Shaggy Dog Stories

Remember Shaggy Dog stories?  those painfully long, painfully dreary, supposedly humorous stories we used to suffer through?  There was always at least one deadly bore at every gathering back in the day who felt called upon to corner those of us who couldn’t think fast enough or move fast enough to avoid him.  (Or her, yes, women told them, too.)

This windbag would open up with  “Have you heard the one about the BLAH BLAH BLAH?”  or  “Here’s a good one, let me tell you about the  BLAH BLAH BLAH.”   You’d find yourself trapped, eyes glazing, hoping he didn’t have bad breath, while he happily launched into his story.

So, what was a Shaggy Dog story?  Basically it was an extremely long winded, pointless anecdote that might take up to 5 minutes or more to tell, leaving the listeners ready to commit mayhem before the end was reached.  You’d listen to it in spite of yourself, caught up with certain expectations for what would become a meaningless, meandering, irrelevant anti-climax.  And, no, all Shaggy Dog stories were not about shaggy dogs,

For some reason those stories popped up in my mind recently, and after diligent research online  (well, 10 minutes on Google)  I came across the original Shaggy Dog Story.  It was every bit as bad as I remembered it, if not worse.  There were 2 or 3 versions of the original but they all ended the same way.

“It seems this guy owned a dog that was really, really shaggy.  (Some variations bring the aristocracy into the tale but I prefer the plain old Joe Schmoe version, it goes a little faster.)  Anyway, Joe’s dog was so shaggy, Joe began entering him into Shaggy Dog contests and his dog always won.  He won the neighborhood Shaggy Dog contest as the shaggiest dog.  He won the city-wide contest as the shaggiest dog.  Next he won the State contest, once again being proclaimed the shaggiest dog.

Finally he was entered into the Shaggy Dog Grand Nationals, where the shaggiest dog in the nation would be chosen.  Joe was beside himself with pride until he overheard the judges saying   “That dog isn’t so shaggy.”

That’s it folks, that’s the story. Whoever started those?  Why did anyone ever listen? Why aren’t you laughing?  Why did Shaggy Dog stories last as long as they did?  Mercifully they died a well-deserved death 30 or so years ago and have never been missed.  There were endless variations, each more boring and pointless than the last, always ending with loud groans, dirty looks, insults, even death threats on the part of the listeners;  and a smug, self-satisfied smirk on the face of the perpetrator.

Mark Twain, that master story-teller, wrote what is considered to be the ultimate Shaggy Dog story in his book  “ROUGHING IT.”  He was meandering around the California Gold Rush country back in the 1850s, picking up ideas, talking to anyone who had a story, when a group of local miners put him on the trail of Old Jim.  Old Jim’s grandfather had owned a remarkable ram.

Mark Twain tracked down Old Jim at a tavern, eager to listen to the story about his grandfather’s ram.  Old Jim was happy to relate it in exchange for a drink or two, so he leaned into the bar and began his story. Unfortunately he never got to the point of why his grandfather’s ram was so special.

He got side-tracked into a tale about boiled missionaries, then a woman who borrowed a glass eye, on to someone’s peg leg, then the wig of the coffin salesman’s wife.  He finally got caught up in the story of a man who worked in a carpet factory. The unfortunate man became tangled in the machinery, and his widow bought the piece of carpet with his remains woven into it.

After 4 pages of furious scribbling on Mark Twain’s part, Old Jim passed out cold across the bar.  Mark Twain looked helplessly around to where his  acquaintances  were laughing uproariously.  They’d been listening to Old Jim’s story of his grandfather’s remarkable ram for years, and Old Jim never did get to the point of why the ram was so special.

So who told the best “Shaggy Dog story,”  Old Jim or Mark Twain?  It seems to depend on whether Old Jim was a real person or one of  Mark Twain’s creations.  Whichever, it’s never been topped.

I’m wondering if today’s Urban Legends have come into our folklore to replace Shaggy Dogs.  We do love to be fooled, we can be so gullible at times.  Just don’t let Shaggy Dogs come back


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