Two years later, lining up for Big Gulp-sized Buds at a Madison Square Garden kiosk, I was experiencing that same nausea, though my head was only pounding slightly, thanks to the seven coffees and three Advils I had consumed over the course of the day. The culprit: the first night of the WKC, during which we had slugged Maker’s Mark in a slightly better section, closer to a proper bar. Night two, we had been exiled to the nosebleed section, away from the ball-gown-wearing pure-breed owners in the double-digit chairs who drank white wine and soft-clapped for their chattel; up here, where the plebeians sat, there was only beer for the masses, like we were peasants at the theater in Elizabethan England.
“Do you get a lot of big drinkers at this event?” D asked the server.
She scrunched up her face and thought a minute. “Last week we had the Clintons speaking here,” she said. “Nobody had any beer then.”
This year, we had decided that to finalize the rules, we should probably attend the show itself. You know, drink in the milieu, and drink in the drinks, and hope that the environment inspired us to be the best drinking game artistes we could possibly be. We were missing out on the witty banter of USA Network’s panelists, truthfully, but other than that, it was going splendidly. The spirits––of the “sporting gentlemen” who founded the Westminster Kennel Club in 1877, and of T. William Samuels Senior––were filling us, which meant that our goals were both being met and also being quickly forgotten. No matter––it’s all part of the process. The first night, we had confirmed two rules, but then found one of them so thought provoking that, as we drank more, we just couldn’t get ourselves off the topic. Here’s the prompt: would you fuck the handler? If so you, took a drink. (Later on, we developed a twist: if you actually had fucked the handler, you had to finish whatever it was you were drinking, no matter how much was left in the mug/glass/chalice.) On the surface, a pretty basic question, but one that begs all sorts of other ones: what if, for example, you thought the handler pretty tasty, but you thought maybe, possibly, they weren’t into your genitalia? Two drinks later, we found ourselves mulling over D’s penchant for falling in love with women who turn out to be lesbians, all while watching a fluffy Chow Chow, fit for a royal court in ancient China, stride in front of a pensive, tuxedo-clad judge.
So now here we were: one last night, during which we had to overcome the shakes to harness all our drinking game writing powers. Five rules in place, including the “would you fuck the handler,” and pages of scattered notes from which to work. Two large Buds––working people can’t be choosy––at our feet. In the section to our right, a group of ten or so who appear to be our age peers, practically tumbling over the bleachers to talk to one another, even though they were yelling already. In the rows in front of us, a handful of middle-aged women dressed to accentuate their muffin tops, each clutching an official Westminster Kennel Club Program (the hardcover kind, the kind they had to purchase), pencil at the ready. And way down beneath us, the glorious, Astroturf-carpeted arena, no less grand, surely, than the Coliseum during Rome’s heyday, in which shortly, one dog would be crowned top dog.
“Hey, that’s good!” D says. “Maybe one rule should be if the announcers call the winner ‘top dog’?”
“Funny, but you know what’s funnier? Irony.”
“Right. What about if they say the word ‘underdog’?”
The crowd of youngsters next to us was getting rowdier, each member whooping in excitement as his or her favorite breed took to the tiny podium. The terrier group, the last group before the climax, began. The pressure was on; I could feel my heart rate rising, and I kind of liked it.
Out strutted the little rat-hunters, their tiny wiry beards highlighted on the Jumbo-Tron. Interspersed were a few dogs that looked suspiciously like toys: a little too groomed, a little too dainty. We snarled at these terrier-imposters.
“Patty Hearst owns that one,” D slurred, pointing out the Skye Terrier, with its butterfly-shaped head and long, silky hair, probably brushed a hundred times as the Skye stared at itself lovingly in the mirror like a Disney princess.[i] There was another reason to hate it aside from its obvious toy-ness: D and I had gone to middle school with the daughter of Patty Hearst, now a socialite-cum-model. They were both heinous bitches. Like, we assumed, the dog.
“That dog does not belong here,” he seethed. “Also, you can’t see its eyes.” This was one solidified rule, so we took a big gulp of our Big Gulps.
As the judging began, I surveyed the notes. Five rules did not a game make, particularly over upwards of four hours of broadcasting. I began highlighting frontrunners and slashing through stupid ideas. D kept drinking and watching the stage. Frei’s sweet voice narrated it all. “Often described as having the look of the lamb and the heart of a lion… ”
“It DOES look like a lamb! Hey, do you think there’s subtext when the announcer says a dog can be a good family companion ‘with proper training or socialization’?”
“That definitely means the breed is full of assholes.”
I made a beeline for the bathroom before the inevitable commercial break, when they’d play the dog shampoo commercial and an ad for Purina Puppy Chow yet again, wobbling as I walked up the stairs to reach the hallway. The rows of toilets were empty, people obviously too rapt to leave their chairs. I briefly considered puking, but then thought if I just ate more generic popcorn, I might survive. When I returned to the chair, the hair care Adonis that is Chaz Dean was posing on the Jumbro-tron bookended by a quadruple of Labrador retrievers with shiny, beautiful coats.[ii] D had gotten us new beers. My stomach lurched, and the Manchester Terrier took to the stage. Around and around they went, like a dystopian zoological Small World ride, the russets and grays and the long snouts and the smooth coats and broken coats and the various Shires of England where they originated blending together until I could no longer tell a Norfolk Terrier from a Russell. “The Miniature Schnauzer is at home both in the city and in the country!” Despite being pretty sure I was at a point where I could possibly pass out on a gutter on West 33rd Street, I kept taking seal-like swallows of my beer. I barely remember the judges picking out the finalists, but I do remember what happened when he pointed to the sleek-haired Skye to indicate he was top dog. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw D cup his hands around his mouth, and bellow out––did I mention that D’s a professional voiceover artist? Yep, the powerful lungs behind the Army and Nascar––“THAT’S NOT A REAL TERRIER!”
To me, it felt like his roar flooded the entire arena; that’s probably a drunken exaggeration, but it would be accurate to say all of section 232 heard and reacted. The tribe of rowdy contemporaries nearby stopped whooping and looked at us. The middle-aged women in mom jeans stopped taking notes in their official handbooks and turned around to stare, utterly aghast. Unsure as to whether I should be embarrassed or greatly amused, I opted for the latter and burst out laughing. D took another sip.
“Well, it’s not,” he said, this time at a normal volume.
Thankfully the Skye wasn’t crowned top dog that evening, otherwise there would have been real hell to pay. Instead, an adorable little beagle named Miss P (we decided it wasn’t a truly human name) enjoyed a steak at Sardi’s and visited the top of the Empire State Building the next day, during her media tour. As for us, we got a big bar tab, one of the tallest plumes to stick in our drinking game caps, a selfie with Chaz Dean, and two walloping hangovers. And we’ve never looked back.
Full rules can be found here. This year, in addition to new breeds, WKC will also feature cats (though during one of the ancillary events). Oh, and also: there’s Trump hook for this essay, don’t you worry.
[i] It came to my attention afterward that in fact Patty Hearst owned the Shih Tzu, not the Skye Terrier. Immaterial for the sake of telling this story, but I felt it should be acknowledged. The Shih Tzu also made it to the final round of judging, but it would have been even worse if that breed––known to wear little bows––triumphed.
[ii] In the time since this event, Chaz Dean’s brand Wen has been sued by 200 women who claim products from the line have caused “severe hair loss.” I sincerely hope the canine line hasn’t had similar problems, otherwise there will be lots of angry show dog breeder/owner/handlers out there.