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Tag: ace does america

For love of food, or for love and food?

Ace remembers.

Ace remembers the park he used to play in, the places he liked to poop, the street he used to live on, the people who gave him treats. Ace remembers which rowhouse windows cats lived behind, which dogs once snapped at him, where his favorite bar is, who’s a friend, who’s a foe and, most of all, how to get a handout.

Ace remembers, maybe, even better than me.

Watching him back in the old neighborhood, after a three month absence, I was impressed with just how much he remembered — from the moment we returned to Riverside Park and he ran up to Stan, the biscuit man, recognizing him even though Stan was in a new motorized chair.

When he saw one morning, from across the street, his friend Lori in the park, walking her dogs Chi Chi, Lola and Vinnie Barbarino (a foster), he bolted. Of course, she, too, had been a frequent treat provider — so much so that Ace’s ears would always perk up when he heard Chi Chi barking in the distance.

Nearly all dogs remember where they’ve gotten handouts — that’s pretty much how dogs became dogs in the first place, scavenging the outskirts of villages as wolves, then befriending residents who would throw them some leftovers.

I don’t think a dog’s memory is entirely food-based, or even entirely scent-based. I think dogs tend to recognize a good, kind soul when they meet one, and that somehow they register that information in their memory banks. That said, I think that the largest part of it is food and scent-based, and is instinctual, which is maybe why they remember better than we do, or at least I do.

Pehaps if I ran into an old friend in the park, and was struggling to remember his or her name, I would be better able to do so if I knew a free dinner would be involved. When one’s survival depends on it, one is willing to put more energy into being sociable.

I know that has been the case with me, on this journey. One can’t be a guest in someone’s home and then keep to oneself. One can’t just eat and run. One can’t just sleep and blog. That just wouldn’t be right. As our travels continue later this week, and we start month four, on the road, on a shoestring, after our layover in Baltimore, I would be well-served to keep that in mind — to, once again, be a little more like Ace, who once wandered Baltimore’s streets as a stray.

It’s not feigning love to get a treat (or a meal, or a bed, or an RV); it’s not purely reward-based affection, it’s more a case of loving both the person and the treat. That’s how I like to see it: “I am so happy to see you again, and thrilled just to be petted by you, but if perchance you have a treat in your pocket, that’s good, too.”

Wolves could have gotten their leftovers and ran; instead, they ended up bonding with humans and becoming dogs — not purely because it would mean more treats, but because, I like to think, the two species saw something in each other.

Just as wolves would return to where they’d gotten handouts, Ace made his rounds last week in the old neighborhood. At the park, he’d run up to anyone who had ever given him a treat, poking his nose in their pocket or purse to remind them in case they’d forgotten. Ace paused for a longtime when we passed Bill’s Lighthouse, a restaurant near my former home where a man name Jack — once Ace poked  his head in the door and made his presence known — used to always come out and him bring a treat. Across the street, at Leon’s, Ace — as he only rarely does — went into overpower-the-master mode and dragged me inside.

He must have known that Donna, one of the bartenders, was there. Every day, before we left the neighborhood, she would see him coming, take a break and feed him a Slim Jim, unwrapping it, and breaking it into small pieces. I’m not saying eating Slim Jims improve memory, but they sure did in Ace’s case.

Another block down, on my old street, I let go of the leash and let Ace run up to the door of his old house. He stood there waiting to get in, and when that didn’t work he went and stood at the door of the neighbor’s — waiting, waiting and waiting.

He fully remembered which dogs in the park were his friends, and avoided the ones he had always avoided. He remember what games he played with whom — with Cooper, it was biting her back legs; with Darcy, it was biting her front paws and taking her entire head into his mouth.

Walking down the sidewalk, Ace remembered every rowhouse in whose front window he had ever seen a cat, and paused to look inside — again, not because he likes to eat cats, but because he loves them. He can stare at them for hours, he’ll play and cuddle with those who permit it, and just maybe, late at night, when nobody’s looking, he’ll go and eat their food.

We are scavengers at heart, my dog and me.

Dog-friendly? That’s the Point

Revisiting my old south Baltimore haunts while I’m briefly back in Baltimore, I made a point to stop by Miguel’s Cocina y Cantina — partly because it’s on my shortlist of dog-friendly local eateries, but mainly for the guacamole.

Between their ever-so-fresh guacamole, cold Mexican beers, dog-friendliness (in the outside dining area) and its proximity to Locust Point Dog Park, Miguel’s is hard to pass up, though difficult to find.

Miguel’s is located on the ground floor of Silo Point, a high-rise condominium in Locust Point. It has a fair harbor view, especially if you like big gray government vessels, and a spacious outdoor seating area.

Earlier this week, after a play date at the dog park — on a day too hot to play much — Ace and his friend Bimini (who you may remember from our pin-up photo session last year) — went on over to Miguel’s, where, being nearer the water, the breeze blows cooler.

We’d issue a cautionary note about feeding your dog guacamole — avocados aren’t good for them — but it’s probably unnecessary. You’ll want to keep it all for yourself.

(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)

Did absence make his heart grow fonder?

He didn’t bring her flowers, but when Ace met up again this week with his old friend Fanny, he did tolerate her — and to a far greater extent than ever before.

The behavior he once found so annoying that he would go upstairs to avoid her — where Fanny feared to tread — Ace seems to now find mostly endearing.

Fanny was a rescue dog, fostered by my ex-girlfriend, adopted by a family, then returned for being overly rambunctious, at which point the ex-girlfriend became her forever mom. If you ever want to pry them apart, I suggest dynamite and bulldozers, but I’m pretty sure not even that would work.

Highly spirited, we’ll call her — the dog, I mean —  and Ace, back then, would only put up with her in small doses. He’d be excited when she visited, and they’d romp for 15 minutes or so, at which point he would want a rest. Fanny is not familiar with that notion.

So she’d stay in his face, and follow him wherever he went, even into his crate, and bark at him when he wouldn’t play, and Ace would eventually head for the second floor.

This time around — the ex is putting me up for a few days in her sunflower surrounded home in Dundalk — he just keeps playing, and he has even added a bark to his repertoire, something he never did before. He’d make growly lion-like noises, but never would he bark.

Now he barks right back at her, sometimes instigates the play, and doesn’t seem to quickly tire of it — at least not yet. He hasn’t been seeking refuge on the second floor, but then again the second floor isn’t air conditioned.

I’m not sure if he’s just happy to see her again, or if he realizes he’s a house guest and therefore shouldn’t be selfish or surly. He is being both more playfully assertive and more tolerant, and I can only conclude that absence — as it visibly does with dogs, sometimes less visibly so with humans — did indeed make his heart grow fonder.

Funny thing, relationships.

In praise of the dogged American worker

Some of you might remember Darcy — the too cute to strangle Boston terrier for whom I’ve served as babysitter while her mom and dad were away.

Twice, I took Darcy into my home for multi-day stays, where she proceeded to test my patience half the time, and be adorable the other half.

That was back when I had a house. Now, upon my return to Baltimore — having given up my home for the purposes of our continuing road trip — the tables have turned, and Darcy and her humans have most graciously taken Ace and me into their’s.

Where, as you might guess,  I proceeded to test their patience half the time (going so far as to clog up their toilet yesterday morning … the house guest’s worst nightmare), and attempted to be adorable (once I had my coffee) the other half.

And all this just before the start of school, no less.

Here in the city of Baltimore, yesterday was the first day of school — so,  with both Darcy’s mom and dad being city schoolteachers, it’s all the more impressive that, with everything else that was on their minds and agendas, they agreed to house one road-weary man and his 130-pound dog over the weekend.

There, in addition to the hazards of using too much toilet paper, this is what I learned:

Teachers — or at least teachers like Dan and Marite — should be appreciated much more. I say this not because they gave us shelter, but because in the days I spent with them I’ve seen how much of themselves, their own time, their own money, their hearts and souls, they pour into what they do.

Yesterday, as Ace and I sat drinking coffee on their front stoop after they left, I watched as children headed down the sidewalk for the start of a new school year, many of them tightly holding the hands of their parents. And I thought how fortunate they were — even in a school system as troubled as Baltimore’s — to have teachers like Dan and Marite. And how much worse things would be if they didn’t.

Dan spent the bulk of the weekend on his computer, finalizing his lesson plans, sweating the details. Marite cooked up some do-it-yourself orange Play-doh out of flour, water and food coloring. When we walked with the dogs down to the shopping center for lunch, Dan and Marite hit the Goodwill store, and came out with a full bag of classroom supplies.

They spent most of the weekend copying, printing and working away on their laptops, sitting side by side and sharing the couch with Darcy and Ace, who generally makes for a pretty jam-packed couch.

But Dan and Marite take chaos in stride. They seem to have mastered patience, which I guess all teachers must. They are so easy going that she probably won’t mind that I — lacking the technical know-how — am writing her name without the accent thing over the “e”.

While their home has plenty of clutter — I would describe their decorating scheme as contemporary-tornado — Ace and I only added to it, what with our leashes and dog bowls and dog food and camera and laptop and dirty laundry. We just wedged ourselves and our stuff in, and felt right at home. (Virgo that I am, I will admit I feared putting anything on a counter for fear it would disappear immediately under a stack of paperwork, laptops and school supplies. By the way, have you seen my glasses?)

The clutter, though — I’d say it’s 85 percent school related — is just another sign of their commitment.

One of the things that has struck me in our travels across America — and maybe it’s because I don’t at the moment have a “real job” — is how commited American workers are.

Most people seem to truly cherish their work — though not always their jobs. And there’s a difference. One’s “work” is doing what they got into a career to do, whether it’s teaching kids, righting wrongs or driving trucks, whether it’s lawyering or newspapering. One’s “job” is what that work has evolved into — thanks to managers, supervisors, corporate chiefs and stockholders.

We the workers, in a way, are their Play-Doh, and they tend to mold, bend and stretch us, sometimes to the point of snapping.

They take your one job and squeeze two more jobs into it; then shovel layers of bureaucracy on top, burying you under piles of  seemingly meaningless paperwork, and doing away with anything that might serve as support. They tell us to do more with less, and, at times, seem to be doing everything in their power to prohibit us from doing our jobs right. Then they — those at the very top — reap the benefits of the more, while we scrape by on the less.

I don’t think that makes me a Communist, just a pissed off worker — or a pissed off former worker, to be precise. (I kind of like the boss I have now, who looks a lot like me.)

As a nation, we fail to show enough appreciation for those doing the heavy lifting. And yet the heavy lifters keep lifting — they, and teachers especially, manage to stay fired up about the work, if not the job, despite shrinking benefits, paltry salaries and all the forces that seem intent on extinguishing that fire.

So, a little early for Labor Day, I salute the American worker, who, like the American dog, keeps at it — leaping obstacles, heeding commands, summoning up energy even when exhausted, snapping at and shaking off all the annoying little bugs that come down from above, buzzing in our ears and getting on our backs.

(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)

Rolling back into Baltimore

Ten thousand miles and three months later, we’re right back where we started.

Ace and I rolled into Baltimore Friday, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

He sensed we were home about the time Raven’s stadium came into view. In the rearview mirror, I saw his head pop up. He sniffed the air, got up, stuck his head out the window and looked around. When we passed BARCS — Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter, where he once resided — his suspicions that we were home seemed confirmed.

By the time I pulled up to Riverside Park, his old stomping grounds, he was raring to go. He bounded out of the car as if he were ready for an extended gallop, then seemed to realize that, in his absence, there was much new to smell in the grass. For the next hour or so, that’s exactly what he did, sort of like a human with three months worth of newspapers to catch up on.

Then he saw his old friend Stan the biscuit man — recognizing him even though, while we were away, Stan had switched from walking to the park to riding in a motorized chair. Stan, as always, came through with treats, pulling a handful of biscuits from his large sack and tossing them to Ace and his own dog, Louie, who remains as enormously fat as ever.

After that, we kept running into more old friends at the park and, later, at Ace’s favorite bar, where we idled away the rest of the evening

Though we are back where we’re started, whether we’re “home” is another matter.

For one thing, we moved out of the house when we started this trip, seeking to live on the road for what we once paid in rent  (Two months, we came close; the third remains to be tallied, but I’m sure we went over budget). Finally getting home and not having a home is strange — a rather insecure feeling — but with offers from friends to stay awhile, we’ve yet to resort to camping in the park.

The urge to nest — to have my own place, with my own stuff, where I can flop my own self down on my own couch — has grown stronger; and, in all honesty, I think Ace would prefer a return to routine. But the road is still calling. It’s saying “three more months.” It’s saying “keep running free.”

My economic situation is disagreeing, saying “don’t do it!” Running free isn’t exactly free.

Of course, neither roads nor economic situations can verbalize — though both can still slam a point home wordlessly.

In the days ahead, we’ll be trying to figure our immediate future out — and probably sharing our thoughts on it all with you, for in putting it down in writing, choices often become clearer.

As of now, we’re leaning — well I’m leaning — to sticking with the original plan: a few weeks in Baltimore, a visit to Philadelphia, then going to Long Island and, starting the same day he did 50 years ago, following the northerly route west that John Steinbeck took with Charley.

Ace might disagree. He has loved reconnecting with old friends — dog and humans. He has loved revisiting the old haunts. Yesterday, standing outside his favorite coffee house, Ace watched as a familiar pickup truck pulled up and the driver passed him a soup bone.

“See,” he would say if he could talk. “Where else does that happen? I’m telling you, this is home.”

Of course, Ace can’t talk. Nevertheless, we’ll be having some long and wordless ones in the days ahead.

Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six (we’re pretty sure) months criss-crossing America. 

Old dogs and undying love

Puck’s family thinks their aging dog has lost most of his senses. He’s deaf. He’s blind in the one eye he has left. And if you put a treat on the ground in front of him, he can’t seem to hone in on it by sniffing. It’s more of a random search. He may or may not taste his watered down food.

But at least one sense remains — not one of the big five, but an important one all the same — his sense of dignity.

At 17, Puck doesn’t run anymore. In recent years, his three block walks shrunk to two block walks, then one block walks, then no block walks. He can’t do the stairs anymore. He has epilepsy, an enlarged heart, a hacking cough. He goes through long periods where he seems to zone out – standing motionlessly like a mini-cow in pasture — possibly the result of mini-strokes. He wears a diaper around the clock.

These days, Puck doesn’t jump, doesn’t play – instead he spends his days asleep or in quiet reflection.

And that’s just fine with George Fish and Kathleen Sullivan.

Puck can cuddle as well as he ever did; relishes a scratch behind the ears as much as he ever did – maybe even more.

George was once my college roommate; and my overnight visit with them last week at their home in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was the third time I’d seen Puck – the first being when he was a youngster, the second about two years ago. When I reconnect with George on the phone, I’m usually afraid to ask about Puck, fearing the worst. But George generally volunteers the information: “Puck’s still alive.” Or “Puck’s still around.”

George and Kathleen’s daughter, Elizabeth, was 7 when they got Puck, and she came up with the name — as in pucker up — based on how much he liked to kiss. She’s 24 now and living in California.

A neighbor across the street called one night 17 years ago and asked if they wanted a puppy – as he described it, a poodle.

The dog – part of a litter that resulted from an unauthorized get-together between a poodle and a terrier — didn’t look anything like a poodle, Kathleen notes. “But it was cute.”

She called her husband to let him know: “We sort of have a dog now.”

“George came home and I think in three seconds he was in love,” she said.

Nearly a generation later, Puck remains – less lively, less mobile and diaper clad. It attaches with Velcro and holds a sanitary napkin, a regular one during the day, a maxi pad at night. It’s removed for his trips outside, where he mostly stands motionlessly, his tail periodically going into bouts of wagging.

Every night, they tote him to his upstairs bed. Every morning, they carry him to his downstairs bed, which they call his “office.” Next to it is a family portrait, a toy fax machine,a stapler and a collection of Puck’s other favorite things.

George says he has learned a lot from Puck – both about patience and grace.

“Puck never complains; it makes me hope I can be that way when I’m old and decrepit,” he said.

Puck has had to put up with eye ulcers, which led to the removal of one of his eyes a year ago, and after that he lost sight in the remaining one. Vet bills amounted to about $4,000 for the eye problems alone. He also has been on medication for epileptic seizures since he was a pup. He’s probably had some small strokes, and his cough has led to more vet bills and interrupted sleep.

How much does all that matter in the big scheme of dog-family love? Not a bit.

Some friends tell George it’s time to put Puck down, but George can’t see doing that – “not as long as his tail keeps wagging.”

Nacho Mama’s, but very dog friendly

Heading north from Richmond, and doing our best to stay off I-95 (sorry, NPR), we stopped a Mexican restaurant called Nacho Mama’s — not be be confused with Baltimore’s — where Ace was brought the biggest bucket of water we’ve ever been served.

He was far more interested in the tortilla chips, though — at least until my pork enchiladas came. That’s when the serious salivation began.

Ace drooled some, too.

This is nacho Baltimore Nacho Mama’s, but, with two locations in the Richmond area, it’s serving up some pretty fine food, and both welcome dogs to their outdoor areas.

As soon as we sat down, my waiter, who has three pit bulls, brought out a big black bucket, halfway filled with water. My portion of food was equally generous, leaving me, once I polished it off,  wanting a nice nap.

But instead we followed U.S. 301 up to Bowling Green, and state highway 2 into Fredericksburg, where we’d been offered overnight accommodations by an old college roomate with an even older dog. (You’ll meet Puck tomorrow.)

From there we kept to the backroads, stopping for the night in Waldorf, before reaching Baltimore Friday. Our first stop was Ace’s old stomping ground — Riverside Park — where Ace reunited with some old friends.

It was a little strange coming home to a place we no longer have a home.

But we’ll talk more about that Monday.

(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)