In our final days in Baltimore, Ace and I shifted from a house that was empty to one that was very full – of art, and art supplies, and things that, in the homeowner/artist’s view, could, with a little work and imagination, be turned into art someday.
Artist J. Kelly Lane, having an out-of-town house-sitting gig of her own, offered to let Ace and me stay Thursday and Friday in her South Baltimore rowhouse, which, she warned me ahead of time, had its quirks
You know you’re in bigger trouble when, in a house full of art works, you break one of them.
In the wee (literally) hours of the morning, I rose off the downstairs futon to make my way upstairs to the bathroom. I was stepping carefully through the darkness, but my knee hit a stand-up ash tray and knocked it over.
If that alone weren’t bad enough – it’s hard to find ash trays at all these days, let alone the stand up, three-foot high kind — Kelly had apparently applied her artistic skills to this one.
I’m guessing (and hoping) it was a thrift store find –as opposed to a family heirloom — one that, while already the perfect combination of form and function, she saw as being in needed a bit more pizzazz.
Someone, I’m guessing Kelly, had painstakingly painted both its post and the two serpents that make up its handle, which is the part that broke when it fell to the ground.
Now it’s 4 a.m., and I can’t go back to sleep. In addition to the guilt I feel for breaking it in the first place, I’m feeling guiltier yet for what’s popping into my mind:
Blame it on Ace. With a dog as big as him, in a house filled with so much art, an accident is bound to happen. Right?
Staying at Kelly’s house was like spending a night at the museum. Her paintings cover the walls. Walk in the front door and you’re in what looks like a studio. Enter then next room and you’re in what looks like a studio. Keep going back and you enter what appears to be a studio.
She’s applied her flair to the dwelling, too – like the stair rail and stairway risers painted in leopard skin motif. In addition to painting canvases, Kelly paints house interiors, and she’s into a host of other crafts, like hand-made Valentine’s cards and decorating items like the stand-up ashtray whose handle is now broken.
True, I have in the past blamed him for gaseous eruptions that did not originate from him, but that’s different – dogs are more easily forgiven than humans for that.
Then too, blaming him for the mishap would tarnish his image as the perfect dog. In reality, he’s not perfect – and I wouldn’t want him to be – but he comes a lot closer to it than I do. And when it comes right down to it, I – wrong as it might be – probably care more about his image than mine, except when it comes to farts.
Like a lot of dog people, I worry more about my dog – his health, his reputation, his “proper” behavior – than I do about my own self in those regards.
From previous visits, I knew there would be some risks at Kelly’s house – that a wagging tail, or Ace going into rambunctious “let’s play!” mode, could result in serious damage. As it turns out, it was I, in my pre-coffee, bathroom-seeking clumsiness — as Ace soundly slept — that sent things a kilter. And a standalone ash tray, no less – a true antique that harkens back to the days when smoking wasn’t a misdemeanor, and ash trays were respectable enough to be an entire piece of furniture.
I’d gone more than a month in our previous location – also somebody else’s house — without breaking anything. But then, it being an empty house, there was really nothing to break.
Now I must break the news, and somehow make things right.
Then, and only then, will I be able to go back to sleep.
(Postscript: Kelly was very forgiving, and didn’t seem mad at me. To find out more about her art, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 28th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accident, ace, america, animals, art, artist, ash trays, baltimore, blame, broken, damage, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, freeloading, guest, home, houseguest, housing, kelly lane, museum, painting, pets, road trip, studio, travels with ace, visit
Names: Mikey and Soju
Breeds: Pug and Great Dane
Encountered: At Riverside Park in Baltimore
Backstory: I got to spend some time with two of my favorite local dogs yesterday — a day whose warm temperatures led both humans and canines to linger at Riverside Park, in no particular hurry to get back home.
Even if it’s not here to stay, the mild weather was welcome — especially to Ace, after a winter of being rushed through the dog walk by an owner hoping to quickly get the “mission” accomplished and himself back indoors …
“C’mon, do your business, my toes are frozen. It’s too cold. Let’s go.”
In retrospect, in this past month, I’ve probably been, in Ace’s eye, a bit of a buzzkill.
Doing his duty, I don’t think, has ever been the foremost mission in Ace’s mind during trips to the park (hence the urging). He sees it as more of a happy hour, or preferably two – a chance to add to his scent portfolio, visit old dog friends, meet some new ones, and track down those folks who, at some point in history, have provided him with a treat.
Yesterday was the kind of visit he likes best — a long one, with good dog friends to play with, new ones to sniff out, and lots of humans to mooch off. (If you have treats in your pocket, Ace will determine which pocket and, should you need prompting, attempt to insert his nose inside it. When it comes to freeloading, I think I have learned some of his skills, and he has picked up some of mine.)
We got to catch up with our old friend Soju — he’s named after the vodka-like (but sweeter) Korean beverage. Soju and Ace are old friends, and they used to wrestle endlessly at Riverside, a true up-on-the-hind-legs, paw-swinging battle of the titans. When one of them went down, you could almost feel the earth shake.
They went at it for a bit yesterday, with Ace, the older of the two, watching as Soju galloped around him in circles, then tackling him like a lazy linebacker when Soju veered close enough.
Mikey stayed out of the fray — a wise choice given he’s not much bigger than a football. Mikey, a therapy dog with one of the more expressive faces you’ll ever see, generally avoids the roughhousing, choosing instead to sit at your feet, looking up at you with big brown bulging eyes until you give him a treat, no matter how long it takes.
Good things, he seems to know, come to those who wait – and spring is one example. Yesterday didn’t mark it’s arrival, but even a false precursor was welcome, and dogs and humans soaked it up. It occurs to me that we should send thank you notes to spring — perhaps that would lead her to stay around a little longer and forestall the inevitable arrival of her evil sister summer, who always comes to early and stays past her welcome.
As of now, it appears we will be heading south, where we plan to stay in an undetermined location for an indeterminate period of time. How’s that for a plan?
Once again, we’ll tear ourselves away from Baltimore, where — in addition to promoting my new book — the last month has allowed us to get ourselves organized, experience a semblance of stability, soak in a hot tub on a rooftop deck (just me, not Ace) and savor the pleasures of our old neighborhood.
I’ll miss my corner bar. Ace will miss his favorite park. But, as I think I said nine months ago — when Ace and I first embarked on our journey to discover America, its dogs and the people who love them — there’s one thing we’ll miss most of all:
Friends … big and small.
(To see all our Roadside Encounters, click here.)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 18th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, baltimore, breeds, dog park, dog's country, dogs, dogs on the road, dogscountry, encounter, federal hill, freeloading, friends, great dane, great danes, home, mikey, parks, pets, play, pug, pugs, riverside park, road trip, roadside, roadside encounters, socializing, soju, spring, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace
Where I’d like to live and what I can afford are two different realms, two very different realms – a fact I bring up not because I’m the first person to experience that phenomenon, but because it is one of the reasons Ace and I are having difficulty settling down, even temporarily.
All I want is a small cabin or cottage — they being much more romantic than something called a house – away from the hubbub, with heat and electricity, perhaps on the water, with a view of said water, and maybe a porch, possibly a fireplace, and washer and dryer, either near a park or with a big backyard that Ace can romp in, for, say $700 a month.
I’m not set on that. I’d also settle for a huge artist’s loft, utilities included, under $800 a month, where I could spread out and tape notes to the walls and write brilliantly when I’m not at the neighboring dog park, or enjoying the downtown skyline of (insert city here) from my deck, or taking part in the thriving social scene and cultural activities within easy walking distance.
Am I asking too much?
Of course I am.
For those of you who haven’t been following the recent adventures of me and my dog Ace, allow me to summarize. Eight months ago, we hit the road to see some America — freeloading off friends and strangers, staying at cheap motels, spending a week on a boat, a month in a camper, a few nights in the car and in my tent. Part of the reason was to find ourselves, and find home. Part of it was to see if we could be vagabonds, roaming the country for the same amount we’d previously spent on rent and utilities at our rowhouse in Baltimore.
The trip gave me a deeper appreciation of my dog and my country; a better understanding of its faults (the country’s, Ace has none); and it confirmed my suspicion that most of the great places to live, scenic-beauty wise, have been co-opted by the rich. It also instilled in me — if it wasn’t already there — a thriftiness that, while mandated by my economic situation, borders on obsession.
I just can’t stand spending money on overpriced things, like gas, fancy restaurants, hotels, electricity and rent.
Arriving back in Baltimore, still unsure where home was, we were lucky enough to land in an empty house near the Inner Harbor that’s awaiting its new tenants — three soldiers returning from Afghanistan, expected to be back at end of February. It more than meets my needs and my budget, as it’s a friend’s house that’s costing me nothing. I, essentially, am squatting, with permission. But the clock is ticking.
So everyday, I visit Craigslist, most often “housing, sublets and temporary,” looking for a place to live for March, maybe April and May, maybe longer. I’m not limiting myself to the Baltimore area. I’ve also searched, on the Internet, the Eastern Shore, North Carolina, Delaware, Philadelphia and, on really cold days, Arizona.
My options are limited because I’m hesitant to sign up for a year’s lease and, of course, by my dog — but also by my cheapness. I will probably move to wherever I find the best deal.
For awhile, I thought I’d found it, in Wilmington, N.C. — a pet-friendly, two-bedroom home overlooking the woods on a quiet cul-de-sac close to Wrightsville Beach. At $695 a month.
I emailed about what sort of pet fees and restrictions might apply, and got a speedy response. The house was still available, and they allowed all dogs — except for for Rottweilers, Akitas, chows and pit bulls.
Ace — as some of you may know, and in answer to the question many of you have asked — is a mix of Rottweiler, Akita, chow and pit bull.
The next day I found affordable paradise again – a “cottage” in Ellicott City, Md., one that, from the pictures, looked just like what I was looking for. It was secluded, wooded, with two bedrooms and a porch, for only $700.
Again my inquiry was quickly answered:
“Thanks for your email and interest in renting my house..I am Banke Jur, the owner of the house you are making inquiry of. Actually I resided in the house with my family, my wife and my only daughter before and presently we have moved out due to my transfer from my work now in Warsaw,Poland. Presently my house is still available for rent for $700USD (rent already includes utilities). More so Now, i’m currently in the (West African) for an international Christian follower’s crusade …
“Await your urgent reply … please we are giving you all this based on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words, you know that we have not seen yet and only putting everything into Gods hands, so please do not let us down in this our property and God bless you more as you do this …
“The house is available for rent at the moment so you are free to move in as soon as you wish to. A Deposit of $500 (which happens to be the security deposit) is required before moving in. Arrangements on how to get the keys and other necessary documents delivered to you.”
Problem was, the same house was listed at $1,650 on a dozen other rental websites, including the Re/Max website, its official listing agency.
My findings thus far? What appears to be a dandy deal is often a sleazy scam. What appears too good to be true, generally is. And what I can afford seems to be a “sleeping room,” a roomate situation, or in a neighborhood that, while the house has been “rehabbed,” the neighbors, unfortunately, have not.
Searching Craigslist has given me some new pet peeves: ads that don’t include a price, address, or even neighborhood; ads for places that proclaim dog-friendliness, but limit that to dogs under 25 pounds; ads proclaiming dog-friendliness that turn out to charge an extra $100 a month for it (Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t “friendliness” you have to pay for generally called prostitution?); ads repeated so often as to make you scream; ads pretending to be offering a property that just funnel you into some other website, sucking up your time.
Not to mention they get no editing. There was one house whose owner boasted it was ”recently remolded.” Apparently the original mold wasn’t good enough.
Another ad on Baltimore’s Craigslist offered free rent for 2 months — on a farm, with pets and horses allowed — in exchange for “painting services that equal 40 hours/week.” I could do that. What I could not do, though, was pay the $3000 cash deposit they asked for.
I also came across this ”bachelor or bachelorette pad” at $875 a month, which features a built in bar, stripper pole, and, at least in the photos, what appear to be tools of restraint. I exercised some and didn’t seek more information.
There are plenty of ads for roomates. But at 57, I just can’t see moving in with a roomate, or two, or three. I thought some about this one in Canton, a shared rowhouse, for under $700 — three female roomates looking for a fourth of any gender. There were already some “mellow dogs” living there, according to the ad. Ace and I both fit into that category. While it did set me to humming the theme from “Three’s Company,” I didn’t make an inquiry — mainly because, as much as I’d try to be Jack Tripper, I’d come across as the token old coot. I am, come to think of it, a lot like Don Knotts/Mr. Furley on the inside, masked beneath the cool/sleepy exterior of Norman Fell/Mr. Roper. (Not that I actually watched that show.)
What all this is telling me is that humans, at least those on Craigslist, are not to be automatically trusted — that maybe newspaper classified ads, because people had to pay for them, were at least a bit more reliable, not to mention spam free.
It’s telling me too that that there should be a blacklist of landlords and insurers that unfairly blacklist entire breeds.
And, when I read between the lines, it’s telling me that maybe we’re not meant to settle down. Ace, I’m mostly convinced, wants to. Part of me does, too. But another part is saying that, if I invest in anything, it should be a home with wheels.
Maybe we should continue traveling the country, this time in an RV, Ace and me, perhaps with another zany sidekick – not Fran Drescher – simultaneously filming it for use as either reality show or sitcom.
You better hope I find a home, or you might have to watch it.
Posted by jwoestendiek January 27th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, akitas, animals, arizona, bachelor pad, bachelorette pad, baltimore, bans, breed restrictions, breeds, cabin, chows, cottage, craigslist, delaware, distrust, dog, dog friendly, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, eastern shore, economy, freeloading, frugality, home, house, househunting, housing, income, insurance, landlords, lease, north carolina, pet fees, pet friendly, pets, pit bulls, prostitution, recreational vehicle, rent, rental, renting, roomates, rottweilers, rv, scams, settling, sharing, shelter, squatting, sublets, temporary, threes company, thriftiness, travels with ace, trust
On my first night in Missoula, I fell asleep with one dog and woke up with a different one.
On the next night, I fell asleep with two dogs and woke up with one.
On the third night, I fell asleep with two dogs and woke up with none.
For the first time in our five months of traveling, in the latest of the long line of friends and family off whom we have freeloaded, Ace opted to sleep with someone other than me.
My feelings are hurt, but not too badly.
Back in Missoula, Ace has found a lively playmate, and I’ve been in full freeloading mode, enjoying all the comforts of somebody else’s home.
Gwen Florio, a reporter for the Missoulian, who I used to work with at the Philadelphia Inquirer, was kind enough to invite Ace and I to stay with her, her husband Scott, and their dog Nell – a four-month-old Brittany spaniel.
I’ve eaten most of their leftovers, drank most of their milk, eaten most of their eggs, watched their TV and had my own room in the basement, featuring one of the top two beds I’ve slept on (the other being in Santa Fe) during our journey.
Two more weeks on it, and I think my back would stop hurting.
But, as much as I’ve enjoyed nesting at Gwen’s, it’s time to press on to Seattle.
On the first night, I retired early and Ace came to bed with me. When Nell jumped in – well to be honest, she jumped up, putting her front paws on the bed, and I pulled her up the rest of the way – Ace jumped off. I fell asleep snuggling with Nell, but when I woke up she was gone, and Ace was laying at my side.
On the second night, Gwen was working late on election night, and after watching a little bit of the “shellacking” on TV, I retired early. This time, Ace didn’t mind Nell joining us (if only Republicans and Democrats could learn to co-exist so quickly), and I fell asleep with the two of them – once Nell completed her process of nibbling my hands, squirming, walking over me, turning in circles, pawing at the bedspread, nibbling my hands some more, turning a few more circles and finally flopping down with a sigh. By morning, though (like many a Democrat), she was gone.
On the third night, I retired even earlier, and they both followed me to bed, and both got in. But when I woke up they had both abandoned me. While I slept, Gwen had returned home and the dogs joined her for the night. Fortunately, her husband was out of town so there was room in her bed for them both.
Ace and Nell have gotten along great, and it has been interesting to watch their play progress — from timid and restrained to no-holds-barred wrestling. She’s Muhammad Ali to Ace’s Joe Frazier. In her back yard, a stone’s throw from the base of Mt. Jumbo, she runs circles around him, eggs him on, gives him a jab or a nip, then darts away. He keeps plodding forward, swinging with his paws, then watching as she bounces across the yard like a pinball.
Ace — despite my initial fears — hasn’t tried to use Nell’s dog door. It’s the perfect size for her, and she speeds in and out of the house at her will. It’s the perfect size for Ace to get stuck in. I had visions of having to take the door off its hinges and taking them both to a vet, or a hardware store, to have dog and door surgically separated.
Luckily, Ace hasn’t tried to use it, or even poke his nose through, probably because it — also like politicians – flaps and makes noise .
Nell, at four months, still engages in the kind of mischief pups perpetrate. At home during the day, while I wasn’t paying attention, she snagged a full roll of toilet paper, took it through her dog door and proceeded to decorate the lawn with confetti. She managed to get into my toothpaste, but apparently decided not to make a meal of it.
Ace, though he seemed unsure how to react to her puppiness at first, now wrestles with her in the way he does with his favorite dogs, nipping at her legs, trying to put her entire head in his mouth, going after her little nub of a tail — all with his trademark gentleness.
When he tires of it all he flops down in the yard, as he did yesterday morning. The grass was white with frost, and Ace relaxed with one of Nell’s toys that he’s grown especially fond of, probably because it has, or once had, peanut butter in it.
For 15 minutes, as Nell alternately looked on, ran circles around him, darted inside and out again, Ace laid there with the purple toy, and when he got up, there was a big green circle where the frost had melted away under his body heat.
To me, it seemed symbolic (then again, I hadn’t had my coffee yet) of what dogs do for us.
They melt away our frosty exteriors, they bring out the unjaded us that can be buried pretty deeply beneath the shells we hide behind, the image we project, all our bullshit and bluster.
They knock down the walls we put up.
Maybe our politicians could learn a thing or two from them, to the point of even becoming bedfellows — not in the dirty sense of the word, but in terms of working together to achieve a goal.
How cool would that be, if they could all settle down, bark less, share the toys, and — as dogs do — make the world a better place?
Posted by jwoestendiek November 5th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, bed, befellows, behavior, bluster, brittany spaniel, bullshit, democrats, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, election, freeloading, gwen florio, learn, missoula, montana, nell, play, playmate, politicians, politics, pup, puppy, republicans, road trip, shellacking, sleeping, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace
While traveling with Charley in 1960, John Steinbeck worked in a few visits with family — his son in college, a rendezvous with his wife in Chicago — but he made a point of not including details of those encounters in the book he eventually produced.
They would create, he wrote, a “disunity.”
Instead, the famous writer, traveling the country and using his dog to get people to open up to him, bare their souls and spill their guts, chose to keep his own private life unbared, unspilled and, well, private.
While we’re following Steinbeck’s route, we’re not following that philosophy. That is why you’ve read about our visits with my mother, my father, my brother, an ex-wife and to the former home of my grandparents.
All of this, along with Interstate 94 and my perpetual quest for free lodging, brings us to my sister’s home in Wisconsin.
She’s a writer of hymns and a singer of songs who grew up on 60′s music. Long before karaoke machines, she was a hard core singalonger. Or, when no radio was around, a singaloner. She, unlike me — who will sing only when alone (except for Ace) — rarely hesitates to sing, no matter how many people might be around.
She also used her singing to torture me – not that her voice is bad, it’s actually quite good. But — at a time when you don’t even like girls yet — you don’t want one singing sappy girl songs in your face, and she’s always leaned toward the sappy girl songs.
When John Steinbeck left Long Island and hit the road 50 years ago with his poodle to take the pulse of America, he found one of the places to take that pulse was the radio. Radio stations at the time were still playing “Teen Angel,” a morbid little number that told the story of a teenage girl being killed by a train while trying to retrieve the high school ring her boyfriend gave her.
Steinbeck didn’t quite get the name right in “Travels With Charley,” but he did note how the song — No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks earlier that year – seemed to be playing everywhere he went — that America, at least in terms of its music, was becoming pretty homogenized:
“If ‘Teen-Age Angel’ is top of the list in Maine, it is top of the list in Montana. In the course of the day you may hear ‘Teen-Age Angel’ thirty or forty times.”
The song, recorded by a one hit wonder named Mark Dinning, was a continuation of a gloomy theme – the third No. 1 song in a row at the start of 1960 that featured a love-related death.
The 60′s may have kicked off on a hopeful note, but there was plenty of angst even then, at least in our music. Before Teen Angel, there was “El Paso,” by Marty Robbins — the story of a cowboy who gunned down the man he caught wooing his woman (Felina, who worked in Rosa’s Cantina). He hightailed it out of of town, but was drawn back by his love for Felina. Upon his return, he was gunned down, but at least got a kiss from Felina before he died.
After that came ”Running Bear,” by Johnny Preston. Running Bear, you might recall, loved Little White Bird – and vice versa — and they both jumped into a raging river to reach each other’s arms, only to get sucked under and drown once they did.
Popular music got a little cheerier and even cheesier after that — with lots of songs about the foolishness of love, including several plaintive chart-toppers by Brenda Lee.
A couple of months before Steinbeck departed on his journey, “I’m Sorry” rose to the top of the charts — a song I remember well because my sister used to sing it constantly, and, once she realized it annoyed me, right in my seven-year-old face.
The worst torture, though, would come two years later, with the release of the song “Johnny Angel,” by Shelley Fabares. My sister would delight in singing me – being a John, though not a Johnny –the sappy tune. She was 14 by then, I was nine. The more I appeared to be bothered by it, the more she did it, which taught me a lifelong lesson.
Today, in the home she shares with her husband in DeForest, outside Madison, she has her own karaoke machine, which she fires up frequently. Unlike the young me, the machine serves as both her accomplice and audience, and doesn’t run to another room.
Her husband, also named John — and a true appreciator of her singing — has a connection to another singer, I just learned today. When he was in the 7th grade in Dumfries, Virginia, he was assigned to be the escort of one of four finalists vying to be selected queen of the winter dance.
Parents and teachers served as judges for the contest, and they picked the girl he’d been chosen to escort — the daughter of a marine. She was cute, he recalled, the fastest runner on the playground and prone to wearing “puffy-shouldered dresses.”
The year was 1959, and the girl was Emmylou Harris.
Now that I’m grown up, I don’t think I’d mind Emmylou Harris (a true dog lover, by the way) singing “Johnny Angel” to me — even in my face. My sister singing it to me, however, is still bothersome. How do I know? Because even now, as I look up the song on YouTube, she is doing it again. She’s singing along. And she’s 61. And I’m 57. And I want to run into the other room.
Johnny Angel, how I love him.
He’s got something that I can’t resist,
but he doesn’t even know that I exist.
I’m pretending it’s not bothering me at all.
Posted by jwoestendiek October 25th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: '60's, 1960s, ace, animals, brenda lee, deforest, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, el paso, emmylou harris, essay, family, freeloading, gril, hymns, i'm sorry, john steinbeck, johnny angel, johnny preston, karaoke, love, marty robbins, music, personal, pets, running bear, sappy, shelly fabares, siblings, sister, sixties, songs, teasing, teen angel, travels with ace, travels with charley, wisconsin, writers, writing