Oftentimes, when to pursue your own dreams and interests you stop working for “THE Man” — as I did six years ago — you end up, unfortunately, without “THE Salary” and without “THE Benefits.”
That — the no more health insurance part — is why I haven’t seen a doctor in six years.
That — the no more salary part — is why, in addition to being an author, freelance writer, photographer and blogger, I recently became a bartender and, even more recently, a dog walker.
I suppose I should be thanking our President for finally being able to get myself some health insurance. He’s the one who made it possible. But Lily, sweet Lily, made it doable.
If being paid to spend time with Lily makes me a gigolo, then call me a gigolo. True, I come calling on her twice a day, three times a week. I knock on her door, give her a hug when it opens, and then wrap her coat snugly around her, making sure her fluffy white ears don’t get caught inside.
We ride the elevator down to the first floor of the assisted living center in which she and her owner live and go outside for a 20-minute stroll — during most of which she walks daintily along the top of the curb, like a tightrope walker. She fastidiously poops in the same spot each time, in the woods on a vacant lot. She stops when I stop, goes when I go, and has never once caused the slightest tug on her retractable leash.
After the walk — and I’ve never met a dog who’s easier to walk — we go back inside. Then we sit in the lounge area and snuggle for maybe five minutes. That is my favorite part and, though it may be vain of me to think so, her’s too.
My other favorite part is seeing the reaction of residents when a dog comes into the room, the smiles that instantly appear and the hands that reach out. It’s amazing the change in atmosphere one dog’s presence can produce.
I’ve often thought it would be great to run some kind of program that not only brought dogs into facilities for the elderly, but found them homes there, and provided support and help to residents who wanted dogs of their own, but had concerns about whether they could manage it.
That would be fun, and noble, and help homeless dogs, and assist in bringing immeasurable joy to people.
But it wouldn’t pay my bills — much less provide health insurance for me.
I charge Lily $6.50 for each session.
In a month, that earns me enough to pay my $137.67 monthly health insurance premium, as determined by the Affordable Health Care Act, based on my income.
That income pales in comparison to what I made as a newspaper reporter, back when I worked for THE Man. I left my last newspaper job in 2008 to write a book, but also because, amid continued shrinkage and cutbacks, it had become nearly impossible to do a story justice and give it the attention it deserved. After that my dog and I traveled the country, and I tinkered with another book, while continuing to write this blog.
We ended up in North Carolina, and last year moved to the little town of Bethania.
A few months ago I started working the bar and grill at a golf course down the street from my rented house. Not to bore you with my finances, but that two-day-a-week job, coupled with my newspaper reporter pension, makes it possible to pay my rent, bills and other debts. I wasn’t bringing in enough for health insurance, though, and — after countless hours wandering around healthcare.gov — I had pretty much decided I would continue do without, pay the penalty fee, and treat any diseases or disorders that arose with chicken soup and ibuprofen.
One afternoon, at the golf course, the aunt of another employee visited and told me about her dog-walking business — business maybe not being the right word. It’s sort of more in between a business and volunteering. She helps residents of an assisted living center with chores, ranging from shopping trips to dog walking, charging a rate that does little more than pay for her gas.
She, like me, feels strongly that dogs can improve the lives of elderly people, especially those who live alone. I told her if she was ever in a pinch, and in need of a fill-in dog walker, I’d be glad to help out.
A few weeks later she called, and I began walking Miss Lily — at first temporarily, then regularly.
The insurance plan Lily has enabled me to get is not the kind that pays for everything.
It’s more, as I understand it, the type that, after I spend $3,000 or so I don’t have on doctors, will kick in and pay 60 percent or so of my qualifying medical expenses. Even with it, one good medical crisis will probably still send me into financial ruin. But at least it’s something, and I’m abiding by the law, and it might make me more likely to visit a doctor.
And even if I don’t, I’ll still be reaping some health benefits – between all the dog cuddling, which is good for the heart, and all the dog walking, which is good for the heart.
I’m sure there will be much confusion, red tape and arguing ahead when it comes to my health insurance. There always is. And with my income being of the fluctuating variety — depending on the stories I sell, the dogs I walk, the beers I serve — I don’t understand how we will determine the premium I should pay in the future. Is it based on last year’s income? Or this year’s income, which I won’t know until the year is finished?
Just last month, two more dogs showed up at the assisted living facility. First came a Boston terrier named Punkin. I take him for three walks a day, three days a week. Then came Gretel, a miniature schnauzer who is 13, and the fastest walker of the bunch.
For the record, Republican leaders, that doesn’t sap me of any incentive. I still want to have as much money as you. I’d still like to have the kind of health insurance you have.
But at least I can take a rebellious sort of pride in the fact that I’m not working for THE Man.
No. Not me. I’m working for a kind and gentle, polite and refined, sweet and loving curbwalker. I’m working for THE Poodle.
(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)
Posted by John Woestendiek March 4th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: affordable health care, animals, assisted living, benefits, costs, dog walking, dogs, dogwalking, elderly, escort, gigolo, health, health care, insurance, lily, newspapers, north carolina, obama, obama care, pets, poodle, premiums, president, salary, the man
While, as you can see above, the First Lady quickly seized control of the situation, the Second Dog got in a little trouble yesterday at a White House Christmas party.
Sunny Obama, the second Portuguese water dog the Obamas adopted, was part of a minor incident in which, by most reports, the one-year-old dog’s over-friendliness caused a party guest, 2-year-old Ashtyn Gardner, to fall over.
Sunny, adopted in August, jumped up on the toddler during the 2013 White House Holiday Press Preview.
The moment – not the worst violation of etiquette to ever take place in the White House, but maybe the cutest — was captured by Associated Press photographer Charles Dharapak.
Michelle Obama hosts the party every year, unveiling the White House’s holiday decorations with families of military service members.
Ashtyn, both of whose parents are in the Navy, was attending the party with her father, John Gardner, who later said that Ashtyn was fine.
Sunny reportedly apologized right after the incident by licking Ashtyn’s face, and both Sunny and Bo, the Obama’s first Portuguese water dog, were allowed to remain in the room afterward.
The Washington Post said Sunny “bounded into a State Dining Room full of children dressed in sparkly shoes and lacy dresses and headed right for little Ashtyn Gardner, 2, from Mobile, Ala. All of a sudden the blond girl with ringlet curls … was down on the rug. …
“Are you okay?” said a concerned Obama, mom-in-chief, tugging back on Sunny’s leash. But there was no need for damage control. Before Ashtyn could answer, she was back on her feet and Sunny was licking her face. All seemed well again, and the kids from military families could get back to frosting cookies and making paper poinsettia flowers with the first lady, crafty projects that have become a part of the Obama holiday traditions.
The Associated Press also avoided saying Sunny made contact with the girl, reporting Ashtyn “lost her balance and dropped to the carpet when Michelle Obama led the leashed puppy (a separate handler held Bo) into the State Dining Room…”
The dogs, in addition to attending the fest, also are a large part of its theme. Two life-sized replicas of the Portuguese water dogs, made from black satin ribbon, are on display, and miniature versions of them, made of chocolate, are part of the annual gingerbread White House display.
(Photo: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 5th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, ashtyn gardner, associated press, bo, bo obama, Charles Dharapak, christmas, decorations, dogs, etiquette, first dog, first lady, girl, jumped, michelle, michelle obama, navy, obama, party, pets, photo, photographer, portuguese water dogs, president, second dog, sunny, sunny obama, white house
Before I show you my new place – that’s next week, when I’m done decorating — I thought I’d show you somebody else’s.
We came upon it last week, on the trip to move my furniture down south.
There’s an exit on I-95 in Virginia that Ace and I always stop at — one where I can get low-price, by Maryland standards, cigarettes; fill my gas tank; and grab a bite at the Burger King, whose guide to which sodas go best with which entrees always makes by beverage decision easier.
Then we drive a few hundred feet to the end of a big parking lot, where there’s a large grassy area, next to a copse of trees. I park at the edge of the grass, open the back of the Jeep and sit there to enjoy my picnic lunch while Ace sniffs around the empty patch of grass, takes care of business, then sits and waits for french fries to be flung his way. Or better yet, in his view, a hunk of burger, whose variations at Burger King include a Triple Whopper, and Quad Stacker. As you know, you can “Have it your way.”
The exit — Willis Road, I think it’s called, on the southern edge of Richmond – has become a tradition for us. Ace likes traditions, especially those involving meat.
Last week, with Ace in the back of the Jeep, and my friend Will following me in the rented moving truck, I had tired of music and decided to find a talker on the radio, either flaming liberal or die-hard conservative — for those are the only options — it didn’t matter.
I can’t remember his name, but I ended up with the die-hard conservative — a Rush Limbaugh wannabe, only angrier, who was jumping all over President Obama’s recent remarks about increasing taxes on the richest to assist the poorest.
Obama, it seemed, wanted to help the “less fortunate,” and you would have guessed, from the way the talk show host was saying “less fortunate” that he was smirking and putting finger quotes around it — as if he thought there was no such thing, or, if there were, that they were all sissies.
Though I had spent nearly a year without my material possessions as Ace and I traveled across America on a shoestring; though I’m not employed by anyone other than myself, though I have neither health insurance nor nest egg, I’ve never considered myself among the less fortunate (which I say without finger quotes, because only sissies make finger quotes).
Similarly, I’ve never considered myself too far removed from that group. One overnight hospital visit would probably put me in their ranks.
In our time on the road, Ace and I were homeless by choice, but frugal out of necessity, which explains why we ran into plenty of down on their luck souls – some of whom had made bad decisions, more of whom were victims of matters beyond their control, like layoffs, or foreclosures, or crime, or natural disasters, or unnatural disasters, or health issues or disabilities.
In the America of 2011, with the gap between the rich and the poor having become as extreme as our talk show hosts, I’m thankful to be in the middle, even the lower section of the middle. I plan to try and stay there until the middle disappears. Having reunited with my possessions, called in my pension (it actually came when I called) and begun setting up a new home — albeit without stainless steel appliances – I’m feeling more secure. But I’m aware of how tenuous that can be.
After stopping at our traditional Virginia picnic spot last week, I finished off my fish sandwich, accompanied by a Diet Coke – though maybe Sprite would have been a better choice — and Ace I walked around the corner, where there was a wooden fence with a small opening in it. We stepped through.
That’s where we saw this homeless encampment.
I’m not sure if it served as home for multiple people, or just one, but nobody was at the camp amid the trees, just off I-95, where a half dozen mattresses and tarps were scattered, clothes hung on tree limbs and — speaking of accessories that pop — empty sardine cans, their tops peeled back, served as ash trays.
I was wandering around taking pictures, when a medium-sized, copper-colored dog came running out from behind a mattress that was leaning against the fence. Barking furiously, he headed straight at me, then stopped and stared, as if daring me to take another step in his direction.
I tried to fling him some french fries, but every time I threw one, he retreated — only slightly though, never leaving his position amid the modest little camp. That seemed to be his mission — to protect the few meager belongings that were there, to guard over them until his human came back from collecting aluminum cans, or panhandling at the exit ramp, or maybe even working a real job.
The dog acted like it was Fort Knox, and he was a German shepherd.
They are able to show respect, loyalty and compassion to the poorest of souls — in a way Republicans, at least the loudest ones, are rarely able to master. Some Democrats aren’t that great at it, either. I’m not always too good at it myself. How much have I contributed to Japanese tsunami victims? Zero. I need to save up and buy a clothes dryer.
We humans are far more selfish than dogs. Then again dogs aren’t raised on TV ads and shiny magazines that bombard them with images of things that manipulative marketing types persuade them they must have.
I thought about calling the conservative radio talk show host, even though he sounded like a very nasty fellow who would interrupt me. ”Why is it we make a greater investment in accumulating stuff than in our fellow humans?” I wanted to ask. “When did war become patriotic and helping people become unpatriotic?”
And which soda really does pair best with the fish sandwich?
Posted by John Woestendiek April 20th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, burger king, compassion, conservatives, democrats, dog, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, encampment, greed, helping, homeless, hosts, less fortunate, liberals, mattresses, obama, pairings, patriotic, people, pets, poor, possessions, poverty, radio, republicans, rich, richmond, road trip, sardine can, selfishness, soda, stacker, stuff, talk shows, taxes, travels with ace, virginia, whopper, willis road
The series of tributes kicked off yesterday with a look at Cali, a grey dachshund who is a fixture in the office of California Rep. Ken Calvert. Her owner is Rebecca Rudman, the congressman’s communications director.
The 3-year-old dachshund can often be seen running the marble halls of the Rayburn House Office Building.
Politico reports that “Rudman threw a tennis ball along the corridor outside Calvert’s office, as Cali ran for it wildly and dutifully brought it back.”
OK, so it’s not exactly hard-hitting reporting. Still, it’s nice to see some inside-the-beltway dogs other than Bo getting some attention.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 25th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bo, cali, congressman, dachshund, dogs, ken calvert, news media, obama, pets, politicians, politico, politics, rayburn office building, rebecca rudman, washington, work, workplace
Here he is in an official White House photo, sitting nicely in front of a glowing fireplace, upon which the Obama family’s stockings, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, are hung by the chimney with care.
Two potted poinsettias are also featured (a plant that, while not likely to kill your dog if they eat one, can irritate their mouths and stomachs and result in vomiting, according to the ASPCA.)
Rather than focusing, Grinch-like, on that, though, we’ll tell you that Bo – he’s two now — has become an integral part of the Obama family and their White House Christmas traditions.
This week, Michelle Obama and Bo visited the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. , where the First Lady, as she did last year, read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
And the official White House Christmas card this year comes with the signatures, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, of all the Obamas, and includes a paw print from Bo.
For more photos of Bo and Christmas at the White House, visit PeoplePets.
Posted by John Woestendiek December 17th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bo, bo obama, card, christmas, dog, dogs, first dog, first family, first lady, holidays, obama, pets, president, traditions, white house
Newt Gingrich has been issued a lifetime VIP card by an upscale Dallas strip club, entitling him to free admission, preferred seating, free auto detailing, steak and lobster dinners and access to the the club’s “intimate members-only lounge.”
The owner of The Lodge, Dawn Rizos, thought it was the least she could do after Gingrich — who awarded, then snubbed her last year — got in touch with her again through American Solutions, his conservative “citizens action network,” sending her an unsolicited membership card and requesting a $2,000 donation.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
Last year, Rizos was informed that her gentlemen’s club — doing business as DCG, Inc. — had been selected to receive one of the American Solutions “Entrepeneur of the Year” awards for is efforts to stimulate the economy.
Gingrich invited Rizos to a private dinner in Washington to receive the award, provided she made the requested $5,000 donation, which she did.
The week before the event, though, American Solutions realized they had accidentally bestowed the award on a strip club, and rescinded the invitation. The organization refunded the $5,000 to Rizos, who donated it to an animal rescue organization — specifically to create a shelter for pit bulls, which was dubbed “Newt’s Nook.”
This week, apparently not having learned from the mistake, American Solutions, under the signature of Gingrich, sent Rizos an unsolicited membership card and again asked her for money.
The letter referred to Rizos as “a key member of our American Solutions family of supporters” and added, “Will you enclose a special year-end contribution of $1,000, or even as much as $2,000, to American Solutions, Ms. Rizos?”
The letter said the money would go toward American Solution’s mission — more important than ever since “the resounding rejection of Barack Obama’s leftist ideology and governing policies on Nov. 2.”
“Thanks to members like you, American Solutions played a critical role in helping create this year’s sea-change election,” the letter said. ”But our most important role now lies ahead of us … helping our newly elected officials lead the country to a future of jobs and prosperity.”
The letter, which carried Gingrich’s return address, included a facsimile of the membership card he said was on its way. Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, is general chairman of American Solutions.
Rizos said she will hold off making a new donation to Gingrich until they can discuss last year’s disinvitation. Instead, she said, she is sending him, at no charge, a Lifetime VIP membership card to The Lodge – with all the perks and privileges – which the club says is worth $2,000.
“His letter included an American Solutions membership card with my name on it, so I’m very happy to reciprocate,” she said. “It’s just a temporary card right now, but I promise we will have the permanent one waiting for him at the door.”
(Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be construed as suggesting Newt Gingrich has ever been to The Lodge. But Ace and I have.)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 16th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, american solutions, animals, card, conservative, contributions, dallas, dawn rizos, dogs, donations, elections, former, gentlemen's club, gingrich, government, ideology, leftist, lifetime vip, membership, news, newt, newt gingrich, newt's nook, obama, ohmidog!, pets, pit bulls, politicians, republican, rightist, speaker of the house, strip, strip club, strippers, texas, the lodge, travels with ace, vip
The value of Bo — a gift to the president from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy — was listed on annual financial disclosure forms the White House released Monday, according to the Associated Press.
Dollar-wise, the Portuguese water dog, was a mere drip compared to the president’s other income, including royalties from his books, “Dreams From My Father” and “Audacity of Hope,” which brought in between $1 million and $5 million each.
In addition to his $400,000 annual salary, Obama listed a number investments which, including those held jointly with his wife, were worth between $2.2 million and $7.5 million in 2009. His Nobel Peace Prize carried a $1.4 million award, but the president donated that to charity.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Posted by John Woestendiek May 18th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, barack obama, bo, bo obama, bobama, disclosure, dog, dogs, financial, first family, gift, income, news, obama, ohmidog!, pets, portuguese water dog, president, ted kennedy, value, white house