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Tag: dogscountry

Almost home: You won’t see this on HGTV

Before I show you my new place – that’s next week, when I’m done decorating — I thought I’d show you somebody else’s.

We came upon it last week, on the trip to move my furniture down south.

There’s an exit on I-95 in Virginia that Ace and I always stop at — one where I can get low-price, by Maryland standards, cigarettes; fill my gas tank; and grab a bite at the Burger King, whose guide to which sodas go best with which entrees always makes by beverage decision easier.

Then we drive a few hundred feet to the end of a big parking lot, where there’s a large grassy area, next to a copse of trees. I park at the edge of the grass, open the back of the Jeep and sit there to enjoy my picnic lunch while Ace sniffs around the empty patch of grass, takes care of business, then sits and waits for french fries to be flung his way. Or better yet, in his view, a hunk of burger, whose variations at Burger King include a Triple Whopper, and Quad Stacker. As you know, you can “Have it your way.”

The exit — Willis Road, I think it’s called, on the southern edge of Richmond – has become a tradition for us. Ace likes traditions, especially those involving meat.

Last week, with Ace in the back of the Jeep, and my friend Will following me in the rented moving truck, I had tired of music and decided to find a talker on the radio, either flaming liberal or die-hard conservative — for those are the only options — it didn’t matter.

I can’t remember his name, but I ended up with the die-hard conservative — a Rush Limbaugh wannabe, only angrier, who was jumping all over President Obama’s recent remarks about increasing taxes on the richest to assist the poorest.

Obama, it seemed, wanted to help the “less fortunate,” and you would have guessed, from the way the talk show host was saying “less fortunate” that he was smirking and putting finger quotes around it — as if he thought there was no such thing, or, if there were, that they were all sissies.

Though I had spent nearly a year without my material possessions as Ace and I traveled across America on a shoestring; though I’m not employed by anyone other than myself, though I have neither health insurance nor nest egg, I’ve never considered myself among the less fortunate (which I say without finger quotes, because only sissies make finger quotes).

Similarly, I’ve never considered myself too far removed from that group. One overnight hospital visit would probably put me in their ranks.

In our time on the road, Ace and I were homeless by choice, but frugal out of necessity, which explains why we ran into plenty of down on their luck souls – some of whom had made bad decisions, more of whom were victims of matters beyond their control, like layoffs, or foreclosures, or crime, or natural disasters, or unnatural disasters, or health issues or disabilities.

In the America of 2011, with the gap between the rich and the poor having become as extreme as our talk show hosts, I’m thankful to be in the middle, even the lower section of the middle. I plan to try and stay there until the middle disappears. Having reunited with my possessions, called in my pension (it actually came when I called) and begun setting up a new home — albeit without stainless steel appliances – I’m feeling more secure. But I’m aware of how tenuous that can be.

After stopping at our traditional Virginia picnic spot last week, I finished off my fish sandwich, accompanied by a Diet Coke – though maybe Sprite would have been a better choice — and Ace I walked around the corner, where there was a wooden fence with a small opening in it. We stepped through.

That’s where we saw this homeless encampment.

 

I’m not sure if it served as home for multiple people, or just one, but nobody was at the camp amid the trees, just off I-95, where a half dozen mattresses and tarps were scattered, clothes hung on tree limbs and — speaking of accessories that pop — empty sardine cans, their tops peeled back, served as ash trays.

I was wandering around taking pictures, when a medium-sized, copper-colored dog came running out from behind a mattress that was leaning against the fence. Barking furiously, he headed straight at me, then stopped and stared, as if daring me to take another step in his direction.

I tried to fling him some french fries, but every time I threw one, he retreated — only slightly though, never leaving his position amid the modest little camp. That seemed to be his mission — to protect the few meager belongings that were there, to guard over them until his human came back from collecting aluminum cans, or panhandling at the exit ramp, or maybe even working a real job.

The dog acted like it was Fort Knox, and he was a German shepherd.

That’s got to be in the top hundred of the million great things about dogs — they don’t care how much stuff you have.

They are able to show respect, loyalty and compassion to the poorest of souls — in a way Republicans, at least the loudest ones, are rarely able to master. Some Democrats aren’t that great at it, either. I’m not always too good at it myself. How much have I contributed to Japanese tsunami victims? Zero. I need to save up and buy a clothes dryer.

We humans are far more selfish than dogs. Then again dogs aren’t raised on TV ads and shiny magazines that bombard them with images of things that manipulative marketing types persuade them they must have.

I thought about calling the conservative radio talk show host, even though he sounded like a very nasty fellow who would interrupt me. ”Why is it we make a greater investment in accumulating stuff than in our fellow humans?” I wanted to ask. “When did war become patriotic and helping people become unpatriotic?”

And which soda really does pair best with the fish sandwich?

Dozens of cousins, and several hams

This segment of Travels With Ace contains no Ace. For this jaunt, to Asheboro, N.C., for a family reunion, mom — not dog — was my co-pilot.

It was one of those rare times I made the call to leave Ace at home, for several reasons: We, temporarily, have one — a home, that is. He’s continuing to recuperate from a herniated disc. The reunion was being held inside a church that — while it’s one of those all-are-welcome Quaker ones — I didn’t want to surprise with an uninvited canine. (He’d have assaulted the buffet table, anyway.) On top of that, the back of my Jeep was fairly full, with a wheelchair my mother didn’t need, her walker, Ace’s new ramp, two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts (our donation to the lunch buffet) and a box of my books left over from an appearance last week.

Then too, I was picking up a microwave oven — a really big one — that cousin Laura from Charlotte was loaning me for use during my stay in the basement mansion.

All in all, the outing — and my mother’s outings have grown more rare of late – went quite smoothly. She didn’t offer a single commentary on my wardrobe choices, or my driving. And only a few times, such as when we were passing trucks, did she grab the door handle that way she does. At her insistence, we alloted two hours to make the one-hour trip, thus getting to town, as basic math would suggest, an hour early.

So we stopped by the family business — a funeral home now run by her brother’s sons. As my mother explains it, her father worked for his father-in-law, who owned a furniture business that started selling caskets, seeing them as a more Depression-proof product line. When my mother’s father inherited the business, he opened the first of what’s now several Pugh Funeral Homes.

From there, we drove by her old family home, then headed to the Bethel Friends Meeting, just outside of the town limits, which, on this particular Sunday had more Pughs than pews.

About 80 people were there — all descendants of Doe (short for Theodore) and Mary Pugh. For the first hour, people greeted each other and positioned food they had brought on the tables. For the second hour, we ate it.

My mother only got mad at me once, and it wasn’t my fault. Cousin Tommy Pugh, hearing I was going to be there, brought along his copy of my new book, “Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” for me to sign. As I was doing so, he and some other cousins said I should set up a little table — one not taken up by food — to sell and sign books.

I’d already pondered and ruled out that possibility, which struck me as a little too self-promotional and tasteless — hammy, you might say — especially considering this was my first time attending the reunion. I knew my mother would feel the same way, only more strongly.

Once I signed his book, Tommy set it in the upright position on table, so it could be better seen. When my mother saw it she objected to it being so blatantly displayed, and sent Lori, the wife of cousin Glenn, over to remove it and bring it to her. She placed it face down on the table.

Tommy continued quietly promoting it though, persuading John Pugh, a second cousin who’d traveled from Indiana for the reunion, that he should buy a copy.

After discussing the transaction in hushed tones, we snuck out to my car. Feeling a bit guilty that I’m not in a financial position to give all cousins free copies, and feeling a bit like a purveyor of street drugs, I quietly sealed the deal. I signed the book and gave him the second cousin discount, which, of course, is less than the first cousin discount.

There was one opportunity during the reunion to tout my book — when they asked anyone in the crowd to talk about anything new — but I was outside when that happened, spending some time with this dog who had wandered over from a nearby home.

He said hello, consented to an ear scratch, then wandered through a small playground, zig-zagged his way, at an adjoining cemetery, through the graves of Pughs past, then went back home.

(Should you be a Pugh family member, or if you want to peruse some Pughs, my photos of the reunion are in an album on my Facebook page.)

Despite any irreverence you might be sensing — (it’s hereditary) — I had an excellent time, even without my dog. It was great to meet relatives previously unknown to me, to reconnect with most of my cousins and to revisit the history of my mother’s side of the family, as we did earlier in New York with my dad’s.

After a few hours, with my loaned microwave and my mom back in car, we made the hour drive back to Winston-Salem. Before dropping her off, I asked her to show me the apartment she and my father lived in when I was born.

Her directions were perfect, and as I slowed down in front of a line of modest, look-alike one-story apartment units, in a little neighborhood known as College Village, she called out the address. It was the one with the “for rent” sign in the window.

Hmmmmm.

How circular would that be — to end up after what will soon be a year on the road, and after 57 years on life’s crazy slide — back in the place I was, presumably, conceived and first lived?

When dogs descend on Mayberry

Ace’s herniated disc — steadily improving, it seems — has slowed our wandering ways, leading us to limit out travels for at least another week. So far, during our stay in North Carolina, we’ve mostly stuck around the mansion grounds, taking it easy.

But that doesn’t mean we still can’t go to Mayberry, one way or another.

There are those who will tell you there is no real Mayberry in North Carolina. They’re the same ones who will tell you there is no Santa. In truth, in North Carolina, Mayberry is never more than 30 minutes away from wherever you are. You just head down that country road, away from the city, past the suburbs, and stop in the first town big enough to have gas pumps and a barber shop. If you’re greeted with a smile, and it appears genuine, you’re in Mayberry.

Of all the smallish towns in North Carolina, Mount Airy is the one that makes the most of its link to Mayberry, and — it being just up the road — we’ll be going there once Ace is up for it.

For now though, we get there via the couch, with a remote control as our steering wheel. Usually, if you keep flipping, you can find it and, for 30 minutes, go back to a time and place where gigabytes didn’t exist, the pace was slow, things were black and white, and life had just the right amount of complications — enough to keep it interesting, but not so many as to overwhelm your hard drive.

That’s what I liked about Mayberry: Every problem could, in less than 30 minutes, be resolved with some calm and unrushed reasoning — even what to do with a pesky pack of stray dogs.

PART ONE: In which Otis gets his breakfast and Opie finds a dog …

PART TWO: In which Barney takes the dogs — 11 of them now — to a happy place …

PART THREE: In which the strays save the day …

Now you see him; now you don’t

The mansion whose basement I’m living in has a big back yard, and in that big back yard is a big swimming pool, covered with a big black plastic tarp.

Ace likes to venture deep into the ivy behind the pool to do his business, and he’s always careful to avoid the pool on his way back.

Yesterday — and I blame the Valium — he didn’t.

As I watched — I’m monitoring him closely because he has been diagnosed with a herniated disc – he finished up and started walking straight for the pool. As I yelled “NOOOOOO!,” or words to that effect, he stepped right onto the black plastic tarp, which, unable to hold his 127 pounds, split, causing him to fall into the pool with a huge splash and disappear.

As far as scary moments in our continuing travels, it was right up there, second only to when, while I was holding his leash, he jumped over the railing at Niagara Falls, landing on a patch of grass that led to a sheer unprotected drop off into misty oblivion.

Fortunately, he jumped right back over then. And fortunately yesterday, his head almost immediately popped back up through the same hole he went through, and it was close enough to the side that he could drape his front paws over the edge of the pool and cling to it with a look of panic in his eyes.

On doggie swim days at Riverside Park back in Baltimore, Ace only went into the big boy pool once, preferring to wade in the baby one. When he did try the big one he was unable to get out. It took me and two friends to hoist him up and over the pool’s edge.

Yesterday, thanks either to adrenalin or the harness he’s been wearing instead of a collar since his diagnosis, I was able to pull him up enough for him to be able to get his back paws on the edge of the pool. I pulled, he pushed, and within a few seconds, he was out.

At that point, either invigorated by the cold and slightly green water, or just happy to be alive, he took off, darting around the yard for five minutes over my protestations. He’s supposed to be limiting his physical activity.

Once he calmed down, I noticed how bad he smelled and, with a public appearance scheduled for tonight, a bath was in order. In the middle of that, fully soaped up, he took off again, running in circles around the yard.

His herniated disc seemed far from his mind. I feared the incident would lead to a relapse, but all day, as in the past two days, it appeared to be bothering him less and less, and the yelps have ceased.

Between the tranquilizers and the the NSAIDs — and despite an unplanned morning swim in a yet to be opened pool — I think he’s making progress.

I haven’t yet told the lady of the manor about the damage he did. Earlier, she offered me the job of pool boy, if I end up staying into the summer, which would certainly look good — unlike the actual pasty and balding, pot-bellied, 57-year-old pool boy would himself — on the resume.

Now I may have no choice, needing to work off my debt for the torn tarp. How’s this for a deal? If you pay me extra, I’ll keep my shirt on.

Serenity? I second that emotion

Ace’s Valium is really working for me.

No, not in the manner you might assume. I am refraining from sharing his stash. Nevertheless, I have calmed down – because he has calmed down.

When I get on the floor next to him, or even glance at him there, it’s as if the drug is somehow passing into me. Seeing him more comfortable makes me more comfortable, just as hearing his yelps put me on edge.

By way of background, I took Ace, 6,  to the vet last week after, a few days earlier, he began yelping every time he made a sudden motion. A herniated disc was the diagnosis, and the course of action recommended by the vet was NSAIDs to relieve the inflammation and doggie valium — Diazepam to be precise — to keep him unnaturally calm during the two weeks of bed rest prescribed.

I’ve heard of some negative side effects associated with NSAIDs and dogs, and I’ve never been big on pharmaceuticals that mask symptoms and alter moods, but the conservative – and least expensive – approach struck me as worth trying first.

The effect was almost immediate. Ace had been restless, pacing slowly and holding his head carefully, as if anticipating another burst of pain. His tensing up made me tense up, which made him tense up more, which made me tense up more.

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed before – how our emotions and moods tend to play off each other and snowball.

Say a big scary bug comes in the house. I, upon seeing it, will jump up and reach for a magazine, shoe, or other instrument of death. Even before I jump up, though, Ace, even if he hasn’t seen the bug, mirrors my startled (assuming the bug is scary enough) reaction, almost as if he can sense, like a pending earthquake, my heart rate increasing from the other side of the room.

There’s a kind of emotional synchronization that occurs between dog and owner – and maybe it’s true of any two beings that co-reside, even spouses.

In our duality, we find a oneness, to the point we think we can read each other’s minds – and often we react based on that.

When Ace is happy, which is usually, it makes me happy, which makes him even happier, which makes me even happier. One of the things at the root of our love for dogs, I think, is that spiraling contentment and joy. Of course, the same is true, at least with Ace and me, when dog or human are unhappy.

Our dogs are a reflection of us, and we are a reflection of our dogs.

This reflection stuff gets reflected on a lot in my book, “DOG, INC: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” which recounts the history of cloning dogs and its emergence as an industry that, in the view of critics, exploits the grief of bereaved pet owners.

One of the reasons losing a dog is so tough – on top of it bringing an end to all that respect and admiration we see in their eyes, all that loyalty and unconditional love – is, I think, that we see ourselves in them.

Cloning our dogs – as some people are doing – is not just a futile attempt to skirt death, but also, it can be argued, an attempt to recapture one’s own youth, via a puppified version of their own dog. When the old mirror dies, we can get a new, genetically identical one – one that looks exactly the same, but has the added benefit or making us feel younger when we look into it.

How dogs reflect their owners is the subject of another new and fascinating book, “Your Dog is Your Mirror,” which we will get around reviewing soon. (Those of you who visit ohmidog’s dog book page may have noticed it’s a bit behind, and doesn’t even include my book.)

Written by dog trainer Kevin Behan, “Your Dog is Your Mirror,” puts forth the theory that a dog’s behavior is driven by its owner’s emotions — that dogs respond to what their owner feels, even when the human isn’t aware they are feeling it. Behan says dominance – or being the pack leader — is not the key to dog training. Instead, it’s understanding what emotions you, the human, are passing on to the dog.

It’s the heart — more than dominance, treats or anything else — that connects dogs and humans.

Sometimes the dog helps carry your emotional baggage. Sometimes, as with Ace’s current situation, you try to help it with what it’s carrying.

For now, controlled substances are giving us a hand, providing Ace and me with a symbiotically snowballing sense of serenity. Yes, it’s somewhat artificial. And yes, I worry that the drugs will make him feel better before he actually is, leading him to attempt things he shouldn’t attempt.

So we are staying mostly in our current temporary lodgings — a mansion basement in North Carolina. He is under orders not to romp. So I shan’t romp, either. Instead, we’ll limit our outings. We’ll pop the occasional pill. We’ll read, and watch TV,  and watch each other, the way we do, having plenty of time for some quiet reflection.

No! No! No! He’s too young to be old

Ace has been stricken.

With exactly what, I don’t know. But in the past four days, he has taken to yelping when he gets up from a long nap or makes a sudden move.

At the dog park this week, he has plodded along lethargically, showing little interest in other dogs — even when he ran into this little white fellow who shares his name. How’s that for a pair of Aces?

I have poked and prodded every inch of his oversized body, but I’m unable to pinpoint what particular spot might be hurting him.

So today, we’re off to the vet.

My first thought was the hips. That’s based partly on the simple fact that he’s very big. Then, too, some of you might recall, when I took Ace to an animal communicator three months ago, she told me he was having some mild discomfort in that area. Add in the 10 months we’ve been traveling, and all the hopping up into and down from the back of my jeep he’s been doing, and the hips seem as good a guess as any.

I knew the day would come when the jumping in and out of the car would need to cease, and given his size, maybe that practice should never have started. Chances are — at age 6 — that day is here, earlier than I expected, and not without some accompanying guilt on my part.

Yesterday I ordered a ramp.

Then again, it might not be his hips at all. Although he’s hesitating to jump into the car, he’s not yelping when he does so — only when makes a sudden movement, usually after laying still.

I’ve pushed on his paws, rubbed the lengths of his legs, looked into his ears and down his throat, poked his belly and prodded his hips. None of that seemed to bother him. He didn’t yelp. He didn’t do that thing he does where his eyes get big, which signifies, to me, anyway, rising alarm on his part. That would have told me I was getting close.

The only time he yelped was when I lowered his head, making me think maybe the pain is in his neck, or spine-related. A half hour massage followed, which, though it might not have helped at all, he seemed to appreciate.

I am puzzled, too, about how much of his current “down-ness” is physical, and how much of it might be emotional.

Twice, I’ve come home to hear him howling — not howls of pain, I don’t think, but howls of loneliness. Twice I’ve left the video camera on, to try and capture their onset, but he didn’t howl those times. And the times he did, he immediately cheered up and ran around when I walked through the door.

I’m pretty sure Ace is less than in love with our new basement quarters, though he likes the upstairs and yard just fine. He has shown a distinct preference for being outside, content to lay at top of stairs, keeping an eye on the kitchen window of the mansion owner, who gives him a daily biscuit.

Something about the basement bothers him. And friends I’ve talked about it with have different theories. Maybe he was mistreated in a basement in his puppyhood. Maybe the old mansion we’re living under is haunted. Maybe, with a firehouse around the corner, the sirens are bothering him, though they never have before — and we lived in Baltimore, where sirens are background music. Maybe it’s the lack of sunlight, or he’s getting arthritic and the cold and dampness of the cellar aggravate it.

He’s moving slowly, lethargically (except when the treats come out), and rather than circling twice before laying down, he’s circling about eight times.

Yesterday, working with my theory that it might be his neck, I took a treat and moved it around in front of him — from side to side, then up and down. There were no yelps. Either it caused no pain, or the thought of getting food superceded it.

So, with fingers crossed, we’re headed to the nearest veterinarian, with hopes that whatever is bothering him is something minor, something that will pass or doesn’t cost too much to fix,  something unrelated to all the traveling I’ve put him through — 21,000 miles of it over the past ten months, something that is neither chronic nor old-age related.

Because he’s too young to be old.

Roadside Encounters: Betty

Name: Betty

Breed: Boston terrier

Age: 14 years

Encountered: At Heart of Gold, a jewelry store in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: Ace and I were sitting outside a coffee shop when suddenly I felt my seat start moving. I’d looped Ace’s leash over the back of my chair, and he moved it a full inch before I turned around to see what he was trying to get to.

It was a Boston terrier. She did her business in the pine needles and disappeared as quickly as she had appeared.

Ace whimpered, insisting, it seemed, that we go find her. He pulled me into Heart of Gold, where the owner was packing up — going out of business after nine months.

Despite the situation, she was happy to talk about her greying old dog, Betty, who comes to work with her every day.

She got Betty as a pup in Florida, part of a litter sired by a pedigreed Boston terrier who went by the name Willie B. Cute.

Betty’s owner, who’s moving to Texas after the shop gets packed up,  happily agreed to me taking Betty’s picture, but — not wanting to be in any pictures herself — handed the dog off to her employee.

The result was a photo that captured — if I do say so myself — both the quiet dignity of old age and the joyful energy of youth.

After our quick photo session, Betty, who’s going deaf, was returned to the floor, where she immediately began scooting her butt across the carpet. She was scolded only mildly and continued scooting. That’s one of the things that comes with the dignity of old age — when you have an itch, you scratch it.

(Roadside Encounters are a regular feature of Travels with Ace. To see them all, click here.)

Highway Haiku: The bounce of Spring

 

“Some Guy Named Bud?”

Who named the seasons?

Kudos for Spring … We wake up …

And, KABOING,  it’s here

 

(Highway Haikus — poetry composed behind the steering wheel — are a semi-regular feature of Travels With Ace. To read them all, click here.)

Getting to (sniff, sniff) know you

Humans need a play stance.

I came to this conclusion yesterday — adding yet another item to the list of things dogs do better than us – as Ace and I arrived for the first time at the only dog park in Winston-Salem proper (and Winston-Salem is pretty proper).

Being new and mostly friendless in the town in which we’ve decided to temporarily base ourselves, we left our quarters in the basement of a mansion and, for a little socialization, headed a couple miles down the road to Washington Park, where dogs can run and play in a fenced-in area.

Of course, Ace hardly romped at all. It being a new scene for him, his first priority was to give all things a good sniffing  – other dogs included. But, on this day, he was more the sniffee than the sniffer.

The second I closed the gate behind us, five other dogs — realizing there was a new face — bounded over for a whiff, following so close behind his rear end that, when he stopped abruptly … well you know the rest.

Butts aside, it’s an intriguing thing to watch, this seeming welcome, and one I noticed often back at Ace’s old park in Baltimore. When a first-timer arrives, all the other dogs come over to give the new guy a sniff. To view that as an act of kindness is, of course, anthropomorphic. But still it’s kind of sweet.

This weekend, Ace — though he was used to being the dean of his old park — was the new kid on the block.

He courteously sniffed those who sniffed him, but was more interested in checking out the space, the water bowl and the humans than in playing with the other dogs. We’d been there a full hour before he even chased another dog — all of whom were playing energetically with each other.

Dee Dee, a beagle, and Bailey, a whippet mix, (both pictured atop this post) had great play stances and used them often: Butts pointed skyward, front legs stretched all the way out, heads lowered. It, in the canine world, is a universal signal, a way of saying “You don’t need to be afraid of me, this is all in good fun, it’s playtime, let’s go.”

I can think of no counterpart when it comes to human body language — no gesture or stance we have that is as easily noticeable and understood. The handshake? No, that’s just standard procedure, basic manners. Perhaps the one that came closest was the peace sign.

Rather than having a universal play stance, we resort to words, which often only make things more confusing. We try to make sense of subtle body language and interpret what we think are queues, neither of which we’re that good at, either.

All that could be resolved if we only had a human play stance — a position we could place our bodies in that signifies we’re open to getting to know a fellow human.

We’ve got the war stance down. We all know the fighting stance, or at least enough to put our dukes up. But there’s no simple gesture or motion we humans can make — at least not without possibility of criminal charges or restraining orders – that sends a signal that peace, harmony and fun are ahead.

We can’t, without repercussions, do the butt-sniffing thing. We can’t, of course, go around peeing on each other’s pee. 

But why can’t we come up with a play stance — one that says I’m open to getting to know you better, and perhaps even frolicking a bit?

Because that would be too easy for a species as complex as ours? Too honest? Too direct?

It was easier when we were children. A simple ”Wanna play?” sufficed. Somehow, on the way to becoming adults, we started opting instead for far less direct, far stupider comments, like “Do you come here often?” and “What’s your sign?”

Adopting a play stance for the human race, at this point – with all that we have evolved, with how sophisticated and suspicious and manipulative we as a society have become — would be difficult. It might be too late.

Two thumbs up and a grin? Standing with arms outstretched, knees bent, while waving people toward you? Most anything I can come up to signal you are accepting new people into your life would have the exact opposite effect, and send them running.

In the final analysis, being human, maybe we’re stuck with words, and small talk, and being less straightforward, sincere and, quite likely, pure of heart and motive than dogs.

Ace will make friends his way, and I will make friends mine (which is most often with his help). But between him and my conversational skills, I’ll be fine. And by the way, do you come here often?

Praise the Lord, I saw the light

 

It’s dark down here. Even with every light on, even when the sun’s up, the temporary home Ace and I have landed in — a cellar apartment in an old southern mansion — is, given its subterranean location, something less than bright and cheery.

I have window wells, but little light shines through. I look out and assume it’s a rainy day — only to step outside and see that it’s as sunshiny as it can be. Down here, it’s as if it’s always 3 a.m. Ace wakes up, looks around, and — like me — assumes it’s not morning yet.

I haven’t been cursing the darkness. That’s best reserved for internet connections. But I think it has been keeping me from being awake as I might be, and I haven’t gotten a lot of writing done. Instead I’ve mostly been oversleeping, setting up housekeeping and visiting my mother. She lives about a mile down the road, so Ace and I have visited almost nightly — conveniently around dinner time.  I mentioned to her how dim things were in my apartment, and she, being a former newswoman, felt the need to share that — at least with my sister.

“This just in: John’s apartment is kind of dark. Details at 11.”

I’ve introduced you to my sister before, when Ace and I passed through Madison, Wisconsin. She’s prone to random outbursts of karaoke singing, sermonizing, deep thoughts and good deeds, and I was about to be a recipient of one of them — luckily the latter.

She called to tell me she had found four lamps on Craigslist, and that she was giving them to me as a Christmas present. All I had to do was drive to some town called Midway, and find the home of a man named Ken. She sent me an email with the directions. Like all her emails, it ended with the same quote from Edith Wharton: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Buying lamps via Craigslist wasn’t an option in Edith’s day.)

Thankfully, Midway was only about 20 miles away. Ken was in the driveway when I pulled in.

I popped open the back window of the jeep. He greeted Ace, noticed there was no air in the tires of my bicycle, still attached to the rack, and offered to pump some in. He helped me load the four lamps into the car, and told me to help myself to the kitchen items packed in boxes in his barn. They, like the lamps, had belonged to his mother, who died last fall at age of 98.

I tried to pay Ken $60 — $48 for the lamps, the rest for everything else I grabbed – but he insisted on giving me change. I stuffed as much as I could into the car — or at least as much as Ace would permit. Ace doesn’t like things rattling around back there, or any of the contents to shift while we’re driving, and given the back seat has been his home for most of the past nine months, I try to oblige.

After loading up, we stopped for lunch in Midway, which is next to a town called Welcome, at a place called The Dawg House, then headed down the road to the Midway General Store, where it was hard to find things because it was dark inside. But I got three copies made of the key to my new place, bought two plug adaptors, three packages of cuphooks and a big greasy hambone for Ace — all for a mere $11.

Ace nibbled his bone as I took the back roads home, passing church after church — all with marquee signs out front:

‘Hands joined in prayer are never empty,” one said.

“The church is a pit stop in the race of life,” read another.

“God’s plans for us are better than our own,” another advised.

Space being limited on church signs, attribution for the words of wisdom on them is seldom provided — so you never really know whether they come from God, the local preacher, Edith Wharton or some book, like “1001 Catchphrases for Your Church Marquee.”

Whether they are original words, or a reflection of somebody else’s, doesn’t really matter — as long as they are getting shared, because church marquees, even those that don’t light up, are all about spreading the light, giving life some meaning, tossing a little hope, inspiration and joy our way.

My new lights, once plugged in, didn’t lead to a hallelujah moment of the religious kind. But I can read now, and find where I put my coffee filters, and make sure the socks I’m putting on match.

On top of that, never having lived in darkness before, I’ve learned that, much like a chili cheese dog, light – the non-symbolic, simple wattage kind — makes me happy.

For Ace, a hambone works just fine.