Jack W. Russell and the Silver Screen

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Short story by Judith Shaw. Copyright © 2014 Judith Shaw.

From: Jack W. Russell
To: Mandy McDonald

Hey Mandy, I’ve seen you around the set and like what I see. You clearly know the ropes. I have an offer to make you won’t want to refuse, so come around to my trailer after the last take today. We can have a cold one and get acquainted. Aussies have to stick together in this Budweiser wasteland, right?

—Jack

I couldn’t believe it. Jack W. Russell wants to see ME in his TRAILER? With an OFFER? OMG! He’s even hotter than Russell Crowe!

I pushed my face up to the magnifying mirror and searched my features for flaws. Even the tiniest could be curtains. A stray hair in my left eyebrow poked up, and I yanked it out. Everything else looked ok, ok but boring. Maybe not boring, exactly, but plain. No special features. Nothing that stood out. Yeah, boring was the word. Well, it was the face God gave me, and, short of the knife, it was going to stay as is.

A strong light made me squinch my eyes shut. “You’re thinking bad thoughts, again. I can hear them. Just think your mantra, sweetie, and leave your face to me.” My best friend Jim, Acme’s number one make-up wizard, tied my hair back and went to work.

My nerves were coiled like an irritable King Brown. No mantra was going to fix that. To change the subject, I reviewed the events of the past week and tried to make them make sense.

I was new on the set of “Endless Summer Redux.” It was a medium-budget movie for the aging surfer, tracking a former star’s life after the big waves stopped rolling. Jack played the surfer in his younger days, laying the groundwork for his ultimate decline into angst, boredom, drugs and suicide. Totally clichéd, of course, but the end didn’t really matter. Jack was hot. He was charismatic. He was absolutely gorgeous.

After work I walked from Styling and Makeup to the trailer I shared with three other women. It was a typical southern California summer, hot and dusty, and the biting flies were fierce. I couldn’t wait for an end-of-the-day cool shower and a beer.

I heard a scream and saw a woman cowering under a tree with a screeching dog jumping up at her face. Or maybe she was screeching and the dog was only jumping. I couldn’t tell. But I know dogs, so I ran over to see what was up.

She was old, maybe forty, backed up against the tree trunk whimpering. She had something in her hand the dog wanted, and he wasn’t taking no for an answer. She held what looked like a cricket ball—weird—and the Jack was determined to have it off her. Silly cow. She should have given it to him straight away. Nobody wins against a Jack in the throes of OCD.

I had a rubber hand therapy ball in my pocket and pulled it out to show the dog. He left his trembling victim, eyes locked on the ball in my fist. I walked away from the tree and threw it towards the trailers. Crisis over. No Jack Russell can resist the challenge of a thrown ball.

A panting P.A. ran up calling the dog, who ignored him. What did he think? There was a ball in play! Nothing else mattered.

The dog dropped the ball at my feet, but I knew the game. As soon as my hand came near he would grab it and run away laughing. He sat staring at me, tongue hanging out, thinking evil, obsessive thoughts.

The P.A., still breathing hard, handed me a leash. Like that would help. He probably thought a Jack Russell was a Golden Retriever in disguise. He sure had a lot to learn.

I ignored the dog. “Where’s it live?” I asked. The winded man, boy, whatever, pointed to the row of trailers reserved for the stars. Not that they used them for much more than air-conditioned breaks between takes. I measured the distance and kicked the ball in that direction. The dog took off. We followed, and I kicked the ball every few hundred feet. The Jack thought he had me trained pretty well.

A man stepped away from the shadiest trailer of them all, put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loud enough to make my ears hurt. The dog left the ball, ran to him and jumped straight up into his arms. He waved and went into his trailer. I walked back to mine, wondering what the cricket ball was all about. I never did find out.

I saw the dog with his P.A. just about every day, straining on his leash and one-upping the poor ignorant fool at every turn. I felt sorry for him and sorry for the dog when he strained at the leash and choked. I never like to see a pulling dog in a collar.

After two days I couldn’t stand it any more and bought a harness with a ring in the front to attach the leash. It’s impossible for a dog to pull in that kind of harness, because the forward pull gets translated into sideways motion by the position of the ring. Very cool. The dog hated it. The P.A. and I loved it, and the dog didn’t choke anymore.

Two days later Jack’s memo arrived.

I didn’t get it. Where had he seen me? What did he want? Should I go to his trailer? Maybe he’s a real creep.

So many questions. No answers.

Jim put the finishing touches on my face and turned off the overhead light. I snuck a peek and felt the snake slither back into its hole. He had made me look exactly like myself, only more so. It was the same old face, but somehow it wasn’t plain. It was elegant.

I was already dressed, in the clothes I wear to work everyday only cleaner. My hair was the same as ever. He could take me or leave me, but what he saw was what he would get. Or, of course, not. Up to him.

I knew who did his hair. She was really good, and I couldn’t believe he wanted to change stylists. And no stylist in her right mind would want to ditch Jack W. Russell. So what, aside from hair styling, could he possibly want with me?

As I walked over to his mansion of a trailer, I could hear dogs yapping and snapping and growling in the way only Jack Russells carry on. They don’t know the meaning of lie down, shut up and take a nap.

The door opened, and a white Jack with one black ear and a black eye patch peeled off and ran over to me, jumping at my knees. She (I checked) was panting enthusiastically and staring at my right hand. Ah, I thought, the runaway hoping for another ball. But she wasn’t the same dog. He was a tricolor—white, brown and black and much bigger than the cutie at my feet. No one could have mistaken him for a her. I picked her up and she snuggled into my arms. Surprising, really. I wouldn’t have expected her to be so—I don’t know—personable? Affectionate? Looking at the boiling mob I had to think she was a people dog, starved for one-on-one.

“That’s Daisy,” said the P.A. “She’s a good dog. Away from these untrainable idiots she’s almost sensible.”

“Untrainable?” boomed a voice from inside the trailer. “No dog is untrainable. You just need the key, and this young lady seems to have it.” Jack W. Russell leaned against the door frame, looking edible. The pack dissolved and regrouped around his feet. Daisy stayed with me.

“Why would you say that?” I asked. “I just got here.”

“Ah, but Daisy knows.”

Before I could speak again he went on. “Welcome, Mandy. Kind of you to come. What do you think of my pack? I’ve been training them for the Terrier Trials in Monterey, and they’re going really well.”

He opened the door wide and motioned me in. The trailer was cool and dark. It smelled like Fosters. It smelled like home.

I’d been away a long time, with no plan to return any time soon. My work was here. My life was here. Daisy reached up and licked me on the nose. The P.A. shepherded the rest into their air-conditioned kennel.

“See this is the thing,” Jack said, cuddling his bottle of beer. “I’ve got these dogs. They need to be trained, but I can’t do it. Why don’t you give it a go?”

What was he on about?

“You have the wrong person, Mr. Russell. I’m a hairstylist. I work with hair, not dogs.” I took a big swig of my beer.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “My dogs are everything to me. I have no family. My wife died very young, leaving her Jack Russell behind, making me promise to look after the dog with my whole heart. I started reading about Jack Russell Rescue, all those heartbreaking stories. Before I knew it, I’d adopted seven more. It was chaos.

“I’m not much of a dog trainer, but I’m learning. I use the Stanislovski method to get into the alpha mindset. Sometimes I channel Errol Flynn.”

“You looked pretty alpha to me,” I said. “When you whistled that dog back to the trailer, he came like a shot.”

“I had a piece of roast beef in my pocket. The dogs can always sniff out a bribe. I saw you handle that episode with Horace and the cricket ball. Now that was alpha! Please say you’ll help.”

I had to laugh. This was no macho movie star. He was a normal, lost and lonely male looking to get out of a jam. “Why can’t you do it yourself? They’re your dogs. Maybe you should be channeling Cesar Milan. Sorry. That was uncalled for.”

“No time. The trials are next month. I have to go on location in a couple of days. Come around after work and see how it goes. Andy, here, will give you a hand. The P.A. nodded, looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. “Here’s the rule book.” He handed me a dog-eared pamphlet. “You get them going, and I’ll make sure you have all the hair you can curl when the trials are done.”

What about my movie? I’m responsible for seven actors’ hair! If I walk off the job I’ll never get another. “Sorry, can’t do it. Hairdressers are a dime a dozen in LA. I can’t sacrifice my career for your dogs.” Daisy licked my chin.

I said no. Clearly and unequivocally. So how come I found myself back at Jack’s the next afternoon?

Absolutely no idea. Except I liked him. I liked his soft heart and his seven adopted Jack Russell terriers. I thought I’d better take a look at that pack.

Jack’s P.A. let me in and took me around the back. The dogs put up their usual howl when I walked in and Daisy ran up to the fence to say hello. I opened the gate and walked in.

Eight dogs, seven adoptees and Mrs. Russell’s pet Jack. They ranged in age from about three (Daisy) to about twelve years of age (most of the rest). In dog years, it was an octogenarian pack. One was missing an eye and another ran gamely around on three legs, but they were all typical Jack Russells: feisty, fun-loving and very fast on their feet.

I gave everyone a cuddle, and started to teach them the basic obedience moves. We didn’t have much time, so I had to cheat. I made them sit in a circle around me, and snapped a harness and leash on Horace. He, at least, didn’t have trouble getting around.

I’ve worked with Jack Russells before. They’re very quick to learn and even quicker to get bored. If I tried to teach each one individually the class would self-destruct in ten—make that five—minutes. I counted on the fact that they like to learn by watching.

It was amazing. By the end of the session they could all sit on command and (sort of) heel. Jacks like to be in front, so heeling didn’t make a lot of sense to them, but a piece of the old roast beef held just above their heads guaranteed their complete attention. The harness kept them from pulling. Voila! A pseudo heel.

The P.A.—his name is Andy, I need to stop calling him the P.A.—was amazed at their progress. I was amazed that all the dogs were still standing. The dogs were amazed at the amount of roast beef they were given, and it wasn’t even dinner time.

When I went back to my trailer Daisy insisted on coming along. She was sleeping on my lap when the door opened and Jack stuck his head in.

“Knock, knock,” he said. “I see you’ve made a friend.”

“Too right. She’s a real beauty.” I picked up the rule book. “Terrier trials, huh? J.R. races and pack vermin hunts and all the crazy things Jack Russells love to do. For canine octogenarians. That’ll go down well with the animal rights people, won’t it?”

He sat down on the couch next to me. Thigh to thigh, if you really want to know. I liked this guy, movie star or no. And I liked his dogs. He’d rescued the old ones, the throwaways nobody wanted. I’d wondered how he was going to take them back to Australia when the film was done, but by that time there wouldn’t be many left. Maybe Daisy and Horace would be the last dogs standing. With his pull, he could probably get away with only a short quarantine.

He opened my fridge, pulled out a couple of James Boags’ and pried the tops off. When he sat down again his arm was around my shoulders. It felt good.

We talked all night. About acting, and how much he loved turning into someone else; about marrying his high-school sweetheart and the cancer that ended her life at 25. He talked about Hollywood insanity and how much he missed his wife. And we talked about his pack. We also talked about the dogs I’d grown up with, and how I came to Hollywood from Wagga. About how much I loved my work.

By morning we were all talked out, and I had a pack to train, although for what, I wasn’t sure.

What about the film? My career? Life as I knew it? I had no idea. I only knew one thing for sure: wherever I ended up, Daisy was staying with me.

MORE DOG TALES:
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