Saturday, September 25, 2010

Man's Best Friend

Years ago I wrote about our dog, Sasha. She is a lab. And big. And yellow.

Frankly, I don’t have many adult human friends. Not to say that I am friendless, just not many close adult friends. Lots of acquaintances though. I don’t keep in touch with old friends very well. That is a problem. I lose contact or simply don’t keep up my end of the correspondence very well. I am not complaining. Just saying.

But I’ve got this big yellow dog that I have a pretty profound relationship with. Does that sound weird? Pathetic? If you are a dog lover (or a cat lover) you can probably relate.

When I first saw her I was really in no mood for a new dog, especially a puppy. We had a dog a few years earlier and she was perfect for our life style as DINKs (Double Income No Kids). We lived in an apartment and then a condo. Portia was a delightful mix between a schnauzer and a poodle, a schnoodle if you will. She was a bit of a yapper, but she was gentle and affectionate and just the right size for a condo. She could hold it for 10-12 hours and she needed to.

Then we had kids. She was OK with Devin as a baby. Maybe she didn’t feel like her position in the pack was too disrupted, but she put up with his baby shenanigans and was quick enough to get away when he really annoyed her. When Colin came along and was able to crawl toward her - that was that. She snapped at him and one time she sort of bit at his bald baby head. End of story. We managed to find a nice home for her and she lived out her days making a single mom and teenage daughter a congenial companion.

When we moved out to a house in the country, the boys were bigger. Devin was in Kindergarten and Colin two years behind in preschool. We had a real yard and a garage and woods and the lake nearby. Our neighbors had a big black lab named Tina. She was a gentle old jellyroll who would stop by when we got home from work and roll over to let the boys scratch her and beg for food. We loved her. I still wasn’t ready for a dog of our own. Everyone else was.

So one day about 12 years ago I was in the pool store buying chemicals and there was this lab pup hanging out in the store. She was cute – of course – and up to puppy tricks. Exploring, gnawing on things she shouldn’t, and when she began to sniff around like she was going to pee I wanted to scoop her up and get her outside in time. My human-to-dog instincts were kicking in.But she wasn’t my dog and of course she made a mess on the floor.

Travis, the pool store guy, told me that she was his dog. He was a lab breeder and made a good bit of extra money by selling a litter or two every year. This little one was the last of the litter.She sat lopsided and very unladylike. She didn’t have that super alert stance that you expect from labs. That was probably the reason she wasn’t sold yet. She came up to me and licked and sniffed and bit in that friendly puppy way. She invited me to play with her and to pick her up. I called home and Heidi and the kids rushed up to the store to check her out. It was clear from the phone call alone that it was a done deal.

She was a troublesome puppy. Like all labs, and all puppies I suppose, she chewed on everything. She was an outside dog at first. We cut a hole in the garage door and fitted it with a dog flap so she could come and go as she pleased. Hey, we live in the country. She was in dog Heaven. We would come home from work and she would have been down swimming in the lake or over at Tina’s house just hanging out, playing rough and keeping fat old Tina young. Many times she would come home when I whistled smelling horribly. I’d grab her by the collar and hose her off -shampoo her until she was bright and fresh smelling again… until the next day. Or she would come up to me wagging her tail and smiling her big old dog smile with some disgusting, unrecognizable, dead thing in her mouth which I would have to wrestle away and bury deep and cover with rocks in the woods or she would simply dig it up again when I wasn’t around.

From the time she was just a puppy we put a bandana around her neck. She became used to it quickly. Whenever it would fall off she would push it around or drop it near us to put back on.When I give her a bath now and she is without it for a few hours she looks funny to us. When Colin was really little, maybe four or five and he saw Sasha without her bandana, he said, “Hey Sasha, get your clothes back on. You’re naked!”

I made the crucial mistake of parking my very first, and only new car I’ll ever have in her garage when she was about a year and a half old. The next morning when I came out to get into my brand new car I found that the bumper had been chewed from one end to the other, Sasha’s teeth marks deep and fresh all across the front.

When she was young we would run together after work. I was up to five miles about 3 times a week. She was totally game and looked forward to seeing me in my running shoes. For the first part of our run she would pull on her leash with incredible lab-puppy strength. We would come back home both of us winded. She would lap up a full bowl of water and lie down on the cool tile floor to cool. When she was still young we were out running in the early evening and my knee gave out on me. It turned out to be a tear on the edge of my meniscus. My running days were over. I hobbled home from about a half mile away with Sasha pulling mercilessly.

We don’t know exactly when her birthday is – the end of May was the closest Travis could tell us. We never paid for her official American Kennel Club Registration papers. It didn’t matter to us. I always considered my birthday, May 24th, the same as hers. Close enough. I was 42 when we got her. So when I turned 49, she turned 7 in human years. Since dog years are roughly 7 times human years – she was 49, the same as me. We were both feeling our age. My beard was just beginning to turn white. So was her face. We took evening walks together instead of running. She was becoming an indoor dog; outside in the fenced in pool area during the day, inside whenever she scratched on the door. I installed little pull handles on the screen doors so she could let herself in and out when she was on the porch. Now she has a big pillow inside the back door. We keep her water bowl filled and feed her just enough to keep the extra weight off.Her engine doesn’t rev as fast as it used to. Come to think of it, neither does mine. Now that I am 53 and she is about 77 in dog years, she only takes half a walk with us every night. We drop her off at the halfway point and she limps in and lies down on the tile floor panting like crazy to cool herself off. When we get back in 20 minutes or so she is still in the same spot, panting.When she gets up from our walk she limps for a few hours. But she is still always game to go out. When she sees Heidi in her walking clothes she still fusses and jumps and whines until she gets outdoors with us. She just runs out of steam more quickly now. Come to think of it, I do too.

Her face sags now. Her muzzle is turning very white. She is a little snarly with some other dogs in the neighborhood. It’s OK. I walk her on the leash now. She gets up slower now after she has been sleeping and drags her nails on the street when she is hot and tired. She sheds a lot. But I don’t mind. We vacuum regularly. Well, Heidi does. She smells like a dog and when she gets wet it is annoying. I don’t mind. I kind of like giving her a bath now and she doesn’t fight it like she did when she was a pup. It’s hard to get someone to watch her when we go out of town and expensive to board her when we go on vacation. I don’t mind. She snores a little now when she is really out. She has scratched up the hardwood floor. I mind that a little. But all too soon she’ll be gone and I can sand the floors and seal them up again. No big deal.

Because when I wake up early and no one else is awake in our house, she is. And she is happy to see me. On school days I set my clock with about five or ten minutes to spare so I can pet her all over and rub her down the way she likes. She rolls over and grunts and sneezes and her big old pink tongue lolls out and she lets me know that she likes spending that early morning time with me. When I come home from work she is always glad to see me. She meets me at the door wagging her tail and smiling that unmistakable dog smile. There is no pretense. No hidden agendas. Never any bad blood or hard feelings. We have no secrets. What you see with her is what you get.

Here is a song I wrote about Sasha when she was still a young dog. Sometime soon I’ll figure out how to get the recording up. And when her time to go has passed and she’s buried at the bottom of the hill, I’ll think of her and that pretty yellow face and I know I’ll love her still.

Big Yellow Dog

I've got me a big yellow dog, and my dog she's got me too

There are some days when I work so hard

And I come home feeling restless and blue

But my big yellow dog she's sittin' there

With that dog grin on her face

Her tails a waggin', she's comin' up to greet me

And I know I'm in the right place.

Now the time I spend with my big yellow dog

Might be considered wasteful to some

Sittin' on the porch, scratching her belly

Getting licked by her big old tongue

She's sniffin' all around trying to catch some smell

To try to make sense out of my day

And I'm sittin' here with a dozen things to do

And all she wants to do is play


I don't know if she'd rescue me from a burning building or not

But when I think of that pretty yellow dog

I know my love will never stop

I know my love will never stop

Now my big yellow dog, she doesn't need much

Just some bowls with some water and some food

And a dusty rug at the bottom of the steps

Where she guards us when she's in the mood

And a bath sometimes when she's been a bad girl

And she's rolled in some stinky old thing

But the love she gives back in return

Is worth more than anything


The time I spend with my big yellow dog

I don't grow any older it seems

I don't watch the news or answer emails

Or read any magazines

I don't pay the bills, I don't talk shop

I can't get much of nothin' done

But I can mow the grass and water the flowers

We like to hang out in the sun



Now I can't say I haven't smacked that girl

When she's done some bad girl things

But I feel bad when she feels bad

And it comes back to haunt me it seems

And when her time to go has passed

And she's buried at the bottom of the hill

I'll think of her and that big yellow face

And I know I'll love her still


Thursday, September 16, 2010


Here's a little heads up. This post has some cu$$ing in it. It can't be helped. The first section is an essay about modern communications, but the second part is about one application of the cellphone. In that true encounter the main character does a lot of cu#%ing. If you are offended by foul lang&*ge, then pass up this p*%t. But I h&pe th@t you c#me ba*k.

TMI - Part One

Isn’t it amazing how quickly our society has become accustomed to cell phone technology? In some ways we are dependent on cell phones. When we first moved to SC in 1986 there was a single area code for the state – 803. Now we have three area codes to accommodate all of the new cell numbers. Almost every adult I know and every teen I know (and I am acquainted with many since we have two teenage sons) have their own cell phone numbers. In my family we have 5 phone numbers. There is the number for our old landline, which has been the same since 1986, and four cell phone numbers.

People routinely talk on the cell phone wherever they are: in the grocery store, waiting for an oil change, in the checkout line in stores, on the road while driving, etc. Everywhere.

Thumbnail for version as of 23:15, 8 November 2009

I remember when Heidi got her first car phone (aka bag phone). It was an amazingly large device compared to today’s cell phones. It hooked into the cigarette lighter in the car. We still called them cigarette lighters back then. The term accessory input came later. She said that she would only use it for emergencies since the cost per minute was outrageous. It started out that way too. She would call the police to report stalled vehicles on the roadside. That kind of thing.

Very soon the first true cell phones came out. Large by today’s standards. Simple too. It wasn’t long before they replaced pagers and people started calling everybody for everything. “Hey, where are you?” are the first words of almost all cell phone conversations nowadays. Back in the day you KNEW where the person was. At home, probably in their kitchen or bedroom since that’s where the phones were.


There are ringing cell phones wherever you go now: at the movies, at concerts, in church. You used to only hear the phone where there were phone jacks – at home and at the office. And there used to only be one ring. Now people’s ringtones reflect their personalities, their favorite songs. Such variety.

Phones are also a sign of status, right? How many megapixels does your camera have? How many gigs of memory? What’s the keypad like? How many apps? Now you hear questions you never heard just a few years ago… “How many bars do you have?”

A couple weeks ago I was stuck in traffic on my commute home and the drivers of the cars in front of me, behind me, to the right and to the left were all on their phones, I’m sure complaining to someone about the traffic snarl. Last weekend I was driving through Lexington. There was a woman next to me with her phone cradled between her shoulder and ear, applying mascara while looking into the mirror on the inside of her visor while she was driving. Now that’s confidence.

Think of Captain Kirk’s communicator from the old Star Trek series of the 1960’s. Only one ring tone, no pictures, no camera or video, no texting or email capability. He had to flip it open (at least he didn’t accidentally make butt calls). No GPS, no blue tooth, no other apps and Kirk only talked to Chekov or Scotty. The message was pretty much the same too – “Beam me up!” It was extremely limited by today’s standards. He might as well have been using Morse code and a telegraph for all that he could do.

TMI - Part Two

So it’s not surprising when you overhear a conversation as people talk on the phone near you. But many people are not used to old-fashioned phone manners. They are so accustomed to speaking on the phone wherever they are that they are oblivious to those around them.

For example, I was standing in line on Friday to pay taxes on our new used vehicle. The line was moving very slowly. Just behind me a woman came in talking on her cell phone. She was young and blond and pretty and had on a tight green t-shirt with the words Ask Me Again After You Get Me Drunk silk-screened on the front. Hmmm – an odd sentiment for such a public place.

She was speaking loudly, much louder than she needed to. But she was in her own world. The phone had cut her off from the rest of us in the room.

“I don’t give a f#$k what he said! That b*&ch is a f!@#ing wh*%#!”

Uh oh. It’s not like I am a prude. I didn’t have to cover my ears, but I really didn’t want to hear it.

“There is like NO WAY I am staying with Kevin,” she went on. He said I could like stay there. Can you believe it? He’s such an a@*hole. He said he’d even give me a break on the f*%#ing rent! That bas*#rd!” Now he is like f*@#ing someone else and he wants me to stay in the same house?! Well, he’s got another f@*%ing thing coming!”

Another guy, a graybeard like me, came in and stood behind her in line. “I’m like there is no way in H#@* I was staying there! And she’s all like sweet-faced like it was no big deal or nothing!”

Pause while the other party answered. “I know, right?”

Now she was gesturing with her free hand for emphasis. “And she’s all like, ‘No big deal’, and I’m all like whatever...” Pause to listen. “She must take me for a total loser!”

And in my mind I’m all like switch off the phone or like text message or something! Like spare us!

More people came in to wait in line behind us. There were no little ones so I didn’t say anything. The graybeard behind her caught my attention and rolled his eyes. “And she’s all like, ‘You can totally stay if you want to. I’m not like mad’. I’m like, “Whatever, b*#ch!’ It was all I could do not to punch her f@#*ing lights out! I’m like, ‘I’m outta hear!”

Blessedly, the person ahead of me in line had her problem straightened out. “Next in line please,” said the woman behind the counter. My business took less than a minute. Then I was off to the DMV.

There I had another fairly long wait. While I was filling out forms Graybeard came in. We smiled at each other knowingly. It’s funny how you can bond with a total stranger over a shared experience. “Well,” I asked. “Do you think she moved out of Kevin’s place?”

Graybeard grinned, “Whatever! Like of course. Do you think she was like a moron or something?” We exchanged a few words of camaraderie about the overheard conversation.

I love how easy it is to communicate in this new age. I do. I misplaced my phone and was without one for a couple of weeks and I found myself in many situations where I wish I had it and all of my stored phone numbers. It is convenient to get a call reminding me to pick up something at the store; comforting to just check-in after work.

But, honestly, along with this new freedom comes the baggage of being too much in other people’s lives. OMG! Just TMI!