Tag: john steinbeck
Our book is done, so Ace and I — Lord willing and the creek don’t rise — are starting a new chapter.
For two years — yes, two — I’ve been assembling the book version of “Travels with Ace,” which documents the year my dog and I wandered the country, tracing the path John Steinbeck took with his poodle Charley and venturing down some of our own.
Unlike “Travels with Charley” (the literary classic), ”Travels with Ace” (the book in search of a publisher) is a more lighthearted account of road tripping with a dog across America. It’s more laden with dogs, dog lore and dog facts, and delves more deeply into just what it is that makes you, me and America so bonkers over dogs.
Written by a former newspaper journalist (that would be me) whose massive mystery mutt altered the course of his life, the book looks at how we and our country have changed in the 50 years since Steinbeck and Charley circumnavigated America in a camper named Rocinante.
One recurring theme — as you might expect from a newspaper guy who watched his industry shrink and crumble, and who’s approaching old manhood — is my grumbling and anxiety over technology, and where, besides unemployment, it might take us.
That theme showed up in my first book, too – about cloning dogs, a technology that, at least when it comes to pet owners, would be better off never having been invented, in my opinion.
It was, in large part, that first book that led to the second one. Seeing the lengths to which dog owners go upon losing, or learning they’re about to lose, their dog — cloning being probably the most extreme of them — I decided that the best time to celebrate one’s dog (and one’s people) is while they’re still alive.
So I showed my dog America, and came to the conclusion, among others, that while full speed ahead is sometimes fine, slowing down (which dogs can help with) and stepping backwards can be good, too.
Ace and I ended up in North Carolina — moving, backwards, into the same apartment unit my parents lived in when I was born. We stayed there until last week when — because the landlord sold it to a new owner — we were required to vacate the premises.
It was by accident, or maybe fate, that we ended up in Bethania, the oldest planned Moravian settlement in North Carolina, established in 1759.
Looking at boring apartment developments, Ace and I made a wrong turn, or two, or three, and found ourselves going down its bucolic Main Street, which is lined with historic homes. Bethania, while surrounded by Winston-Salem, is an independent jurisdiction, with a population of about 350. It feels like another world, and a very peaceful one at that.
Bethania is not to be confused – but often is — with Bethabara, which was the first Moravian settlement in North Carolina, established by 15 church members who walked here from Pennsylvania. Fleeing religious persecution, the German-speaking Protestants first came to the U.S. when it was still a group of British colonies. Once Bethabara became a thriving village, and became overcrowded with refugees, a second Moravian settlement was laid out — Bethania
After that, a third settlement was founded – Salem, which would become the congregation’s headquarters and the biggest and best known of the villages of what was called Wachovia. Today, Bethabara is an historic park, Bethania is a little town, and Old Salem is a tourist attraction, where one can learn about the old ways
The Moravians were known for doing missionary work with local Indian tribes, and avoiding, on principal, violent conflict. Their cemeteries, such as God’s Acre in Old Salem, are highly regimented affairs where the grave markers, in addition to being in neat rows and grouped according to the Moravian choir system, are all of the same size — a reminder that, as much as we might like or think we deserve a big ostentatious tombstone, we’re all equal. I like that.
Bethania seems to reflect an attention to detail as well. Church members built their houses in the middle of town, and the orchards and farms they worked were on its periphery. I’m pretty sure my house was once orchard area.
It’s quiet, and it feels like I’m out in the country, even though it’s only 7 miles from downtown.
I knew I made the right decision on our new location when, at the town’s visitor center, I inquired whether it would be okay to take my dog, on a leash, down the hiking trails behind it.
“You don’t need a leash,” came the reply.
Almost every home in Bethania has a front porch with two rocking chairs — and, while I’m pretty sure it’s not required by local ordinance, I plan to follow suit
My little white house with a green tin roof has a fireplace in the living room, a grapevine in the backyard, room to plant lots of vegetables and a shed in which I plan to tinker with things. I’m not sure what things, but I definitely want to tinker.
I have a neighbor to one side, an empty lot on the other, and judging from the vines in the trees, I think I’ll have some kudzu to look at, which some of you might remember I have a thing for.
In addition to the visitor center, and the trails, there’s a public golf course, Long Creek Club, just down the road (owned by my landlord); and the old mill in the center of town has been refurbished and sports several shops, studios, and the Muddy Creek Café, a dog friendly spot with live music on weekends.
I’m just a newcomer, but I suspect the biggest social hub is the Moravian Church, just a few hundred yards from my home. (In a bit of a coincidence, it’s interim minister once graced the pages of ohmidog!)
I am not now a Moravian and have never been one, but I do have a family connection. She was considered my great aunt, though she wasn’t a blood relative.
Kathleen Hall was born to another family, but grew up as a sister to my grandmother. We called her “Tan,” believed to be derived from a mispronunciation of “aunt.”
Every Easter, my mother instructs me to put a flower on Tan’s grave at God’s Acre in Old Salem — preferably purple, Tan’s favorite color. I did that on Easter, and noticed, as in previous years, another flower, a white lily, was already there. Who leaves it every year is a mystery to us.
There’s also a memory of her in my living room — her stitchwork covers a footstool my mother passed along to me years ago.
Given that connection, and the fact that the Moravian church is just a few hundred yards away from my new home, I may check it out — at least once I get my boxes unpacked and my Internet set up.
They do have that here — even though several internet/cable companies told me my address in Bethania doesn’t exist.
One who uses Bethania as their mailing address can’t get mail delivered. I could use Winston-Salem or Pfafftown as my mailing address, but I’ve opted to go with Bethania and avoid getting a mailbox. Instead, I’ll walk three houses down to the little post office when I want my mail, which, given it’s mostly bills, I usually don’t.
Other than that, Bethania isn’t one of those places stuck in the past, just a place that honors it. It’s not like an Amish community. I’m pretty sure people aren’t churning butter and blacksmithing. But there does seem to be a respect for times gone by, and the older I get, the more frustrated I get with my computer, and apps, and talking to robots on the phone, the more important that has become to me.
Despite my growing techno-anxiety, I will admit — after moving 20 or so boxes of books — that the Kindle might not be an entirely bad idea.
After the Saturday move, I woke up pretty sore on Easter Sunday.
I’d fully intended to take Ace to the Moravian sunrise service here in Bethania.
But the sound of rain on my new tin roof lulled me back to sleep.
Once I did wake up, Ace and I had Easter lunch with my mother, then dropped by God’s Acre in Old Salem to pay respects to Tan and drop off a purple hyacinth. Then we headed back home.
So that’s the tale of our new place, and a long way of saying our new address is:
PO Box 169
Bethania, NC, 27010
Posted by jwoestendiek April 5th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, bethabara, bethania, church, dog inc., dogs, hiking, history, home, house, john steinbeck, mill, moravians, move, moving, muddy creek cafe, north carolina, ohmidog!, old salem, pets, religion, salem, settlement, simpler, technology, trails, travels with ace, travels with charley, walking, way of life, winston-salem
That advice may not be applicable to every situation, but it’s what Ace and I did over the weekend when we departed from what turned out to be the final stop on our year-long trip around the country — the apartment of my birth.
In September of 2010, 50 years to the day after John Steinbeck and his poodle started the journey that would become “Travels with Charley,” Ace and I left the author’s former driveway in Sag Harbor to duplicate, more or less, his route.
We circled the country, stopping at places of dog significance, Steinbeck significance, or no significance at all, traveling more than 20,000 miles before we returned to Baltimore.
There, having moved out of our home before the trip, we squatted and mooched off friends for a little while, and then rode a little more.
We backtracked to North Carolina, where, planning to linger a few months, we lived in the basement of a mansion in Winston-Salem. After little more than a month, Ace developed back issues and, on our vet’s advice, we started seeking a place to stay that didn’t have stairs.
I was on an outing with my mother when I asked her to show me my birthplace — the tiny apartment she, my father, and sister shared in what’s known as College Village.
Just about the time I was wrapping that up — except for the pesky getting-it-published part — the landlord who owned my unit told me he was selling it, and that I was required to leave my birthplace.
It was a little sad — in part because of the sentimental value of the place; in part because of leaving the friends, dog and human (and one cat) we’d made; in part because it would mean lifting numerous heavy objects.
With little spring in our steps, Ace and I went looking at apartment complexes, only to be turned off by their cookie-cutter sameness, and their silly pet rules — from arbitrary weight limits and breed restrictions to ridiculously high, non-refundable pet fees.
Even when they had swimming pools, we couldn’t manage to get very excited about any of them.
It had a green tin roof, a working fireplace, a shed out back and a front porch that seemed to be crying out for two rocking chairs.
It’s outside of town, but also inside of town, which we’ll explain tomorrow. In any event, we moved in over the weekend.
Friends in College Village held a goodbye party before we left — not a surprise party, but pretty surprising. That four women in their 20s would hold a get-together for a man all-too-rapidly approaching 60 says a lot about them, and possibly even more, I think, about that man’s dog.
Ace got a giant bone, an azalea bush that, once planted, he will be allowed to pee on, and a bandana that says “I’m smarter than your honor student.” Everyone at the party agreed that, in addition to being funny, it is probably also true.
Even before I started packing, Ace realized something was up and got stressed. Ace loves to hit the road, but he also loves having a familiar routine. He became extra needy, extra clingy and followed me around the house, except when I was making too much noise. Then he’d seek refuge in the bed, or ask to go outside.
There, he seemed even more eager to see the friends he was always excited to see, run to and lean on.
Perhaps, too, he was sensing the nostalgia swelling up in me. Even though I’d only lived in the apartment for my first year of life, and had no clear memories of it, it was where I was conceived, where my parents lived when I was born and the subject of much of my mother’s reminiscing.
The only thing that came close to seeming familiar to me was the door ringer — a hand cranked brass bell that, whenever it rang, gave Ace a thrill (because it meant company) and me a vague sense of déjà vu. Either I remembered it from infancy or it reminded me of a school bell.
When I left, I asked the new owner if I could take it, and he said okay, so I unscrewed it from the door and threw it in a box.
In a way, we’re not closing any doors, just opening — and perhaps modifying – some new ones.
I’d like to install the old bell on my new front door. It would be a way of bringing some of the sentimental value of the old place into the new one. It would make my mother’s eyes light up when she saw it.
And every time it rang, it would startle Ace, make him bark once, and lead him to stand at the door, tail wagging in anticipation over who — old friend or new one — might be on the other side.
(Tomorrow: The new place, disclosing our undisclosed location)
Posted by jwoestendiek April 4th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, blog, book, college village, dogs, door, door bell, friends, john steinbeck, moving, north carolina, ohmidog!, packing, pets, ringer, stress, travel, travels with ace, travels with charley, website, winston-salem
A Shetland sheepdog removed from the suburban New York home of a hoarder four years ago is back in town, and performing in a different kind of packed house — in a stage production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
Colt was one of 23 dogs removed from the home of a woman in Wesley Hills in 2008, according to the Journal News.
Ramapo police and members of the SPCA wore gas masks to enter the home, the condition of which was described as squalid, and the homeowner was charged with hoarding and neglecting the animals.
At some point, before her trial, she got Colt back, and he quickly tried to escape, getting struck by a car in the process. The accident left him with a broken back that required surgery and a body cast.
The woman later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, relinquishing ownership of all but one of her dogs and paying a $125 fine.
Colt became the ward of the Hudson Valley Humane Society, living in the Manhattan and Stony Point homes of its acting president, Ann Marie Gaudio.
This spring, though, Gaudio got a call from the Antrim Playhouse — located about a half-mile from the house Colt had been hoarded in. They were looking for a canine to play the role of the bunkhouse dog in its production of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
Gaudio suggested the producer and director audition Colt.
“Colt has the best bio of all of us,” Director Brooke Malloy Ortiz told the “He’s real sweet, a retired therapy dog. He’s not old, so we changed the dialogue to talk about how he has this wound on his leg and his back is broken. And we wet down his fur to make him look a bit more worn.”
In Steinbeck’s story of two itinerant farm workers, an old handyman named Candy has an old dog that one of the men, Carlson, constantly berates and abuses, eventually persuading the boss to let him put the dog out of its misery — an act that foreshadows what’s ahead.
Candy is played by Gordon Wolotira, who, under the director’s orders, was the only one allowed to pet or feed Colt during rehearsals.
The actor who plays Carlson, who yells at the dog several times in the play, wasn’t allowed to bond with Colt at all.
As a result, “Every time that Carlson has to pull the dog away from Candy, Colt growls at him and sometimes sits down and will not budge,” the director said. “We didn’t even train him to do that. But there’s a lot of shouting on stage, so he just wants to stay with Gordon, who has treats for him.”
Colt spends about a dozen minutes onstage, but he provides “some of the most engrossing moments of the play and it certainly gets the audience’s attention,” Wolotria said. “By the time they drag him off, it’s heart-breaking.”
Posted by jwoestendiek June 21st, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, ann marie gaudio, antrim, antrim playhouse, book, candy, carson, colt, comebacks, dog, dogs, f mice and men, hoarded, hoarder, home, hudson valley humane society, john steinbeck, mercy killing, new york, of mice and men, pets, play, plays, production, role, seized, shetland sheepdog, stage, wesley hills
Encountered: While walking my dog in my neighborhood in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Backstory: More than a year after setting off to retrace the path of John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley, we finally ran into a poodle named Charlie.
Even though it’s spelled differently, Charlie is named after the dog Steinbeck explored the country with in “Travels with Charley.”
His owner is a big fan of the book.
Ace and I ran into her and Charlie while passing the Diamondback Grill, where Ace always stops for water and a treat. It’s just down the road from where our year of travels came to an end, when Ace and I moved into the very apartment I was born in.
It struck me as interesting that only after completing our quest — only after we finished our 27,000 miles of Charley-inspired travels around the country – we’d finally encounter a poodle named Charley, or even Charlie.
Perhaps it just goes to show you, or at least me — when you finally stop looking for something, that’s usually when you find it.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 13th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, charley, charlie, dogs, john steinbeck, john woestendiek, pets, poodle, road trip, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley
Revised, reconfigured and ready to get you all the way through 2013, the “Travels with Ace” calendar is back on sale for a limited time.
A heavy-duty, 18-month wall calendar, it’s illustrated with photos from our year-long, 27,000-mile trip across America — from the coast of Maine, where Ace was the first dog in America to see the sunrise one day in October, to the shores of Monterey, where Ace hopped up for a closer look at a bust of John Steinbeck — the author who inspired our journey.
You can buy it and get more information here, or by clicking on that ad to the left.
Fifty percent of profits from the sale of the calendar go to Rolling Dog Farm, a sanctuary for deaf, blind and disabled animals in New Hampshire (and also one of the stops on our trip).
We’ve added photos of one stop that we didn’t include the first time around — the Coon Dog Cemetery in Tuscumbia, Alabama.
The rest of the calendar is packed with images from some of our other stops:
@Salvation Mountain in California, where Leonard Knight has fashioned and painted a mountain in honor of God.
@Niagara Falls, where Ace — ohmigod! — almost disappeared.
@The Lodge, a gentleman’s club in Dallas, where we met one of Michael Vick’s former dogs, and where Ace briefly took the stage.
@Various points south, like Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, where we kept running into kudzu dogs.
@The mountains of North Carolina, where we went in search of the elusive — and sometimes not so elusive — white squirrel.
@Rolling Dog Farm, where we reconnected with some old friends.
@John Steinbeck’s former home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., where we began retracing the route the author took in “Travels with Charley.”
@A marina in Baltimore, where we lived on a sailboat for a week, which Ace mostly liked.
Initial sales of the calendar raised $400 for Rolling Dog Farm.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 5th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, alabama, america, animals, arizona, baltimore, bandera, calendar, calendars, california, coast, coon dog cemetery, dallas texas, dog, dogs, fathers day, following, gentleman's club, gift, gifts, john steinbeck, john woestendiek, lancaster, maine, monterey, new hamsphire, niagara falls, north carolina, ohmidog!, oregon, path, pets, photography, photos, road trip, rolling dog farm, route, salinas, strip clubs, the lodge, trail, travel, travels with ace, travels with charley, trip, tucson, wall calendar, white squirrels, winslow
Dogs can’t be perpetual — despite what some people might try to tell you — but dog calendars can.
While I pledged to selfishly ignore all calendars other than my own — that being the 2012 (and half of 2013) Travels With Ace Calendar, which documents the year my dog and I recently spent rambling the country – I’ve realized that, under the guise of writing about the works of others, I can sneak in plugs for my own calendar, and my own book.
See, I’ve already plugged them both twice and I haven’t even mentioned “Everyday Dogs: A Perpetual Calendar for Birthdays and Other Notable Dates” (Heyday Books), which showcases, through vintage photos and quotes, the special bonds between humans and their dogs.
“Everyday Dogs” is the work of two staff members at the University of California at Berkeley. Mary Scott is a graphic designer for the campus’s Doe and Moffitt libraries. Susan Snyder is public services director at university’s Bancroft Library.
The cover of the 152-page book is a photo taken by noted 19th century California photographer Carleton E. Watkins of a dog named Guardian in a wicker carriage. It’s just one of 75 black-and-white photos featured, all taken between roughly 1870 and the 1940s.
The photos are coupled with dog-related literary quotes from, to name just a few, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Jack London, Mark Twain, John Muir, John Steinbeck and Gertrude Stein (who’s also pictured with her poodle, Basket).
Whether you’re a fan of literature, history or dogs — or, preferably, all three — you’re going to appreciate this collection. It’s playful, wise, revealing and provocative, much like a dog.
“All knowledge, the totality of all questions and answers, is contained in the dog,” Franz Kafka, one of those quoted in the “Everyday Dogs” calendar, once said.
He was right, I think, with the possible exception of today’s date.
For that you need a calendar. Or two.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 8th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bancroft library, black and white, books on dogs, calendar, cloning, date book, dog books, dog calendars, dog inc., dogs, emily dickinson, everyday dogs, gertrude stein, heyday books, jack london, john muir, john steinbeck, literary, mark twain, mary scott, perpetual, perpetual calendar, pets, photographs, photos, quotes, susan snyder, travels with ace, travels with ace calendar, university of california, vintage
If you think animal welfare can get vicious — what with all the desperate-for-funds parties involved, all the politics, all the backstabbing — consider, if you will, the calendar industry.
Having recently stepped into the field myself — you may call me either an entrepreneur or impresario; I think I prefer the latter – I’m amazed at all the calendars vying for the public’s attention, and that’s just counting the ones for good animal causes.
Of course, it would be foolish of me to mention any of them by name, as that might cut into sales of my “Travels with Ace: One Dog’s Year on the Road” calendar, 50 percent of the profits from which go to Rolling Dog Farm, a sanctuary for blind, deaf and disabled animals in New Hampshire.
The ”Travels with Ace” calendar — and here is a page where you may learn more about it (and buy it repeatedly) — documents the year Ace and I spent traveling across America, emulating John Steinbeck and his poodle Charley.
As Steinbeck did in his classic work “Travels with Charley” I hope to turn my travels with Ace into a book — though one far different from his, one more whimsical, one that takes itself far less seriously, one that’s more like the dog, which is really what my trip, unlike his, was about. It’s different, too, in this way: While Steinbeck was attempting to take the pulse of mainstream Americans, I, by nature, gravitate to offbeat types.
Ace, too; maybe that’s why we’re a team. It’s also why you’ll find us, as you flip through the months, hanging with hobos in Tucson, climbing brightly painted Salvation Mountain in California, and rubbing elbows (and nothing more) with the staff at a strip club in Dallas.
But that was the fun part, and a diversion from what we’re here to talk about today — the business of wall calendars.
The business world can get pretty cut-throat, which is why I’ve always detoured around it whenever possible. It’s also why we won’t be mentioning any competitors, like BARCS Orioles calendar, and why we will snub as well the Maryland SPCA calendar, not to mention the ASPCA calendar.
We realize you have many calender buying options. We realize, too, that you can usually get them for free, if you’re willing to look at advertisements for insurance companies, funeral homes, hardware stores, banks or real estate agents.
But we have the one thing (in addition to being good for 18, count ‘em, 18 months; in addition to featuring our old dog friends back in Baltimore; in addition to showing you the dogs and people we met in our travels) that no other calendar has:
He, despite his starring role in the calendar, has been of absolutely no help when it comes to the handling, the packing, the shipping, the signing (yes I sign each one) and the never-ending trips and long waits in line at the post office.
I am doing all the heavy lifting, all the monotonous work, and more of it than I expected — and I’m loving it.
Why? I think it has something to do with Christmas, and with the giving (though I am far from giving them away), and, maybe most of all, with keeping me occupied over the holidays.
Living alone, not counting Ace, and having gotten away in recent years from any sort of decorating, baking, caroling, playing Santa in dog photo with Santa fundraisers, or other festive acts, I tend to get a little Scroogy around the holidays.
With the demands of the calendar, though, my apartment — though it is elf-free — is feeling a little like Santa’s workshop.
I bustle about with scissors and markers and tape and lists, attempting to make sure, with all due precision, that orders get filled and delivered — unscathed, we hope — to all those who ordered them. (I think, at one point, I was even humming a happy tune.)
While nobody’s getting rich, except maybe for the company that printed them, the calendar is doing well. Our first printing sold out, and they’re all in the hands of the post office now. Our second shipment should arrive here this week.
The bulk of our orders are coming through PayPal, but if you want to order by mail, send a check for $28 and your address to ohmidog!, 804-D Avalon Road, Winston-Salem, NC, 27104.
If you live in Canada, or Europe, or someplace like that, precisely throw in a little more for shipping.
And to all those who ordered one, to all those who didn’t, and even to all those other dog calendar-selling organizatons, Happy Holidays!
Posted by jwoestendiek December 5th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 2012, 2013, ace, america, animal welfare, animals, business, calendar, christmas, competitition, dogs, gift, good causes, holidays, john steinbeck, ohmidog!, pets, photography, road trip, rolling dog farm, salvation mountain, santa, strip club, travel, travels with ace, travels with ace calendar, travels with charley
If in your house you have a wall
In a kitchen, bedroom or a hall
And if sometimes you can’t recall
What day it is — no, not at all
Here’s a gift that will enthrall
Almost each and every one of y’all
It’s about a dog quite tall
Who crossed a country far from small
But here’s the best part of it all
You can skip the shopping mall
Happy Black Friday. I — in exchange for forcing you to ready my hasty poetry — am about to make your life easier. No need to thank me.
The calendar recaptures some of the more memorable moments from our one year and 27,000 miles of travels across the country, about half of that spent retracing the route John Steinbeck, 50 years ago, took with his poodle in “Travels with Charley.”
The way I figure it, if you buy enough copies, you might be able to avoid the mall altogether, and you’ll be contributing to a good cause.
Half of all profits will go to Rolling Dog Farm in New Hampshire, formerly Rolling Dog Ranch in Montana. The sanctuary for blind, deaf and disabled animals relocated last year, and it was one of the stops on our journey across America.
Inside our calendar, you’ll find 18 unusual slices of American life – from our visit to John Steinbeck’s grave in Salinas, California, to dropping in at a gentlemen’s club in Dallas, where Ace spent time with Mel, a former Michael Vick dog.
From Dog Mountain in Vermont (one artist’s tribute to dog) to Salvation Mountain in California (one artist’s tribute to God). From Maine’s magnificent coast to Niagara’s roaring falls. From standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona to spotting dogs in the kudzu in Mississippi.
The calendar allows you to relive our journey, without spending a penny on gas; to see the places we went, the people we met and the dogs we bumped into.One month also features some of our old dog friends back in Baltimore.
It’s $25, plus $3 for shipping and handling, and each copy is hand signed by me – not Ace, though, as he has declared a moratorium on pawtographs.
It’s an 18-month calendar, which will carry you all the way to June, 2013.
And, or so we hope, it will raise a few bucks for Rolling Dog Farm, which you can learn more about here.
To place your orders, visit this page.
Posted by jwoestendiek November 25th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 18-month, 2012, ace, america, animals, arizona, baltimore, blind, calendar, california, deaf, disabled, dog mountain, dogs, donate, gift, holiday, john steinbeck, john woestendiek, kudzu dogs, maine, mel, michael vick, niagara falls, ohmidog!, pets, photography, photos, proceeds, profits, riverside park, road trip, rolling dog farm, salvation mountain, sanctuary, travels with ace, vick dog
Ace slept through the whole thing, but I, at least, was honored to be a guest on Animal Cafe this week to discuss my year-long, penny-pinching, Steinbeck-inspired, dog-motivated journey across America.
You can listen to the podcast here.
We talked about “Travels with Ace” with Edie Jarolim, pet travel correspondent for Animal Cafe.
As Ace snoozed on the futon, I recounted, by phone, how — having finished my book, and languishing in a state of unemployment — we came to move out of our home in Baltimore and not come to a stop until 25,000 miles later.
Part of that time was spent retracing the route John Steinbeck took with his poodle in “Travels with Charley.” But unlike Steinbeck, who spent three months on the road, we ended up taking a year before we semi-settled back down.
When Edie asked me if our traveling was over, I had one of those schizoid moments. Responsible John answered yes, they pretty much were. But Freewheeling John was there on the other shoulder, urging that we hit the road again.
I told him to shutup — at least for now.
Posted by jwoestendiek October 10th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animal cafe, animals, dog inc., dogs, edie jarolim, john steinbeck, john woestendiek, pets, podcast, road trip, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley
Are we old yet?
Sure, age is just a number; sure, it’s relative; sure, you’re as young as you feel, and all those other clichés that, when applied liberally, work much like salve on dry and wrinkly skin.
But feel-good truisms aside – those truisms are, after all, nothing more than Botox for the brain (and generally not true, either) — the answer is yes, we are. I may do all in my power not to act like it in public, and not to admit it, often, to myself, but old age is not-so slowly and ever-so-slyly creeping up on us.
During our year of travels across America, Ace and I became the same age. For six years, he was the youngster and I the elder. Then he caught up, as dogs do, and while I stayed 57, he passed me – at least according to the mathematical formula we’re basing all this on.
I don’t need math to know I’m getting old. There are reminders everyday – like the day I tried to open the front door of my apartment by pointing my car key at it and pushing the unlock button, like the day I put Preparation H on my toothbrush, like all those times I’ve been enjoying the smell of coffee brewing only to realize I neglected to place the pot in the machine.
On top of these golden moments of mental lapse, on top of the physiological ones, such as hills, or stairs, that magically get steeper each time you go up them, there are visual reminders, too, and they may be the most painful of all – those mirror moments when your generous perception of yourself and harsh reality collide.
A couple of weeks ago, driving down the interstate with my son, I saw a truly hideous sight. My window was open; my left arm – you remember my left arm – was resting on it, forming an “L,” my hand on the roof.
Did you ever see your grandma, in a sleeveless outfit, screw in a light bulb? Remember how the underside of her upper arm, that pasty part that never gets any sun, became something of a kinetic miracle — excess skin in perpetual motion, like a slowly swinging hammock, or perhaps a pendulum would be a better analogy?
This was worse than that.
When Ace sticks his head out the window, the effect is something like a facelift — his loose skin is pushed back, giving him that tightened-up look, like Joan Rivers has. The same cannot be said of my arm.
The wind, at 65 miles per hour, was not just sending my skin to flapping, almost audibly, but transforming my arm into an entirely different shape, stretching it out like Silly Putty and yet, at the same time, accentuating all the leathery wrinkles that I’d never noticed before. It seemed an alien appendage. I stared at it in something close to horror. “Look what’s happening to my arm,” I told my son. “Let’s turn the air conditioner on.” (It occurred to me my left arm would be less flabby if we still had roll-up windows.)
If you’ve been following the continuing adventures of Marshmallow Man and Wonder Dog, as we’re thinking of renaming our saga, you know that Ace is six, going on seven and that, in recent months, he has been slowed by some back troubles. He seems to have gotten over them, though he’s still using the ramp to get into the back of the car. (That’s him in the first three photos, young Ace on the top left, current Ace on the top right; these others are other old dogs I have known and loved.)
You know that I am a not-particularly-buff, not-particularly-health-conscious 57 — about the same age John Steinbeck was when he set off on his trip across America with his poodle, Charley.
You may realize, too, that Travels with Ace has been — in addition to a modern-day retracing of Steinbeck’s route, in addition to a search for dog friendliness and human friendliness, in addition to seeking out America’s dog-loving soul — a quest for identity. (At least for me; Ace seems comfortable with his.)
Being a newspaper reporter without a newspaper, an author whose book was finished, a workaholic without work, I think that, in addition to showing my dog a good time, I was trying to find my new self. My old self – a newspaper reporter, for 34 years – was gone, ever since I left my last job in 2008, departing an industry that was sickly, desperately searching for a cure and not aging gracefully at all.
I left to write a book and, even though it has been published, I have trouble proclaiming myself an author. Maybe you’re not an author until you’ve written two books. “Rambling Man” was a great identity, and a great time, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Being a “Blogger” doesn’t pay the bills, either, or work for me as an identity. Everybody in the world is a blogger.
As an adult, I’ve always identified myself – rightly or wrongly — through my occupation, probably because it was what I was most proud of. I’m less proud of the industry now. And I’m not sure what to make of myself. I’m nearing retirement age but in no position to do that. The uncertainty, the trepidations, the lack of confidence are similar to the feelings I had when I started my first real job in Tucson, even as I approach “senior” status, though I’m not sure when that kicks in these days.
In some ways, Travels with Ace has been a coming of age story. Unfortunately, that age is 57.
Fifty-seven has its advantages – I just don’t remember them right now — but to be honest (OK, there’s one of them) it is not the prime of life, for either man or dog.
I think Ace and I concur on this point.
When we gaze into each other’s eyes for extended periods of time, as we are wont to do, having wordless conversations that somehow sum up the sum total, and then sum, of the shared pain, joy, uncertainty, contentment, confusion, gratitude, respect and love that make us us — I get the feeling we are on the same page, and the same paragraph. I get the feeling that, being peers now, age-wise, we are even more bonded and syncopated.
In those silent conversations, we encourage each other to live in the moment, because our hips could go out in the next one.
As best as I can figure, it was somewhere around Fargo, curiously enough (for one actual winter there seems like five years) that our aging arcs intersected. It most likely happened in a Motel 6 (which in dog years would be Motel 42).
There are various formulas for converting dog years into human ones. Under the traditional view, one human year equals seven dog years. That would make Ace about 45. But that formula has been all but thrown out the window by experts. According to most recent research, which incorporates a dog’s size into the equation, your big dog is probably older than you think he is, and aging at a truly frightening clip.
Based on the formula we’re inclined to believe — you can see the chart we’re using here — Ace and I converged at the age, in human terms, of 57. By the time I’m 60, Ace will be nearing 70. By the time I’m 65, Ace, if he’s still around, while 13 in actual years, will have passed 100 in dog ones.
It’s not fair. It’s not fair at all – and by that I mean aging in general, and the fact that dogs age more quickly, and the fact that a big dog ages so much more rapidly than a yappy little one.
A yappy little one – and we know all little ones aren’t yappy, and love them even if they are – lives much longer. When Ace turns 100, a little one, on earth for the same amount of time, would only be 60.
My hopes are that, being a certified mutt, Ace might outlive comparably sized purebreds, and that if we both drop 10 pounds or so, we might buy some extra time, which we can spend whimpering and groaning about our aches and pains.
As near seniors, though I am running ahead in terms of my fur turning grey, I think we are both a little crankier, more easily annoyed. We both sleep more and grumble more.
We heave more sighs, and utter more harrumphs – getting down on the floor harrumphs, getting up from the floor harrumphs, getting resituated harrumphs, and sometimes harrumphs that have no apparent reason at all.
We both walk more slowly, and only rarely see cause to run.
We both take more pleasure in consuming food, and in voiding ourselves of it. One attaches more importance to digestive issues the older one gets, leading to our motto: Stay regular, but be exceptional.
We both have energy spurts. I’m not sure where his come from. He uses them to chase something briefly, chew a stick, get some human attention, or to just joyfully romp for a couple of minutes. I get mine from coffee, and use them to write things like this, or clean the house.
John Steinbeck, when, 50 years ago, he took the trip we emulated, was 58. He was chronically cranky by then. He missed the “good old days” and wondered “what’s this world coming to,” like old men do everywhere. Were it not for his poodle, who he took along as an afterthought, “Travels With Charley” – in addition to just being “Travels” — would have been one extended, ponderous, but well-written downer.
Steinbeck seemed seething with impatience at times, stuck in the past a lot and not an entirely happy camper, on those occasions he actually camped, or at least alleged that he did.
The most glorious moments in the book, the most graceful moments in the book, Steinbeck’s most patient and whimsical moments in the book, all revolved around Charley.
As with life, the book’s best moments centered on the dog. I am of the opinion there should have been much more Charley in the book, and that there should be a dog in the life of every person nearing 60, or above it.
That’s not just because they are exemplars of growing old gracefully. It’s also because it’s good to have a dog around when we grow old, especially if one is growing old alone, and even though the dog is growing old faster.
A dog helps us fight the crankiness, avoid an all-too-somber and serious outlook on life, keep the mind open and the legs moving, and, I think most important of all, maintain the whimsy.
Some people lose the whimsy way before they get old. Life, they seem to think, is too serious a proposition to waste time doing something spontaneous, or outlandish or just plain silly, something that doesn’t further their personal goals. It’s a terrible thing to see an old young person. It’s a wonderful thing to see a young old person.
Whimsy, I think, is the key, and if you don’t understand what I mean by whimsy look at it this way: It’s the human equivalent of a dog’s wagging tail. It states “I’m up for it,” “I’m open to suggestions,” “Let’s take a trip with no destination.”
It says, “Guess which direction I’m going to go in?”
It says, “OK, I’m going to do something really goofy now.”
It says, “Even with all that life has thrown at me, I’m still happy. Haha.”
The whimsy is easier to maintain when you have a dog – it being a whimsical creature itself.
Getting tied to a routine, and making that routine the most important thing in the world, is part of getting older. It’s also a whimsy-killer. I think an underlying reason we set off on our trip in the first place was the feeling that we — and using the editorial “we” when I mean I could be another sign of aging, I never used to do that — had fallen too far into a routine, and were sinking into it like quicksand.
Now that the trip is over, now that we’re settled down, at least for now, it sometimes seems like something’s gaining on us.
What do you think that might be? Actually, I don’t much care what you think. (Not caring what others think is often described as another benefit of being old, but in truth I haven’t fully reached that point yet.)
The biggest downside of getting old, of course, is death. I find myself thinking about it more, but that could be because, for my book, I spent a year immersed in the topic, at least as it applied to dogs. Part of it, too, may be spending more time at the retirement community in which my mother lives, where at least every month there’s a reminder of it.
But probably the biggest part is the simple and steady tick tock of advancing time, that swinging pendulum, mechanically and monotonously dancing towards what’s inevitable – despite the best efforts of doctors and scientists, drugs and cosmetic surgery.
The only real way to combat it is with a wag of the tail.
My brother says he once asked my mother how she would like her remains disposed of after death – if she wanted to be buried or cremated.
“Surprise me,” she said.
Now that’s whimsy.
(Tomorrow: The kudzu dogs return)
Posted by jwoestendiek July 14th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, aches, aging, aging gracefully, america, author, blog, blogger, book, cranky, death, dog inc., dog years, dogs, elderly, fargo, flapping skin, getting old, grouchy, growing old, grumpy, human years, humans, identity, john steinbeck, newspapers, old dogs, old man, outlook, pains, purpose, reporters, retirement, road trip, seniors, tail, tired, travels with ace, travels with charley, wag, wagging tail, whimsy, years