so then that happened

As of today I am something I’ve always wanted to be, ever since I was a little kid: A PONY.

No, wait, no. That’s not it.

Oh yes. I am now an Official Freelance Writer! Which I always wanted to be, ever since pretty much ever. It has all paid off: all the staying up nights and reading, the thorough degradation of my eyesight, the fact that most of the letters on my computer keyboard are totally worn off. I’M A REAL WRITER NOW, THERE SHOULD BE COOKIES. Laud me with cookies. I could murder some double-chocolate-chip cookies right now.

It happened because of Riley. Of course it did. That dog saved me so many times, gave me so many things, and even now she’s gone, good things are still happening to me because of her. (Somewhere Saint Riley is saying, “That’ll do, boss. Happy birthday.” Because, like in that movie Babe, I was the boss of the house.)

It feels good, somehow, to get that story out into the wider world, to have so many people read it (although I feel a tad guilty about all the crying I inspired), to see that incredible outpour of shared love and loss, all those stories about all those people and their Best Dogs Ever (but you know, every dog is The Best Dog Ever). It’s like saying to the world: Riley happened. She existed. She was important, and she was loved, and she was taken away from me way too soon, and I will raise a gigantic stink about it if I want to, because that is all I can do for her now. She’d be happy with that; girlie always did like a good ruckus.

There’s a quote I found that helps, so much. I wish I know who wrote it.

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”

If that’s true — and I want to believe it is, even though it is hard for me to believe in things, I want that — then it means that no matter what, where we go or what becomes of us, we always have a little piece of them with us, and they always have a little piece of us with them. So we’re never alone, never lost, never left behind.

Here’s a thing I wrote somewhere else, that I wanted to save here:

I remember lying on the grass in my back yard with her, one spring day years ago, when the air was warm but the ground was cool. She was having an uncharacteristic moment of calmness, flopped out on her side. I was on my back with my head on her chest. The sky was blue. My bare feet were cool in the grass. Like that song says: Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.

I don’t know what I believe in anymore, but that’s what I want, if I can have anything happen to me after I die. I want a cool-warm day with sunshine and shade trees and bare feet and all the animals I’ve loved so much, and nothing at all happening to us, because everything already has.

Next… what happens next is, of course, Logan will do the same thing as Riley, and as Buster and Piglet and Sadie before, and turn a piece of me into a piece of himself, by whatever magic dogs do. Along the way he’ll tug my sleeves and drive me crazy and make me yell and sometimes be disgusting and sleep on my legs and fight me when it’s bath time and be as wonderful a dog as he can possibly be. I’ll write about it. That’s what happens next.

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larceny or recycling

I love my dog. I do. I love my dog. He is a wonderful dog, and everybody likes him, including me. I need to remind myself of that, days like this, when all I want to do is sell him to a laboratory for scientific experiments.

I keep getting pulled over, around here. It’s enough to make a girl paranoid. The car that I drive is mine in all the ways that count, like replacing the wiper blades and refusing to wash it until pollen season ends and actually being the only person who drives it, but on paper it belongs to my mother, because the insurance is about half as expensive as it would be if it belonged to me. I’m all for loopholes like that. The problem is that, when she stopped driving a few years ago, she never updated her driver’s license and it is now well beyond expired and into the archaeological record.

This means I get pulled over, because cops around here apparently have nothing better to do than run plates, and the computer pings the car as being Operated Illegally because of her expired ID, and then there’s a big to-do about my license and registration and who owns it and okay no you’re cool hey man it’s all good when really I want them to go away as quickly as possible, because I am never comfortable around people who are encouraged to whip out guns whenever they feel like it. They never do this during the day, and my dome light has never worked, so it’s a big production finding the necessary documents. “Hey, can I borrow your maglite?”

I swear, this comes back to the dog.

The last time it happened I was on my way to the airport, and a damn good thing I’d left early because while I can plan for traffic I don’t (but probably should) plan for a pullover slowed by a computer which is seemingly connected to the county databases by dialup. In a plain white SUV, mind, which seems like cheating. They should be marked. You know what’s worse than a Very Serious Business cop? A slow, chatty cop who thinks he’s funny. They never are.

“Yeah, I know,” I told that guy, when I was on the way to the airport, “it’s easy to mistake me for a sixty-eight-year-old woman.” Because I default to humor in any awkward situation.

“Well, yeah, kinda,” the cop said, grinning. He looked at me, and I must have been glaring daggers, because his Officer Friendly Chuckle switched off as suddenly as someone turning off a radio. The rest of the transaction, as it were, happened quickly. I give good glare.

All of this has made me a bit spooky, so when the prospect of the cinder blocks was brought up, I needed a little convincing. See, this really does come back to Logan — he is a horrible dog who likes to get under the house, which is up on pilings or platforms or whatever they are called because this is Flood Country With Sand Not Dirt and that’s how they built them, until the housing boom of the seventies and eighties. You would not think a dog of Logan’s size could get in there, much less comfortably have adventures there, but he does. He saw the cat dart under the deck once, and that was all it took: monkey see, monkey do.

The solution to this, obviously, is to acquire enough cinder blocks to cover the squeeze points between the deck and the ground. Well, no — the real solution would be to get some of that wooden lattice stuff and put it all around the deck, which would look much nicer and less trashy than blocks, but at this point I do not honestly care what it takes as long as the dog is no longer rolling around in the flea-infested sand down there where leprous armadillos and hissing possums hang out. Besides, I don’t have a saw. So blocks it was.

What I have learned since coming to this conclusion is that when you do not need cinder blocks you are constantly tripping over them, but when you do need them there is not a one to be found. Anywhere. For any reason. Ever. I kept my eyes peeled while walking Logan around the neighborhood: not a block to be seen.

I am sure at this point you are wondering: why not go down to the hardware store and buy some? Who buys cinder blocks? That’s not how they happen. They just appear. You find them in drifts of trash and discarded furniture on the side of the road. Or someone you know has a few sitting around and will happily give them away. Or you look on Craigslist and there are people begging you to take them after they demolished a shed or garage. Cinder blocks are migratory, except for when you need some.

When I was out with a friend and she pointed out a house that had been demolished – a lovely enormous heap of cinder blocks that were only going to the dump – I needed some persuading, because by now I am convinced the cops around here are out to get me. It’s not paranoia if they are, and oh, they are, and always when I’m in a hurry.

One five and a half point turn later, we were out of the car and grabbing greedily from a tall heap of smashed blocks, most of them conveniently broken by the demolition so that they were halves, with only one hole in each piece. They were old blocks, too: the inside holes were circular, not square.

A question that I still don’t have a proper answer to: was that theft, then, or recycling? I highly doubt a big pile of scrap concrete was going anywhere but the dump — except maybe if anyone nearby needed a block or two, thus perpetuating the endless cinder block migratory route. I’d much rather reuse something like that than buy new ones while the exact thing I need gets transported to a landfill because it’s old and designated garbage. There isn’t a difference, except for the bits of plaster and paint stuck to them. (Lovely 1950s turquoise.)

There’s such a, a compulsion I suppose, in this society, to always get new things, and with it the idea that doing otherwise is somehow distasteful. I don’t get that. Clearly this is the result of the questionable company I keep, all those loony lefties interested in freecycling and yard gardens, swapping around lists of 30 things you can use as flowerpots. I’m constantly seeing stuff like this, reuse and repurpose, how to turn shipping pallets into Adirondack-inspired furniture, arrange coffee cans on a drying rack so that when you water the top row of plants in the cans, everything else gets watered too. Once again, I am turning into my grandmother.

I like that way of thought: this is an object, with these properties: what can I do with it? We get so attached to what a thing is originally for that we don’t think of what else it can be. A flower pot does not have to be terracotta, or plastic made to look like it, with a perfect round hole in the bottom: it just has to be a thing that holds the dirt and lets the water drain out. But even as I write this, and as I like the idea, some part of me thinks “oh, that’s tacky, oh, that’s cheap,” as though I must purchase objects that other people have decided are specifically for the use I want to put them to. I’m not explaining this well, this thought kicking around in my head.

We brought the blocks home and I spent the next day fitting them into place. Two days later, my lovely wonderful dog, my dog that I love so much, my dog who unfortunately is a little too smart for his own good sometimes, figured out that he could bypass the deck entirely and slide on his side, kicking with his back feet, to get directly under a wall of the house where the concrete pilings are a bit too widely spaced.

I hope they haven’t cleaned the site up yet, I need more blocks.

the sins of my father

My father was in town on business; he was an industrial painter. He did the dangerous toxic stuff that, now, is heavily regulated: he painted the insides of the gigantic chemical tanks down by the port, where things like gasoline are deposited by tanker ships before being doled out to trucks that distribute them to gas stations.

He was staying at a flophouse hotel, which had been grand once and now is grand again: the Floridan has a long interesting history. Part of it is mine by chance, I suppose, though he could have stayed somewhere else. Whenever I drove past it, downtown, I’d think of him. Wonder who he was.

I know enough, now, that I don’t want to know more.

He stayed on the move; he had a home base, of sorts, with his family in Indiana, but most of the time drove all over the Southeast for work. He kept moving. Papa was a rolling stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home — yeah, that’s how my mother explained it to me when I was small. “Listen to this song, your dad was like this.” I listened and, being at the time newly human and strangely literal, proclaimed, “He must have a big hat.”

And when he died, all he left us was alone.

I have two older half-brothers, I know that. I know their names, vaguely. I have photographs of them from the early eighties. I have no idea how many younger half-siblings I have, dear ol’ Dad being compelled by a purely evolutionary urge to wander, procreate, and then get the hell out of town before he was expected to help feed the offspring. So: somewhere I have two brothers. I don’t know them. I don’t think I ever will. I wonder about that, trying to fit theories into this blank space in my life. It doesn’t bother me. It just is: the sky is blue, water’s wet, wild Popes quit in the woods, I have some people out there somewhere that are genetically connected to me that have nothing to do with my life, and never have.

They never will, I’m sure.

I’d thought about contacting him for years. Decades. My whole life, since he left — rather, since I noticed he had failed to reappear, which took several years, because he wasn’t much of a presence in the first place. I don’t know what finally persuaded me to do it, really. My mother had kept the guy’s SSN and other bits of pertinent information; my friend Amber took those and the Lexis-Nexus database she used for work and it spat out an address. He was alive. He was in Ohio. Hilariously. He was in Dayton.

I’d flown into Dayton once. When Amber moved back to Florida she flew me up to Cincy and then we road-tripped it back down — but the funny thing is that my plane landed in Dayton less than a mile from the house the records claimed he’d owned for about thirteen years. When we drove out of Dayton it was a bleak day at the end of January; all I remember is dirty snow, empty houses, rusting snowplows and bulldozers on the side of the highway, and a Tom Waits song, all too appropriate. God said don’t give me your tin-horn prayers.

My parents met at a bus stop, late in the seventies, while he was painting and sleeping at the Floridan. They got to talking. My mother, reeling under the weight of mistreated mental illness that science wouldn’t get a handle on for another twenty years, told him that she was going to be in the hospital for a few days, and would he please feed her cat? My father said, later, that he’d thought she was on drugs. But he stayed at her place anyway, probably because that was cheaper than even a transient week-rates hotel in the decaying downtown of late-seventies Tampa. Nicer, too; she had air conditioning.

I happened a few years later. They never got married; they didn’t want to. When she came up pregnant, my mother considered the situation and found it good. She’d been married once before, and my father was a drinker, and with her mother — my grandmother — around, she was sure that the two of them could raise a child just fine without any paternal interference. The last thing they wanted was him coming home drunk and smashing shit up with a baby in the house. He wasn’t listed on my birth certificate because my mother refused to let an alcoholic have even a chance of custody. Smart move, that.

I didn’t see him often; he was enthusiastic about me as an idea, but once I was breathing on my own I think the reality of a child frightened him. So he kept moving. Came back every once in a while — I met one of my brothers, once — but he was gone more than he was there. That was normal for me. You can’t miss something you don’t feel the lack of. And he wasn’t a lack, wasn’t a hole in my life. He was just a person who appeared and blew back out, now and again.

It was a very long time before any of us realized we hadn’t heard from him and probably should have. The rest of my life he was a question I answered with a shrug: what about your dad? No idea. Oh, I’m sorry. Why be sorry, I don’t need him.

If he was worth it, I figure, he’d have stayed.

I’m not sure what led me to write him, a few months ago: curiosity, I suppose, and a strange lack of feeling. I’d gone through it all. I’d been mad, I’d been sad, I’d been frustrated. I’d coasted through all of those and found myself left with a vague curiosity. Who is this person? Someone I want in my life? The only thing I knew for sure was that a medical history might be nice, because there are some things wrong with me that I cannot figure out.

I wrote a letter, very neutral, slightly distant, more formal than familiar; I explained I’d found his information and decided to write to him. I wrote that if he wanted to reestablish contact, that was all right; I wrote that if he didn’t want to, I would respect that.

I got something back a few weeks later. My name scrawled on the front, no name or address on the back. There was a letter inside, hand-written: pencil on looseleaf lined paper. No signature. No identifying information whatsoever.

The anonymous letter-writer said they were sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but my father had passed away some eight years before, and his wife owned the house, renting it to the person who was writing. Bullshit, all of it; every source I researched confirms he’s alive. Enclosed in the envelope was what I’d sent out: my letter, and the envelope too. The message was clear: leave no evidence that I exist.

It arrived the day after Riley’s death. But, as always, my girl put it in perspective for me: this is love, and this is loss, and that packet of lies scrawled in pencil have nothing to do with me.

I don’t know who wrote it. Don’t much care to find out. A few friends have expressed interest in tracking him down and confronting him. I’ve told them, have at it, but if you do meet him face to face, tell him he’s a pathetic bastard, and then take a photograph of his face as soon as he realizes you’ve insulted him. If any of them ever do, I’m sure it’ll be hilarious.

What you do not realize, father of mine, is that you were never needed, never necessary, never missed. If this is what you are, I’ve been goddamned lucky to only know the lack of you.

There’s a killer and he’s coming through the rye
But maybe he’s the father of that lost little girl
It’s hard to tell in this light

And I want to know the same thing
Everyone wants to know: how’s it going to end?

I hope this is the end of it, that it’s all finished, that he plays dead until he stays dead. There’s enough skeletons rattling ’round already, and I’m not in the business of believing in resurrection.

lucky babushka

My grandfather, who was born in Abruka (a speck near Saaremaa) and naturalized during WWII, was a sailor, because apparently on the coast of Estonia there isn’t much else to do. When he became an American, he sailed with the Merchant Marines; my mother remembers going to Turkey and Israel, and spending lots of time in Venezuela.

I don’t have a complete list of all his ports of call, but we know he went to Japan, and to Hong Kong (which at the time was under UK control), and likely stopped in China proper at least once.

That must be where he got the ring. It’s gold, nice and solid, and has four characters on it, separated by raised diamond shapes.

Have you the wing?

Have you the wing?

My grandparents split well before I was born, once their daughters were grown. (My grandfather was a bit of a bastard, and saying that is an offense to bastards everywhere.) My grandmother never mentioned her ex-husband much, except mockingly, and I never saw this ring – her wedding ring – until after she died. It’s interesting: I never saw her wear it, we never discussed it, it is from a part of her life that ended well before I began. But it’s still hers, and she was still the pillar of stability in my world when I was small, and it is, therefore, damn near sacred.

On a whim, a few days ago, I photographed it and posted to a few places online, to ask what language those characters were in and what they meant. I had no idea if I’d even gotten them right side up, though it turns out I had.

The translation, in Chinese, is rather simple: good fortune, and may things go your way. A nice sentiment for a wedding ring, I suppose — certainly better than the badly thought-out “Uh, that means chair, not strength” Chinese tattoos that have become popular these days. (Although it would have been funny: I hereby wed thee with PINECONE DRAINPIPE CLOUD SHOE.)

All of this is fairly normal, except: the third character. Depending on how one reads it, it could be 女ロ, which is Japanese. The Chinese symbol is damn near identical to my Latin-text-reading self:  如.

The hilarious part is that, in Japanese, that particular character means “Russian girl/lady/woman.” And y’all know not to call an Estonian a Russian. We get… grouchy… about it.

I wish I could tell my grandmother this, because she would laugh hard enough to burst something. “HE CALLED ME A WHAT? YOU SEE WHY I DIVORCED HIM!”

It is now, and forever will be, Grandma’s Lucky Babushka Ring. Because it’s funnier that way.

transcribed discussions

I post little too-small-for-blog stories and snippets of funny discussions on Facebook. Have a few recent ones. (Yes, have some.)

My Mom: “Can I use your hairbrush?”
Me: “No. You already stole the other one.”
My Mom: “But…”
Me: “NO. I’m weird about hairbrushes.”
My Mom: “….”
Me: “I know, I use the same comb to get burrs out of Logan’s coat as I do to untangle my hair after a shower.”
My Mom: “Yep. You’re weird about hairbrushes.”
Me: “THE DOG IS AN EXTENSION OF THE SELF!”

TV: bwa bwaaa bwa BWAAAAA bwa bwee bbwoo da dooo ba bwoo BWAAA BWOOO BWA DA DAAAAAA
Me: “MA, YOU WATCHING DALLAS?”
My Mom: “IT JUST CAME ON, I’M NOT *WATCHING* IT.”
Me: “YOU KNOW, THERE IS SOMETHING VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO REMEMBER BECAUSE I HAVE THAT DAMN THEME SONG MEMORIZED.”

I have what is called a “galley kitchen” with what I consider to have an ass capacity of one point five, the point five being a dog under 70lbs.

I went to put a dish in the sink, Logan following like the good little separation-anxiety shadow that he is, and found my mom standing in the middle of the kitchen pouring some coffee. I scooted her to the side, slightly, and put a hand on her back.

“STAAAAY. STAAAAAAAAAY.” Skootched in behind her, put the dish in the sink, rinsed it, “STAAAAAY,” skootched back, saw that both she and Logan had stopped still and were watching me.

“GOOD STAY! BOTH OF YOU! SO GOOD!” Pats on the head for everybody!

Fargo, the Irritatingly Helpful Android: “OMG THERE ARE LIKE 75 WEATHER ALERTS TODAY.”

Me: Hush, you’ll make the Northerners laugh at us.

Last night, at Downtown Disney, after having inhaled the best damn vegan cupcakes this side of Katya’s kitchen:

Me: “Do you hear that?”
Katie: “Is that….”
Me: “Pachelbel?”
Katie: “It is!”
Me: “URGH!”
Katie: “I played this on violin in school!”
Me: “Me too! Second violin! And you only had eight–”
Me & Katie: “NOTES!
Katie: “AGH!”
Me: “For half a fucking HOUR!”

And before that some teenager gave us the stink-eye when I shoved a penny into Katie’s cleavage. (She then did a little dance until it fell out onto the floor, snatched it, and put it in her pocket.)

Monday at the beach…

Me: “Look at that cloud. See what it looks like?”
Amber: “No.”
Me: “C’mon. A spaceship…”
Amber: “Don’t see it.”
Me: “A star destroyer! The big triangular pointy ones! That take like five minutes to fly past the camera. SEE IT?”
Amber: “Nope.”
Me: “I’m right and I know it. HEY KATIE.”
Katie: “WHAAAAAAT?”
Me: “LOOK AT THAT CLOUD, WHAT’S IT LOOK LIKE?”
Katie: “I’UNNO!”
Me: “THINK SCIFI!”
Katie: LOOKS LIKE A DEATH STAR. NOT A DEATH STAR. A…DUH..STUHHH….STAR DESTROYER. JESUS CHRIST.”
Me: “Hah! See? See? SEE?”
Amber: [says nothing, gives me the Look which implies, Girl, You Are Dragging Someone Else Into Your Crazy Again]