Will you be my one good action?

foster dog
Come on, will ya?

I got to have my fake Friday night last night, like I asked for on Facebook. But now I have to admit that the pub I want to love just ain’t cracking up to it.

I wanted my neighborhood pub to be snug and delicious and sparkling with the soft light of friendship and a pretend fireplace. Instead it smelled bad and the food was partially inedible and the service—which normally I don’t even care about unless I’m in a hurry—was random. Three waters for four people, no plates for the deep-fried apps, which thank god killed the other smell – magic markers? mold? – I noticed when we came in.

Why didn’t I say something? Because I didn’t want it to smell bad. It was my idea after all, dragging my friends out on a Wednesday night, and we were having fun, coming in from a brisk walk, happy to get a good table by the window. The waitress was smiley. There was just this faint…magic marker? Yes, it must be magic marker…smell. Once we got our drinks I forgot all about it.

Then Xeena and Buck showed up, Xeena who is allergic to everything and can smell everything, even styrofoam – that’s what she gets for being open to the universe—and her first Coke with lime was flat, and the second one was also flat and also tasted of something that was neither Coke nor lime. And they didn’t get silverware so they couldn’t enjoy the apps before they congealed.

But as long as no one wakes up sick today – and I don’t see how Xeena can get sick when she didn’t eat two bites of her shepherd’s pie—I’d say it was a fun evening. Vandamm showed up for an after-dinner drink that seemed to taste okay. And as we were wrapping up the confusing bill, Starbeck showed up outside the window with a new foster dog. Very cute black and white pointer mix? Not quite right for a Django companion, but really sweet. We all walked back together and then watched foster dog play with Kismet and Kyle’s cartoon dog. It was fun until Django started flying into them and barking her shrill cattle dog bark, trying to break up the fun. Foster dog had already had a rough day, so we left.

I should do a Yelp review but I don’t trust Yelp lately. I keep hearing troubling things about their advertising programs. Plus, I still want the pub to thrive. Would a review kick their butts, or lead to fewer customers and a failed business just because maybe they had an off night? I don’t know what’s important in this world where everything seems to be falling apart. When news about the central banks sounds so hopeful until I hear the analysis that predicts there’s an even bigger disaster they’re trying to avert, and the water in the world keeps rising, and nonprofit agencies keep sinking, and the Occupy movement gets more marginalized, and the wars keep multiplying, and for each of these things there is a perfectly good reason, all organized into stories in my hand, but all at once, all right now and constant, and yet I can easily turn them off and dip into entirely different banks of news and entertainment. So I’m confused.

I don’t know what’s important. And I don’t want to sit here and remind myself about the importance of just one action. I already know that. What I really mean is, I’m looking for the one action and I’m annoyed that I can’t find it. Foster dog arrived in Chicago after a 16-hour ride in a cage on a church bus filled with other dogs from a shelter in the Southwest. He ended up homeless because his elderly owner moved into assisted living. He’s almost a year old, extremely good-natured, has soft fur and one blue eye. He needs a good home. Why don’t you adopt him?

Back up

a boot
Thanks, Doc, not right now.

The Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park has made a decision. I saw her yesterday. Dave and I took Django to the park, and stopped on the way to grab Zoe. Miss Hepburn’s sister greeted us at the door and said we’d meet the new caregiver when we got back.

Zoe pulled cheerfully all the way to the park. Then all the way through the park. Then all the way home. She stopped pulling only when I threw the ball for Django. She’s learned that Django gets a biscuit for bringing it back, therefore Zoe gets three biscuits: one for sitting while Django finds the ball and then pauses, seemingly lost in thought; another when Django returns, dropping the ball somewhere along the way; and a third when Django spits hers out because she’d prefer liver or cheese.

When we got back, Dave headed to the garage to carry in a large bag of dog food, and I went inside to meet the new caregiver. This is the sixth one I’ve met since things got hard for the Hepburns. The first was reportedly “an angel.” It took several weeks for the Hepburns to realize she wasn’t the right angel for them. She mostly just talked on her phone. Then there was the sweet one. Then the stern one. Then someone who could only come two days a week. Then the artsy one. And now, the calm and kind one, who seems like she might actually be an angel. Miss Hepburn is eating a beautiful lunch of fluffy omelet with toast and grilled peaches on the side.

She is so tired she almost can’t sit up, but she looks happier than I’ve seen her in weeks. She says she’s decided not to do the hospice thing. Her cardiologist had sent someone after her last appointment, and ever since she’d been in a funk. “She told me I could have all the salt I want,” she says.” I can eat what I want and do what I want, because it doesn’t matter.” She breaks off a tiny piece of omelet with her fork. “I mean, I know it’s progressive, but am I just supposed to give up?”

Her sister has returned with Dave and reminds her, “The hospice people are very nice.”

“Oh yes, but that doctor just sent them out, just like that. I hate him. I’ve always hated him.”

“You’ve only had two appointments.”

“Well, I hated him the first time, and I hated him the second time.” The sisters laugh. Miss Hepburn continues, “I mean, the way he put his size eleven shoes in my face! He sits across from me and crosses his legs and his feet are right up here.” I am reminded that she is not as tall as the other Miss Hepburn. “He doesn’t even look at me. He just says, ‘Someone from hospice will be out.’ Just like that!”

A few months ago, I saw a defining moment when Miss Hepburn could no longer work in her yard. But this defines her yet again. Her back is so bent she has trouble looking forward. She’s got bruises and bandages from surgery and falls. She’s on oxygen 24-7 and still has trouble catching her breath. But she asks me, “Did you see Margie’s cute car out front? Isn’t it adorable?”

Hospice is great when you’re ready to give up. When you know you’re near the end, the people of hospice can enrich your life and the lives of your loved ones in uncountable ways. But some doctors haven’t learned that not everyone gives up at the same speed. Some people just aren’t made for it. Also, they don’t like shoes in their face.

Grumpy gets a surprise

photo in a frame
Zoe approved. As usual.

I was working, grumpily, in my office. The air conditioner was trying to push some cool into my back porch office with the help of a fan, but still the air was heavy. Zoe the visiting dog was asleep on my feet under the desk.

Zoe is a real dog. She could give Django lessons, if Django had any interest in learning. She wags her tail when you talk to her, greets all strangers except for mail carriers with equanimity, likes to be petted, nudges your left hand when you’re only petting her with your right. She likes to be in the room, in the very spot, where you are, and when you accidentally step on her because you forgot she was there, and you curse, “For God’s sake Zoe, move!” she wags her tail.

So when the front doorbell rang, I backed up my chair, bumped into Zoe, cursed, and patted her affable head in exasperation. “Zoe, geez.” She wagged her tail and followed me downstairs as Django watched from her chair in another room. I kept Zoe from eating the UPS man, who handed me a box. It was from Christina, a manager at the company we freelance for.

Why would Christina be sending me a package? She’s not working on our current project. We hardly even talk lately, except when I send her a particularly good outtake from a recording session or she sends me a link to new pictures she’s taken. I love her photography. Simple, striking images of details from her life. Flowers, trains, bits of statues. I even love the pictures of her little boys, whom I’ve never met and have no emotional connection to. But these aren’t precious moments sort of pictures, they’re just moments in time. Two kids in masks, turning. A boy inexplicably crying over a plate of waffles. I can relate to that.

I’ve asked Christina when she’s going to start selling her work and she’s replied that the pros don’t exactly welcome people like her. “I read a stream over the weekend about how all these ‘moms with entry level dSLRs from Costco’ are ruining ‘real’ photographers’ businesses.”

“Well, I’m not a pro, I’m your audience,” I said. “When you’re ready, I want to buy some prints.”

The box was large and flat and light. I both hoped for and felt guilty about what might be in it. A gift of photos! The first was a square unframed photo of a tree, taken during a tornado. At first glance, the tree looks out of focus, just big and round and fuzzy. Then you look closer and realize the fuzziness is the movement of leaves, branches, and trunk of the ancient tree. There’s nothing else in the picture, just the moving tree, which makes it an oddly quiet shot.

The other was some kind of metal angel or cherub against the sky. I’m not big on angel pictures, but this one is different. The figure seems somehow compassionate but also remote and removed. I’d admired it on her site, and it was even more beautiful matted and framed and held in my hands as I paraded it around the house, going, “I got a present, I got a present.” Zoe was ecstatic, and wagged her tail at every wall against which I held my new picture. We finally decided on the front hall landing with the old green flocked wallpaper.

There was also a note in the box. It said, “Enjoy. Love, the mom with the camera from Costco.”

Note: You can see more of Christina’s photos on her Flickr site.

Apparently there’s this whole chain of life thing

squirrel contemplating
It's big.

Today I won’t be going to my friend Mike’s memorial service. He was a guy I met at the dog park, and I really liked him, but I didn’t know him well. I don’t know the details of the memorial service, and I don’t even know anyone to call and ask. But I will miss seeing him, and walking around the park with him and his gangly dog, and hearing small details about his interesting life, and getting travel ideas (he sent Dave and me to Merida, a perfect trip).

A few years ago, soon after I met Mike, before I knew his name, a small story happened because of him. In memory of the guy who turned out to be Mike, and with a nod to his dog who reportedly is going to a good home, and in honor of Mother’s day tomorrow, a day my mother claimed to hate, I offer it up.

How Squirrel Saved Fly

I went to the park with my dog. We saw a guy with his dog, and we walked for a while. Then then guy’s dog killed a squirrel. It was so upsetting. The guy cleaned the blood off the dog’s muzzle at the water fountain and I helped him.

Then me and my dog went home, where I had set these mousetraps. And then I was even more sad for when the mouse would be caught than I was when we set the traps, although we haven’t caught any yet. I was sad that I couldn’t just relocate the mouse, I was sad that I couldn’t save the squirrel.

Then me and my dog went to my mom’s, and in my mom’s dining room this fly was trying to escape. I had trapped him between the outside window and the inside window. And he was just standing on the sill, rubbing his two front legs together, and I could see his eyes, every detail of his eyes. My mom and I were going shopping and my mom said, “Just leave him there to die.” But I couldn’t. I couldn’t let him die, not after the squirrel. I mean, if it weren’t for the squirrel I wouldn’t have thought twice about this fly, I would have let my mom zap him with this electric zapper thing she got that kills flies, but I was like, “No.”

So I worked open the storm window without letting him back into the room, and I watched him fly away, and I felt so happy.

Goodbye, Mike. See you around, maybe.


I am a dog racist

entrance to a river path
Would you follow a Shiba Inu down here?

Django talked me, walked me into going to the north park. She has this habit of pulling north at every intersection. Or rather pointing north and waiting. So today I just went with it, even though the dog-friendlier, more inhabited park is to the south.

We walked into the park entrance and there were four skeevy-looking guys sitting on benches. No one else was around. My thought was to go straight north up the concrete walk toward River Park, where there’d likely be more people around. I wasn’t scared, these looked like homeless men just taking in the sun, but I was cautious. I certainly wasn’t going to let Django pull me down the woodchip path that winds along the river, all secluded and remote. Not because dogs aren’t allowed down there – they aren’t – but because I wouldn’t leave myself that vulnerable.  Django paused and looked at the woodchip path. She loves it down there. Sorry, dog. I pulled her away.

But miracle of miracles, a guy walked into the park with a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. They cut immediately to the woodchip path and walked down. Score! I followed and let Django off her leash. The two dogs met up and Django was only mildly bossy.  The guy laughed and we each went along the twisty path, not talking to each other but perfectly friendly.

As we walked behind them, I realized this guy looked pretty skeevy too. But I trusted him because he had a dog.  Not just that, I trusted him because that dog was a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy. If it had been a German Shepherd – no, I can’t use German Shepherd because Django would never follow a Shepherd, she’s terrified of them – if it had been a Doberman or a Rottweiler there’s no way I would have followed them down there. Maybe a Rott, depending on its ears, but definitely not a Doberman. I don’t know why. I’ve known some sweet Dobermans and never had a bad experience with any. But I just wouldn’t have gone.

So I guess if you plan to attack someone on a secluded river path using a dog decoy, make it a fluffy puppy.


Back in

squirrel tail in the grass
But then again, at least someone didn't bite your tail off and eat you for breakfast.

My neighbor is back in the hospital. I saw her Friday and she seemed okay. For her. For where she’s at lately. Thin and weak and overwhelmed by the mountain of infirmities she’s been living under for the past few years, but able to smile; you know, okay.

When I first met her at the dog park, seven or eight years ago, my neighbor was a sprightly 80-year old with a rambunctious border collie mix that loved to eat garbage, sticks, rocks, anything that came into its path. My neighbor would laugh and shrug her shoulders, and tell us how gentle the dog was at home. Even then, she seemed impossibly thin and ageless; the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park. She volunteered and recommended great restaurants and worked in her yard, cheerfully complaining about how little she seemed to get done. Eighty seemed like an arbitrary number.

But problems started to add up faster than she could recover. Colds into bronchitis into pneumonia and back again. Doctor visits multiplied, and medications, and new complications. “I don’t seem to recover like I used to,” she said a few years ago, when I met her walking in the neighborhood, the dog snuffling in the parkway for garbage. “When I do get better, I seem to have lost a little ground.”

This is an old story. If you live to into your eighties and nothing immediately catastrophic occurs, it just happens. You go from weeding the front parkway in a cute denim hat to trying to do something called interviewing a caregiver when you’re so tired all you want to do is take a nap while they make you a sandwich. You have to learn how to gracefully accept help from friends and neighbors. You’ve always been the one doing little things for people and now you’re the one saying thank you, thank you, thank you. And yes, that’s a good thing, that there are so many people who love you and want to help, but still, when even your personality gets taken over by your infirmities, it’s hard to find yourself.

Do you hold on to who you were? Do you float along and try to be a good patient? Do you give up? The Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park just kept seeming a little surprised. More and more, over the past few years, as she saw parts of her old self slipping away, slowly, the gardening and the dog walks and the concerts. One day she realized she hadn’t chatted with a neighbor over the fence for weeks, or was it months? Because it had at some point become too difficult to stand in the yard. It’s not a big deal, chatting with a neighbor, but when you realize you haven’t done it for months, you also realize that simple act is part of who you are, and that part of you is gone.

When it happens gradually, over a period of years, I wonder if it’s harder or easier to lose pieces of yourself. Maybe it gives you more time to replace them with something else, or to realize the deeper truths of yourself. Maybe it’s a blessing. Or maybe it’s a slow-motion nightmare, like trying to run in a dream. You see the monster coming closer and closer but you just can’t seem to want to move your feet.

We don’t get to choose, so I guess there’s no point in thinking about it. But the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park gave me her little denim cap, a while ago, when I going on a trip. She said it was the best hat, because it’s so cute and it’s great for either rain or sun. It’s a little too small, but perhaps in time, my head will shrink. That happens, right? Or maybe everyone else keeps growing, full of expanding plans and personalities, and you just stay the same, the nice little old lady who always has a smile.

Hair guilt

dog on rug
Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

I went back to my old hair stylist after about a year. It was only awkward if I decided it was. I told myself that when I sat down. My goal was to not say “See you next time” when I left.

My stylist had to stop working for a while due to an injury, and her shop is a drive, one of those drives that’s a lot worse in summer and yes I could take pub trans but it’s not convenient, okay? Hair is a chancy business. While she was recovering, I’d found a much closer shop, one I could walk to. Although I was starting to feel a little hemmed in by that shop too–the friendly “See you next time” that made me feel obligated, the conversations I didn’t always feel like having, the guilty feeling when I wasn’t really crazy about my cut. Hence my return to this interminable drive down Damen.

I’d considered going to a new salon; in fact, going to a new place every time, so I’d never feel like I was cheating. But that’s silly. I can go wherever I want, and not make a big drama out of a simple business transaction. I told myself that as long as I didn’t say “See you next time” I wouldn’t be misrepresenting myself. I could walk out of my old salon totally free. Let summer come, let the bikers take over Damen Avenue. Let the busses belch diesel. Let the SUV in front of me stop for no reason, then go a couple of feet, then pause, then go a little farther, then signal to turn, then not turn, then turn the other way without signaling, just in time for the bus to get in front of me again. I don’t need to do this drive ever again. No one’s expecting me.

And yet, as she finished up, and I loved my hair, and we were all caught up on our lives and it was so nice to be back, I almost said it. I wanted so badly to say it. I couldn’t help it. She was on to greet her next client and probably didn’t see me put my hand over my mouth. She’s a business woman. I’m a business woman. I know how it all works. But it’s intimate, this beauty business. Here was the woman who recused me from a winter mullet. She knew my secret insecurities about bullet head hair and also bird hair, and also gray hair, and she made the monsters go away. How could I not reinforce our bond?

Coincidentally, Django’s regular stylist also suffered an injury and hasn’t been working. So lately we go to a nice little place in the neighborhood that we can walk to. Django’s experience at both salons is as follows: When we arrive, she attempts to walk casually past the entrance. I pull her back and we enter. She shivers pathetically until the groomer gets her into the tub. When I pick her up, the shivers are gone and the groomer tells me she was a very good girl. We leave, and she rolls in something disgusting the first chance she gets. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.


MT, Park Detective

at the park
I'm going to get to the bottom of this.

I almost always see T— at the park in the morning. She’s got two big dogs, one black and one brown. She used to bring them together but now she brings them separately. She’s not a chatty park person, the type where you know all about their surgeries and love affairs but not their last name. But she’s not unfriendly either, like the guy who drives in, stands near the tennis courts just long enough for his poodle to do what needs to be done, and then gets it back in the car and drives away. He doesn’t even return your waves.

No, T— always has a smile and a friendly response to your inane comment about the weather, but she never initiates. She always seems nervous that her dog is going to do something terrible, but they never do. I often feel I’m roping her into conversation but for some reason I can’t help myself. I want to know her secrets.

Yesterday she was walking with A—, my favorite, the brown one. I called to him and he came running up to me. He’s got a very wise face, like he spends a lot of time alone thinking. T— seemed afraid he was going to take Django’s ball, she was like, “Oh, the ball…” but he didn’t. Then she seemed worried Django would try to take A—’s sticks, “Oh, he’s guarding his sticks,” but she didn’t. It made me think something must have happened when she had the two dogs together at the park. I knew in the winter she’d said she started bringing them separately because they pulled too hard on the icy sidewalks. But the ice is gone, even if the cold isn’t. Maybe there’s more to it?

But I can’t ask her directly. There’s a layer of protection in her reserve. She always has a pleasant answer, but it’s as if she’s slowly backing out of the room. So I use my subtle powers of investigation.

“Do you always bring both of them to the park, one and then the other?”

“Oh yes, yes,” she smiles.

“Every morning?”

“Oh, I have to. They have so much energy.”

“Wow, that must take a lot of time.”

“No, only about an hour and fifteen minutes total.” I use an old interviewer’s trick and don’t answer. The uncomfortable silence will prompt her to keep talking. “Oh, he’s worried about his sticks.”

“Django doesn’t like sticks, don’t worry. Do you always bring them in the same order?”

“Yes, I have to bring M— first or he gets upset.”

“What about A—, he just waits?”

“Yes, he just lies down and waits.”

“Just waits.”

“Yes,” she smiles and sidles away, leaving me with nothing but awe for someone who walks here every single morning, twice. Note to self: work on powers of investigation and purchase walking shoes.