That Girl

I knew eventually someone would complain.

The first sign of Spring had erupted even though it was still ungodly cold: Nine million or so budding athletes began buzzing the baseball diamonds of Loch Haven park.

Sometimes things just boil down to a turf war between those who have given birth to their charges and those of us who have not. Having not, mine were on leashes, as we made our way into one of the fields. There was just one practice going on, and I blocked the escape routes of ours so the girls wouldn’t be tempted to interfere in theirs.

I bent to unclip their leashes.

“Uh ma’am, we’d like to ask you not to do that.”

I looked up to see two um, gentlemen wearing plaid flannel shirts. Definitely extra -large flannel shirts.

“Don’t run your dogs on the fields. We come out here and work on these things to make ‘em nice for the kids to play on them and your dogs tear them up.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“We’re asking you nicely.”

“But who are you? Are you with the county?”

“The dogs dig.” He refused to identify himself. “We’re trying to ask you nicely.”

It didn’t feel nice. And it didn’t seem like anyone was taking care of the fields.

“There are piles of deer poop in there. And I don’t let my dogs dig. They just run. And I clean up after them,” I said gesturing to my trusty treat and pooh bag holder, strapped sideways across my body.

“YOU’RE AN IDIOT,” the fattest one muttered.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside Hulk’s brain when he’s becoming Hulk, I can tell you. I didn’t turn green but there were definitely smoke and lightening zots shooting between my ears.

“WHO ARE YOU WITH?” I demanded, wondering why I’d not trained my sweet girls to tear a man’s crotch out.

“We are just parents who come out here to work on the fields.”

Clearly, they were not doing a very good job.

“You know,” the not-as-fat one said, as if he were giving me a tip on a hot stock, “Some of the parents take pictures of your license plate if they see you out here with a dog.”

“WHAT ARE THEY GOING TO DO WITH THOSE?” I said, laughing.

These were not parents. They were stalkers.

“Well, uh…”

Unwilling to be accosted by the entire Friends of Flannel brigade, I heeled the girls and steamed off to my car. We haven’t been back. We are trying to cooperate.

A few weeks later my friends, Susan and Paul, who have twice birthed children and who also have a dog, invited me to Sands Road park, where there is nothing but grass and the river. It is all perfection for the owners of big dogs who like to run. Lillian, Delilah and Brie galloped and rolled and swam and played and no one was happier to be introduced to this gem than I.

I explained my glee to Paul as we walked back toward the park entrance.

“Yeah, it’s nice, but you know there’s talk of putting up some baseball diamonds in here,” Paul said.

“WHAT?”

“Well, if they can come up with the money…”

“NOOOOOOO. How many baseball diamonds does the county need? Where can you go run a dog without worrying about traffic? Do you know some big fat REDNECK parents kicked me out of Loch Haven park a few weeks ago because…”

Paul looked at me.

“Ohhh,” he said with a slight grin, “You’re THAT girl.”

“You mean you’re one of THEM?”

“Y- well I heard the story. Did they threaten to take pictures of your car?”

“YES, the weird, stalky fat people DID threaten to take pictures of my car.”

I felt like the slutty girl in high school who didn’t know everyone knew.

“I just want somewhere to run my dogs, Paul.”

“Well I agree with you, I am always looking for places to run Brie.”

So, he was not one of them. Not really. However, I would forever be “THAT GIRL”.

Watch Dogs

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“Go play.”

I pointed Lilly’s head toward a nice Labrador –Golden Retriever mix, and pushed her from behind. Her back legs moved forward but her front legs remained planted. Lillian was now doing “cat” at the dog park. She wagged her tail. Lilly thinks just about everything is great. Delilah bopped my shin with her nose. She bops me like that sometimes when we’re out and about, just to let me know she’s hanging around.

“Those are high energy dogs,” said one woman, as my dogs stood idle.
At the dog park there is pressure to perform, to be the owner of the dog who gets all the others to run and play.

“Not tonight, I guess,” I almost apologized.

Lilly half-heartedly chased a shepherd mix, then skittered back to me, standing stiffly, matching my empty gaze across the park. Delilah was stuck to my leg like a cactus.

“Sweet peas, what’s the matter? Go play,” I begged.

Bop.

Finally I gave up. They trotted closely in my wake toward the chain link exit. I felt like a pickup truck with extraordinarily large rear wheel wells. We leashed up and got in the Jeep. They both laid down. I wondered if something at the park had upset them. The weather had been so nice earlier, I’d left the back door open while I was at work. Maybe they’d chased squirrels all day and they were tired.

I was tired.

A few weeks back, my job had taken a sudden, unwelcomed turn. And I knew probably within the next 24 hours I was going to have to undo my current, albeit pretty new relationship. I was fond of the man – he made me laugh. He also frequently sank to very dark places after a few drinks. It was beginning to wear on me, even frighten me slightly. “Red Flags” my friend Andrea called them. These were more like flares.
This afternoon I’d come home from an edgy day at the office and gathered up my Rhodesian Dance Team and headed to the park. I’m not sure why this happens – I guess I let my mind wander too much when I drive but I was overwhelmed with the frustration of it all. I’m too old to be out here drowning in this dating pool. And I’ve already suffered through too much professional indignity. So as I drove along Davidsonville Road I had a big gully washing cry, pulling it together as I turned into the park so as not to appear insane.

After the park we went to dog school and we all perked up. They performed most of their tasks with little chaos, which for us, is good.

At home, we all went upstairs, they curling up on their beds, me stretching out in mine. But I couldn’t sleep.

Work and life and dogs all weaved in and out of my consciousness, and for some reason I tried to remember the last time I had a good cry. I recalled that as tears had streamed down my face, Lilly trotted frantically around the room, bumping into things, looking back at me, not too far, but not too close, completely unnerved. But Delilah had come close, softly and lightly setting her head in my lap.

Bop.

Oh.

They hadn’t been tired that evening. In fact, they’d been vigilant. Hypervigilant, even. They were just being them, keeping watch over me.

The Squeeze

I’m in Nordstrom looking like I’ve been tarred and dog-haired.

“Can I help you?”  “….find a shower somewhere?”  I finish the sentence in my head.

“I’m good,” I mumble, keeping my baseball cap- covered head low, like that might disguise my odor. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon.  At seven that morning I’d run 5.7 miles with two two-footed girlfriends, getting home just in time to throw my four- footed pals into the floppy roofed Jeep and head to the vet for their 9am appointment.

Lillian doesn’t mind Dr. P too much.  Delilah is more skeptical about him. He rocks my doggie world.

Delilah went first. I thought she would be a little skittish. She was satanic. It took three of us to hold her down for shots.  After that, apparently Dr. P had chosen some sort of medieval tool to trim her nails, as she was literally shrieking. I looked at his hands more closely. He had not. It was 9:15. Why didn’t they sell cocktails here?

 Lilly was easier.  Dogs live in the moment.  We left the vet at 9:23. By 9:23:01 they were happy again. I was shell shocked. And caked with dog hair.

We went to the dog park, where a recent layer of snow had created more mud, which mixed into a tacky paste with the hair and my now 8- hour- old sweat.  Then we went to Nordstrom.  The girls stayed in the car.

“You’re making your second pass, so you clearly need some assistance,” said the helpy, perfectly well put together and handsome menswear salesman.  No. Consultant.

“Okay, here’s the deal,” I said, keeping my distance, “I am going on a third date tonight. Third.”  I held up three gritty fingers for emphasis.

“And you’re getting him something?”

“Well, that’s just it. It’s his birthday.”

“Oh yeah, you gotta get him something.”

“I know. I ordered a stuffed bulldog online but it hasn’t arrived yet and it’s tonight.”

“A stuffed bulldog?”

“Well, he – yes.”

He camouflaged an involuntary eye roll.

“What’s your price range?”

“It’s only our third date!”

He led me dutifully from table to table.  He showed me a plaid number.

“Straight guys wear that?” 

“Well, what does he like?”

“Me, I guess.”

He ever so subtly glanced below my gaze.  I kicked a mud crumb under the table.  I bought a tie.

The make-up department girls looked at me wistfully as I bolted out of the store. No. Out of the experience.

I went home, and pulled into the driveway as the UPS guy arrived and handed me the bulldog.  It would now be a tie-wearing bulldog.

A shower and some shaving later, we were at dinner, after which, I presented the over-dressed dog.

He complimented the tie and gave the dog a squeeze.   The waiter brought us a dessert to share.  He (the date, not the waiter) set the tie aside.  He continued to occasionally pick up the dog, looking into its poofy, smushed -up little face.

Being a chronic dog-squeezer myself, I find this promising.  

    
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This edition dedicated to Gates, in honor of a life well lived in support of one of our nation’s great “hospitalitans.”  

                                                                               

First Patient: Mom

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“Please get better control of that dog,” Laurie, the pet therapy evaluator-not-judge said, with more patience than we deserved.

I wasn’t sure how getting better control was possible. We had trained. We went to school once, sometimes twice per week, for two years. We added additional, expensive classes specifically to train for these evaluations. We’d drilled our exercises, morning after morning, in the middle of our little street. We’d danced through hospital scene obstacles, like crutches and walkers. We’d acted casual in the face of crashing bed pans. We’d greeted politely.

But we were choking. Lillian was all over the place, breaking from her heel like she had fire ants, then planting a slick wet one on the evaluator’s face. She was the Bode Miller of dog tasks. Likely what Lillian did most was pick up on her mom’s nervousness. Dogs know everything.

Lillian and Delilah are lookers. And they’re pretty smart. And they’re a lot of fun. But I don’t believe smart, fun girls should just sit around looking pretty. They need jobs, careers even. They need to give back.

What better job for pretty, fun girls than to stick their noses in sick, sad, or otherwise challenged humans’ faces, and make them smile, even if it’s just for a minute. That makes that minute better than their last one, right? Who knows, maybe we could stretch it out to five minutes, without being asked to leave. (We can cut quite a swath.)

Disheartened, we careened through the final exercise.

“Congratulations. You passed,” said Laurie.

I actually got teary. Lilly actually relaxed. I don’t know how it happened but Lillian is now an eligible therapy dog. We did not qualify to go into high stress situations. But we would be allowed to hang out with the somewhat stressed.

A few hours later, I returned to the evaluation site with Delilah. Certainly we would sail through this—we’d accosted everyone in my neighborhood, begging them to practice polite greetings with us. Only the day before I called a man in his pajamas from his garage to walk up to us and shake my hand. Lilah would sometimes stand, but never jump.

Laurie approached us for the mock greeting. Delilah jumped up on her like she was holding a steak.

The next phase involved Laurie petting Lilah roughly, like a child or an elderly person might. My dog, who normally melts like butter, went stiff as a day-old carcass. I knew we wouldn’t do well with the ear grabbing, but she reacted like Laurie was the mayor of San Diego. Laurie stopped the test. Delilah would not be fun for a sick or otherwise upset person to play with.

“She’s just a little too timid,” Laurie said sympathetically.

“Timid?” I thought. How could I, a forever single, do-it-myself, “Excuse Me, Mr. President” journalist have a timid dog? Suddenly I had something slightly in common with Dick Cheney. And that kid on “Glee” s TV dad. But the word was “timid”.

On the way home in the car I wondered if Lilly would know Delilah didn’t make it. Would Delilah know Lilly had? What do parents of children do when their bigger kid makes the soccer team while the smaller, sweeter kid, gets cut?

My friend Krishna called, and for the second time that day, I cried. Delilah looked out the car window and barked at some guy wearing a big hood. I couldn’t believe I was taking it this badly. Being a good friend, Krishna took my sadness with all seriousness, politely dismissing the fact that I had become deranged.

I explained to Krish, that I needed to find out what Delilah was good at, and encourage her in that direction, lest she develop poor self- esteem. She already wore too much eyeliner, clearly an attempt to disguise her true self from the world. What would D be good at? How could we make up for this gaping hole on her resume?

We arrived home. I pulled my misshapen Jeep into the driveway and lumbered toward the door. Hopefully Lilly wouldn’t gloat.

We walked in, Lillian delivering her typical paw pounce to her sister. Delilah bounced back. I began to also.

The girls are training me. They’ve been trying to tell me not to pull so hard on my leash, or I’ll choke. I need to let more things roll in over the back fence. Good things will come. Bad things will pass.

Still. I think I’m going to take Delilah lure coursing in the spring. She runs like a joyous jack rabbit. And I am excited to get Lilly started with the therapy program.

But meantime I will sit. And stay.

Crossed Wires

“Moe, I’m breaking up with you,” I announced in front of all the disgruntled owners in the Jeep service department waiting room.

“You can’t.”

“Yes I can. And I am.”

“Let’s talk about this.” He dangled my keys by the paper service tag.

We’d been seeing each other regularly. Our relationship was purely automotive.

It began after a particularly treacherous puppy school episode. Lillian, Delilah and I attended on alternating dog days. Mondays, I took Lilly in while Delilah napped or barked at squirrels or did algebra in the car. Tuesday Delilah and I attended class while Lilly stayed in the car, pondering her uncertain future.

One pleasant summer Tuesday evening I was leaning in to the back of the Jeep, returning Lilah to her sister, when I felt something clunk me in the head. I looked up to see a clump of wires hanging from the top of the rear door. I followed the wires to where they disappeared behind the door molding which had been separated, apparently by Lilly, from the metal. Aghast, I slammed the hatch down quickly before any of the mommies and daddies of well- behaved dogs could see that mine had just remodeled the Jeep’s interior and yanked out my brake lights. I drove home slowly, trying to be inconspicuous, and, of course, duct taped the wires back behind the molding. Duct tape being a puppy delicacy, it wasn’t long before the tape was swallowed and my rear windshield wiper hung, useless, on the glass.

I explained this all on the phone to Moe.

“Puppies? Right. Bring it in,” he mono-toned. He’d heard everything. He believed nothing.

Until he saw.

“How BIG are these PUPPIES??” he yelled when he saw the door carcass.

“They may be tall for their age…”

And that’s how Moe and I met.

It took some time and a few traffic citations before the proper electrical harness could be located and installed. But there was another problem. My wonderful fully retractable roof was stuck, more or less open. Moe and the greasy nailed guys took several swipes at it but in the end admitted it couldn’t be fixed but could be replaced for $3000.00.

“Whatdjer DOGS stick their heads up through it?” Moe asked.

“My girls had nothing to do with this. Jeep should buy me a new roof, or offer me a deal on a new car.”

Moe introduced me to the “good” salesperson, who eventually offered me about half what my well- ventilated and broken- in automobile was worth on a trade.

“Hey, “Good” Salesperson, my Jeep is worth twice that.”

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“Uh, yes, but there’s a problem with the roof,” “Good” Sales person answered. I internalized the fact that Moe’s version of good = gargantuan breasts. Those, she had.

Lillian, Delilah and I are still traveling about half-topless. When it rains very hard water pours out from behind the lights over the dash which keeps dog hair from accumulating. I do not have to crack the windows for them while they wait for me in the car. The “wet car” smell has replaced the “wet dog” smell.
Moe and I remain estranged. However, like divorcing parents, we still have the puppified Jeep between us, ‘til its death do we part.

Happy New Ears!

Happy New Ears!

It’s 2:30 in the morning and for an hour I try to figure out why I’m awake on New Year’s Eve. It’s possible that I will still be up 22 hours from now, but I have no plans. I try to remember what I did last New Year’s Eve. Oh. Tom. Tom lasted 21 more days. In with a new president, out with Tom. We remained friends for a few more months but we no longer speak because the JUDGE told him never to contact me. Good judge.
New Year’s Eve before that was the best ever. Joe and I bundled together in the bunk of his boat and we got drunk on episodes of “Lost”. We napped then re-wrapped ourselves on the back deck where Baltimore fireworks burst over our heads at midnight.
Now it’s 3:30am and there’s no hope of going back to sleep before the 4:25 alarm. Lilly knows this so she does a full frontal belly flop on my chest.
Dogs know everything.
She’s clean and soft from her bath the night before and I dig my fingers into the folds of her neck and she nuzzles her face under mine. Her sister snores from their beds below.
Three months after that “Lost” New Year’s Eve, Joe and I split. Truth was, he’d checked out months, maybe years before that. He cheated. And he lied. And I looked away.
But just three weeks after that “Lost” New Year’s Eve, Lillian and Delilah arrived. “That’s just what happened,” I say when people ask how I wound up with two.
Joe never wanted any real ties and dogs definitely keep you planted. One day that March he came to my house and got his stuff and left.
I remember collapsing on the puppies, sobbing. For months afterward, through the raising and the training I had a small pit in my stomach. I thought one of the reasons he left was because I got them. They would be too consuming, too constraining. Maybe I’d driven him further away by filling my home with this athletic, elegant, but demanding family.
But I was wrong.
He didn’t leave because they came. God sent them because he was already gone.