When we consider the obscure religious sect “The Servants of the Open Ear and the Cocked Head,” whose members we now see lingering on the outskirts of our city’s dog runs and kennels, “blessing” our pets and handing us pamphlets about the Holy Howl and the Righteous Water Dish, it’s interesting to consider the curious origins of the movement.
It began at SUNY New Amsterdam’s School of Mammalian Behavioral Sciences in the Binglam Building on East 83rd Street. This was back in the fallow years. Flared trousers and failing infrastructures, disco demolition nights and Mr. October. Long lines at the gas pumps and Charles Bronson mumbling out white fright on the silver screen. In this financially shaky atmosphere, the maintenance costs on the Upper East Side embassy of the Southeast Asian island kingdom of Binglam, with its neocolonial facades of gleaming marble, its jade-floored tea room, and its sunlit inner courtyard in which grew an ancient and quite holy durian tree, proved too dear for a nation that was then waging wars against two CIA-funded juntas and a homegrown religious insurgency.
So the Binglam diplomatic mission uprooted itself for more humble offices further downtown, and left their former home vacant; a decaying architectural oddity on a block of luxurious townhouses. After a few years, SUNY New Amsterdam stepped in and purchased the building for a song. The peeling plaster was replaced, the rats were shooed out, industrial lighting was installed, and the carcass of the durian tree--done in by a virulent fungus--was hauled out to the landfill. The School of Mammalian Behavioral Sciences moved in.
Just across the hall from the jade floors of the third floor tea room, Dr. Aldo Herdofleur (or “Doc Heretofore” as giggling undergrads called him) and his students began an immersive study into understanding what he called in his early lectures, “the magisterial power of canine loyalty. What is it,” he asked, “in the relationship between man and dog that will force the dutiful canine to often disobey its own survival instincts in service to its loyalty to humans, and what, if I may dip my toe into the social sciences, can we learn from this act of bravery, faith, and friendship?”
To be sure, the ASPCA would have had a field day with Dr. Herdofleur’s experiments. Dogs came in, went up to floor three, and never came out. Students joked that old Doc Heretofore was running a Chinese restaurant up there.
But then, three semesters in to Herdofleur’s reign, there was a sudden shift. Almost overnight, the ceaseless canine slaughter stopped. Dogs roamed the halls of the Binglam building, barking, sniffing, humping, rolling in shit in the courtyard. other professors raised hell. One sunny day in October, Dr. Herdofleur and his team of students commandeered the remainder of the building and expelled the other researchers from their offices. They boarded the doors shut, occupying what they said was a holy space. They threw their cardiograms and paperwork out the window. Empty animal cages rained down on to the pavement. The howls of dog packs in the courtyard kept the neighbors awake. The police were called in.
Herdofleur issued a statement. He printed 1,000 photostats from the basement copy machine. In time, this statement became the first gospel of the Servants of the Open Ear. “History has not awarded the dog his proper place in pantheon of moral will. Cowards are said to lie down like dogs, to be a mangy cur is to be filthy and ill-bred, we associate dogs with beggars or brutes. In our insults, however, we forget that the canine, in its noblest form, has achieved a sublime state--he has taken certain invaluable human attributes and brought them closer to god. Loyalty, faith, and friendship. Within that trinity lies our own path to salvation. The dog never questions its own commitment, never doubts or does disservice to its friendships, quite simply, a dog will believe in the face of human doubt and human fear. Loyalty, faith, and friendship, these are impulses and emotions we humans so easily set aside and make needlessly complex. And yet in spite of our sins against those tenets, we value our friends, we honor loyalty, and we cherish steadfast faith. Because in our hearts, we know therein lies the joy and truth of our brief mortal experience. Let us learn from the canine and hold true to these tenets. Let us be true friends. Let us have faith. Let us trust in loyalty.”
The original photostat “gospels” were thrown from the windows during Herdofleur’s and his followers occupation of the Binglam Building. Herdofleur wanted his message to "spread down the avenues and to the people." Despite the sensational aspect of the story, it got very little traction from journalists. A reporter at the time commented on the “gospel,” calling it “damned interesting, but frankly, not that sexy.”