Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dog Blog: Pupsicle Doofus

Maybe I can't read human minds as well as I thought I could, after all.

My walks have been a sometimes affair, lately. They try, but illness and tight schedules have forced the Mom Lady and the Hairy Guy to skip my long, leisurely walks most nights. If I'm lucky, the Mom Lady takes me to the school so I can run around while we wait for the kids; and the Hairy Guy still takes me for a brisk once-around-the-block at least every other night.

Fine, I understand. As long as I can get out and about in this cold. I am part husky, after all! Nothing revs me up like charging through piles of icy snow, barking. If you've never tried it yourself, you definitely should. Very cathartic.

I had to really turn on the charm the other day; full on puppy dog eyes, and my nose in a rump every time they moved toward the door. They finally got the hint, and even though he had just gotten back from camping the night before, the Hairy Guy caved, bundled up, and took me out.

We had a great time; he's so funny, pretending to be grumpy while I bounce from p-mail to p-mail along the trail. I try to give him lots of material to work with -- wrapping myself around poles and bushes, knocking over lawn ornaments, going berserk when I see other dogs -- just because he seems to enjoy complaining. My piƩce de resistance has been to wait until he has gathered up my poo in his little baggie, tied it securely, and deposited it in some public receptacle... then pinch out one more batch on someone's lawn (preferably while they are watching) so he has to scrounge around for some street trash or a discarded newspaper sack to avoid being caught leaving my mess behind.

Like I said, he acts really upset, but I can tell he enjoys solving these little "puzzles" ... keeps him sharp, and feeling intellectually superior to me.

But I fear I misread him the other day. We made it down to the park, despite the bitter cold blowing right into our faces. I found it invigorating, and he was grousing enough about it that I figured I didn't need to add to his "misery". We were so happy.

I could tell he wasn't really in a hurry, because when we got to the park, he led us over to the creek to see if it was frozen. There was just a small patch that was frozen, right where it is deepest. He said something aloud about wondering how thick it was, and looked around for a rock or branch to toss on it. But local kids have picked the river bank clean, throwing rocks and sticks into the "river" throughout the year, and the best he could come up with was an old, nasty tennis ball.

He held it out to me. "You aren't going to chase this, are you, stupid?" I ignored it, thinking he wanted to play with me. Don't call me stupid, stupid. "You sure?" he said, waggling it under my nose. I sniffed in disdain, and tried to crawl under a root system by the bank.

So, he chucked the ball down on the ice as hard as he could, and it went, "Poink!" and bounced once, then slithered to a stop against the other bank.

And I lost my mind. In my head, there was a perfect storm of influences; the natural urge to chase a ball... the misreading of his desire to play... and my husky nature, which said, "Ice means fun!" Before I knew it, I was soaring out from under the root system, and over the thinly, frozen water.

There was no splash; just a crunch, and I was in sub-zero water up to my neck. I could feel a tug on my harness, but it was feeble, since I had wrapped the lead around those roots. Hairy Guy came crashing down the bank, trying to untangle it, without falling in himself, and he seized my harness to pull me up to safety.

Back on dry (cold) land, I felt a rush. WHOO! I shook, and already crystallized chunks flew everywhere. Thick, oily hairs in my coat grabbed the water, and heated it quickly, forming an insulating layer by my skin, and the outer hairs spiked out, some drying quickly, others freezing.

"Holy crap!" shouted the Hairy Guy. He started urging me to run... back toward the house. A good 1/4 to 1/2 mile, uphill. I was game. I wish he'd run me more often, but he's a touch on the heavy side for that, if you know what I mean.

We got back to the house, and he collapsed in a steaming pile of wet outer wear, calling for the Mom Lady. They rushed me into a hot bath, and proceeded to wash me in the most undignified manner.

They lectured, teased, mocked, and imprecated me. They cast aspersions on my heritage, and rubbed mud and ice violently out of my fur. They turned the shower on me, the dog equivalent of waterboarding, if you ask me. But then it was over, and they dried me off, and turned me loose.

I guess I see where I made my mistake. Next time, I'll make sure he goes in with me, so he can see how refreshing a quick winter dip can be!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Roughing It Up

O, an Austrian went yodeling,
On a mountain so high,
When along came a cuckoo bird,
Interrupting his cry...

Winter Camp; the main reason for joining Cub Scouts in the first place. I've been alternately dreading and looking forward to it for months. Looking forward to the parts that I know will be fun; hiking, games, good food, and playing some guitar with folks. Dreading, because despite my cheerful disposition, I'm still a cynic at heart, and I'm pretty sure I know what it will be like: a dozen or so increasingly cranky adults surrounded by increasingly smelly and insolent children. And do you know something? I really hate being cynical, sometimes. So, I brace myself, hold my nose, and dive in. We're going to have fun, kids.

They are out of school, they are sleep deprived, and they outnumber us. Behold - the Cuckoo Birds.

O, an Austrian went yodeling,
On a mountain so high,
When along came an avalanche,
Interrupting his cry...

Trouble and woe seem to pile on all at once, sometimes. My lovely bride seemed to be coming down with something ominous; snow threatened to lay siege during the weekend; our car began flashing random lights -- but only out the corner of my eye. I did NOT want to cancel this trip, but there were rumblings and creakings. Then we were off, and we made it, and dove into the tumult of the cabin.

Behold -- the Avalanche; of boys, sleeping bags, and a cacophonous Friday night in the woods.

O, an Austrian went yodeling,
On a mountain so high,
When along came a grizzly bear,
Interrupting his cry...

I am here to make sure - as Cubmaster Terry keeps reminding us - that the Cub Scouts have fun, stay safe, and learn something. I'm not complaining about my lot; the group of adults in general is pretty good about keeping the kids out of trouble, making sure we are "two deep" (no adult is ever to be left alone with any number of children... even their own children), and making sure food-prep and clean up happens. If anything, I feel like I'm not completely pulling my weight. I keep showing up to the kitchen after everything is already cooked; I don't quite make it back from escorting a group to the bathroom in time to clear the tables; I don't know how to do most of the crafty stuff.

This leaves "playground monitor" as my fall-back duty - which, in its most common form, means bellowing at the kids who insist on pushing, shoving, and whacking each other with sticks to quit it. Behold, I am the Grizzly Bear. Grr, grr.

O, an Austrian went yodeling,
On a mountain so high,
When along came a Saint Bernard,
Interrupting his cry...

We are all fortunate to have a real, honest to goodness, professional medic along. Saturday afternoon, the boys simply couldn't hold back on their more violent tendencies, and two had to be carried in within half an hour of each other. Nothing serious; a minor head wound and a twisted ankle. But it gave Fred a chance to break out his kit, and justify dragging it up to Northern Maryland for the weekend. Fortunately, it didn't take much more than that to get across to the kids the danger of not listening to the Grizzly Bears.

Butterfly bandages, an ice-pack, and a few developing colds means a job well done by the Saint Bernard. *pant, pant*

O, an Austrian went yodeling,
On a mountain so high,
When along came a Jersey Cow,
Interrupting his cry...

One thing was not lacking in any way: the food. There was plenty, and it was good. Mr. Harvey, with the assistance of his son, Harvey Jr., has been the camp cook for 13 years. If what they say -- you shouldn't trust a skinny cook -- is true, then Mr. Harvey is one of the most trustworthy cooks I've ever run across. Everyone was full and content, with nary a case of food poisoning in the bunch.

Behold, the Great Provider of nourishment: the Jersey Cow. (Or, in our case, the Bull.)

O, an Austrian went yodeling,
On a mountain so high,
When along came a milking maid,
Interrupting his cry...

Among the scouts were a small group of siblings; mainly little sisters who were old enough to come along for the weekend. My own little princess came, and immediately found a soulmate of the same age to spend the weekend with. But what to do when all of the adults are spread amongst the other camp activities? Enter the sweet-sixteen-year-old daughter of the Committee Chairperson, young Katie. Someone to watch over the little ones, who were given their own room (no boys allowed), and to run interference (because a "No Boys Allowed" sign is like smearing honey around an ant hill) when the boys decided to storm the "castle".

Behold, the intrepid babysitting skills of our Milking Maid.

O, an Austrian went yodeling,
On a mountain so high,
When along came Her Father,
Interrupting his cry...

I confess, I was not looking forward to a second night on the floor, with only a thin layer of foam between my bulk and the concrete & linoleum floor. The symphonic snoring of the first night hadn't bothered me, once the boys around us had settled down and stopped trying to keep each other awake. It was comical, but almost soothing, in a snorty, bandsaw-on-metal sort of way. Very rhythmic, and tidal. But my back was acting up after Friday's relatively brief night, and I wasn't looking forward to the certain agony facing me Sunday. All I could do was try to stay loose, and tough it out. After all, I was committed to being the Entertainment at the Saturday night campfire.

The younger of my boys, the Tiger Cub, woke Saturday morning with a cough, and I tried to keep an eye on him throughout the day. Had to hold him in a chair by the fire and convince him to take a nap at one point. Grew too tired to use subjects in sentences.

When he woke up, he asked to go home, so I told him that we would after dinner and the campfire ceremony. I think in the end, Pain is the Vengeful Father's gift to us all... reminding us that there are consequences to every action.

It worked out well enough. My back protested the extra exertions as I loaded the car, but I kept telling it, "Better to do it tonight than wait until morning!" It grudgingly agreed. I was loading the car between acts; dinner, load sleeping bags; cleanup, load suitcase (yeah, suitcase... the duffel has the tent in it); perform, load guitar. I felt guilty about bugging out the night before and leaving the bulk of the cleaning duties for the Sunday morning survivors, so I did some extra sweeping up and took a couple of bags of trash out to the dumpster.

By the time I was called up to perform, I was more than a little nervous. I wasn't sure the crowd would respond to my silly song; they saw the guitar, and started calling out requests. "Pantera!" "Play some Brad Paisley!" "Don't you know any good songs?" I resisted doing a Pete Townsend on the 10-year-old heckler in the front row. But Harvey Jr. and Katie joined me as I started my main attraction...

Oooooooooohhhh.... an Austrian went yodeling....

...and they loved it! They were entranced! I was a HIT!

Alright, so that was all I had, but that was all I needed. They called for volunteers for jokes and stories, any other songs. We laughed, and sang, and it wasn't lame! What a relief.

Still, I needed to get the little ones home. There were some definite snuffles coming... maybe worse. But at least I went out with a...

Yodel-ee-yah, Kee-kee-yah,
Yodel-ee-yah cuckoo, cuckoo!
*Pant, pant*
Squirt, squirt,
*smooch, smooch*

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Jury Is Out

They needed 14 of us, and there were about 50 people crammed into the room. My odds of being selected seemed slim. A few days off work wouldn't affect me much, and this was likely to be the only time I would ever get to see the inside of a courtroom, so I was curious.

I spotted the defendant right away. He was looking around at us with his jaw clenched and his fist tapping the arm of his chair. He looked away, and back again, and I tried to form some impression. Did he look guilty, or just scared?

I stopped that line of thought right away. Whatever it was he was accused of, my job was to assume he was innocent. The State's Attorney would have the job of proving the case, and I wondered what kind of case it would be. Theft? Assault? Maybe something terrorist related? Could I be part of stopping some evil plot? Would I be able to protect an innocent victim of an over-zealous government? I was ready... I thought.

The judge told us right away what the charge was, and my heart sank. Child molestation and rape. This was going to be difficult, no matter what the circumstances.

There were a lot of questions: anyone here feel they would not be able to be impartial in this type of case? A handful stood. I sat still. Anyone here likely to believe a police officer's testimony simply because of his position? A few more stood; I sat, having known too many police officers to think they aren't fallible. Anyone here likely to disbelieve a police officer's testimony simply because of his position? A few more - different from the previous bunch - stood. I sat, having known enough police officers to know that they deserve better than that.

The questions dragged on... I stood when they asked if any of us had family employed in law enforcement. Then they called everyone who had stood up to the bench, one at a time, to explain why we stood. My uncle was a Deputy Sheriff in Maricopa County, AZ. Isn't that where the sheriff put prisoners in a tent city and made them wear pink underwear? Yes, your honor; Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Gotta love that! Yes, your honor.

At last, after a drawn out elimination process, there were 12 men and two women left in the box. I was Number 8.

I'll spare you the worst of the details. You know my sense of humor goes to many places it shouldn't, but it doesn't go there. There was nothing remotely funny about what we heard, and it isn't something I like to dwell on. The girl, now 12, testified first, then her mother; then we were recessed for a night of less-than-stellar sleep and upset stomachs.

The next morning, we were stuck in the jury room waiting for other procedures for nearly three hours. I said it wasn't funny, and the case itself wasn't. The jury room was a slightly different story, though.

I have to warn you: for those about to be locked in a room for two days with 11 other dudes, I do NOT suggest taking a book that will give the wrong impression of your basic character. If you either don't know, or haven't cared enough to figure it out, I'm a borderline pacifist who isn't really all that "into" weapons. This is both why I choose to enlist in the Air Force (as opposed to the Marines) and why I got out (in May 2001, or as I like to call it, "the nick of friggin' time".)

However, when came the day for Jury Duty, I selected for my magic time-passing talisman a book entitled Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks. I read Banks because I like his world building; I like the Culture, LOVE the ships, and am fascinated by the layers of character and the always-interesting structure of his books. But the other fellas saw "Weapons" in the title, and had heard me identify myself among military veterans, thus I was stuck talking about War Movies, hunting, guns, and football .... when all I wanted to do was read my book!

And did I mention that I really, really don't like football? Not to the roomful of angry Ravens' fans, I didn't!

We survived the boredom, the awkward lulls, the snoring guy, and the occasional flare-up about who the new Raven's coach will be, and eventually got under way. The Doctor that discovered the "smoking gun" testified, followed by the social worker who had recorded the "forensic interview", which was intended to determine whether the child was lying or mistaken.

I'll just tell you outright: we convicted the bastard.

Deliberation wasn't easy, though, because the one woman in the group had decided out of nowhere that "he was covering for somebody", and that "no child would let that go without saying something to her mother." We tried to figure out what she had heard that made her think that, and she kept telling us we were "thinking like a bunch of men." it took two hours to get across to her that, yes, that is how children most often behave in these situations, and that no one -- not the State, and not the Defense -- had so much as hinted that anyone else had done this. The child had pointed to one person, and there was no reason to disbelieve her.

Like I said; we convicted the bastard, but I don't think anyone felt particularly good about the whole thing. It didn't feel like a victory; there was only a sense of relief that our part was over, and we had done what we had to do.

And we are excused for at least three years. Amen.