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The Shipwreck Rose: Puppies and Kittens

Tue, 12/22/2020 - 16:59

Have you heard the new holiday hit song “[I Want a] Puppy for Hanukkah” by Daveed Diggs?


“I’ma get what I wann-ukkah

I’ma get a puppy for Hanukkah

I ain’t even trippin’ on it, bruh

Cause I’ma get a puppy for Hanukkah

Night two, what it do, candles get lit, lit

Latkes, sour cream is the best dip, dip . . . ”


I would not be surprised to learn that there is a run on puppies this December, and a shortage, as there has been a run on and shortage of Christmas trees here on Long Island. Americans have been pre-emptively panic-preparing for the impending winter gloom. Never have so many been so desperate to cuddle up on the couch with furry things — puppies, kittens, an astonishing array of microfleece throws, and, if you are lucky, a disturbingly large hooded-blanket wearable called the Comfy that keeps selling out on Amazon.

Puppy mania 2020 brings to mind something I read many years ago in The National Enquirer: that when Mariah Carey — the butterfly-loving pop diva who brought you December’s most popular kitsch ditty “All I Want for Christmas Is You” — agreed to sing a concert, she had the concert promoter sign a rider to the contract in which he promised to provide an eye-opening list of comforts backstage. Mariah’s list included several bottles of Cristal champagne on ice, a fruit platter, a carafe of hot water with sliced lemon, and puppies and kittens. That’s what her contract said, according to The National Enquirer: “puppies and kittens.” Just like that: “puppies and kittens.”

National Enquirer readers — and by this I mean me, before The Enquirer was taken over by American Media and David Pecker, a publisher whose name, like Voldemort’s and certain lesser demons’, you should really not even mention aloud — imagined this to involve a wire pet crate or decorative box lined with shredded tabloid newspapers on which cavorted several soft, recently bathed, floppy-eared butterscotch puppies and/or pink-padded kittens so weightless Mariah could hold one up nose to nose in the palm of her hand. The National Enquirer didn’t specify how many puppies and kittens Mariah Carey required, or if they could be pound puppies and kittens, or if only pedigree puppies and kittens were acceptable, or where a puppy-and-kitten rental service might be located, or if anyone from the A.S.P.C.A. would object.

I thought Mariah Carey was onto something. The other celebrities’ demands noted in The National Enquirer contract-rider article focused on beverages and snacks of various kinds, cold-cut plates, cheese plates, Doctor Pepper soda, Absolut vodka, strawberry-scented candles, bottles of special water from a Scottish spring. Britney Spears wanted cheddar-cheese-flavored corn chips. ‘NSync wanted video games. Puff Daddy, they said, expected his suite of dressing rooms to be draped in great swaths of expensive, nonsynthetic white fabric; large white porcelain vases were to be filled with white lilies and white orchids, everything all white and lily-smelling, like Puff Daddy had died and gone to heaven.

But I loved Mariah Carey’s concept of puppies and kittens. It wasn’t half-bad, as far as happiness was concerned (or at least some measure of consolation in difficult times: If you could have any material thing you wanted, if you could have it drawn up into a binding legal contract by a team of lawyers in $3,000 suits, what would you demand of the world? What would your formula for happiness be?

I made a parlor game out of it — called Puppies and Kittens — and had my friends answer the Mariah Carey question. It was revealing. Some peoples’ Puppies and Kittens revolved around appearance and what they would be wearing, like one friend who in her dream contract-rider world was sporting old-fashioned Levi’s 505 jeans that had been broken in magically by someone else but somehow fit perfectly when she met the Irish actor Liam Neeson in a field full of wildflowers. The men’s were often fascinatingly straightforward: They required a good surf session and then sex.

Like Mariah Carey’s, my formula for happiness was a bit more elaborate. Like hers, it involved friendly animals, either barrel-chested mongrels or cows (such as the Scottish Highland cattle certain members of the British aristocracy keep around for purposes of picturesqueness) who would let me stroke their noses gently. My formula for happiness would also involve a good amount of brisk walking and reckless driving in the company of good friends. It involved the seaside, a tea tray set with a peony in a vase and a silver pot of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, and, later that same day, a dinner party outdoors under swinging colored lanterns, and then dancing, as the wind picked up, to old ska and 45s by Wicked Wilson Pickett.

(Perhaps my formula for happiness had something to do with humans’ primordial past, in which we roamed the savannah in familial bands? Do you think? Perhaps we can only be happy when we are among kin, and moving as quickly as we can in the direction of the sea?)

Anyway, when not huddled on the couch watching the Daveed Diggs Hanukkah song with blankets piled so high the children disappear and have to be dug out from time to time to breathe, seemingly everyone in the Western World has been escaping our present troubles by viewing “The Crown” on Netflix.

Have you seen season four of “The Crown”? Viewers are encouraged by the camera’s nudge to be righteously repelled by the behavior of the royal family, their childish after-dinner high jinks, their muddy shoes, and in-jokes, but I wasn’t. I admit it, I like them! I like the Windsors, and, indeed, recognized most of the key elements of my own Puppies and Kittens in the scenes set at Balmoral: dogs, long walks, wind-whipped hair, parlor games, farm animals, tea trays. It turns out that the richest woman in the world, when given her druthers, gets her Puppies and Kittens come true, and I like her choices. Hey, Charles and Camilla — call me! As soon as the new British travel bans are lifted, I’m ready to fly.

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