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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Favorite Urban Legend

A few weeks ago, after attending a reading, I headed to a nearby bar with some of the cast for a little post-performance celebration. As we shot the breeze, swapped our stories and jokes, a friend of mine spoke up. "Wait, wait," he said, "I know a great one. I know someone whose friends once asked her to dog-sit for their very old dog."

He didn't need to say another word. I knew where it was headed. I could have stopped him right there, said, "ooh, I know this one - this is a good one." But I didn't. Where would the fun have been in that? I love this story.

The story goes - if you're curious - like this: A girl volunteers to dog-sit for a family she knows. The dog is getting on in dog years, and while the family is away, he dies. She calls the family, distraught, but the family says not to worry. The poor guy was very, very old and the death is not at all unexpected. They tell her to bring the dog's body to the family's veterinarian. He'll know what to do with it. So she does.

But, now, the vet is a ways away, and, not knowing better how to get the dead dog there, she packs it into a duffel bag and takes it on the subway. Of course, the still old dog corpse is pretty heavy, so she struggles with it a bit on the stairs. A man, seeing her struggle, helps her onto the subway with the bag.

"That's one heavy bag," says the man when they get on the train. "What have you got in there?" And the girl, obviously not wanting to tell the truth, says, "Oh, you know, just stuff I'm bringing home from college. Books, clothes, my computer, ipod, stuff like that." And you see where this is going. At the next stop, the man grabs the duffel bag and runs off the train just as the doors are closing.

This is, without a doubt, my favorite urban legend. At this point, I have heard this story from at least four separate sources; the number might actually be closer to five or six.

I love this story. It fills me with a deep joy and fondness for my fair city. I don't know exactly why. Maybe it's because I heard the story for the first time shortly after I moved to New York, and it makes me remember loving the city with a fresh heart. Maybe it's because it's so quintessentially. Struggling down the stairs and allowing a stranger to help with us with our load; muggings, or hearing about muggings on the street or on the train; and of course, carrying something unlikely and entirely ludicrous onto the subway - these are all such familiar circumstances. it seems only a matter of time and fortune before they should align so perfectly and comically.

Or maybe it's because it feels like something communal- some kind of great in-joke, a story in which we've all partaken. It's something that we've all laughed at, loved, and shared and, for a moment, that makes this great behemoth of a city seem a little smaller.

Here is something interesting, though: the facts never seem to change. I've heard this story possibly a half a dozen times and, unlike most urban legends, the facts of it never seem to change. There's no confusion over detail or circumstance. No, "Oh, I heard it was a dead cat," or, "The way I heard it, it was her dog." No, it's always a girl, always dog-sitting, always a duffel bag on the way to the vet. It's so consistent, it makes me wonder if this is not an urban legend, but a very famous, entirely true story.

Who out there has heard this story? Do you remember who told it to you? Do you know - or know somebody who claims to know - the original source of this story? How fantastic would it be if we could track her down?

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