After a long and selfless career making people healthier, my friend Pete's father Jim had recently closed his medical practice. My wife Helena and I visited Pete and Jim at their family cottage.
We were on their dock when I asked Dr. Jim what he'd been doing with all his new-found free time.
Without a moment's hesitation, he said, "I just pretty much truck the dog all day."
Except he didn't say "truck".
He--a physician--utilized a verb that sounds a lot like "truck" but starts with "f."
I chuckled a bit and glanced at Dr. Jim. He was looking at Helena. Helena was looking at Jim's dog, laying peacefully on the dock. Less than one second had passed since Jim finished the word "dog" before it became abundantly clear that my wife Helena had never heard the expression "truck the dog" (but not truck) before.
Imagine hearing a man you really don't now that well say he's just been trucking a dog but rather than truck he employed a verb that rhymes with it.
Come to think of it, Helena might have even got a little scared.
And so it fell to Jim and me to quell-- as fast as humanly possible--what could have morphed into a-- worse-comes to worst--life-changing perverse legal crisis. "Which of these two men" the prosecuting attorney would ask, "is doing WHAT to the dog?"
"Trucking [except, you know] the dog," we told Helena, is an extremely common industrial expression that means to do nothing. Goof off. Take it easy when the boss isn't around. In virtually every workplace and community where I've spent time, from working as a truck driver to editing news stories at one of Toronto's biggest newspapers, The Toronto Sun, I've heard the expression "truck the dog."
Just last year, a colleague from New York asked me to describe somebody we both know. I said the man was a "serious dog trucker," and ONLY AFTER TWO WEEKS passed did I learn that the New Yorker was talking to was not conversive with the "dog trucker" expression. Who knows what went through his brain?
I have no idea where the expression "dog trucking" comes from. I could Google it but I'm such a lazy dog trucker I'm not going to.
So widespread is the phrase, to my ears, dog trucker doesn't even sound like a swear.
Shortly after the episode on the dock with Dr. Jim and his hound, I remember asking a very close friend who grew up in a mining town in British Columbia and then attended some seriously frou-frou universities where she earned all sorts of degrees in classical music before eventually becoming one of the top radio producers at Canada's national broadcaster, if she knows about "dog trucking."
Her answer: "Doesn't everybody?"
This very morning, I found myself schooling my older sister Mary, who claims to have never heard the phrase before today.
We were walking up a street near my house and moments after I first expressed my surprise that she wasn't familiar with "dog trucking" we were passing a couple of gentlemen sitting in the doorway of a construction job. Without losing stride, I asked, "Hey you guys truckin' the dog today or what?" (But I didn't say 'truckin'). One laughed and said "you betcha" and the other: "And gettin' paid for it."
In my world, trucking the dog is so commonplace it has become de-fanged. It holds neither rancor nor prejudice. It sounds like neither a swear nor, now that you mention it, an act. Indeed, trucking the dog is the opposite of an act. It's doing nothing.
To my ears, the phrase has reached such milquetoast status that I shouldn't be surprised to hear Prime Minister Trudeau drop it. (I wish other words could become so defanged. This all reminds me of one of my favorite Carleton University Journalism school lectures, led by the late Wilf Kesterton, who said "In Canadian newspapers, you're allowed to write 'I've pricked my finger' but not vice versa." Or something like that.)
It just occurred to me that maybe the reason my sister Mary doesn't know about dog-trucking is that she never stops working.
I, on the other hand, was surprised Helena wasn't familiar with "dog truckers" because her husband is a past master.
I've known about dog-trucking since I can't remember.
I do, however, recall in close detail when and which of my four older brothers told me the following joke when I was working in the mining town of Elliott Lake, Ontario, which is where he was living, too.
"A British truck driver pulls into a factory and meets a couple of Canadian guys working there. He asks them what they're doing and one of the guys says, "Nothin', just sittin' here truckin' the dog." And the second guy says,"Yup. Been truckin' the dog all mornin."
And the Brit says, "Good Lord you Canadians are honest. I trucked a goat once but I never told anybody."