Friday, July 27, 2012

And there were dogs... and they were good. Sometimes.

My friend Gary has been bringing his so-cute-you-can't-stand-it beagle Penny to visit with the residents at the senior community where I work. I enjoy the heck out of escorting them around the building and watching the residents' reactions to the dog. (We people, of course, become invisible the minute a cute dog appears. We are fine with this. It is as it should be.)

It's really heartwarming to see residents who just a minute before had been staring blankly away, caught up in their own pain and troubles, light up and beam when Penny comes wiggling and nosing over to them. They hold her ears, lean their face down for kisses, and come alive again. Many of them tell us about the dogs they had in their younger years, and folks who can't remember if they had breakfast or not will recall the tiniest details and stories about their childhood pets. It completely affirms my belief that dogs are magical beings sent here to remind us of the best we can be. What's that saying- everyday I strive to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am? You can't aim any higher.

Every time I see Penny visiting with the residents, I'm reminded of how much my grandma Genevieve loved dogs. Their family always had dogs- my mother even had her own dog named Penny! But I'd be willing to bet that her favorite was Paddy.

Oh cripes, Paddy. Little Gram loved our dog, Murphy, so much we decided to go to our local shelter and try to find a similar dog for her. (Note- getting a pet as a surprise for someone is not typically a good idea. Many animals surrendered to shelters are there because they were given as a gift that wasn't really wanted or feasible.) We found a wee little guy, light brown and white, sort of a sheltie-corgi-beagle mix. He seemed like the one, adopted him and took him back to our house. The poor little guy had been badly abused. He was absolutely terrified. It took hours to get him out of the car and once he was in our house, he cowered on the cellar steps landing for the rest of the night. We called my grandma, all excited, and told her we'd gotten her a dog. He'd fortunately started barking in the background just then as proof. I'm not sure how she felt about this.

But once she met him, it was true love, plain and simple. She figured out that he was very sensitive to things around his neck- probably leftover from the abuse- and bought him a harness for his leash instead. She was gentle and quiet and patient with him and he blossomed.

I won't go into the details of how he developed a skin condition which she treated with smelly, greasy ointments. (We bought him a doggy tshirt to get around the fact that she would get very angry with you if you didn't pet Paddy, even though it left your hands all greasy and kind of gross.) He developed cataracts so bad near the end of his life that they turned his eyes blue. The point is that she gave him all the love and attention he deserved in the years they were together, and he brought her joy, comfort, security, and companionship. What more could you ever ask for.

After Paddy passed away, she wanted another dog, but she didn't feel it would be fair as she didn't know how long she'd be alive and if she could continue to care properly for a dog. (Not that she was ill or infirm or anything. This is the woman that once called my mother up and groaned and said, "Well, I have bad news. It looks like I'm gonna live to 100.") Partly on a whim and partly as a gesture of defiance to my other grandmother (who hates animals) who had dismissed the idea as stupid, she bought a life-size resin statue of a golden retriever. My sister and I took our grandmothers back home after the weekend, with the newly christened Happy ("because he makes me happy") sitting proudly in the backseat between my beaming grandma Genevieve and my sourly scowling other grandmother.

When I adopted Minchy, one of the first things we did was visit my grandma. She thought he was awfully funny. From the moment he became ours, he was a very physically affectionate dog, climbing into your lap and resting his head on your shoulder whether you liked it or not. But he was also horribly hyperactive and mischievous. And it all came to a head when we visited just before Christmas.

We were supposed to have had a big baby shower for my cousin Susan at grandma Genevieve's, but snowstorms forced us to cancel, and she was so horribly disappointed. Since I only lived 45 minutes away, I came up with Minchy for a visit the weekend after. It was a disaster.

Checking out Happy

He was a wild man from the minute we came in the door. He pulled whole branches off her artificial Christmas tree in the living room. He ATE ornaments. He grabbed things out of the trashcan in the bathroom and pulled them into the living room. He ran upstairs and jumped on her bed and peed into the bedpan that was sitting up there wrapped in a plastic bag. (I admired his knowledge of what such things were used for, and grateful for the plastic that kept the urine from getting on the bedding, but still.) He dragged a basket of potpourri into the next room, dumped it out and proceeded to gnaw on pinecones like they were a chewy toy. I was at my wit's end. I called my mom in tears from the upstairs after I attempted a time-out with him in one of the spare bedrooms.

My grandma loved it. She laughed and laughed and clapped her hands every time he committed a new atrocity. I don't doubt that he was doing it all to entertain and impress her. Finally, toward the end of the night, we decided to go to bed. My grandma was sleeping in a bed downstairs in a side room at that time. We got ready for bed, then decided I should take Minchy out to potty one last time before going to sleep. I took him downstairs, and he jumped into bed with my grandmother. Let me reiterate that. He did not jump ON the bed with my grandmother. He jumped IN the bed with her. Under the sheets. Head on pillow. Nose to nose.

The next morning we sat in the kitchen, me exhausted and spiteful, her feeding Minchy bits of toast and exclaiming over how gently he took treats. When I announced it was time for us to leave, he bolted off and hid under the couch in the living room. It took another half-hour for me to chase him down and corral him so I could leash him and go out to the car to drive away in our shame.

Shortly before she passed away, my grandma was staying at my parents' house when we visited with the dogs. Minchy bolted in the house as usual, a little tasmanian devil whirlwind, and stopped short in his tracks in front of my grandmother. He looked up at her with total recognition, and his ears went back. He remembered how he had behaved the last time he had seen her. The rest of the weekend he stayed curled at her feet. He gently jumped into bed with her and curled up at her side, growling and showing his teeth to my mother when she tried to get him to leave. My grandma couldn't stop talking about what a good boy he'd become, how he was nothing like that wild animal that had been at her house that night.

One of the last things she said to me was how proud she was that Minchy had become such a good dog.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

In which my pig goes to camp

1. Post about something that made you happy today, even if it’s just a small thing.
2. Do this every day for eight days without fail.
3. Tag eight of your friends to do the same
 (Not tagging. I'd love to read yours, though.)

Being here would make me SUPER happy.
I had another topic I was going to blog about but I'm in a crappy mood and realized I could certainly stand to think about things that make me happy instead. But what?

AC? Certainly today.
My dogs? Yes, always. (Except when they're licking their junk, which they've both done an extraordinary amount of since I got home from work.)
Not being at work? DEFINITELY. (Rough couple of days.)
Finishing a very interesting book of short stories? Indeed. (Suddenly, A Knock at the Door by Etgar Keret)

But the one thing that has made me genuinely happy today is my friend Grace M. 
Grace and her mom are running Camp Worm this week, a sleep away camp for stuffed animals. I have a camper registered, Piggleton von Pigglewurst, otherwise known as Bruce. I have been receiving pictures and updates on what Bruce is doing and how he is behaving (or misbehaving) via Facebook. It's cutest, most imaginative thing I've ever seen and it both makes me happy and jealous, because I want to go to Camp Worm.

Grace and campers

Grace and Senior Counselor, Kristy

That's Bruce on the right.

Friday, July 13, 2012

What goes in the hole...

Overheard at work just now:

"I'd get in the trash, but I can't get out! I ain't goin' into the trash if I can't get back out again!"

Followed by low chuckles of agreement and sympathetic head-shaking by the audience.

No. I do not have any explanation for this.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I need you to do something for me

Don't worry. There's no risk of sleeping with the fishes.
I need a favor of you.

It'll be pretty easy. Pretty painless. Might even make you feel good.

I need you to help me restore my faith in humanity.

"Oh, is that all? No problem!" you may be saying. But I think it may be easier than you think.

I've been incredibly disheartened and disillusioned by our society lately. The vitriolic, vindictive, and hateful way we talk about/to anyone who has views different from our own, using political party labels as spiteful playground epithets, the utter lack of concern and/or disdain we have for anyone who has less than us and may need our help.

The real capper for me was this article I read yesterday. A woman, on the advice of her church (WTH?) dumped her 19-year-old severely handicapped daughter in a bar. She drove to another state, went to a bar she'd never seen before, and literally pushed her child through the door and left (driving back home to her other children). She didn't leave the girl (who cannot communicate and has the mental age of a 3-year-old) with a note for the people who would find her, no money, not even a hug goodbye. I found this quite despicable. But what bothered me the most was the overwhelming number of people in the comments defending this woman. Saying her actions were perfectly understandable and the state was right not to charge her with any misdeed.

Not everyone, of course. Other people, especially those who have some connection to a disabled person, were outraged that she wouldn't go to a hospital or a social services office or a church (just not hers, apparently, jeez) or somewhere other than an unknown bar in another state when she felt she couldn't care for her child anymore. They were angry that she didn't show any emotion or regret about dumping someone who had been in her life for nineteen years in such a callous way. They sympathized with the difficulty of her situation, many of them being in the same boat themselves, but they disagreed vehemently with her way of dealing with it.

But overwhelmingly, people didn't think she'd really done anything wrong. I know, the people who comment on news stories are not representative of our society as a whole. But it really discouraged me that there were that many people willing to take the time to type out a response to defend this woman who just shit-canned her kid.

Now, I know not everyone is an uninformed, heartless cad. I know there are millions of good-hearted folks out there trying to do the right thing and looking out for each other. I am well aware of that, and honestly, that knowledge is what keeps me sticking around on this earth. But sometimes, a gal needs a little proof.

So, do this favor for me.

Show me.

Do something good today.
It doesn't have to be a huge gesture. Just be nice to someone.

Pay for that kid's ice cream cone.
Offer that elderly man your seat on the bus.
Help out that mom whose kid just threw her pacifer across the restaurant.
Make a donation (whatever you can do, however small) to a charity that's doing work to help others.
Compliment someone.
Open a door for someone.
Check in with someone you know has been having a tough time lately.
Go out of your way to make someone's day a little easier, a little brighter.

Then tell me what you did.

You can comment on this blog, or on my Facebook post, or through your own mechanisms.
Pass it around. Encourage others to do the same for you. The bad in the world is getting so much attention right now; let's focus some light on the good. And prove that human beings really aren't bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling.
Thank you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dream a little dream of P(funk)

So my friend Gary posted today about dreams and it reminded me of one of my favorites.

I dream quite frequently, always in color, always very vivid and real. There's usually some kind of plotline involved, although this particular one took the cake.

I dreamed the Little Rascals were putting on a show to save their clubhouse- the usual plot familiar to anyone who watched that show. Act after act went on the raggedy stage, with the curtain made of sewed-together blankets and rags:  Alfalfa burping up soap bubbles trying to sing, Darla tap-dancing, Buckwheat I think making a monkey do back-flips on command.

Then Spanky came out on stage and addressed the audience.
"Ooh! The Mothership's here!"

"Tonight we have a real special treat for you tonight. Please help me welcome our very, very special guests... George Clinton and P-Funk!"

Oh yeah.

George Clinton, with the boots and the feathers and the wild multicolored hair, comes out on stage with Bootsy Collins and the rest and they launch into some wild funk.

The crowd goes wild.

"Really? You want us to give up the funk?"
As they finish one song, George invites Our Gang up on stage to perform with them. At this point in the dream, I am now a kid in the audience who rushes the stage with all the others. I'm standing a couple rows back on stage, watching Spanky play his cigar-box banjo alongside Bootsy. Alfalfa, wearing a pair of Bootsy's outlandish sunglasses, looks back at me and smiles a huge gap-toothed grin as he bobs his head in time to the music.

When I told my sister this dream, she just sat back and looked at me in alarm.

"Promise me you'll never do any drugs, because if this is how your mind works sober ..."

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chocolate Explosion

"Oh yeah, there'd better be snacks."
This past long weekend, I visited my friend, LB, something I look forward to for months ahead of time. I always take the train out to see her, not only because it is cheap but also because I gave up my car two years ago because I really didn't need it. I usually love the train- yeah, it would take half the time to just drive there, but it's just absolutely lovely to be left ENTIRELY and completely alone to eat snacks and read books while someone else worries about getting you to your destination.  I know several people who would think 7+ hours all by themselves would be torture, but for me it's a little vacation all by itself.

HOWEVER. This time, my train was delayed numerous times, stranding me in the Syracuse train station for four hours. FOUR HOURS. I was very glad I'd brought an extra library book. (An important fact I learned from this trip: all train stations only have two food options- Dunkin' Donuts and Subway. Except the Albany–Rensselaer station. But more on that later.) My train was supposed to leave the Syracuse station at 11:38am. It finally arrived at 3:30pm, having been stopped twice (possibly thrice, I gave up paying attention) due to engine trouble. They gave us packs of snacks as sort of an apology, but that didn't change the fact that instead of 8:00pm, I was now due to arrive in Hartford around midnight.

These are times that would try a nun's patience.
Looking around at my fellow passengers, however, I had an old saying of my grandmother's proven to me once again: everywhere you look there's folks who have it better than you and worse than you. In the waiting room at the Syracuse station, with its uncomfortable wire-mesh seating, there was an elderly lady in a wheelchair who was going to visit family and had been taken to the station by two women from her church. Those poor ladies stayed with this women throughout the four hour wait, making sure she had something to eat (of course, their money got stuck in the vending machine), getting her to the bathroom, and not leaving until they had seen her safely onto the train.

There was also a nun who had been there since 9:30am. It was the first time she'd ever been on a train and she figured you had to get to the station at least an hour ahead of time, like you do at the airport. In Albany, a young man took the seat next to me and told me he'd been on the train since Chicago. He'd been on the train when it stopped for each of its engine failures. He was on his way to Boston. I heard him on the phone with a friend telling him when we were estimated to be arriving in Springfield. "Yeah, we're moving along pretty steady now. No, not nearly as fast as a train could- or should go!"

"I'm coming for you, Sister Immaculata!"
Apparently my texts & emails to LB were sufficient to worry her so she marshalled up a friend who is a fearless driver and the two of them met me in Springfield to save me from having to board another train. As LB and I were exiting the station, looking for E., a nun whipped up along the curb in a beige sedan and called out to me, asking if the train from Syracuse had finally arrived. I said yes, and in fact, I think one of her sisters had gotten off the train behind me. The nun nodded and peeled out in search of the other nun. Both LB & I agreed that this chick was one skilled driver. She was tooling around the Springfield Amtrak like Popeye Doyle.

So once that indignity was over and we'd dropped E. off at her house with many fawning thanks, LB & I started our visit as we always do- with Burger King drive-through and a stop at the CVS. This is not intentional. It just always happens this way.

The next day we went to lunch at an Italian place called Yanni's, then to the grocery store to pick up some supplies. We were puzzled by this pumpkin pie filling display in the pet food aisle. We also accidentally stole a pound of salted butter. Someone ahead of us had apparently decided at the last minute not to purchase this butter and it was tossed at the end of the lane to be restocked later. The cashier popped it in our bags without either of us noticing until we'd already arrived home.

Then we went to Crazy Bruce's liquor store, where we had an involved conversation about the inverse ratio of wine bottle labels' interestingness to deliciousness. (It's true- the best tasting wines always have the plainest or ugliest labels. Go figure.) Since I was on vacation and wasn't going to be operating any heavy machinery, I bought 3 wee bottles of prosecco and some plums (which for some reason I haven't been able to find in Ithaca) and made myself a delicious little cocktail.

Okay, here's the part in my story that some folks may find troubling. After our shopping adventures, I shared with LB one of my obsessions: Alice Lee. There's an absolutely wonderful documentary on Harper Lee and both the book and film of To Kill a Mockingbird called
Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. It's fabulous. You should see it. Right now. I'm serious. It's that good. But in the midst of all this fabulousness and fantasticosity, there are numerous interview segments with Harper Lee's older sister, Alice. Miss Alice, at the time of filming, god bless her, was 99 years old and still went to work every day in the law office her father founded in Monroeville, Alabama. Alice is still adorable and sharp as a tack.


Imagine if Scarlett O'Hara ate E.T.
Imagine Tom Waits and Harvey Fierstein had a child and she was raised by Paula Deen.

It's indescribable. Really. I can only suggest you see it for yourself. (I looked everywhere but the clips that are posted online from the documentary don't include Alice.) I have no idea how she fits every vowel that exists into the word 'toys' and also manages to stretch those four letters out into about seven syllables. Of course, it appears that my one true talent in this life is being able to do a spot-on imitation of Alice Lee, which I proceeded to do until my throat was raw and LB was millimeters from peeing herself.

Every time I visit LB, I make her go somewhere she's never been or do something she's never done, which annoys her to no end. I had found a BBQ place in Hartford called Black-Eyed Sally's that I wanted to try. Even though it meant driving and going "downtown" (which is just a few blocks from where she works everyday) she agreed. However, we were still kind of full from our large Italian lunch and as we sat down, realized we were not exactly ravenous.

Explosion served.
And LB had been experiencing stomach troubles, more acutely described as being "backed up." (She's so gonna kill me.) She explained to me, as we looked through the menu, that since she was so uncomfortably 'full,' she was just going to order dessert. So the nice young man came over to our booth, I ordered burnt endz & fried catfish bits, and then the waiter looked over at LB. "I just want a chocolate explosion," she said. I apparently practically dove across the table at her, screaming with laughter. She didn't get why I found it funny- I had to explain. She could've ordered Key Lime Pie. Rice Pudding. Cheesecake. Nope. Right after she's talking about constipation problems, she states that she just wants a chocolate explosion. (Yes. I am completely aware that I have a seven-year-old's sense of humor. I'm fine with it, thankyouverymuch.) She got chocolate explosion all over the front of her shirt, poetic justice being served.

Saturday, we went to breakfast at a place that serves traditional breakfast and Mexican food, side by side. I had a delicious California omelet with avocado and chorizo hash. LB defied convention by wearing a skirt. Something she has literally not done in years. (Again, with the doing things she's never done during my visits.) We went to the Downtown Book Club at the Library where she works. Even though neither of us had finished the book (I at least got to page 25; LB never even cracked the cover) we felt we owed it to E., who was leading the discussion, to show up as thanks for driving up to Springfield to rescue me from Amtrak. The book was Mister Pip and I irritated LB by calling it "Mr. Pibb" like the Dr. Pepper knockoff. I also irritated her by referring to the older white gentleman who works in the Local History Section as "Mr. Pibb."

"You! To hell you go!"
Since we'd driven by several times since I started visiting LB, I asked if we could please go across the street from the library and see the Ancient Burial Grounds with the creepy pointing Puritan man statue. It's amazing. Surrounded by high-rise office buildings, there's this little patch with these ancient gravestones, the oldest of which marks someone who died in 1648. Since we were on a roll with the skirt and the walking and sightseeing, I asked LB if I could get a closer look at the Bushnell Park archway. It's beautiful. She admitted that despite living here all her life (except 4 years of college in Ithaca), she'd never seen the archway up close.

Then she took me to the train station Sunday, realizing for the first time that the park, the archway, the burial grounds and other such things downtown were all a few blocks from each other. "You have opened up Hartford to me," she said with total sincerity. I did not laugh. We made plans for our next vacation together, she hugged me goodbye & I got on my train, which was, mercifully, on time.

Since there's always at least a two-hour layover in Springfield before the next train comes to take me to Syracuse, I decided to look around. The Springfield station has no wi-fi, just a couple of vending machines, and incredibly uncomfortable hard plastic chairs. When I was planning my trip and trying to see if there was anything interesting within walking distance of the train station, I saw that the Seussian Memorial Gardens at the Springfield museums were only four blocks away. So when my train arrived in Springfield at 12:15pm, I decided to go take a look.

The blocks around the train station are decidedly not "good." There's a plethora of really scuzzy-looking "gentleman's clubs" and a whole hella lotta garbage. But the Seussian gardens are fantastic. Dr. Seuss was born in Springfield and they have sculptures of his most famous creations cavorting around the courtyard of the museums. (Which are also pretty cool- five different museums all grouped together for one ticket price.) But as I was walking back to the train station, I was stopped by a strung-out lady asking me for change so she could "make bail." She said she'd won $2 on a lottery ticket but "every little bit helps." I apologized and told her I had no change at all. And then walked as fast as I could in the 97 degree heat without looking scared.

Get yer hot soup here!
The return trip is much longer than it needs to be because there's a two-hour stop in Albany–Rensselaer. This station, while well cared for, makes the Syracuse station look like an oasis. Debunking the rule that all train stations only have a Dunkin' Donuts & a Subway, the Albany–Rensselaer station only has a coffee shop that serves hot soup. Yup. July 8th, temps in the high 90s. Just got off the train. How about a piping hot cup of soup? With a nice boiling coffee to boot? FOOD FAIL.

My train was only 20 minutes behind when we finally arrived in Syracuse. It seems like the last couple hours of a journey like this are always the longest and the hardest. Especially when there is a woman with a very high-pitched voice yammering on in Indian on her cell phone (loudly) nonstop for a solid hour and forty-three minutes. Not kidding. Even my headphones couldn't drown her out. I almost wished I understood the language so I could know what the hell she had to talk about for nearly two hours. Almost. Almost.

And a brief piece of advice to fellow or future travelers? Don't wear flip-flops. Please. You're going to be spending several hours sitting fairly uncomfortably close to another human being you've probably never met before, someone you know nothing about. I really, truly, sincerely, don't want to see that much of your feet near me. I know, you're thinking, "It's not like I'm sticking them in your face. I just want to be comfortable!" Well, you are actually sticking them in my face when you get so caught up in your game of solitaire on the world's largest laptop ever, and you cross your foot over your knee and bob that foot up & down inches away from the book where my eyes are directed, girl in too-short denim cut-offs with filthy soles. And you- boy who thinks he's curled up into a comfy little ball in his seat- your grimy toes are dug into the seat cushion mere inches from me. And keep skittering closer to me with each light snore you exhale. Please. People. Keep your socks on.