Death by Martini

My year of austerity has come to an abrupt end. How can I compete with the likes of COVID-19? It’s a tsunami. In truth, I bailed before the virus made its dramatic entrance.

No-Coffee-January was easier than I thought. I missed it, but I didn’t pine for it. This was surprising. On the first day of February, I successfully circumvented sugar, but quickly spiraled out of control after that. The more I thought about avoiding it, the more it seemed to appear, and even worse, the more I sought it out. I suppose this is the definition of a true addict. I knew I liked sugar, I just didn’t realize we were more than friends. March was supposed to be alcohol-free, but the pandemic squelched the mission. The evening martini helps sooth my nerves.

(This is about the only thing the government and I agree on: Liquor is essential.)

The last ten days has really rocked me. As Russ said in response to my angst, “It’s a good thing we’re not on the Titanic!” [because of my hysteria]. I shot back, “How do you know we’re not?!” 

DC is a ghost town. When I run, I don’t stop at road crossings, regardless of whether the light is green or red. There’s no traffic, car or pedestrian. A runner’s paradise, the silver lining to a cataclysm.

11E022D1-E51F-4DFE-9EB3-73CDFAC21CEF
Empty streets of DC

Only the construction workers lend a thread of normalcy to a city otherwise closed for business. I’m sure they are grateful for the continuity of their livelihood. It’s the current juxtaposition between choosing wealth over health, or not. They have the option. A lot of people don’t. I’m trying to support locally what is “open”, such as South Block, A Baked Joint, and Karma Modern Indian, which isn’t open, but offers gift cards as a way to support them. Small business needs our loyalty and support, two antiquated qualities in short supply.

I know of a few businesses personally, all different sizes, who are taking care of their employees during this crisis. Just announced, transport company J.B. Hunt,  will award $13-14 million in bonuses to roughly 23,000 employees, to support the drivers moving freight.

But more businesses won’t then will. Big Biz mavericks, Marriott and MGM Resorts, have furloughed tens of thousands of employees. Airlines have fired contract workers, who provide services such as baggage handling and security for their organization.  Sadly, Compass Coffee, started and based in DC with many locations, laid off 80% of its staff,  a total of 150 of its 189 members. Those are the ones big enough to make the news. It doesn’t account for all of the others, who have let people go, and who are most likely not to survive when the shutdown lifts.

Big business will ultimately be fine. They are resuscitated by the recent $2 trillion stimulus plan. That’s the biggest federal slush-fund handed out on record. But profit margins roll down hill, just like shit, getting thinner as it nears street level. Small businesses will be hit hard, and the individual will be hit even harder.  

I’m working from home as of this week. My company asked me if I had a laptop I could use. I said I did, but it was so old, I didn’t trust it from malware and other security breaches. My laptop was used-to-me, back in 2011, when I got it. I estimate its age at fourteen years.

It’s gotten crankier the last couple years. It freezes up and the cursor jumps around like a hungry flea on a hound dog, but it limps along dutifully. As of January fourteenth, my laptop alerts me every day that support for Windows 7 has ended. Troubled by inevitable security risks and viruses, it suggests I invest in an upgrade.

Sick of the nagging reminder, I cracked and threw a martini in its face last night. Scowling, my cocktail soaking between the keys like surf retreating from rocks at low tide, I said, “If you want to go, then fine, just leave I tell you!” 

After nine years together, my laptop sucked its last breath, and succumbed not to a virus, but to a martini.

How ironic.

My temporary laptop arrived just in time.

Postscript:

It’s possible I accidentally spilled my martini, because it moonlighted as a coaster in the evenings. Not only that, it served as a charging station also, strategically placed in the middle of the coffee table. There is also a chance I was handing my cell phone to Russ, to check out the reading glasses I just ordered, when the cord unceremoniously clothes-lined the short tumbler, sending it skidding across the keys.

There are a few takeaways here. First, I finally need reading glasses. Like Old Ironsides (my clunky, old laptop), I held out for as long as I could, which was pretty long. Secondly, it’s worth noting I really got my money’s worth, and then some, from that laptop (not unlike my first used Honda that miraculously kept running, despite getting an oil change once a year). Third, they’re Burberry, so they’re pretty! I didn’t know this would be important, but it is.

And now you know…the rest of the story.

#buylocal

#supportsmallbusiness

#workersfirst

#community

 

 

 

 

Until Further Notice

Four nights ago, I went to my favorite restaurant for dinner. There have been so many changes in just a few days, I worried if I didn’t patronize them then, I wouldn’t have another chance for a while.

(It turns out I was right.)

The owner was at the restaurant. He is always at the restaurant, dressed in a well-cut suit and tie. When I saw him Sunday, my heart sank. He smiled, but the pain and anxiety was chiseled into the lines on his face. For the first time, he was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

One waiter worked the dining room, and the bar was closed. I wondered about my favorite bartender. Is he okay? I knew he was going to college full-time as well as bartending.

That night, they sat three tables, including us. I asked the owner what he might do as things progressed. Shaking his head, he said they didn’t do enough take-out or delivery business to consider it. His customers dined in. He was going to cut hours, and staff, and see what the week brought. Walking past the next day, I saw the sign on the door.

CLOSED.

Until Further Notice.

These are the words taped to the front door of most businesses, a new mantra, the preemtive response to what is yet to be revealed.  Every day brings new changes, new rules, and new statistics. Considering the 1918 flu pandemic, experts have some ideas of what to expect. The Imperial College COVID-19 ResponseTeam’s Report states infections will likely peak in mid-June (March 16, 2020).

It’s important to note it will get worse before it gets better.

The Washington Post stated, “Like the bumpy hills some foresee in coming months, the 1918 pandemic hit America in three waves–a mild one that spring, the deadliest wave in fall and a final one that winter”  (William Wan, Joel Achenbach, Carolyn Y. Johnson and Ben Guarino; March 12, 2020).

This could last  a long time, much longer than the two to four week shutdown currently in place for businesses, or the rest of the semester closed for University students.

The Imperial College COVID-19 ResponseTeam’s Report went on to say, “To avoid a rebound in transmission, these policies [social distancing, with home isolation of cases, and school and university closure] will need to be maintained untl large stocks of vaccine are available to immunise the population–which could be 18 months or more” (March 16, 2020).

We have a long road ahead of us. In The Washington Post on March 19th, an article by Heather Long and Abha Bhattarai in the business section stated, “’More than a million workers are expected to lose their jobs by the end of March,’ economists say. ‘Small businesses could run out of money before emergency federal loans arrive.’ ‘In mere weeks, the pandemic is on track to usher in a magnitude of unemployment that took months to reach during the Great Recession.’”

We are still in the honeymoon phase of a pandemic.

I read a comment on social media, “This should show us how lucky we are to live in America where we never run out of anything.”

I wondered, Do we even live in the same country?

We do.

I can only assume this person has not had any trouble purchasing toilet paper…or fresh vegetables, meat, milk, canned beans, rice, sugar, or even frozen pizza, like we have. Maybe his gym hasn’t closed, or his favorite restaurant. Maybe he still retains a sense of normalcy in his everyday life.

But scarcity is about to become the new majority.

Good luck finding Tylenol.

Did you know we don’t make penicillin in this country? China makes penecillin. And only last year was penecillin moved to the “resolved shortage status” (cdc.gov).

“Antibiotics, antidepressants, birth control pills, blood pressure medicine, among many others are made in China and sold in the United States. Millions of Americans are taking prescription drugs made in China and don’t know it” (Corporate Crime Reporter, August 27, 2018).

The pandemic just came full circle.

Four years ago I visited Nicaragua with my cousins. All surfers, Nica is where they’ve chased down the biggest waves. It was my first time to a “developing” country. I loved it. Nicaragua is wild. The rainforest breathes a life of its own, concealed by a tangle of green, gatekeeper of ocean and sand. Breaking through the brush, the ocean roars. Like a symphony, the waves pull at the chords, their faces shimmering like glass blown, hearts cracked open, the adagio crashing into the final crescendo.

I didn’t surf, and I didn’t SUP, like I intended. My first attempt at entering the water ended in a mad scrabble with a mouth full of water and sand in every crack, crevice and orifice. Once I made it past the breakers, I was fine. Getting in, and getting out, was a test of resilience and determination. It surprised me, but it shouldn’t have. It went with the culture. Raw and  primitive, rough, it invogorated my senses.

Stretching our comfort zone is the biggest gift traveling gives us.

It stretched my limits in many ways. I drank a lot of margaritas with lime juice squeezed by hand, but I also wiped my ass and threw the dirty tissue into the plastic pail in the corner, like everyone else. No bathroom tissue, of any kind, went into the toilet. The pipes couldn’t handle any paper products, intended for it, or otherwise.

I said to Russ last weekend, when he came home from the store with kitchen napkins instead of toilet paper (because he couldn’t find any at three grocery stores), “Oh my God, we have turned into Nicaragua. I’ll be throwing shitty table napkins in the garbage can, so I don’t clog our pipes, just like I did there!”

He said, “Yeah, but at least Nicaragua had toilet paper.”

What does anyone say to that?

America has taken a hard turn. We are closer to being a developing nation than a global leader. Scarcity will become the new majority. Your, my, neighbors will go hungry. Even if it’s not right in front of your face, like it is for me, it’s still happening, regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not. What will you do? Will you turn a blind eye and pretend it’s not happening in your backyard? Or, will you be like a beautiful wave in Nicaragua and face it, shimmering, with an open heart?

Recently, my mom bought Everclear at the liquor store, in place of the elusive hand sanitizer. (Never thought I’d use “Mom” and “Everclear” in the same sentence.) Remarking about the turn of events, she said, “What a tsunami!”

She’s right.

It’s a shit show alright. 

Until further notice.

 

THIS IS THE LIFE

**The historic Uline Arena was restored and is now home to REI. The Uline Arena hosted the first Beatles concert in the USA in 1964.

COMMUTING

This morning, I fell in behind a smoker walking to work. He was smoking a cigarette, which is unusual these days. As a frequent pedestrian in DC, I’ve noticed the trend leans toward vaping or smoking weed. There’s no in between. Cigarettes are passé, like greenbacks. If a Washingtonian is not in possession of Apple Pay or plastic, his or her nutritional capabilities quickly dissolve into attritional liabilities.

In short, they will starve.

The man held the cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, his arm long, swinging by his side. The thin line of smoke snaked back and forth, as if his fingertips smoldered, like an evening campfire recently extinguished. He raised his hand to his face for a moment, before the arm resumed its tick-tock, a thick plume of smoke trailing behind him.

The guy walked just fast enough to stay ahead. The mushroom hung in the air behind him, dispersing like ash. I drifted, first to one side and then to the other, but it was no use.

I was reminded of all the times stuck behind  eighteen wheelers on the interstate, in the pouring rain, driving the truck and horse trailer, which wasn’t as easy to maneuver in traffic. Sheets of water sprayed from underneath their multiple tires, churning at the pavement, their mouths wide open like the writhing snakes adorning Medusa’s crown. My windshield reduced to that of frosted glass, before the blades wiped it clean, an erasure across a blackboard, cycling continuously for as long as the rain.

Commuting is a bitch sometimes, regardless if you’re a wayfarer, or behind the wheel.

DEMICS

The news just reported awards of $4,600 to volunteers willing to undergo injections of the coronavirus. They are seeking human guinea pigs.  After taxes, that’s roughly $3,400 in your pocket to be a specimen. Russ put his hand up and said, “Me! Me! Me!” I shook my head.

How much is a body worth?

The coronavirus feels oddly similar to the government shutdown of 2018/19. This is a pandemic, where the other was more of a…paleoendemic. Regardless of whether you fell victim to a forfeited income, or not, or whether you fall ill now (God forbid, die), or not, the trickle down effect is real, and it affects all of us.

Washington, like other urban areas, is pulling the shutters together and latching its doors. Cancelling plans is the name of the game, and teleworking is the  latest cultural movement. When the Houston Livestock Show and rodeo is cancelled, not to mention SXSW, we are up to our neck in the weeds. Living concealed, in complex life-support systems on Mars, the artificial environments necessary  to sustain life, is no longer a remote concept. We are moving ever closer, complete obligatory participation looming, here on Earth.

SERENDIPITY

A new book arrived yesterday, Writing Down The Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. This is her most popular work, the one that first put her name on the board. I ordered both of her books on the same day, but Wild Mind arrived two weeks ago. I buy my books from Amazon, but usually from third-party sellers, used. Any purchases I make elsewhere, using my Amazon Visa, accumulates a nice sum of points I then exchange for books ordered. The books feel free, which abates my guilt for ordering so many.

I cracked open Writing Down The Bones to find an inscription on the title page. It said, “Kelly, Happy 14th Birthday! Wishing you a life filled with writing! Best Wishes, Ruth and Michael O.” It made me smile. I thought to myself, “Kelly, you are one lucky kid, and Ruth and Michael, if you don’t know it yet, you are awesome!” 

Flipping through it, I found a bookmark on page 119. It’s from Provincetown Bookshop in Provincetown, MA.  My curiosity piqued, I pulled up the invoice, reviewing its tracking route. The book originated in Dallas/Fort Worth, TX. From there, it shipped to Glendale Heights, IL.  The next leg of it’s journey took it to York, PA. It hopped over to Annapolis Junction, MD., before jumping to Washington, DC. Then it arrived to its new home.

I wonder, where in the copy’s travels did Provincetown fit in, and where else did it go?

I don’t know why Writing Down The Bones took the scenic route, but I’m glad it did. Wild Mind read with a quick rhythm. So far, Bones has not. It’s a tougher slice to chew. Reading a lot of different books is not unlike riding a lot of different horses.

Toward the end of my equestrian career, I had clocked enough hours and experience in the tack to look back and understand the serendipity of timing. I earned an appreciation for why certain horses showed up in the barn and when.

They seemed to appear at just the right time. They were progressively more talented as time went on, but a few were exponentially more difficult too. The degree of difficulty presented was slightly beyond my proficiency. This challenged me, stretched my limits,  and took me to the next level, right along with them.

My own story would not read so well had some of them arrived much earlier in my career. Others wouldn’t have made such an impact on my riding if they had showed up much later than they did. It’s the same with books. They possess the same mystical talent, to surface at just the right time, when you need them most.

STRANGERDANGER

I picked up my new bike today. It’s been a year, and three and a half months, since I’ve ridden a bike or owned one. Not since Go Go Girl was stolen. It took that long to save up, especially in the midst of the unexpected medical bills last year, a brief chronicle of the times we find ourselves living in.

I picked it up at REI, the same place I purchased Go Go Girl. It wasn’t quite ready, so I went next door and ordered a beer at the local brewpub. I was nervous after not having ridden in so long. I thought a beer might help.

It did.

The tech tried to point out some of my bike’s features, such as the fact it only has one set of gears, versus two, like most bikes. (This supposedly equals efficiency).

White noise filled my head, drowning his words. This natural reaction occurs when someone directs tech-speak my way. Standing in REI, listening to this guy drone on (bless him), I thought back to the time a friend asked me a million questions about the car I had just purchased.

Does it come with GPS installed?” she asked.

“Umm, I don’t know…

It blew her mind. I knew nothing about the car I bought. What I did know was the car was small, it was diesel, super efficient, and it was fast.

All of my criteria were met. 

Just like the bike. It’s orange, comfortable, and has fat tires. That’s everything I need to know.

Boom, sold!

After the beer, I rode my bike home, my new Cannondale trail bike. I smiled the entire time, just like someone who drank a beer on an empty stomach, and was riding her new bike for the first time. It’s been so long. I forgot how much I missed the wind in my face, the freedom. I can’t wait for our biking adventures to start this spring. It’s one of the things Russ and I love doing together.

Russ asked me when I got home, “So what did you name the bike?”

Without missing a beat, I sang, “StrangerDanger!!

Some things are just meant to be.

 

Going Home

I’m reading Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind. She says beginning writers are literal, logical in their writing. In her words, “They need to loosen up.” She hit the nail on the head.  This is the crux of many challenges for me. I’ve always been literal in my thinking, my problem-solving, my speaking, my writing.

I take what someone says, or what they’ve written, exactly as it’s imparted. This can get complicated when someone speaks generally, makes a joke, or throws in some irony, just to spice things up. I can be very gullible, as much as I keep my radar switched on. This limit exists in my writing. So…Natalie suggests writing from a different perspective. Perhaps your dog’s.

So this one is for the dogs. 

This one is for Cracker.

Going Home

I was born last. You said when you first laid eyes on me, we were all nursing, lined up like Easter Peeps, one marshmallow pressed against another. We passed out sporadically, our bellies full,  before waking up to nurse again. This is how it went.

I was the smallest by far, even smaller than my two sisters. It was easy to tell who was who, even though we were the same black with the hint of a tan mask, tan toes. My brother was twice the size of us all. The strong one. The two sisters were petite, like twins. Then there was me.

My life was perfect. My mom loved us, and her mom who took care of us, loved us too. As we grew, we spent our time eating, then sleeping, playing, eating some more, playing some more, and sleeping yet again.

One day, she carried us outdoors, two in each hand. She knelt down and set us in the cool grass. The world was much bigger than I had ever imagined. My legs buckled at the vastness. Sitting there, the sun warmed my face for the first time. Eventually I slid apart until my belly rested against the smooth blades. I flipped over, scratching my back. A tiny growl erupted as I jerked back and forth, my belly poking one way, my legs kicking the other.

There are some things a dog is just born knowing how to do.

One day, the mom picked me up and carried me to her car. I curled up on her lap and went to sleep. I didn’t know what we were doing. When the car stopped, she unbuckled her seat belt and picked me up, opening the door. She had tears running down her face. I was scared. Why was she crying?

She held me up and handed me over, wiping away her tears. You put both of your hands out, scooping me up, holding me high on your chest.  Burying your face in the scruff of my neck, you soaked up my scent, that earthy, sweet smell all puppies have.

You spoke your first words to me. You said, “You were the last puppy. Everyone was spoken for, but you. I don’t know why it happened like this. It’s as if God saved you just for me, like it was written in the stars.”

Of course, you didn’t say those things out loud. I heard it in your heart, beating close to your skin, as you held me to your chest.

That was the day I became your dog.

It was the beginning of our journey together. You climbed back in the car, placing me on your lap, and wiped the corner of your eyes before the tears broke loose. I didn’t understand humans at all. They cried when they were sad, and they cried when they were happy. Confused and exhausted from the day’s events, I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

When we got home, I met the other dog who lived there. Another terrier, you called him “The Bad Terrier.” He wasn’t very nice, but I quickly learned you would protect me. That’s how I got the pass to sleep in bed at night, because “The Bad Terrier” couldn’t be trusted, even then.  Every night you picked me up and placed me on the bed. I dove under the covers and crawled all the way to the bottom. I slept there all night, stretched out against your leg, or tucked behind the crook of your knee.

We drove to the farm every day. Luckily, “The Bad Terrier” didn’t go with us. There were a lot of horses there. You spent all of your time talking to them. They weren’t very smart. Stupid horses.  I never understood, but you looked at them the same way you looked at me, your eyes glazed over in happiness, your heart brimming with love. This, when they were about as loyal as the leaves on a tree!

I realized then, this was a dog’s job in life, my job in life, to go where you went, on your journey, by your side, without understanding the why of it all. Humans hardly know why they do the things they do, so it’s impossible for us to know. It’s our job to shepherd you, to love and protect you, no matter what stupid things you do. Such as spending time with horses.

Only this is a dog’s job.

So you messed with those horses all day long, and I waited. A couple of cats lived at the barn. They were a lot better to spend time with than “The Bad Terrier,” not as contrarian. Both yellow and striped, they helped pass the time.

One day, you came around the corner and I was clutched around the older one. It was new for me to be in charge of something, even if they were twice the size of me, instead of “The Bad Terrier,” who bossed me around endlessly. Finally, I was the one in charge! Plus, I was horny all of the time. I couldn’t stop. You called it my “teenage years.”

One day, we got in the car, at this point I could jump in myself, and we drove not to the barn, but to another place. You picked me up and took me inside and left me there. Pretty soon I fell asleep. When I woke up, something was stinging me. I looked around, but I was by myself in a small cage, and I didn’t know where I was. I was so scared I started screaming, and crying, and howling. It was terrible. Eventually, someone showed up.

Shaking her head, she said, “How can such a little dog make so much noise.”

The audacity of it all!

She picked me up, I was still stinging, and handed me to a girl sitting at a desk. I wondered where you were and I decided I was going to ignore you when you showed up. I curled up on her lap and went to sleep. When you got there, they woke me. I was so happy to see you, I forgot I was mad. I decided to put it behind us. It was my job, as a good dog, to forgive you. Despite your good heart, I’ve got to tell you, you were a real lesson in patience sometimes.

I forgave you a lot.

Now standing behind the desk, the girl laughed, telling you the story of how I had demanded their attention. Such a big voice for a little dog! Secretly, she loved me, even if she was complaining about me. Humans are complicated like that, just like the crying. I didn’t tell her, the feeling was not mutual.

Who puts a dog in a cage?!

You chuckled, then said, “No dog belongs in a cage, especially not a puppy, especially not Cracker, and if you hadn’t picked him up, and I had shown up and he was screaming in the back, you’d have wished you had never met me!”

Of course, you didn’t actually say those words out loud, but I heard them in your heart, as you held me against your chest.

This is a dog’s greatest superpower.

I was a sore for a couple of days, but I was young and bounced back. It didn’t take long before you found me with the cats again. You were disappointed. That little operation hadn’t changed a thing. It takes more to change a terrier’s mind, and mine was set on those cats. My teenage years never quite ended. They just slowed down and lost traction as the years went by. I began to mellow.

We moved around a lot. The cats went with us, and the horses, but luckily, that was the end of “The Bad Terrier.” He stayed parked in the rear view mirror where he belonged. There were new farms, new horses, other dogs, other people, but it was the same everywhere we went. We followed those damn horses where they took us. I never could understand it. They ran through fences, ran down the middle of the road, routinely dumped you, broke each other’s legs in the field, and got upset tummys as sure as the sun would set.

What did you see in them?

How are they not extinct?

Horses are a losing proposition. The only time they were useful was when we went to a show. I jumped out of the truck and off I went. All the new dogs I met, new people patting me on the head. I checked everything out for a while taking my time. Eventually I narrowed down where the kitchen was. There was always one somewhere.

The smell of hot bubbly grease and steaming meat, hamburgers and hot dogs to be exact, was the best smell in the world. I usually made out with leftovers of some kind. I never worried about where you were while I was scouting. You were busy messing with those horses. You said you weren’t worried about me either because you’d hear “Oh my God, who’s that? Is that Cracker?! Oh my God, you are the cutest thing ever! Cracker!!” and then you’d know exactly where I was.

Sometimes, when the kitchen was far away from where the horses were set-up, I’d get nabbed by a trickster. They’d bend over petting me, tell me how cute I was, and then they’d whisk me off to jail. I was easily seduced and never saw it coming. I didn’t mind it though. I was always with someone, and they were happy to have me around. You  sent the girls to collect me, convinced they wouldn’t ask a poor working student to post bail. Sometimes it worked. Most of the time they had to pull the checkbook out of their back pocket, the check already marked with your signature.

It got a little expensive there for a while.

I loved the group walk we always did on these weekends. All of us going along for hours, up and down the hills. You silly people would stop now and then, scratching your heads, talking low, looking serious. Sometimes you’d take off your shoes and socks, rolling up your jeans, to walk through the pond. Being a dog is so much easier. We just run through the water. It was as simple as that.

Occasionally a couple of the groups would collide. I’d use the opportunity for a detour and head off with the others. You were always offended, accusing me of “shopping around for a better deal,” but it wasn’t that. Usually I knew someone, or someone’s dog, and it was purely a social opportunity.

It couldn’t be all about the horses, all of the time, sheesh.

I networked my way across hill n’ dale at the horse shows. It didn’t hurt any to keep you on your toes, make sure you didn’t take me for granted, which I knew, sometimes you did.

(To be honest, I knew everyone at these things. I’m just trying to not rub it in. Detours were happy accidents for the both of us, you just didn’t know it.)

We always packed up at the end of a weekend and went back home, horses in tow, though sometimes home changed as well. We’d land at a new barn, with new dogs, new people, and maybe a different cat, except for that one long dry spell when there were no cats. You held out hope I would forget the dirty dance I did with them, and truth be told, I almost did.

But then you got Kitten, who wasn’t yellow, but black and white this time, and it all came right back. All those years and the cats never fussed, proof of a terrier’s superiority. In case you don’t know, the hierarchy went like this:

#1) You.

#2) Me.

#3) Terriers.

#4) The Dogs.

#5) The Cats.

#6) The Horses.

#7) “The Bad Terrier.”

One time, I heard someone say, “Terriers are shaped like a football for a reason.” I think this was in reference to me. They didn’t understand there are two types of terriers: good terriers and bad terriers, just like there are two types of people: smart ones and dumb ones.

Guess which group that person belonged to?

I wanted to do him a favor and pinch him on the ankle to get the blood flowing back to his brain, but I decided, there are some people you just can’t help. Besides, trying to save you from yourself every single day was taxing enough.

As I got older, I slowed down. Spending time outdoors in the winter became harder. I slept late and lingered longer under the covers. Some days you dove in and chased me, grabbing for a spare leg, before carrying me to the car. At least you had the decency to leave it running with the heat on after we arrived. You’d peek through the window every couple of hours to check on me, but I’d curl up tighter and close my eyes pretending I didn’t see you. People just shook their heads.

They asked, “How much is all that gas costing you?”

You just smiled and never said a word.

By noon, the chill would have parted for the sunbeams, and I’d stand up and stretch, standing on the door handle, my wet nose pressed against the glass. You’d open the door, sometimes leaning over from the back of a horse, already thick in your day. Jumping down, my day was just getting started.

One day you brought an electric blanket to the tack room, which helped on the coldest days. That was the same winter the barn and house were next to each other, so it made more sense to trot back home after morning constitutions around the farm. I stood on the front steps, staring at the door. I’d growl and back up a couple of steps, before throwing my head back in full yip, one after the other, my front toes popping off the ground every time. You accused me of being old and confused, thinking you were magically in the house, and not at the barn where I left you.

Silly girl, I knew you were at the barn, but it got you to the house, didn’t it?

Soon after, there were no more horses. We didn’t go to the barn anymore, which was fine by me. I liked being in the house where the temperature was always just right. The hardest part during that time, besides you being a nervous wreck, was not having Darby.

She was my best friend.

I remember when she came to live with us.

You said, “Cracker, I got you a girlfriend. She’s really tall, so there will  be no competition for my lap. Only you get to sleep there.”

I did not think this was a good idea. At all. But she showed up nonetheless, and I taught her the ropes. Imagine, a sighthound loose on hundreds of acres! But she came when you called her, because I always came no matter whose name you were bellowing, and she followed me everywhere.

(You’re welcome.)

Every now and then she’d get a little full of her britches and take off running back to the barn from the arena. The barn sat up high on the hill and the driveway was long to get there. That bitch was fast. I hate to say, it’s the only time I envied her, that silly looking dog covered in stripes with her needle nose, legs like a praying mantis, her body long and thin.

One time we were standing by the barn when Darby took off down the hill towards the arena, so naturally,  I took off after her. Before I knew it, the sighthound was out of sight. You said later we both disappeared over the hill before you saw Darby come back up the other side. You spotted the deer she was after.

The deer leaped through the air easy-breezy before they realized that sighthound was on them. (I was still nowhere to be seen). Then those deer got stupid because they got scared. She ran on their heels pretty good before their senseless zigzagging ended with them darting over the fence line. Darby doubled back when she reached the end of the property, loping along, tongue wagging off the side. That’s when you saw me, yip yippin’, running up the hill as fast as I could, which was pretty fast I have to say, just not Darby fast.

She was spectacular across the countryside.

Then there was the time you piled all this stuff on the couch and pushed the coffee table against its edge to keep Darby off while you were gone for a few hours. You came home to cushions strewn across the floor, and claw marks every which way, like a bad abstract pencil sketch, across the top of the coffee table. You were pissed, but honestly, you should have seen it. She had all four feet on the table before she discovered it was slick. All of those long legs scrambling, like a cartoon character, slip sliding everywhere.

Another time you left to do something in the barn and came home to find the entire lasagna eaten out of the pan sitting on the counter. Nothing else was out of place. The pan was in the exact spot you left it, licked clean. You looked at both of us like, “Which one of you did this???,” hands on your hips, but really, was there ever any question?

Darby made me look good.

(That was hard to do, I was already really good, especially for a terrier.)

Remember the time she thought it was a good idea to jump on the roof of the barn from the deck? Once again, she scribbled an abstract sketch with her claws, this time using chalk, as the roof was covered in a thin layer of frost.

You hit the bottle after that one. Who could blame you? I thought she was a goner too, but she wasn’t. She was just fine.

Yep, Darby made me look even better than I was already.

She could run really fast, and she could reach the lasagna, but she couldn’t fit on your lap, or in the front seat, or under the covers. As it turns out, you were right. I was grateful for the spaces where only I could fit, and I was grateful for Darby’s friendship, too.

With no horses around anymore, I became an indoor dog. I had long given up the cats, and other dogs too. If they weren’t my size and my age…well…I just looked the other way. I socialized with dogs who moved the same speed and that’s it. I had been rolled pretty hard a couple years before by a stranger. I stood up quivering and scared, confused. The young pup hit me like a cyclone. I didn’t know what happened.

As a Jack Russell, I got rolled plenty in my time by other dogs, including Darby when she ran over the top of me. They found it good sport. Until I got back on my feet, anyway. No one could fathom a twelve pound Cujo, but that’s what happened.

The youngster didn’t mean any harm, but it was a turning point in our relationship, you and me. When you scooped me up, you were shaking too. You held me firmly against your chest, to steady the both of us, I think. You didn’t cry, but I heard your heart break into a million little pieces. You whispered in my ear, “That will never, ever, happen again, my little friend. I am so sorry. I will never let any dog hurt you ever again.”

And you didn’t. We had switched places then. Now it was you who shepherded me. You became my eyes, my ears. When I slowed down, you slowed down too, matching my step. People were always in a hurry on the sidewalks and you shielded me when I stopped, which I did a lot.

You made them go around. 

I started to sleep more during the week, while you were at work, which was fine by me. On the weekends, you carried me around, either in your arms or in a backpack. This was an improvement to the bags I was zipped in countless times, going in and out of hotels at the horse shows.

One day, you found a lump. It was on my neck, not a little one, but a big one. It made my collar tight. The vet called it a “Mast Cell Tumor.” He said it wasn’t exactly cancer, but kind of. You went home, of course, and consulted Dr. Google. You learned Mast Cells are the Delta Force of Operation Cancer. These highly-skilled soldiers swarm their target, ruthless and undetected. No one knows they’re there, until they start shooting.

In two weeks, it went from bad to worse. Not only were The Mast Cells winning the battle, but they were winning the war too. You cried a lot those two weeks.

We ended up right where we began.

You lifted me carefully into your arms, only the tears streamed down your face this time, twisted in anguish.  You wailed. The pain sapped the marrow from deep inside your bones, washing over the blood in your veins. I was in pain, too, and you knew it.

I want you to know:

The heart sings this song of pain and suffering as a reminder.

It was real.

It happened.

You.

Me.

The path we walked. 

Ram Dass said, “We’re just walking each other home.”

He’s right.

We are.

Humans are complicated. They need many teachers along the way. This is why our lives are so short and yours are so long. We do our best, and then we must leave, making room.

You’ll have another dog, someday, when you’re ready. In fact, you’ll probably have a few at once, because let’s face it, I was like three dogs bundled together.

That’s going to be hard to replace.

I’m home now.

But I want you to know something else.

When I walked alongside you…

Home was wherever you were.

—Cracker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Lessons

I’ve started my first short story. As daunting as writing fiction is, I have already glimpsed a silver lining. I can take the experiences I’ve had and fold them into each other. I can extend them, shorten them, imagine them and demolish them, all to create a different narrative, or several.  I can create a story of what else could have happened, what might have happened, what didn’t happen, or what I wished had happened, to characters I’ve created through myself, others I’ve met, or haven’t yet.

It’s all available.

I had this thought and immediately felt empowered, all this newfound freedom at my fingertips.

The world is my canvas.

I just have to create it now.

Yes, I just have to create it now.

My euphoria quickly skidded into the brick wall of anxiety. My mind went blank. But I continue to write anyway, even if it resembles a cow pie in the middle of the page, loose word piled onto loose word. The writing is painful. It’s like  having to think about, and practice daily, putting your heels down after you’ve been riding for a few years already.

Don’t we ever get to move past that?

Worse, this feels like having ridden for a couple of decades, only to realize you’ve missed a very fundamental lesson along the way. Relearning the right way is much harder than learning it right from the beginning.

Training a young horse, a blank slate, comes with less challenges and frustrations than retraining one that comes with bad habits, skills, or experiences. There is a long period of undoing when faced with this. A trainer has to remove the tools from the toolbox, and put them back clean, in order, with new tools added, and old, useless ones removed. It’s a long process and not for the faint of heart. I’ve put what tools I have in my own toolbox, and it’s up to me to find order, and to fill it with what’s missing.

I decided triage was necessary  before I lost heart. I’ve started something that looks to be big in size, its completion a long way off. It doesn’t resemble a short story whatsoever, but more of a novella…or a novel perhaps.  This blog today is an  attempt at what Natalie Goldberg considers “the results of kindness.” She says [of writers], “We have to build slowly. This is kind consideration.”

I don’t think I’ve begun the Great American novel like she intimates of many budding, ambitious writers, but I’ve taken the leap from blogging to something that looks to be 50,000 words at completion. It feels like a wide chasm that I don’t fully comprehend yet, that which  I’ve crossed in the process. Playing through with smaller works of writing is kindness to myself.

More practice.

Heels down.

Rinse, repeat.

Natalie Goldberg recommended using “I remember” as a writing prompt to ignite short daily practices.

3.7.20

I remember….

The first and only time I rode a cutting horse as a kid. His name was Hank. He was a chestnut quarter horse stallion. I was scared of stallions. Weren’t they forever wild? Exempt from taming? Yet the adults were throwing me up, into the suede bucket of the saddle perched on Hank’s back. It was a lot of firsts for me that day. It was the first time I had ridden a stallion, the first time riding a cutting horse, and the first “real” western saddle I’d been in since riding a Shetland pony as a young kid, not knowing how to tighten the cinch properly, the saddle sliding off the second time, and last time, I used it.

Our neighbor took me to ride Hank. He belonged to her trainer, Vicky. They were both about the same age, approximately fourteen years or so older than me. That was twice my age, so in my mind, they were a whole lifetime older.

They put us, Hank and I, in the round pen, a dozen metal gates pinned together, at the end of the indoor arena. Hank was much bigger than the little Arab I rode at home. He was “Hank The Tank.” He jogged politely around the perimeter of the round pen like a pro, head down and round, not picking up the bit whatsoever. Hank was nothing if not polite. I just tried to stay quiet. Even in my ignorance, I knew Hank was much more educated than me. I tried to follow his lead.

Be polite.

We were jogging along when my toe got caught against the end of one of the gates. It pulled my foot back. I kicked Hank by accident. He bolted forward and I lost my balance, my torso falling back like a sail pushed hard by a gust of wind. Hank leapt forward, again and again, as I fell back, again and again, clutching the saddle every time. I pulled on the reins and Hank slammed to a stop, all four feet together. He was shaking in anticipation.

I was shaking because I was scared shitless.

The trainer opened the gate into the round pen, grabbing Hank by the rein. She tried to act cool, to not alarm the scared kid that was me. I jumped off. I was shaking with fear, but I was also weirdly exhilarated.  This, a new feeling, an exciting feeling, for a kid new to horses. I would find out much later exhilaration is the other side of the same coin as fear. This double-edged feeling would become a common occurrence in my time Eventing, and one I always cherished.

Riding Hank remains one of my favorite riding experiences of all time. As I think back, I remember some of the best teachers I had, before I knew horses were our teachers. Hank was one of them, even in that single ride. Also in Texas, there was Chunky, too. Chunky was a Shire cross who competed to the preliminary level before turning to straight dressage, up to Prix St. George. Chunky taught me a lot of things, the first being “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

The fat boy could dance.

Chunky then taught me what proper dressage felt like. He taught me what an authentic connection with the reins and the horse’s mouth was like, and what true balance and self-carriage felt like in an educated horse.

I spent a lot of time on Chunky, and regretfully when on my own, without a lot of breaks in our work, so desperate was I to find the hidden treasure of riding well,  to make my legs do what they were supposed to do, to implore my seat to operate independently, softly. It’s time in the tack to get there, and Chunky showed up every time. I was indebted to him when I broke through the other side of my limits, but I didn’t realize at the time, he paid the price every step of the way for my own knowledge and growth.

It wouldn’t have happened without him.

I can but hope I paid it forward to all of the others that passed through my doors since my time spent with Chunky, the ones who were misunderstood, broken-hearted, or confused. I hope the horses of the past see their contribution to the horses of the future, not for what they did just for me, but for all horsemen. They are our greatest teachers.

I remember them, and I salute them.

 

 

Going Rogue

I haven’t blogged all week for a couple of reasons, the biggest being I am working on my first short story.

This is a big leap for me.

I have a hard enough time scripting the tangible events happening in my own life, let alone creating new ones out of thin air.

I was always the kid who colored inside the lines. I’ve finally given myself permission to color outside the lines.

Permission to go rogue. 

I’ve had a couple clear ideas that have been forming for a while.

One is dystopian, the other is about a horse.

The horse won.

It’s about a horse.

Maybe I have a shred of hope still intact after all.

It’s over eight thousands words, in only four days.

.That’s a lot for me.

But right now it resembles nothing more than a gooey car wreck.

I look at the words and think, “Did I write that? That sounds terrible!”

It really does, too.

I’m not even making it up.

Reminder to see above: Not creative.

Well, 8,000 is a lot more than the one sentence I formed for my dystopian story.

“Life is about stringing together a bunch of coping mechanisms, hopefully ones that don’t kill you in the process.”

That is a story for another day.

Right now, it’s about a horse.

A certain horse, yes, but not the one everyone thinks it is.

That’s all I’m going to say about that.

I’m going rogue. 

 

 

Friendly Philly

I met friends in Philadelphia yesterday. We planned to visit the Franklin Institute and the Barnes Foundation. I rode the bus there. Round trip was $16. I was the first one in line to board Saturday morning.

The bus rolled in to the station two minutes before departure time. I watched the driver put it in park, stand up, and pull his black cap down over his ears. He wrapped a scarf tight around his neck. Opening the door and stepping down, we saw a small, pudgy man with dark eyes and olive skin.

Sweeping his arm out to the side in a grand gesture, he said, “Lay-dees…and gentleman! Plees! Thiss…away.”

There weren’t many of us and we boarded quickly. I’ve ridden the bus enough times now, I often wonder how these companies make enough money to stay afloat when attendance is so low.

We weren’t on the road long before the speakers crackled to life.

Lay-dees…and gentleman.  Plees. Plees. Lissen to mee. Plees. Dank you.”

The driver rolled through the information and rules of the bus. He was hard to understand, not so much because of his accent, but because he competed with the simultaneous crackling of the speakers. It made me wince in my seat. When he finished, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Phew.

He started all over again, this time in Spanish. It turned out the driver liked to talk on the crackling loud speaker…a lot. He seemed to love the sound of his own voice, dwelling on each word a little longer than necessary.

It dawned on me the driver shared a lot of similarities with Ramone in “The Proposal.” He looked like him, only in a driver’s uniform, sounded like him, and had matching affectations. It’s a lot to deduce about a person I met for only a moment, and who I didn’t see for the rest of the trip until we arrived. However, it was easy to picture him as a bus driver by day, and the local stripper for bachelorette parties by night. The similarities were glaring.

(I have a feeling he’d have been pleased to know someone thought this about him.)

Most of the bus drivers I’ve had have been quiet and more to themselves. There was Tiffany who didn’t say a word, but got us up to New York a half hour ahead of schedule. On the way home from Philly last night, the driver was also quiet and efficient, but used his horn a lot to keep other drivers in line.

(Pick a lane, People.)

Bus drivers are like yoga instructors. They are what lends the experience any flavor. The bus is to the driver what the studio is to the yogini.

A space is nothing more than a space until someone breathes life into it.

Ramone was definitely one for the books. I couldn’t help but smile at him when departing. He gave a slight bow, and we went our separate ways.

I found out the bus depot in Philly is located in China Town. Even better, I discovered The Reading Market right next door. It is a treasure trove of culinary delights. I told Russ when I got home, “It’s like Union Market, but on steroids!”

Both of us love DC’s Union Market. Reading Market is much bigger and offers even more goods. I stopped at one of the vendors, Iovine Brothers, and bought a container of their trail mix.

People can have Target, and Trader Joe’s, and whatever other brick and mortar they can’t live without, but give me a pop-up farmer’s market, or the “local” city market with so much great stuff knitted tightly together in one big space any day.

From there, it was a short walk to the Franklin Institute. I passed the beautiful City Hall and the Masonic Temple on my route. It was nice to see parts of Philadelphia I haven’t seen before.

When I arrived, I sat on the steps munching my trail mix waiting for my friends. It was chilly, but the sun warmed me up. I felt like the house cat who found the perfect spot, where the sun shines just on them.

Philly-cityhall
The Masonic Temple and City Hall
Philly-cityhalltop
City Hall from the 60th floor

We were only halfway through the Franklin Institute before we decided to grab pizza and beers. As we scouted our prospects across the small restaurant, a couple motioned to us to come sit down next to them at the community table. They scooted over, freeing up three seats together for us, the only available seats in the entire place.

How often does that happen without having to ask??

Thanking them profusely, I said, “This really is the city of brotherly love!”

Philly-XO
The City of Brotherly Love, found at the Four Seasons

We had a great conversation with our new neighbors, a couple doing the long distance relationship thing (as far as New Jersey is from Pennsylvania anyway). Halfway through our lunch, two new neighbors sat down on my other side. An older couple, they met in town to attend “One Day University.” I had never heard of it, but it sounded right up my alley. It’s an afternoon of lectures held by professionals in their field, whether they are professors, scientists, authors or otherwise. They occur in cities all over the country. We had a lively conversation and ended up sharing our dessert with them. A Nutella pizza…need I say more??

I love meeting awesome, new people.

After lunch we went back to the Franklin Institute, saving the Barnes Foundation for another day. I didn’t realize the Franklin Institute was geared mostly towards kids, but it didn’t matter. We had a blast going through all of the exhibits, testing our own knowledge, relearning all we’ve forgotten, and watching the kids learning, playing and having fun. I noticed a lot of retirees gave the demonstrations and answered questions. I loved seeing the kids connect with the seniors, and the seniors connect with the kids.

Philly-BenFPhilly-homonculusPhilly-quote

It’s a great museum, but the Franklin Institute is also a good reminder of how lucky we are in DC to have free admission at almost all of our museums. We are truly spoiled by what is available here in the nation’s capital. There is so much great information and education available to anyone who cares to make the effort.

I can’t wait to go back to Philly. I can’t wait to visit the Barnes Foundation, the Museum of Art, and to take Russ to the Reading Market!

So many great places in the world….and so little time….

Philly-city

 

Fly forward, O my heart, from the Foreland to

the Start–

We’re steaming all too slow,

And it’s twenty thousand mile to our little lazy

isle

Where the trumpet-orchids blow!

You have heard the call of the off-shore

 wind

And the voice of the deep-sea rain;

You have heard the song–how long?–how

long?

Pull out on the trail again!

The Lord knows what me may find, dear lass,

And The Deuce knows what we may do–

But we’re back once more on the old trail, our

own trail, the out trail,

We’re down, hull-down, on the Long Trail–

the trail that is always new!

Final two stanzas of “The Long Trail” by Rudyard Kipling

Where to next??