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.
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?
Posted by John Woestendiek April 20th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, burger king, compassion, conservatives, democrats, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, encampment, greed, helping, homeless, hosts, less fortunate, liberals, mattresses, obama, pairings, patriotic, people, pets, poor, possessions, poverty, radio, republicans, rich, richmond, road trip, sardine can, selfishness, soda, stacker, stuff, talk shows, taxes, travels with ace, virginia, whopper, willis road
Dogs are too smart to hold elections, and it would be presumptuous of us to do it for them. But if there ever were a vote for which breed to make class clown, the bull terrier would be a strong contender.
I say this having only limited experience with the breed – virtually all of it through a woman named Marilyn Bailey, and most of it in the last three days, during which time her two dogs kept a smile on my face, made me laugh out loud and even brought Ace out of his diarrhea doldrums enough to play.
Ace is better now, thanks in large part of Marilyn, who spoiled him with cottage cheese, eggs, rice and other forms of pampering, and to Browser (above left) and Ivy (above right), whose goofiness — though young Ivy is far goofier than old Browser — is, while laughable, also somehow soothing, like an old sitcom.
Marilyn and I worked together at a newspaper in Lexington, Kentucky. That was 30 years ago, and I believe her bull terrier then was named Hot Shot. In the interim, I’ve seen her maybe three times. Yet, when she heard about our travels, she invited us to stay when we came through Seattle, and she treated us like family — in the good and functional, kind and caring sense of the word.
She’s a serene and laid back sort, which can be an advantage when one is raising bull terriers, or when one is married to Carleton W. Bryant, as she is.
If Marilyn and Carl were a Chinese food entree, they’d be sweet and sour something.
If Marilyn is the epitome of graciousness, Carl is the personification of sarcasm, prone to hilariously biting comments, skewering those in need of a good skewering, and a bluntness that can leave you disarmed. Acerbic and gruff as he is, though, there are signs that, deep down, he’s actually a tender-hearted soul.
Marilyn is a copy editor for the Seattle Times, Carl is a media consultant whose current projects include a website he developed called MrThoughtful.com.
It offers a solution for those men who just can’t seem to remember to acknowledge significant dates – birthdays, anniversaries, etc. — with a card, or, at best, wait to the very last minute to do so.
The website serves as an automatic, surrogate card buyer.
Users register and create a profile of events and relationships — who in their lives they should send what cards to when. Then, as the significant dates approach, they receive by mail the appropriate card and envelope, as well as an email reminder to make sure it gets to the intended recipient.
Magically and with little effort, they appear to be thoughtful guys, fooling everybody. (There’s also a MsThoughtful.com, but the marketing pitch is slightly different. It’s for the woman too ”busy” to buy cards, as opposed to just being a negligent oaf.)
But back to their dogs, dog show quality both, and members of what, to me — with their huge and sloping, football-shaped heads — is one of the more unusual looking breeds of dogs. It was rare, back in Baltimore for Ace to run into a bull terrier. The one time he did, he approached it slowly, almost as if he wasn’t sure it was a member of his species.
Browser, 11, is a mellow sort, content to sidle up to you and stay there – for days, it seems. Ivy, not yet two, is contagiously playful. By the second day of our stay she had Ace fired up. Of course, they chose to let loose in the formal living room, where she’d run up to Ace, jump on him, then scurry away, somehow managing, while traveling at high speeds, to slide her whole muscular body under the sofa, before repeating the process.
Ace, who likes to softly bite the legs of the dogs he’s playing with, or stick their entire head in his mouth, had some difficulty with the latter, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
Both Browser and Ivy have an endearing habit of approaching when you are seated, bowing their head and pushing it softly into our stomach. Ace will do this from time to time, but only for half a minute. Browser seemed happy to stay in that position for five minutes.
While speedy dogs, as Ivy showed, they are also very adept at standing still — perfectly still. It’s almost as if they become statues, motionlessly pondering what to do next and whether it’s worth the effort.
Both loved to snuggle, Browser for extended periods, Ivy only briefly before nibbling your ear, climbing your torso or scooting off in search of something more interesting.
Once seated in Marilyn’s lap at their home in Kirkland, though, she settles down, almost as if hypnotized.
Marilyn sent us off with a huge care package — sandwiches, beverages and apple cobbler for me, and for Ace, dog biscuits, atop which she spread peanut butter. Carl, who provided us with several great Seattle area tours, sent us off with a list of places to see on Oregon’s coast and one of his website’s promotional caps, allowing me to show the world just how incredibly thoughtful I am. Ivy and Browser — members of a breed whose faces seem to say, “Yes, I’m a dog, and I plan to engage in some dog-like antics. You want to make something of it?” — sent us off with a warm and giggly feeling.
One day soon, I’ll need to thank them for all that southern hospitality, Seattle-style.
Maybe I’ll send them a card.
Posted by John Woestendiek November 14th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, antics, behavior, breed, breeds, browser, bull terrier, bull terriers, carl bryant, clowns, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, greeting cards, hosts, ivy, marilyn bailey, mr. thoughtful, mrthoughtful.com, pets, reminders, road trip, seattle, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace