When I was small I had that natural love of oversized stuffed animals that most little girls share. I thought they were fantastic--a real sign of prosperity and decadence. This probably stemmed from all the TV I watched. I mean, there were some pretty great oversized dogs and bears on shows such as "Silver Spoons," "Different Strokes," and "The Cosby Show"--shows which I considered to be all about treating children RIGHT (by "right" I mean, giving them anything they want, from a life-sized train that runs through your house to a gigantic stuffed animal). So, when I got Big Max for Christmas, I truly felt that I had arrived. I was Ricky Schroeder. I was Arnold on Different Strokes.
Big Max was probably from someplace like Big Lots (back then known as "Pick 'n' Save." You can imagine the nose-picking jokes we came up with at Pick 'n' Save's expense). He was slightly bigger than a German shepherd, and looked a lot like Beethoven (the dog, in his self-titled drool-ridden movie, of course). He wasn't floppy at all, but sat upright, and had a wire skeleton that allowed you to sort of bend his paws a little bit. I loved him instantly, and began concocting an elaborate Big Max personality, complete with signature bark and voice. It's hard to really convey the voice via blog, but imagine Bob Dylan's voice and inflection in the song "I Want You" and you will come close to understanding Big Max's sound. His bark was not the usual "woof, woof," either. No, no. It was a distinctive "oo, oo," grunted from somewhere in the back of the throat. Big Max didn't take any guff from anybody, and he was a real smoothy when it came to the ladies, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
I played with Big, as he was affectionately called (this was pre "Sex and the City," too. I was ahead of my time), all the time. If we were playing dolls, he was my always-on-a-business-trip husband. When I made little amateur videos--reinactments of the shower scene from Psycho, elaborate Dick Tracy-esque dramas--Big Max was always involved. He really became the character, too. Big was a great actor. But his signature "oo, oo" was always present, which made him authentic in a Robert DeNiro sort of way.
When I was in eighth grade, a large wire began to protrude ever-so-subtly from Big Max's left paw. This didn't bother me. And when it was sticking out about six inches, it still didn't bother me. I just called it his toe, and moved on with it. We had been through too much for me to cast him off at the first sign of a toe (incidentally, this issue has come full circle for me, as Mike has really hairy, hobbit-like feet. But do I give him a hard time about it? No). But this marked the beginning of the end for Big and me, because what is known as the "Battle of Big Max" began with that simple, innocuous toe.
"Are you still playing with that dog?" my mother would ask me, as I carried him up the stairs, affixing a plaid beret to his head.
"He's in my video," I would say defensively.
"You need to get rid of him. Look at that huge wire sticking out of his foot!"My mom was really disgusted with Big at this point, and he was in pretty bad shape.
"It's just his TOE,"I huffed indignantly and sashayed into the family room.
My mother just didn't understand the relationship I had with Big Max, which became quite clear one afternoon as I was walking home from school and, to my horror, saw his wire toe protruding from a dumpster at Grandview Farms. I would recognize that toe anywhere! I knew I had been tricked, cheated out of my oversized stuffed dog while I was away at school. Anger welled up inside me, and I knew I couldn't let my mother win.
"I don't think so!" was all I remember yelling before I climbed into the garbage and fished him out. He smelled pretty badly after that, but I persevered, sneaking him into the house and helping him maintain a low profile in my basement bedroom. After the dumpster incident, I slept with Big Max, knowing that any night might be our last together.
My mother finally noticed that I had rescued him from the dumpster, and she was even more determined than ever to be rid of him. It was now more than a matter of retiring a worn out, wire-toed dog: it was personal. We battled it out for a while: she would throw him back in the garbage and I would dig him out again, each time feeling a righteous indignation for her lack of understanding. I mean, Big and I were a team. What would I do without him? Who would play Mumbles in my Dick Tracy videos?? This went on well into my teens, and I should have been a little embarrassed, but I wasn't. Because it was Big Max, for goodness' sake.
I don't really remember what happened with Big Max. When I look back at the story of us, I only remember seeing that wire toe sticking out of the blue dumpster on the way home from school. Probably one day I just gave up, and passed him by with a salute and a whispered "oo, oo. It's been great, buddy."