Here is how I greeted my little brother when — after decades of living on opposite sides of the country — he moved to the same North Carolina town I live in:
With a quick one-armed hug, a pat on the back, a bagful of barbecue and some words to the effect of, “Howya doin’?”
Here is how I greeted his dog, a yellow Lab named Roscoe:
With a welcome sign, balloons, flowers, treats, oodles of hugs, playing tug of war, copious amounts of head-petting, belly rubs, laying on the floor and spooning, some of the aforementioned barbecue, and words to the effect of “Roscoe! Roscoe! Hi buddy! You’re a good boy! What a good boy! Yes, you’re a good boy! You’re just a good, good boy! Yes, you are! Yes, you are!”
Sometimes I think dogs were created so that men might be able to show emotions.
I am happy as heck that, after 40 years living in different states, my brother and I are occupying the same one. I freely admit that. But do I show him that? Of course not. I reserve my shows of affection for his dog. Maybe that’s what most men do. At least it’s what this one does.
In greeting a friend I haven’t seen for years, in visiting my father, or mother, or sister, I tend to act, on the surface, as if I just saw them yesterday. I don’t get teary, or engage in long embraces, or scream or jump up and down. I don’t effervesce, for my personality is a decidedly non-carbonated one.
I don’t get as visibly excited about people as I do dogs, but I think the reasons for that go beyond the fact that I’m of the non-bubbly male persuasion.
It’s only natural to have some inhibitions with humans. For one thing, you can’t automatically, 100 percent, trust them. For another, we tend to worry what another human might think of what we do or say. But mostly, they don’t reciprocate quite like dogs do. No other animal does.
If a long lost friend were to madly wag his tail upon seeing me again, it might be different. That might lead me to rub his belly, making him show even more delight, leading me to wrestle on the floor with him, or play some tug of war with a pillow. But being human, we’re content with a hug or handshake, and then using our words, which we — especially us men — generally keep a leash on as well.
When a dog makes me feel all warm and mushy inside, not only can I let it out; it’s hard not to. Scientists would probably say it’s because loving on a dog triggers the release of some chemical holed up in some body part.
But I think it’s mostly just human nature. We all want somebody to lay some love on. Dogs are the easiest creatures on which to lay it, and the most likely to clearly and immediately show they appreciate it. Dogs aren’t going to reject you, or judge you – no matter what stupid thing you say, or what sort of baby talk you’re babbling.
Somehow, with dogs, that dividing line between the love you feel, and the love you feel comfortable exhibiting, doesn’t exist.
But back to Roscoe, and, oh yeah, my brother.
His partner, James, moved here for a new job about a year ago, and he’d been sorely missing Roscoe, who he considers his dog. This week they all drove from Arizona. Roscoe, despite some concerns about how he’d do on the road, behaved wonderfully and seemed to like the cross-country trip.
They arrived in Winston-Salem earlier this week and Roscoe seems to be adjusting nicely, though he did run through a sliding screen door, not realizing it was there. (Did I mention he was a yellow Lab?)
I visited as they continued unpacking Tuesday, and on the ride home started thinking about the disparity between the love I showed Roscoe and the love I showed my brother (even though, I’d argue, bringing barbecue shows pretty much love). I didn’t exhibit, or verbally express, how happy I am he’s here.
I only showed Roscoe.
I’m that way with all dogs — even those I’ve just met. If I were to behave when meeting a human as I do upon meeting a dog, I would probably be arrested. But I can’t help but wonder whether I should come a little closer to that, and let my feelings out more when around humans, especially those I hold dear.
Maybe that’s another among the infinite number of purposes dog serve: to be surrogate recipients of the excess, bottled up, or otherwise unexpressable love that we — or at least some among us — hold back.
Posted by jwoestendiek October 11th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, brother, dog, dogs, emotions, expressing, family, feelings, home, labradors, love, men, moving, pets, roscoe, surrogates, yellow lab
A rolling stone gathers no moss. We’re not rolling stones anymore.
During our year of travel, Ace I and I gathered few things that we did not immediately consume – simply because, living out of a Jeep Liberty, the bulk of it being occupied by a big dog, there was no space for them (though we did get that cowboy hat).
Once we came to a stop – for now, at least, settling into the home I was born in 57 years ago – we have again fallen under the tyranny of stuff.
For nine months, free of stuff’s burden, we bounced around the country, going to a new town every day or two, and during that time accumulated virtually nothing except friends and stories. After that, during our month-long stops – dwelling in a trailer park in the Arizona desert, an unfurnished house in Baltimore and the basement of a mansion in North Carolina – we slowly started to get new things. Now that we plan to stay put, for six months or more, in Winston Salem – and have hauled the contents of my storage unit down south – we are inundated.
But there’s something else I’ve come to realize, sifting through my personal effects, about stuff: Inanimate as it may be, it has a life of its own, and it often goes on a journey of its own, down a path different than ours. That’s how I end up with your stuff, and you end up with my stuff.
I’m amazed at how much of “my stuff” wasn’t originally my stuff, at how perhaps even the majority of my belongings – furniture in particular – was handed down, recycled, procured through Craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores, or rescued from Dumpsters into which, in my view, it had been disposed of prematurely.
Our stuff, like people, like dogs, comes and goes from our lives. It moves on to the homes of friends, relatives, or complete strangers, via Goodwill, eBay or Craigslist (a good place to get stuff, just not dogs). It ends up, or so I like to think, where it’s most needed.
I told you last week about my mother’s desk, which became a home furnishing about the same time I did. It was in this house when I was born. I grew up with it in New York and, later, Texas. After my parents’ divorce, my mother kept it until she moved into a retirement community, and I hauled it up to Baltimore. Now, it has circled back to the first home it was ever in.
In my new place, the bed and coffee table I’m using are my cousin’s; the book I’m reading belongs to a Baltimore friend; the dining table I eat on was purchased, via Craigslist, from a local couple who started life together with it, but couldn’t take the fact that it only had three, not four, matching chairs. My clothes are in a dresser that I think once belonged to my father’s parents.
But most of my furniture — not counting that which came from Ikea or WalMart — came from my mother.
She revisited it all last week, coming over for dinner. My sofa, loveseat actually (though rarely used for that purpose, if you don’t count Ace), is one of two matching ones she had. When she moved into a retirement community, she only had room for one. The other went with me to Baltimore, but now sits in my new place, less than a mile away from its mate. In my place, too, are, among her former possessions, some marble egg-shaped bookends, a wingback chair and an old rocking chair she made a point of trying out one more time.
There’s also a large amount of stuff from my ex-girlfriend/still goodfriend, including five of her artworks, now prominently displayed. During my travels she kept some of my stuff. In my recent move, I got some of it back, left some with her, and took a few things she was looking to get rid of, including two bedside tables, some decorative pillows and this tray-like accessory that really pops, which I further like because the blue part reminds me of Ace’s tail.
I reclaimed my blender, for instance, but she kept my grill, my fire pit and, though I could never understand why she wanted it, a sad looking little platform I once built out of three pieces of plywood to make my computer monitor sit higher.
A few weeks ago, it became, with some slight modifications, a hutch for a group of new born bunnies found in her neighborhood.
Our stuff passes from parent to child, from brother to sister, from neighbor to neighbor, from friend to friend, and sometimes even makes it way from home office to animal kingdom.
About three months ago, I gave my friend Arnie in Baltimore my old, then in storage, bookcases. Just last week I sent him the hardware needed to put them together, found in the very last box I unpacked. The couple that moved into the Baltimore rowhouse I rented now has my entertainment center — solely because it was too darned heavy to move.
I guess we all go through life simultaneously shedding and gathering. I turn to Goodwill for both. It has lots of my stuff, and I have lots of their’s, because sometimes we part with stuff that, shortly thereafter, we find ourselves needing again. While staying for a month in an unfurnished rowhouse in Baltimore, I bought this lamp. If I sell it again, it will have to be for five dollars, because the price drawn on its silver base with black marker, I’ve found, is impossible to remove.
During my mother’s visit last week — and we’ll give you the full “reveal” of my new place next week – she also recognized a footstool that once belonged to her. It’s the only item that did not really fit in with my new color scheme — color schemes, though the phrase sounds nefarious, being another thing, like accessories that pop, I learned the importance of during my unfortunate addiction to HGTV.
My mother had re-covered the footstool decades ago with a shiny striped fabric of mauve and blue, so it would match a chair she had re-covered in the same material.
She agreed that, given my color scheme, I should re-cover it again.
“What’s underneath this cover?” I asked. She had no idea.
Removing a few tacks, I pulled it off to reveal the original cushion cover — a handmade needlepoint by her aunt “Tan,” whose grave we had visited and put flowers on the day before Easter.
At the time, not remembering her that well, I attempted to learn more about Tan, whose real name was Kathleen Hall. There’s a school named after her in Winston-Salem, but I could find little information about her on the Internet, as she died in 1983. Leaving a potted delphinium on her grave, I regretted that — even supplied some memories by my brother and my mother — I could reconnect with her only superficially.
It was a little eerie — her handiwork turning up in my house a week after I visited her grave. But it added a little more heritage to my new place, a link (real, not the Internet kind) to another family member, not to mention, though I’m no expert on it, what appears to be some damn good needlepoint.
And, in an added touch of serendipity, it matches my color scheme.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: accessories, accumulate, accumulating, ace, animals, aunt, belongings, bookcases, color schemes, connections, craigslist, desk, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, dumpsters, family, footstool, furnishings, furniture, gathering, goodwill, hand me downs, home, junk, kathleen hall, life, loveseat, moss, moving, needlepoint, north carolina, path, pets, possessions, relatives, road trip, rocking chair, rolling stones, roots, serendipity, stuff, thrift stores, travels with ace
Pieces of my past
Freed from their dark cardboard jails
What the hell is this?
We’re at that point in our unpacking now where there are just a few lingering boxes, and they all contain what I will loosely call junk — items that I’ve hung onto for reasons sentimental, hopeful and, more often, unclear and irrational.
All those 34-inch waist blue jeans? Hoarding those paid off. After decades of wishful thinking, they suddenly fit now, after our near year on the road. My baseball autographed by Willie Mays? It — though his name is fading – still falls into the category of forever keeper.
But what of all the rest — the five unpacked boxes that remain: a jumble of shoelaces; matchbooks; cables, cords and adaptors that I have no idea what they go to; marbles; sea shells; little green plastic toy soldiers; a doggie Christmas stocking; old dog collars; artwork by my son; artwork by my self; unlabeled VHS tapes that contain who knows what and I have no way of finding out; cassette tapes of which the same can be said; old sunglasses; remote controls with nothing to control; owner’s manuals for things I haven’t owned for a decade or more, old keychains, some of them with mystery keys; a set of large plastic ears that fit over your real ears; a fake severed finger in a pool of blood; balls of all kinds; musky smelling pipes; business cards for people I can’t remember ever meeting, mysterious names and numbers scrawled on bits of paper?
All, mostly, things that served a purpose, things that were important, once; and at least one item that, as mentioned in our poetry above — it has been some time since our last Highway Haiku – we’ve never been able to figure out.
Mixed in with these are souvenirs accumulated during my travels as a writer — some Korean money; two stuffed dogs from a company that clones dogs; chips of wood from the woodpile outside the Unabomber’s isolated cabin in Montana, a framed get-out-of-jail-free Monopoly card; a matchbook from the Mustang Ranch in Nevada, a no-longer-greasy stone from the Exxon-soiled shores of Alaska; a photo of a twenty-something me swilling Thunderbird wine with two hoboes on a dirty mattress in Lexington, Kentucky.
They, too, occupy the boxes of items not essential to everyday life — boxes labeled “junk,” though not all fall under that rubric. (Speaking of which, where did I put my rubric? I thought I packed it away with my milieu, under my ephemera.)
I remember a time in my life when I only had one junk box. How did I get up to five? It seems once we outgrow and leave behind our childhood toys — hey, there’s my squirtgun! — we find other stuff to squirrel away, in my case enough to fill a box every five years or so.
In these boxes – oh look, a yo-yo! — are items of great sentimental value, nestled with items of questionable value (plastic vomit, anyone?), nestled with items of no apparent value and, sometimes, no clear purpose.
Which brings me to these wooden things — pictured atop this entry.
I’ve probably had them for a couple of decades at least, and I believe they came from the home of grandparents. I haven’t a clue what they are, yet I’ve held on to them, moved them from home to home, and packed and repacked them away in junk boxes.
Maybe you can help me out.
Allow me to describe them. They are made of wood, polished on one side, grooved wood on the other. They interlock. They have a brand name, “Blitz” emblazoned on one side. They are slightly bigger than your average blackboard eraser, about the size of a telephone receiver, or what used to be size of telephone receiver.
What they do — or ever did — I don’t know. My best guess, given the grandparents I think they came from were once in the laundry busines, is that they have something to do with the maintenance of garments.
If you know, I’d love to hear. If you just wish to hazard a guess, I’d love to hear that too — for often there can be more fun in the guessing than the knowing. (The first person to provide the correct answer will receive some slightly used plastic ears; I won’t just lend you an ear, I will give you two.)
We are nearing the last of our boxes, and have made five trips now to the Goodwill donation center down the street. I love that place. One can drop off unwanted items with such ease — you pull in, drive over one of those gas station hose bell ringer things, and a smiling man comes out with a cart to help you unload. Then you’re off. It all goes so smoothly — unlike much else in life — that I’m tempted to start dropping off items I actually need.
Need, of course, being a relative term. If we learned anything during our travels it’s that so much of what we think we “need” is really just what we want, or are convinced we must have by advertising and the media. In our 11 nomadic months, food, water, coffee, something to sleep on, a roof when the weather’s yucky, an electrical outlet and, of course, each other, sufficed nicely. Not until Ace and I moved into a structure of our own did I start feeling the need to accumulate things – even as I’m doing the opposite of that, getting rid of the junk.
I really shouldn’t call it that. It’s an overly broad term that’s unfair to some of those items that reside in the boxes so classified. “Accessories,” or “accoutrements,” would be a kinder label, but those are too easily misspelled, and take too long to write on the side of a box.
And, in truth, they have value. In a way, these items — your junk, my junk — are like life’s loose change: However seemingly trivial they appear, taken together they amount to something. We keep them because, even when packed away, they are pieces of our identity, they’re what makes us us, and throwing them away is like throwing pieces of ourselves away.
That, in my case, those pieces include yellowing newspaper clippings, whorehouse matchbooks, big plastic ears and a severed thumb in a pool of blood, says something.
I’m just not sure what.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 4th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, ancestral, animals, beginnings, belongings, birth, blitz, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, haiku, help, highway haiku, home, homeplace, house, identity, items, junk, matchbook, mementos, moving, mustang ranch, north carolina, novelties, pets, plastic ears, possessions, resettling, road trip, settling, severed finger, souvenirs, stuff, travels, travels with ace, unpacking, what is this, whorehouse
I think my paper towels — flowery as they are — say it best.
We’re moved — not settled, but moved – into the apartment in Winston-Salem, N.C., in which my parents lived when I was born.
After 40 different residences in 10 states over 57 years, and nearly a year on the road with Ace, circling the country twice, I’m back where I started.
Life, that is.
Here in the apartment in which I spent my first year — none of which I remember — we’ve still got a few weeks of unpacking/organizing/decorating ahead, but we’re getting comfortable (always dangerous). We’re back on the grid (always expensive). And we’ve got enough tiny bars of Motel 6 soap to last until 2015.
Returning to the ancestral homeplace was purely accidental. It was about the time Ace was diagnosed with a herniated disc. I started looking for a place that, unlike our mansion basement, didn’t require going up a lot of stairs. On an outing with my mother, who lives in Winston-Salem, I — seeking a better connection with my white boy roots — asked her to show me the apartment where she and my father lived when I was born.
When I saw a “for rent” sign in its window, it seemed to be fate – even though moving in, since it was unfurnished, would require reclaiming all the possessions I placed in storage 11 months ago, when Ace and I departed on our journey, and hauling them down south.
Moving day was also a homecoming for this desk (left), which my parents purchased on a trip to the mountains nearly 60 years ago, and which, when my mother moved into a retirement community, I took home to Baltimore.
It’s fragile, in need of repair, and I thought one more move would surely kill it, but it survived and now holds a prominent position in the living room in which it resided long ago.
That’s in College Village, an apartment complex when it was built in the late 1940s – in anticipation of Wake Forest University’s move to town.
It was built in a neighborhood – or what there was of one then – of far ritzier homes. And several longtime residents have told me there were objections to its construction at the time. All that affordable housing would lower property values, it was feared. My mother recalls a friend, back then, telling her, “You’re looking at the slums of tomorrow.”
It’s quiet, very quiet, and pleasant, most pleasant, with lots of grassy expanses. Birds are constantly chirping, and chipmunks are everywhere. There’s also an opossum who’s not shy at all.
The housing units themselves are small and unassuming, but sturdy — made when things were built solidly, with plaster walls. I haven’t heard the slightest peep from neighbors — a pleasant respite from my nights in Motels 6’s, where, more than once, groans and slamming headboards kept me awake.
Still watching the old budget, I’m trying to settle in without spending too much money — buying bookshelves from Wal Mart, my sheets from K-Mart, and hitting Target for my high end needs. It’s amazing how it’s impossible, even at so-called discount stores, to walk out having spent less than $100.
Unpacking, at first, was a little like Christmas, for I’d forgotten about many of my possessions during their time in storage. After a week, it has gotten old, and I’m down to mementoes and junk. and it’s all I can do to get through a box a day.
I wonder if, when I do get everything unpacked and put away in another week, that will be the time the urge to hit the road hits me again. If so, this time, I plan to ignore it — well, mostly.
Ace, who doesn’t like the noise involved with unpacking, likes to sit outside while I rip through boxes, amid the big oak trees, probably about my age, that line the street.
He seems to enjoy watching the squirrels feast on the dropped acorns, which pile up in mounds. He doesn’t chase the squirrels — unless they start to do that running around the tree trunk in circles making squeaky noises thing, in which case he’ll rush over like some overzealous lifeguard to get them to knock it off. He’s content, otherwise, to just watch them sit on their hind legs and nibble away. After a few days watching, he tried an acorn himself. It wasn’t to his liking.
Although there have been one or two more painful yelps since Ace finished up a second round of the medicine for his herniated disc, he seems this time to be getting better.
I’m not sure if he’s up for any more long trips, and I guess, as I try to read his mind, that he’d prefer hanging around and meeting the dogs and humans in the neighborhood. He’s still up for short trips though, eager to get in the back of the Jeep, which he’s no longer permitted to do by jumping. The handicapped ramp is part of his new routine.
Conveniently, there’s a bar and restaurant half block away, where my mother says there used to be a grocery store. Next door to it, there’s a gym I have no intention of joining, and in the basement, according to a sign on the window, ballroom dancing is offered. ( I checked with Ace and he’s not interested.)
The restaurant’s a little pricey, so when I visited I just ordered an appetizer — one whose selection may reflect the fact that, though you can take the boy out of the south, and the boy out of Baltimore, you can’t entirely take the south, or the Baltimore, out of the boy:
I will tell you this much, hon. They was some goo-ood eatin’.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 2nd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, ancestral, animals, birthplace, college village, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, furniture, herniated disc, home, home sweet home, homeplace, moving, north carolina, packing, pets, relocating, road trip, settling, squirrels, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, unpacking, wildlife, winston-salem
So here’s where we are now: After 11 months of having no home, we now have two — the mansion basement we are leaving and an apartment unit less than a mile away that we are moving into, it being the very unit my parents lived in when I was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
I’m paying double rent in April, giving me time to make the transition to the new place from the basement, which we’re leaving because of Ace’s recently diagnosed herniated disc, and the 11 steps required to get in and out.
As fate would have it, not long after Ace’s problem flared up, my mother, who lives in this town, was showing me the first place I ever lived — not counting the hospital — when we spotted a “For Rent” sign in the window of the apartment unit.
On top of its reasonable rent and two small steps to get inside, it seemed a somehow symmetrical place — it’s not where our trip started, but it is where I did — for Ace and me to end our year on the road.
We’ll move in this weekend, and begin unpacking all the belongings I left in storage when Ace and I pulled out of Baltimore 11 months ago to see America.
Said stuff was packed into the truck Monday in Baltimore, with help from Will Weaver and some other friends, all of whom made a daunting task slightly less so.
Will followed me back down to North Carolina in the rental truck Tuesday. And on Wednesday, Will and I — that’s him (top photo), with one of my prized possessions, a painting of Ace — lugged everything into the new place. That’s me (above left) testing the two small steps into the new place to make sure they are structurally sound.
Then we drove the truck down to Charlotte to pick up a box spring and mattress my cousin and her husband offered me. We stopped for breakfast at a Waffle House, and I picked up a job application (It has always been a fantasy of mine to be the grill person at a Waffle House — though, for now, it remains Plan B.)
Back in the truck, Will drove, while I, aching by then, put my feet up. Thanks to his GPS device, there was no need for my navigational skills, which was good because my knowledge of Charlotte’s roadways had grown foggy in the ten years since I lived there.
At my cousin’s house, as their cat Manny watched, we loaded the bed, and a coffee table, too, on the truck. We were almost halfway back to Winston-Salem when we realized I’d left the dolly that came with the truck back in Charlotte.
Since you can’t clone that kind of dolly (subtle advertisement for my book), I drove back to Charlotte yesterday to pick it up, then back here to square things away with the rental company, which was also wondering what happened to the truck’s front grill. (It came without one.)
For the next few days, I’ll be unpacking, cleaning (a coat of greasy grunge somehow glommed on to all my belongings while they were in a locked storage unit), arranging furniture and decorating, being sure to do some accessorizing to really make things pop.
In the days ahead, we’ll be bidding farewell to the mansion basement, which — except for its stairs, and somewhat depressing lack of sunlight — served us nicely.
Ahead, too, are all the annoying little hassles and choices I gleefully avoided during our near-year as roaming vagabonds — cable or satellite, utility bills, vacuuming, doorbells, and the ongoing dilemma of too much stuff.
We’ll be doing some downsizing, since a lot of my junk is just that, and since the new place doesn’t have much in the way of storage areas. Fortunately, there’s a Goodwill donation center right down the road.
I’m thankful, as Ace and I enter a new phase, for that Goodwill — and for the other good Will, the one from Philadelphia, for helping to carry my load.
(Cat photo and John-testing-the-steps photo by Will Weaver)
Posted by jwoestendiek April 15th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, baltimore, basement, dogs, dolly, downsizing, mansion, move, moving, north carolina, packing, pets, possessions, relocation, rental, storage, storage units, stuff, travel, traveling, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, truck, waffle house, will weaver, winston-salem