Failures and a Small Victory

One of the things I have learned during the course of 20 years writing a column is that I am largely powerless. I wrote a column several years back bemoaning the sign on Highway 57, as you approach the intersection of Highway 42, that says the Scenic Byway ends. The sign is still there.

But the most notable example of my lack of sway is the fact that, despite more than a decade of protesting dogs being allowed at Fall Fest, every year the dogs return. Indeed, the history of my battle with the dogs at Fall Fest is a litany of failure … with one exception. Way back in February of 2001, I (with the assistance of two friends) triumphed over the dogs. My only lament is that this victory occurred in Cedarburg, Wis., rather than during Fall Fest in my hometown of Sister Bay.

As I am feeling rather depressed about the impotence of my words, I am choosing to revisit the story of my triumph as told by my good friend and occasional assistant, Caslon Bold.

On the morning of Jan. 23, Grutz called and informed me that he was taking his annual vacation to Cedarburg during the first week of February. This year, Barb and Steve were taking one extra day to celebrate their anniversary, which led to his request.

For a number of year’s Grutz has staged a one-man protest against dogs at civic festivals. This crusade led to his odd conjecture that it wasn’t really people who brought dogs to these festivals, it was the same pack of dogs traveling from festival to festival, each time commandeering otherwise innocent humans to escort them to the parades. With the humans as a cover, the dogs did everything in their power to disrupt what might otherwise be an enjoyable time for festival patrons. Grutz even theorized that this pack of dogs was led by something called “The One Dog.”

This theory might have been easily dismissed as some sort of flashback hallucination on his part until this past fall when, prior to Fall Fest in Sister Bay, Grutz received an ominous letter from someone (thing) called “One Dog,” which threatened the health and wellbeing of his cats.

With a return trip to Cedarburg during their Winter Festival weekend pending, Grutz called on the aforementioned date and asked me to contact Franklin Gothic, a mutual friend and occasional inventor. I was to explain the dog problem to Gothic and see if he might be able to devise some sort of equipment to stave off the dogs during the festival.

I called Grutz on the evening of Jan. 30 (the night before he was scheduled to leave for Cedarburg) and explained that Gothic had something he thought might work. I informed him that Gothic and I would head to Cedarburg on Thursday, Feb. 1, and would immediately begin scouting the location of the dog pack.

Late in the afternoon on the day of our arrival, Gothic and I were able to locate evidence of a great number of dogs, located at the edge of a field where it met a tree line, just west of I-43, approximately two miles from downtown Cedarburg. Though, no dogs were spotted, we felt confident that we had located the intruders’ base camp. I immediately phoned Grutz and left word with the front desk of the Washington House that the target had been located and, per Gothic’s instructions, requested that he meet us at an appointed location, at 1 am the following morning.

It was bitterly cold that night, but we had the good fortune of a westerly wind, so we were able to approach within 500 yards of the dogs’ camp. Gothic assured me that this was sufficient for his invention. Grutz arrived 12 minutes late, saying he had to wait until he was certain that Barb was asleep. “She’d never understand,” he stated. All Gothic and I could think of was that he had just left a warm room and a warm car, and we were rapidly approaching frostbite.

“Show me what you’ve got,” Grutz said, and Gothic, with the pride of a father, began to explain his equipment. The following is the essence of Gothic’s explanation.

“Basically, I’ve devised a system of dog whistles that I refer to as DANG, short for Discordant Array Noise Generator. The key to DANG is that each whistle creates a different pitch. A relatively small device, mounted to the back of each whistle, gathers surrounding air and then forces it through the whistle. Each whistle is remotely controlled so that once we’ve spaced them out appropriately, they will begin emitting their noise simultaneously. The beauty, of course, is that it can only be heard by dogs and some other animals. Once we start the whistles, those dogs should be running for their lives.”

“Well if we can’t hear the whistles how do we know the dogs will be scared off by the noise?” Grutz asked.

“You’ll have to trust me on this,” replied Gothic, ‘but, if I’m right, DANG will sound something like Phyllis Diller and Rodney Dangerfield singing Neil Sedaka to those dogs.”

“Thank God we won’t be able to hear it,” I offered.

Twenty minutes later, with the whistles placed in their “array” formation, Gothic threw the switch on his remote control unit. Peering through night vision scopes, Grutz and I watched the dogs suddenly jump up, run madly in circles for a moment, and then turn to bolt into the woods in the opposite direction of the town of Cedarburg.

With the test accomplished, and the cold really beginning to settle into our bones despite our exuberance, we hurriedly packed DANG back up and moved closer to the downtown section of town. At a distance determined by Gothic, we reset the whistle array, facing into town so that, once activated, DANG would flood the downtown district with the inaudible sounds of “Diller/Dangerfield singing Sedaka.”

Gothic entrusted the remote to Grutz and we were preparing to call it a night when Grutz asked, “Are you sure that no one will be able to hear this thing?”

“Well,” hesitated Gothic, “there are some people who can hear higher modulation noise, but I doubt it will be a problem.”

The next evening, the first of the Winter Festival, Gothic and I called from Chicago to find out how things had gone.

“Remarkable,” Grutz replied. “I only saw two dogs on the street. I snuck up on one and realized he was completely deaf and the other was completely cowed. He could hardly walk he was shaking so badly.

“There was one problem, though,” he continued. “Barb and I were up at the old Mill during the afternoon and she began to complain of a headache. When we got back to the room, she was lying down and I asked if there was anything I could do. She said that she thought she’d be fine with some rest, but her head was ringing. And then she said it felt like Phyllis Diller was singing in her ear.”

“Oops,” Gothic replied.