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Tag: memories

Malfunction indicators: Despite them, the Acemobile lives on to drive another year


It’s not up there with losing a family member, or a dog, but the the thought of losing a car — inanimate as it may be — can sometimes be a little painful, too.

This year, as the time came up for a state inspection, my red 2005 Jeep Liberty — best known as the Acemobile, and filled with memories from the last 13 years — things were not looking good.

The engine light, aka the check engine light, or the malfunction indicator light, would not go off.

That’s been a problem, off an on, for years now. It comes on. I generally ignore it. It goes away. Fortunately, it never happened at inspection time, but this time it did — and it stayed on.

Decades ago, the check engine light was just that — a warning that you should check the engine. Now though it serves as the beacon for the automobile’s entire computer system, and it could be a sign that virtually anything is wrong.

Absolutely, it is a bit of a scam. The light goes on. You take it in for an expensive diagnostic test, meaning they hook your car’s computer up to yet another computer, and it spits out some vague information about where problem area might be.

As with doctors and their testing machines, guesswork is still involved, and often a long process of eliminating other possibilities. At least with human health problems, though, you can go on with life, coping with your ailment until, just maybe, it gets figured out.

It’s a good thing humans don’t have to pass inspection to hang around, and probably a good thing (given they are not all that reliable) that we don’t have malfunction indicator lights.

In North Carolina, you can’t pass an inspection when your engine light is on. You can unhook a battery cable, which resets the car’s computer and makes the light go off for a while, but that doesn’t fool them. They know when it’s resetting.

Having until the end of September to get the inspection, I took it in at the very beginning of the month. They ran the diagnostic test, found some alleged problems, replaced some parts and a couple of tires, handed me a bill for more than $800 and told me to take it home and drive it until the computer reset.

When the computer reset, the light came back on.

By then I was already worrying about investing too much in an old car that might not even be fixable. Virtually everyone I spoke to about my car trouble said sell it and get a new one.

I couldn’t.

I took it back to the same place and they looked at it again. They believed they pinpointed a problem, but it was not the sort they could address. They thought that, somewhere in the wire that ran from my speed sensor (one of the parts they replaced) to the speedometer, there was a short.

Herein lies one of the ironies, or at least it struck me that way:

You are not required to have a working speedometer to pass inspection in North Carolina. But you are required to have that check engine light off.

So even though my light was on due solely to the speedometer issue, they could not pass it.

At this point, I am thinking a well-placed blow with an ice pick, right into the bulb, might be the answer. Instead, at the suggestion of the mechanic, I took it to another garage that specialized in electrical matters.

I explained to two people there what the first garage thought the problem was and handed over all the paperwork.

The next morning I got a call informing me I needed a new power train control module; the price $1,990. I asked how they knew that. They said because the computer said so. I asked about the faulty wire issue that had been diagnosed earlier. They said all they know is what the computer is saying.

I got a little angry. I tried to understand the situation, but face it: Most of us do not understand what computers are saying, or, even more difficult, what humans are saying that computers are saying.

Again, true of doctors and true of car mechanics.

I asked, again, about the wiring problem that had already been diagnosed, and whether they had ruled that out as an issue. They insisted I needed the module, which had to be paid for by me before they ordered it.

I debated again, but only briefly, getting rid of the car.

And I decided the memories were worth the $3,000 I was about to put into the car with 108,500 miles on it.

For one year, Ace and I lived in the Jeep, more or less, while traveling across America. The Acemobile was my Rocinante, the name John Steinbeck gave his camper during Travels with Charley — taken from the name of the horse Don Quixote rode.

The horse — like him, like Steinbeck, maybe a little like me — was awkward, past his prime, and trying to recapture something he may or may not have had in the first place.

All the many trips I took with my son, Joe, also sprang to mind — from warming breakfast sandwiches on the dashboard defroster on a cold morning fishing trip to meandering through Texas on a ride from Arizona to Alabama, or was it Mississippi?

I lost Ace a couple of years ago. I lost my son a couple of months ago. In recent years, I’ve also lost my mother, my father, and to top it all off, a kidney.

I honestly just couldn’t stand, stomach or tolerate another loss.

So my wallet and I headed down to the second garage to pay for the module. When I walked in they told me that I was right about the wiring issue. I did not need the module after all. They just needed to replace that wire.

The next day I picked it up, paying another $500-something, and took it directly back to the first garage. It passed inspection. I was so grateful that I instructed them to fix two other problems — the hydraulic bars that keep the hood up when opened and the hydraulic bars that keep the back window open.

Maybe I was tired of getting bonked in the head by both. Maybe I was showing my car a little love. Maybe I was learning a lesson about treasuring and caring for what you have.

I picked my car up Wednesday.

When Hurricane Florence comes my way, probably Friday, my car will be parked far away from any trees that might fall on it.

The Acemobile lives!

(Photos by John Woestendiek, from Travels with Ace)

Barbara Bush stood for much, dogs included

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Barbara Bush was remembered over the weekend as a kind, strong and loyal matriarch whose advocacy for various causes touched the lives of many.

Among those were the lives of dogs — her own family’s and others, including the hundreds of thousands who have visited the dog park that bears the name of her former dog, Millie.

Mrs. Bush wrote two children’s books that featured her own family dogs.

millliesbook“Millie’s Book,” published in 1992, describes a day in the life of President George H.W. Bush and family, through their dogs eyes, including daily morning briefings, time spent in the Oval Office, and breaks in the yard to chase squirrels.

The book hit No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

“C. Fred’s Story,” published in 1984, detailed their Cocker Spaniel’s life as the sidekick of then-Vice President Bush.

Both books raised money towards Bush’s top human cause, literacy, with “Millie’s Book” raising over $1.1 million.

More than 1,000 mourners gathered in Texas Saturday to attend the funeral of the former first lady at the Bushes’ family church in Houston.

She had been fighting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure.

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In 2003, Harris County opened a state of the art dog park in Houston in honor of the former first lady’s English Springer Spaniel, Millie.

Millie and Mrs. Bush are said to have been the inspiration for the park, the first to open in the county. It went on to serve as a model and inspiration for other dog parks. Millie died in Kennebunkport, Maine, on May 19, 1997 at the age of about 11.

Houston locals remember Mrs. Bush as “a kind of straight-talking grandmother to the city, an approachable first lady out for a stroll in the sunshine, so genuinely earthbound that she herself picked up after her dogs at the park,” the New York Times reported.

More photos of Mrs. Bush and the Bush dogs can be seen in this PEOPLE magazine report on the former first lady’s passion for dogs.

(Photos: At top, the First Lady and Millie on the grounds of the White House in 1989, by Diana Walker; at bottom, Millie and the Lady in a 1990 photo, Associated Press)

Barbra Streisand has cloned her dog twice

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Having literally written the book on the first customers of dog cloning, and having tried to keep you posted since then on developments in that morbid and exploitative business, I must report here on one of its newest customers.

Barbra Streisand.

In a far-ranging interview with Variety, the singer and show business legend revealed that her dogs Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett are both clones of her original Coton du Tulear, Samantha.

Samantha, who commonly accompanied Streisand to concerts and public appearances, and who had her own Instagram fans, died last fall at the age of 14.

In the Variety article, Streisand offered few specifics on how she made the decision to clone, or on the process itself, but either Samantha’s corpse, or cell samples from it, were sent to South Korea where they were cloned in a private lab operated by a once-disgraced scientist — the same one who was involved in the world’s first canine cloning.

Her two new pups were cloned at Sooam Biotech, using cells extracted from Samantha’s mouth and stomach.

In the process, the donor cells are merged with egg cells extracted from other dogs, zapped with an electrical current to spur splitting, then implanted in more dogs who serve as surrogates, carrying the embryos to pregnancy.

Often surplus clones result — those that don’t have the exact same markings. Through cloning’s development, death and deformities resulted as well. Animal welfare groups frown on the practice, because of the intrusive procedures the other dogs go through, and because it is generally quite easy to simply adopt a dog that looks like the one you just lost.

Streisand, from what I’ve read about her, seems to fit the common mold of dog cloning’s earliest customers — wealthy eccentrics unwilling to accept nature taking something away from them, who feel they have every right to get it back, no matter how much pain and suffering other dogs might go through for that to be achieved.

They weren’t all wealthy — including the very first customer — but they all were controlling sorts who often didn’t even recognize the utter selfishness of what they were doing.

They were also, early on, misled by the dog cloning companies that formed after the successful cloning of Snuppy in South Korea in 2005. Not only would the clone be an exact physical replica, but it would have the same endearing traits and personality of the original, they were told by the emerging dog cloning companies.

That part was bunk, and the companies later toned down their claims. As the process became more efficient, they dropped their prices too, from $150,000, to under $100,000, with some companies now offering a price as low as $25,000.

In the Variety article, Streisand’s two clones were mentioned as an aside, much like her husband, actor James Brolin, often is.

Along with her husband of 20 years, James Brolin, there’s no one she enjoys sharing her residence with more than her three Coton de Tulear dogs. Perhaps her biggest reveal: Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett were cloned from cells taken from the mouth and stomach of her beloved 14-year-old dog Samantha, who died in 2017. Miss Fanny is a distant cousin.

“They have different personalities,” Streisand says. “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness.”

Streisand, the article said, even suggested a cutline for the magazine to use with the photo they took of her and her dogs — Send in the Clones.

Streisand said that when the clones first arrived, she dressed one in red and one in lavender, so she could tell them apart. That’s what led to their names — Miss Scarlett and Miss Violet.

I don’t suspect Streisand looks at her new clones and sees in them the reincarnated soul of her original dog, as some early customers did.

I do suspect that original dog created memories she wanted to hold on to, at any cost.

Like the song she once sang, “The Way We Were,” asked:

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we? Could we?

The answer is — if you have more money than you know what to do with, if you have little regard for animals other than your own, if you have a selfish streak and an ability to delude yourself — yes!

(Photo: Streisand holding Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, along with Miss Fanny (from left), who is distantly related and given to Streisand while was waiting for the clones; by Russell James / Variety)

Thief returns dog’s ashes to owner

The thief who stole a package containing a dog’s ashes from a woman’s front porch in Staten Island has returned them, along with a note of apology.

Gloria Johnson said a box containing the ashes of her Yorkie, Dakotah, was returned to her home Tuesday morning with a note from the thief.

“Dear Mam,” the note begins. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I caused you. I wanted to bring back to you what’s dear to you and to me.

“My mind was mesed (sic) up without my mental medication and I feel bad. I love dogs and I made sure I placed him in a rose basket for the time being until I could return him where he belongs!!!”

Johnson told the Staten Island Advance Tuesday she was “ecstatic” to have Dakotah’s ashes back.

Surveillance footage obtained from Johnson’s neighbor showed a man enter her gate after the package had been dropped off by Fed Ex on July 27.

What happens when he approaches the porch can’t be seen, but he walks back into view with his backpack in his hands, walks out of the gate and leaves on his bicycle.

Johnson learned the ashes had been stolen after checking with her vet to see why they hadn’t arrived. She was told they had been delivered the previous week.

After seeing the surveillance video from a neighbor’s home, Johnson searched the neighborhood, knocking on doors, asking questions and checking inside trash cans to see if the thief might have tossed the package after seeing what was inside it.

Dakotah died from complications after a possible stroke.

“I go outside a hundred times a night to see if maybe someone put him on the fence,” Johnson, a widow, told the Advance in an interview after the theft. “After my husband died he was the one I hung on to every night.”

She had bought a crystal ash box for the dog’s cremated remains that she planned to fill and place on her mantle, alongside those of her husband.

In a plea for the return of the ashes, she added, “It matters to me that I have him, that I can talk to him. I’m not coping well.”

It’s not known if the thief saw the initial news reports, but apparently he had a conscience, and three weeks after the theft the box was returned.

“Got a little bit of faith in humanity,” Johnson told ABC 7 in New York.
“But still, he held it for three weeks. He didn’t throw them in the garbage, that was my fear, he’d just open it up and throw them in the garbage because it didn’t mean nothing to him.”

Johnson said the ashes were returned on what would have been Dakotah’s birthday.

Masters of their dog name: Seinfeld lives on

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Seinfeld lives on in more than just reruns.

And if you don’t believe me, just take a look at some of the dog news in recent weeks.

Up in Alaska, on Tuesday, a sled dog named George Costanza led his team to victory in the Yukon Quest.

Down in South Africa, a dog surrendered by an owner who found him “yucky” has found a new home with a TV producer who renamed him Newman.

And in California, a missing therapy dog named Kramer was reunited with his owner after he went missing two months ago.

That’s quite a run (or rerun) of dogs with Seinfeld-related names making the news — and proof that good TV shows, like our memory of good dogs, never fade away.

George Costanza, an 8-year-old, is “a bit of a ham,” winning musher Hugh Neff told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner after the 1,000-mile race.

Neff finished the race in 9 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes on the trail — the fourth fastest time in race history — even though George Costanza got distracted near the finish line and stopped to lead the team over to meet a local dog on the sidelines.

newmanNewman, as he’s now known, was dropped off at a vet’s office in Overburg by owners who asked that he be put down.

But things got so busy at the office that day the vet didn’t have time to do it, and the vet’s secretary called a rescue group in an effort to save the corgi mix, who was malnourished and had a broken leg.

The founder of the rescue group turned to social media in an effort to save the dog, then being called Nik Nak, from lethal injection.

A temporary home in Cape Town was found and, after a week, it became permanent.

“He is fitting in quite nicely. He is very chilled and relaxed,” Kamilla Nurock told News24.

Nurock, a TV producer, said she named her new companion after Jerry’s nemesis in Seinfeld.

Social media also played a role in reuniting Kramer with his owner, Nik Glaser. Kramer disappeared while being cared for by an acquaintance when Glaser was on a trip to Seattle. For two months, Glaser, who has anxiety issues, searched Los Angeles for his therapy dog before he moved to Seattle at the end of January.

Soon after that he heard, through social media, about a similar dog who ended up in a Los Angeles shelter. It turned out to be Kramer and the two were reunited earlier this month:

(Top photo: Hugh Neff hugs George Costanza at the Yukon Quest finish line, by Erin Corneliussen / Fairbanks News-Miner)

Now THAT’S a photo bomb

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What’s wrong with this picture?

Not a thing — at least if you are of the view that a pooping dog in the background only adds to a special moment.

The website Newshound recently presented 16 photos in which defecating dogs “ruined” otherwise precious moments caught on camera.

I — being no big fan of precious — would come to the defense of the dogs pictured, given they are only doing what comes naturally, didn’t seek to place themselves in front of the lens, and, possibly, would have even preferred a little privacy.

(I’d also point out that, if you check out the link, that’s not pooping going on in the fifth photo.)

That said, I’m of the opinion that the pooping dogs add a little needed reality to the pictures — most of which are those boring posed shots so common at weddings and before the prom (see the lower right corner in the shot below).

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I can’t guarantee none of the 16 photos have been tinkered with — perhaps in an attempt to add some editorial commentary.

But dogs seldom, if ever, are making a statement in their choice of when and where to poop. They’re simply letting nature, and last night’s dinner, take their course.

So blame (or credit) the photographers for the accidental or purposeful inclusion of pooping dogs in these photos, which remind us that into every life — even at the most memorable of moments — a little you-know-what must fall.

An Easter tradition: Sprucing up the graves

One of the reasons Ace and I are lingering in this town – Winston-Salem, North Carolina – is so that I can reconnect with my roots here in my birthplace. An opportunity to do that arose last week.

I got a call from Aunt Edna Faye, who, though she’d visited from Raleigh just two days before, had forgotten to carry out one of the tasks she intended to: Placing flowers on the grave of Tan.

Tan, or Tan-NEE, as her nickname was pronounced in full, was Kathleen Hall, who, though not related by blood, grew up as a sister of my grandmother. As my mother’s aunt, she babysat me before I turned one – here in the very same house Ace and I recently moved into. Never married, she was a schoolteacher and administrator. She died in 1983, at the age of 92. An elementary school in town bears her name.

Putting flowers on her grave is a family tradition at Easter – one that, if I ever was aware of it, I had forgotten.

Aunt Edna Faye explained that Tan was buried in the Moravian Graveyard, in what’s known as “God’s Acre,” near the Home Moravian Church in Old Salem. She didn’t know exactly where the gravesite was: “It’s behind the church, on a hill sort of to the left, near the sidewalk. It’s on the side that’s towards Salem, not towards Krispy Kreme.”

She asked, when she called on Friday, that I get some flowers and place them at Tan’s headstone.

“There are no containers there, so it needs to be something in a pot, and not a very tall one because it would tip over. Just sort of press it in the ground and stabilize it as much as you can,” she said. Last year, Edna Faye got Tan a pink hydrangea.

When I told my mother – who is Edna Faye’s sister — of the mission, she said she had thought about asking me to do it, but didn’t want to bother me. When I finished reprimanding her for that – explaining that the main reason I’ve temporarily moved here is so she can bother me — she asked if she could come along and quietly watch from the car.

“Hell no,” I answered.

I didn’t really say that, but it’s the sort of thing that – as a joke – I might, which could be why she didn’t ask me in the first place.

On our way to buy the flowers, she told me a little about Tan, most of which I’d forgotten. She considered Tan one of her four aunts, and perhaps the one to whom, as an adult, she was closest. When my father shipped out to Korea, Tan was there for her, and for long after that. She babysat my sister and me – I being born about nine months after my father returned. She was a much beloved teacher. Her nickname, Tan-NEE, apparently derived from a young nephew’s mispronunciation of Auntie. Her favorite color was purple.

Leaving Ace and my mother in the car, I surveyed the flowering plants outside a grocery store, opting for a delphinium because it was purple, with shades of blue. Ace approved. More important, so did my mother.

At God’s Acre (or Gottesacker, in the old German) members of the congregation were there in droves. The day before Easter is what’s known as decoration day – a time when relatives and church members tidy up the graves, and place out fresh flowers – partly because it’s tradition, partly because a huge sunrise Easter service takes place there the next morning.

People were hauling in plants, pouring bleach on gravestones to remove grey mold, and scrubbing off the grime, some using toothbrushes. All of the headstones at the Moravian Graveyard are exactly the same shape and size – Moravians being big on simplicity and uniformity. The departed are buried chronologically, in the order in which they are “called home to be with the Lord,” and there are no statues or monuments to distinguish the graves of the rich from those of the poor.

Normally, that would have made finding Tan’s grave difficult. But I’d gone on the graveyard’s website the day before, typed in her name and gotten the precise location: Section 1AA, Row 02, Grave 04. Between that and the map the website provided, finding her was easy.

She was buried alongside other women — that, too, being the Moravian way. Men, women and children are buried in separate sections, which stems from the church’s “choir system,” introduced in Saxony by Count Zinzendorf, the renewer of the Moravian Church.

The congregation was divided into groups according to age, sex, and marital status so that each individual might be cared for spiritually according to their differing needs. At worship the “choirs” also sat together – boys on one side, girls on the other.

When death comes, members are buried not with their families, but by the same choir system.

God’s Acre is still used by the Salem Congregation, comprised of twelve Moravian Churches within the city of Winston-Salem. Members of the church gather there the day before easter to ensure that all of the graves have flowers by Sunday.

Other than her grave location, there’s not a lot of information on Kathleen Hall on the Internet, her death having preceded its rise. Even with an elementary school named after her, there are few references to be found, other than a 1939 Winston-Salem high school year book for sale on eBay – one page of which is dedicated to her for her “friendly, untiring and unselfish services.”

My parents left North Carolina when I was one, so, except for a few visits over the years, I never got to closely know Kathleen Hall, who my sister, with slight variation, was named after.

My mother says that when my sister Kathryn was an infant, and wouldn’t stop crying, Tan would take her for car rides, and that made her finally shut up. (I’ll need to remember that next time I visit.)

When my mother moved back to Winston-Salem, in the late 1970s, I’d gone off to college, followed by my first job, far away in Arizona. My younger brother got to know Tan better than me, visiting her, after her retirement, at the Moravian home, where he remembers she liked watching professional wrestling on TV, and drinking banana milk shakes, which he’d always stop and pick up on the way.

I was hoping to introduce Ace to Tan, as I introduced him a few months ago to John Steinbeck, but I decided to obey the “no dogs allowed” signs. I didn’t want him squirting while everyone else was sprucing. He waited patiently in the car, watching from the window, as did my mother.

At Tan’s gravesite, someone had already left a lily, I set our contribution next to it, pushing it down into the moist earth as instructed. Contrary to Aunt Edna Faye’s advice, I picked a flower that grows tall. But I figured even if it toppled, it would keep growing, albeit sideways.

The hillside was filling up with people, armed with scrub brushes, bleach and Comet, and flowers in buckets and wagons and wheelbarrows, paying respect not just with their presence, but with their sweat.

Slowly, the cemetery took on more and more color, as if blooming — with lilies and azaleas and hydrangea and tulips and geraniums and daisies and daffodils.

And, amid the crowd, at least one purple delphinium.