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The dog ate my paycheck

Rob Walker Dec 15, 2011

Tess Vigeland: Anyone who knows me will understand why this next commentary is my favorite EVER. It’s about money, a man and his dog. His poor, darling, misunderstood dog, who perhaps went looking for homework but found something else just as delightful to chow down on.

Rob Walker: There’s a lot of indignity in being self-employed. You have to hustle for work, humbly meet your clients’ deadlines. Of course, then, you have to harass them to get paid. I thought I’d done it all in more than a decade of freelance writing — until the dog ate my paycheck.

Now, he’s a young dog, name of Russell and all in all, he’s been a great addition to the household. But as we’ve learned, he eats all manner of inappropriate things, paper included. We’re also learning that he’s a bit of an acrobat. I didn’t leave this check on the floor; I left it on a counter that, I now know, he’d learned to access.

He left about a third of the thing intact. He also left me with a dilemma. Have you ever had to tell a client that you’d like them to cut you a new check, because your dog ate the one they sent already? I mean, “the dog ate my homework” is more or less the paradigm of the lame excuse. So this was not only humiliating, it’s the sort of scenario that could make a client ask, “Do we really want to work with this guy?” Besides, this particular check wasn’t going to determine whether or not I could make a mortgage payment. I seriously considered eating, as it were, the loss.

I lectured Russell. “This will come out of your chew-toy budget. You’ll have to settle for less fancy treats, and fewer of them.”

He responded with a wordless request for a belly rub. Meanwhile, I had second thoughts. Times are tight. Every penny counts. Would I simply throw this amount of money in the garbage? No. So I swallowed my pride.

And as it happens, the client was this very program — and the editor found the whole thing hilarious. In fact, she said it would make a good commentary. No wonder the dog seemed so unconcerned: His bad behavior wasn’t threatening my business; it was a revenue opportunity! So if you’re listening, Russell, forget what I said about cheap dog treats. You’re getting a Christmas bonus this year.

Vigeland: Rob Walker is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and Design Observer.

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