Early August, hot and humid, lots of people on vacation, not much going on -- it's the very definition of Dog Days.
That phrase has always seemed fitting for this time of year, even though I never knew exactly what dogs had to do with the general malaise of mid-summer. So I looked it up.
Turns out the ancient Romans noticed that the hottest days of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, the Dog Star, in the same part of the sky as the sun. So it has nothing to do with the image of big sweaty dogs with their tongues hanging out.
Still, it got me to thinking about how the current state of affairs in Greater Cincinnati and beyond can be put into canine terms.
Downtown's Banks project has the earmarks of a dog pound where animals of all shapes and breeds size each other up, mark their own territories and occasionally fight for food scraps and attention, or out of sheer boredom. It kind of looks like a pound, too, with acres of asphalt, gravel, mud, chain-link fences and hardly a tree in sight.
And if you're a real estate developer, you're welcome to drop by any time and check out the choices. The switch is that the riverfront blocks of land, not the dogs, are available to anyone offering to provide a good home.
Most of the Big Dogs who dominate the Banks pound are smart, clean and well behaved but aren't going anywhere. They owe their allegiance to the kindly old trainer Carl Lindner and his fellow pound operators, who aren't about to risk their years of investment by taking off the leashes and letting those prize pooches roam free.
The Banks pound is surrounded by breeds of every kind, some owned and others wild, some trained and others untrainable.
Mayor Mark Mallory is the classic racing greyhound, sleek and aerodynamic. He looks like he's moving even when he's standing still.
If you've ever been to the dog track, however, you know greyhounds race by chasing a mechanical rabbit in a circle, ending up back where they began. They might be lost, but they're making great time.
If I were a betting man, I'd still put money on Mallory to win.
Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell is the neighborhood mutt who's in everyone's house playing with all the kids.
No one seems to know where he lives, but no one cares -- he's a part of every family on the block.
New City Manager Milton Dohoney is the trusty St. Bernard from the storybooks who rescues stranded city dwellers, carting a small cask of life-saving beverage around his neck. The ending of "Real Life in Cincinnati Circa 2006" remains to be written, so we'll have to wait to see if Dohoney ends up the hero.
City Council is the Iditarod team that's off like a shot, pulling the sled of city government with fierce determination. Like the real huskies in Alaska, pinpoint accuracy in map reading is essential -- one small miscalculation will put you hundreds of miles off course. (See note above about being lost but making great time.)
Councilman John Cranley lives a dual life, spending time away from the team to chase around one of the neighborhood bully dogs. He barks ferociously and nips at the bully whenever he can get close enough, but the bully has beaten all challengers before. You're just sort of waiting for him to get mad and take a hunk out of Cranley, sending him away yelping.
The bully, of course, is U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, a likeable and lumbering retriever with a little mean streak. He doesn't ever seem to do anything, but until he loses a fight, he rules the block. One of these years he's going to slow down and lose a step -- maybe this is the year.
There's one of those tightly wired yappy dogs who lives in the same house as Chabot, Rep. Jean Schmidt. Man, they're so annoying -- yap, yap, yap, yap.
Over in the next neighborhood, Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich is the wiener dog who's constantly scurrying in every direction but can't really get anywhere. He's more comfortable inside on someone's lap and gets easily distracted out on the street.
Fellow Commissioner Todd Portune is the Jack Russell Terrier in the same house who's smarter, better behaved and better groomed than Heimlich but who doesn't get as many treats from his owners -- they're just wiener dog people.
A purebred German shepherd is moving in next door, though, with impeccable papers and a few dog show wins under his belt. Heimlich's owners have been caught looking longingly at David Pepper, and the wiener dog's days might be numbered.
Over in a different riverfront subdivision, the rottweilers who live at the Bengals' house have gotten loose again, terrorizing the neighbors and keeping the dog catchers busy. Some people shrug their shoulders and say, "What are you going to do? Rottweilers are just naturally aggressive." Others press city leaders to pass a law outlawing dangerous breeds. Myself, I wonder who let the dogs out ... who, who, who?
It's a difficult situation, as a lot of people derive pleasure from watching a good dog fight. Some even bet on the fights.
Over at the convention center, a kennel club championship is taking place now through Nov. 7. The two big titles up for grabs are Ohio governor and senator, and competition is fierce. The owners are spending big bucks on top-dollar trainers, groomers and handlers.
Ken Blackwell is the Great Dane who offers an intimidating presence but tends to break down if driven too hard. Ted Strickland is the country hunting dog who's loyal, trustworthy and useful.
Sherrod Brown is the Irish setter who's energetic, inquisitive and a little hairy. Mike DeWine has done well in this club championship before, even though his utter plainness leaves the audience unimpressed.
And up in the big white house on the hill, there's a crazy lady who keeps dozens of dogs. One of the worst behaved is Dick Cheney, the noisy little Shitzu. I just like the sound of "Cheney is such a Shitzu."
Finally there's President Bush as Scooby Doo, the goofy star of stage and screen who wanders around with his pal Shaggy (Karl Rove) supposedly solving mysteries while really just looking for his next meal. Fred (Donald Rumsfeld), Daphne (Condoleezza Rice) and Velma (Jerry Falwell in drag) do all the work, then bring in Scooby for the final scene.
It's a doggone shame, isn't it?
Contact john fox: jfox(at)citybeat.com