer a greyhound adoption PSA of sorts and tell silly stories about my dogs.)

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Merrill Markoe has written for TV series such as Newhart and Sex and the City, and co-created the original David Letterman show, for which she won five Emmys. She’s published eight books: four collections of funny essays (How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me!, Merrill Markoe’s Guide to Love, What the Dogs Have Taught Me: And Other Amazing Things I’ve Learned, and Cool, Calm & Contentious) and four novels (It’s My F—ing Birthday, Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, The Psycho Ex Game (with Andy Prieboy), and Nose Down, Eyes Up) and has written for a wide variety of publications including but not limited to NYTimes, LATimes, Time, Rolling Stone, Real Simple, Vanity Fair, etc. etc. She also does standup and did a number of her own specials for HBO in the 80s and 90s, including being a performer writer on Not Necessarily the News. She had a talk radio show for a while and was a funny lifestyle reporter for local news for a few years. Follow her on twitter at @merrillmarkoe.

Credits: This episode’s music is Pets by Porno for Pyros. The conversation was recorded in Ms. Markoe’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Wally Markoe by me. B/W photo of Ms. Markoe by John Dolan.

Rufus See Well

Last week (?) (seriously, I can’t keep track of days anymore), the police officer who handled the report for Rufus’ dog-attack case stopped by. Because of that letter I got from the Akita’s owners stating that Rufus had walked into their yard, I wanted to check with the officer that the report hadn’t been changed from the once I’d received. He supported the initial report and said that nothing had been changed; the Akita (King) attacked Ru outside the property.

We talked for a bit after that; it turns out that the policeman is a neighbor of ours (which answers the question of why I occasionally see a squad car parked in the driveway of a nearby house), and had seen the Akita unattended in its yard many times. Also, he was glad to see that Rufus was alright, because he last saw our boy the night of the attack, and things looked pretty bad.

Near the end of our conversation, I said, “Y’know what burns my ass? It’s been more than 3 weeks since their dog ripped the hell out of Rufus’ leg, and they haven’t asked once how he’s doing. I can understand them not wanting to come by, but not even a note?”

He said, “That tells you who they are.”

“That it does.”

Today I discovered that it was probably better that they stayed away.

Continue reading “Rufus See Well”

The Ambassador

Ru & I made a surprise appearance at our Sunday greyhound hike, so he could sniff hello with the other greys and I could get out of the house for a little while. He was happy to see other dogs and to get affection and attention from all the other owners. I was happy to talk to people, as I’m going crazy here at home.

A few of them had seen the horrible photo of his leg 1 week after the attack, while some of others knew they wouldn’t be able to handle such a gory sight. They all dished the stories about how their greys managed to rip out stitches from past injuries, and were happy to see how well Ru’s wounds were healing, less than a week after surgery. One of the owners told me about how she made a flak-vest for her grey, to keep him from going after stitches on the middle of his back.

Once we got home, I opened my work e-mail and discovered that one of the PR guys I work with is going to adopt a grey this week! He and his wife had been thinking of getting a dog for a while, he told me. Between the various pictures of Rufus that I’ve run in my magazine’s From the Editor page, and the story of Ru’s injuries he heard after the BIO show, they decided to contact their local greyhound rescue group. They’re picking up their 2-year-old male this Thursday, after getting assurances that he’ll be okay around their two cats.

He lives in Philadelphia, so I told him that we’ll have to meet halfway in September, at the big greyhound picnic in Bridgewater, NJ!

Here are the pix he sent over of his soon-to-be fur-kid:



I like his dainty, cross-front-legged stance. Very coquettish.

And, just to tug on your heartstrings a little more, here’s a pic of The Ambassador from yesterday afternoon, hanging out down in my library:

Don’t Crate Me In

Ready for another Rufus update? I thought so!

Our boy went to the animal hospital for surgery today, and all went wonderfully! The vet said that he managed to stitch up the entire rear wound, and about 80% of the front wound. If the sutures hold up (read: if we keep Ru from noshing on them or tearing them with too much activity) then he may be able to get by without a third operation!

So, sentimentality and dignity and such aside, I put his BiteNot collar — thanks, JB Pets! — on him when I got him home. Uncomfortable though it is (well, “though it looks“), I’m willing to take that over panicking every time I leave the room that he’s going to lick his wounds and tear his stitches. And, following Greyhound Jane’s advice, I’ll also put his nylon muzzle on him along with a little duct tape when I have to go out for lunch or anything. Thanks, Jane!

Meanwhile, the owners of the attacking dog just sent a letter claiming, contra the police report, that Rufus was being walked in their yard and that the Akita “proceeded to defend their property.” Which is to say, they’re trying to get out of paying the bills, although they are “willing to share some of the responsibility for the bills you incur once all necessary treatments for the incident have been completed.” Emphasis theirs.

Sigh. I should note that neither owner was home to witness this attack, and it occurred 3 weeks after their Akita came out of the yard and attacked another dog.

So, I’ll get my lawyer on that. As is, I haven’t even sent ’em the bills from CVS, RiteAid, Stop & Shop, and Wayne Pharmacy (two paws up! if only they had a website to plug) for all the bandages, gauze pads and other supplies that we’ve had to use to keep Ru’s wounds protected.

I told the vet about this claim of theirs, and he said, “He was in their yard, ON HIS LEASH?” He also reiterated his claim that he’d never seen muscle torn out of a dog’s leg like that, and still doesn’t get how my boy was able to walk on it.

Oh, and he thinks his latest bandage-job is going to last three days! Bwah-ha-ha!

I told him his last one didn’t reach the six-hour mark; he slit his eyes and said, “Well, if your dog’s leg was just built upside-down, this bandage would work fine!”

Lessons Unlearned?

My wife just took a walk, trying to stay in practice, since we can’t take Rufus on his walks until he’s healed. She came back to report that the dog who attacked him . . . is lounging around in his yard unattended!

I picked up my camera and walked down the street to check. What did I find?

Here’s a link to another pic. I tried to get more of the yard & driveway in, just to assure that I wasn’t cropping out any people who were keeping an eye on him. Make sure to hit the “All Sizes” button in Flickr so you can scan the area for human supervision. You won’t find any!

Down with the King!

In other Rufus-related news, the Animal Control official called me today. The police report was finalized yesterday, so she just received her copy of it and can now act on the case.

I don’t want to go into much depth about our conversation, but she seemed sad about Rufus’ plight and, given the Akita’s other attack a few weeks earlier on Timber (our huskie-neighbor), she made it sound like she’ll help get this menace to public safety out of our neighborhood.

Yesterday I remembered that I actually posted a pic of Ru’s attacker (King) up on Flickr a little while ago. The caption I wrote seems pretty quaint / naive, given what transpired last week, but here’s the pic. You can click through it to go to the flickr page. Be sure to hit the “All Sizes” button to get a close look at this monster:

You can see why I thought he was a husky/shepard mix, right? I’m no dog expert, obviously.

What It Is: 5/25/09

What I’m reading: Plutarch’s Lives of Pericles and Fabius. I had a devil of a time getting into the Pericles section. It’s possible I was more distracted than usual, but the prose seemed utterly unwieldy and drowsiness-inducing. Which bums me out, because I expected that sketch to be one of the greats. Still, he kept me going with the life of Fabius Maximus and the comparison of the two.

What I’m listening to: Good News for People Who Like Bad News, by Modest Mouse.

What I’m watching: Burn After Reading, Doc Hollywood, Helvetica, and Local Hero (which really should get remastered/reissued on DVD). We moved my 24″ iMac downstairs (along with our guest bed), so it’s just been selective DVD viewing down in our rec room / library.

What I’m drinking: River Horse lager, picked up on a whim at Whole Foods.

What Rufus is up to: Recovering from surgery to repair the damage inflicted by a neighbor’s Akita, which took 2 chunks out of Ru’s right rear leg. He’s spending most of his days & nights in his crate. It’s a good thing he spent the first 2 years or so of his life crated, otherwise he might really object to being there. As is, he gets antsy if he doesn’t have access to it (when we get back inside after a bathroom break and I have to change the dressing over his wounds).

Where I’m going: Nowhere. I had to cancel my participation in an overnight PR junket in NYC this week, because of my poor boy’s condition.

What I’m happy about: Barring complications (read: infection), Rufus has a good chance of being “back to normal” in about 6 weeks. Oh, and my pals Ian & Jess are visiting next weekend! And the day before Rufus was attacked, I had a great visit with my grad school pals Joy & Miguel and their kids, who live about 15 minutes away from the hotel I was staying in in downtown Atlanta. Also, I’m happy that I went out with some client-pals on Wednesday to a Braves game. They knew all about my troubles/stresses with Rufus and were hoping to take my mind off things. Go look at some pictures.

What I’m sad about: All the anxiety and stress about Ru, as well as my assumption that “none of this would have happened if I’d been here.” I got over that self-centered guilt soon after getting home from BIO on Thursday night, faced with the immediacy of Ru’s situation (and not mine). And I’m sad that I missed the fancy dinner I was going to have in Atlanta, because I got the news about Rufus about 2 hours earlier. My coworkers and work-pals enjoyed themselves, so that’s good.

What I’m worried about: That the Animal Control dept. will fail to do its duty regarding the offending Akita, which attacked another dog 3 weeks earlier.

What I’m pondering: How to TASE a dog without risking “back-zap.” Just in case.

Fear of a Grey Planet

One of the neat aspects of adopting a failed retired racing greyhound is that you become part of a community of grey owners. I’ve never been one for, well, belonging, so I’m surprised by how much I enjoy going to greyhound meet and greets and events like this past weekend’s Greyhound Planet Day picnic. The site was about an hour from our house, in Bridgewater, NJ.

(An hour unless you run into a monstrous accident, as we did on the way home, up Rt. 287. Let me tell you: when you’re on a 4-lane highway and the accident warning sign says that the far left and the far right lanes are closed, you know you’re in for a sight. In this case, a sedan was mushed up against a light pole in the left shoulder, to the point at which its spare tire was poking up out of its trunk. In the right shoulder, an SUV was flipped over, facing the wrong way, and partly flattened. Rufus was not happy with the delay, but he did his best.)

The picnic was a blast. Here are my disjointed impressions, but you may be better off checking out my slideshow and my wife’s slideshow.

To begin, I can’t even guess how many greys were on hand, but I’m going to guess it was far more than a hundred. An adoption area was set up for people to check out some available dogs, read their histories, and take them out for test drives. I stopped at the cage/crate of one of my faves from the website, Jumpin’ Jackson, who unfortunately has medical problems (seizures) but was adorable. And huge. I also checked out a bunch of the females, since we figure that, if we ever get a second grey to keep Rufus company, it won’t be a male (size, territorial issues).

In fact, my coworker/pal Jason and his wife adopted a pair of girls on Sunday; he showed up in my office Monday and asked, “You didn’t sleep the first night either, right?” Later it was, “How long did it take Rufus to go up and down the stairs on his own?” I warned him that the next 7-10 days may be pretty rough.

The first owners we met on Sunday — people frequently stop us to comment on how gorgeous Rufus is — filled us in on their dog, whom they adopted in June. He was on the track till he was nearly five years old, and ran in TWO-HUNDRED-AND-TWENTY-SIX races. Our boy, on the other hand, raced eight times before it was concluded that he was not cut out for that job. On the plus side, all the veteran racers we met were nicked up, scarred, or had other work-related deformities. So I take pride in my dog’s failure. One owner, whom we’d met previously at a meet-and-greet, told us that he was amazed by how perfect Rufus’ overall form is. He thought we were joking when we told him how terrible the boy’s racing record was.

Another neat aspect of greys is that they make virtually no noise. Except for the instances where people brought other breeds along — a few beagles and a labradoodle — the dogs really didn’t stir up at all. That said, there was a Group Roo. Watch this and try to imagine 40+ greys gathered together and getting incited to make this noise. Evidently, it’s a tradition at these events, but it’s pretty creepy.

As was The Group Photo, in which we were all herded together in the grass. It was like a grand march of very skinny soldiers. Once we were all gathered, our boy decided that he didn’t like facing the photographer and started turning around to check out the dogs behind him. We thought it would’ve been great for a group shot of 200 dogs’ faces, and 1 dog’s butt. We’ll see how the final version comes out.

We sort of took an adoptable dog on a test drive ourselves, but only because the organizers were very busy and one of the greys — Bizzy’s Barker — needed to go for a bathroom break. I thought it would be a good opportunity to see how Rufus would deal with my walking a second dog alongside him. He didn’t care in the slightest. Neither did BB. They walked in opposite directions a couple of times, and they were pretty oblivious to one another’s presence. That’s a good sign, I think.

We had a good time making the acquaintances of other owners; it’s nice not to have to start a conversation answering, “What sort of dog is that?” I was also glad to be able to ask questions of some of the veterans. They affirmed my suspicions that it’s best to cut their food back a little during winter, since neither they nor we like going on walks in the cold. I also gleaned that most owners do not take they greys on twice-daily mile-plus walks, like I do.

Anyway, there’s a ton more to write about, but I have to get to work. Check out the slideshows (Amy’s and mine) for some pix that’ll make you start thinking about adopting one of these hounds. (If you’re in NJ, visit Greyhound Friends of NJ for more info on that.

Amy, Rufus and Bizzys Barker, Sept. 21, 2008
Amy, Rufus and Bizzy's Barker, Sept. 21, 2008

What It Is: 9/22/08

What I’m reading: Didn’t have much time to read this week, so I’m still on Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye and Jason Lutes’ Berlin. I don’t anticipate getting much reading in next week, with all the work on our October issue and our conference ahead.

What I’m listening to: Meet Danny Wilson, by Danny Wilson, and The Odd Couple, by Gnarls Barkley

What I’m watching: the last series at Yankee Stadium.

What I’m drinking: Plymouth & tonic.

What Rufus is up to: Greyhound Planet picnic in Bridgewater, NJ, baby!

Where I’m going: New Brunswick, NJ, baby!

What I’m happy about: New York Magazine cited my post on The Glass Stampede in their Comments section last week:

What I’m sad about: They didn’t call me or my blog by name, so now I have yet another alias: Chimera Obscura. Sigh. I shouldn’t complain, considering I have at least six active e-mail addresses.

What I’m pondering: How working for the Long Island Rail Road seems to be a more dangerous occupation than Alaskan crab fishing.