the littlest anarchist

I have mentioned, I think, that dogs and kids like me. I understand the dog thing – I’m around them pretty much constantly, I speak their language as well as I can in this funny hominid body, and I can read theirs pretty well. It’s the kids I don’t understand. I’m not a Kid Person. I think of them much as I think of dogs, which is: this is a small critter with a limited vocabulary, no sense of impulse control, and can move like the damn wind when they have a mind to do it. I often pat them on the head, which is all their fault because they’re within head-patting range.

"You're really cute, but I have no idea what you're saying!"

“You’re really cute, but I have no idea what you’re saying!”

One of my Occupy friends, Pappy, decided to do me the world’s biggest favor by attacking my back yard with machete (I told you about Florida gardening and machetes), shovel, hedge loppers, and bare hands, turning the overgrown weedy jungle into a swathe smooth as a dog park. All I had to do was keep him company, keep Josie from being too much of a nuisance, and provide a lift to and from where he lives, a house full of people called the Anarchist Sweat Shop.

I am one hundred percent not making this up. They’re a bunch of activists and related ne’er-do-wells who protest, study, and garden. There are a few cats running about the place, tons of people, and I am told two Costa Rican tarantulas. They live off the grid as much as possible in a sizable city like this one, gleaning expired food at supermarkets, dumpster diving for stuff, growing tons of food of their own. They’re always working on projects, building stuff, growing stuff. It’s like one of my mother’s Back In The Day stories come to life, but with more spiders and internet, and she was tickled pink when I told her about them.

I don’t know these people very well because I’m me and nearly criminally awkward-shy, especially in a crowd, but the youngest one, little Kriz, has decided I’m good people, and since he is three years old I have no idea what to do with that.

HOW DO I FUNCTION AS A HUMAN BEING?

HOW DO I FUNCTION AS A HUMAN BEING?

This is where the funny story of yesterday starts: we rolled up in my car, I pulled halfway into the driveway, Pappy ran off to grab something for me, and little Kriz ran up to say hi. He then brought me a milk crate from a stack out front. (Inside my head: Dog brings ball. Kid brings crate. Okay, I get it, I think.) He handed me the crate and I took it to put it back on the stack, saying something about “hon, I don’t need that, but thank you.”

Somewhere during this little exchange, everyone else vanished. Oh hell.

I figured if I could distract the boy for a few minutes, somebody else would turn up eventually, and — see above re: Awkward and Shy, I wasn’t going to bring him inside because I pretty much need written invitations into other peoples’ space and that’d be Intruding — so I grabbed a seat on the milk crate to talk to Kriz. He tried to hoist himself up onto a stack of two next to me, failed, and then gave me this look like “You’re supposed to lift me up here.” So I did.

It occurred to me that introductions were probably in order, so I told him my name and asked for his. I held out my hand to shake it (I. AM. SO. AWKWARD. JESUS. CHRIST.) and he offered me his tiny hand, very solemnly, which he wrapped around two of my fingers.

“I had a sandwich,” he told me, and then he bounced off the crate stack like a flea and went straight for my car, which still sat idling with the driver’s door open, half in the driveway and half in the street.

“CAN I PLAY DRIVING?” he asked, halfway in.

I went through some very quick thoughts there. One: kids told not to do things they want to do often cry about it, and the only thing I know how to deal with less than a child is an upset one. Two: if my mother, my dogs, and my own self haven’t killed that car, a three-year-old boy probably can’t within the space of five minutes. And then three: I hope that’s all right with whoever’s minding him because he’s already in. “Lemme just turn it off,” I said, reaching in and pulling the keys out of the ignition, and redirecting him away from pulling the gearshift. “Go on, go drive.”

He couldn’t see over the steering column, so he knelt up on the seat, tugging the bottom of the wheel ineffectually – fortunately it locks when shut off – and then laid into the horn. He looked at me with an ear-to-ear grin and did it again.

This is when everyone reappeared, when my Awkward-Ass Stranger self had let their kid goof around inside her car, honking the horn, pulling the wheel, yanking every lever within reach.

To my surprise, nothing ended in calamity. We coaxed little Kriz out of my car — and he then told me that the window was up with such determination that I put it down, even though I’d be putting it right back up after, because the weather is broken and on the day after the Winter Solstice the high was eighty-five degrees. I got a hug and a crate full of veggies and snacks, and then was on my way — with my left blinker and the windshield wipers both going at a rapid clip, because levers must be pulled.

I don’t know how these things happen. I really don’t. Kids gravitate towards me and I do not understand because I am as maternal as a coral polyp. The last significant amount of time I spent with children of any age, I was that age too. I have no idea what to do around them. But they like me anyway. I don’t understand this at all.

we burn our dead

According to the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia in 1222 the Estonians even disinterred the enemy’s dead and burned them. It is thought that cremation was believed to speed up the dead person’s journey to the afterlife and by cremation the dead would not become earthbound spirits which were thought to be dangerous to the living. [Cite.]

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t had my medication adjusted back in September. I’d been a shambling zombie of depression, and while I can’t say that it won’t come back, because that monster always does, I’ve got a bit of distance from it now.  Most of the time. Not always. But I’m doing better.

One thing the medication hasn’t fixed is that I feel like a blatant fraud whenever I go Do The Things, and most of the time I am desperately hoping a Designated Responsible Adult will show up. That’s anxiety, more than depression, but they feed off each other. Round and round they go. You’re not fooling anybody, it says, trying to be responsible when we both know half an hour ago you were outside catching lizards.

Which is why yesterday — or today; it’s the dark hours of the night — was so interesting.

My family kept trying to talk me out of showing up to my uncle’s memorial. You don’t have to go, they said; your mom’s doing her physical rehab and might need you around; you just lost a friend this week already. But I thought about Thich and the things I learned from him, and decided that if they wanted me to be there, I’d be there. Like nursing Riley through her final illness, or being there during Miss Clavel’s surgery, it wasn’t about me, it was about what I could give.

I spoke with the younger of my two cousins about it. I told her, “It’s up to you, if you guys want me there, I’ll be there.” She thought about this a bit and said, “Okay. I’m going to be selfish, I want to see you.” So it was decided.

Then there was a mad rush to get appropriately funereal clothes because, although we are a clan of lulzy derps, we stick to the Old World Traditions in the weirdest ways. You always turn out properly for big life events like weddings and funerals, and we’re fussy about cutlery too. And superstitions, but I’ve already written about those.

Amber gave me a nice spaghetti-strap dress, and at the thrift I found a cardigan to put over it (my aunt thought they were a set, they went so well) and clompy platform sandals that delighted my inner grunge teenager.

I was all on track, everything ready, when Josie threw a wrench into my plans by developing spontaneous and slightly horrific GI difficulties. She had a bad case of splatterbutt, is what I’m getting at, and she had it in the house. A few times. All night.

It seems that every time I wind up at a familial gathering I do so on very little sleep and too much coffee.  I really wish I knew why this happens. I probably don’t eat enough herring.

I promise, it starts getting funny now.

I woke up in a rush after snoozing my phone alarm for a solid hour, and panicked my way through coffee, checking on Josie, taking Josie out, taking a shower, taking Josie out, more coffee, an unexpected rambling call from Miss Clavel where she asked for my opinion but really wanted me to validate hers and argued when I didn’t agree, and then more coffee. Amber, who along with her boyfriend has been staying with me the past week and will for a bit longer, was helpful by occasionally yelling YOU’RE STILL UP, RIGHT? She knows me so well.

Note that at no point was food involved, though I did manage to remember my meds.

I called the vet to double-check which bland food is best for dogs with splatterbutt, and after I told them what was up (Josie, problem, funeral soon, ARGH ARGH ARGH HELP) the guy on the phone said the best thing anyone could say at that point.

“Says here you have the wellness plan, so if you want, you can drop her off here and we’ll take a look at her while you’re busy.”

What I heard: “FREE PUPPY DAYCARE. CLEANED UP AFTER BY PROFESSIONALS. YOU WILL NOT COME HOME TO A CRATE THAT HAS BECOME A SEPTIC TANK.”

Thus it was that when I dashed out the door in my psedo-WASP funeral garb, but with my pink running shoes on because I wasn’t wearing the others until I had to, toting my purse, my backpack with civvies inside, and my water bottle, I also had not-so-little-anymore Josie tagging along, farting pungently as she went.

IMG_20130911_113017

This is not from that morning, but it adequately shows her WHO ME? face. I love that stinkin dog.

When we got to the vetshop I went tearing through to the back, where I tried to compose myself, and what came out was more or less this: “Hi I do not want to be that jerk but I am running so late to a funeral it’s like a hundred damn miles and I talked to people on the phone earlier about my dog having gut issues and someone said they’d keep her here and look at her while I’m at the funeral and. God. Sorry.” Then I breathed back in.

In a Nice Dress and battered pink and grey running shoes. As one does.

After filling out some forms (Please give us a description of fecal consistency: Evil pudding) and handing my pup over, I was back on my way. I got on the highway, made sure Josie hadn’t eaten the directions I’d copied the night before, cranked the radio up, and put the pedal down.

Some thirty minutes later, I got off on the right exit, but then everything else went wrong.

I have a problem with Lakeland/Winter Haven, or maybe more accurately it has a problem with me. It doesn’t want me there. I’m like a homing pigeon with a magnet strapped to its head. It does not help that none of the roads are straight, each of them has three names, and they seem to alternate which name is advertised on the street signs at random. There is nothing resembling any kind of highway or other Road Upon Which One Quickly Covers Ground once you get off the interstate. You have to drive slowly, not only because the signs say so, but also because the retirees boxing you in with Lincoln Towncars give you no choice in the matter.

Were they drunk when they laid all the roads out?

Were they drunk when they laid all the roads out?

I did not ask my aunt for directions because, bless her, I can never understand the way she gives them. I think like a GPS: I need street signs, lefts and rights. She counts stop lights and names landmarks. So instead of, say, scooting along until I hit Old Dixie Highway (this is a real road out there) and going right, she would have me in a permanent panic wondering if this Burger King is the one that has the IHOP at the intersection where I need to turn left and keep going until there’s a Walgreens at which point I turn right and wait for the enormous row of factories and there’s a kinda-left there.

(If/when you read this, you know I love you, right?)

My directions worked, and I got where I needed to go. The funeral home had its name prominently blazoned on a big sign, and it was next to a cemetery, and it had two cars parked out front. I wondered if I’d missed the ceremony. I contorted myself in the car, taking off my sneakers and putting on The Clompy Tall Shoes, put my sweater on demurely over my fuchsia bra straps, grabbed my bag, and went inside. I asked a nice old man at the front desk if I’d missed the service for my uncle.

It turned out that while it is a local business, they have expanded operations and have two facilities in Winter Haven. The memorial was at the other one.

FFFFUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHH.

“Okay,” I said to the nice old man, and I wish I could have seen my face because a mix of Trying To Be Polite and Trying Not To Panic probably makes me look like a murderous axe-wielding maniac, “how do I get there?”

He started to talk about lefts and rights and a 7-11 and an apartment building. I held up a hand and said, “I’d better write this down.” He ambled off to look for paper, and I fished for a pen in my purse. I came up with the sonic screwdriver that lights up and makes noises, right as he came back.

Correction: I must have looked like a maniac about ready to kill someone with some kinda whiz-bang plastic toy.

The nice old man, who I am sure deals with weirder things than me in his line of work every day, proceeded to start saying exactly what he was saying before, except this time he drew me a map on an enormous sheet of paper as he talked.

whut.

What.

I thanked him, confused, then went back to the car, where I turned it on and stared at the map. I was already forgetting things. The big round part was a lake, obviously, and the long hatched line was a railroad track, and the other lines were intersections, but not all of them and… huh?

Then I noticed the address in the corner (Josie nommed it a bit on our way home later) and, deciding that technology was the better part of valor, I plugged it into the Google Maps thing on my phone.

A button popped up: Get Directions.

I pushed it.

A canned tinny voice said, “Turn left. Turn left.”

HOLY SHIT MY PHONE HAS A GPS NAVIGATOR IN IT!

I found my way to the other funeral home without incident, but very slowly, and as I pulled up I was over an hour late. I noticed that I did indeed pass a 7-11 and some railroad tracks and a “thing like a hill with apartments on it but you don’t turn up there.”

This other funeral home had a parking lot jam-packed and two people standing outside. I pulled into what should have been a parking spot and rolled my window down. They walked to me.

“Is this the memorial for [uncle]?” Yes, it was, and the reception was underway. “Great. Where can I park?” They said it wasn’t marked as a parking spot, but it certainly looked like one. “Hey, as long as I don’t get towed, I’m happy.” They doubted I would be. “I’m sorry. I’m from Tampa.” They said that was okay.

I think I said that last bit about ten times, in different places.

Inside I found a very somber-looking man in a suit who led me to the reception area when I asked where it was. As soon as I was in the room my aunt spotted me. She is very small and moves very quickly. What she said next came out as one big word as she latched on and squeezed me.

“OHHJULIEHIIISOGOODTOSEEEYOUUUUU.” Breath. “The service was hysterical! I’m sorry you missed it! He kept cracking jokes, one after another, it was so funny.”

… my family, ladies and gentlemen. You see where I get it.

I apologized for being late, and was told it was wonderful I was there at all, and then I got led around to find people I knew. There weren’t many; the local Estonian Contingent has gotten pretty small since the immigrant generation died, and some of the others didn’t show up. But I got to see my cousins, both daughters of the deceased and another somewhat more distantly related, and we all caught up. Especially the latter; he and I had run around at my uncle Hans’ place on Anna Maria (my grand-uncle, his grandfather) when we were kids, and I hadn’t seen him in forever, so I got thoroughly interrogated.

He and I talked about the cremation thing, which was funny. “We go the Viking way,” he said. I told him what I’d learned from Wikipedia, about ghosts.

Everyone wanted to hear about the Buddhist funeral. Everybody. My aunt clearly had played Telephone with that piece of news, telling everyone that I’d been to a Buddhist funeral. So first I had to explain that it wasn’t properly a funeral, and things got more confusing from there.

During all of that I was reminded, repeatedly, that there was food, and asked if I’d grabbed anything to eat, and there are drinks over there, and have you seen the food? Our family motto, if we had one: “There’s food!” I located the coffee, because at that point I was starting to fade, and Army Cousin and I spent a while happily eating the little brownies and boston-cream puffs and did you TRY this thing with strawberry and chocolate?

There’s food! It’s right here! GO EAT.

There was even funereal water. Who makes that, I wonder?

There was even funereal water. Who makes that, I wonder?

I got hugged repeatedly by everyone I knew, and was told that they loved me and were so happy to see me. That felt really good, and was also unexpected, because being the Mentally Ill Black Sheep means I didn’t get out to the non-death-related shindigs and didn’t hear much from anybody, and was not sure whether I particularly mattered. I’ve wondered for years whether that lack of communication is because people tend to shy away from The Crazy, or whether it was the general inability to do anything that made people stop reaching out. I’m still not sure. I didn’t ask; it didn’t seem the right time for it.

After more hugs and jokes and pictures and swapping email addresses and phone numbers and DID YOU EAT, people started to disperse. (Funny sidenote: I was right about the clothes. It was warm in there, so I shed my sweater and apologized for the fuchsia bra straps. My aunt said, “Do whatever makes you comfortable,” but then said she’d have to photograph me from the neck up, so I put it back on. Meanwhile someone else, I’ve no idea who, had a zebra-striped miniskirt.)

My aunt and my cousins asked me to stick around, so I did, and we chatted some more while everything was cleared away. I talked to the younger of the two about dogs; she’s got a lovely fawn and white Pit, and we went on a great tear about how it is so wrong the way those dogs are viewed, etc. I showed her a picture of Josie and she could not get over that ear.

The food was a problem; namely, that while the gathering was about as expected, none of them ate. Or, more accurately, none of them ate enough. PEOPLE, YOU WERE TOLD THERE WAS FOOD. I said I’d be happy to take some home, and before I knew it I had a buffet tray the size of a manhole cover filled with croissant sandwiches.

Go to a funeral, get sent home with leftovers. Hey, grab a bottle of soda too.

I dug my backpack out of my car and happily changed back into my regular clothes. We loaded everything into the cars, took more pictures, and then they left. I waited a bit longer, calling the vet back (they were on their lunch break) and getting the WHOA I HAVE A GPS NAVIGATOR set up so that I’d make my way back to I4 and not wind up in Lake Okeechobee.

Then I drove. A lot. The drive back was probably shorter than the drive to, but it didn’t feel like it. I had, at that point, only had two cups of coffee and a couple of brownies and chocolatey things. I was operating on four hours of sleep. I was going to crash hard at some point and I knew it.

I met someone interesting at the gas station.

I met someone interesting at the gas station.

Let me tell you: Polk discombobulates me so thoroughly that when I was finally on the ramp to I4 and the GPS was saying “Go left. Go left.” I still wound up heading east on the damn highway for a mile until the next exit before I could get turned around properly.

Driving back was better: I trusted the GPS to an extent, I was in no big hurry, and I was wearing jeans and sneakers again. But I knew the inevitable caffeine-chocolate-sugar-exhaustion collapse was coming. And I still had to get my dog.

I could feel myself relax once I was back in places where I knew what the highway exits were. No big surprise, after so much being lost, but it was still a mistake. Relaxing invites the tiredness.

It's good to come home after a busy day. Yes, I was driving; no, I was not distracted. I just fired the camera button a few times. This one worked. Shoot from the hip, or as it was, the dashboard.

It’s good to come home after a busy day. Yes, I was driving; no, I was not distracted. I just fired the camera button a few times. This one worked. Shoot from the hip, or as it was, the dashboard.

The highway led right to the road which led right to the vetshop, so I got there, texted Amber something about bless the mother of God and all her wacky nephews for I am home again, got out of the car, and headed for the bathroom just as quickly as I’d headed for the vet desk that morning.

“We’re really busy,” the guy manning the desk told me. “Might be a while.”

“Long as I’m not in the car I’m happy. I had to go to Winter Haven.”

“Is that near Ocala?”

“Felt like it.”

Once I finally got to talk to the vet, I was feeling the beginning of The Crash. The tests ruled out giardia, and the vet said likely it was Stupid Puppy Ate Thing She Shouldn’t Have, or perhaps an intolerance to new kibble, and would probably resolve itself in a day or two. But they had dewormers and antibiotics ready. We talked about the bland food — finally I had my answer, and I had been right all along, boiled chicken and white rice.

I said I’d like to see if it resolved on its own, with bland food and more of the old kibble, which they had little bags of. Then, if it didn’t, I’d come back and get medicine. He said that sounded great.

I am so used to vets who all but shove medicine at you and adopt the nuke-it-from-orbit medication strategy while assuming the pet owner knows jackshit. It was really nice to be taken seriously. Since my previous vet was leaving, I asked if this one could be my new usual vet. He seemed happy about that.

I finally collected Josie, who peed all over the floor in her excitement to see me again, and we headed home.

Later, while I was outside with my dog, I caught a lizard, because guess what, anxiety? I totally can handle shit like an adult at the vet, and go to a funeral in nice clothes, and drive around and get lost and get home okay, and anxiety, you can suck it.

Responsible Adult Catches Lizard: news at eleven.

Responsible Adult Catches Lizard: news at eleven.

a teacher and a friend

The old woman in the wheelchair was outside the front door of the building, slowly skittering the chair along with her feet, because old folks’ arms tend not to be strong, particularly ones who stay in places like this.

I asked her if she’d like a push, and she said okay if it was no trouble for me, not fully believing it. I said it wasn’t trouble at all, because it wasn’t. She sort of protested, and I playfully argued it off — “these things are easy to drive around, you just tell me where you’re headed!” Having a guide was nice, too. It turned out she was headed to the same floor I was, so I drove her to the elevator, turned her around inside it, and left her in the open area by the elevators on the second floor. “You’re going that way,” she said, “and I have to go this way. Thank you so much.”

“Okay,” I told her. “You have a good day, honey.” Because I am so Southern it hurts, sometimes.

That was no trouble at all for me. A hell of a lot of work, it seemed, for her. So why not offer to do it?

My mother’s in a place where they do physical rehab for the elderlies, because on the second-most recent hospital visit she fell and hit her head — the nurses at Memorial are idiots — and then at the most recent one, they suggested she do the physical therapy and rehab to improve her mobility, which could use improvement, and decrease the falling, which is what all this hospital business was about to begin with.

My friend John died last weekend; I wrote about him here before. I’ve been thinking a lot about John, or Thich which was his monk name, and the things I’ve learned from him. A lot more than I’d realized I learned, which is something he would have gotten a kick out of: whenever I think about a conversation we had, or something he taught me, it twists around and turns into something new. That’s so very like him; that’s how he was. He’d take an idea, turn it around, tilt it against the light, make it look like something different, and then ask how everyone else saw it.

What color is your mind?

I attended a memorial for him tonight, after I visited my mother; it was a haphazard combination of a memorial and poetry-slam night for Veterans For Peace at a coffeeshop I hadn’t visited in.. oh, a good ten years. I got to meet people I’ve gotten to know online, which was great. Lots of hugging. Activists like hugs. There were show tunes and spoken word and standup comedy; there were stories and remembrances and a slideshow video.

A Tibetan monk, who was here from Boston, told us about how he’d come to his understanding of loss through losing most of his friends and family to Chinese incarceration, then delivered a beautiful chant for the dead. A man with a group of traveling performers from Tennessee led us in a moment of silence, having us call out names of those gone or those alive who we felt we had parted badly from; several people called out names. I called one. A woman John had known led us all in an Indian folk song which is repeated four times; by the fourth, we all were singing along. It’s a powerful thing, though simple, to get a group of people all to do one thing together like singing or thinking or remembering or laughing. We had all of those things.

It was John’s sister Mary who nailed it though; she knew him best of all, though she had no idea how many lives he’d touched. When she went to inform everybody of what had happened, she took his phone and realized there were three-hundred-something names in there. She sent out texts; her phone rang nonstop for the week.

What she said stuck with me because it crystallized what I’d been thinking about him: that he was so kind, and so gentle, and so patient, that he always had time for anyone he met, regardless of color or gender or appearance or anything else, and if he could help, by teaching or feeding or listening, he would. And what she wanted us to do, to remember him, was to do those things: to help, to listen, to give, to people who need it.

The funny thing about that is, she could just as easily be talking about herself.

That is why, when I saw the old woman making her slow way to the door, I remembered my friend and I offered to help. Maybe I can only do small things, but hey, maybe I only need to do small things.

via wikimedia commonsThích Giác Ngộ, John William Missing, thank you for everything you gave me. I’ll miss you. I’m proud to call you a friend.

the ear glop of doom

Sometimes when you take your pet to the vet it’s like a modern re-enactment of a Herriot story: everyone is confident and capable, the animals are charming, the treatments are easily handled, and everyone laughs happily when the pet does something cute.

The rest of the time when you take your pet to the vet it’s like a modern re-enactment of the other Herriot stories: someone gets injured, there’s mysterious muck everywhere, nothing happens the way it should, and the laughter is forced if anyone even tries because what the hell a puppy should not do that.

Josie’s vet visit last week was the second kind, unfortunately, starting with some other dog bleeding on her on its way out of the groomer, and going downhill from there.

I like to think that if Danes could talk they would sound like Andre the Giant. "Hello!"

I like to think that if Danes could talk they would sound like Andre the Giant. “Hello!”

But we did meet a sweet and beautiful Great Dane, which makes up for a lot of trauma and drama. (Note: Josie has a tail. When she gets really excited it becomes invisible from wagging.)

Everything that could go wrong in an exam did. She flipped out and turned into a Feral Hellbeast when they tried to clip her claws. They tried taking her into the back, because sometimes the fight goes right out of a dog when the owner is not in the room. No dice; I heard her from the exam room. It sounded like someone was wrestling with an angry Jawa. They came out defeated and removed the claw-clip from the bill. The temperature and fecal loop somehow released a bad rawhide-induced case of splatterbutt all over the floor.

I asked for a microchip to be installed, although they recommended doing it during the spay while she would be unconscious, because I felt worlds of uneasy with an unchipped puppy scampering around. Besides, I reasoned — and explained — I’d had plenty of dogs chipped during exams and they all took it fine, even Buster of the Terrible Howling. That.. that didn’t go so well either, though they got it in once they reassembled the needle. The ear exam went well, as far as damage or befoulment, but it turned out the pup’s got a yeast infection in her ears.

I’m sure they were happy to see the back of us, leaving armed with a paper bag full of printouts and otic medication.

There were two medications: one small foil tube of ooze that is to be squeezed deep into her ear, and then one big bottle of stuff that smells like vinegar and artificial apple scent, which I figure is supposed to mask the vinegar but doesn’t do it at all.

I figured that, at least, would be okay; I’ve had to dose many a dog’s ear (and cat’s too) in my time, and aside from the inevitable bit where they shake it off and get it in my eye or up my nose, there’s never been a real problem.

Not so, said little Josie. She’d been prodded, asculcated, injected multiple times — kid, I didn’t say while they were chipping her, but I was thinking this, kid I’ve had bigger needles put through my ears and I didn’t yell about it — and, of course, the indignity of things being put up her butt. Josie wanted revenge.

I thought it would be so easy. Flip her ears up, hold her head, squirt glop into each ear, flip ears back down, massage to get it deep into the inner workings of her recording apparatus. Nope. Josie did her rabid Jawa impression again. I think it was fear or panic, not pure I KEEL YOU aggression; once I backed off she was calm and contrite, licking my fingers, licking her nose, rolling her eyes away to placate me, flattening her ears, pawing at the air, making herself small while edging near me for comfort.

Here’s the weird thing: I can put my hands in her ears up to the shoulder and she doesn’t care. I can swab in there with cotton balls until I am massaging her little peanut brain and her eyes roll back in her head because it feels good. But a bottle — or a foil tube — with an applicator, that makes noises? Panic. Biting, clawing, snarling, weasels-in-a-sack panic.

The worst thing you can do with a scared dog is escalate, so brute force was out. I had to get tricky about this. I needed a pleasant way to distract her while I deftly put the glop in her ears. This way she would learn that otic medicine is not the end of her life, and also that it comes with some kind of delicious reward. Hopefully, I thought, it would desensitize her to the feeling until I could dig around in those ears with salad spoons if I wanted.

I don’t know about that last part, yet, but I’ve hit a system that works. I will detail it here.

1. Get good sized glob of peanut butter out of jar with right pinky finger.
2. Close jar while puppy climbs on me; prepare Remicin for quick deployment.
3. Smear peanut butter all over roof of Josie’s mouth. The more it’s spread, the more she has to work on it.
4. With pinky outstretched like I’m making tea, grab Remicin tube.
5. Grab/scruff pup with left hand.
6. Ninja-dose her ears with Remicin while she works on the NOM NOM PEANUT BUTTER DELICIOUS OM NOM NOM.
7. Put cap back on Remicin—
7.1. Retrieve cap from puppy.
7.2. Stop puppy from licking peanut buttery hands.
7.3. Stop puppy from licking Remicin tube because it goes in the ears and not in the mouth, dummy.
7.4 Put cap back on Remicin, put it and peanut butter jar away.
8. Give up and let puppy lick my whole hand up to the elbow just in case she missed any of the peanut butter that was only ever on my little finger.
9. Wash. Thoroughly.
10. Rub puppy’s ears which create the most delightfully nasty icky-squishy noises. She likes that part. MMM. EARSQUISHY.
11. Wash hands again because that stuff gets everywhere.

The good news is that now my bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen are now protected from otic yeast infections.  The bad news is that my deck smells like fake green-apple douche.

You're lucky you're so cute, kid.

You’re lucky you’re so cute, kid.

my jungle in the monsoons

I think, in the entirety of August, there has been one day where we didn’t get rain. That one day was overcast and threatening thunder out on the edges, so it barely counts. There was rain, it just didn’t land here.

Little Josie has a problem with this; she is a special sparkly wonderprincess and does not like walking in wet. She avoids puddles, she has to be dragged onto wet grass to do her doings, she fusses about damp toes. Considering that the entirety of her time with me has involved ALL OF THE RAIN and we’re still working on housebreaking, this has been a bit of a problem.

My deck, which is untreated wood that is frayed and shredded, marked with the scratches of several dogs’ worth of claw marks from a sudden takeoff, is slick on the surface with sudden algae. Once the wet season ends I’m going to have to sand and seal it. If it ends. I’m wondering about that, by now.

Yesterday when the rain stopped I went out into the back with Josie, with the intent to to haul her protesting into the damp grass (taller than she is, in places, despite a recent mow) to do what needed doing. My house, designed very badly, has eaves with no rain gutters so that everything drips straight down half a foot away from the house walls. It also includes a light fixture next to the back door, so at night when the light is on, the frogs and bugs gather there: the bugs entranced by the light, the frogs following along for easy pickings.

As I stepped out, something cool and wet landed on the back of my neck. My hair, pulled into a ponytail loop sort of thing, undid itself. There was a tiny bit of pressure, an opposing force, and I saw a light-grey septentrionalis zing away from shoulder level and onto the deck at my feet. It hopped off to safety, whatever that is for a frog.

A few nights ago I saw a much smaller frog, barely old enough to have shed its tail and found its way to the all-night diner of my back light, sneak up to snag a moth as long as it was, but much slenderer.

The wild things adore this rain. At night, the cicadas and crickets are almost drowned out by the creaking trill of frogs. They come to the gutters and puddles and weed-choked drainage ditches to breed, each singing about how it is the best frog, the strongest, the loudest, the only frog any prospective mates should consider. It’s a wonderful sound; the sort of thing I’ll miss about Florida if I ever leave this place.

There is a little brown anole which comes back every night to sleep in the same clump of Spanish moss. It sleeps vertically, tethered in the tangle of moss, with its tail curled and its head pointed up. I have not disturbed it, though I have walked by close enough to breathe on it. Either it did not notice me or its prey response was to stay motionless and hope I didn’t see it. I nearly didn’t, but the opalescent belly-scales of an anole are something I’m well used to picking out from all the other patterns in my tiny patch of nature.

The heat index today, about eleven in the morning, was a hundred and seven. The actual temperature was eighty-six. I wish I could handle heat better. I wish it didn’t send me reeling indoors, looking for a glass of ice with a splash of water inside and a cool flat surface to lie on.

The only dissonant part of this grand system is me, and my species, and the things we do. The plants and animals know how to handle this; they revel in the bounty of bugs and seeds and berries. The flowers attract bees and butterflies, the frogs congregate in the lamplight for moths when they’re not breeding in the standing water, the spiny-backed orbweavers build dizzying webs that reach from the leaf-littered ground to the oak canopy above.

(Then I walk into them, and splutter, and ask the spiders if we need to have a little talk because at this point they ought to know I walk there, so why do they keep putting webs there, it’s not that I don’t appreciate what you do, spiders, I quite like all the bug killing you do, but can you perhaps do it somewhere ELSE?)

Everything fits but me. Something has to change: either I need to make of myself a person that lives more easily in this, or I need to find a place that is more suited to what I already am. But the rainy season will draw to a close, August edges into September which dries, and then October which cools, and I’ll forget about this until next summer when another frog flings itself at me, for frog reasons I’ll never know.

carpe canem

I decided, after losing Logan, that that was it. I was done. No more dogs. I’d lost two in ten months. I know that cancer is common in Boxers, and I know that sudden cardiac failure happens to dogs of any breed much more often than we’d expect, but to hit both in so short a time? No. I was fucking done being shredded by love of dogs.

I was mad as hell. Fate, The Universe, God Herself, whatever — we were again not on speaking terms. But worse than after Riley, because Logan was so young, and so hurt, and deserved more life than that. We’d just gotten started, I kept saying and thinking, we were only getting started.

So I decided: no more. I wasn’t going to look for a Third Dog. I didn’t check Craigslist or the HSTB website or the Falkenburg shelter. No. That was it. If Fate or The Universe or God Herself wanted me to have another dog, it/she was going to have to put this third dog right in my face with the equivalent of neon signs and angels holding trumpets and anvils dropping and sky writing and everything else I couldn’t possibly ignore, because: Fuck. This. Loss. Thing.

You don't want to know what I had to put into GIS to find this.

You don’t want to know what I had to put into GIS to find this.

Let me tell you about Fate, The Universe, God Herself: it/she is always up for a dare. Because a week or so after coming to this decision (which was a while after thinking it over) and then the day after expressing it to a friend of mine, I got my message. On Facebook, of all places. A friend of mine had sent her dog to a trainer; that trainer shared a photo sent in by another client of a puppy in need of a home.

THAT. FAAAACE.

THAT. FAAAACE.

I looked at this picture and thought, my god, she reminds me of Riley. Not a pure Boxer, no, but there is so much Boxer in that pup, especially in the face. All right, Fate, The Universe, God Herself — consider that anvil dropped. So I inquired.

I didn’t expect to hear back, but I did.

This puppy had been found wandering on her lonesome on a road out in Sarasota, with no people or dogs or anything else around. She was very young, still had her milk teeth, playful and affectionate, liked to sleep on pillows, responsive to people. They had checked her for a microchip, called in at local shelters and vets, posted found ads, but nobody contacted them. Sounds to me as though the pup had been dumped out there.

I told the woman about Riley and Logan, the whole time expecting the conversation to end there, because like I said before I was feeling marked somehow, like I was an unwilling Killer Of Dogs. Instead she listened to it all and told me: “You sound like you need a puppy!”

It did make sense. Here was a puppy in need of a home. There I was with a home in sudden need of a dog.

I thought about the million ways this could be wrong (thanks ever so, anxiety) and the other ways it could be right. A puppy. A puppy. A fresh little dog-mind without all the trauma Logan had, and me bolstered with all of the good new training methods I learned with Riley and then Logan. Another rescue, like Logan; another dog in need of a second chance and a real home.

There was something else to it, too; something about Logan, that encouraged me to go for it. Our time together was so short, but so important. If I’d dithered and hesitated when I first met him, his story might have ended in that shelter while I was trying to make up my mind. We didn’t have long; we didn’t bond as closely as Riley and I had done, no. But there was a lesson to learn from Logan, that life is short and time is precious and go ahead and DO something before your chance is gone. Seize the moment. Seize the dog-moment. Maybe just seize the dog. Not carpe diem, but carpe canem.

So I would carpe the hell out of this wee little canem, for Logan and Riley and for her own self too, because she needed a person and I needed a dog.

I thought long and hard about names, finally settling on Josie, because she so resembles a friend’s dog, named Curly Joe, and Josie seemed a logical feminization of that. It’s a cute name, a happy name, a friendly upbeat name, for what sounded like a happy pup.

We met up on a rainy Sunday, and without anywhere sheltered to get out and talk, I hopped into Josie’s rescuers’ car to talk to them and meet my new dog. She was so small, and so sweet, and so friendly. I loved her immediately. We talked a bit — we were already in touch and Friended and whatnot on facebook — and along with the pup I was given a big bag of kibble, and another bag with a bowl, rawhide chews, pee-pads, treats… everything you need. Just add puppy. There she was, suddenly mine on that rainy day, ready to come home.

We're home, Josie.

We’re home, Josie.

It doesn’t make Logan’s loss hurt less, having this puppy here. It doesn’t make that pain go away. But what Josie does is help me bear it, remind me (quite forcefully, if necessary) that okay, I may be sad, but there’s a whole fantastic world out there that needs to be sniffed and tasted and explored by her wonderful little self. I can grieve one dog while learning to love another.

I can have a dog. I can have this crazy pup, who chews my ears and steals my socks and likes to sleep on my head. I can train her with the methods I learned for and used on Riley and then Logan, and she learns quickly. I can play with her, snuggle her, walk her, feed her, be happy with her.

I can do for her the thing that was most important for Logan: I can be there with her. I can teach her that the world is okay. I can teach her to grow up without being afraid.

Today we went to the vet, for her puppy checkup and first round of boosters — since she was a stray with no prior medical history, it starts from the beginning — and there another amazing thing happened. The woman who rescued Josie got together with her boss and they paid for a year’s worth of a wellness program, which includes shots, boosters, her spay when she’s old enough, and all the clinic visits I might need. Which is good, because puppies do stupid things like eat bees. I would like to nominate these two as Dog-People Saints. When she told me over the phone today that they were covering the whole thing, I went all stuttery and stupid in my amazed gratitude. Um. Wow. I mean. I. Um. That’s, that’s, so HUGE, you’re amazing. Thank you. Thank you. So I go, sometimes.

I’m looking into psychiatric service dog training, to see if little Josie is eligible, but those seem to be like the Mystery Monkey of Pinellas: everyone’s heard of them, but nobody knows where I might find one. I’ll keep looking, and in the meantime Josie and I will figure out this crazy business of life together.

We need to talk about the sleeping arrangements.

We need to talk about the sleeping arrangements, kid.

geotagging

Short but simple post today. (Notice I am posting more? It’s a new thing. For me. That I’m doing.)

A video made the rounds on FB, today. It’s an interesting local-news clip of pure Tech Panic, this time about how HACKERS CAN FIND OUT WHERE YOU LIVE OMG THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

hide-your-kids-hide-your-wife

They’re hacking everybody!

Because the news is, you know, sane. and not at all sensationalized. Ever.

Most metadata is harmless, useful stuff: make and model of camera, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, so on and so forth. Flickr displays all of that proudly, because the Flickrati are all about the f/stops and we really dig being able to nitpick over whether the bokeh would be better or worse with a different aperture. As an example, view the metadata/EXIF page for one of my photographs on Flickr. See? It’s mostly jargony information.

But, master Photojedi, you may say, I don’t care about f/stops, I care about geotagging. First off, care about f/stops, photography is awesome. Secondly… I shall explain how to check for yourself if you’re not sure whether the phone’s really calling from inside the hou— I mean, not geotagging your photos.

One. Snap photo with phone, send to computer.

Two. Go to photo image. Do not view it; right-click it and view properties, like so:

infoThis is how you can view all the metadata assigned to each image you have.

Three: under properties, look for Details. You will see the same sort of metadata that is in my Flickr data page linked above. If you have geotagging turned on, you will also see a special location notice, GPS.

Blurry because screw you, is why.

Blurry because I am not where I ought to be.

All you have to do is go into the camera app and switch that geotagger off.

There is a reference page on Snopes about this; it points out that Facebook and Twitter automatically strip geolocation from images, which I find baffling because they make you opt out of geotagged text input on their apps. But nothing makes sense in this great big beautiful tomorrow ANYWAY, so I guess that’s all right.

Okay? No more panic now? You may return to submitting good stuff to Cute Overload and Dog Shaming.

on sinkholes

Whaaaaat

Eats up stairs

Alone or in pairs

And sucks em right into the ground

A hole, a hole, good god what a hole

Everyone knows the sinkhole!

In my senior year of high school, I took the Ecology class, which more specifically was Floridian Native Ecology And Other Supercool Things That I Wound Up Being Totally Into Despite Failing The Class. I had a lot going on at home and I was really good at hiding it. Still don’t know how I graduated. But that class gave me a firm grounding – hah – on the subject of sinkholes, aquifers, karst (not loess), saltwater inclusion, drought, water treatment, and all the other things that make Florida such a crumbly crust of sand to build upon.

Today I feel like sharing my knowledge with you. You are about to learn Sinkholes from a Genuine Lifelong Florida Girl. A defective one, mind, as I got the Estonian pallor and couldn’t tan at gunpoint, but a Floridian nonetheless. I instinctively do the stingray shuffle and I can identify bug bites by the welts they leave. I’ve earned my cred.

NOW THE DISCLAIMER: everything I am about to relate comes from the initial base of knowledge I learned in that class, bolstered by things I learned on the internet because I am a nerd and I like to spend hours learning about local geology in my free time. If I get something wrong, and you are in a position to know that for a fact and tell me what is the correct bit of information, PLEASE DO. Then I will edit this post, credit you for the corrections, and be more useful.

To explain this I need to get to very basic things and ancient history.

In the beginning, Florida was a sandbar barely peeking out from older, warmer oceans. The shellfish and tiny crustaceans that collected on it, over time, were calcified and compressed into limestone, which is porous, relatively fragile, and has a curious chemical reaction to acids like vinegar. (It was a fun day when we did Vinegar Rock Tests.) Limestone is made mostly of calcium carbonate, which is easily demolished by acids; if you drop ordinary white household vinegar on the stone, it will fizz impressively. It is not strong stuff, as rocks go, but it is perfect for the Floridan Aquifer. (Not Floridian. I don’t know why, don’t ask.)

Image via Wikipedia; fair use etc.

Image via Wikipedia & USGS.

The aquifer is made of porous limestone and water. Think of it as a saturated sponge, except the sponge is made of stone. This construction, a soluble waterlogged bedrock, is known as karst. There are lots of karst areas in the world; another that immediately comes to mind is the Yucatan cenotes, and I believe there’s another substantial one under the midwestern US, which has for decades supplied water to all of the farming that goes on out there.

This karst aquifer is a magnificent system. It has been tested by relentless nature for longer than humans have existed. It regulates itself. It functions just fine on its own terms. The problem is that those are not human terms.

Here’s how it goes: rain leaches through the soil and clay and sand, losing impurities as it goes. It sinks until it reaches the limestone bedrock which, being porous, absorbs and contains it. It stays there, circulating in a thousand beautiful subterranean rivers, until it burbles back to the surface in springs which feed rivers and streams.

Note I do not say lakes; although there are some spring lakelets (I’ve swum in beautiful Lithia which feeds the Alafia) most lakes in the Floridan Aquifer system are the result of sinkholes.

A sinkhole is simple enough. Water is dense and solid. So, too, is rock — even fragile rock like limestone. This delicate-seeming combination is quite sturdy and normally can support the ground above it. Sometimes, usually due to drought, the aquifer’s water level goes down. The limestone alone cannot support whatever is over it, so eventually gravity does what it does best and brings things crashing down. That is a sinkhole.

Most Florida lakes are sinkhole lakes: they began as sinkholes. Since water is always going down to the aquifer, it brings debris with it; if this plugs the hole, the water collects in the hole and becomes a lake. The lake then seeps into the ground and feeds the aquifer again, and all is well. On rare occasions, the aquifer level may drop and the hole may reopen, and where there once was a lake there is suddenly a dry mudflat.

Take a look at Google Maps, here; you can see all the natural sinkhole lakes, which are round, and then the manmade reservoirs which probably were built onto lakes, and are not round.

This is how karst functions. There is nothing wrong with this system. It’s been doing this since before our ancestors were still hiding from giant reptiles. The problem, as I said, is that it’s not very good for humans to live on.

Or, more accurately, I might say the problem is that humans do not know how to live on the karst.

For at least the past thirteen years, we’ve been under significant drought conditions. Not enough rain coming in, despite what we’d have you believe when we cry havoc about all the storms. Florida is also a very attractive place for farming, since the winters are so mild, and we can grow lots of things here that we cannot grow in many other places. All of this farming requires water, and lots of it: when the agriculture was getting started, it was not a problem, because the aquifer was full and seemed a perfect endless reservoir.

We’ve since learned that it is not, but we haven’t learned to slow down.

There are other elements at work here that I do not know as much about. Saltwater intrusion is one: when the fresh aquifer water is low, and it is near the sea, the saltwater will be pulled into the limestone. This does two things: it salinizes the fresh water and it erodes the limestone further. Another is the use of fertilizers, which acidify the groundwater and, again, cause more limestone erosion. The mixture of water and rock is precise, and dictated by nature: when this is out of whack, it all comes crashing in.

Refer to what I wrote above; when there isn’t enough water to support the limestone, it collapses into sinkholes. This has been happening more and more frequently lately, in places where it hadn’t been before, and that is directly due to pumping more water out of the aquifer than it can physically support.

We don’t seem to realize that we stand on water as much as on rock. Without the water, the rock can’t hold us.

in which the author beats an analogy to death

… and then revives it and beats it to death again. Because this is my best explanation for The Depression, as ridiculous as it is. Bear with me here, okay?

You. You with the depression. Inside your head is… Tokyo. It’s a wonderful thriving place, this in-your-head-Tokyo, full of beautiful and fascinating things. I am not saying this because real Tokyo is, although I’m sure it is; I’ve never been there. I’m saying it because you are, and I know you are because you’re human, and we’re all of us beautiful and fascinating and important.

Unfortunately, since you have The Depression, your lovely mental Tokyo has a monster. It’s got Godzilla. That is the depression, the monster in your head: it’s fucking Godzilla. It’s all stomping around and making that horrible screechy Godzilla noise and wrecking your city and scaring the hell out of you. Which is okay, it’s perfectly okay to be scared, because gigantic monsters that want to destroy you are scary. You’d be a whole different kind of nuts if you weren’t scared of it.

But there’s something mental-Godzilla can do that movie-Godzilla can’t: it sounds like you. Sometimes it sounds so much like you that you cannot tell whether the ideas you have are yours or Godzilla’s. And these threats it makes, these thoughts it has, can wreck the beautiful city of your innermost self. It’s hard to figure out which is which, when you’re in the grips of a monster attack, but from the outside there’s a pretty easy way to figure it out.

Is it a good thought, a healthy one, something that will make your life better? That’s you talking, even though you don’t believe a word you’re saying.

Is the thought harmful to you somehow? Is it saying you should give up or go away or fuck off or die? Tell Godzilla to shut its stupid monster mouth, because that. IS. NOT. YOU. It’s the monster. It’s a tricky monster, and it’s a very good mimic, but it is not you. Not now, not ever. It’s just a monster that comes up and tries to wreck what you’ve built, every once in a while.

The bad part about this is, so far, we don’t know how to kill Godzilla for good. You’ve seen the movies. That fucker always comes back. Just when you think it’s gone, there’s a tremor in the ground, a ripple in the water, and that screech that sounds like you — but isn’t, remember that, it is not you — saying DOOM AND BADNESS. It’s saying YOU’RE A WALKING CALAMITY AND EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING YOU KNOW WOULD BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT YOU. (Caps lock is how Mental Godzilla feels inside.)

This is, of course, completely bullshit. But it’s hard to realize that because it sounds like your voice, like your thoughts, and when you cannot trust your thoughts you are in a very bad way indeed.

Now. When Godzilla attacks, you have to fight back. There are things you can learn from therapists to help you fight it. There are medicines you can take that will strengthen your resolve to kick that monster back to whatever nuclear cesspit it crawled out of.

You have to fight it for one simple and perfect reason: you are worth too much to this world to let the monster win. I don’t know what you believe, and I don’t much care either; for this analogy, just accept that being your own self is enough. Being a unique individual is enough. Enough for what? Enough to be worthy of protection and healing, is what.

(Shut up, Godzilla, I am talking to the person you’re chewing on.)

Sometimes when the Tokyo of your mind is under attack, other human cities of wonder and beauty might say things like, “Can I help?” Or, “Is there anything I can do?” Or, “I don’t want you to do this alone.”

Godzilla really fucking hates hearing that. Godzilla wants to destroy your Tokyo. It does not want the neighboring cities of Bestfriendland and Familyburg and SignificantOtherville to send in aid or troops or weaponry. (This, in the real world, is more like company or food or helping around the house. Whatever. But for the analogy… look, I never said it was a good one.) Godzilla uses its mimic voice and is all “They’re pretending, they don’t care, you are infectious or some shit, everything you touch and do turns to awfulness.”

That is when you gotta say: Godzilla, shut your big lying monster mouth. Because the monster will say or do anything to keep you alone, keep you vulnerable, keep you convinced that you cannot withstand whatever horror it wants to inflict on you. It does this because that makes you weak, and when you’re weak you are easier to destroy.

Remember: never let the monster win. Never let the bastards grind you down. Never.

Now, listen: you can make it through. You’ve made it this far; you’re very strong. There’s a quote I can’t remember precisely — “People with mental illness have had to be too strong for too long.” This is true. A lot of times the monster will come get you when you’re exhausted after a fight. But the flipside of that is, you are one hell of a strong person, to have made it this far with all these epic battles inside your head. You have to hide them, you have to pretend they’re not happening, you have to act like you’re not hurt when you are. I know. It’s hard and it sucks and it’s horrible and it shouldn’t be that way.

But it does mean you are strong. Strong enough to punch Godzilla in its stupid face and send it running. There are ways to learn how to use this strength to shore up your mental Tokyo, add ICBMs and gigantic walls and monster repellent, flaming trebuchets, whatever you need. You can do this. You may not know how, but other people do, and they can teach you. It’s worth doing. It’s something you have to do. It’s hard, doing this, I won’t lie. It’s easier to let the monster run rampages whenever it wants. It’s much easier. But you can’t take the easy way out. You have to fight.

You have to fight it because, even though the monster says you are worthless, you are not. You are the only you that ever has been or ever will be. That’s worth fighting for. That’s worth saving.

I've had this toy since I was a kid. I keep it around as a reminder of sorts, these days.

Besides, do you really want this jerk telling you what to do?