Sunday, May 3, 2009

I Love You, Sophie Tucker

I was recently advised to read the story of Sophie Tucker, who survived being lost at sea. If you like, you can read the complete story by clicking this link to the Sydney Morning Herald, but I understand that this workaday world has you running to conferences, selling stocks and attending three-martini lunches, so I’ll also summarize this purportedly amazing tale here. In short, Sophie fell overboard off the coast of northern Queensland in November. While her family assumed she had died, Sophie actually swam five nautical miles to St. Bees Island, whereupon she survived by eating baby goats. Rangers eventually found her and ferried her back to the mainland, a little skinny and a little scared but all in all quite pleased to be reunited with her loved ones.

Sophie Tucker, by the way, is a dog.

Truly amazing, huh? And absolutely incredible?

I felt compelled to note this story because it actually left me with more questions than stirrings of hope. Foremost, why the hell is the dog named Sophie Tucker? Her owner is identified as being Jan Griffith. Why anyone would give their pet a full name with a last name different than their one is beyond me — my hamster Mrs. Leonard Panaggio notwithstanding — but it’s especially a head-scratcher when the name happens to be shared by a celebrity who seems like an unlikely canine namesake: the Russian-American vaudeville entertainer Sophie Tucker, perhaps best remembered for her hit song “My Yiddishe Momme.” And it goes without saying that were it actually this older Sophie Tucker who swam five nautical miles and then feasted on goat flesh, the story would a hundred times better.

On the subject of curious names, I’m also bothered by the fact that Sophie Tucker (the dog) ended up in a location named St. Bees Island, which seems to be populated mostly by baby goats (based on the news article) and koalas (based on this link) and not bees (based on the fact that it’s really hard to Google “bees on St. Bees”). It’s not the possessive St. Bee’s Island but the curious plural St. Bees Island, as if the bees themselves were sainted. I’m baffled. This kind of name is how an author creating a fictional universe would make fun of Catholics and their tendency to make saints out of anything and everything. Even reading the explanation for the name — the island takes its name from a British village whose name, in turn, is a corruption of that of the Norse way of referring to Saint Bega — doesn’t solve my problem, mostly because this means that one place had to have the nonsensical name before it was then assigned to a second, more recently discovered place, even though it should have occurred to someone at some point that the notion of holy bees is a bit odd.

Finally, names aside, there’s the story itself. I guess it’s interesting that she ultimately was reunited with her family, but I would have been a lot more amazed if Sophie Tucker managed to find her way home on her own instead of just hanging out on ol’ St. Bees and eating baby goats, which for all we know she would have been quite happy to continue doing if the rangers had not nabbed her. They thought she was a wild dog, the article notes. “Ms Griffith said she and her husband had contacted rangers after friends suggested the dog — who had earned a name for herself on the island — might be their long-lost pet,” the story notes, oddly recalling the fact that the dog in question actually had a first and last name already. But she did make it and the owner was there to appreciate the dog’s reaction to being returned home, which she sums up with this: “She wriggled around like a mad thing.” Again, a strange choice of words, on her part and the part of the writer who decided that this, of all quotes, was the one to make it into the final draft of the story.

In all, I am a sucker for a good Incredible Journey story, yet in this case I don’t know how I was supposed to feel. I suppose I’m fairly certain that I’m all question marks and ellipses.

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