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Tag: handouts

Baltimore: A refreshing slap in the face

 

Of all the oddball places Ace and I passed through in our recently completed 22,000 miles of travels across the U.S., none came close, in that particular category, to Baltimore.

In other words, there’s no place like home.

Sure, there may be some small pockets of pretentiousness in Baltimore, but all in all it’s a city that doesn’t put on airs. And that is what I like about it – its honesty.

On Friday, during my first full week back in the city, I kept running into that theme — “yes I have warts, would you like to see them?” — as I checked in at the old storage unit, dropping off a few unneeded things and picking up some others to spartanly furnish the housing I have finagled for the month ahead.

I’ll tell you  more about that next week; for now suffice to say: Federal Hill, rooftop deck, downtown view … from the hot tub.

It’s a much more well-heeled area than the part of town my stuff is in, but then my stuff isn’t too choosy, having come from humble origins. Much of it was discarded on a sidewalk, thrown in Dumpsters or donated to Goodwill before finding a forever home with me.

For the past eight months, as Ace and I criss-crossed the U.S., it has sat in a unit at one of those self-storage places — visited, it appears, only by mice, whose droppings were everywhere.

It was in my stuff’s neighborhood that I ran into the well-bundled-up fellow above, at Patapsco and Potee, a highly alliterative intersection in Brooklyn frequented by people seeking handouts, most of whom carry a piece of cardboard briefly explaining the dilemma they allegedly are in and what they are willing to do to get out of it.

Rather than bore drivers with his life story, this guy drafted a sign listing only his short term goal. I’m not sure how much his “transparency,” as we like to call it nowadays, paid off, but it worked on me. I forked over a buck.

I found that same sort of refreshing honesty at my next stop, Blue Crab Xpress, next door to the storage lot where my stuff is.

It’s an interesting little place — half liquor store, half seafood deli. I’m not sure if the warning sign on their front door was meant for mice or people. It gave me some second thoughts about getting lunch there, but I proceeded to order a crab sandwich, anyway.

As I waited for my order, I visited with some of the blue crabs, piled up in bushel baskets, partly covered with towels, almost as if they’d been tucked in.

Tempted as I was to lift their blanket for a better look, I didn’t want to wake them. Besides, another sign warned against it: ”Please do not play with crabs. May be crabs get stress + die earleier. You might get bit also.”

I also learned that at the Blue Crab Xpress, credit cards aren’t honored.

I ate my crab cake sandwich — quite exceptional — in the car, parked next to an Utz potato chip truck whose driver was slumped over the steering wheel taking a nap.

Fortified, I went next door to the storage lot — something I’d been putting off doing partly because it has been so cold, partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to find what I was mainly looking for, some warmer clothes.

I made a few withdrawls from it – my futon mattress, some chairs and tables and one unmarked box, chosen at random. I decided it would be fun to open it up later and see what was inside.

Since I need to go back to the storage unit, anyway — for it is in major need of some reorganization and, perhaps, a warning sign telling mice to stay away — I thought if the box turned out to contain useless stuff, I could always bring it back or toss it.

Into my storage unit I tossed by rooftop carrier and its contents, some stinky tennis shoes that need a month off (and might drive away the mice) and other things, like camping gear, I won’t be needing anytime soon.

Back at my temporary quarters, I opened the box and discovered I had made a lucky pick. It contained two jackets, a spatula, a can opener, a coffee cup and my winter coat.

I will wear it today when — taking a break from decorating my house (think early college student) — I go over to the Lighthouse Tavern to watch the Baltimore Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mainly, though, I am going there to renew my bonds with old friends, because friends are so important, and such relationships should be … Oh the heck with it.

Why lie? I need a beer.

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.

Must be my stop … Moscow’s subway dogs

Commuters in Moscow share the subway with stray dogs — and that’s just one of the ways dogs (and people) have adapted to the changing city.

Dogs were barred from Moscow’s metro in Soviet times, but now they are a common sight, curling up on empty seats, lounging in stations and — like the one in the video above — hopping on and off subway cars at their leisure.

The Wall Street Journal had an excellent story on the phenomenon about a year ago. There’s also a website about the subway dogs — www.metrodog.ru.

“The behavior of stray dogs is like theater,” says Alexei Vereshchagin, one of several zoologists studying Moscow’s strays.

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ms 2013 publisher download