That Whole Puppy-Burning Thing

by Jim Knipfel

Not long after I moved to Minneapolis, I found myself in possession of an incredibly, almost criminally bad batch of crystal meth. Always of a mind to share the wealth, though, I wrapped one tiny glassine envelope up tight, and taped it inside a cassette box, which I included in a large package of other various what-nots which I mailed down to Grinch, who was in the middle of his last semester at Madison.

A few days later, when he called to thank me for the what-not, I asked him if he’d found the speed.

"What speed?"

My guts froze up for a second. Grinch and I were always mailing drugs back and forth to each other, and we’d never had any trouble. Had somebody finally sniffed it out along the way? If so, I had nothing to worry about—we never put return addresses (or at least not correct ones) on these packages, and we usually just addressed them to "Resident." Problem here was that Grinch was the only resident at this particular address, and had been for some time. And when you’re looking at a hand-addressed package to "Resident," something might seem awfully fishy.

"Shit—did you look at the tape?"

"I haven’t listened to it yet, no."

"No, I—listening to it doesn’t matter—do you have it around?"

"Yeah, sure—hold on." He set the phone down and I heard him rustling through the piles of papers and books and beer cans which littered his apartment. A minute later he was back. "Yeah, here it is."

"Okay, open it up."


"Take the tape out." This was taking much too much effort.


"Now take the label out."



"Oh—there it is. Thanks."

I sighed in relief. "You’re welcome. Now put it to good use. Get what you can out of it."

Seconds after we got off the phone, apparently, Grinch inhaled the speed, and put it to something that was, I guess, at least akin to good use. He called me back the next night to let me know what he’d done.

"That crank you sent was horrible—it burned the hell out of my nose—but I guess it did the trick."

"How so?"

"Well, right after it hit—I was sorta bored—I sat down to my typewriter and wrote a letter to the editor."

"That’s certainly productive."

"Then I wrote it four more times, and sent them off to all the local papers—the State Journal, the Cardinal, Isthmus, everybody."

"What, you’re upset about Cuba?"

"No, see—there’ve been all these Young Republicans and ROTC types holding these protests lately. These pro-war things."

"So?" I wasn’t aware that we were in a war at the time, and besides, Grinch was the type—I was too—who always celebrated a good little war. A war always livened things up.

"It just really rankled me—all these soft, white, corn-fed jocks who’ve never experienced anything even close to a war—they have no fucking idea what it’s like."

"Yeah?" Grinch had done a stint in the Army but had never seen any combat. Still, though, he had a point.

"So I wrote these letters, and said that the American people have no fucking clue as to what the horrors of war are all about. And in order to make them aware of what the horrors of war are all about, I said that the Nihilist Workers’ Party—that’s you and me—were going to take a six month-old puppy to the steps of the State Capitol at noon on October 13th, douse it in gasoline, and set it on fire."

I was silent for a moment while I let this sink in.

"You don’t actually have a puppy, do you?"


"You realize what’s going to happen if they print those letters in a town like Madison?"

"All hell," he said, then hung up and sat back, waiting for it to hit.

It hit the next morning, and it hit hard. His phone started ringing about 6 a.m., and the first television crew was at his door at 11. I figured if I was part of this—I was the only other member of the Nihilist Workers’ Party—that I should probably zip down to Madison to watch his back as best I could. Hopefully he’d watch mine, too, though I knew I couldn’t count on that.

When I got there the next day, things hadn’t quieted down at all. Quite the opposite, in fact—it was snowballing out of control. The AP wire picked up the story, so suddenly we were appearing in the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times. Dan Rather even said a few words about us on the television.

That much was all delightful. We’d pulled media pranks together before, and they’d always worked like a charm. Nothing quite this big, though, and it was getting out of hand fast.

We couldn’t walk the streets because Grinch’s picture had been splashed all over the newspapers and a lot of people were out to hurt him. The people in Madison have no sense of humor whatsoever. We couldn’t stay at his apartment, because newspapers and t.v. stations had set up camp in front of the place. So we were hiding out at Nottingham co-op, an old hippie house where Grinch used to live, and were shuttled around town hunkered down in the back seats of friends’ cars.

One newspaper ran an editorial cartoon of Grinch tied to a stake, with a bunch of dogs setting him on fire. The radio talk shows were awash in theories that we were government agents, out to discredit the Left. Some folks proclaimed us fascists. Other folks called in, claiming they knew who we were, and that we were extremely dangerous and insane people.

We found this very odd—I mean yes, it was just a prank, but it was the most liberal prank we’d ever pulled. The original idea was that on the day of the threatened "puppy burning," Grinch was going to hold a news conference on the capitol steps, to point out the hypocrisy of the gathered mob—i.e. "thousands of people—real human beings—are tortured and killed all over the world every day, and here you are wasting your valuable anger on a little puppy."

We never got a chance to do that. Not the way we planned to, anyway.

Daily "Anti-Puppy Burning" protests started popping up around the city. The letters and phone calls were pouring in to Madison’s philosophy department from all over the country (the AP story made a point of stating that we were philosophy students):

"Please don’t burn the puppy!" on 25 little sheets of paper, each signed by a student in Mrs. Wentworth’s 3rd grade class somewhere in Oklahoma. "If one hair on that puppy is injured, two (2) members of your organization will be killed by contract," read a Western Union telegram.

"Well, that would pretty much wipe us out, wouldn’t it?" I said.

Then one day the cops showed up at Nottingham, looking for Grinch.

We weren’t sleeping much that week—we were living on speed and adrenaline, trying to keep an eye out for that random brick to the head, or that stinky hippie posse waiting in the next alley. So by the time the cops showed up, we weren’t thinking too clearly.

All the hubbub, it seems, gave someone the idea to go back and check out our criminal records—and, lo and behold, Grinch had an outstanding warrant. Nothing major. An old speeding ticket or something like that. But it was enough, the cops figured, to get Grinch out of the picture and quiet this whole mess down for awhile.

Unfortunately when they showed up with the warrant they frisked him, and also discovered that he was carrying a four-inch blade, half an inch longer than the law allows. So they took him in.

Alone now, glad that nobody recognized me, I started thinking that there was one big flaw in Grinch’s original speed-addled plan. Okay, you say you’re going to burn a puppy in public. The shit hits the fan. Then you show up, puppyless, and tell the folks with the torches and the pitchforks that there never was a puppy, that this was all a practical joke, and that they’re all hypocrites. That’s all fine and good—except for one little thing. If all hell does indeed break loose according to plan, if your life is threatened several times over, and you show up on the appointed day without the puppy, it doesn’t matter what you say, how scathing your commentary, how carefully reasoned your logic—the mob will be convinced that they were the reason no puppy was harmed. The mob, in their collective, singular mind, will be convinced that they won; that they convinced you of the error of your ways; that because of them, you finally saw the light. It simply doesn’t matter that they proved your original theory to be true—truer, even, than you could have imagined.

When Grinch was finally able to hold his final press conference, a couple weeks after I had returned to Minneapolis, that’s exactly what happened. Once again, the mob won, and won handily. Grinch was quietly given his degree and kindly asked to leave town.

Copyright Jim Knipfel. Published originally in the NYPress. All rights reserved.

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