What’s a working dog to do? You learn your trade, hone your skills, toil away, only to find out that the world around you has evolved to a point where those skills are no longer much appreciated.
It’s why you can’t find a blacksmith too easily nowadays. It’s what happened to the elevator operator, the milkman, and, at least from my biased and disgruntled point of view, the newspaper reporter.
Such too was the case with Phelan, a marijuana-detecting Labrador retriever in the employ of the police department in Lakewood, Colorado.
With the passage by Colorado voters of Initiative 502 — legalizing the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana — the skill Phelan was best known for is no longer much in demand there.
In fact, his biggest asset has become a liability, the News Tribune reports.
Phelan was handed his pink slip this week and sold to the state Department of Corrections, where, in his new job, his inability to distinguish between marijuana and other drugs won’t be a problem — all drugs being illegal behind bars.
The same story is playing out in Washington state, where voters also legalized marijuana use, and where police departments are figuring out whether to cease training new dogs in marijuana detection, put their existing dogs through ”pot desensitization” training or just retire them and send them out to pasture, according to the Associated Press.
Take it from me, pasture sucks. Dogs and people, I think, prefer having a mission.
But Phelan’s mission, at least in the two states where moderate amounts of marijuana are now permitted, no longer much needs to be accomplished. Worse yet, alerting to small amounts of marijuana could mess up prosecutions in cases involving other, still illegal, drugs.
Say Phelan alerted to drugs in the trunk of a car. Phelan’s inability to distinguish between heroin and marijuana — or at least specify to his handler to which he is alerting — means any subsequent search by officers could have been based on Phelan detecting an entirely legal drug, in an entirely legal amount.
That means the “probable cause” the search was based on might not have really existed, and that means any evidence of illegal drugs subsequently found in the search would likely be tossed out.
Thus Phelan, unless he were to be retrained to drop marijuana-detecting from his repertoire — not easily accomplished — has ended up going from cutting edge law enforcement tool to an old school has been.
Drug detecting dogs — traditionally trained to alert to the smell of marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine and cocaine – can’t specify what they’re smelling, much less the quantity it might be in.
In Washington, the new law decriminalized possession of up to an ounce of the drug for individuals over 21, and barred the growth and distribution of marijuana outside the state-approved system.
Dog trainer Fred Helfers, of the Pacific Northwest Detection Dog Association, said abandoning pot training is a “knee-jerk” reaction: “What about trafficking? What about people who have more than an ounce?” Still, he’s helping departments who want to put their dogs through ”extinction training” to change what substances dogs alert to. That takes about 30 days, followed by a prolonged period of reinforcement.
The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission removed detecting marijuana from its canine team certification standards this year, and no longer requires dogs be trained to detect it, but some others say, given large amounts of pot are still illegal, it can still be a useful skill for a dog to have.
In Pierce County, prosecutor Mark Lindquist believes new dogs are the answer — dogs trained in sniffing out the other drugs, but not marijuana. He’s not convinced dogs can be re-trained. “We’ll need new dogs to alert on substances that are illegal,” he told the Associated Press.
Other police departments, like Tacoma’s, aren’t making any changes.
“The dog doesn’t make the arrest, the officer does,” said spokesperson Loretta Cool. “A canine alert is just one piece of evidence an officer considers when determining whether a crime has been committed.”
Phelan was one of two drug-sniffing dogs on the police force in Lakewood, Colorado. He’ll be replaced by Kira, a Belgian Malinois who was trained not to alert when she smells marijuana. Duke, a Labrador retriever mix with the old-school training, will remain on the force for now.
Phelan, though, will be moving on, and I sympathize with the crime-fighting Lab.
His new gig in the slammer is clearly a step down the career ladder — not unlike going from being a newspaper reporter detecting corruption and injustice to an unpaid blogger who mostly (but not entirely) regurgitates material already written.
And, for Phelan, there’s the added insult of being sold for the lowly sum of one dollar.
Surely — old school as his talents may be – he was worth more than that.
Posted by jwoestendiek June 12th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alert, cocaine, colorado, court, criminal justice, detect, detection, dog, dogs, drug-sniffing, drugs, heroin, job, K-9, k9, lakewood, law, law enforcement, marijuana, marijuana laws, mission, newspapers, police, police dogs, problems, prosecutors, purpose, reporters, searches, skills, sniffing, tacoma, useless, washington, working dogs
In the old days, when a newspaper columnist started writing about his dog, it meant — at least in the eyes of your more crusty and jaundiced types — he or she had run out of things to write about.
Of course, it (usually) wasn’t true then. And it’s even less true now.
Newspapers, as they did with the Internet, have belatedly realized that dog stories are important, that dog stories draw readers, and that dog stories are actually human stories, in disguise. They’ve finally begun to catch on to dog’s new place on the social ladder, and the wonders within them, and the serious issues surrounding them, and that they are far more than just cute.
None of which probably mattered to Steve Lopez when he decided last week to tell the story of his family’s new rescue … rescue-me-again … rescue-me-one-more time … dog.
Who is also pretty cute.
Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, decided with his wife that their daughter, at age 9, was ready for a dog. Their search took them to Tailwaggers, a pet store in Hollywood, where adoption fairs are hosted by Dogs Without Borders. Though dogless for many years, Lopez knew rescuing a mutt — as opposed to purchasing a purebred — was the preferred route these days.
Canine ownership has gotten a lot more complicated than it was when he was a kid, noted Lopez, who definitely has a crusty side.
“First of all, unless you want a rescue dog, you face the withering judgment of do-gooders who have devoted their lives to saving pups from the boneyard,” he wrote. “…I live in Silver Lake, not far from a sprawling dog park. And if an abandoned infant were spotted on the curb of that busy corner, across the street from a dog with a thorn in its paw, I guarantee you dozens of people with porkpie hats and tattooed peace signs would rush to the aid of the dog instead of the child.”
At the adoption fair, his family became enchanted with a 3-year-old Corgi mixed named Hannah, who was described as “a very timid, shy and fearful little girl ” in need of “a home where she can blossom!”
(As Lopez, author of “The Soloist” and other books, may have noticed, those involved in the world of rescuing and rehoming dogs tend to use a lot of exclamation points!)
They then began the adoption process, which, he noted, required many forms: “As I recall, applying for a mortgage wasn’t quite as involved. And many of the agencies insist on a home inspection, as well as a donation fee of up to $450.”
They took Hannah home for a trial period, as a foster. There, unlike at the fair, she refused to walk on a leash.
To get her to go to the bathroom, Lopez says he carried the dog, who they renamed Ginger, to the bottom of the driveway. Given she didn’t move when he put her down, and to build some trust, he said, Lopez unhooked the leash.
Ginger took off.
Lopez ran to his car and began the search.
“My daughter had waited five years for this pup, and I’d lost her in five minutes.”
His wife called the adoption agency to report the escape and got a scolding for letting the dog off her leash. “I must admit, they had told us rescue dogs can be runners, and that we shouldn’t let them off the leash,” Lopez wrote. “On the other hand, if you’re going to call yourself Dogs Without Borders … what message are you sending?”
They searched all day, put up fliers, and posted Ginger on Craigslist as a missing dog. The next day, they found her on a neighbor’s patio and took her home.
The next day, a Monday, Lopez returned from work to learn Ginger had jerked away while being walked and disappeared again, this time dragging her leash. Reasoning that maybe Ginger didn’t want to be there, he and his wife agreed that — once they found her again — they might want to return her.
“Maybe she’d been abused, but it seemed unlikely she’d ever be the warm and cuddly family pet we wanted our daughter to have.”
On Tuesday morning, Lopez was awaked by a scratching sound on the front door. When he opened it, Ginger walked in, her leash still attached. That sight, it seems, cut right through the columnist’s crusty parts.
“We’re keeping this dog,” he said.
I’d be willing to bet they do, and that someday — when there’s nothing else to write about, or even when there is — we’ll be reading about her again.
(Photo of Ginger by Steve Lopez / Los Angeles Times)
Posted by jwoestendiek May 7th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, author, best friend, column, columnist, corgi, dog, dogs, dogs without borders, family, ginger, hannah, home, leash, los angeles, los angeles times, media, mix, news, newspapers, pets, rescue, runaway, soloist, steve lopez, tailwaggers
It would be have been a doggone big story, if it were true.
Based on a report from the Star-Advertiser in Honolulu, many media outlets were asking the question yesterday: Was Bo flown back to Washington from Hawaii for the sole purpose of taking part in a photo op with the president during his shopping trip to PetSmart?
On Wednesday, Bo accompanied the president on a shopping trip in Alexandria — and was duly photographed by the press corps.
Clearly, some theorized, the dog must have been flown back home for the photo op.
Or, for those who like conspiracy theories, might there actually be two Bo’s — maybe an original Bo and a cloned Bo — one who serves as the family dog, one who handles the public appearances?
Britain’s Daily Mail, as it’s prone to do, seemed to be breathing most heavily about the possibility of wrongdoing:
” … Michelle Obama’s press office had earlier said Bo would be leaving with the First Lady and her girls for their Hawaii holiday last Saturday… And an island eyewitness said he saw the Portuguese Water Dog taken for a walk earlier this week, ahead of President Obama’s delayed arrival.
“A mistake could have been made by all three news outlets who reported the dog went to Hawaii … But a mystery is presented if at least one of the Chicago Sun-Times, Hawaii TV station KHON 2 and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser were correct.”
The Los Angeles Times asked Michelle Obama’s office and quickly got this answer: “Bo has been in D.C. this whole time.”
The Star-Advertiser in Honolulu yesterday ran a correction on its report that Bo arrived with Michele Obama and the children in Hawaii.
Obama’s not the first president to be wrongly suspected of having the government chauffeur his dog across great distances at great expense.
Republicans accused Franklin D. Roosevelt of leaving his Scottish terrier Fala behind on a trip to the Aleutian Islands, then ordering a U.S. Navy destroyer to go retrieve him.
In a 1944 speech, FDR responded to the charges.
“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family don’t resent attacks — but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I’d left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him — at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or 20 million dollars — his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself … But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog!”
You’d think Republicans, and even Sarah Palin, would have learned by now — as Richard Nixon did — that, while bad-mouthing a president is accepted procedure in politics, bad mouthing his dog will only get you bitten.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 23rd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bo, checkers, christmas, clone, conspiracy, correction, destroyer, dogs, fala, family, fdr, flown, franklin roosevelt, hawaii, jet, media, mistakes, newspapers, nixon, obama, pets, petsmart, photo op, photographs, portuguese water dog, president, presidents, shopping, trip, washington, wrongdoing
I’m looking forward to seeing “Tabloid” — the new Errol Morris documentary about the 1978 scandal that saw a beauty queen from America go to London to track down the object of her affection (a Mormon missionary named Kirk), kidnap him, according to police, and, if you believe the court testimony, have her way with him against his will.
That’s because, for better and worse, that woman, Joyce McKinney, changed the course of my life, too.
Thirty years after the scandal that erupted when McKinney tried to reclaim, one way or another, the man she saw as her one true love, I would spend more than 100 hours on the phone with her as she went about an equally — or perhaps even more — dogged pursuit.
“Tabloid,” the documentary, focuses on the scandal and all the fun the British press had with McKinney’s exploits — from her arrest on charges of abducting the young missionary named Kirk and keeping him tied up in a cottage in the countryside, to the celebrity status she enjoyed after her release from jail, to her fleeing the country before trial disguised as a member of a deaf mime troupe.
My book focuses on dog cloning, the first commercial customer of which was that same Joyce Bernann McKinney. In 2009, McKinney became the first person in the world – unassociated with the fledgling business – to pay to have her dog cloned, a deceased pit bull named Booger.
My book revisits the old scandal, too, because, to me, there seemed to be some similarities between reclaiming Kirk and cloning Booger.
As suggested in ”DOG INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” both were attempts to, at any cost, recapture lost love — one through feminine wiles, if not force, the other through science.
As if her life hadn’t already oozed enough pathos and irony, McKinney’s attempt to resurrect Booger, or at least bring a genetically identical copy of him back into the world, would lead to an embarassing resurfacing of the old scandal. While doing news media interviews, in exchange for a discount on her cloning bill, she was recognized as the women who, as the British tabloids told the story at the time, manacled and raped the young Mormon missionary.
By 2000, McKinney had thought the scandal was finally behind her. She’d gone on to a new life by then, after years as recluse, living with her dogs and other animals, first in North Carolina, then in California. In California, she began using the name Bernann instead of Joyce and, having not lost her soft spot for dogs, continued taking in abandoned and unwanted pit bulls.
All were loved, but none were Booger, a dog she found on the highway in North Carolina who she says later saved her life when she was attacked by another of her dogs. After that, Booger went on to become her unofficial service dog, helping her with the day to day tasks her injuries made difficult.
After Booger died, she sought to have him cloned — first through an American company that was working with Texas A & M University to clone a dog. That research was funded by John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix. Unable to produce a canine clone, Texas A & M dropped the project. Scientists at Seoul National University picked up the research and cloned the world’s first dog, Snuppy, in 2005. McKinney then signed on with a South Korean company that had formed after that success.
McKinney first contacted me while I was a reporter at the Baltimore Sun, after I ran an item about dog cloning on the newspaper’s pet blog that mentioned a then-anonymous woman who was paying $150,000 to have her dog cloned.
So began a conversation that would continue, off and on, for a year, and lead me to quit my job, travel to Korea, and write a book about dog cloning.
While we hit it off initially — both being dog lovers, both being from North Carolina — McKinney, as the months went on, would grow angry with me often. The first time was when I told her that, rather than writing a book with her about Booger, I wanted to write a book that looked at dog cloning overall — how the new business got started, how it was being marketed, and the animal welfare concerns it raised.
That would be the first of our many “break-ups.” But always, she would eventually call me back, updating me and seeking assistance with this or that.
On her trip to meet the newborn clones, during which she appeared globally in TV interviews, someone made the connection, raising the possibility, later confirmed, that the woman cloning her dog and the “Mormon manacler” were one in the same. She blamed me for that, though I had nothing to do with it.
She had feared there was a possibility that might happen. I was pretty sure it would. (Although I had written a newspaper story by then, it didn’t mention the 1970s scandal; at the time she had only vaguely referred to it and I had only reached 99 percent certainty that she was the same woman — a fact that she would confirm, and go into great detail about, later.)
After another period of silence, she reconnected with me again, this time asking me to go with her to pick up the clones. She wanted me to pretend I was handicapped so that I could claim one of the clones was my service dog, and she — if she found three more conspirators — could avoid having them fly home in the jet’s cargo hold.
For ethical reasons, I declined. But she still stayed in touch during her trip to pick up and return the dogs, an effort that didn’t go smoothly, as you can read in this excerpt from “DOG, INC.”
Back home with her clones, her troubles continued. At one point, all five clones, and her other dogs, were seized and impounded by animal control, though she managed to reclaim them.
After an argument, she moved out of the house she shared with a friend, bounced with the clones from motel to motel, and eventually moved back in.
That was about the time she was contacted by Morris.
I’m sure Morris, as was the case with me, found that dealing with her, to put it mildly, had some ups and downs. She, while appearing with one of the clones at an early screening of the movie, denounced its accuracy, even as Morris stood next to her.
I won’t see it until this weekend, but I’d guess, from what I’ve seen of previews and knowing the work of Morris, it fairly portrays all sides. And given his trademark style of turning on the camera and letting the subject talk into it, I’m sure McKinney gets ample chance to share her version.
I’ve only spoken with her once since my book came out, when she called, enraged, having seen a reference to it in a newspaper. She hadn’t read it by then, but denounced it, too, adding that I had no right to tell her story — either that of the scandal or that of the cloning.
McKinney told me repeatedly she didn’t want to see the two stories overlap — for she saw one as “tabloid filth” and the other — cloning her dog — as pure and heartwarming. Her hope is to start a center where pit bulls can be trained to be service dogs. She wants to call it Booger’s Place.
Some of those who see the movie, or for that matter read my book, may see her as manipulative and devious. Some may see her, in connection with the scandal, as a woman who holds little respect for the boundaries society imposes. Some may see her, in connection with cloning, as a person who was willing to jump over those nature imposes, as well. Some may see her, overall, as a person who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
I’ll say this much: She is without a doubt the most determined person I’ve ever known.
(John will be discussing and signing copies of “DOG, INC.” from 6 to 8 p.m. at Barnhills, 811 Burke St., in Winston-Salem.)
(John will be speaking after the 3:30 and 6 p.m. showings of “Tabloid” at the Aperture Cinema, 311 W. Fourth St., in Winston-Salem, this Sunday, Aug. 21.)
(For more information on “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend, click here.)
Posted by jwoestendiek August 17th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abducted, author, booger, british, clone, cloned, cloning, documentary, dog inc., england, errol morris, john woestendiek, joyce mckinney, kidnap, kinky sex, kirk, london, manacles, media, missionary, mormon, newspapers, pit bull, press, rape, scandal, sex, sex scandal, snuppy, south korea, tabloid
It’s not often that I share the personal frustrations of being a dog-blogger — especially one who tries to stand out from the crowd by keeping a lid on the pablum and fluff, and presenting from time to time some stories of depth about important dog-related issues.
Yesterday was a case in point.
I posted three items — about the daily average for ohmidog!
One was a mention of an upcoming motorcycle ride, sponsored by a motorcycle club and Baltimore’s Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, to raise money for abused and abandoned dogs.
One was a story about a day of global protest against eating dogs in South Korea.
One was an update on a story I wrote a few years back after meeting in Los Angeles a homeless man and his three legged pit bull (her fourth leg was lost as a result of a police shooting). Both have fallen ill and need help.
I was especially proud of the latter two, as they both contained some original reporting, and original photographs, and displayed a little first hand knowledge I had gathered, mostly during the year and a half I was working on my book.
Checking my Google Analytics, as I do from time to time, I saw this morning that the dog-eating post (of global significance) drew 116 views; the post on Michael and Topaz (of national significance) got 46 views; and the post on the fundraising motorcyle ride (of local significance) got 16 views.
What drew most readers to ohmidog! yesterday — 676 of them — was a post, nearly 50 days old, about Jennifer Aniston getting her dog Norman’s name tatooed on her foot.
Thereby showing you the significance of celebrities. It blows my mind.
How people try to remember and memorialize their dogs is a legitimate story — and a large part of the book I wrote — and the fact that more people are going the tattoo route, as the New York Post reported this week, is worthy of note.
But let’s face it, it was Jennifer Aniston that brought me those readers — and while I appreciate her, and those readers who dropped by, it bugs me that her foot tattoo so overshadowed two stories of deeper importance and deeper humanity. But, despite all that’s in the bowl, they chose only that.
My little corner of the universe, or the Internet, serves it seems as a microcosm of what’s happened to the news media, which, to survive, has caved in to the pressure to give readers easily consumable, barely newsworthy bits of what they want, rather than fully fleshed out stories on topics of greater importance to the species, be it human or dog.
Looking at my Analytics — and I think it’s OK to share this proprietary information, given that I am the proprietor — a total of 435 pages and posts were viewed yesterday, 1,941 views in all.
The vast majority, though, were focused on Jennifer Aniston’s foot.
For those consumed with numbers, and getting them to increase, and paying the bills, the thinking would reasonably follow: We need more Jennifer Aniston, more tattoos, more feet, or more of whoever or whatever else is, at this given moment, “trending.”
Here’s one of the things that has happened. News organizations, and bloggers, see what’s “trending” and base their coverage on that, thereby making it “trend” even more, while items of higher significance — worth some digging up — fall unseen by the wayside.
Add to that the fact that those who write strictly for the Internet, often, are no longer writing for humans. Instead of writing for quality, instead of writing, even, for readers, they’re writing for robots — those search engine Peruse-a-trons that scan our words, mathematically determine their import and influence how many readers come our way.
Add to that the fact that average online writer now spends more time touting what he has written via social networks and elsewhere than actually writing what he has written. Time once spent on research and the craft of writing is now mostly absorbed by shouting about and hyping what one has written, even if that “writing” was little more than a cut and paste job.
We’ll even admit to doing some of that — what is now called “aggregating,” what was once called plagiarism. We’ll admit to touting stories we’re proud of on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll even admit to, once in a while, posting a story because we think it will draw a crowd.
Were ohmidog! a true money-making venture — which in some ways would make more sense than being poor and principled — we might follow the route that so many have, bringing you a steady diet of the cute, the happy, the adorable and the celebrity-related.
But, Jennifer Aniston aside, we plan to continue to vary our fare — presenting the cute, from time to time; the uplifting, as often as we can find it; but also the cruel and depraved acts of humans that lead to animal suffering.
If, in the three years we’ve existed (did I mention we’ve just turned 3?) and in the 3,000 posts we’ve posted, ohmidog! has shown anything, it is this: the depths to which humans can sink and the heights to which they can rise when it comes to dogs.
We’re going to keep doing that.
And you can tattoo that on your foot.
Posted by jwoestendiek August 16th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggregating, analytics, animal rights, animal welfare, animals, blogging, blogs, cute, dog, dog inc., dog stories, dogs, eating dogs, facebook, fluff, foot, google, internet, jennifer aniston, korea, michael, news, news media, newspapers, norman, ohmidog!, online, page views, pets, readers, robots, search engines, social networks, tattoo, topaz, tout, touting, trending, trends, twitter, visits, websites, writing
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
I believe there is an interior decorator within all of us.
I would like the one within me to leave now.
That’s because he’s an annoying little twit who’s spending too much of my time and money in his attempt to make everything “just so,” insisting on “color schemes” and “balance” and “flow,” and of course “bold accessories that really make things pop.”
I like to think that I’ve always had some taste, that I’m a notch above those uncivilized brutes who – having never watched HGTV, having kept the interior decorator within them buried — are content with soft reclining seating (built-in cupholder optional), a wall-mounted flat screen TV the size of your average billboard, and nothing in between to obstruct the view.
For one, Ace and I have just completed a year on the road, most of which was spent hopping from pet-friendly motel room to pet-friendly motel room every day or two. Remember the Motel 6 bedspread? We do. In those places we stayed longer – a friend’s sailboat, a trailer in the desert, an empty house and the basement of a mansion – we weren’t afforded much opportunity to make them “our own.” After all that flitting about, I think I developed a zest to nest.
For another, while staying in the basement of a mansion in North Carolina for the past month (with free cable TV provided), I became briefly addicted to Home & Garden Television (HGTV) – and all those shows that showed people moving to new homes, or renovating and redecorating their old ones. I despised many of those househunters and homeowners – because they were whiny and spoiled – but I also, for reasons I can’t pinpoint, or don’t want to, envied them.
On top of all that, the place we’ve moved into is special – to me at least. It’s the very apartment unit my parents lived in when I was born and, while dozens of people and families have moved in and out of it since then, I hoped to make it mine again, tip my hat to its heritage and make it presentable.
So join me now for the reveal, keeping in mind that — unlike those HGTV programs — we had virtually no budget to work with. Nevertheless, I’d appreciate it if you say “ohmigod!” a lot on our walk-through, because that’s what they do on all those home makeover shows.
We’ll start in the living room.
Among its featured pieces are my mother’s old couch, an old family desk, an old rocking chair, a wingback chair that once belonged to my father’s parents, my cousin’s coffee table and my mother’s old footstool featuring the needlepoint of great aunt Tan, seen here (in the lower right corner) before I stripped off the old cover and discovered the prize beneath.
I chose copper-colored faux silk drapes from Target for the living room — one of my first, and one of my few, purchases. I just thought they looked cool, and that I could build my color scheme around them.
That gave me copper, burgundy and gold (in the big chair) and blue (the couch). Fortunately, I found a cheap area rug at Wal Mart that bespoke them all, and which, in my non-expert opinion, really ties thing together. I describe my color palette — yes, palette — as being based on elements of the earth: copper, silver, gold, water, wine (I consider wine an element) and silver.
While the living room, through its furniture, bows to tradition, its more modern artworks, I think, make for an eclectic mix – eclectic mixes, such as my dog Ace, being the best kind.
At first I had some concerns that the piece — its inspiration, Lance says, being a silver, Airstream-like trailer — would disappear on my grey walls. To the contrary, I think it works well … subtly, as if to say, yes, I am here, but I am not going to shout about it, even though I am silver.
You can learn more about Lance and his art — his father played major league baseball, and younger Lance once bartended at Baltimore’s Idle Hour, a bar in which Ace spent his formative years — at his website.
But back to my place. On the living room’s opposite wall, I – believing there is an artist in all of us, too — have commissioned myself to paint my own piece of modern art, of copper and blue and maybe some red, further establishing our color scheme.
The goals I was trying to achieve in the living room were comfort, simplicity and a rustic elegance that says “come in, sit a spell, OK you can leave now.”
Moving on to the dining room, I found some discounted copper-ish drapes with swirly things on them to echo, somewhat, those in the living room. The dining table was a Craigslist find and the featured artwork is a portrait of Ace resting by a waterfall in Montana, painted by my friend Tamara Granger, Ace’s godmother.
Again, I was striving for simplicity, making sure not to use too much or too-large furniture, since that prohibits Ace from easily navigating the house.
Decorating around your dog (don’t laugh, a lot of people do it) is crucial, especially when he’s 130 pounds. That’s probably why he doesn’t — as much as he’d like to – go in the kitchen, which, in terms of floor space, measures about the same size as his crate.
In it, one can accomplish all kitchen duties without walking — a simple pivot step is all that is required, or permitted. The kitchen features another of Tamara’s artworks, a big black bird, hung over the stove, where it echoes the greys and silvers elsewhere.
Behind the kitchen and dining room is an added on room — not part of the house when I first lived in it — that will serve as a laundry area, once I figure out where to put all the junk now stored there and get a washer and dryer.
In my sole bathroom, I have put up a shower curtain of turquoise, and hung towels to match. So it is white and turquoise. I think it needs another color.
My bedroom is simply decorated with a box spring and mattress that sit on the floor, the better for Ace, until his back problems improve, to climb in. There are two end tables, and a dresser whose origins I don’t remember, and another TV. With cable television starting at $60-something a month, I have opted for the far cheaper, totally undependable and highly unsightly digital TV antenna.
As we enter the guest room/home office, we pass two old editorial cartoons in the hallway — a preview of a bigger collection ahead which pays homage, if you will, to those talented and artistic souls who were once able — and in some cases still are able – to make a career at newspapers out of hoisting the rich and powerful on their own petards.
Amazingly, they were able to do this even though hardly anybody knew what a petard is. While, in modern day slang, some use it as a derogatory term for members of PETA, a petard is actually an explosive device. The phrase ”hoist by one’s own petard” means to be undone by one’s own devices.
Editorial cartoonists are becoming an endangered species, but I was always a huge admirer of them — for they were people whose jobs seemed more like playtime, who were allowed to be goofy, and who had the power to makes us laugh, think and feel, sometimes all at once.
They could, and some still do, bring attenton to an injustice, afflict the overly comfortable, and point out that the emperor isn’t wearing anything — all with just a sketch and a punchline. It’s a shame many newspapers have opted not to have their own, anymore, because I think we have more naked emperors walking around on earth than ever before.
My collection — mostly from the 1950s and 1960s — includes the original works of Tom Darcy, Burges Green, Sandy Huffaker, Bill Sanders, Cliff Rogerson, Edmund Duffy, D.R. Fitzpatrick and C.P. Houston.
I lined their works up in two rows above my futon, AKA Ace’s bed, the arms of which still bear the scars of his gnawing on them as a pup.
They, too — those gnaw marks that angered me when I discovered them but now view as Ace’s childhood art – are part of the decor now, another little piece of history, or at least his history. I wouldn’t cover them up for anything.
Rounding out the home office furnishings are my old library table, two dinged up file cabinets, an office chair, an actual bed made for dogs, and four newly purchased, less than stalwart Wal Mart bookshelves, ordered over Internet.
What’s now the home office was 57 years ago my bedroom. From birth to the age of one, I shared it with my older sister.
The futon — long Ace’s favorite place to rest, and from which he watched me write my book — is one of five soft sleeping areas he now has to choose from. He also sleeps on my bed, the living room sofa, actually a loveseat, the actual dog bed, passed down from his Baltimore friend Fanny, and the Wal Mart rug that bespeaks the colors of my decor, and, come to think of it, of Ace as well.
This is where we’ll end our reveal, and we apologize if it was overly revealing.
(Next week: A look at the family that lived in the house that’s gone from being my crib to being my crib.)
Posted by jwoestendiek May 11th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animal, apartment, art, artist, baltimore, birthplace, cable, cartoonists, cartoons, color scheme, copper, crib, decorating, dogs, eclectic, editorial cartoons, end of the road, furnishings, furniture, hgtv, hoisted, home, house, idle hour, journalism, lance rauthzan, mixes, nest, nesting, newspapers, north carolina, petard, pets, reveal, revealing, road trip, settled, settling, silver, tamara granger, target, television, travel, travels with ace, walmart, winston-salem
A good year before I was born, my father wrote a letter while sitting in Korea, and sent it back home to friends in North Carolina.
A week ago, it came back to him — in Arizona.
“It’s so damn cold in here that I just about can make my fingers work,” the letter begins. “… Even so , it’s indoors, so I can imagine how really miserable the boys living in holes are tonight…”
Typewritten on flimsy stationary, the letter goes on to recount a weekend in Tokyo during which he enjoyed burgers and “Jap beer, which is very good.” He asks about what’s going on back home and wonders when he might return. “I’m supposed to come home in February. And now there is a rumor making the rounds that we’re supposed to be rotated to Japan after 10 months in Korea. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen.”
It was mailed to Lil and Roy Thompson, friends and co-workers at the Winston-Salem Journal, both now deceased.
Apparently Lil filed it away in a book, to be specific, an autobiography of William “Billy” Rose, the showman and lyricist who wrote, among other songs, “Me and My Shadow” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”
I don’t know whether Lil parted with the book long ago, or whether it was part of her estate when she died a few years ago, but somehow it ended up among the stock of a second-hand book dealer in Carrboro, N.C.
Robert Garni, once he opened the book, found the letter and read it, took to the Internet to locate my father, Bill Woestendiek, then mailed him the original, along with this note:
” … Quite coincidentally, the other day while sorting out some used books for sale, I came across an old letter that had apparently been tucked away in a hardcover copy of Billy Rose’s autobiography …
“Upon examination of the letter, I realized it may be of some sentimental value to someone and therefore I did a quick search of the Internet where I was able to locate your full name and current address. I am enclosing the letter herewith. I am hoping my information is correct and current so that this letter may finally return to its rightful owner.”
In my father’s letter, he mentions what turned out to be his most cherished memory of the war. He was a lieutenant in the Army, but he was also writing a weekly column for his newspaper back home called “Battle Lines.” The columns weren’t so much about the war as they were Korea and its people. Most of the stories he wrote focused on the children, often orphans of war, and the poverty in which they lived.
His stories led to an outpouring of support from back home in North Carolina — hundreds of pounds of clothing and toys were donated by readers, shipped overseas and distributed at a Christmas party.
“I am overwhelmed, no kidding,” he writes in the letter of the readers’ response. “We’ll have clothes for our party and still some extra to give to the orphanages around here which are also hurting for clothing.”
Reading over those articles, which I found amid my stuff, in a green scrapbook whose binding was falling apart, I understand a little better why he got so misty when, 19 years ago at Los Angeles International Airport, my father watched as my son arrived, a six-month-old, adopted from Korea.
In the faded old letter he thanks Lil for her support, and for keeping him up on the goings on at the newspaper. “You are one of the best morale builders I have,” he writes.
It took a little help from a thoughtful second-hand book dealer, but, judging from the joyful response my father, now 87, had to getting the letter back, it seems Lil — even though she’s no longer with us – did it again.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 7th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: army, bill woestendiek, book dealer, carrboro, children, friends, journalism, korea, korean war, letter, lil thompson, mail, newspapers, north carolina, orphans, poverty, returned, robert garni, roy thompson, second hand, soldiers, used, war, winston-salem journal
For this story, you need to go back to the year you entered the real world, the working world, the man-up (or woman-up), you’re-on-your-own-now world.
For me, it was at age 21 — like many I was able to forestall my entry into it with college — but, during my senior year, I started looking for a job in journalism. After more rejection than I care to remember, I finally got an offer — to be a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.
There was a three-month probationary period and, self confidence never having been my strong suit, I decided – here in what appeared to me, as an easterner, a lonely and alien land of dust and cacti — to live somewhere I wouldn’t have to sign a year-long lease.
That’s how I ended up at the Howdy Manor.
It was old even then, as were all the other little motels that lined Benson Highway — a once major thoroughfare that, when the Interstate came, saw its clientele turn from tourists to transients.
The Howdy Manor wasn’t nearly as hospitable as its name sounded, but it had a kitchenette, and it was close to the newspaper, and the price was right, given my $160 a week starting salary — $5 a night, if you signed up for a full week.
At first, it was a depressing little place, full of people I didn’t think I wanted to meet. And given my shift, I didn’t. I worked 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., spending most of that time at the Tucson Police Department, waiting for crimes to occur. (Now there’s no waiting). The captain was Linda Ronstadt’s brother, and the desk sergeant was a big man with a mustache man who always greeted me the same way when I came in: “How’s your hammer hangin’?”
I was always a little intimidated by the question, and try as I might to come up with an appropriate answer — “Oh, it’s hangin’,” or “quite well, thank you” — I never did.
In the wee hours of the morning, I’d get back to Howdy Manor, lock my door, turn on the TV — I’m pretty sure it was black and white — and heat up something on the stove to eat while I watched Perry Mason reruns, until falling asleep. Around noon, I would wake up, eat, shower and it would be time for work again.
My stay at the Howdy Manor — I can’t remember now if it was for only one month or all three, before I moved into a modern, boring apartment – came during one of only two two-year periods in my life that I didn’t have a dog. I probably could have used one. I was, except for work, leading the insular life I’m prone to slip into.
That, though maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, was why I got into journalism — to force myself into the world, to force myself to meet people, to force myself to learn new things. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, despite the fact that the industry’s hammer hasn’t been hanging to well for more than a decade now.
The point is, the time came, there at the Howdy Manor, that I got tired of being in my room, that I ventured out and met its other denizens — or at least those who weren’t bigger recluses than me. And I found them — just as I found the people I’d encounter on the job, which took me, in siren-chasing pursuit, to neighborhoods of every ilk – fascinating.
That is probably when, rather than ignoring and evading oddballs, I started seeking them. That’s when I began to realize that the common man isn’t really common at all, and I’d much rather rub elbows with him than schmoozers in suits.
So, as another leg of my six-month journey with my dog across America came to a close, I decided I needed to visit the Howdy Manor, or at least where it once stood, before my planned month-long layover in Phoenix.
To my surprise, when I looked it up on the Internet, it seemed to still exist — mostly in newspaper crime reports, some of which provided the address.
But when I hit Benson Highway earlier this week, I couldn’t find the Howdy Manor, or the address. Eventually, I realized the relevant portion of the highway, rather than having disappeared, is still there; it’s just a matter of making a couple of turns after it seemingly comes to a stop. I found the proper block and drove slowly down it — passing the Lariat, the Western, the Bucking Bronc and several other motels and trailer parks with cowboy names. But not, as far as I could see, the Howdy Manor.
The block looked a little more faded, a little more battered – but pretty much otherwise exactly as it did when I left it. It could still be 1975 there.
Today’s Howdy Manor appears even more down at the heels than it was when I — fearful and uncertain, young and naive — became a resident. It’s a little more worn and torn, and the plywood cowboy who I recall stood waving his hat in welcome is gone now, replaced by a sandwich board sign, supported by cinderblocks.
I pulled over, and was immediately approached by a young woman who asked me what was wrong. “Nothing,” I answered, I’m just looking. I used to live here. Thirty-five years ago. It was five dollars a night.”
It’s now $99 a week, she pointed out, and $20 a night. That’s what her brother pays. She pointed me in direction of manager, and I knocked on the door.
A girl with blue hair and multiple face piercings opened it, and called her mother. When she came to the door, I told her I used to live there, 35 years ago, and that it was only $5 a night. She was unmoved and unimpressed.
“No,” I answered, “but could you give me the name of the owner? I’d like to talk to him”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“To learn more about the history of the place,” I answered.
“Why would you want to do that?”
“So I can write about it.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Because I’m a writer.”
Our conversation seemed to be going in circles, so I thanked her, excused myself and got back in the car, leaving a trail of dust in my wake as I pulled out.
Back on Benson Highway, I thought back to the old days, and compared them to my current ones. Back then, I managed to make it through my probationary period, to learn the ropes, and to fall in love with the desert and Tucson. After three years there, I spent 30 more in a newspaper career that wasn’t entirely undistinguished.
When I left the business, I wrote a book, and continued to write my own website, making about enough in the latter pursuit to afford the modern-day Howdy Manor, if I paid by the week.
In some ways, I’m even more insecure than I was when I moved into my motel room with a kitchenette in Tucson 35 years ago. I have no real job, no health insurance, no boss, no salary — not even a salaryette.
But, two years after departing the newspaper industry, I continue — stupidly, maybe — doing the thing I love and know how to do: seek out stories and write them. I continue to occupy, like some kind of squatter, my former occupation.
Because I’m a writer, dammit.
And that, good sir, is how my hammer hangs.
Posted by jwoestendiek November 30th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, arizona, benson highway, desert, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, economic, economy, employed, first jobs, howdy manor, identity, income, insecurity, jobs, journalism, motels, newspapers, occupation, pets, real world, salary, security, tourism, travel, travels with ace, tucson, uncertainy, unemployed, writers, writing
How could you not be smitten with a man with the mug of a pug, the work ethic of a sled dog; the insatiable curiosity of a boxer; and the droopy demeanor of a basset hound?
If you were to mix Yogi Bear with Rocky Balboa, then southern fry them, you’d have David Perlmutt, in whose house Ace and I spent the last three days. He’s one of those guys who underwhelms you (to borrow a friend’s description) on first impression. (I, too, am a member of that club.) He’s very low key, quite soft spoken, and doesn’t feel the need to publicly exhibit vast amounts of enthusiasm, which is not to say he doesn’t have it. It’s in there, percolating. But being perky is not his thing. He’s not exactly Mr. Bubbly.
In that way, and a few others, we are peas in a pod. We both graduated, the same year, from the University of North Carolina’s journalism school – though we don’t think we knew each other back then. We both worked at the Charlotte Observer, though in my case just for a year. He’s been there nearly 30.
We’re both divorced (though in my case twice) and we both have only children headed off to college this month.
And we’re both plum dog crazy.
(And no, I’m not proposing. He has already turned me down.)
But he did invite Ace and me to be guests in his lovely home among towering trees in a quiet Charlotte neighborhood that’s filled with dogs. His two, Caki and Clancy, were at the home of his ex (with whom he shares custody of the canines) so I didn’t get a chance to meet them.
She performed it flawlessly three times in a row, because that’s how many tries it took for me to get a decent photo. (Perhaps I should train Ace to take pictures and let him handle the photography from now on.)
Winnie, who’s three-years-old, is assisted in the task by a rubber band, wrapped around the door knob (one of those regular round door knobs), which allows her front paws to get some traction, and twist the knob. Then she pushes the door open, walks inside, turns around, closes it with a flick of her front paws and beams proudly.
“She picked it up in no time,” said Ellen Archer, who, with the aid of treats, taught Winnie the trick.
My visit to Charlotte — on top of checking out The Dog Bar, spending some time with cousin Laura, reconnecting with Perlmutt and re-meeting his now-grown and multi-talented daughter, Ainslie (today’s guest columnist) — also gave me a chance to look up another old friend, Ray Owens.
He’s one of my ex-college roommates who, despite being in near constant prank mode — then and now — somehow managed to become a successful attorney. As it turns out, he has lost neither his hair, his sense of humor, nor his detailed memories of college days, including the time, driving home from a Deep Purple/Uriah Heap/Black Sabbath concert in Fayetteville, we hit a furious rainstorm. My yellow Firebird — though, I would argue still, a totally hot car — had broken windshield wipers, so we resolved the matter by tying shoestrings to each wiper and, from inside the car, pulling the wipers back and forth manually the whole way home.
Not a bad trick, either. I think we rewarded ourselves from the sack of treats we carried with us for the trip — Fritos and bean dip, as I recall.
You might imagine that we’ve grown up since then — that we’ve all become respectable and responsible adults as we pass through middle age and beyond; that we’ ve realized that life is serious business and, once your hair is gone or going grey, it’s time to close the door on Black Sabbath, childish pranks, dopey behavior, running in circles and needless frivolity.
But if we’ve learned anything from or dogs, it’s this: Naaaah.
Posted by jwoestendiek August 19th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace does america, adulthood, animals, books, charlotte, charlotte observer, children, close, david perlmutt, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, door, frivolity, jokes, journalism, newspapers, north carolina, ohmidog!, open, pets, pranks, ray owens, reporters, reunion, roommates, the dog bar, travel, traveling with dogs, tricks, uniersity of north carolina