Five Communications


April 15, 2002

     Gordon S. Nakamura, CEO

Takara-Goldstein Products International,

     Osaka. Dear Mr Nakamura:

Two weeks ago I obtained your product dE-BARK

     and attempted to obey the obscure

and for the most part inscrutable instructions

     to the best of my ability. But

even as I struggled to find the meaning of those

     cryptic phrases, I had to ask myself

how Takara-Goldstein hopes to convey canine sense

     if the human version is so abstruse—

admittedly, in translation from a Japanese source.

     However, I refused to be daunted

by shaky grammatical constructions (not

     just shaky but actually collapsed)

and some (deliberately?) misleading diagrams:

     arrows pointing nowhere, dotted lines where

mystery prevailed. Of course I persevered,

     but had to say, have met with No Success

using the device you so confidently propose

     to “puzzled dog-owners”. Yet rather

than complain, I prefer offering one or two

     positive suggestions which you may find

helpful in future transactions with your customers.

     It seems to me (and to my husband Tom)

that even though T-G’s digital structure is sound,

     the software you are using with it for

bark-recognition leaves a great deal to be desired.

     If I am to explain this criticism

properly, though, I must take a step or two back;


     I feel it necessary to describe

the state of affairs—perhaps the “life-style?”—

     which led my husband and me to try

dE-BARK. Both of us work (and work on the garden)

     at home in rural Connecticut, where

a dog is our sole and assiduous companion;

     we have a good deal of acreage and

are likely to be dogged (if you will permit the pun)

     from compost-heap to rose-garden by

our hyper-active and really hyper-expressive

     brindle Manchester Terrier bitch

(Tom of course insists that we belong to her). Indeed

     we had to name her Hinda for the way

she obstructs us on all occasions (Tom would add:

     for the recurrent costive episodes).

Now Hinda’s response to every provocation

     is vociferous, both indoors and out,

so of course I assumed a product of the kind

     you advertise so plausibly would prove

useful. You claim, based on the signals a dog “emits”,

     that this hand-held battery-powered device

will match sounds of all sorts, but especially barks, with

     every digital pattern stored in it,

deciphering even howls, growls, low snarls, and high yelps

     as six “feelings”: self-expression, alarm,

and frustration, then appetite, sadness, and desire.

     Well, such generalities may apply

to Japanese dogs, or even to dogs in Japan,

     but constant intercourse with Hinda

has convinced me that you have not calibrated

     your product’s program with appropriate

(not to say accurate) translations. For example,

     for one type of bark your device displays

as pertinent words: How Boring. Now I ask you,

     dear Mr. Nakamura, could even

the most cursory attention paid to barking dogs

     qualify these words as self-expression?

Long experience affords me a much likelier

     rendering: I Don’t Know Why I’m Barking!

a frequent canine expression any dog-owner

     will recognize as universal, though

as a matter of fact, there are no universals in

     the world of canine feelings, or elsewhere,

I suspect; barking, like human speech, refers to

     specific instances, special incidents.

What dE-BARK regards, for example, as frustration

     or in some diapasons as desire

had much better be rendered as: Oh, There Goes a Cat!

     It is far from my intention, of course,

to replace your entire program of digital

     patterning with our Hinda’s lexicon;

I wish merely to suggest, having got nowhere with

     the present software of dE-BARK’s program,

the possibility of a more reliable

     language-version of barking behavior.

You will, I am sure, concur (and indeed, to digress

     for a moment, might not ConCUR provide

a wider concept and a somewhat catchier name

     for your product whatever the final

form a revised version of it might take? Just a thought!)

     —concur that sadness is more tellingly

recast as the human phrasing of original

     canine sentiment by an outcry

or outburst something like: Oh, the Cat’s Getting Away!

     and that such a nebulous notion as

appetite is much more clearly focused by the words:

     Drop That, Drop That: I’ll Eat It!

Furthermore, drama plays such an inveterate

     role in a dog’s life that it seems almost

a betrayal of trust to let such a tired word as

     alarm represent what barking conveys

in actuality: You Don’t Belong Here: Get Out!

     I offer such interpretations as

no more than a start, Mr. Nakamura, but a start

     based on close and continuous study

of the canine idiom it is T-G’s declared

     mandate to transform into human terms.

Though I am disappointed by dE-BARK’s present-day

     performance, I know real improvements lie

within reach, of that I am certain, and it would be

     a privilege as well as a pleasure

to have some small share in their realization,

     if you find that my recommendations

(I have others, of course) possess sufficient merit.

     Should further consultation be desired,

I (and my husband of course, not to mention Hinda)

     will be delighted to hear from you or

perhaps from some more specialized member of your staff.

     Meanwhile, since we should like you to regard

us as your colleagues—collaborators or at least

     confederates in progress—you must not

dream of refunding the $104

     which dE-BARK costs in the United States

(as you surely know in your capacity as

     T-G’s Chief Executive Officer).

Faithfully yours,

                      Annabelle (Mrs. Thomas) Eden




April 27, 2002

     Mrs. Thomas Eden and Family

Wewauka Brook, Bridgewater, Connecticut

     Dear Mrs. Eden, My superior,

Mr. Nakamura, has assigned me the honor

     of replying to your recent letter.

What you have to say is of great interest to us, for

     Takara-Goldstein International

is always concerned to improve the products offered

     to our customers, and in those cases

where amelioration is impossible, we hope

     to afford satisfaction in other

areas. Please find enclosed our check to the amount

     of $104 (Company

Policy, alas, forbids refunding postage for

     unsolicited communications),

along with our sincerest regret that you have been

     disappointed with the performance of

dE-BARK, which is of course the most recent

     item in our extensive catalogue

(which I enclose as well) of gear designed for dogs and

     dog-lovers. dE-BARK is in fact so new

that yours is the first comment sent from our customers

     abroad. Our Japanese clients, meanwhile,

continue expressing the most enthusiastic reactions,

     and I venture to suggest, Mrs. Eden,

that a certain national, perhaps even racial

     discrepancy accounts for the problem

you mention with regard to dE-BARK’s six translations;

     a certain native restraint, I believe,

is answerable for the abstractions you deplore

     in the “messages” your dE-BARK presents.

I do not mean that Japanese pets are more repressed

     than Manchester Terriers or than any

other dogs owned by Americans (which must include

     some of our Japanese breeds, after all),

but merely that our versions of canine expression

     (as manifested in dE-BARK’s software)

are more likely than not to be generated by

     the Japanese mode of organizing

any and all evidence of affective conduct

     into group compulsions, group essentials . . .

And I should guess, Mrs. Eden, that your decoding

     of Hinda’s barks is to a like degree

the characteristic consequence of your own

     civil endowment, the American Way

of prizing comportment precisely as it appears

     to be individual. These are merely

speculations, of course, but until we have further

     confirmation from customers abroad,

we cannot modify our software, I am sorry

     to say, in accord with your suggestions;

in the meantime, on behalf of Takara-Goldstein,

     please accept Mr. Nakamura’s and

my own best wishes for the happiness of your whole

     family—I include Hinda, of course—

and our admiration for your acute discernment

     of the dog’s actual meanings expressed

in her barking, however improperly you find

     dE-BARK has construed them. Yours, M. Ito,

First Vice-President in Charge of Public Relations.




     Re: Eden complaint.

From: M. Ito To: G. Nakamura Gordon darling,

     this will have to do. I am hindered

(irresistible word!) from functioning more cogently

     for you by my personal conviction

the impossible woman is absolutely right.

     I know, I know: according to the line

I’ve handed her, the Japanese, even Japanese Vice-

     Presidents, don’t want to have personal

anythings. Please forgive me for resorting to

     all that collective Shinto bullshit—

it’s hard to make much of a case when you’re convinced

     otherwise. You know damn well how the dogs

react when you honor me by spending the night:

     Tina barks and Turner growls, and that’s not

self-expression, that’s You’re lying in our bed: now leave!

     Maybe they don’t beg the way Hinda does

(terriers are so abject), but you yourself told me

     my griffons were saying: Give us that fugu,

we’ll risk it! There’s Samurai virtue! And I suspect

     you like the way Samurai virtue ends . . .

Once they get outside, we both know they’re insisting:

     Get us that kitty, we need that kitty! . . .

Well, it’s too late to revise dE-BARK for the Edens,

     but what if we started on a reverse

software—you know, translating the right remarks

     into how dogs put it . . . M-BARK, maybe?

Meet me at the Red Setter after six, and we’ll try

     some digital structures that might keep

Tina and Turner off the bed with a few telling

     barks. (Bet we could sell that to Annabelle!)

Are you game? From the bottom of my (collective) heart

     I remain your (singular) Masako.




June 1, 2002

     Dear Miss Ito—as I know you to be,

                         for although you signed

yourself with no more than a genderless initial,

     a mere glance at the impressive column

                         of vice-presidents

down the left side of Takara-Goldstein’s equally

     impressive stationery was enough

                         to enable me

to make out your given name as well, and after that

     a few moments of research on the web

                         (how persevering

I can be you must already realize) sufficed

     to make manifest that in Japanese

                         the onomastics

of “Misako” are invariably feminine—

     though it must be said that if I could decode

                         the instruction-sheet

for dE-BARK, such deductions were “elementary,

     my dear Miss Ito”, as Holmes might put it—

                         thank you very much

for your letter, the supererogatory check,

     and the catalogue. It is the latter

                         which concerns me now,

though I do admire what you call your speculations;

     I believe you’ve put your finger on some


and crucial divisions in our national mores;

     I don’t in fact consider myself a


American, any more than you, dear Miss Ito,

     would choose to pass for a typical

                         Japanese woman

(though I could be mistaken about this assumption,

     for that initial M of yours might well

                         express what you have

identified as a “group compulsion”). But really,

     don’t all of us like to think of ourselves

                         as exceptional?

Even Hinda does, as I was getting round to saying,

     and that is why I am now ordering

                         item 19V

from your intriguing catalogue (my check is enclosed).

     Unlike dE-BARK, which had to translate

                         canine expression

into human terms not only approximate but,

     as I was obliged to discover, quite

                         fallacious, “FLEECE-BOY”

strikes me as entirely capable of conveying

     human meanings accurately to dogs.

                         Though once again, dear

Miss Ito, I must point out that the prose employed to

     describe some items in your catalogue

                         is virtually

perverse in its ambiguity (when it is not

     downright misleading), but

                         if I correctly

understand the curious text accompanying

     the photograph—of an adorable

                         Akita (it is

an Akita, isn’t it?) with FLEECE-BOY in its mouth?—

     one’s own dog, when home alone and lonely,

                         would similarly

resort to FLEECE-BOY for comfort? Whereupon, nestled

     inside the toy, a recordable chip would

                         be activated

to communicate with the dog in my own voice?

     So that each time we had to leave Hinda

                         I could re-record

the identical chip with whatever message might

     seem appropriate for the occasion—

                         have I got that right?

I certainly hope so, for FLEECE-BOY (if this is indeed

     what he can do) sounds like the answer to

                         our difficulties:

as I believe I mentioned in my earlier letter

     Hinda, though at six hardly a puppy,

                         is hyper-active

and when left alone tends to demolish anything

     she can find to chew up around the house.

                         You will understand,

therefore, and perhaps even sympathize with our zeal

     to leave a first message for Hinda;

                         I am confident

that if I can leave a chip inside FLEECE-BOY saying

     in a voice the dog actually knows,

                         “Don’t Do That, Hinda!

Good Dog! We’ll Be Home Soon”, my husband and I

     might look forward, on those occasions when

                         both of us must be

away, to a less chaotic household situation

     thanks to FLEECE-BOY, Takara-Goldstein and

               most of all to you,

dear Miss Ito, with our warmest greetings as well,


     Annabel (Mrs. Thomas) Eden and


Hinda. My husband has some ideas of his own

     concerning FLEECE-BOY as well as dE-BARK

and tells me he will

be in touch with you and / or Mr. Nakamura

     independently (which sounds ominous

                         but I am certain

his points, whatever they are, will be of interest).

     Again, my appreciation for all

                         you have done. A.E.



June 20, 2002

Dear Miss Ito: My wife Annabelle, from whom

     you received, in recent months,

two letters, I think, as well as orders for

     items manufactured by

your employers, has given me your name

     and Mr. Nakamura’s,

though not the correspondence—she insists


must prevail between purveyor and purchaser.

     I proceed, consequently,

at a certain disadvantage, though hardly

     for the first time (there have been

similar occasions, I can assure you),

     with my appeal, though perhaps

the more trenchantly for that very reason . . .

     Please do not accept further

occasions for correspondence with my wife,

     however advantageous

such communications may appear to your

     firm’s commercial interests.

To do so would only encourage her in


     the singular delusion

which from time to time besets her existence,

     though when not provoked by these . . .

occasions, intermitting almost wholly

     (I assume you have observed

how coherent and indeed how eloquent

     Annabelle can be, even

in the grip of her obsession, or perhaps

     especially under such

circumstances). Not since 1968,

     when Hinda was run over

in the driveway, before our very eyes,

     have we had a dog. But when,

by an inopportune circumstance, my wife

     hears of some device likely

to rouse those fond associations of hers,

     she regresses (or perhaps

it is really a sort of forward impulse)

     to the days when poor Hinda

was our problem and of course our pride as well;

     in consequence we acquire

a good many (rather expensive) items

     which serve no purpose except

to distress my wife (who refuses, of course,

     to allow me to purchase

another dog of any breed whatever).

     Therefore I must implore you,

Miss Ito, whatever the provocation,

     not to respond to any

further inquiries or orders for purchase

     from my wife. Your compliance

will return our household, I have no doubt, to

     its wonted train of events

and restore Annabelle to herself once more,

     an identity for which

you have my heartfelt thanks, even in advance.

     Please extend my gratitude

to Mr. Nakamura who I believe

     played some part in the drama

of this distressing phantasmagoria.

     In hopes of recovery

I remain,

     yours very truly,

                              Tom Eden


 (Turtle Point Press ISBN 1-885586-70-1)