The Principles of History

I was listening to Harry Lawton, an old friend who writes Southern California history, telling me about talking with Amy Congers about a poster celebrating local history. He was complaining that Congers, an art historian, refuses to acknowledge that the most important facts about Southern California are things like the beaches, the citrus industry, UCLA and so on. Rather, she insists, Southern California's most important intellectual, cultural and moral contribution to the resources of the world's mind is Rin Tin Tin. I asked immediately, "Does she have a dog?"

Not only does she have a dog, but he's a German shepherd, and he's named Prince. I knew immediately that Prince would turn out to be an admirable dog, because of Congers' deep insights into history. He is. He is not only as noble as a statue, but also has had professional experience, specifically in narcotics, and can detect drugs and drug dealers infallibly.

This made life unbearable for one of Congers' former neighbors, a big-time dealer who had lots of visits from other dealers. Prince didn't approve of any of this. So the day the dealer came knocking on Congers' door to complain about the dog, Prince went for him, fast and furious. And fast and furious was the way the dealer made tracks for home and safety. That, Congers said, was the only time Prince ever went for a visitor, except for one guy who was not only boring Congers but also giving her advice. Well, Prince knows as well as Rin Tin Tin ever did that you don't bore ladies, and you don't give them advice. Prince showed him firmly to the door.

It's this sort of thing that makes some people say that shepherds are the dogs who remind us that etiquette is the lubricant of society. I made that remark to Lawton, who is not only a California historian but one who has been covered with honors for his work, and suggested that Prince was evidence that Lawton, in not honoring Rin Tin Tin as the source of all that is good about Southern California, wasn't doing his scholarly duty. He said, "Social lubricant indeed! At my last Halloween party he got the prize for the best costume (it seems that Prince came carrying a Frisbee that had 'Rin Tin Tin' written on it) by threatening to eat the jury. And this in the face of the rule I insist on, which is that the contestants must bribe the jury, not threaten them."

I went back and asked Congers about this, because she'd told me about the time a judge awarded damages to Prince without even examining the evidence because, she said, "the glow from his halo in that courtroom was blinding." Her story seemed to conflict with Lawton's.

Congers said, "Well, in the first place, you don't expect an heir of Rin Tin Tin to bribe people, do you? The arguments in Prince's favor were: He had the most authentic costume. Also, because no one could possibly resent a celebration of Rin Tin Tin, no human's feelings would be hurt if he won. Which is connected with the next argument, that giving the prize to Prince is a statement about local history. And all this while Prince sat there looking angelic."

I believed this, because as even Lawton admits--although gloomily--Prince always looks angelic. However, looks can be deceiving, so I asked, "And there was nothing about eating people?"

"Well," Congers said, "of course I couldn't guarantee the health and happiness of the jury if he lost. Prince really believes in the importance of historical truth."

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