Illustration by Jim Cooke

I can’t.

It flummoxes me why this flummoxes a lot of people. I guess you could call it a double flummox, like some sort of gymnastics move. If I were to imagine such a move it would involve me, my paws taped to a swinging trapeze bar, cutting myself loose at the highest point of its swinging arc and flipping once, twice, end over end, before splashing down safely in a landing pool full of butterscotch pudding. As I lick myself clean, the sports announcers wait patiently to interview me about my successful gym-mazement. Even if it takes a while, they’ll wait. That’s part of the job.

I never did learn the alphabet. Now that I think about it I never learned the alphabet, the coloring books, the regular books, the pages of books, the numbers, the math, the calculators, the computers, the wall posters, the yard signs, the billboards, the graffiti writing, or the cursive. I never learned to type. My one attempt ended ignominiously when it became clear that my unwieldy paws were ill-equipped for the precision needed to accurately strike the desired letters in the proper sequence. The letters themselves were Greek to me, too. So even if I had the dexterity for typing I still wouldn’t have been able to produce a sentence. Needless to say my challenges were myriad!

None of this means that I want your pity. “Here, take the pity,” people are always saying. “Did you say patty, as in hamburger patty, or Jamaican beef patty?” I’ll ask, just to clarify. They always say no. But I’d hate to miss the day when someone was actually offering me a patty and I mistook it for an offer of pity. Up until now, though, everyone has in fact been offering pity.

Keep it! Put it right back in your pocket and amble on to your work job. I’ll stay here, in the grass. My life is beautiful. Illiteracy has never held me back from my goals. My goal is to eat all of the food in my bowl, down to the last kibble, and when that one last kibble is left, to lap it up with my tongue, flip it up into the air, and let it bonk me on the head. Then it falls to the ground and I eat it. It’s a gorgeous kind of acrobatic performance, I promise you. A work in progress—but one I believe I can achieve. Words play no part. What does play a part? Kibble, tongue. And soul.

Me, my soul. My rump in the grass.

Symbols—what are they good for? “Absolutely nothing!” I cry, “headbanging” to the extent possible, my ears wildly flopping like the proverbial hair rocker’s hair, sending a message. Many people are defensive on my behalf. They want to defend me from the written word. “How dare you write that about the good boy?” they cry to the newspaper man. “How dare you publish the thing about the good boy being overweight?” they cavortle to the magazine lady. “Don’t you believe what the mean man wrote about you!” they cry to me, falling on their knees before me, overcome with emotion. It’s unsportsmanlike and frankly makes them appear deranged. Do I give a flying hey about a string of inscrutable symbols? I don’t care a whit! Meanwhile I sit in the grass. Rumpus planted. Kibble flipping. Flying on airways, mentally barking.

Don’t feel bad for me, baby. I’m happening right here on solid land.