i’ll take potpourri for 200, alex

narrative aside for this one, folks. capitalization and grammar, too. most likely cohesive thought, as well. enjoy.

i spend a lot of time alone. it’s a conscious choice. i like, even prefer, my own company. over the years, my myers-briggs scores have taken a steady slide out of the staunch “e” territory into a more “i” realm, because i need more and more time away from people to recharge my batteries drained by the time i spend with them. this personal trait plus the whole turning 40 next month thing means i spend a good deal of time in my head lately to consider myself, the world, and all the ways i fit in it — and don’t (mostly). and so, here is a grab bag of random completely, self-centered observations i (and others) have made recently:

  • i could probably eat popcorn every day. especially the delicious, buttery air popped stuff my friend makes
  • i constantly crave cantaloupe and cucumber. probably because the aforementioned popcorn makes me thirsty.
  • i’m addicted to water. if i don’t have a bottle of it near me or in my hands, i get twitchy.
  • i like to sleep outdoors in public.
  • i sleep better with someone else in the room. even better with someone next to me.
  • i like to curl up and take platonic naps with other people but generally want no part of cuddling after sex. don’t touch me. i’m tired and sticky and sick of you. it’s time for sleeping now.
  • i think maybe the above secretly makes me a man.
  • i still think “friends” is funny.
  • closet george michael fan. only, like george now, not really in the closet.
  • i take the words “all you can eat crab legs” as a personal challenge. and one i am yet to lose.
  • words most likely to come out of my mouth in response to something: “i know, right?!”
  • sushi and salad are my favorite foods. but not together.
  • i would give up meat again, but man, i make the best freakin’ burgers on the planet.
  • manhattans in the winter, martinis/gin and tonics in the summer. beer all the time.
  • i’m addicted to [good] gay porn and tumblr. one of them can make me laugh for hours on end. i’ll let you guess which one. and i’ve got links, if you want ’em.
  • i love songs that are more than one song in a song. examples include:
    • layla
    • bohemian rhapsody
    • a day in the life
    • band on the run (three songs for the price of one!)
  • i love iced tea, but i have to sweeten it myself.
  • nothing’s better than clean sheets.
  • all my towels are white. it makes me feel like i’m at a hotel.
  • i’d secretly love to give everything away and hit the road and live out of a suitcase.
  • in another life, i could probably be barefoot and pregnant and very happy. just not this life.
  • i have to watch “dune,” “heavy metal,” and “wrath of khan” any time they’re on tv.
  • don’t fucking talk to me when i’m swimming. i don’t care if we’re friends and we came to the pool together. it’s time for swimming, not talking. serious business.
  • i hate all things willy wonka. effing creepy.
  • i don’t get the big deal about “the princess bride.” cute enough movie, but cult favorite? why?
  • “seinfeld” really isn’t funny anymore. most of it probably never was.
  • i’m not really that good at riding a bike.
  • the older i get, the less i like bread.
  • nobody ever expects the religious side of me…and then i quote chapter and verse. it’s probably the functioning brain and open mind and all the swearing and drinking and the fact that i like sex and people think those things and religion don’t go together. they’ve just never met an episcopalian before.
  • remember when bravo used to be a television station that thinking people could watch? yeah, me too. i miss that.
  • i love disc golf. i miss disc golf. with margaritas and no pants. in the rain. you know who you are. i’m looking at you.
  • i will never not find farts funny.
  • sometimes i just miss digging a big hole in the sand and then sitting in the sea water it collects like a private pool at the beach.
  • i can’t seem to follow more than one tv show at a time anymore.
  • one of my favorite memories of my dad is staying up late one night with him watching “conan the barbarian” when i was about 10.
  • one of my favorite movies to watch with my mom is “close encounters of the third kind.” she always let me stay up to watch it when they showed it on ABC once a year when i was a kid. weird, huh?
  • every time i hear the ice cream truck, i have to resist running out there to buy a popsicle. especially the red, white and blue rocket pops.
  • i recently realized that i was born in appalachia. i come by it honestly.
  • i thought i had a wart once, but i cut it out of my hand with a knife, and it didn’t grow back, so probably not. gross, i know.
  • i don’t like drinking coffee, but i love coffee-flavored things.
  • i tried my dog’s jerky treats recently, and it turns out they’re pretty good.
  • i love going to movies.
  • if we each all get our own blue heaven when we die, i will spend all eternity at a baseball game with my friends. eating hot dogs and peanuts and drinking beer. that is where and when i am happiest.
  • my favorite flower is the iris, but i never buy them anymore.
  • i hate feeling rushed.
  • i hate feeling scheduled.
  • i do what i want.
  • the family comes as part of this package. deal with it.
  • i think my current default setting for most things is “whatever.” unless, of course, you’re messing with my boys or my family, in which case, it’s most likely on.
  • i like cereal, i just wish it was more filling.
Advertisements

witchy woman

There’s so much in life over which we have no control, and most of what we think we control is an illusion we allow ourselves to believe for the sake of some sanity and security. This is why I love being a human companion to animals. It is the one thing I can do in this world where I really think I make other lives better, to say nothing of my own. And because I’m good at it. Really, really good at it.

My first animal companion was a sweet tuxedo kitty I named Possum. Man, he was handsome. A big tom with a black face, tons of long white whiskers, and a wide white bib on his chest that funneled down to his belly in a tornado-like pattern. We met when I was 25 and at the lowest point in my life — a quarter-life crisis of epic proportions. After a year in the city, I had just rented my first apartment of my own. It was meager and barely furnished, and I earned so little that I was working three jobs to afford it. I had no idea where my career was going, much less what I wanted out of life. I was single. I was lonely. I was severely depressed. I was on Prozac. I was in therapy. In short, I was a mess. During my visit home for Thanksgiving, my mother took me out for a day downtown. It had been a lovely afternoon, and but I was exhausted as we drove home and looking forward to bed. She had lost our family cat of 16 years earlier in the year and was finally ready to adopt a new companion and was working hard to convince me to make a stop at the no-kill shelter down the street from her house on the way home so she could look for a pair of kittens. I knew that was a fool’s errand in November, but she seemed really eager, so I relented.

There he was curled up in the back of his cage — everything I didn’t want. He had markings like our recently-passed cat. He was male, and we had always been told that male cats were a pain in the ass (where did anyone get that idea?!). And he was a cat. I didn’t want a cat. I wasn’t ready for a cat. I could barely take care of myself. I couldn’t even keep a houseplant alive, and I was convinced that I was in no position to take care of another mammal. I felt like spun glass inside, and I just knew I couldn’t handle it. But there he was. Not even looking at me in a cage with a handwritten sign that said:

Please take me home

I’M FREE

There’s nothing wrong with me, I’ve just been here too long

Something about that sign made me open the cage and pull him out. He was a big, heavy cat who immediately uncoiled his heft and folded into my chest.  I held him close and the tension left his body as he melted against me and tucked his hard little head under my chest and let out a whimpering sigh into my throat. Lightning struck. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and in that moment I knew love at first sight was real, even though I hadn’t even gotten a good look at the object of my affection. I just felt suddenly inexplicable whole like I’d found a piece of me I wasn’t even aware I was missing.

“I’m taking him home,” I told my mother.

“What? Are you serious?”

“Yes. Deadly. He’s mine.”

“Honey, are you sure? You didn’t even want to come here.”

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. This cat belongs with me. I’m taking him home.”

“You sure you don’t want to take a couple of days to think about it?”

“I’m sure. So, so sure. He’s coming with us tonight. There’s nothing to think about.”

When I took him up to the front desk, still curled up under my chin, the staff was agog.

“The doughnut cat? No one wants the doughnut cat,” the lady behind the counter told me, incredulously.

“The doughnut cat? What are you talking about? This is the cat I want.”

“Yeah, the doughnut cat.”

“Why do you keep calling him that?”

“What position was he in in his cage when you found him?”

“Well, curled up in a ball, actually. Kind of like a doughnut.”

“Exactly. He’s been in that position since he came here over a month ago. He never unfurls. He eats, but we never see him do it. We pull him out of the cage in that doughnut shape to clean in there, but he stays curled up and then we put him back in there the same way — like a doughnut. It’s why nobody’s considered him.”

“Yeah, well, I want him. I want the doughnut cat.”

My mom was the one to fill out the paperwork and officially adopt him, because I lived outside the area, but he was mine. The best nothing I ever spent. We took him home to my mother’s that night, where he spent the entire night under her guest bed. When I drove him to my house the next day, he dove under my bed and stayed there for three weeks. I called my mother crying. Saying it wasn’t going to work out. I was sure he hated me. I wasn’t going to be a good person for him. He was miserable. He would never love me. I was a failure. I was about to give up.

And then my brother got sick.

It was his first semester away at college — my alma mater — two hours south. He called me one night saying he was diagnosed with strep during his exam week. He was running a high fever and too ill to care for himself much less take his tests. He’d been to the doctor and needed to leave school. My place was closer than Mom’s, so I got in the car and drove down there that night. Found him shivering and near delirious in his dorm room bed, packed a bag, stuffed him in the car, bought him a Wendy’s frosty for his burning throat on the way out of town, and hauled ass up the Valley back to my place where I deposited him into my bed for the next week. Two days later, I came home from work to find him awake.

“Hey, you’re up,” I said.

“Yeah. And guess who came out from under the bed today.”

“No way.”

“Way. I laid here talking to him, and he came out from under to investigate. Didn’t stay long, but he came out.”

And so it went like that. He laid in my bed recovering for the next several days while I went to work, and while I was gone, he stayed there like a constant, reassuring presence talking sweet, patient, enticing words to the scared kitty under his mattress. Little by little, he earned Possum’s trust, until I came home at the end of the week to find him sitting up in bed stroking the cat curled up in his lap. As I walked into the bedroom, my brother put a finger to his lips to silence me and gave a devilish smile and a nod as he pointed to the little victory on the blanket before him. They both looked so content, and my heart just soared. It was a turning point.

Possum and I spent 12 wonderful years together. He was the chattiest boy. Constantly talking and answering me. Smart as a whip. A fearsome mouser. He took off into the swampy woods behind my mother’s house for a month during our first summer, and I thought for sure I’d lost him forever until my brother caught him and brought him back home to me. I drove down that very night to collect him, stripped out of my clothes, scooped his skinny, filthy little body up into my arms and got right into a bath with him. He laid on my chest and let me wash him, and then I wrapped us both up in a towel and crawled into bed with him still sleeping on my chest…and he hadn’t moved an inch when I woke the next morning. Both of us wrapped up together still slightly damp. Him sleeping the sleep of the righteous. He was my traveling buddy, driving up and down the East Coast together for years — long haul stretches that would take an entire night and day — and then eventually going across the country with me. He stayed in hotels. Rode in elevators. He was my familiar. A separate animal embodiment of my soul. Would do anything I asked of him as long as he was with me, and if something was stressful, he would just tuck his little face into the crook of my arm and do that little whimpering sigh of his. But he trusted me. Always always trusted me.

He trusted me when the busted vertebrae in his back — an injury he sustained as a kitten before I adopted him, possibly from someone kicking him — started to give and almost paralyzed him. He let me hold him as the neurologist MRI’d him so they didn’t have to sedate him. The vet recognized that being in my arms would calm him enough to let them do what they needed. He trusted me to care for him as he recovered from surgery with an eight-inch incision down his shaved back. He trusted me when we had to do the MRI again a year later to diagnose the cancer in his small intestine that I already knew was there just by touching his increasingly-bony little body. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me what Possum had already told me himself, but still. He trusted me as I popped steroids into him daily for two months to help give him a soft landing. And, most importantly, he trusted me as I laid on the end of my bed and held him in my arms as the vet shaved his front leg and inserted the catheter to deliver the drugs that would end his life. He was a hour from a painful death, at best. His eyesight had failed him earlier that afternoon while staring at my face. His eyes just suddenly dilated and he started searching and calling for me while still looking right at me. I knew he couldn’t see me anymore, but I knew he could hear me, and so I kept talking to him softly. Telling him I loved him until the very end. Thanking him for taking such good care of me. Thanking him for seeing me as far down the road as he could. Asking him to go ahead and wait for me. Asking him to send me a message when he got there to let me know he was ok.

And then, he was gone.

I’ve never cried harder in my life. I didn’t even cry like that when my father died. He left me six weeks before I lost my dad, and it’s almost like he made his exit when he did to prepare me for the bigger job to come. He was my buddy ’till the end. And I was devastated.

Even though my wonderful vet was kind enough to come to my house to euthanize him in the comfort of my bedroom, I insisted on being the one to drive his lifeless little body the thirty minutes back down to the vet’s office. I couldn’t let someone pack him up into a box and drive off with him like cargo. Not after all our days on the road. I owed him one last trip together, and so I bundled him up into his favorite car blanket and traveled with him one last time as the sun set. I stroked his little head and talked to him, glad that I’d kept my promise that he wouldn’t leave this world without me. Without knowing he was loved. That I would keep him safe and comfortable to the very end. That my face was the last thing he saw in this world. That he left with my voice in his ears. I’d stood my ground between him and disaster for a dozen years. I’d given him a good life. I’d done my job. I’d gotten it right. And still, it took the vet almost a half hour of sweet talk and comforting to get me to turn that limp little body over to him. I just couldn’t say goodbye. I drove home alone in the dark clutching the empty blanket and slept hugging it for weeks after before I packed it away in the closet forever.

The day after I lost Possum, I called into work in the afternoon and laid down to take a nap. I was just wasted and couldn’t deal with the world. Losing my friend…my Dad in the hospital…all of it was too much. I just needed to close my eyes and leave this world for a few hours. And so, I drifted off and had the most vivid dream about my cat. When I woke in my bed four hours later, it was dark outside, and my first thought, surprisingly, was immediately of another cat. A cat I’d seen at a local shelter and fallen in love with six months before but hadn’t adopted because he was FIV+, and everyone told me he’d be a health threat to Possum. After three weeks of internal struggle, I’d given up on the kitty and adopted my dog instead. I put the other cat out of my head and promptly forgot about him. And now, here I was with my cat gone and my dog sniffing around constantly for his friend and peeing in the house out of grief and a day later my mind was already on another animal. I immediately started the self-flagellation. I expected it to be months or years — or never — before I even thought about considering possibly adopting another cat. And yet…what kind of disloyal asshole does that? But lo and behold, I rolled over and pulled up the shelter’s website on my phone only to find that they still had the kitty in question listed as up for adoption. The next day I called about him and found that it wasn’t an error — he still needed a home. I continued to beat myself up about it the next night and went to a friend to talk about it.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “Didn’t you ask Possum to send you a message letting you know that he’d arrived safely? That he was looking out for you?”

“Yeah. I did.”

“Has it not occurred to you that this might be that message? That he knows what will heal you more than you do? That kitty needs a home, and Possum knows you have a good one to give.”

I went to see the cat the next day. He was just as sweet and adorable as I’d remembered — the warm, welcoming ambassador of his room. He greeted me at the door and curled up in my lap, rolling over for belly rubs from a stranger. I was instantly in love again. The woman at the shelter was thrilled that I’d come in.

“I can’t believe you’re looking at him,” she said. “He’s the most special cat, but he’s been here almost two years, and we were just saying yesterday that we’re about to give up on him getting a home. And here you are.”

“Yeah. Here I am.”

I filled out the adoption application. My brother flew out to spend the weekend with me, because he knew I was a grieving mess, and it was his turn to help me recover. He and I cleaned the house from top to bottom, and then he said, “Let’s go get your cat.”

We drove to the shelter and walked into the room where my kitty was housed. Brother set the crate down on the floor and opened the door. The cat walked right into the box, and brother closed the door behind him and walked him up to the front where I paid the adoption fee. The best $35 I ever spent. I still have the faded, barely legible receipt in my wallet as a souvenir.

I brought him home and opened the crate. Ten minutes later, he and Bumble, my dog, were best friends. I named him Kabuki and we spent the night laughing at him bouncing the house and exploring. Bumble never peed in the house again. That night, Kabuki curled up by my side and patiently comforted me as my heart started to heal, asking nothing of me in return. And so my home started to heal, too. And I petted and held him in the morning. I thanked him. I called him “Possum’s cat.” And I still do.

Ten months later, I adopted a second kitty, Humbug, while my brother and sister-in-law visited for the holidays. He was a sweet little guy dumped by his previous owners who came to the shelter as a “lost and found.” Lost, my ass. That cat totally knows how to find his way back to his people. He was lost like you lose a piece of trash you throw out of your car window in the interstate, and he has abandonment issues ten miles wide because of it. We brought him home on Christmas Eve. He and Kabuki hated each other and fought for 40 hours, and then gave in and became best friends or gay cat lifemates or something like that. You’d think they were litter mates. Both black cats, they are constantly joined at the hip during the day as they hang out in the house and maraud the neighborhood like a couple of thugs and then sleep in each other’s arms at night with their bodies wound around each other — when Kabuki isn’t sleeping in the bathtub with Bumble. I know. It’s weird. Don’t ask.

Long story short — my boys are a peaceable kingdom. All of them are seniors. All were adopted from shelters or rescues. Three animals nobody wanted. Three animals the world discarded like trash because they were too big, too sick, or too old despite the fact that all three of them are healthy and happy and hilarious and absolutely perfect. Three brothers from another mother. An unstoppable team. Unfazed by anything bad that happened to them before me. Abandonment, betrayal, starvation, even the shrapnel from a pellet gun one of them has embedded deep in his body — none of that soured them on this world or the people in it. Their sweet personalities belie none of their harsh prior realities. And for me, life with them is very different than the life I had with Possum. Different, but just as wonderful. They are loving and loyal and always by my side. I have a very unique bond with each of them, and they with each other. When one gets in trouble, the other two come running. They all sleep together on the giant dog bed in the living room — and sometimes I join them. I lay in the yard in the evening and eat my dinner and read for my classes with them curled up cuddling against me, and sometimes we nap out there in the sun like that where the whole world can see us. My little bodyguards, they sleep in my bed and next to it at night. They look at me with love and adoration, and the feeling is mutual. They hang out in the bathroom on the floor and toilet and in the sink while I shower in the morning. All three of them pile in the car for trips to the vet.

We take a walk in the neighborhood each evening (and sometimes during the day) — an army of animals following me around the block chatting to each other as we go, and nobody on a leash, and they all come when called. People look at me like I’m some kind of witch with a huge white dog and two chatty black cats with jangling bell collars in tow. An enchantress who charms pets. I am the crazy animal lady. The neighbors point and take pictures and talk to each other about me and my goofy menagerie. I hear about me from people who don’t know me or realize they’re telling a story about a nutcase to the actual nutcase in question. It’s ok, because they’re in awe really, and I can’t blame them. It’s pretty amazing. I didn’t train the boys to walk off-leash with me and together; it just happened. They decided to do it on their own, and now it’s routine. And I trust them to know what they’re doing and where they’re going. They all survived without me for most of their lives, so they’re capable. Those three animals are free to go and should totally take off, but they are with me — with each other — by choice. We are a home, because that’s how each of us wants it to be. If someone hangs back or wanders away during a stroll, the other three of us wait up or go looking for him, because nobody gets left behind. That’s how it is with me and my boys. That’s how it is with family.

Tonight, Bumble and Kabuki and I took our night walk just the three of us. Humbug was tired from romping outside all evening and chose to stay home. As we rounded the backside of the block, I noticed the shadows of a man and a dog coming toward us on the other side of the street. As I know Kabuki is terrified of dogs who aren’t Bumble and was likely to take off into the nearest bushes to take cover, I reached down and grabbed him from the sidewalk where he was winding around my legs and scooped him up into my arms. He got a look at the oncoming dog and started to struggle to get away, but I just held him close and kept walking.

“Shhhh,” I said, cradling and kissing him, my nose inhaling the soft, earthy scent of his furry head. “It’s ok, baby. I got you. No one’s going to hurt you. Relax. I got you, buddy.”

As we walked along with the dog at our side standing guard, he gave up his fight and went limp in my arms, leaning the weight of his body into my mine in a show of resignation and trust and let me carry him down the sidewalk in the cool, lilac-scented spring night. And then, he did the most amazing thing. He tucked his little face into the crook of my arm so he couldn’t see what scared him and let out a soft, whimpering sigh just like Possum used to. And I got the message.

This I could do. No matter what else the world throws at me, no matter how else I fail, my capability and capacity to love means I can hold a scared animal in my arms and instantly make him feel safe just by being me. I can’t fix what happened to them in the past before they were mine and I theirs. I can’t keep them with me forever. But I alone can chase away the threats and make it all ok during the time we have together. I alone can provide the home and sanctuary. It is the greatest privilege and responsibility and honor I could ask for and be granted. I do not take it lightly, and my companions don’t fail to thank me for it. My love makes things right for them, and being their friend makes things right for me as much as it does for them. And if that’s magic, I’ll gladly work it.

born under a good sign

I have a theory that everyone has a super power. Most people just haven’t figured out what theirs is yet. For example, my brother’s super power is his ability to find things. By this, I mean that he seems to come across cool and useful things that other people have lost. I all the time comment on a new t-shirt or hat or something else he’s wearing and ask him where he got it.

“Found it.”

“What do you mean, ‘found it?'”

“I mean I found it.”

“Like on the ground?”

“Yeah.”

“Wait. You just randomly found a t-shirt laying on the ground? With no one else around to own it? That you saw and picked up some random piece of clothing on the ground, took it home, made it yours, washed it, and now you’re wearing it? Something you just found in the street?!”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“What the hell, man? Who does that?”

And by “who does that?” I mean, who just spots things like clothing laying around in public, because I don’t. I never ever see those things. But then, I’ve seen his power in action. We’ve been out together at a concert, at a ballgame, walking home from a bar at night and we’ll both be cruising together down the same sidewalk, and lo and behold, he’ll spot a hat or a shirt or a scarf or something like that lying in our path that I completely missed. Like it existed on a wavelength on the spectrum that only his eyes could perceive. It wasn’t there when I looked, but it was when he did. And before I know it, he’s made someone else’s loss his gain. And it’s always something cool and fitting for him.

My theory behind the source of his super power is that it’s a zero-sum game for him. He loses things a lot, so he also finds them. Perhaps someone else is out there finding the things he loses, and he’s just cashing in on how the universe balances things out. One of the confirming factors in this theory of mine is the fact that I never ever lose anything. I’m generally pretty organized — even when I think I’ve misplaced something, I find that what I’m looking for was carefully filed away in some system that I’ve since forgotten, but there’s always a method to my madness. But because I never lose anything of my own, I never stand to gain anything of anyone else’s. There’s nothing to balance out.

I have a friend whose super power is the ability to make even the most common, cheap article of clothing look expensive and designer. She shops at Old Navy and TJ Maxx. We can have the exact same outfit from one of those stores, and I’ll look like it’s my laundry day in it, while she looks red carpet-ready. It’s amazing. She classes up everything she touches without even having to try. She doesn’t do anything special to them. She’s not a girlie girl. She’s a natural beauty with simple elegance. She’s sophisticated Old World and cutting-edge modern at that same time.Things just hang better on her. She puts them together better than most. Again, I theorize that there’s a source to her power. For her, it’s humility that balances her. She could wear the designer stuff — she has the body and the money, but she just doesn’t see the point. She likes to make do with the simple, and in doing so, makes a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. She’s also such a dear person, that she can’t help but wear her inner beauty on the outside. It gives her a glamour that somehow bends and refracts the light around her to create the optical illusion that those clothes she bought on the clearance rack at Target make her look like a million. She has a super power called style. The best part is that she makes everything, including you, seem more fashionable in her presence. Instead of feeling frumpy by comparison, she manages to somehow elevate the whole room just by walking into it. She’s a special soul indeed.

So, what is my super power? Well, I’ve got a couple, but my main, signature power, my golden lasso/invisible airplane/bulletproof bracelets, is my ability to find and secure rock star parking everywhere I go. By this, I mean that I will get an open parking space on the street directly in front of every and anywhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s popular a new restaurant, a store on Black Friday (which I don’t participate in, in reality), opening night at the opera, or the freaking U.S. Capitol on Inauguration day, I will get to park my car front and center and walk right in. Anyone who has spent any amount of time driving anywhere with me can absolutely, positively vouch for this ability. The best part is that my power has transitive properties that apply to any car in which I am riding, as long as the driver is willing to follow my driving directions to the spot. It might seem like a silly super power, but trust me, it’s handy to have, and you’d appreciate it if you were out with me. I can make your life easier and let you feel like a V.I.Fucking.P. at a busy/popular venue.

There are three main components to the source of my power, which, truth be told, is really more smoke and mirrors than a gift from the universe:

1. Patience and strategy. I am not too proud to go around the block a couple of times. I do this with the belief that a.) a space will open up and b.) I deserve to park right in front of wherever I’m going. Sometimes, I settle for walking down the block, but I almost never, ever have to walk in from another block, unless circumstances are beyond my control or I decide to settle, which almost never happens. That’s just not in my nature. At. All. The parking thing is a point of pride for me now. I also have an uncanny ability to notice people in their cars or walking to their cars and read their body language at a glance to tell whether or not they’re leaving the vicinity and opening up a space for me. That empathic sixth sense of mine allows me to read and anticipate others’ actions to be able to use the situation to my advantage. I know how to cruise and observe quickly and efficiently. I can see where the opportunities are. Too bad I can’t do the same with investing.

2. Kick ass driving skills. I am not afraid to cut across 3-4 lanes of traffic to get to a space that is open or opening. I’m not afraid to whip a U-turn on a tight street. I can react and maneuver a car with incredible skill. My parents taught me well how to be an assertive, but defensive, driver who can move a vehicle deftly and safely. I’m pretty nimble behind the wheel, and driving a stick helps with speed and agility. (Now watch — I’ll be in an accident in the next week to make me karma’s bitch and take me down a deserved notch or twenty for bragging like this. Knock wood.) Moreover, my mother made sure I was an expert at parallel parking at the age of 15. Being able to parallel park was an important skill to have in a beach town…if you wanted to go to the peace. Her philosophy was that parallel parking was a skill you had to master to be worthy of a license (used to be a part of the licensure road test), and I still agree with her to this day. If you can’t park your car, you don’t deserve to drive it. And so, between the fact that I know what the hell I’m doing and the fact that I drive a Japanese compact, I can whip my car into the smallest of spaces at the curb in record time. I can put a car into spots other people either drive right past or spend 15 minutes listening to the direction of three friends trying to squeeze into only to give up, drive on, and park six blocks away. I thank my mother for making me capable of spotting an opportunity and for ensuring that I could take advantage of it.

3. Good, dumb luck. This is the gift from the universe part, and perhaps the real super power itself. I have preternaturally good fortune. I always have. My mother was even remarking on it again yesterday. She started to attribute it to the fact that I’m observant and outgoing — that I tend to keep my eyes open and be in the right place in the right time. I get up next to the right people, win them over with some eye contact, a silver tongue, and a bit of the blarney. So, ok. Maybe I’m a bit of a master manipulator without meaning to be, but it’s really not so much that, except for the fact that I do look people right in the eye, and that tends to draw folks in. Also, I never met a stranger, so it’s easy to make strategic allies. I’m painfully outgoing. I look for relationships. No sooner had Mom hypothesized all of this that she immediately backtracked and said, “No, that’s not it. You were just born under a good sign. You’re just lucky. Everything always works out for you.”

She’s right. I’m charmed. My sister-in-law said a while back that I get whatever I want. Granted, the things I want are simple and few — like a good parking space. Pretty easy to grant those wishes. But she laid it out. I want to get into a school, I do. I’ve never been rejected from any place I’ve applied to. I want a job, I get it. I’ve never had an interview and not been offered the position. I decide I want to move somewhere, of course that’s going to happen, too. And she’s right. It does. Now, maybe I’m just aiming low. Picking low-hanging fruit. But, I don’t think so. I also work my ass off to make things happen. I bring my A game. Luck is probably 90% competence, and I make sure I have that. I do my homework. You can’t get the good parking space if you can’t park the damn car. No one was ever going to do things for me, so I made sure I knew how to do them myself. Always have.

This is not to say that that bad things don’t happen to me. They do. And when they do, they’re not just bad, they’re motherfucking batten-down-the-hatches, Katie-bar-the-door, get-in-the-goddamn-bomb-shelter catastrophic. We’re talking life and death. Fire and brimstone rains down without let-up. It sucks. I’ve had to make some really hard choices and deal with some soul crushing losses. I’ve had to live with myself in the aftermath, too. Had to live with what I couldn’t control and what I could…and what I did with that control and who or what that makes me. I can’t dwell on that, though.

But when it comes to the small stuff, the day to day stuff, I’m crazy fortunate. In the balance, I think the way the skids are greased for me on the mundane probably strikes a balance with the ugly, so I can’t complain. It works itself out. So, I don’t dwell on the ugly too much, except to process it like I do here. The good outweighs it. It empowers me. I always land on my feet no matter the height of the fall. There have been times I’ve looked down and saw the ground rushing up to meet me from a hundred stories below and thought, “oh man, this is it,” but each time fate gives me that instinct, that power of self-preservation to gut it out and twist my middle head first at the very end, and all four paws safely meet pavement at the last minute. Someone…something…me…always comes between me and disaster, and I’m thankful for it. It kind of makes my life easy. I try not to be too confident in my luck saving my ass all the time, but I have to admit that part of me does rely on it — the part that sees worry as a waste of time. I know it will all work out. It always does.

Confession time, though: I probably take my luck more for granted than I should. I’m an admitted scofflaw. For the most part, I’m a good citizen. I’m no criminal or anything, but truth be told, I see rules as bendable. Sometimes they just don’t apply to me. I bullshit my way out of things all the time — tickets, penalties, extra costs for things. I don’t lie. I just…bring people around to see things my way. I don’t take “no” for an answer. I won’t go unnoticed, unless I want to. I suppose that makes me a spoiled brat, but it’s not like I expect it. I just don’t see the harm in trying…because I know I’m gonna get lucky. My poor brother has none of this. It’s like there was a finite account of luck for our generation in our family, and I didn’t just soak up the lion’s share as my birthright, I took it all. He has zero luck. None. If he steps out of line in the slightest, he gets caught. He gets punished. I get away with murder. He’s lived a life of penalties and slaps on the wrist for doing things that everyone else does without getting caught. He can’t get anything past the universe, because I’ve somehow put his account into deficit. It kind of sucks. Sorry about that, brother. You deserve better. You’re actually a better person than I am, but I got all my luck and yours, too. Again, it’s that pesky universal balance thing. Only so much to go around.

So, why do I bring this up? It came to mind last night when I almost finally got what’s been coming to me for a long time. I have a dog. He’s a Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog. He’s giant, white, and very, very furry. He’s kind of hard to miss. In fact, he’s an attention magnet. It’s kind of stultifying the hypnotic effect he has on people. They can’t see him and not fall at his feet. He has powers. I think he might have my charm and luck, actually. We’re a pair. But my point: He’s a breed that’s bred to wander long and far. They’re bred to be independent and stubborn and untrainable. To work on their own without human supervision or command. He’s kind of the perfect dog for me. We have so much in common. And yet, he’s an off-leash dog. He came to me at age 6 or 7 after spending nearly all his life on the streets. He was starving and didn’t now a single command. No sit. No stay. No nothing. He was baffled as to how to even walk through a door — he stood at the hinges. Windows and stairs confounded him. He’d been living outside and eating garbage. He didn’t know what a house was. Two years later, I’ve got him trained on voice command, but there’s more to it than that — we have an agreement of mutual respect.

I’m not his “owner.” We picked each other. He stays with me, travels through this world as my companion glued to my knee because he chooses to, not because I’ve attached him to a leash and made him stay close. He stays close to me because he’s my lieutenant. My second. My other half. My guardian. My 125 pounds of loaded gun I take everywhere with me. And trust me, I am what he protects. I’m his moving castle, and no one’s gonna storm it. It’s really quite impressive in action. I don’t take it lightly. That sweet, friendly, mellow, dopey-looking boy who loves to let strangers pet him and walks at a snail’s pace can turn into a wall of snarling, charging hate with teeth bared and a growl that makes the pavement vibrate if required. It’s happened more than once. Again, a word from me is all that it takes to stop him in his tracks or call him off. I speak, he freezes (this is not to say that he won’t take off and totally ignore me to chase a squirrel — all bets are off with wildlife). We trust each other. We’re a team. We both have agency. He’s wicked smart and can clearly take care of himself, same as me. Our relationship is one of conversation and negotiation. I’m the boss, but I rarely command. We can communicate with just a look. We’re in it together. That’s how I know he’d lay down his life for me. He is the quintessential man’s-best-friend kind dog everyone wishes they had. I recognize that he’s probably one of a kind, and I relish every day with him. He’s amazing. Yesterday, he came with me to the chiropractor (because, as I said, he goes everywhere with me). As the doc was leading us down the hall to a treatment room, he called my dog to follow him. My dog stayed glued at my side. I had to explain that he wasn’t going to go anywhere with him. He was waiting for me to take a step before he did. He was walking with me. My chiropractor has three huskies who are sweet and well-trained, but full of energy. He found that kind of stalwart loyalty impressive. To be honest, so did I. I constantly do. But then, like I’ve said, I’m lucky.

I don’t like putting my teammate, my friend, on a leash like he’s my slave. And so, I usually don’t. When I do, we both resent it, and we immediately turn into the two Stooges. We don’t know how to act or move or relate to each other with that rope between us. I always get it off of him as fast as I can an apologize for it. And so, I’m out there every day with nothing but our voices linking us, knowingly breaking the law. Leveraging that luck of mine. Just begging for that hefty ticket if we ever get caught wandering around the city without a leash. I’m long overdue. I keep waiting for it to happen. Last night, it almost did. See, we take a walk around 9pm every evening. Me, and the big white dog…and our two black cats. Don’t ask. It’s crazy, I know. I didn’t train anyone to do it. They just all started coming along. No leashes. Just voice command. We move through the neighborhood together like a wave of mammalia, talking to one another in our own little ways. I realize that I’d be burned at the stake as a witch in another century for this little spectacle. It gets comments. People take pictures. But so far, no police attention, despite the fact that I have three off-leash animals with me (and, come to think of it, two of them now have expired licenses, too). As we headed out last night, we got about a third of the way down the next block before I noticed a cop car on the corner checking me out. It was my incredible luck that I noticed him from that distance in the dark. He stopped. The cats immediately cheesed it — good little thugs that they are. The dog sensed the silent tension in my suddenly-alert body language and instinctively pulled up beside me and sat. I put my hand gently on his neck and scratched softly under his collar. And so it went on like that. A Mexican standoff — us standing in the yard like statues, and the cop waiting for us to tip our hand and make a move. Waiting for us to finch, for my dog to take off and separate from me, betraying me by making it obvious that he was sans leash. But he didn’t. He just sat there calmly at my hip. And I didn’t move either. Just stared down the cop, daring him to come over and check us out. Minutes passed. Suddenly, the car’s blue and red lights started to spin overhead, his siren wound into a pealing wail. I braced for his approach, but he pulled a left turn and tore out of the neighborhood to answer another call. Saved again by luck, my brood and I regrouped, turned south, and headed down the block. We concluded our walk uninterrupted, unmolested, and unticketed…yet again.

I know I’m pushing it, though. I know my number will come up eventually. Until then, I’m going to continue to try my limits and do things my way, because I’m a brat like that. I can do it, because I’m fortune’s daughter. She arms and protects me and mine. Of all the super powers to have, I have to say it’s a pretty good one.

woman’s best friend

We’ve been apart for nearly a week — me too sick and laid low to care for you. You know things are bad when you can’t even walk your own dog. I went to pick you up from the sitter yesterday. Took me two hours to shower and dress, because I had to keep stopping and laying down. Struggled to stay awake on the drive across the town. Got there and found you napping in the garage. I woke you gently and watched the recognition melt across your face as your eyes met mine. You slowly stood and moved to where I sat on the stoop. Bowed your giant head and tucked it gently under my chin so I could kiss between your big brown eyes, tail sailing back and forth behind you as I hugged my arms around your thick neck and buried my nose into your white fur…inhaling.

I let you out early this morning and then slept all day today. Stayed under the covers until past 4:00pm moving through a series of deep naps punctuated by intense dreams and bouts of coughing. You stayed next to my bed all day, your soft snoring rumbling the room around us. Reassuring me of your presence whenever I came to the surface momentarily. When I finally pulled myself into the shower and stood with the hot water coursing over me, I opened the window to see the sun already starting to set over the Rockies in the distance. You had patiently kept watch over me and sacrificed your own needs for mine.

You were so pleased as we headed out into the yard toward the car. Grin on your face, bounce in your step, trying to engage me in a long-overdue game of romp-and-chase, but quickly seeing my limitations as I fumbled with my keys and stumbled toward the door to open it and let you into the backseat. You dutifully climbed in and rode with your head out the window feeling the breeze that blew back your ears.

We reached the park and parted ways at the gate, as always. You on patrol to sniff and mark your territory, keeping all of us safe from invisible wolves and bears. Me moving toward the other people in the center of the park. The light was fading and the crowd was thin. I immediately noticed that I had forgotten to wear a hat and marveled at my stupidity. Felt the bitter wind blow through my still-damp hair giving me a chill. Knew I wouldn’t last long like that. Coughed and blew my nose with a well-used paper towel I found deep at the bottom of my vest pocket. My body ached and buzzed with exhaustion.

I lost sight of you as you rounded the bend for the far side, made no effort to track you as I stood in the middle of the park in clothes that didn’t feel like they were quite mine anymore. My ears congested, my head thick and heavy and disoriented. Facing east, my thousand-yard stare into the middle distance barely took in darkening sky splashed with gradations of dark blue and gray as my mind wandered in and out of day dreams about summer picnics on the Thames, my puffy junior prom dress, that huge wind farm that appears without warning around the bend in the road in the middle of Kansas, cherry blossoms, and that stretch of sidewalk around the Tidal Basin by the FDR Memorial that doesn’t have a railing where I worry that the crowds are going to push someone in.

I didn’t notice the way the park had emptied. That all the other people and dogs had slowly peeled away as the sun had set. I was cold. Wobbly and weak. Just as my knees swayed and buckled slightly under me, I felt your warmth. The massive, familiar weight of you against my thigh, leaning into me, propping me up. Your shoulder suddenly under my hand. You’d come back for me. Returned at the end of the party to claim your slot on my dance card. My loyal guardian. White knight and charger all in one. You were the one what brung me, and you were taking me home. I gently closed my fist around a hank of your thick, warm fur and let you lead me toward the gate, steadying me over the uneven sand as we made our way home together.

A girl and her dog.

fire woman

It’s taken me almost two weeks to write about this, mostly because that’s how long it’s taken for my blood to cool. And because it taught me something very frightening about myself.

The Saturday before last was a beautiful day. The sun was out. The weather was warm, and spring fever was in the air. I decided it would be a perfect afternoon for my beloved dog and me to pay a visit to our neighborhood dog park, which is something we do pretty much daily anyway. Little did we know that there would be twenty gazillion other people and dogs with the exact same idea at the exact same time. Well, I’m exaggerating, but not much. There were easily 100 people there with easily 100 dogs. I’d never seen it so busy. I even had trouble finding parking, which is unheard of. Granted, it’s a large park, but it was crowded. And it had a bad vibe. An angry and anxious vibe. Something about the dogs and people felt all amped up. I hadn’t seem most of them before, and since most of the dogs were not regulars, there was most definitely a socialization issue for many of them. Lots of snarling and snapping and growling that I don’t usually see. I figured the vibe was coming from the dogs. The people were mostly strangers that didn’t give me a super reassuring feeling either, but I certainly didn’t expect circumstances to turn all Bad Day At Black Rock on us while on a basic outing.

Now, a word about the park. Like I said, it’s pretty enormous as dog parks go. It’s in a neighborhood that used to be our city’s airport, and the park itself is a piece of property used to be a runway. In fact, there’s a small chunk of concrete in the center of it that tends to be the hub of activity as far as dog play and people socializing goes. Given the size of the place, I can lose sight of my dog pretty easily, even though he’s 130 pounds and covered in lots and lots of long white hair. It’s got bends in places and a small hill in the corner and some tucked away corners, so I tend to stay sort of close to him and keep track of what he’s doing, but I don’t hover. Nobody likes a helicopter parent. It’s also a big sandbox, which is perfect for running and rough play. The ground is soft, and nobody gets hurt. It’s also a great workout for a dog to run in sand. Everybody wins…normally.

So, because of the parking situation, I had to park on the east side of the park, rather than our usual spot to the south, so we entered by a different gate than usual. My dog was immediately disoriented by this. He has a routine where he starts marking the perimeter from a certain point, makes his rounds, and then gets a sip of water from the bowl and heads to the middle chuck of runway for some wrestling and running around with the other dogs — mostly regulars he’s come to regard as friends. He’s kind of stuck in a rut that way, but it seems to work for both of us. He has a checklist of things to do, and I can predict his behavior and know when we’re done and ready to go home. The fact that we came in a different way and got off on the wrong foot just sort of blew the whole routine out of the water. It was all downhill from there. He went into the far corner, did his business, did some marking and sniffing, and then suddenly made a bee line for the runway chunk in the center. I got hung up chatting with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and I let my dog put some distance between us. I never lost sight of him, though.

My friend collected her dog, and we parted ways. I started for the center of the park to hang out and supervise my dog, who I could see was playing with another very large dog — a Tibetan mastiff — that I estimated to have 20-30 pounds on my dog and a massive Great Dane that clocked in at around 200 pounds. The Dane was also a park regular and one of my dog’s favorite playmates. I often stand around and chat with the man who brings him — an older, Latino gentleman who seemed friendly enough — while our boys wrestle. My dog always lights up when he sees the Dane, and that day was no exception. I was glad to see a familiar dog there for him to play with in the midst of that crazy crowd.

As I approached the gaggle in the middle, I saw the Dane’s “owner” (I hate that term — we don’t own our friends) chatting with the man who had brought the Tibetan while the three dogs played. As usual, my dog was in alpha mode and was really enjoying the big dog style of physicality with the other two giant breeds — lots of standing up and butting chests and pushing into each others’ sides and really going at it all Greco-Roman. It was all above board. No one was being aggressive. Problem is, the Dane, despite his size, was getting rolled by my large, but much smaller, dog. This is nothing new. As with most Danes, he’s sweet mutt, and really kind of a big pussy cat at heart. It’s not unusual for him to roll over and show his belly. He’s a submissive dog. However, there was another dog in the mix, too, and the smallest dog of the three was winning. The smallest dog was also the only dog there with a woman. I’m not sure what pushed the Dane’s man over the edge, but all of a sudden, I saw him reach down, grab my dog by the collar, and haul him up onto his hind legs by his throat — and then he started YELLING at him.

Oh. HELL. No.

I was completely floored. At first, I was so shocked that I couldn’t even move. I froze in my tracks to take in the scene, my mouth agape. It was at that moment that I saw the look in my dog’s eye. His eye was twice its normal size — so open I could see the white all around the brown iris that usually fills the socket. He was choking. He was terrified. And he was frantically searching the landscape for me — wondering where the hell I was and why I wasn’t over there putting a stop to his attacker.

The whole world turned white with rage. Not red. Not even black. White hot white.

Now, I am not a fast runner. You can’t even really call it running. Doing it on sand? Well, that would a fucking joke — normally. I have no idea what my feet were doing, but I closed the ground between me and my dog in record time. I mean, I fucking transported over there. One minute I was 100 yards off. The next minute I was in the face of a man with a good eight inches on me screaming at him from the top of my lungs — one hand white-knuckling the collar on my dog who was, thankfully, all four feet back on the ground, and the other balled into a fist I was employing every ounce of self-restraint to not use.

Letting this guy have it, it quickly became apparent that his issue was one of bruised ego and fragile masculinity caused by the fact that a smaller dog (and by extension, his woman) got the best of his giant metaphorical penis extension laying there in the sand like a little bitch. And I said as much. Loudly. Repeatedly. That’s right, I was standing in the middle of a crowd of 100 people yelling about this man’s bullshit machismo and inadequate genitalia as his mortified wife tried to pull him toward the car. I can’t even remember everything I said, I was so enraged, but I do know this: I may be small. I may be a woman. I may not be physically formidable, but dear sweet and fluffy Lord, do not give me a chance to use my words, because I will verbally castrate you and put your balls in my purse to take home and stomp on before I feed them to the rats in the alley in front of God and everyone and you will never forget it. Time and again I’m told by people I love that they will avoid a match of wits and words with me at all costs (translation: I’m a huge bitch), so imagine what I’m like when dealing with a stranger. I did not hold back. I told him that I wish my dog had turned his head and bitten his fucking face right off in one chomp. It would have served him right. I told him that I’d do unimaginable violence to him if I ever saw him lay his hand on my dog again — or even come within reach of him again. I called him every name in the book and told him to stay the hell away from me and mine. I also told him to get out of the dog park.

And he did.

I stood there heaving and panting and catching my breath. My head and face were on fire. I was ten shades of deep red as I checked my dog over and hugged and kissed on him in the aftermath. I had enough adrenaline pumping through my veins to launch me to Mars. And then, I looked around me to find that everyone in the park had backed off and left a 50-foot blast radius around me. And, they were standing there — staring. You could have heard a pin drop. It was like the scene in the old Spaghetti Westerns when the gunslingers face off on opposite ends of the street in the crappy little Gold Rush town, their fingers itching to draw their weapons under the hot, noonday sun as a lonely hawk shrieks overhead. There was no hawk, but there should have been. I looked around at everyone, announced that they, too, could all go fuck themselves, and informed them all that I was “out.” With that, I tightened my grip on my dog’s collar and marched us off to the car without so much as a glance back.

I got to my car, put us both inside, closed the door and just did everything I could to calm down. Then, I burst into tears of rage. I had truly lost it. Now, I know I have a temper. I can get my Irish up on a regular basis, if I let myself. This was off the charts, though. We’re talking homicidal. The slit-your-throat-and-watch-you-bleed variety of angry. I was just thankful I didn’t have anything in my hand that I could have used as a weapon. I got a real glimpse of what I might very well be capable of, and let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. I think I now understand how people commit murder as a crime of passion, and man, my dog wasn’t even injured. Granted, he was being hurt, and he might have been hurt if I hadn’t have acted, but man, can I act. Thank God my words were all I had with me. I was just so furious that a man — a NEIGHBOR and fellow dog person — with whom I rub elbows several times a week could treat my companion that way. My sweet-natured, highly-sensitive, well-behaved companion I have taken great pains to not only train but to heal from severe anxiety issues. A creature who has made so much incredible progress in the past two and a half years with me. I take being a dog’s companion very seriously, and we work hard to be a couple of good citizens. And we are a fantastic pair. He’s my best friend and my co-pilot. He goes everywhere with me like a shadow. He’s the best dog ever. He wouldn’t harm a fly, and I’m very proud of that. I trust him with small dogs, cats, and infants, despite the fact that he was bred to take on and kill bears that threaten his flock. Yelling at his breed is just not done — doing so has severe emotional repercussions. He’s a good and trusting and friendly boy, and here was this man hurting him and shouting at him out of the blue. All I could think about was the damage being done in his head when I saw that look in his eye and how I wasn’t there to prevent it as I crossed that park to put a stop to the attack on my friend. Man, do not mess with me and mine. I will not have it. You hear? I will not be having that shit. Clearly. And clearly, I should never, ever own a firearm. Because I just might use it.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Man, if you get that worked up about a dog at a dog park, don’t ever have kids and take them to the playground.” Yeah, I had the same thought. I called a friend and expressed as much. I was scared of myself. I’ve been scared of myself for days. Even my dog was scared of me. He wouldn’t get out of the car for hours after the incident, and I’m pretty sure my reaction was as much a part of that as the stranger danger attack. But, Jesus, his safety and security is my responsibility. He is a rescue. He’s had a hard life, and it is my job to make sure that it’s never, ever hard again — not for a minute — even if that means doing everything in my power to come between him and disaster. That’s what loyalty is about, right?

For the most part, I’m well adjusted and somewhat easy going — more so lately than ever — which is why I was so blown away that I went from zero to OMG I AM GOING TO RIP YOUR FUCKING THROAT OUT AND FEED IT TO YOUR ASS in no time flat. And I might have just been angry enough to do it. Sometimes I am so scary, I scare myself. And I really did scare the hell out of me. I didn’t show up at the park on a sunny day looking to go all Dark Phoenix on anyone, but hit the right trigger, and man, I’m gone. Total ballistic, take-no-prisoners Slavic fury, and I’m not in control when it happens. It’s primal and primitive and dark and explosive and dangerous and at the same time reassuring. Maybe I don’t want to control it . Maybe it can be useful. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve used it in the past to take care of more business than I care to admit to myself and others. Call it a case for anger management, but when it comes to my kin, man or beast, I will shoot first and ask no questions later. I have been processing that fact for days now. I am going to have to add it to the “One More Thing I Know About Me” list.

Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.