Ask G&G

Bird Dog in Bed?

A Southern take on the answers to some of life’s thornier questions

illustration: Illustration by Britt Spencer


Q. We’re having a huge nature-versus-nurture debate about whether to let our gundogs into the house. They love us, we love ’em back. Does it blunt their martial spirit to allow them into the softer domestic side of life?

I like a pile of dogs pretty much anywhere. Flopping around, bumping me out of their way, trying to box like kangaroos, curling and twitching in their bird-chasing dreams, slobbering for table scraps, shaking water out of their coats down by the dock. There’s something just right about a bunch of muddy paw tracks in a kitchen over the holidays—something has been happening, some other animal is simmering on the stove, and there’s going to be something great to eat.

You have hit on one of the global canine conundrums. Nobody knows the answer to this. Everybody pretended to know there was an answer thirty years ago—gundogs in a domicile were strictly verboten, so the question of their actually being in a house never arose. Think of it this way: Taking your sharpest-nosed, steadiest quail dogs into the house for weeks on end during the season probably does dull ’em down—if only by messing with the encyclopedic range of daily smells in their amazing brains. But those edicts have gotten smudged and rewritten over the last few decades, arguably as gundog training and hunting generally have undergone some philosophical shifts. Pretty much everybody does it, but they’d rather not tell you that.

I’m old-fashioned enough to think that too much field-dog-in-the-house is a little like drinking. It’s great fun because they get to see another side of you, and you get to pamper them. They may well think, why are you being so flat-footed and sloppy and just plain weird as to not have your gun with you? Mine certainly thought that. So will they get used to it? Of course. You could dress in a Bozo the Clown suit every night at cocktails, and they’d get used to it. They love you. But, like drinking, too much of that Bozo stuff can be too much.

Q. Is it just my imagination, or is it a character thing that draws a high percentage of pompous jerks to wear bow ties? At any given party when I spot them, I now run like hell.

Although my personal, ferociously defended jerkdom is not restricted in any way to neckwear, I am one of the bow-tied jerks you are impugning, so allow me to point out a couple of practicalities.

The things are tidy, they’re small, and they broadcast big.

Ask any host: A bow tie at a party pays the host a compliment—it says to all and sundry, this is a party worth being at. Bow ties have far edgier patterns than your run-of-the-mill four-in-hand. Doctors wear them because they stay out of the way; architects as well. There is some athletic magic to the bow tie in its ability to dilate age: It makes older gentlemen look more energetic and the younger ones look older. One more note, just to light you up: my summer uniform of bow tie and no socks? Well, there’s your ultimate jerk. How’s it goin’, bow-tie hater? How about a nice, crispy gin and tonic? Hey, it’s on me.

Q. What happened to the good old-fashioned fistfight? Is it good for anything anymore?

Not really. That said, half the frisson of a good big party in the South is that a fistfight is just under the surface, ready to bubble up. I’ve always thought this was an impulse born of the frustration with the region’s having prematurely given up dueling in the nineteenth century. I have a good friend holding to tradition who still likes to punch people when (he says) circumstances demand it. Slim as the upside might seem, he claims that a good sock in the face is a way of advancing dialogue in a dispute that is otherwise stalled. He’s tremendous fun at a party. But on balance, the larger problem with fistfights these days is that in the moment not everybody can be depended upon to adhere to the Marquess of Queensberry boxing rules, and then other people step in, and still others get blindsided, and, well, you know. Odd as it sounds, a fistfight is not a good idea because we no longer have the manners to do it properly.

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