Tag Archives: travels

Highway Haiku: Adventures in unpacking

 

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.

Talking to animals: What Ace had to say


If I had to guess what was on Ace’s mind at a given moment, here’s what I think it would be:

“Food. FOOD. How about some food? Got any food? Gimme food. I really like food. I like you, too, but I really like food. Is that food I smell? Perhaps you’d like to give me some. Is it time for food? Food. Food. Food.”

Don’t get me wrong. I think he’s a far more complex being than that – more than a creature with a one-track mind. He loves and fears and empathizes and, I think, ponders more than his next meal.

But, when it comes to the mysterious song that plays in his head — and I’m guessing it’s a song, for all I know it could be haiku — food would have to be the repeated refrain.

When, during our weeks in Cave Creek, Arizona, we sat down with animal communicator Debbie Johnstone of Listen 2 Animals – I sat down, anyway, Ace kind of wandered –  I was hoping that he wouldn’t be so stuck on the chorus that the other lyrics couldn’t come through.

But they did. According to Debbie, Ace spoke to her – sometimes in words only she could hear, also by conveying images and feelings. Only a minute after we sat down, she’d gotten her first impressions of him:

“He’s one  happy dog, and he’s very passionate.”

Animals have spoken to Debbie since she was a toddler, she says. At first, she figured everybody could hear them. Born in West Virginia, and raised in Ohio, she didn’t have pets of her own, but she had long conversations with neighborhood animals — until her mother told her at age 7 that she was a big girl now and it was time to stop doing that.

So, for several decades, she did. She stopped acknowledging that she could hear what animals were thinking, and went on to become a computer programmer.

Her job with a major corporation brought her to Arizona in 1992,  and she took on new responsibilities as she rose through the ranks — including laying off people. After 9/11, she found herself doing more and more of that, to the point it was making her physically ill.

“I said, ‘I can’t do this any longer,'” and with that she began searching for a new calling. While trying to figure out what that was, she started doing volunteer work at Arizona Equine Rescue, where she  met a Shamanic healer who sensed she had the gift. With his help she enrolled in a course in animal communication and resumed talking to animals.

In 2003, she started her own company, Listen 2 Animals, where, in addition to serving as a translator between the human and animal worlds, she helps find lost animals, resolves animal-related conflicts and coaches humans on how to better communicate with their animals. Her sessions, with horses, cats and dogs, usually range from 15 minutes to an hour and run $30 to $90.

Debbie says the messages from animals come to her in different ways.

Sometimes she senses it. “I’m empathic I can feel what the animal feels,” she said. Other times she  might see a picture, experience a taste or smell, or hear a noise. Some of the information is conveyed to her through what she calls “thought drops,” which made me think of the comic strip device, where what one’s thinking appears in a cloud with dots leading down to the person’s head. Sometimes she hears words, as if they are actually talking. “Sometimes they just come right out and tell me. Sometimes animals know exactly what’s wrong and can tell you, other times they don’t know.”

Her clients range from people who want to know why their cat stopped using the litter box, to what the old dog thinks of a new dog in the house, or — most commonly — people seeking some guidance in making the decision to put an old, sick animal down.

Amost half of her calls are from people whose animals are “getting ready to transition” and want to know how the animal feels about it. More often than not — despite all the human angst — the dog or other animal in question is ready to proceed. “They’re not afraid of death,” she said.

Debbie met Ace and me in a fenced yard behind a store in Cave Creek. It was Ace’s second meeting with an animal communicator. (You can read about the first at the Baltimore Sun.)

The first thing Debbie did when Ace approached was seek permission from him. She says she always asks an animal first if she can communicate with them — “otherwise, it would be like walking into somebody’s house without knocking.”

Right away, she said, Ace told her “he knows why he’s here.” Ace sat at her feet for a few moments, then took off to explore the yard we were sitting in.

I’d explained to Debbie that Ace had been traveling for seven months, and that I wanted to know what he thought of our nomadic lifestyle.

After relating her initial impressions, Debbie said Ace was communicating to her in words: “I actually heard the words, ‘This is what I was born to do.’

“He takes this very seriously,” she continued. “He really feels this is an assignment, or a job, if you will. He’s sharing a feeling of always moving, moving a lot … moving and freedom.” She compared how Ace feels with the feeling she had when she got out of the corporate world and started doing what she really wanted to do.

“Passionate, energized, that’s the feeling he gives me — that his life is about more than just going through the motions. He finds it joyful to met new people, go new places, see’s new things. He’s not tired, he finds it energizing … He likes doing different and new things … What’s really important to him is being with you.

“But still,” she added, “he’s looking forward to the day you get in one place, in a home.”

Debbie passed on some other information as well:

  • Ace likes the color red.
  • The chain link fence around the yard we were sitting in reminded him of his days in the shelter. She saw him as one of a litter of three, who was dropped off at the shelter by someone who didn’t speak English.
  • Ace has some achiness in his left hip joint, but it’s not painful.
  • Ace “thinks everybody really, really likes him.”
  • Ace likes eggs, and would like to be served them more often.
  • When I asked Debbie if Ace would prefer to eat twice a day, as he used to, or once a day, as he now does, she responded, “He wants to know if there’s a third choice.”
  • Ace enjoys being a dog, she says, as most dogs do. “If we could feel about ourselves like our animals feel about themselves, we would be very, very free. They’re just pleased about who they are.”

Debbie said Ace doesn’t mind riding in the car (which is red, by the way).

“It’s not something that bothers him because he likes to be with you. But he would like you to stop more often so he can get out and sniff and stretch. He likes to investigate and see new things.”

The last seven months have provided ample opportunity for that, and it was good to hear that — in her opinion — he didn’t consider our trip a total drag.

Debbie didn’t say that Ace was eager to get back to Baltimore. Even though he doesn’t speak to me in words, I think that’s a safe bet. I’m not certain whether that city will become home for me again, but according to Debbie, Ace already has that part figured out.

“Where you are, that’s home to him.”

Sickly in Spokane, sleepy in Seattle

I extend my apologies to the two most recent Motel 6’s my dog Ace and I patronized — for, despite my best efforts to clean things up, I fear Ace left his mark, or at least a distinct scent.

Ace, just like John Steinbeck’s Charley — and almost as if on script — got sick in Spokane.

For Charley, the problem was being unable to pee, and it began, according to “Travels with Charley”  in Idaho, the night  Steinbeck counseled a father and son from who he rented a cabin for the night.

The teenager wanted to leave rural Idaho and move to New York to pursue a career in hairdressing … “Not barbering — hairdressing — for women,” Steinbeck quotes the father as saying. “Now maybe you see why I got worries.”

To his credit, Steinbeck, as he describes it, supported the son’s career choice:

“I tell you that a clever, thoughtful, ambitious hairdresser wields a power beyond the comprehension of most men,” he explained to the worried dad.

That night, Steinbeck’s poodle Charley woke his master with his whines. The dog’s abdomen was distended and his nose and ears were hot, Steinbeck noted. “I took him out and stayed with him, but he could not relieve the pressure.”

Steinbeck, playing vet, gave Charley some of his sleeping pills, Seconal, assuming it would relax the dog’s tensed up insides. According to the book, Charley fell alseep on the bed, fell off it, tried to get up, and stumbled. He managed to walk outside briefly before coming back inside and immediately falling asleep again.

The next morning, Steinbeck rushed him to a veterinarian in Spokane, who diagnosed Charley as an old dog. On Steinbeck’s insistence though, he eventually agreed to give the dog a pill to help flush out his kidneys. Once in Seattle — where Charley rested up for a few days in some undisclosed whereabouts — Steinbeck questioned whether the constant vibration of his camper, Rocinante, might be the cause of, or at least contributing to, his dog’s troubles.

I was asking myself some similar questions as Ace and I drove from Spokane toward Seattle. Is the trip taking a toll on him? Should we stop and visit a vet? His problem wasn’t the same as Charley’s. It was diarrhea. Other than that — the sudden need to poop and its runny consequences — he showed no signs of being sick. He still ran in circles and played at our rest stops. His nose was cold. His eyes were clear. He was, as always, ready to eat.

I’d cleaned up four runny piles of poop at the Motel 6 in Spokane — all of which were deposited as I slept — and was worried the next night might bring the same.

I went ahead and drove all the way to Seattle’s outskirts, wanting to clear Snoqualmie Pass before more snow came, but — not wanting to show up with a runny dog at the house of some old friends who’d agreed to put us up — I checked into a Motel 6 in Kirkland.

I realized the next morning it was a good choice — for me and my friends, if not for the Motel 6. Ace had left another deposit on the floor. Having used up all my paper towels the night before, I resorted to trying to clean it up with toilet paper and copious amounts of water. I scooped, and blotted, then scrubbed, which would leave little pills of toilet paper all over the spot, but eventually it turned the same color as the rest of the carpet. And opening the windows wide was helping air the place out.

Even as I worked to clean things up though, Ace would head to the door with a panicky look in his eyes. He left several more unscoopable deposits outside.

I called my friends and warned them, suggested even that maybe they won’t want us as house guests. I was worried Ace might mess their home, or contaminate their two dogs. They told me to come on over.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at their home in Kirkland was the nice cream-colored carpeting in most rooms.

My friend Marilyn, a nurturing type, told me not to worry, and fed Ace some cottage cheese. Then she cooked up some rice, which he’d eat for dinner the next two nights.

I decided to wait another day before contacting a vet and went to sleep worried — and with one hand on Ace, who was sprawled out on the bed next to me, in hopes that if he stirred, it would wake me up.

It worked, and about an hour after I fell asleep, he got up, and so did I, immediately seeing that panicked look in his eyes. We rushed down the stairs and outside, then went back to bed — once again with my hand resting atop him. The rest of the night was, thankfully, poopless; but he got up early to rush outside again.

So far, the cream-colored carpets have remained cream colored. Marilyn, in saintly fashion, has continued to pamper him. There have been no accidents.  I’ve got my fingers crossed and — probably on account of worrying so much about his stomach — a sort of non-peaceful, queasy feeling in mine.

John Steinbeck didn’t sleep here

Two journalists, each independently seeking to chart the course John Steinbeck took 50 years ago with his poodle Charley — including figuring out where he slept when — have come to the conclusion that the highly respected author may have taken some liberties with the facts in his classic work of non-fiction.

It’s not stop-the-presses stuff, especially these days, when fuzzily defined terms like “creative non-fiction” and “literary journalism” have taken on enough heft to become college courses.

Like it or not composite characters, re-created dialogue and tampering with timelines have become fairly common practices in non-fiction (though not in my book). But 50 years ago, when “Travels With Charley” was written — five years before Truman Capote’s groundbreaking “non-fiction novel” (his term), “In Cold Blood” — the practice probably would have been given the far less literary label of “making shit up.”

If Steinbeck borrowed from his fiction writing toolbox — and he was primarily a novelist — to craft “Travels With Charley,” he could, on one hand, be viewed as a pioneer. In reality, though, storytellers, even those bound by the tighter confines of non-fiction, have been leaving out the boring stuff and juicing up the truth for centuries.

To Jeff Woodburn, though, who counts Steinbeck among his literary heroes, his discovery that Steinbeck might have made stuff up — and definitely left stuff out — was disheartening.

Woodburn, a New Hampshire-based freelance writer, pitched the idea of writing about Steinbeck’s travels through the state — from Shelburn, west to Lancaster — to the editor of New Hampshire magazine. The editor, being a Steinbeck fan too, liked it. Woodburn set out to retrace the 30-mile route and learn more about the places, and maybe even some of the people, Steinbeck encountered in New Hamsphire.

As Steinbeck recounts it in “Travels With Charley,” on his way to the top of Maine, he drove up a farm road in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, bought some eggs from a farmer and asked permission of him to camp beside the stream on his farm. Later, the farmer visited his camper and they drank coffee, laced with “a good dollop of twenty-one year old applejack.” They talked about Kruschev, and how, that week, he had used his shoe to pound a table during a UN meeting, and whether we should attack the Russians before they attacked us.

When the farmer eventually took his leave, Steinbeck and Charley went to sleep in the camper, parked alongside the stream, according to the book.

Woodburn couldn’t find the farmer, or even the farm. He came up with three possibilities, but none of them panned out. “I really wanted to find him, because he seemed so wise,” he said. When all his research led nowhere, Woodburn began to think that the farmer didn’t actually exist, or that he was a composite of different people Steinbeck met in New England.

Later Woodburn learned that, in reality, on the night in question — Sept. 25,  1960 — Steinbeck apparently slept here:

 

That’s the Spalding Inn, a luxurious spot in its day, and still moderately fancy, with white tableclothes, well-manicured gardens, orchards and magnificent mountain views. In 1960, it was popular with well-heeled New Yorkers seeking country getaways.

The inn is never mentioned in “Travels With Charley.” Then again Steinbeck admittedly glossed over some of his other stops — Deerfield, Mass., to visit his son in school, and Chicago, where he reunited with his wife at the Ambassador Hotel. “In my travels it was pleasant and good,” he wrote of the latter stop, “in writing, it would contribute only a disunity.”

Woodburn, though his initial retracing of Steinbeck’s route didn’t merit enough for a story, continued to keep a file on Steinbeck, and check out leads when they arose. When he came across a Facebook page about growing up in Lancaster, he put out a query, seeking anyone who remembered meeting Steinbeck 50 years ago.

A local woman responded, saying her mother had met Steinbeck when he stayed at the Spalding Inn, in Whitefield. Woodburn, who worked washing dishes at the inn as a teenager, went to the family that owned it, and they confirmed that Steinbeck was a guest around the time in question.  

“It seems as this is where he spend the night,” Woodburn told me over the weekend when Ace and I met him at the inn. “Enough people have said it, that I feel comfortable saying he spent the night here.”

Woodburn, whose piece on Steinbeck’s travels through the state will appear in New Hampshire magazine’s November issue, said he was told Steinbeck went to dinner at the inn, but was refused service because he wasn’t wearing the required jacket and tie. Upon learning who he was, they supplied him with proper attire.

Other than having dinner, Steinbeck did little socializing while at the inn, and it’s doubtful that Charley, his poodle, actually slept inside. More likely, he spent the night alone in the camper.

To Woodburn, who is a third generation New Hampshirite, finding that Steinbeck might have been less that totally honest was disturbing.

“I’m a big fan of Steinbeck. I’m very troubled that he didn’t tell the truth,” he said.

To blogger Bill Steigerwald, who is retracing Steinbeck’s route for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, discrepancies between the book and reality — and he’s found a few — don’t diminish the esteem he holds for the writer.

Steigerwald, who we met on a ferry boat as we crossed the Long Island Sound the same day Steinbeck did — 50 years later — tried a couple of weeks ago to find the “ghost cabins” along the Connecticut River that Steinbeck slept outside of on his way back through New Hampshire

Steinbeck wrote that, although its signs said “open” and “vacancy,” no one was around when he walked into the office 50 years ago. So he and Charley, according to the book, slept in the camper on the lot.

As it turns out, and as both Woodburn and Steigerwald have confirmed, the “ghost cabins” did exist, and were known as Whip O’Will. Today, they’ve been replaced by the Beaver Trails RV Park, and Munce’s Convenience store. Next to that is the Happy Star Chinese restaurant. And across the street live Mike and Sallie Beattie, whose family once owned the Whip O’Will property.

During its conversion to an RV park, the new owners took down the six cabins and offered one (that’s it above) to the Beattie’s, who had it moved across the street so they could use it for storage.

Steigerwald buys the ghost cabin account, but he has serious doubts about the New Hampshire farmer — since that’s apparently the same night Steinbeck apparently stayed at the Spalding Inn.

“It’s clear evidence — and further proof, considering what I and others already know and anyone who reads ‘Travels With Charley’ with a critical eye should suspect — that the book is not nonfiction but a creative mix of fiction and nonfiction,” Steigerwald wrote on his blog, Travels Without Charley.

Woodburn, while less forgiving, also notes that Steinbeck gave some hints that the book wasn’t a straighforward account of the journey. “It’s easy to confuse reality with romance,” he said. “I think he gave signs that he was making stuff up.”

As Steinbeck himself noted, reality is in the eye of the beholder:

“What I set down here is true until someone else passes that way and rearranges the world in his own style,” Steinbeck wrote. “In literary criticism the critic has no choice but to make over the victim of his attention into something the size and shape of himself.”

I bounced the issue of a professor-friend, a teacher of creative non-fiction writing, who pointed out that the term didn’t exist until around the 1980’s, when the National Endowment for the Arts saw it as a way to give non-fiction writers a chance to win literature fellowships.

Though the term is fairly modern, the practice is not, he agreed.

“There’s been a long and wondrous and centuries-long tradition of made-up non-fiction in literature (the Victorians were particularly good at it), and not even just a few changes of detail.

“Steinbeck was a novelist, not a journalist. If his fibs were limited to whether he stayed in a hotel or not, that’s pretty remarkable restraint,” he added. “It’s not my personal standard for writing nonfiction, but many writers have had worst standards (paging Mr. Capote). It seems a silly thing to lie about, really.”

Built like a brick shithouse

I have heard the term “brick shithouse,” but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one — until Saturday, when I encountered something close: a toilet made of brick in a restroom made of cinderblock at a park well outside Harrisburg.

It — the term — is, at least when I’ve heard it, generally used to describe someone of sturdy frame, as in: “He (she) is built like a brick shithouse.”

Urban Dictionary offers these definitions: “…very muscled and tough; impervious, unassailable …  a stand alone toilet, constructed from brick.” (Is there a rural dictionary? There should be.)

I’m not sure of the phrase’s origin, but I’d guess, when outhouses were common, most were made of flimsy wood — until someone constructed a brick one, and word spread about how sturdy it was. I’m guessing people flocked to see it, making comments like, “Now, that’s a shithouse.” Somehow, from that point, the phrase began being used to describe large and sturdy people.

Ace and I were on our way to visit some puppies for sale by an Amish breeder (story to come) when we stopped at a municipal park to stretch our legs (to use a more polite euphemism). I stepped into the bathroom to see a toilet seat perched atop what appeared to be a chimney.

I’d imagine sitting on it — a purpose I did not require — would make one feel a little like Santa Claus.

Anyway, having seen a brick shithouse, or at least something close to it, we can cross it off our list and continue our travels, staying on the lookout for hell in a handbasket, a two-dollar whore, raining cats and dogs, and lipstick on a pig.

Candle blowin’ time: My birthday wish list

For my birthday, which is today, I was thinking of writing up a wish list — all the things Ace and I need to continue, for the next three months, our travels across America.

At the top would be use of a state of the art motorhome — not one of those gas-greedy, road-hogging behemoths, but something a bit more compact and economical, where I won’t constantly be worrying about how quickly my wallet is draining or whether I’m in my own lane.

After that, I’d ask for a continuation of the cooler weather that has finally shown up, reasonable gas prices, an end to any and all weight limits and “fees” charged for bringing a dog along anywhere, health insurance (for me and my dog), world peace, and that Ace and I manage to continue to avoid life’s potholes. Cash, of course, is always nice, too.

Yes, as our financial situation grows bleaker, sending us back to the 401K to continue our journey– assuming there’s still something left of the 401K — I could work up quite a wish list.

But wish lists are a waste of time — they lead one to get so focused on what they’d like to get that they fail to appreciate what they have gotten. They tend to itemize the material things, while leaving out the more important ones. In my case, in the last three months, what I’ve gotten has been a lot. With the possible exception of when I got my first dog — that’s him and me in the picture — I’ve probably never been happier.

I think I was about 10 when it was taken — apparently in the days before focus had been invented. You’ll just have to trust me when I say we were a good looking team. I’m not sure what happened to the snappy red blazer, but Tippy — a gift for my 5th birthday — died, as all dogs do.

Since then, another 45 years passed — as have about a dozen more dogs. There were jobs, and wives, high points and low ones, honors and criticism, thrills and disappointments, challenges and victories, all of which led to where I am today. Specifically, that’s in the house of a friend in Baltimore, who has gone to the beach and offered me lodging in exchange for feeding her cat, named Kitty, who so far has just hidden underneath a chair making noises like a constipated aardvark.

Or at least what I’d imagine a constipated aardvark would sound like.

Where I am, in the broader sense, is: 57 years old, unemployed, without a home (mostly on purpose) and halfway through what I hope to be a six month journey, weaving back and forth across America. With, of course, my dog.

Right now, I am actually in several states: Maryland, Flux, Uncertainty, and, perhaps the most scenic of all, Disarray. I am attempting to make some sense of the jumble of paperwork, books, shoes, clothing and garbage that inside of my car; and fighting off the nagging insecurity of not having a real home, a real job, a real bank account. I am tired of Motel 6’s, fast food and tailgaters.

Yet, for some reason, as Ace and I simultaneously ponder the wisdom of, and rest up for, the next leg of the journey, I am more thankful than ever for all I have — my dog, family, friends and the last three months being at the top of that list.

Ace has truly dazzled me with his ability to adapt to new situations (though we’ll see how he does later this week when we attempt to spend a few nights aboard a not very large and difficult-to-climb aboard boat). He has adjusted with ease to everything so far — new accomodations, new dogs, long drives, curly fries,  hot weather, canned food. Being with each other pretty much around the clock, we’ve become even closer, more co-dependent than before, which may or may not be an entirely good thing.

Family and friends have opened their homes to us as we’ve hopscotched the country — and so, on occasion, have complete strangers. We’ve met authors, and Michael Vick dogs, we’ve “couchsurfed,” visited ex-wives and ex-cats, spent time at shelters, rescues and sanctuaries that are doing wonderful things, and had some fantastic encounters with everything from space aliens to strippers.

I’ve learned that people are good, dogs are even better, and America — mired as it may temporarily be by the bad economy — remains, like the old song says, beautiful … and by that I mean both its landscape and the people who occupy it. I am lucky to have seen so much of it and met so many of them — the latter, more often than not, being made possibly by my amazing one-of-a-kind dog.

So, to heck with the wishes;  it is a happy birthday; we are going to push on; and the cat under the chair, as I wished, has stopped making noises.

Really, the only thing Ace and I need to continue our journey across America is each other.

On the other hand, if someone insists on providing us with an RV, we will accept.

(“Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America)

Rolling back into Baltimore

Ten thousand miles and three months later, we’re right back where we started.

Ace and I rolled into Baltimore Friday, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

He sensed we were home about the time Raven’s stadium came into view. In the rearview mirror, I saw his head pop up. He sniffed the air, got up, stuck his head out the window and looked around. When we passed BARCS — Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter, where he once resided — his suspicions that we were home seemed confirmed.

By the time I pulled up to Riverside Park, his old stomping grounds, he was raring to go. He bounded out of the car as if he were ready for an extended gallop, then seemed to realize that, in his absence, there was much new to smell in the grass. For the next hour or so, that’s exactly what he did, sort of like a human with three months worth of newspapers to catch up on.

Then he saw his old friend Stan the biscuit man — recognizing him even though, while we were away, Stan had switched from walking to the park to riding in a motorized chair. Stan, as always, came through with treats, pulling a handful of biscuits from his large sack and tossing them to Ace and his own dog, Louie, who remains as enormously fat as ever.

After that, we kept running into more old friends at the park and, later, at Ace’s favorite bar, where we idled away the rest of the evening

Though we are back where we’re started, whether we’re “home” is another matter.

For one thing, we moved out of the house when we started this trip, seeking to live on the road for what we once paid in rent  (Two months, we came close; the third remains to be tallied, but I’m sure we went over budget). Finally getting home and not having a home is strange — a rather insecure feeling — but with offers from friends to stay awhile, we’ve yet to resort to camping in the park.

The urge to nest — to have my own place, with my own stuff, where I can flop my own self down on my own couch — has grown stronger; and, in all honesty, I think Ace would prefer a return to routine. But the road is still calling. It’s saying “three more months.” It’s saying “keep running free.”

My economic situation is disagreeing, saying “don’t do it!” Running free isn’t exactly free.

Of course, neither roads nor economic situations can verbalize — though both can still slam a point home wordlessly.

In the days ahead, we’ll be trying to figure our immediate future out — and probably sharing our thoughts on it all with you, for in putting it down in writing, choices often become clearer.

As of now, we’re leaning — well I’m leaning — to sticking with the original plan: a few weeks in Baltimore, a visit to Philadelphia, then going to Long Island and, starting the same day he did 50 years ago, following the northerly route west that John Steinbeck took with Charley.

Ace might disagree. He has loved reconnecting with old friends — dog and humans. He has loved revisiting the old haunts. Yesterday, standing outside his favorite coffee house, Ace watched as a familiar pickup truck pulled up and the driver passed him a soup bone.

“See,” he would say if he could talk. “Where else does that happen? I’m telling you, this is home.”

Of course, Ace can’t talk. Nevertheless, we’ll be having some long and wordless ones in the days ahead.

Dog’s Country” is the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six (we’re pretty sure) months criss-crossing America.