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Leroybookfrontcover

Here’s part of how I said “good bye” to Leroy.

When The Boy and I first moved to Milton Freewater we came under duress; our home in Portland had flooded and the landlord chose to do nothing–for a month. We lost everything, including our health. We came here because houses were cheap and the weather was dry. We came to start again.

But a funny thing happened. We acquired our House Leroy. It turned out that he, like me, had roots in the Valley. It turned out that we had complementary skills. It turned out that, against all odds, we became a family, in a town made for families. Those first summers The Boy had a whole neighborhood of kids to play with. Our little old house rang with shouts, laughter, and occasionally tears.

We had come to Milton Freewater to start over. What we discovered was that those old roots we had still had a little life in them. We took evening drives through pale evenings, past peach, pear, and apple orchards. I started doing a project for the local historical society. Those evening drives took on a timeless quality. Some evenings it almost felt like the road had carried us back to when we first drove it, back in the sixties, when summers were hot, corn came in the husks and often included ugly little worms, tomato fields and yes, strawberry fields, stretched forever.

VBcemetery

It was, for those few years, a life out of time. The Boy progressed through the school system. He competed in track. He played football. He played the tuba. Life wasn’t always easy–2008 happened, and 2009, and there were signs that the world was changing, but it was out there, beyond the borders of our town, and our lives. In our world, we went to football games and track meets and solo festivals and jazz festivals, and we drove through quiet evenings, and then we sat on the porch in the golden light, and talked, or listened, or just felt the breeze on our faces.

And then we lost the House Leroy, and it was just The Boy and me, and we tried, but we both knew that losing Leroy was a grievous wound. The timeless world in which we had lived had shattered beyond repair. Driving the old roads became too painful because the history that we had built, that connection to the past that had shielded us like a golden bubble, had shattered beyond repair.

frogs3smallThere were some bad days, months, years. We struggled. We developed coping mechanisms. I developed diabetes, sleep apnea, cancer. The Boy developed depression, anxiety, and cholinergic urticaria. But still, we coped. We still fought for every bit of joy we could find. But for me, there was the sense that we were on borrowed time.

And then came last December. The university where I teach, and where The Boy was finishing up his first degree, got hit with a cyberattack, just before finals week. And we coped. All of us on campus. Finals were re-vamped or canceled. Papers came in as hard copy, rather than uploads. Grades had to be entered when that part of the system was liberated. When winter term started we were still coping. And then halfway through the term, we had snow. Then we had a warm stretch, and all of the snow accumulated in the mountains came rushing down into the valley. Water was everywhere. The Boy, the cats, and I had to evacuate to a Travelodge. We took litter boxes, three changes of clothes for each of us, the gaming systems, the computers, our cell phones, and The Boy’s tux and tuba; he had a concert that weekend.

The Valley rallied. Schools shut down and high schoolers filled sandbags for frantic homeowners. People with big rigs helped people without. Local construction companies carried gravel to washed-out roads. We managed. When the cats, The Boy and I returned home it was to find that though homes at the bridge end of our street had had to be sandbagged, our little old house sat high and dry on its little hill. We breathed a sigh of relief and settled back into our home.

And then, just a few weeks after the flood, the Corona Virus reached Washington, and then Weston, a little town about fifteen miles away. The uncertainty has been hard. What’s happening? Will there be a vaccine or not? If we get sick, what do we do? Where do we go? How do we pay the mortgage? I work in the “gig” economy; I don’t have the luxury of sick leave or unemployment insurance. I have only what I earn.

Advice started. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Closures started. Schools and businesses in California and Seattle. And then word came that our university was closing early. All finals would be administered online. Next term will start not on a busy, lively campus, but in silent rooms where teachers will speak to screens.

The Boy had his last concert–it was the swing band, and he had a solo and rocked it. He had his last presentation and rocked that, too. He’s graduating this term, but there will be no ceremony–just a quiet acknowledgment, and a quiet party at home.

When we came to Milton we slipped back in time for a few years. We lived in a beautiful, twilight eternity. And then the bubble cracked. We lost Leroy. The Boy and I got sick. The world around us got sick. Politics, which for a while allowed us Hope smacked it right out of us. It became a foul, cynical, vicious thing, a cruel joke, and endlessly, openly, corrupt.

Even for people like us, in quiet backwaters, the stench of our dead and rotting system has become unbearable. The cyberattack, the flood, and now the Corona Virus pandemic are all symptoms of a world breaking down around us. We have always had crises, but in the past we took pride in stepping up and meeting the challenge, not just endlessly spinning, spinning, spinning. We have reached the point where the center no longer holds, and where even our quiet lives have become unrecognizable.

We have a president who, rather than enabling our own world-class scientists and systems to work effectively in combatting the virus, tries to make it into a money-making opportunity. Though overwhelming numbers of us support Medicare for All–something the virus has shown is in all of our best interests–we are saddled with a Congress refusing to act on our wishes and in our best interests.

The only solution on offer is to wash your hands and hide in your house. The thing that should make all of us stronger–our national self, our friends, neighbors, towns–is the thing that might well sicken or kill many of us. I am washing my hands. I am hiding in my house. I’ve worked from home for decades, so I know the moves. But contracts are being canceled as events are canceled or postponed. If I lose too many more I’ll be in serious trouble.

So what’s the point of all this? No matter how this comes out, I think we have reached a watershed. Colleges and universities will go back in session. The companies that survive the closures will re-open their doors. Children will go back to school. But I think something has irrevocably changed.

That beautiful golden bubble? The bubble in which for a while we lived out of time? That’s gone. It’s not even shards on the floor. The pace and magnitude of crises are accelerating, spinning us ever onward to that moment of freefall. The past wasn’t perfect. But there were certain things upon which we felt we could rely. Those things are gone. The center has not held. Yeats may have been writing about events he was around him; he might have been writing about our times as well. If the beast has not yet reached Bethlem, he has certainly programmed it into his GPS, and is no longer slouching, but speeding through the night.

The Second Coming
By William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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This is a headline that raises more questions than it answers.  The implication, of course, is that Mr. Lin has–or had–the sort of a penis that could be stolen–perhaps a new and improved detachable penis, possibly one that he stores in a small case when he’s not using it. I can just imagine it. Last night when he went to bed he removed his penis and glasses, blew on them, polished them with his handkerchief, put  them in their cases, and set them on his nightstand where he could find them easily.

And this morning, when he arose, the glasses were there, but the penis was missing. He called the cops. “My penis has been stolen,” he said.

“How long has it been gone?” the cops asked.

“It was here when I went to bed last night, but now it’s gone,” says Mr. Fei.

“Have you checked with its friends?” asked the cops. “Maybe it hasn’t been stolen. Maybe it’s just wandered away.”

“It wouldn’t go off on its own,” said Mr. Fei angrily. “It was right here last night. And now it’s gone.”

“How about the pound? Did you check the pound? How about the local hospitals? You might call around a little.”

“It’s been stolen, I tell you,” says Mr. Fei angrily. “It wouldn’t have just wandered away.”

“Has there been trouble at home? Did the two of you perhaps have a disagreement? Have it seemed happy lately? Boxers or briefs?”

“Dammit, I want some action!” shouts Mr. Fei.

“Don’t we all?” asks the cop.

“I want to file a report.”

“Sorry, sir, we can’t do that until your penis has been missing for 48 hours. Maybe you could put up some posters around the neighborhood. Do you have a good, clear, recent picture? Maybe one of your neighbors has seen it.”

And from there, of course, I was as lost as the unfortunate Mr. Fei’s penis. I could just see it–posters, pictures on milk cartons, and, in the unlikely event the penis returned home, the counseling sessions necessary before Mr. Fei and his penis could reunite.

My first novel, Redeeming Stanley, (which can be had for a pittance here) features a penis (the Independent Entity) as a character, but this story about Mr. Fei and his penis carried the concept a giant step farther.

Maybe the penis really was stolen–or abducted, depending on how far you go with the whole personalizing penises thing. Maybe a gang of Penis Thieves really did break into Mr. Fei’s house and steal his penis. But why? Unless they  also stole a bicycle pump, or eleven secret herbs and spices, I just can’t see the reason for a theft like that, and Mr. Fei made no mention of a missing bicycle pump or spices.

Which leaves us right back where we started. Either Mr. Fei misplaced his penis, or it wandered away on its own, in which case flyers on trees and telephone poles and pictures on milk cartons would be his best bet.

A bit unnerving for the rest of us to see that on the breakfast table, admittedly, but be honest. If your penis was missing, wouldn’t you want it found and returned to you?

Note: The House Leroy and The Boy found this headline both less gripping and less hilarious than I did. And indeed, the actually news story (which I read once I got done cackling and speculating how the whereabouts of Mr. Fei’s penis) is much less amusing, since the penis seems to have been removed by fellow townsmen who felt it had been getting out and about more than it should have been. The penis seems to be gone for good. Here at the Magic Doghouse we are sensitive to having Manly Parts lopped off (particularly the males among us), so we wish Mr. Fei all the best as he adjusts to the loss of his penis.

Note 2: I know, I know, I should be ashamed, making fun of someone else’s pain. But it was that danged headline. I just couldn’t help myself. And at least I didn’t make up a poster for Mr. Fei, even though I’ve practically had to strap my hands down to avoid doing it.

 

 

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It’s funny how quickly one’s heart can be given away. Maggie has stolen mine. Those of you who follow Pat Bean’s wonderful travel blog already know all about her, but for those of you who don’t, Maggie is a small black Cocker Spaniel, and she’s been visiting me this week along with her pet, Pat Bean (why yes, I DID read 101 Dalmations). Unlike many Cockers, Maggie’s got Dignity. She’s the most self-possessed dog I know. While she likes to have her ears rubbed, she’s not a fanatic on the subject. She’s a grand old lady who knows what she wants, and who she is. She’s not a dog to fawn. When Pat and Maggie first arrived Pat assured me that Maggie was happiest napping in the motor home.

Maybe she would have been, but The Boy and I wooed her with cheeseburgers, and she did us the very great favor of accompanying us to the house and napping on a quilt in the kitchen while Pat and I worked on transforming one of her travel blogs into a book. From time to time Maggie got up and went and checked on the House Leroy, the cats, and The Boy (she liked The Boy best), checked my hand for a possible overlooked cheeseburger, then curled up on her quilt again.

There’s something about a dog sleeping on the kitchen floor. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until Maggie made the spot right in front of the kitchen sink her own. The Magic Dog is great, but he lives only in my memory. Maggie was warm, and wiggly, and amply moustaschioed. She was here. This morning Pat and Maggie hit the road again, off on a journey that has lasted the best part of a decade now. I bought Pat an omelette for breakfast, and  a couple sausage McMuffins (with egg and cheese) for Maggie. And then they drove away.

All day, it’s been very quiet around here. Maggie’s quilt lies forlorn and empty in front of the sink. Her water bowl sits in the corner. I know if I were a better housekeeper I’d have already tidied away these small reminders, but there it is. I’m not a better housekeeper. When my nephews were toddlers they left our town and moved to California with their parents. The day they left we celebrated my nephew Aaron’s second birthday. After my sister drove away in the U-Haul my brother and I cleaned the apartment, locked the door for the last time, and took the remnants of the cake back to our apartment.

The apartment felt empty, and too quiet, like my house does now. Small handprints smeared the television screen, and the cake sat on the cupboard until it petrified. Looking at it hurt, but looking at the empty place where it had been after my brother did what I should have done and threw it away hurt even more.

I’ll wash the blanket and Maggie’s water bowl soon, just like I eventually removed the He-Man action figures and small Spider Man boys’ underwear from my purse after the boys left. But not quite yet. Good-bye, Maggie. Good-bye, Pat. May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. May your tires never blow out. May you never get stuck behind an eighteen-wheeler with faulty mudflaps when it’s raining. May your radiator never boil over. May all your Park Rangers be young, wealthy, handsome and friendly. May the Les Schwab men run fast when you pull in, and may a McDonalds appear on the roadside every time you are hungry (that’s for you, Maggie). And until we meet again, may the Deity of your choice hold you in the palm of his, her, or its hand. If he, she, or it has hands. Take care, you two.

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Big news here, folks. We’re considering adopting a dog. His name is … wait for it … Rudy! Yes! I bet you would never have guessed. Rudy isn’t a designer dog, unless the designer was Lego, and several sets were involved. That’s his picture, up at the top of this blog. His foster mom says she thinks a Rottweiler and a hound of some sort involved. She also says that Rudy has quite the schnoz on him–he spends his walks sniffing things. This should work out nicely in our yard, because I designed it to be a treat for the nose as well as the eyes–we have creeping thyme, basil, mint, lemon balm, cumin, chives, and don’t even get me started on the flowers.

Rudy’s coming for a sleepover this weekend. We have to see how he gets along with the girls, and how the girls get along with him. It’s an experiment. I hope it goes well. And, as is my custom, I’m already thinking of ways to put Rudy’s magnificent nose and brain to work–I’m thinking a dog with a sniffer like that needs to be doing search and rescue work. We’ll see. First we have to see how he copes with cats. Oh, and about that brain: Rudy was being trained to be an animal companion in prison, and he knows how to play fetch, and the commands sit, stay, shake right, shake left, come, down, let’s go, leave it, heel, drop it, wait, bang (plays dead) and alive. Rudy just may be smarter than I am.

Wish us all luck. If you have time, try sending him psychic messages: … cats good … litterboxes bad … poop OFF the grass … cats good … cats good … If this works out, Rudy will be coming to the office regularly.

As I’m sure you can imagine, all of this has sparked a certain amount of anxiety for me. Adopting a pet isn’t as simple as just deciding to do it and then going to the pound and taking home the one that licks your face. In theory, I’d love to help Rudy. But the reality is that I simply don’t know if our family is the right family for him. He’s a fairly young dog, and mellow I’m told, though he likes to play. That’s fine, because I have a teenage son who can give him a lot of yard time.

Another issue is size. From the picture, it looks like Rudy is a medium-sized dog, which is all we can manage in our small house. His purported parentage gives me pause (or should I say “paws”?). Rottweilers and hounds are big dogs. If Rudy’s too big trying to shoehorn him into our small house just isn’t going to work.

And then there’s the question of Rudy’s past. He’s a rescue dog, which means that he’s already probably faced some tough times. How have those shaped him? Has he learned to bite in addition to all of his cute tricks? Was he neutered early enough in life so any lingering affection for shins and chair legs has died? Has he learned to chase and kill smaller animals (read “cats”)? We just don’t know. And we won’t, until we have a chance to meet him.

But the one thing about which I am crystal clear is that if there’s any question, any question at all, I need to be honest. Rudy deserves to be loved. He deserves not just any home, but the right home. If we can be that, great. If not, maybe I can help him find that perfect home.

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