Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Dog With No Name

When we can’t think of a name for an animal, it’s a sign. This has never happened before. Names come easy to us. We’re kind of famous for our cool and creative names—Motley (the dog), Mojo, Hobbes (cats), Lowdown, Harley, Spirit (horses), Black Betty (all my black chickens), Penny (all the white chickens), Helen (all the red ones), Redeye (my albino ferret) for example, and when people are stuck, they ask us for ideas. We’ve named the dogs of four friends and quite a few of their horses as well as a goat and a hamster. But we could not come up with a name for this Doberman we got shanghaied into taking. Nothing sounded right. They were all too obvious or common or just plain stupid.

I think it was because we weren’t supposed to have her. I knew she was not the right dog for us from the get-go but I didn’t want to hurt my friend’s feelings who found her for us so I inquired just to be polite. Then I found out the owner had died and the family sent her back to the breeder who unloaded her on someone who didn’t really want her. He was keeping her outside. She had a nice dog house but there was a foot of snow on the ground and more was coming. She was in a pen all by herself next to his two dozen beagles who were all snuggled up like mice in a litter in the adjoining pen. Dobermans are not outside dogs. And this was a young Doberman. A pup really. Only about seven months old. So I had to go and get her. Plus, I felt sorry for her, losing her owner.

For three days we wracked our brains trying to think of a name, but nothing. The whole time I kept picturing what would happen when she ran up to all the people who come and go on the farm—the farrier, the UPS man, kids who come to ride with Kelly—or those who pass the house—the dog walker, the bike riders, the lady who picks up litter. They’d stop short and put up their hands. Maybe take a step back. I’d say, “It’s alright, she won’t bite,” like I used to say with Motley. But this dog was scary looking. Nothing like our floppy-eared mutt who would plop down and roll over, red rocket out, tail thumping, when someone came to visit. The Doberman would think something was up, the way people would act. They’d widen their eyes. She’d widen her eyes. The meter reader would jump back in his car. Before you knew it, she’d nip someone.

If I had a fenced-in yard, it would be a different story. I’ve got field fence, rail fence, some chain-link fence on the far side of the property, and picket fence, but none of it is dog worthy if the dog has any kind of oomph. And the Doberman had oomph, if the way she zoomed around the barn when I let her loose in there was any indication. She didn’t come right back to me. I had to catch her. I’d have to tie her up. I don’t want a dog that I have to tie up. I want a dog who, when I step out onto the deck to let him do his duty, he will pee right there on my roses and come right back when I whistle. I wouldn’t even have to put my coat on. Yes, I know I could train the Doberman. But, even though she was beautiful and sweet, this just wasn’t the kind of dog we were looking for. I felt guilty about it but she deserved to be with someone who really wanted her and time was of the essence—she was still a puppy. I had to make a decision right away.

So I chalked it up to a rescue and I gave her to my friend who was the one who found her in the first place. I believe she was meant to have her since the dog sleeps in their bed and was named Lilly about an hour after they got her.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Mission

As soon as my friends found out we were in the market, my inboxes and Facebook page were flooded with links and posts and emails about dogs who needed homes. It was a literal smorgasbord of cute canines—little dogs, big dogs, young dogs, old dogs, purebreds, mutts; you name it—with an emphasis on pit bulls because the shelters are loaded with them, and brindles, because that’s what Motley was.

My friends were on a mission. They’re animal lovers like me and if you can’t get another pet yourself because you have too many already, the next best thing is helping your friend get one. It’s like shopping by proxy. It’s not the real thing but you can still get your rocks off. This happens in the horse world all the time. We’re always finding horses for each other and going out on shopping expeditions together. One of us will say, “Hey, you want to take a ride and go look at a horse?” and the next thing you know, you’re driving three days to Texas.

The problem was, I didn’t like any of the dogs. I’m sorry, but after Motley, I want it all. Motley spoiled me. I want a dog with a nice disposition. I want a dog who, when people come and go on the farm, they won’t get scared when he runs up to greet them but who will make someone think twice when they knock on the door and hear him bark if they had any intention of robbing me. I want a dog who I can let loose to trot alongside me as I go in and out of the house to do my chores and who will follow when I ride my horse around the pasture and come when I whistle. I want a dog who, even if he is untrained, is willing and trainable. I don’t think Marley and Me was very cute at all. Yeah it was sad at the end and it brought a tear to my eye when they buried him but I would have been burying that dog about ten minutes into the movie because I would have killed him right around the time he ripped up my couch.

So we ruled out the high energy, couch-eater types. And the ones who looked like they belonged behind an eight-foot fence with a curl of razor wire on top in Nazi Germany or in a drug den in Camden. We ruled out the ones who hated cats and small children. Little dogs because we’re big dog people, though we wouldn’t rule out a little dog as the second dog. And all the ones with pushed-in faces because we want a dog with an actual snout.

My friends were getting frustrated. They kept sending pictures. What about this one? Nope. What about him? Nah. How about her? No, I want the ears a tiny bit floppier and the tail just a little more waggedy.

Yes, I discriminated based on looks. I don’t want any Dobie-wa-wa in my pocketbook. (See Dobie-wa-wa here: I want a good looking dog. The grim reaper in the dog pound doesn’t care what it looks like. I can just as easily save a pretty one as I can an ugly one.

Plus, getting a dog is a big commitment. It’s almost like adopting a baby. You’re going to have this animal for ten or fifteen years and you will never again be completely free. You certainly won’t be able to go out all day and all night without making a pit stop home to let the dog out and that can be a pain in the ass if you’re in the middle of having fun, say, you’re at a barbecue and your ex is about to walk in with his new wife who you heard gained quite a bit of weight since the baby and now you are going to miss that. You have to go home and let the dog out. And they can be expensive. You might even purchase the new pool for the vet’s summer home if you get a sickly dog or a dishonest vet who takes advantage of you because now you are paranoid since you lost the last one, and you keep running to the vet every time the new dog looks crooked.

And what if the dog doesn’t measure up to the best dog ever? What if he pees on the floor or steals a steak out of the garbage or doesn’t stop to let you wipe all four feet, patiently lifting one at a time, because, it’s a dog after all. And you realize, perhaps, Motley was not a real dog.

I felt bad, ruling them out left and right, especially since my girlfriend was trying so hard, texting me pictures of dogs when she should have been cooking dinner, and keeping an eye on Craigslist for new posts like someone waiting to make a run for it when there’s a break in the traffic. She forwarded me new ads at all hours of the day and night, at midnight and dawn, whenever they popped up. She was relentless. It was a lot of pressure. So in a moment of weakness, I threw caution to the wind and I just grabbed one. I knew it wasn’t going to be the right dog like a drunk girl knows it’s not going to be the right guy but she does it anyway. Plus I was afraid the dog was going to freeze to death if I didn’t.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The List

The FedEx man knocked on the door. I jumped. I didn’t hear him coming. I don’t have a dog anymore who barks when somebody pulls up. Before I knew it was the FedEx man, I hoped it wasn’t a bad guy out there because he’d know I didn’t have a dog, since none was barking, and I’m out in the middle of nowhere. I could get killed and no one would know it until Kelly came home from school or Kurt came home for dinner. That was one of the good things about Motley. He’d bark when someone arrived, but when I told him to stop, he’d stop.

The FedEx man handed me my package and asked, “Where’s the dog?”

“He died,” I said. “Kidney failure. We had to put him to sleep right before Christmas.”

“Oh no, I’m sorry!” He looked down at his pad. He scratched his head like he couldn’t believe it. “I keep a list of all the dogs on my route. I’ve got: Motley… Friendly.”

That’s why I miss him so much. Forget keeping burglars away. He’s on delivery drivers’ lists of nice dogs.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Something's Off

We need a new dog on the farm. In our family. I was going to wait until after we got back from Florida. The main reason we don’t go away as much as we’d like to is because of the animals. I should say as much as Kurt would like to. My idea of a vacation is to sleep until I wake up. Just wake up whenever I’m done sleeping. No alarm clocks. No shaking me. Then when I finally do open my eyes, don’t get out of my pajamas and have somebody bring me coffee and food, preferably spaghetti, eat, and then go back to sleep. That’s my idea of a vacation. But Kurt and the kid prefer more traditional venues like Disneyworld plus my father abandoned me for all the good weather down there so I’ve got to go.

It’s really hard getting away when you have animals. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t like going away. I get the horse sitter to come twice a day and she’ll fill up the barn cats’ food and go inside and take care of the house cats but I can’t leave a dog alone all day and all night with only two visits from someone. Dogs don’t like to be alone. They’re pack animals. Even if I had two dogs, which we usually do, and they had each other for company, they still have to go to the bathroom more than twice a day in a twenty-four hour period. So I bring the dog(s) to a dog sitter and that can run into big bucks and then on top of it, I always feel guilty because my dogs are not really thrilled about it. Vixen used to give us the cold shoulder when we returned and the last time we went away, poor Motley was traumatized by the dog sitter’s dogs. Even though they are all very nice dogs and they are used to other dogs coming and going because that’s what this lady does for a living. I shouldn’t say he was traumatized by her dogs, plural. It was one dog in particular. A sweet and friendly Great Dane named Daisy. But Motley was scared of her. He couldn’t figure her out because she was as big as our pony but she wasn’t a pony. He knew there was something off about her.

I don’t know if it was the pony-like dog or what, but Motley wasn’t himself when we picked him up and I don’t think he was himself while he was there either because the dog sitter didn’t rave about him like people usually did. Everyone loved Motley. Even the mailman told me that if I ever needed a home for him, he would love to have him. I used to be afraid that people were going to steal him if I turned my back. That’s how nice he was. So I expected the dog sitter to report how impressed she was, how he was the best dog she’d ever taken care of. But she didn’t say squat. I was kind of insulted by her lack of accolades. It was like making someone a gourmet dinner with ingredients you had to search high and low for, exotic this and organic that, and setting up your computer with the recipe on it right on the counter next to the coffee pot so you can follow it to a T and everything looks fabulous, it looks like something out of Bon App├ętit magazine, and no one says, “Yum, this is good.”

At any rate, Motley wasn’t himself when we picked him up and in fact, he was never himself again. He was quieter. He started aging fast and we found ourselves cooing, “You good old dog,” and then we’d hit our foreheads and say, “Wait! He’s not old!” He was seven or eight. In the summer, he started panting more than I thought was right. Everyone said, “Oh, it’s hot,” but I knew something was wrong. When I took him to the vet, we found out he had kidney failure. We never found out what caused it. By Christmas, he was dead.

I can’t help wondering if it had something to do with the vaccines the dog sitter required. I didn’t want to do it. I’m not against vaccines. But I think we give too many of them too often and I’ve cut back on the number of vaccines I give to both my animals and my children. The dog sitter was actually on the same page as me about that and she was going to let me slip by with just the kennel cough shot since he had had the whole series about two years ago. But when I was in the vet’s office and the vet asked me if I wanted to do them all, I thought, ah, give them to him. I was scared when I did them and scared when I didn’t. I’ll always wonder if those shots had something to do with it because he was perfectly fine before that. Maybe, with his compromised organs from having the parvo as a puppy, all those shots put him over the edge. I don’t know…

Now it’ll be even harder to go away because I’m not going to put my dogs in any kind of a boarding situation if it means I have to give them vaccines I don’t think is in their best interest. I’m going to have to find someone to stay at the house. That’s not going to be easy. Or cheap. So we were going to wait before we got another dog, do the Florida thing first. But I can’t stop crying. I never cried this much over a dog. It has nothing to do with the fact that I held Motley when we put him to sleep. I held Vixen too and I didn’t cry over her this much. I’m crying over Motley about as much as I cried over my mother! It’s embarrassing! It’s a dog!

Maybe it was because he was by my side practically every waking minute. I went out to take care of the horses, he came out with me. I went back in, he came back in. I went into the bathroom, he padded after me. All through the house, he quietly followed and was always there, sleeping next to the bed (I had to watch when I got up in the morning that I didn’t step on him), under the kitchen table, lying next to the couch, not making a peep except for the thump of his tail if I looked in his direction. I go out now to feed the horses and I feel like I forgot something. I open the door to the house and expect Motley to come barreling out and there’s nothing. It’s like my arm was cut off. Yeah, I’m still functioning with what I have left. But I’m all discombobulated like there’s a pony but it’s not a pony. Something’s off.

So I need another one ASAP. Of course no dog will take Motley’s place. How many best-dog-evers are there? But I know I will feel better if I have another dog to love, especially if I can find one who needs a home. I’ve got to do something with all this dog love that has no place to go right now.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Best Dog Ever--Motley 2006 to 12-20-13

The UPS man left packages at the door. He has no idea he had to step over my dead dog. Motley is wrapped in my mother’s blue and yellow quilt waiting for Kurt to get home to bury him. My mother would like that I used her quilt. He’s a big dog with a big heart. Kurt’s going to need to dig a hole with the tractor.

I feel guilty even though I knew in my gut the time was right. He was suffering. Not badly yet, but suffering nonetheless and there was no fixing him. It was only going to get worse. He had kidney failure. The vet was never able to figure out what it was from but I remember the vet in Virginia warning me after he survived parvo that he might have organ problems down the road. I also blame other things. I think maybe I gave him too many vaccines. What if it was the Roundup I sprayed on the driveway? It drives me crazy not knowing why. I thought if I knew what caused it, I could save him. The vet said these things happen.

I first noticed something was wrong back in the summer. He was panting heavier than I thought he should be. Everyone said it was pretty hot out. But you know. When you love an animal, just like a child, you don’t even have to be a mother—you just have to love—you know when something’s wrong.

He should have died twice before. When we adopted him, he was the only one in a kennel full of maybe forty dogs at the dog pound who didn’t get put to sleep that week and thrown out on the landfill in back. I was looking for a new dog and hoped to find a brindle since my old dog who had died was a brindle, but I didn’t expect to find one because brindles aren’t common and I only get my dogs from the shelter, narrowing the field even more. But there he was waiting for us when Kelly and I went in there. He was part of a litter of strays, about four months old. The other three looked like Shepherd mixes but Motley had floppy ears and a golden brindle coat. I pointed to him and said, “Can I see that one?” The animal control officer opened up the cage, snapped a leash on him and pulled him out. He promptly flopped down and fell into the cement trough that ran length of the kennel, head first, upside-down. If he could speak, he would have giggled and said, “Oh gosh.” He lay there, belly exposed for rubbing, little pecker out, and tail thumping. I said, “I’ll take him.”

Since he was a stray, I had to leave him at the pound for a few days to make sure his owner didn’t come and claim him. When I went back to pick him up, they told me they’d meet me out in the parking lot with him. I stood outside my truck excitedly waiting. All of a sudden I heard earth shattering yelping. “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!” I thought, ut oh, don’t tell me that’s my dog. The animal control officer appeared from around the corner of the building dragging Motley in the dirt. He was scared and didn’t know how to walk on the leash. I ran over and picked him up. He immediately stopped howling.

I drove directly to the vet and got him a check-up and shots. When we got home, I had to carry him into the house even though he was pretty big already at maybe thirty or forty pounds. He didn’t know how to climb the stairs. He had been a stray and didn’t know anything about living with people but he liked being with us right away and padded behind me from room to room. Wherever I went, he quietly followed.

The next morning he was sick. Though I never had a dog with parvo before, I knew right away that’s what it was. I just knew. I brought him right back to the vet’s office and it was confirmed. We thought he was going to die then. Parvo is often a death sentence. But after a hospital stay, IV fluids and a lot of good care, he made it. We didn’t know how lucky we were. This dog was a gift from God. He did nothing wrong. Nothing. He had one accident in the house when we were housebreaking him and never peed in the house again. Even if he had to puke, he’d run to the door to do it outside. He was only a pup when we got him but he never chewed anything, never snuck up on the furniture, jumped on the door, or tore up the garbage; heck, you could leave a steak on the top of the garbage and he wouldn’t touch it.

I didn’t have to tie him up. He stayed right by my side wherever I went, trotting along when I did my chores. I went out, he came out with me. I went in the house, he came in the house with me. He never chased anything. Scratch that. He would chase critters out in the field but the minute I called him back, he’d slam on the brakes and turn around. Even if there was a bunny a few feet away, I’d say, “Motley…. No….” and you could tell he was thinking about it, he wanted that rabbit, oh man, he wanted that rabbit, but he wouldn’t do it. What dog does that?

Sometimes I’d be outside doing something, gardening say, and I’d look up and realize I haven’t seen Motley in a while. I’d stand up and look all around and if I still didn’t see him, I’d get nervous. I’d call him and if he didn’t come, I’d start whistling and screaming, “Motley! Motley!” Then all of a sudden I’d turn around and he was right there, standing quietly behind me the whole time. Just standing there. He never said a word.

He never went near the road so we didn’t have to put in the Invisible Fence we had planned to get. Didn’t even go in that direction because, simply, we told him no, and we could open the door and let him out by himself if it was too cold for us to join him and he’d come right back to the house when he was done going to the bathroom. One time we forgot him out there. He was so quiet, he didn’t let us know that he was ready to come back inside and we forgot him! I found him the next morning all curled up on the welcome mat patiently waiting for us. We cried, “Why didn’t you tell us Dopey?!” (Meaning, at least bark like a regular dog) and he wiggled all around us, happy we finally showed up.

He stopped at the door and waited for me to wipe his feet—actually lifted all four feet up for me, first the front ones, then the back ones. He didn’t jump on guests or on their cars when they came over. They’d get scared because he’d get so excited he’d go barreling out when someone arrived and they’d be like, “Whoa! Whoa!” and put their hands up. I’d say calmly, “Don’t worry, he won’t jump on you.” He’d stop short and stand there, tongue hanging out, tail wagging. He got along with the horses and followed us on rides around the property. He got along with the cats and babies and even the UPS man. Everyone loved him. We could leave him home alone and he wouldn’t do anything wrong and we could take him with us in the truck (Wanna go bye-byes?!) and we’d have to help him up unless he got a good running start because he wasn’t very athletic and he’d sit in the back seat and rest his head on the top of my head, drool, and watch the road.

He was so pretty, whenever we took him out, people stopped us and asked, “What kind of dog is that?” They thought he was some exotic purebred. We’d say, “He’s a Pittsylvania County Dog Pound Dog—this is what you can get when you save a life,” or if we were in a joking mood, we’d make something up. “He’s an Italian Shimalaya Tiger Dog.” They’d say, “Ooh, I never heard of that breed before!” We’d say, “It’s rare. This is the only one.”

When Kelly and I came home from the dog pound that day and told Kurt we picked one, he asked, “Can we return him if we don’t like him?” I said, “Kurt!” I was mad. He wasn’t going to give the new dog a chance because he was still thinking about our other dog who had died and who was a very good dog. But it wasn’t long before I overheard him in the other room talking baby talk to Motley and rubbing his chest. Motley would sit up on his haunches next to Kurt’s desk like a circus poodle waiting for a treat, this big 85 pound galumph, and Kurt would peck on the computer with one hand and rub Motley with the other hand and Motley would balance that way for as long as Kurt kept petting and cooing. Then he’d flop over.

I feel bad because a dog like this should live for a long time.

I also feel bad because he had no say in the matter; in his euthanasia. I had to make the decision for him. What would he have chosen? Animals live in the present. He was still wagging his tail. He wasn’t crying out in pain. But he was distressed. He was shaking, almost convulsing at times, and breathing heavy. His tail would start thumping if you went over to comfort him, but his shaking would actually get worse because his heart beat faster because he was excited we were petting him. I was afraid he was going to have a heart attack and in a way, I wished he would have a heart attack so I didn’t have to make the decision. But I could see it in his eyes, the way he looked at me beseechingly, and I knew what I had to do.

I think of euthanasia as the last gift we give our beloved pets. If you don’t use it until it’s too late, what is the point? Still, I felt like a traitor as I told him, “Good boy, good boy,” holding him on my lap, caressing his head, knowing he trusted me, as the doctor put the needle in.

I’d like to end this with one of my clever little reflections, circling back to the tractor perhaps, or something symbolic about the blanket, but I can’t. I can’t stop crying. Because he was the best dog ever.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Heathen in the Parade

I’m pulling a float in the Halloween parade. I was just going to try to make it this year. Not make the float. Just get there this time. It’s something I’ve wanted to go to since I moved here—a small-town parade, my small-town parade, people waving flags, floats decorated with cobwebs and zombies, the high school band and horses with riders dressed as headless horsemen, marching down Main Street, past Bud’s store where you can still get Chiclets and Peanut Chews, the ice cream parlor, the firehouse, the feed store with the pigeon coop outside, the gas station that’s never opened and only takes cash, and a handful of antiques stores.

There used to be a beauty parlor but she moved out. That saved me because, though I liked her, especially since she had a horse, I didn’t like the way she was cutting my hair. I haven’t had a good haircut since my cousin Eric died twenty years ago. It was even worse when I was in Virginia and went to a place called Beulah’s House of Beauty, which was out in the middle of a cornfield and had a deer head mounted over the shampoo station, if that tells you anything.

Beauticians are funny. They’re like blacksmiths. You spend a lot of time with them and if you’ve got a halfway decent personality, you get a good bullshit session going. That’s how I wound up moving to Oklahoma in the first place. I blame it on the blacksmith. My beautician knew about it because she knew all the dirt on me including that I’m an ex-go-go dancer and one time I drank the holy water in church because Susan Donohue and I thought we could get to Heaven faster that way, but it wasn’t her. The blacksmith was the culprit. This was right around the time that the Internet came out. He just let it slip one day that his parents bought eighty acres in Virginia and it was dirt cheap. Eighty acres! You have to be rich to buy eighty acres in New Jersey! He told me to go look at a site called and that’s what we did right after supper that night (we were excited—only having an acre and three-quarters and four horses on it was tight, to put it mildly) and sure enough, he was right. Land was cheap down there. You could buy a few acres down there for the price of a haircut up here.

Right away we knew we were moving. It didn’t even occur to me to wonder if I would miss my family—we were forty-five minutes away, it wasn’t like you could just run over for a cup of coffee, what difference would a few states make?—or to worry about what we would do for work. I never had a problem getting a job before. The only reason I did that go-go dancing gig was for fun. (To be honest, I also bought a new car.) I actually had so many jobs that I won the award at my high school reunion for having the most jobs. They were colorful ones too. I was a dog catcher, a telephone operator, a donut maker, a groom at the racetrack, an editorial assistant; I worked in a health food store, furniture store, mental institution, and I sold vibrators to bored housewives at home demonstrations, kind of like Tupperware parties but dirty and funny... Anyway, you get the picture. Worrying about getting a job made as much sense as worrying I might tumble down a mountain in Nepal while on a hike. It just wasn’t in my reality. Plus, we thought it might be fun to open a tack shop.

But we weren’t going to be stupid and not look at any of the other forty-nine states in America. There were a lot to choose from! We ruled out all the cold states. We ruled out the states with expensive hay. The NFR was on. That gave us some ideas. The cowboys had cool names like Cord and Dusty and Blake. Sometimes the announcers did a little background story on them. They lived on big spreads with the ranch names over the gates—not just a little sign at the end of the driveway—wore cowboy hats even when they weren’t riding, and ate chili and chewed tobacco. Since we wanted to be cowboys, we thought it would be a good idea to move to one of those places where the cowboys were at. Texas and Oklahoma had the most entrants in the NFR, so we picked the one that was the cheapest—Oklahoma—and moved there.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know where Oklahoma was, much less that it was windy and there was nothing to do there except go to church and rodeos. I felt like we were in one of those late-night movies where the family breaks down out in the middle of nowhere but luckily there’s a motel up ahead. This family is really dumb so they are not rattled by the neon sign flickering, the tin can clattering across the parking lot, or the broken soda machine with the bloody handprint on it. The father says, “Hello? Hello?” and the children skip around to the backside of the building where red dirt and tumbleweeds blow, litter is all tangled up in the barbed wire fence, and there’s a fresh cigarette butt crushed on the ground but no one is in sight. You know how this movie ends.

We were out of there before the year was up. Moved in, put up a big sign over the gate at the end of the driveway—Smokin’ Bandits Ranch—unpacked, opened a tack shop, ate a bowl of chili, and then took the sign down, packed up, sold all the tack for half of what we paid, and hightailed it out of there.

Then we went to Virginia. This was where the blacksmith said to go in the first place. This was the place! Virginia was on the East coast. There would be more of a Jersey influence in Virginia. In Oklahoma we weren’t wanted. One time someone told us, “Go home you fucking Yankee,” when we complained about buying a set of bum tires. We didn’t even know we were Yankees until we moved there! The Yankees we knew was a baseball team. We were hurt. We were so excited when we bought those tires….

There would be more of our kind in Virginia. People moved down there from Jersey all the time. Look at the blacksmith’s parents! Plus they had old houses. Old houses with antebellum porches, farmhouses with metal roofs, Victorians and Greek Revivals and cabins and all the antiques to go with them. Right up my alley. And it was pretty. The rolling green hills and red barns and churches with steeples looked fake, they were so pretty.

But a number of factors came into play that made me realize almost right away that this wasn’t the place either, though it took us seven years before we finally gave up. Number one, we were Yankees there too. Number two, we moved next door to the Evils. Number three, there was nothing to do there either except go to church, and since we were broke—no one was hiring telephone operators, dog catchers, or donut makers, or buying flooring (I suspect it was our accents—they didn’t trust us—and then the economy crashed)—we couldn’t even afford to drive to the apple festival.

A couple of times I hitched a ride with one of my few friends to a writers’ thing, but even there, in a room full of big readers who you would think would have open-minds (and maybe they did, I was too scared to find out), I didn’t have fun. It was more of what Virginia is all about—church and old farmhouses, meaning Christian and historical fiction. There was no edgy stuff about bartenders named Chickie who has a Shel Silverstein poem tattooed on her back, eats a macrobiotic diet, and sleeps with the dishwasher when she has a bad night, like what I write about. So I was afraid to be myself. I never brought my good stuff to read. I edited myself too much when I was composing—I’m a heathen! How can I write this stuff?! I should be writing about Margaret Spoonacher who saved the Battle of Whatever when she deflected a bullet off the metal hoop in her skirt! Therefore, no fun.

You’ve got to be yourself if you want to have fun. You also have to be yourself and stand up for what you believe in, if you want to sleep at night. I didn’t like it that I was afraid to say something when someone referred to a black person as “colored,” like this was still 1960, or that I didn’t speak up when the local pastor called gays evil, or that I was scared to say what I really thought when my neighbor bragged about the little puppy mill she had going. Oh, they’re so cute, was all I could muster, feeling like a hypocrite. I didn’t want to rock the boat. Yankees have a bad reputation for moving south and then trying to change the way people do things. I didn’t want them to think I was doing that! I was even afraid of writing a letter-to-the-editor. What if they don’t like me? What if they don’t like what I say? They won’t buy flooring from us and they won’t invite Kelly to Krystal’s birthday party!

I probably would have died from a bleeding ulcer or loneliness if my mother didn’t get sick and make me want to go home. The ironic thing is, just like in The Wizard of Oz, everything I was looking for was right here. There was cheap land in South Jersey the whole time. It’s the country down here with rodeos and red barns and cornfields. There are churches, if you want, but you don’t have to have them, and there are even churches that not only welcome gay people, but don’t pull that “hate the sin, love the sinner” shit, churches that don’t believe there is anything at all wrong with being gay. I go to writers’ groups and apple festivals and Saturday is the Halloween parade and we have money to put gas in the tank so we can pull those goblins and zombies on a float covered with cobwebs.

I always read my stories out loud to Kurt before I put them on my blog. He said, “You’re going to publish that?” He was surprised because he knows that I have been worried about what people might think about me being an ex-go-go dancer. He, himself, doesn’t care. In fact, being a boy, he likes to brag about it. But I’ve always worried about it. Now I’m not. That is the point of the story. I am being myself and I like it. He said, “They’ll still be your friend here.” And then, “And if they’re not, fuck ‘em!” I feel safe here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Surrogate Grandfather

Charlie also sells gravel. He wears plaid flannel shirts and drives a red dump truck filled with gravel—pea gravel, ¾ stone, sand, whatever you want. If you want more than what fits in the dump truck like we did, he can order you a tri-axle load. Those are big trucks almost as long as a tractor trailer. We got two of them. No one had replenished any of the gravel in this driveway probably for as long as the initial gravel was put down when the driveway was first built and it was bare in the middle and had grass poking through like sprouts of hair on a bald head. When it rained, it got muddy. You couldn’t walk on it in a pair of high heels. Heck, you couldn’t walk on it in regular shoes either so forget it if you had to go anywhere and stay clean. You still can’t walk on it in high heels. Gravel is bumpy. Luckily I don’t wear heels too often but if I did, we made a path from the deck to where I park the truck out of 12 X 12 pink patio blocks and I tiptoe from one to the other like I’m playing hopscotch.

I had to shop around for the gravel. I was relieved that Charlie’s price was competitive because I really wanted to buy it from him. I prefer to buy things local, especially really local as in right next door, if at all possible. You should patronize the people where you live, if you want your community to be strong and healthy. It’s the reason why I try to buy American-made products but that is really hard nowadays since our politicians practically sold us to China.

I got a tablet for Christmas. I read books on it. I love it but I feel frustrated because there are things I can’t figure out how to do and the owner’s manual is impossible to understand. It’s in English but it may as well be in Chinese. It is full of typos, slang, bad translations, and the print is too small to read even with my glasses. This is what it says when I get out the magnifying glass:

“If you long time don’t to use this Tablet, ,in order to avoid power consumption caused damage,pls charge/play the battery once a month.”

This is why I still don’t know how to use the thing.

Luckily I don’t have to buy gravel from China. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens soon. We already get our hardwood flooring from China. Get this. We log the trees here. (Lots of logging was going on in Virginia. People who had fallen on hard times when the economy crashed were bulldozing their land left and right in a desperate attempt to try to keep their heads above water a little longer.) We send the trees on a long boat to China where they turn them into hardwood floors. Then China sends the flooring back to us where we sell it in Lowe’s. Why are we allowing China to produce our goods and sell it back to us when we need the jobs? I can’t imagine what it costs to ship something that far, that heavy—trees! It’s cheaper to send trees halfway around the world than to pay someone here, who needs a job, to turn them into floors? Or dressers. Or cabinets. All the stuff that we used to make that China makes now. Oh, that’s right, slave wages over there. And tax breaks. Corporate America needs to get just a little bit richer. Filthy, obscenely rich with not enough time in a thousand lifetimes to spend all the money, is not quite enough. Of course they’re eating themselves alive. If this keeps up, we’re going to be too poor to buy the hardwood floors they send back to us.

But I’m off-topic now.

Between the gravel and the vegetable-buying, Charlie and I have become friends. Kurt says if I can’t find a surrogate grandmother, maybe I can have a grandfather. All these years I’ve been looking for a grandmother to adopt, someone to bring a casserole to and sit on the porch and have a cup of coffee with and talk about the neighbors, the flowers, where to get mulch, gravel, things like that, like I used to do with my nana.

Pearl came close. I thought she was going to be it. But then she got scared letting us ride our horses around their fields because we’re Yankees—I suspect someone down at the church told her we were up to something—and they put up that fence. That hurt my feelings so bad it was like I had a crack in my heart. She realizes now how off track she was. We’re gone now and we didn’t do anything, we were nothing but a plus in that neighborhood, everything is safe and sound, we left everything exactly as we found it. No, scratch that. We left it better. We fixed up that house and we adopted the road and regularly picked up all the litter the Chick-fil-A lady and the chewer and the Old Milwaukee drinker threw out the window on their way home and we even cut the long grass in the ditches in front of the neighbors’ properties and changed Pearl’s light bulbs because we were worried about Eldon falling off the ladder. No, we were nothing but a great addition to that neighborhood and now they are all crying because we are gone.

It makes me kind of sad. I miss them too. But I’ve got Charlie now. I made him that sign that he has on the side of the road to sell his produce.

I noticed that he mowed the long grass around my mailbox the other day. I don’t know if he’s a coffee drinker. But he does know where to get gravel.