The Dog Drank Koolaid
So I got an e-mail today from a Peace Corps volunteer in Guyana, who thought it was a little ironic that he was writing me, in the Bay Area, on the 30th Anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. He signed the letter, “Don’t drink the Koolaid.” And I sort of shuddered.
I was reminded that what seems like a fairly innocuous phrase that we use to denote someone who has bought into a concept, or joined a cult, either a real one, like the one James Jones started in the Bay Area, which ended thirty years ago in Guyana when all of the followers drank Koolaid laced with cyanide, resulting in the greatest mass suicide in American history, and maybe human history, or a perceived one, like being an Obamaniac or believing in supply side economics.
That’s where it comes from kids, the “He drank the koolaid,” phrase. We threw it around all through the election (when we weren’t comparing everyone, including the Pope, to Hitler), I even saw it in the paper today, “they drank the Palin Koolaid, she drank the Obama koolaid, they sipped on Neo-con koolaid and watched their world burn (with respect to Harlan Ellison). *
We forget the dark origins, the tragedy of the origin of the phrase — that there are many people still living who feel a blade of grief twist in their soul when they hear, “drank the koolaid”. But the defusing of the extreme into turns of phrase goes back through history and literature, some we can trace, like “pound of flesh” from The Merchant of Venice, to “Ring around the Rosey” a song sung by children in London during the plague years. Ring around the rosy — the red rings around the sores, or buboes, left on the skin by the bubonic plague; pocketfull of poseys – they put flowers in the pockets of the dead to masque the smell. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down — well, you can kind of figure that one out, can’t you?
There are many, many more, the etymology of which elude me right now, and I loaned my Morris Dictionary of Phrase Origins to someone twelve years ago and I’m still waiting for the fuckstick to return it.
Many of us remember the, “Pod people” that started with the Jack Finney novel, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where a “pod” was placed by aliens next to your bed at night, and when you awoke, you were part of a very docile, hive mind, all very June Cleaver, Eisenhower Idyllic. It was carried forward in the 80s when Saturday Night live used it as an explanation why so many, otherwise reasonable people, seemed to be supporting Ronald Reagan.
How many other figures of speech that we take for granted have some historical basis? In agriculture: bet the farm, living high on the hog, a bumper crop, rode hard and put away wet, counting your chickens before they’re hatched, putting all your eggs in one basket (somebody, somewhere, dropped a bunch of eggs to get that one); Military: Shot his wad (having to fire a flintlock rifle before it’s fully loaded, thus rendering it useless until the reload), or shot his bolt (similar circumstances with a crossbow), flash in the pan (again, from flintlock, when the powder in the pan ignites with a flash, but the powder in the barrel doesn’t, which is, a disappointment). It goes on. Nearly all can be traced to some real-life activity or event.
So I’m thinking, “Fucked the Dog” Hmmmm. “Screwed the Pooch.” Meaning in present day, having made a grave error. But where did it originate? Who, originally, gave the dog a bone, and what did he (or she) set out to do, that they ended up pounding the Pomeranian (it’s funnier if you think of it as a Pomeranian).
I remembered 8th grade study hall, when we were supposed to be studying, but instead we were taking turns reading aloud from The Happy Hooker. It was the most popular book in 8th grade, right up there with The Exorcist and The Prophet, which no one read aloud from. So Xavier Hollander is in South Africa, home more or less alone, and she’s got her horns up, but it’s completely forbidden to have “relations” with any of the Black African servants, so she recruits the home owner’s German Shepherd to do the deed. Yes, literally, she screws the pooch, but at the time, it doesn’t seem like that huge a mistake. She pretty much fucks the dog on purpose, and for about three pages, if I remember correctly. And they both enjoyed it, we suspect, but you know how those German Shepherds lie. She can’t have been the first person the fuck the dog as the prime example of the ultimate fuck-up.
No, someone had to set out to do something else and ended up fucking the dog.
“I was trying to adjust the carburetor on my Camero.”
“I know, Bob, but as it turned out, you fucked the dog instead.”
“So, I should have brought a phillips screwdriver, huh?”
Was this actually a farmer’s daughter joke originally? Did, Bob, set out to say, screw the farmer’s beautiful daughter, but ended up going in the wrong room, and it the dark, well — it could happen to anyone.
(I’d like to say right here, that I was a traveling salesman in the early 80s. You had to keep moving or someone would put a Regan pod by your bed. But I never, ever, got an invitation to stay over at a farmer’s house, nor sleep with anyone daughter, or dog. There was one time where a woman put Oreos under my briefcase and made me watch while her English bulldog snuffled it out from under the case like a truffle snuffling pig. It was deeply disgusting, but I did not have sexual relations with that bulldog. Which is not say that it wasn’t a mistake, but I pretty much consider all of the early 80s that way. It was the “fucked the dog” demi-decade”. )
And why, for that matter is it the dog? I’d think there’d be other, more colorful animals to denote a mistake:
“Wow, Bob, you really masturbated the marmoset on that chip shot, you’re going to have to take a penalty stroke.”
“Geeze, Alice, you certainly sucked-off the rhinoceros the the sales projections.”
“Yeah, Frank sure felated the flamingo on that one.” (I’ve just discovered that my spell check doesn’t know felated. Doesn’t even have any suggestions. I’m thinking this may be part of an ongoing curse I bear.)
Speaking of Bears, “Some days you shag the bear, and some days that old bear shags you.” Either way, can’t really be that great a thing. Maybe worse, I’m thinking, than screwing the pooch. That’s all I’m saying.
I know. There has to be an original dog fucker. There has to be dog-fucker zero, as they say in statistical medicine. (Okay, they probably don’t say it that often, and if they do, maybe you should consider changing doctors.) There has to be an alpha-dog-fucker. (Which in this case, means the first dog fucker, not the dominant dog fucker, although, to be fair, I suppose one could be both.)
We’ve all thought, “Who was the first person who thought an artichoke was a good thing to eat?” Right? Or, “How hungry did the first guy who ate an oyster have to get before giving that a go?” And someone, somewhere, had to try eating oleander, foxglove, hemlock, rhubarb leaves, and castor beans before everyone else said, “Well that shit will kill you.” So why isn’t there a phrase, “Wow, Phil, you sure ate the oleanders on that one.”?
But you get the idea. Generally, I understand, without trying it, that fucking the dog is probably a mistake. I like dogs, but not that much.
But then there are some other turns of phrase, figures of speech, whatever, that elude me even more.
I was in my teens, standing around with some buddies, I think at a CanAm race, and a very attractive woman in summer-dress walked by. And we, politely, and among ourselves, without any direct contact with the woman, nor leering, whistling, or otherwise harshing her space, or objectifying her in any way, were making comments like, “Oh man, I’d wash her windows for free.” And, “Oh man, I’d drink her bathwater.” And my friend Steve, whose name really was Steve, in this case, said, “I’d eat a mile of her shit to find out where it came from.”
And the rest of us just turned and looked at him. I mean, up to that point we’d been nodding like bobble-heads, sort of paying tribute to the communal god of not-gettin -any, but Doooood!? He ruined that poor woman for everyone, sullied the act of public lust, and pretty much creeped out a whole group of teenage boys, which is nearly impossible.
Where the hell did that come from?
And I turned to him and said, “Steve, man, you fucked the dog on that one.”
Well he did.
Your Homework: Some speculation on the origins of some of the more bizarre figures of speech in our language. Extra credit if you’re multilingual and can tell us about stupid figures of speech in other languages.
*A paraphrase of the great first line of Ellison’s story, Kiss of Fire: “He drank ice crystals laced with midnight and watched their world burn.”