Monday, December 31, 2007

In October

A couple of years ago, someone I miss very much asked me to describe autumn in Arizona. I tried to do what he asked, and this is what came out. (All of my original musical references have been linked; with my apologies and appreciation to all of the artists.)
Legal warning: all persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental.

In October

There was a band in the late 1980's who took their name from a US spy plane, and they put out a spare, black & white album with spare, black & white songs full of dust and spindly trees. The sky I'm looking at is a full color version of the album cover, minus the pale, blurred Irish faces. The only blurred face within miles is mine.

I'm getting into a white Datsun hatchback with automatic transmission, which I'm not far from discovering it wasn't meant to have. I'm going off to school, and the music of that Irish band is pouring from my speakers. I'm trying to sing along - I am, after all, a vocal major - but I can't duplicate the delicate pain in that voice. It galls me, because I feel so superior to the androgynous man-boy singing the words. I am so certain I could write that song myself! The jealousy burns in me, and it will be years before I can deal with the fact that it is jealousy. I will never write a song like that. I will barely manage to sing it without my voice cracking.

But I will understand it.

After school, I will head to her house. She is still in high school, but now I am not, which means our relationship is now barely legal. I doubt her parents would tolerate me chasing after their daughter if I hadn't been there almost every day for almost four years. Everyone pretends that we are not lovers. Everyone knows we are.

But this time it's not the same. There has been someone else, and I'm enough of a fool - an honest and honorable one, I think - to tell her. I haven't "done the deed", but at our age, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that she herself was only the third or fourth female to show me any kind of romantic interest, or that I am vulnerable to the very idea that a fifth would come along. How do you explain that, when you are too young to understand it yourself?

So we sit in the Arizona room - a screened in patio area with lurid green astro-turf and wicker furniture - and she smokes cigarettes in defiance of her parents. Her mother sits stoically on the other side of the glass door, watching Oprah, and her father flits about through the kitchen, occasionally pulling out a show tune from the bench of the piano and playing it. He will play a song - "Stranger in Paradise" or "Lara's Theme" - once, and then put it away and go out to his car and leave. Two years later, she will be away at college when her sister finds what is hidden inside the piano.

We don't say much, because we know said sister is listening from her bedroom. She sits behind the screen quietly, with her stereo playing a bizarre mixture of 80's power ballads and this new kind of gritty metal music coming from Seattle. We don't want to corrupt her.

After stilted conversations about schoolwork and making half-hearted plans for the weekend, we get into my car. I have a predictable selection: Paul Simon's "Graceland",Peter Gabriel's "So" and "Us", Harry Connick, Jr.'s "When Harry Met Sally…" soundtrack, and "The Phantom of the Opera". There may be a leftover from summer, like the B-52's, and some Billy Joel, but she's gotten sick of those from driving around with me.

We drive to the new park they built in the canal. It only floods in late August and early September, if it floods at all. It is now October, and everyone feels pretty safe at the playground and on the volleyball court. It is, however, a little chilled, since the sun is blocked early down in the bottom of the canal. People are wearing sweat pants instead of shorts, and the cyclists are wearing thin windbreakers. The usual twenty to thirty degree drop in temperature at this time of year has given all of the children runny noses, and they play listlessly on the shiny new monkey bars, swings, slides, and merry-go-rounds.

We sit on the decorative river rocks that line the steep sides of the canal above the bike path. We are just under the bridge, and the traffic roaring by keeps anyone from eavesdropping. As though anyone would want to hear such whining and pleading. She doesn't. I take her to her house, and take a circuitous route home.

I end up at the park north of where they're going to build the new freeway. It will circle the whole city, they say. I don't believe it. By the time they finish it, the city will have grown around it like the belly of a fat man spilling out of his belt. I've even read articles asking for another loop even further out. You see the pattern, even if you're only a community college music student with no future.

The sun goes down slowly when you sit on top of a mountain. Even a worn and stooped hill like the one I'm on towers over the valley. If I was facing south, I could see all the way to South Mountain, where all of the radio and TV towers are. Facing east, I could see Camelback Mountain, sticking up from where it is pinched between extravagant wealth in Scottsdale and hopeless poverty in Sunnyslope. Driving around that one sorry hill is like driving from "Dallas" to "Sanford & Son" with a commercial break in between.

I am facing west, though. That's the direction I want to go. There is nothing out there, once you get past my house and the city where only the elderly live. Who named it "Youngtown", anyway? I hear that Irish band singing in my head again, and my mouth fills with a gust of dusty wind. Only two weeks ago it would have burned from baking in the harsh sun all day, but now it is slightly damp, and full of spores and pollen. No one could blame me for having to wipe my eyes and nose, and hurrying back to my car.

At home I call my friend, to see what he's up to. He's bored, and wants to go somewhere - how does west sound tonight? I am ready to agree even before he offers gas money, and I grab some supplies on the way out the door. Supplies are two sodas, and a few of mom's cookies.

We head west from his place, taking Bell Road through Sun City - which is Youngtown with a different mayor. We follow it until it becomes a dirt lined track, and then a dead end. We turn south until we find another major road. We are blaring Queen through the town of Buckeye, and stopping at the Circle K for more snacks for us and the car. We decide to head for Wickenburg, in the other direction. We've switched to Pogues, and we spit and curse along with the singer for twenty miles before the tape runs out. In the silence I tell him about her, and what I've done.

"Stop," he says, and I stop. He gets out of the car, in the dark, with the wind whipping across the flat land by the quiet road. He walks back up the road the way we came, and I get out, too. "Stay there," he orders, and I do. The car is off the road on the side, with the lights off, and I walk around it, looking up at the stars through the streaming wind-tears. I find Orion, and the Big Dipper, before I give up on keeping warm in a denim jacket and get back in the car.

When he comes back, I have James Taylor's Greatest Hits in. We ride in melancholy to Wickenburg, which is dark and empty with the hour and the wind. We feel empty, which could be some kind of hunger, and we turn around again, heading home. He wishes for the hundredth time that we were old enough to buy, and I agree. It won't be long.

I drop him off, and head back to my parent's house. It is too late, and there are words when I come in. It starts cordially - no one wants to offend anyone else. But, the words can all mean something else, and all three of us are wondering what I'm going to do, and how I'm going to do it. I can't stay a child forever. But I'm not a child. Which is why I should… But how can I when… I can feel my eyes glazing over, and I have a vision of squares talking in parallel about circles. I laugh. It is misconstrued, and I go off to bed.

I lie staring at the ceiling. The wind is still gusting, but tomorrow there will be more of the endless, cold sun. It loses some of its color along with the heat. The cold is only relative, but I think I can feel it, even though I've never lived through what some would call a "real" winter. Forty degrees is cold enough for me, and that's at least two months and twenty degrees away.

I think about something my friend said, while Shane Macgowan sang about whiskey and gutters. He marveled at my relationship. He said it gave him hope, and he hoped we would last forever. I tried not to tell him, but he could tell from my face. It broke his heart more than it did mine. It was why he had made me stop.

Years go by, with or without those you love. After a while, the songs are all that make sense. Their words aren't forgotten, though your own are. All you have left are images and temperatures, smells and sounds. They mingle with the memories, and the soundtracks take over the dialogue until you almost forget who did what to whom.

At least no matter how cold it gets, there is the sunshine, and the temptation to stay inside and pretend that it's warm.


Since I never mentioned U2's Joshua Tree album by name in the text, I thought I should do here. I resisted linking the line Under the Bridge in the text. You're welcome.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Underrated: A Jeff Lynne Fiesta

29 Dec 2007, 17:14 (edit | delete)
Some call it the "walkin' beat" - that easy, metronomic quality to a song that makes it the perfect soundtrack for a long hike. It is faster than a ballad, but not too fast; it is not flashy, but is steady, and strong. To me, that is the essence of Jeff Lynne. He's got the walkin' beat, and he'll bring it to everything he does.

Now, I'll grant that it isn't for everyone. I'm sure some readers will disagree - violently - I am just saying this is part of what I like about the body of work Jeff Lynne has put together over the last few decades. His meticulous sense of rhythm, the signature backing vocals, and his ability to bring out the best in those he works with; this is the Jeff Lynne I've discovered.

For me it started with The Beatles. My mom had their early albums, up to Rubber Soul - when John Lennon made his infamous "Bigger than Jesus" comment - so I grew up listening to that stuff. My high school girlfriend got me into Paul McCartney's Pipes Of Peace and Flowers In The Dirt (which I loved for the work Elvis Costello added; they also worked together on Costello's Spike and Mighty Like a Rose).

Some of my marching band amigos got me into this other band, Electric Light Orchestra, and I especially adored Out Of The Blue. I read enough about them to know who Jeff Lynne was, and that he had been a huge Beatles' fan as a kid, but at the time, that was the only connection he had to them.

Then I began to discover a string of albums that I really liked: George Harrison's Cloud NineTom Petty's Full Moon FeverRoy Orbison's Mystery Girl (featuring the hit You Got It, and a duet with U2's Bono called She's A Mystery To Me)... all capped off with a little record called Traveling Wilburys, Volume 1. This prompted me to go out and find his solo album, Armchair Theatre, which was subsequently worn out in my car stereo that year.

Jeff's work after that heyday has included the controversial, but generally popularly accepted, Beatles' Anthology singles Free as a Bird and Real Love, and Flaming Pie, an album that almost redeemed my opinion of Paul McCartney. (One friend of mine proposed a theory that the Beatles are dying in order of the quality of their work, and predicted that based on this theory, Sir Paul will be immortal. We don't let that friend drink so much any more.)

As an interesting side note, Bob Dylan is the only Wilbury alum Lynne hasn't produced an album for, and he is the only Wilbury alum who never "sent me". Don't get me wrong... I appreciate Dylan, but aside from Tangled Up In Blue, and some of his more famous early songs, I never felt the magic that so many Dylan fans seem to feel. Who knows; maybe that will change one day.

Most fans were probably already aware of these connections, but if you are a fan of any of the albums I mentioned, I urge you to check out the others. Perhaps your best bet would be to load up your player, and head for a long walk.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chicken Poop for Your Soul

Monday morning, 0643; formation between the wings.

Every Monday morning, on the strip of blacktop between wings of the long, U-shaped barracks, several hundred young airman would form up into straight lines for a quick formality: roll call, announcements, and maybe a little motivation.

0644 - Airman First Class, or A1C, Charles Pierce III (aka, Chuck the Turd) stood facing about half of his flight with a clipboard and an exasperated expression on his face. Formation officially started at 0700, when the entire squadron would be brought to attention for the commander. A1C Pierce had been warned several weeks prior that members of his flight had been spotted showing up late, sneaking into the formation by mingling with the trickle of Army, Navy, and Marine students who flowed by the group on their way to the only entrance to the Chow Hall.

0645 - A1C Pierce had announced two weeks ago that anyone showing up after 0655 would be counted as late, which had not deterred a hard-core group of dissenters from arriving at precisely 0656. He had then announced that the following week - this week - anyone arriving after 0645 would be late... and would be "dealt with". He fingered his red rope, sign of his authority as the flight commander, and checked his watch.

0646 - "Tench-HUT!" Pierce cried. About half of his flight was there, and they shuffled haphazardly to attention. "What is wrong with you people, " he yelped. "I said to be here at 0645 today for attendance."

"Go bend a pipe," someone muttered from the back (it might have been me).

"We ARE here, Turd Chucker," someone else pointed out. "Take your fuggin' attendance."

"Look, you bastards, I'm the Flight Commander, and I have the authority to drag you all out here as early as I need to to make sure you're on time for the commander. Don't make me form you up at 0600 for an 0700 formation, 'cause I'll do it!"

He began to call names and check them off his list as they answered. He was almost finished when he realized that even though he was missing nearly a third of his people, he had marked off everyone as Present. "Hey, you're not answering for people who aren't here, are you? DAMMIT, I...."


0700 - Pierce snapped to, and dropped his clipboard. Snickers rippled through the flight, which was now nearly completely present. (Turns out some of the members had been hiding in the next flight over.) And now the commander, Lt. Col. Janet, came striding out to face to the squadron.

"Good morning, squadron," she warbled happily. "I have a special treat for you today. I know some people have been complaining about the new rules in place. Just remember they are there for your safety. If none of you drinks, smokes, or has sex, then nothing bad can happen to you, am I right? RIGHT!" She beamed out at us, basking in our relief at finally being safe from our vices.

"But I am told that morale is slipping, so I have been reading from the book 'Chicken Soup for the Soul'. Let me tell you, it gives you a great outlook on life. Think of your life as if you were in prison, and you begin to value each ray of sunshine that manages to find its way through the bars of your window!"

"Great scott, she's going to put bars on the windows!" someone stage whispered. The commanders eyes narrowed, but she pressed on.

"Just remember the inspiring story of Abraham Lincoln, everyone. He was born in a log cabin that he built with his own hands, and despite his poverty, he grew up to lead us as president through the most horrific war imaginable. He was constantly depressed, and his wife was insane, and just before he died, he found out his son was taking bribes in his name... but he didn't let that stop him! He would have kept on going, if he hadn't been so tragically killed.

"Now, keep all that in mind today as you go to your classes. Some of you will be taking your final language tests this week, so study hard. Especially you Arabic students! Remember, if little retarded Arab children can learn Arabic, then SO CAN YOU!"

And with that, the group was called to attention, the commander marched briskly back to her office, and everyone was released to their flight commander. Pierce turned around, stooped, and picked up his clipboard.

"So now we're retarded inmates in a prison run by a nut who thinks she's Abraham Lincoln?" someone asked snidely.

"What time you want us next week, Turd? 0500?"

Pierce looked around at them, fingering his rope. "Just don't be late. 0700."

And with the Army, Navy, and Marines streaming by - and trying not to laugh outright at the speech they had just heard - the airmen scattered to their various cells to look for sunshine.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dog Blog: The "P" in Correspondence

For those who might have noticed, I haven´t been writing lately. That´s because I decided to take a Canine Correspondence Creative Writing course. It was pretty intense, but I think it was worth it. Check this out:

¨It was a dark and stormy night. The air was as heavy as the Rottweiler that always craps on the corner of Park and Canterbury. Speaking of whom, there he loomed, dripping with evil plans and brutal actions.¨

Pretty great, huh? Of course, I have to translate from dog writing, and conveying all of the nuance and texture of urine scent into English is a bit tricky. But if you could smell it... wow!

And did you catch my correct usage of "whom"? Grammar is a female cat in any language.

As for all my time offline, it happened to coincide with the mom lady starting a new job. With her being gone half the week in the early mornings, and the Hairy Guy slacking off on his days, I have been cut down from two good walks a day to just one. The weather hasn't helped any. So this class has been about the only thing keeping me entertained.

At least it snowed. Wow, that was fun! I´m half husky, after all, so I had a blast chasing snowballs in the backyard with the kids. The TV told us it was supposed to snow at the end of November, but the Mom Lady kept saying it would snow on the Fifth of December. It is really spooky how she is right all the time.

The snow helped me finish my correspondence course, too. Being a dog college, we do all of our classwork by p-mail, and sometimes it can be hard to sort out new assignments from old homework. Rain can ruin a whole week, but snow... that has layers. Makes everything easy to read.

My final assignment was a doozy; I had to describe something that really drives me berserk. That´s hard, because there are only a few things that make me lose my mind, and they are usually around when I´m trying to post my answers. Squirrels, rabbits, other dogs, and cats that hide places and jump out at me. I wrote about other dogs, risking a lowered grade for having a bad attitude, but the instructor liked my approach.

It was really cathartic to write about it, too. I know it drives my humans a little crazy, because they have to bodily drag me away from any dog that comes near me. I still can´t explain it, but I just become overwhelmed with an urge to get at them, and teach them a lesson. I mean, how can they just assume that it´s okay for them to walk around anywhere near where I am? I don´t care WHOSE house he thinks it is, I AM WALKING HERE!!!

Whew... I´m getting a little overheated just thinking about it. But I passed with flying colors. Yellow, mostly. The instructor was impressed with my emotional range. I only lack a bit of control over my spilling. (That´s like the dog equivalent of spelling.)

Next I´m going to try to get into an accounting class. I´m not sure if I´ll be able to produce on the homework, though....

Monday, December 3, 2007

Are Christians Right? (Or Vice Versa?)

This one was written Monday, December 03, 2007, as the 2008 Presidential campaign was beginning to ramp up. I had barely heard of that young senator from Illinois at that point, and figured the race would be between Senator Clinton and one of these Republicans; my concern was, how bad would the GOP candidate be, and would we be stuck with her?

Let's recap some recent events, just so we're all on the same wave:

*My mom sent me a hoax chain email about atheists trying to ban Christian broadcasting. Here's a link to one site with several religious-themed urban legends. Here's the Snopes take on the tale.

*MA Governor Mitt Romney, tired of facing concerns about his fitness for U.S. President, plans to give a speech defending his Mormon faith to the nation some time this week, as AR Governor Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, has emerged as a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination..

*A British teacher in Sudan is convicted of insulting Islam because she allowed her students to name a class teddy bear Muhammad.
Nov 30 - story from (note the Muslim organizations speaking out)
Dec 3 story of her pardon (note the Muslim organizations speaking out)

Now, listen: there are number of conclusions about me that people draw when they hear me talk about Christianity in a political context. The first misconception is that I either have something against all Christians, or that I will automatically oppose anything a Christian supports. In reality, I admire much about the various Christian faiths and the many good things they have done over the last 2,000 years. And the vast majority of my family belong to what many would define as "fundamentalist Christian" churches. I may disagree strongly with some of the conclusions they draw from their scriptures and the world around them, but I still love them.

Sadly, many people who identify themselves as Christian - especially in the realm of politics - misrepresent Jesus Christ and the teachings he left behind. Whatever you believe about his divinity (and I refuse to take a position on that publicly) you have to admit that he essentially advocated the Golden Rule and extremely liberal attitudes towards tolerance and forgiveness.

The second misconception is that I know nothing about Christians or their varied beliefs. Bear in mind that until I was 17, I was a Southern Baptist, and a rabidly devout one at that. Not devout enough to ignore the questions that eventually led me to abandon any kind of public faith, but devout enough to enjoy regular Bible study and Christian radio from early in my childhood. Dr. Dobson, in fact, used to be one of my favorite speakers, and I was a regular listener to his "Focus on the Family" program. To this day, I still recommend much of his advice for parents on maintaining fair and consistent discipline.

The problem I have is not with the faith of the people who are lumped together and called the "Christian Right". Rather, it is with the parties that cynically pull on their political puppet strings, turning their deep feelings over complicated issues like abortion into hot-buttons on a huge Voter Vending machine. That distress is expressed better in this Essay by Garrison Keillor. (You can also preview 4 chapters of his book, Homegrown Democrat here.) However, unlike Mr. Keillor, I feel that the Democrats are just as guilty of fueling that fire and pushing those same buttons; and I feel it is just as wrong for them to do so as it is for the Republicans to do it.

I am also deeply offended by the consistent equation of the Christian Right with something called "moral values" - a phrase purposely calculated to imply that anyone daring to disagree with their collective political positions must be "immoral". (Ann Coulter has made a career out of stressing this concept.) Maybe I don't know what the compromise solution is when it comes to issues like abortion, but I do know that solution will not be achieved by declaring anyone who varies from the party line to be a murderer. Nor will it be accomplished by insisting that one persons' rights are superior to another person - however many cells that person may have.

And since I always seem to hear them mentioned in the same breath, I have to say that the close association between abortion and the other hot-button "moral values" issue, gay marriage, is positively un-Christian. I don't care how grossed out you might be by the thought of two men on their honeymoon or raising children together, it has nowhere near the same "moral weight" as the debate over whether removing a first trimester fetus is murder. It is more accurate to compare homosexuality with another Biblical sin that called for death by stoning: the consumption of shellfish. The near constant association of homosexuals with a variety of grotesque sins is uncivil, unfair, and is the opposite of what Jesus taught. You remember that silly old line of his... "love your neighbor as yourself"? One thing about Jesus, he usually put it pretty plainly.

So what does any of this have to do with email hoaxes, Republican presidential candidates or Muslims in the Sudan? Well, it's all about the idea of tolerance.

Republicans in particular have fought hard to introduce intolerance as a guiding principle of our society over the last twenty years. They've lobbied to make "multi-culturalism" seem like the next communism. They've yanked hard on the previously mentioned puppet strings of the Christian Right, and they've used their media platforms to push the buttons sure to cause outrage in otherwise non-political middle-Americans. "You good Christian people are under attack from people who are different from you," is the consistent message.

The "atheists are trying to ban Christian broadcasting" bit is not just an old hoax, it is also easily disproven by a quick Google search (which brings up the link above, and can also turn up the the official FCC denial). And yet, the hoax persists, because people are primed to believe that "others" are trying to steal their rights. Growing up, we used to hear similar claims that Christianity was under attack all the time; from Communists, from atheists, from Catholics... and from Mormons.

And now Mitt Romney wants to ask for the tolerance of the Christian Right as he tries to set himself up as the defender of their conservative values. I almost find it funny; except that the only way to prove himself is to "out-conservative" the other candidates. Which brings us to Huckabee; as a Baptist minister, he has a wordless counter-argument working in his favor among that segment of the base. He doesn't have to pay more than lip service to the puppet strings and push buttons, thus risking total alienation if he faces the Democrat nominee later on. He only has to stand up and not be Mormon.

And I have the distinct displeasure of having to face my own biases now, because he is the only candidate stumping for the one real solution I see to many of our long-standing economic and political problems: the FairTax. Do I overlook all of the positions on which I might disagree with him? Do I assume that his lip service is just that; or do I risk supporting a candidate that will really try to enact ruinous policies in the name of his religious beliefs... like Bush has? I have been asked already: how can you seriously consider supporting a Republican after the last six years? I don't have an answer for that; how much tolerance do I show to people who believe things that I don't? Where is the line between sound judgment and reactionary bias?

Which brings me to the Muslims in the Sudan. Here we are in the midst of a quandary about how much tolerance we can muster for the religious beliefs of our leaders, and the Sudanese give us yet another object lesson on the dangers of intolerance. Certainly, with "Mohammed" being the single most common given name for human males, the offending Teddy Bear couldn't possibly be named after anyone other than the Prophet; and for such tenuous "crimes" there were strident calls in the country for the execution of a foreigner who was there with the intention to help.

Fortunately for Ms. Gibbons, President Bashar saw reason - after two Muslim Members of Parliament traveled from the UK to plead her case. Muslim groups in America and England spent that tense week expressing outrage at the violent reaction, and condemning the conviction publicly. The result was a small victory of reason over fanaticism, and illustrated the point that Muslim groups have been trying to make since 9/11: that a small percentage of Muslims acting badly have given the other billion an unfairly blighted image. Much the way self-proclaimed Christians behaving badly in 15th century Spain, Nazi Germany, and the antebellum South give the other billion a bad reputation.

That's a long way to travel to get to the title question, and I thank you for wallowing through this far. So what am I asking? You tell me. How far do we go when we claim to be tolerant of different points of view? Do we tolerate even intolerance for fear of looking hypocritical?

The whole circus makes me wonder, too, how real these alleged demographics are, anyway. We've been told about the Christian Right being "owned" by the Republican party for so long, I think Christians need to ask themselves: do you really belong in that box? Do the values demonstrated by the right reflect the values taught by Jesus? Do you really know?

I think about it a lot, and I haven't got a good answer. But I think it's a great question.

Monday, November 26, 2007

1993: Crash and Burn

Freedom is a drug with different side effects for everyone. Some thrive, others panic; some take advantage of the opportunity, and others take advantage of the loopholes.

I got my first taste of freedom when I got my driver's license. At age 16, my parents were reluctant to give me that freedom - they had their reservations about turning over as valuable a piece of equipment as our 1982 Chevy Malibu to me - but they were also tired of making the 15 mile trip to school and back twice a day. (There was a bus route, but my extra-curricular schedule made that impractical.) It wasn't just the car, though; even on days that the car was not an option, I started riding my bike to school. And that, in its way, was even more liberating.

Freedom is scary. It can be as terrifying to let go of a child as it is to suddenly find yourself in free fall, without the nets of childhood. But there is a deep, satisfying joy in conquering that fear.

I had a pretty sheltered upbringing, and being a rather unfocused, daydreaming kind of kid, my parents were worried about the dangers of unleashing me upon the city. I found the whole experience exhilarating, and when the dangers they had always feared never materialized, I began to test my limits. It wasn't just in the area of transportation. I started to question all of the assumptions and boundaries I had been raised with... and discovered that many of their fears were unfounded. Many things I had been taught -- such as the mental capabilities of people from other faiths -- were downright wrong.

Freedom is a song. Ditching my old, preconceived notions meant discovering new joys. My self-imposed censorship of all things secular (before 1988, even some Christian rock was too racy for my taste) had always meant denying my attraction to modern, popular music. Changing my definition of "evil" meant I could embrace a whole world of wonderful things. The drum and bass, piano rock, the limitless possibilities of the guitar...

I won't elaborate too much, but suffice to say, I discovered a lot of things that gave me joy. Things that were taboos, sins, and pitfalls according to my upbringing. All of those rules that were there to protect me crumbled slowly away, and I found that there was a lot of leeway in life. There were no restrictions that I couldn't find a way around.

Freedom means being allowed to make the wrong choices, too. Yeah, I did that. It was fun. At 18, I got an apartment, had my own car; felt like a real Bohemian. Truth is, there are no real Bohemians in suburbia. I was really just a jerk.

My friends and I partied, we cut class, we stretched the limits of our finances, we got and lost jobs. Compared to my childhood, it was life with no boundaries - but no one can live like that forever. I was lucky. Nothing truly tragic happened, even though the choices I made were bad ones and I showed no respect for those around me. I hurt some people, and cost some people a bit of money. But I never did anything that could have landed me in jail. Never did any permanent damage, except maybe of the psychological variety.

Freedom's just another word for "nothin' left to lose"... and that was 1993. All of those bad choices came back to bite me. The car died, the roommate left the country, my long-time girlfriend rightly dumped me for someone else, and the scholarship was taken away... The White Suburban Country Song played out live.

I had no cushion, no chances left. My only options were of the fall-back variety. I moved back in with mom and dad (none of us were very pleased about that), walked 5 miles to a crummy retail job at a dying chain store, had to quit school, and lost track of all of my friends. It wasn't rock bottom by any stretch; I started out with too many advantages to be crying about my situation, and I knew it. But I could see the bottom, and there weren't many ladders around.

Freedom isn't free. Never let anyone tell you that the military "gives" you anything; just like real socialism, the military life provides you with your basic needs, but at some pretty steep costs. I guess calculating those costs depends on how much you value those freedoms.

I didn't really know the ins & outs of enlisting, but I knew I was down & out. It was peace-time, which made the decision easier. And I didn't have a lot to leave behind. So I took the plunge. I made the choice in early 1994, when I was 22 years old, and I've been lucky. Luckier than at least 30,000 other Americans who probably made similar choices in the decade after I left the military.

Freedom is relative. The word has always been bandied about in this country as a justification for all kinds of behavior. But it all boils down to this: you make your choices, and you live with the consequences. You may not understand what the consequences are when you go to make that choice, but that argument doesn't impress the universe.

Don't feel bad about that... the universe is notoriously moody.

NextPart One: How did THAT happen?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Recycle Your Box

This one pissed a few people off. Posted Saturday, November 24, 2007, I still pretty much feel this way, and I am still hoping for an opportunity to demonstrate that I am as Centrist as I feel I am. Perhaps I should write a follow-up about that...

It is not easy being one of us. Whatever it is that I am, that is. One of the non-branded, non-affiliated, un-marketed.

I know I confuse people with my opinions. No one really understands what it means to reject the options that are forced upon us, and ask for something better. Everyone is constantly trying to fit us into one of their pre-defined, factory stamped, UPS-coded boxes - because then they feel safe and in control.

My tendency is to blow off the trappings of the Boxes, and deal with the substance of things. I don´t pay attention to the clues I give off when I express my distaste with things of a political nature, especially. That is probably why I was recently accused of being a Democrat. Yuck.

I can see where someone would make that mistake. After all, I spend a great deal of time criticizing the current American regime; the Republican controlled Congress that has worn the country down since 1994; the misguided incompetence of the Bush Administration; the mystifying workings of the Supreme Court. But all of this easy criticism means that the so-called opposition never gets equal time, and as FOX News has programmed us to believe, if I am not spending equal time bashing Ted Kennedy, then I am somehow biased... Heaven forfend.

Well, yes, I guess I am biased. So what? Find me someone without a bias, and I will show you someone without an opinion. But no one bothers to figure out what my biases actually are; instead, they determine that I am disagreeing with them, and therefore must be on the so-called Other side.

I find it to be extremely disingenuous that the same people who will dismiss my criticisms as biased often follow their dismissal up by telling me - proudly - that they get all of their information from extremely biased sources: FOX news, Talk Radio (tm), or some similarly slanted publication. They will often compound the blow to their credibility by telling me that Bill O´Reilly is not a conservative, or that NPR - my choice for news on my commute - is a leftist organization. If you believe either of those statements then you seriously need to go check out Political Science for Dummies or something, because you don´t understand what the words ¨conservative¨ or ¨leftist¨ mean.

What I find ridiculous about these arguments is that the people arguing with me are so busy attacking what they see as ¨my group¨, that they never seem to recognize that I have not aligned myself with a group. Rather than addressing the substance of my criticism, they put me in a box with their perceived enemies, and waste my time trying to convince me that their box is better than mine. They don´t get that my point is often, ¨Hey, these boxes are convenient for framing bubblegum poll questions and building colorful graphics on the TV news, but if we are going to solve any of our problems, the boxes need to go.¨

It is really easy to tell when someone is boxing you, rather than listening to you. You might learn that the President is lying about something, and express disgust; they will respond that Hilary is trying to take away your money and give it to brown people. This is called a non sequitor. Say you realize that all of the billions of dollars in spending ¨on the troops¨ has actually been going to pay for contractors with no oversight or accountability; they might then point out that John Edwards got an expensive haircut. This is called misdirection.

It reminds me of 7th grade algebra class when I pointed out to a classmate that she had made a mistake in a formula that we were working on as a group, and she sneered at me that she could at least pick out matching socks. True, my socks that day were slightly mismatched, but I was still right about the algebra. In my mind, the Republicans are the idiot classmates that ignored me and went with Suzy´s answer - costing us points on the exercise - and the Democrats are the teacher who dithered on the sideline telling me it was impolite to call a girl a name like that.

The issues at stake these days are a little bigger than getting a math problem wrong. We need to decide how to fix the mistakes made over the last six years, and confront the inevitable shortages in resources that are going to start hitting us as the rest of the world realizes that they don´t need to support our habits of over-consumption any more. We need to deal with our problems intelligently and not as a pack of squabbling teams of marketing experts. Marketing is great for selling things, but not for making tough decisions.

Meanwhile, I will continue to defy your attempts to box me in, and will kick in the sides, whether from the inside or the outside.

Box THAT, suka!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Ambivalent Cheerleader

This was originally posted Sunday, November 11, 2007, in what seems to have been a follow-up to Recycle Your Box.

I used to enjoy mindless patriotism and expressing unthinking adulation of my "team". That has all changed over the years, but I still like to think I'm a team player. But the question now is, what teams are we talking about?

I was a Reagan Republican all the way in 1984, mainly because of his stance on abortion, creation over evolution, and whatever other issues I was aware of at age 12. I didn't understand apartheid or terrorism, had no idea what was going on in the Middle East, and could care less about economic policies. All I needed to know was that Communists were the root of all evil, and I was as quick to snap the flag at the ass of anyone who dared to differ from my opinions as Bill O'Reilly is to shout his Neilson ratings at anyone who dares question his journalistic integrity.

When I hit high school, I discovered a wonderland of "school spirit": letter jackets, school colors, pom-poms & pennants, and loud cheering. I loved all the trappings and uniforms. I was in "hog heaven", as my mother would say. And I brooked no dissent with the idea that our school was "the best", whatever that meant; I was as in-your-face as the most repugnant fan could be. I'd argue with a fence post, if it contradicted me. My school, my church, my political party; all were superior to yours.

But eventually, I learned that there is a word for a person like this: asshole.

Life has a way of presenting difficult puzzles to us, and the puzzles I was handed made me realize that the causes I championed and the opinions I held so forcefully didn't fit in with the real world. I saw firsthand how little good extreme solutions actually do when confronted with a situation as serious as teen pregnancy. I began to learn about subtlety and gray areas, and I came to see that most of the articles of faith I held so dear were based on nothing, and weren't as important as I had been taught, anyway.

And I saw how easily people can turn something as insubstantial and silly as "team spirit" into something ugly and deadly. Let's just say that when I got around to reading "Lord of the Flies", I had faces from our varsity teams to go with each character. That's where I started learning a healthy distaste for organized groups; especially those that claimed to have the Answers.

Americans tend to see the world in false groups; groups of imaginary importance, which Kurt Vonnegut described in his novel, Cat's Cradle, as a "granfalloon". He also accurately described the attitude of the average American's world view in our WalMart-based society with a character who happens to be an American businessman traveling to a Caribbean island nation to set up a bicycle factory:

"He wasn't a terrible person and he wasn't a fool. It suited him to confront the world with a certain barn-yard clownishness, but many of the things he had to say about undisciplined mankind were not only funny but true.
The major point at which his reason and his sense of humor left him was when he approached the question of what people were really supposed to do with their time on Earth.
He believed firmly that they were meant to build bicycles for him."

So, when I came to make the decision to enlist in America's armed forces, I did so with the full understanding that I was voluntarily entering a granfalloon of mammoth proportions. While there, I met people with myriad backgrounds and a plethora of opinions, and while everyone differed on the particulars, we all pretty much agreed that the U.S. was a good place to live and work, and to raise a family. And whatever political, religious, or other "granfalloon" affiliations we might have, we were there to make sure that it stayed that way. Where we tended to differ most was the question of what the rest of the world was good for, but under the Clintons, you could always count on a kind of benevolent apathy to carry the day.

Then came 2000. The roughly 25% of Americans who cared enough to show up at the polls flaccidly chose between what they saw as the lesser of two evils. And in what was the most suspiciously close decision in our history -- I will point out that Rutherford Hayes had no relatives in the government of the state which handed him the presidency -- the Top Job was given to ... the letter "W".

I remember thinking at the time, "How bad can it be? Maybe he'll manage to do what he says he's trying to do. At worst, he'll provoke people into caring enough to vote in the future to avoid this kind of nonsense." I was wrong.

It has been much worse than anyone imagined it would be. True, we suffered a horrific attack; but it wasn't the first. If our collective heads had not been in our collective fundaments, it wouldn't have been such a surprise. I refer to both our leaders and our citizenry when I say that, by the way. Plenty of blame to throw around, as we have seen.

But the real damage it has caused is worse that the attack itself. We've suffered through years of incompetence, bravado, isolation, division, blatant corruption, and the erosion of the ideals that we were supposedly fighting for in the first place. I've watched our leaders lie to us, drive away our allies, torture people (guilt or innocence undetermined), and otherwise play right into the hands of our enemies.

They knew what Afghanistan would be like after watching the Soviets stumble there, but considered it justified if we were there to help. They knew what Iraq would be like -- Dick Cheney predicted it in 1994, almost to the letter -- and they knew that al-Qaida wanted us to go there, but they went anyway. And they knew full well that even the most limited forms of compromise on our treatment of prisoners would be a death blow to our credibility -- and they did it anyway.

And while I knew what any veteran can tell you -- that our general officers are political sycophants and that our junior officers are increasingly taught religious fervor over war-fighting substance -- the Decider kept claiming to trust them and their judgment on the ground, instead of letting "politics" micro-manage the war. It is telling that every General he has so trusted has since retired and come out publicly against the policies on the ground, which it turns out, were forced on them by the men claiming to trust their judgment.

So, what am I saying with all of this? That the government is evil? That America is bad? That everyone should vote Democrat? No. I'm not.

But I am saying that I don't support this team blindly. I don't believe that what we are doing is right, and we need change. We needed change at the top in 2004, but the Democrats gave us another crap candidate to "choose". And we need change from the bottom up, but the voting public is too ignorant and lazy to even begin talking about third parties.

I guess to continue the sports metaphors, I feel like I'm on the bench, watching the coach sacrifice every element of sportsmanship for a goal that won't win the game. I feel like the fans in the stands have only come to see blood, and could care less about the actual outcome. And I feel like every time I try to suggest the changes that might salvage something from the wreckage, I get accused of not being a team player. I'm tired of having my loyalty questioned simply for pointing out the fact that not everyone loves us, and that maybe that's not a good enough reason to kill them.

I should think by now it should be obvious to everyone in the world -- even the most hawkish and spirited American -- that we need to rethink our approach to being "the Superpower". Considering the effects of the Decider's policies on our economy, the reemergence of Russia as a robust threat, and the serious dangers of Overshoot facing our planet today, our days of being "fat, dumb, and happy" are numbered no matter what we do. It would be better to find ways to make the inevitable decline and fall a graceful one, rather than taking out as many as we can on the way down.

So, while I'm grateful for the sacrifices made by my fellow veterans, and I'm still proud of my part in all of this, past and present, it's time to stop making bad decisions based on granfalloons and team spirit.

And it's way past time to recognize that self-discipline is not just something to teach other people.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Unawakened: Prologue

It had the liquid unreality of a dream, and a dream's intense reality. The things he was seeing were by turns morbid, comical, erotic, soothing, shocking. None of it made sense, but none of it seemed out of place. Of course fish nested in trees. Of course commuters traveled without pants. Of course every third person carried a different container - some buckets, some cups - filled with blood.

It had to be a dream.

He was someone else, someone outside himself, trying to fight through the other images to get to... himself. It was confusing, and he fought for clarity. He knew something, and he had to tell himself what it was before he woke up. That was clear enough, certain enough; it didn't matter that he didn't know what the message was, only that he got through the interference.

There was so much to get through: the cascade of compact discs; the dark, red rain in the living room; stumbling over his chair from work, and climbing over a cubicle wall; the green field, shaped like a bowl rimmed with trees, and two metal structures back to back in the center. All the while, he felt a presence looming, first over one shoulder, then the other. He dodged around it - some uneven round shape he did not want to see - only to see it again, this time in the hand of a clown.

He hated clowns. Always had, even before reading that old Stephen King novel.

Dashing through the obstacles, he heard a rising tide of voices. Friends laughing, crying, family pleading. Enemies laughing. He tried to listen, but realized he was getting off track. He focused, and spotted himself again, standing in the center of a beam of light. Bright, yellow light, like sunlight streaming from directly above, and if he didn't get to himself in time, he would vanish into that light, and it would all be lost.

The clown was back. It was moving in from his right, standing in shadows, but still moving. He avoided looking at it, partly out of revulsion, but partly out of a dimly remembered instinct: as long as he didn't look at it, it wasn't really there. And as long as it wasn't really there...

But thinking about it was like looking, and he had something else to look at. He focused on himself, and pushed everything else away. It was getting harder to concentrate, harder to fight. But he was getting closer; he could see that the him under the light had spotted him, too. He reached out, called out, but in the way of dreams, the goal he reached for receded and his voice rasped in a near silent whisper.

This message was too important, whatever it was. He grew frustrated, did not want to give up, but he started to lower his head. The clown began to move in, and he felt something grab his hand.

In a stark, panicked terror, he looked up, expecting to see a bright red glove wrapped around his wrist. Instead, he was looking himself in the face, grasping his own hand. He tried to speak, hoping that whatever was so important would just come out on its own. Nothing happened. He struggled, but his teeth felt locked together, his throat constricted. He couldn't breathe.

Now he felt something seize his other hand. He turned and found that bright red glove on his arm, extended from a baggy white sleeve with a gaudy ruffled cuff and primary colored polka dots. If he had allowed his eyes to wander up to that face... but he didn't. He forced himself to turn around to face himself again, desperate to convey whatever he needed to say. He felt laughter bubbling up from inside himself, but no sound escaped.

But he knew what he wanted to say, now. He felt it, so strong, so right... but so... insignificant. How could something so small and trite make a difference?

"I know," his other self said. And then he let go and vanished up into the light.

As the clown took him downwards, he thought how odd it was that he hadn't woken up yet. He might have been afraid, but he had a sense of accomplishment. As if he had passed a test, or placed in some race.

But he didn't feel fear. After all, nothing can really hurt you in a dream. Besides that, there were four forms swimming out of the growing murk of the depths... and the clown had let go...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dog Blog: I Did Not Go Gently

Last week, I escaped. It was brief, but I tasted freedom. I can bound when I am unbound, and my heart nearly burst with the euphoria as my paws crossed the oppressive curb and propelled me across the road.

But it didn't last long, and I nursed that joyous memory all week, regretting that I didn't use that time to accomplish something... perhaps actually eat one of those terrorist rabbits. I swore that the next chance I got, I'd make a break for it, and this time, I'd stay out until I was done.

Today, my moment came. The Mom Lady had me packed into the van to go pick up the littles, and had to turn around to get something she'd left behind. When she went in to get it, she left me in the house, because the Eldest had arrived. So, Elder daughter and I went to the back yard.

It was fun, and she is a great playmate, but I had made myself a promise. So just as she opened the door to let me in, I dashed around her feet, and made for the street. It was every bit as exhilirating as I remembered! I positively flew down the driveway, and across the magic line between the concrete and the road, where a few stubborn weeds stand glumly eking out a sad, stationary life. Not me! I was mobile.

Speaking of mobile...

I suddenly wasn't. At first, I didn't know exactly what had happened. It went so fast, I had already leapt up and run up the steps to the porch. There had been a lot of noise, and the light had changed around me; I heard squealing and screaming, and felt strangely rude bumps on my limbs, back, and head. By the time I realized what it was, I was pressing myself against the house, cowering, and staring back out at the road, where one of those big, smelly things that roar past all day was standing still. There were people all over, coming from cars and houses. And the girl, not looking Elder at all, was crying and bending over me, screaming, "Are you alright, are you alright?"

Eventually I began to understand that I had been hit by a car.

Mom Lady came back just after a neighbor lady had helped me to my crate. She was inconsolable, and seemed to split into three people; one to call the vet and find the directions on the computer, one to remove the top half of my crate (MySpace for dogs!), and one to hustle the children back into the van.

I had begun to feel the impact, physical and mental, and wanted no part of any of it. I was terrified of every noise, and could barely breathe. This only made the panic of my humans more frantic. But we made it to the Pet E.R., and the doggy-docs checked me over thoroughly.

The Hairy Guy showed up just before I went for my x-rays, and I was touched to see how stricken he looked when he arrived. I was even more touched that seeing me all in one piece and eager to go for a walk made him happy.

"So, dummy," he said affectionately scratching my ears, "you learn your lesson about cars yet?"

"No," said Mom Lady. "I'm dumb as a box of hair!" It took me a minute to realize she was supposedly speaking for me, but I let the insult pass, because she did have a point.

Now I'm home, where they gave me some lunch meat (it had a hard, white, bitter filling in the center), and I've been feeling more and more drowsy... *yawn* ... and can barely....


Monday, October 8, 2007

Dog Blog: Out of Shape

I don't know how plain I can make this, but you humans are pretty slow, so I'll use the caps lock:


If I feel I need to say it again, I'll just put "see top", and you'll know to look at it again. Maybe, it will sink in.

Now, usually, the Hairy Guy is good about taking me out in the early morning, and someone takes me out in the evening for a bit. I like it best when they all go and we play at the park, but sometimes they use the Bike thing and we go around the neighborhood at a brisk pace.

But the key to this all working is ... see top. This weekend, however, did not go my way. The Mom and Girl Scout were going camping, and the Hairy Guy ran late. So I got shoved in the crate, and there was mayhem and weeping (and not a little barking), and Friday night ended without any kind of exercise for me. See top.

Saturday started with a splat, when the little girl's system rejected the pizza transplant it had received the night before. I feared this would mean no morning walk, but after she held down some oatmeal and seemed to be feeling better, the BIC (Boob In Charge) decided to pack us all into his little Kia and drive us over to the garage. Something about "oil change" and "tuneup". Blah blah blah... see top.

But, good news! We left the car there, and walked back to the house. Sadly, it was only about a quarter of the usual morning walk I get (and this at nearly lunchtime), but it was something. And he seemed to imply that we would be walking back to get the car later. Cool.

Then the yak fest began. I wasn't there, but I hear that watching someone hork oatmeal is a very unpleasant experience. However bad it might be, it should not cause neglect of pets. See top. But alas, when it came time to go fetch the car, Princess Pukes-a-lot got the Little Tykes wagon, and I got the crate. Crap! And did they leave the house again the rest of the night? Noooooo.... See Top, you butt-faced miscreants!! See the freakin' top!

That is why, on Sunday morning, I released myself under my own recognizance. The Harried Hairy Guy, feeling pestered from every side (I didn't even need my recently discovered powers of mind reading to tell that) sent me out in the back with the boys. Always joyous fun. For five minutes. Then they either get bored and wander around yelling and hitting things with sticks as part of some imaginary ceremony or something.

Lately they've been calling each other "Fone Bone", "Phoney Bone", or "Smiley Bone", and I get to be someone called "Bartleby". This is usually fun, but today, they were interested in head standing. That means that either someone is standing on my head, or is standing on HIS head on MY butt.

I was not in the mood. Mainly, because: see top.

So I bolted. Not far, just across the street. Apparently, as I heard him describing it to the Mom lady later, the Hairy Guy saw me "bounding blissfully between the houses, headed to who knows where". That's pretty much how I saw it.

I also saw him drag out the bike, and trundle through the neighborhood, apparently looking for me. I heard him whistling, and declined to respond. Maybe now he'll remember: see top.

He went all the way down to the busy road, and came back up a block over, not realizing that I had done my turn around the house on the corner, and had pretty much set up camp in their sweet, wonderful, bunny-scented flower bed. I am still drooling a little... those people seriously need a dog. But I digress. He went back in the house, and sent the older boy out on the porch to look for me, and for once, the kid actually Looked!

After being retrieved, I was sternly lectured, but he wasn't mean about it. He probably felt like beating the tar out of me. I could tell because he kept saying, "I oughta beat the tar out of you." But I think he understood my side of the story.

After all, when you are as young and full of life as I am.... well, see top.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dog Blog: Read Your Mind

How on Dog's Green Earth does your species stay so dominant?

I mean, it's bad enough you don't have claws or teeth worth talking about; you eat nothing but crap (and don't friggin' share); you waste your evenings staring at a noisy box with moving gray blobs on the front of it, and you spend your days off doing Dog knows what while your faithful fauna companions waste away in a crate. But it turns out that you can't talk, either! And all this time, I thought my People were just slow.

Oh, sure, you make those god-awful moo-squawk noises with your squishy, flat mouths. But you don't really "communicate". The rest of us in the Animal Kingdom can read what you're thinking from the combination of smells you give off and body language. That is to say, we can read what's important. I'm even starting to piece together some of the sounds.

But it can't hardly be called "talking". Talking implies some listening, and when it comes to listening, you all need to take a page out of the canine playbook. I go out every morning with the Hairy Dad Guy, and I can tell you this: he's at his best when he's open to the surroundings and my signals. When he's paying attention, he doesn't need me to "tell" him that I see a rabbit, and am about to go out of my mind. He can see it! But who does he get mad at on those mornings when he isn't listening?

You bet: the "Stupid" dog!

Now that I know how crippled you People are, I can almost feel sorry for you. Almost. I just wish you were as smart as you all think you are. Then there wouldn't be those awkward little "misunderstandings". Like the time I threw up on the Mom Lady's shoes. That was no accident, Mrs. "I'm going to put barbecue in the crock pot all day and not give the dog any". And perhaps if you all really listened, you would have heard me when I accidentally locked myself in the laundry room. Honestly. After the first 20 minutes, it's just not funny.

I suppose I'll adapt. I've gotten used to the idea of being the lowest ranking member of the pack (which is totally unfair - that little girl can't fight worth a lick!), and all the other little indignities that go along with it. But I just wish I was included on some of the family discussions that I have some expertise in.

For example, the Mom Lady and the Hairy Dad Guy sometimes discuss what they're going to do about the rats. In previous episodes, you might have noticed, I had no idea what a "rat" was. Well, now I know, thanks to some of those crickets I found when I was locked in the laundry room. The rats are actually our FRIENDS! They only want to protect my humans from those evil rabbits and their terrorist plots. But if you listen to the humans, you'll get the totally opposite idea. They want to put poisoned meat with ground glass in the yard, out where they think the rats have been.

I don't know quite what to do about that. I would warn the rats, but I don't actually know any. I could tell a cricket to pass a message, but it's really hard to keep from eating them -- I need to enjoy some kind of hobby, don't I?

And I don't have any friends outside the house. I keep thinking I should try to get to know one of the neighborhood dogs, but I didn't make a very good impression my first few weeks, and now they all light into me whenever they see me walking down the street. (And of course I give as good as I get; those mutts won't get the last word on ME!)

Maybe if I'm really patient, those dumb people will pay attention long enough for me to get the message across... don't poison the meat.

Give it to the dog.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dog Blog: August Oppression

I swear to you all, if there was any doubt, that I have nothing -- NOTHING -- to do with the weather! So please, stop calling the hot, uncomfortable, and humid days "Dog Days".

Even our normally comfortable and easy-going morning walks have been oppressed by thick, muggy air. I have to drag the hairy guy up the hill most days. More so since he hurt his back. And it's not just us. Everything seems to have slowed down to an agonized crawl. I'm not very old, but I think I remember this from when I was a puppy. I just hope I remember right, and it will stop soon.

Even though we haven't been outside often, I've been keeping my nose to the ground, trying to figure out what is leaving those strange smelling trails along the edges of my yard. It's not rabbit, but all I ever see out there is rabbit and squirrel. There was something out front that looked like another dog a couple of weeks ago, and the family spotted it and started yelling "Fox". It smelled like a cross between a dog and a cat, but it never really showed up where I could investigate.

But I think the humans know what this other smell is, even though their little button noses don't work that well. The hairy Dad guy keeps the big wooden fort in the back corner closed, and goes in there every now and then to look around. It's not a place I have any desire to go into, but the trails I find all seem to crisscross along the walls. The other day when he was in there, he came running out, making a gagging sound; he got a couple of bags out of the house, and went back in the shed, muttering, "Friggin' rats... disgusting."

Then he brought something small out, all wrapped in the bags, and threw it away in the front trash. I didn't get very close, because he seemed upset, but I definitely caught a whiff of that smell again. I may have to work up the nerve to go in there one of these days.

I asked Peter about it, but he doesn't like to tell me anything in a straightforward way. He's the rabbit I usually find in the middle of my yard when I get let out there. I wouldn't call him my friend, but he's the only critter out there with any brains that will talk to me at all. The squirrels are usually too busy playing their stupid games on the power lines to hold a conversation, and they don't pay much attention to life on the ground.

But Peter just laughs when I ask him about the Smell. "You're some dog, you know that?" he sneers. Or he'll tell me, "Just let us professionals deal with it, a'ight?"

Those danged rabbits are so superior, I'd just love to knock one down a notch. But I don't think I'll do any damage if I do catch one, now. I need to find out whatever they can tell me about that Smell. It could be important.

Last week, the family had to go somewhere with a bunch of flags (I think they said there were six of them), and couldn't take me. So, they put my crate down in the laundry room, where a concrete floor runs the length of the house. They blocked off a couple of areas they didn't want me to use as a toilet, and gave me some food.

While I was down there, I did a little exploring, and didn't find anything interesting. I was just going to have a snack, when I heard something. There is a big, metal hose that comes out of the back of one of the machines, and goes out a hole in the bricks. Something in there was moving!

I listened for a minute, and heard whispering voices:

"It's blocked off. I can't get through."

"Try chewing something."

"Ow! It's all metal."

"Alright, come back out. We'll find another way in."

I didn't like this at all. I started barking. Whatever it was, trapped in that hose, must have been scared out of its mind. Heh, heh. The echoes in there must have been horrible!

I heard the whisperers scuttle out the hole, and felt a little burst of triumph. I had saved the house!

But the good feeling only lasted until I heard a sharp little voice echoing down the hose from outside. "Nice one, dog. You cost Vinnie an eye. Watch your back from now on."

I told myself not to worry. After all, whatever it was sounded small. I was more upset that in the fuss, I had knocked all my food into the water bowl. But when the family got home, and let me out, I happened to notice the vent that opens out from that hole in the bricks.

It reeked of that Smell.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dog Blog: Bike Hike

I know how these toothless, clawless omnivores took over the planet. They build things.

It is hard to believe, but I've seen them do it. They open these big boxes and take out pieces to fit together, and when they are done, there is a new thing. Like a shed, or a bicycle. It's mind-blowing.

So my humans have gone and built this thing that holds my leash for them while they ride a bicycle, and I have to run alongside. It sounds awful, but it's really pretty great. I mean, I am part sled dog, so I can really pull them down the road at a good clip. And there is nothing as enjoyable as a good mush around the block. Really clears up the humors, if you know what I mean.

There are downsides, like anything. I can't stop every three feet and check p-mail. I can't hare off after everything that moves (not without pulling the bike with me). It takes a little discipline. They have started taking the leash along, though, and will stop at the park to actually walk me a bit, and let me sniff around.

I've been smelling something really odd around lately, too. Every couple of days, I'll pick up a trail of it across my yard. And sometimes, I smell it on my walk. It's kind of like rabbit or squirrel, but more sinister. How's that for foreshadowing, huh?

I know it's not cat; I know cats from the jail place where the humans picked me up. Cats aren't bad if you give them their space, usually. Though they tend to get a little tense no matter what you do.

When we got to the park this morning, I caught a trace of the Strange Thing over by the fence of the yard that runs along the bottom of the park. I was being dragged by the bike, so I couldn't check it out, but the Hairy Guy stopped near there to put me on my leash. I ran over to have a good scenting while the getting was good.

He followed me a little way, but then kind of stopped. He tends to be a little slow in the mornings, and likes to grumble about coffee and showers when I take too long to do my business. So, I took a huge crap as close to where I wanted to investigate as I could get, and while he cleaned it up (griping the whole time, of course) I stuck my head under the hedge and snuffled for all I was worth.

Now, like I said, I know about cats, and I generally respect their space. But they can be kind of crazy, and pop up where you least expect them. This little black number had crawled up inside the hedge, right where the Odd Smell was strongest, and when it started whispering at me, I could have spayed myself! (I probably would have, too, if it wasn't already done.)

"Are they gone?" it hissed. "Are what gone?" I asked, once the shock wore off.

"Those things... can't you smell them?"

"Yeah, that's what I'm hunting." I told her testily; imagine implying that my nose didn't work! "Are they some kind of rabbit?" I had a theory going that the new smell had something to do with the One-Eyed Jack and his Leporidae terrorist network.

"No, fool!" she nearly shrieked. "The rabbits are the only ones doing anything about it!"

And then her eyes went wild. Something was shuffling toward us through the underbrush beneath the hedge. She turned, bunched herself, and shot out through the top of the hedge, and bounded around the side of the nearest house. I tried to push in deeper to get a jump on whatever was coming, when I was rudely yanked by the harness back out into the park.

"I have a handful of your crap here, and you go chasing cats?" yelled the Hairy Guy. He seemed ticked off, but obviously hadn't noticed whatever was in the bushes.

And before I could explain, he had me hooked back up to the bike, and we were on our way.

When we got back to the house, he put me on the lead while he packed the bike back in the shed, and I sniffed out the perimeter. I smelled TWO trails of the Odd Smell, now! Whatever they were, they were getting bolder.

And as I went inside, I caught a glimpse of the One-Eyed Jack, staring fixedly at the big wooden fort in the back corner of my yard. The corner I can't reach. Hmmm....

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dog Blog: Dog Jog & Fat Dog

I've been keeping an eye out for those terrorist rabbits, but they seem to be lying low since the night I met One Eyed Jack. And since they've always been so clever about staying just out of my reach, I've been practicing some "caninja" skills on them. I make a show of not being able to reach one particular spot in the yard, and I've been holding back when they approach my "zone" -- no barking, no lunging -- hoping to lull them into thinking they know where my boundaries are.

I'll get them yet.

Meanwhile, things have been going great inside the house. I'm starting to enjoy the kids a little more, now that they don't all climb on my head, cooing at me everytime they see me. One at a time, they can be very sweet.

And the Mom lady got something great in the mail: a "Walky Dog"! It's a lead pole that mounts on a bicycle so that I can run alongside while she rides. It's fantastic! The Dad takes me on a nice meandering "explore" every morning, and the Mom either runs with me, or hooks me to the bike at night. And when she's on her bike, I can fly, baby!

She's been a little timid about it, though, so I've had to pull her along on most of the rides.

Those evening runs have an element of danger to them, though. I may have mentioned that I don't care much for other dogs. (I am a real bitch, you know.) As a result, I tend to get a little... *ahem* ...belligerent when I see them. I don't know why, but I can't help shouting at them when I see them. And since most of the dogs around here are yappy little pipsqueaks, or oafish tongue-lolling lab mixes, I feel I can put most of them in their place.

Then there's Fat Joe. He's an enormous Rottweiler that lives around the corner somewhere. I can't quite figure out where, but if I do, I'm going to leave him a vicious p-mail.

The first time I ran across him, he was pretty far away, but I let him know I was there. "Hey, Fatso, you better stay out of my way!" I yelped.

He just turned his head and blinked, looking like a hairy, black Marlon Brando on all fours. "It's Fat JOE," he said. "Fat SUE is my little sister."

But the Mom was dragging me across the street and in the other direction at that point, muttering something about livestock.

We saw him a couple of days later, but we didn't spot him until we were already on the same street together. The Mom dragged me to the other side so we wouldn't have to get too close, but I had to say something. It wouldn't be polite to just ignore him, would it?

"Hey, Fatso! You ever start any fires with your blubber thighs rubbing together like that?"

Who knew a dog that size could move so fast? His owner apparently didn't; he was yanked off his feet, and looked like a cartoon person with his feet flapping like a flag as he was pulled into the fight.

Now, if those darned humans had just stepped off and let us go, I'm sure I would have had him. I took a chunk out, that's for sure. But they pulled us apart, and the Mom lifted me up and carried me off toward home, a stream of really ugly words coming out of her mouth the whole way. (I know what I'm going to say to Fatso, now, next time I see him!)

Apparently, our little dust up made the local fauna news. The squirrels started cheering whenever I came out. "We got 20 nuts down on you for the next bout, killer!"

I even caught One Eyed Jack's attention. He came into the yard a couple of days later. I couldn't see him, but his voice seemed to be coming from just outside my reach while I rested by the pool.

"You're pretty scrappy," he said. "Could come in handy. We might be able to use you, if you get a little better with the caninjitsu."

"Use me for what?" I asked. I was irked that he knew about my plans, when I still had no idea what his were.

"We'll see," he said, cryptically. "I haven't made up my mind which side you're on, yet."

"What sides are there?" I sneered. "I'm on the good side!"

But he was gone already.

Dog Blog: The Fourth & the One-Eyed Jack Rabbit

What a lousy week I've had. Every time I hear the explosions outside, I jump. I can't help it. The family laughs, sympathetically, and says, "Poor Trixie! She must be gun shy." But that's not it. Every screamer, every M80, every roman candle sends me up the wall with terror, but it's not just the noise that bothers me.

I'm terrified because any one of those noises could be Them...

I told you I don't trust those rabbits. I knew they were up to something. These aren't just your usual lazy, good-for-nothing lapidary menace. I could tell by the way they run just far enough away so I can't reach them, and then stand there taunting me. They wink, they tease, and they never quite leave... which is what I want them to do!

One of the cheeky little buggers even sits in the middle of the yard, waiting for me to come out so he can bait me. The family puts me on a lead when I go out, and he knows exactly how far I can go. The first couple of times, I thought he was as startled as I was, but then I noticed that he would dart around the corner of the fort, and then run around it and sneak up behind me while I was barking at the corner where I saw him last. Oh, he thinks that's great fun!

Two can play games, though. I started sneaking along the wall whenever I came out, hoping to get enough of a jump on him to at least put the fear of dog into him. And a couple days after my last post, it worked!

I came through the gate at full speed, and there he was. He had heard the door, but I managed to keep the chain from clinking. His ears went flat, and his mouth made a great "O" as he turned to take off. I felt my teeth in his fluffy little tail, too, just before the line jerked me off my feet. That hurt, but even before I landed, I had twisted and shot around where he usually sneaks up from behind. No sign of him!

Satisfied, I went and curled up next to the pool to pant. He wasn't done with me, though. He came sidling back to peek around the corner of the fort. "You think you're pretty clever, huh?" he said. "That was good, but it won't work twice."

I sniffed, and acted like I couldn't see him. Maybe he'd come a little closer, and we could have another shot.

"A bit of friendly advice, though," he went on. He wasn't fooled one bit. "I wouldn't try that with One-Eyed Jack. If you do, you tell him I warned you."

"And who are you supposed to be?" I asked.

"I'm Peter," he said. "The kids might have mentioned me; they named me, long before you came along. Just remember, you might be the predator type, but you're not the one in charge around here."

I shudder now, but at the time I laughed. "Bring on the One-Eyed Jack!" I snorted. "I'll take on any of your type that get within 30' feet of my pole, there."

But Peter was gone.

The next night, after a good walk around the block, I was lying down under the rose bush while the family swam and sat around the patio, reading their books. None of them smelled the thick rabbity effluvium on the air, but I knew they were out with a vengeance. Then I heard an odd, muffled thump.

I looked over at the fence, and there was a huge jack sitting there, holding something strange in his mouth. He thumped it on the ground again. "Know what this is?" he asked.

I hadn't moved, yet, trying to think of a way to get at him. I shook my head, no, to answer his question, and eyed the fence line. No way I could get to the end, and dash around in time to grab him.

"This is an explosive device," he said. "You know those loud bangs you keep hearing?" I nodded. "That's the humans, blowing these up. You know how many my people have managed to gather?" Rhetorical questions I ignore, especially from a stupid rabbit.

"We've got enough of these to take out this whole block," he said. It wasn't like bragging, because I could tell he meant it. But why tell me? "I'm telling you so you know to stay out of our way. You're new here, and I don't think Peter really got through to you the other night."

"And who are you to tell me who's in charge in my own yard?" I growled.

And then he turned. You know how rabbits, being prey animals, usually can't look at you straight on? They usually have one eye on each side of their head, and only really look at you from the side. Well, he turned to face me, and instead of two eyes staring off in two directions, he only had the one. The other side, where an eye should have been, was a mass of scar tissue. Part of the ear was even missing. The scar ran from the ruined base of the ear, down through the eye socket, and pulled up his lip, so he looked like he was snarling.

Without another word, One-Eyed Jack picked up his firecracker, and disappeared into the tall grass on the other side of the fence.

And now, every time I hear one of those pops, bangs, or cracks, I wonder... is it Them?

Dog Blog: Week Three

I think I'm starting to figure out this family I've been assigned to. They aren't too hard to get along with -- one at a time at least. And I think I know now why I was sent here to protect them.

They had me really baffled for the first couple of weeks with that word they kept shouting up my nose: Trixie. Apparently, that's my name. If I perk up my ears and wag my tail when they say it, they go all giggly. I tell you, it's good to figure out the basics, and feel like I have some control over the proceedings. Now I just have to finish hashing out who's who around here. Got to establish Dominance.

The Momma and the Dad were easy enough to figure out. They're bigger, and they made sure I knew they were boss right away. Then there's the kids. Whenever the parents aren't around, I try to mount them, of course. But they don't get it. They just laugh, run around, and yell "She's doing the 'Dog-danio!'" and swarm me. I really wish I knew what THAT meant.

At least the Dad has been really good about getting up early in the mornings and taking me on patrol. He still hasn't learned what rabbits are for -- they're for killing, hello! -- and that's really my only complaint. They won't even let me have at the impudent, long-eared rats when they're in my own yard!

The other night, we came home from one of our walks, and one of the little bastard was hunkered down right in the middle of the front yard. The Dad nearly stepped on it, leapt into the air, and shouted something I hadn't heard before. It sounded like a sneeze: "K chertu!" I think it was Russian.

But even with the sneaky devils ambushing him in front of his own dog, he won't let me go after them. I suspect the Lapidary Mafia has something on them; some kind of nefarious influence. Maybe they've got a hostage or something. I plan to make it my mission to figure out what it is.

Meanwhile, I keep watch. And bide my time. They will sure be glad I was on the job! The amazing Trixie: Dog Detective, Defender from Rabbits!

Oh... time for another nap!

Dog Blog: One Week

I won't bore you with my life story, but let's just say I ended up in the klink. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, I suppose, but jail is jail, and I was a little freaked out.

I've never been able to get along with other dogs, and the kennel amplifies their voices something awful. Have you ever tried to sleep while a chihuahua mix rabbits on and on reciting the dog rosary? Or while a basset hound sings the blues all night?

They put me through all kinds of tests and things, and I have to admit, I wigged out a little bit. Not my finest hour. I ended up back in the kennel, feeling like the end of the world was coming. That's about when they showed up.

There were six of them; four small ones, one huge one with as much hair on his face as I have, and one that was clearly the momma. I liked her right away. They met me outside, and I was so relieved to be in the yard, being petted. The kids weren't bad, I just didn't know what to do with them. So I ignored them, and let everyone scratch me behind the ears. The big hairy guy found that spot at the base of my tail, and when the staff took me out front again, and the whole group led me to their car... I didn't know what to think!

It seemed to go pretty well, though they were feeding me that crap from the kennel. The hairy guy has been taking me for walks in the morning, and sometimes I get to walk the kids to school. The only consistent trouble seems to be with rabbits. Apparently they can't see the little beasts, because they never let me chase them down and destroy them. I managed to slip out of the harness once to show them my chops, but they seemed pretty upset that I didn't catch the one I was after.

They took me in the car today, and all was well (I thought we were going to the "doggy store" again to get toys), and we showed up back at the jail. I even recognized a couple of bitches from my cell block. I was terrified they were going to turn me back in or something, but then we didn't go inside. We went over to a grassy area, and had a lady teach them how to handle me. Some of it was pretty rude... telling them how to discipline me sounded like a raw deal... but then it seemed like everything she was teaching them involved giving me treats. The phrase was "positive reinforcement", and the teacher lady made them practice feeding me treats again.

Life is sweet. Let's hope this keeps going.