Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tails of Dogtown

Even my dogs are weird.

I had one named Motagus. Pronounced Mo’ Tay Gus. My dad named him and then proceeded to throw him against a fence when he pooped in the house. It only happened once. My mother threatened to leave her animal abuser husband if it happened again, which created an unwaivering fear my dad had for that dog whenever he happened to be lingering about.

From then on, my dad was relegated to poop patrol, nightly feedings and telling “Gus” what a good boy he turned out to be, this for the sake of saving the marriage. Gus knew he had a pass for life after the “incident” and one could argue, took advantage of the situation . He ate my stuffed animals – gutted them, actually –he climbed on the bed, couches, ate scraps off of the dining room table. Even ate my mother’s beloved bull scrotum purse (see A Really Stupid Gift, June 18, 2011.) He was punished with a good old fashioned rub behind the ears and an “atta boy”.

Gus had a bad habit of approaching company without them knowing, and stelthly placing his unit on their crossed legs, their dangling feet. This didn’t bode well when my mother ran for city council and had her supporters over for coffee meetings. Gus would sneak under the kitchen table and sit frozen against a campaign manager or fundraiser’s foot, panting, hoping not to get caught. Invariably he did which caused my mother to uncomfortably explain that Gus was “fixed” too late in life and she's really sorry for the inconvenience.

I remember when Gus was fixed because I couldn’t write about him anymore in class. I was seven. I had just finished an essay about his large body parts. This is the actual class assignment:

Gus died happy and of old age. We missed him for his peculiar dog ways, for molesting our guests and for teaching my dad that hitting and throwing living things were not okay.

Then we had Misty, the Border Collie who would rather play ball than eat. My brother and I would test her to see if she would ever give up by throwing her beloved tennis ball for hours. We went for half days sometimes – summer was boring in Livermore; it was either test our dog’s athletic prowess or watch Huey Lewis and the News MTV video reruns until our brains throbbed with pain.

After her paws were bloody and worn and the tennis ball was but a fuzzy piece of rubber the size of a nickel, my mother would yell from the kitchen window for us to quit torturing the dog.

Misty developed bad hips but she would drag those hips to chase what we threw at her. The last straw was when I threw one of my brother’s “action figures” (read: dolls) for Misty to retrieve. She returned it while dragging the second half of her body back to us for another toss.

Then there was Max. I bought his pure bread highness for more money than I had shortly after I graduated from college and moved into my own place. He was a black pug with a sinus problem. He kept me up most nights with his snoring and he wasn’t altogether potty trained. He crapped in my roommate’s closet several times. I was grateful for this because my roommate was a little messy and didn’t find the poop until it was dried and pushed aside by her big clown shoes. Another blessing – my roommate had skiis for feet. Her bigfoot shoes covered Max’s doodies quite well until they were hard enough and thus, didn’t leave any smelly remnants behind on the carpet of our rented house where the security deposit was vitally important for when the house got too stinky and we had to move.

Come to think of it, I don’t rightly believe Max liked my roommate all that well because he never seemed to soil my room and I recall a few times where he took the opportunity to climb up on her bed and pee on her freshly clean sheets. Perhaps the warmth of the sheets made him want to pee, similar to the adverse effects of warm bath water.

I learned a lesson from Gus that I applied to Max. As soon as he was old enough, I made an appointment to get him fixed - whacked, as it were. I happened to impulsively mention this to my father in one of our “how’ve ya been?” conversations.

Me Pops was mortified.

In the days that followed said conversation, the old man left me thirteen voice mail messages. Let me clarify. They started off addressed for me. When I refused to return the calls, they were aimed at Max. The messages went something like this:

Beep: “Amy, how could you do that to such a spunky, smart sweet dog? He won’t be the same.”

Beep: “Amy, it’s dad again. How could you make my granddog a nutless wonder?”

Beep: “Amy, if you know what’s good for you, don’t take this dog’s manhood away. Remember what happened to Gus?”

Yeah, he leg humped our guests.

Beep: “Max, this is your grandfather speaking. If you can hear me, run for your life. Just find an opportunity when your mother opens the door for pizza and skedaddle out the front door.”

Beep: “This damn answering machine must have cut me off. Max, I will be waiting for you at the end of the street. Ruuuunnn.”

Beep: “Max, did you get my last message? Bark if you did. Or crap on the kitchen floor in protest. Don’t let her do this to you.”

If those messages didn’t seal the deal, nothing would. So I took the bastard in at the first available appointment. And when we pulled up to the vet’s parking lot, in true form, he peed all over the passenger’s seat. The only solice I had was that my roommate usually rode shotgun. I would keep this little secret from her.

As I signed the papers and payed the astronomical fee to have these little gems plucked – can’t you just tie a rubber band around them and wait for them to fall off? – I asked the receptionist if anyone has ever kept the testicles once they are removed from the dog.

Apparently, all the time. She responded as if I were asking for routine flea medication. She made me fill out some additional paperwork and said they would be available by the time I picked Max up.

“Perfect, I’ll take ‘em.”

Is it bad to admit that I was more excited to pick up the specimen than the dog?

The little meatballs appeared in a jar full of formaldehyde with a label that read, “Specimen: testicles. Patient: Max.”

This was the coolest thing I have ever owned, and that included the full suspension mountain bike on which I splurged impulsively the same year I bought Max.

I stared at the nuggets for the longest time. Not excessively long, though, that would be weird.

Max was sedated, and pleasantly calm in his pet taxi which allowed me more time to examine these little octopi.

“Interesting, huh?”

My roommate thought I had lost my mind especially since I used them as a centerpiece on our kitchen table. Not for long, though, I had other plans for Max’s peanuts.

Christmas, 1997, I found a little box in which the balls fit perfectly. I tied a bow and headed to my folks for dinner and gift exchanges. Hardly able to contain myself through dinner, I rushed through the meal to proclaim that it was gift giving time. And I was destined to go last, which almost became the death of me. My patience was wearing thin while I sat there through unwrapped china plates, new baseball gloves, scented massage lotion. Borrrrriiinng!

And as if time stood still, I asked Dad to reach under the tree for that last little gift.

“Especially for you, dad, from the heart.”

He tore the box open and held it to the light. He squinted to read the label. The next verbal exchange is not for public consumption. After his bombastic verbal vomiting, my Pops broke out in song,

Pug nuts roasting on an open fire.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanks, Jim

I am thankful for many “things” that I have in my life. Some of these things are actual things – my house. My job. My Southern Living Big Book of BBQ. My bathtub.

Most of these things are people. Putting aside for a minute (and it goes without saying), that I am thankful for my husband, Pants, our beautiful boy Yack and all of the family and friends I couldn’t live without, I focus on one individual who made me look at my life and those around me in a whole new way.

His name was Jim.

I met Jim in the lot where I parked my car for work. Jim lived in an abandoned garage about 10 feet from where my car resided for eight to ten hours a day, five days a week.

Jim bugged me. But I was successful in ignoring him for several months. He was dirty and he smelled bad. He always asked me what my name was, asked for money, food. This daily barrage forced me to be thankful that I had a job. If only Jim could get one too and leave me alone.

And then on a dreary winter morning, Jim inched his way into my cold narcissistic heart.

He did this by being funny.

“So what’s your name, darlin’? I keep seeing you every day, don’t you think we oughta be on a first name basis by now? Maybe you could muster up a 'hello' or a 'piss off'?”

What would typically be an averting of my eyes, I decided to look at him. Jim had a kind but worn face. I sized him up and figured he wasn’t a threat. I answered his question by giving him a five dollar bill and a smile. Perhaps this was my non verbal way of letting the homeless man know that I wanted to be left to my own selfish daily routine.

“Thanks, darlin’. I’m Jim. I figure your name is darlin’.”

Jim extended his hand.

I smiled nervously and walked away.

The next day, Jim was waiting for me as I pulled into the parking lot. It was a Monday and I know this because I had just spent all weekend snowboarding the powdery slopes up in Tahoe. You could do things like that when you had a job.

Since it snowed all weekend, my car was a dusty mess. You had to squint to see its true cherry red color.

“Hey darlin’, this car is a mess. Where have you been?”

I didn’t answer. I just reached into my purse to pull out whatever money I had left over from the beer soaked weekend.

“I don’t want your handouts. I want to earn them. Let me clean your car.”

And so goes the first conversation I had with Jim:

Me: What are you talking about? How are you going to do that, Jim? You don’t have access to a hose.. or soap, obviously.

Jim: She speaks. She stings when she speaks. Just because my appearance doesn’t lend you to believe I have access to soap, doesn’t mean I can’t get it. Look, trust me on this, when you get back from work, this car will be shiny new.

Me: If you have this car cleaned by the time I come back this evening, I will pay you $20. In fact, take the $20 now because you made me laugh on a Monday, which is a hard thing to do.. I won’t even ask for it back if it’s not clean.

Jim: Ma’am, I am an honest human being. I want to do right by my country. See?”

Jim then pulls out a credit card from his Velcro wallet. He explains that he can’t use it anymore, but he did and that’s what counts. He’s a good American. That credit card is his reminder.

Me: “Have a resourceful day, Jim. And P.S. My name is Amy.”

Jim: “Hells bells. Amy. Well, it’s nice to meet you, Amy.”

We part ways after we shake hands.

And I don’t wash my hands when I get into work. I cease to see Jim as dirty.

That evening walking back to my car, I figured I lost $20 to Jim and still had a dirty car. I made a mental note to hit up the carwash on my way home and perhaps give Jim a verbal lesson in over promising.

I saw the car before I saw Jim. It was spotless. Not a smudge in sight, as if I had taken it in to get it detailed. Unbelievable. As I circled the vehicle slowly, careful not to touch it, I began wondering how Jim did all of this. How did he get the water? The soap? Towels? Did he spit shine this thing? Pee on it?

I saw Jim sitting on the curb, arms behind him, watching me with a smirk on his face.

Me: “How, Jim? How did you do this? It’s beautiful.”

Jim: “I told you I would be resourceful, darlin’, er, Amy.”

I prodded Jim further to tell me how he managed to clean my car in the middle of a public parking lot but figured that his resistance in telling me was probably for my benefit. Being a coconspirator in some code violation or misdemeanor theft probably wouldn’t be too good for the rep. So, I didn’t push it further.

Our subsequent days together, Jim and me, were filled with banter, story telling, some cash exchanges – one way, of course and hugs. Big bear hugs. I remember looking forward to having my moments with Jim when my work days started and ended. He even walked me to work a couple of times but stopped a few blocks short in fear of my being seen with him. He instinctively made the decision to skedaddle before he felt I had to ask him to, saving us both the humiliation of that happening. Funny thing, though, I wouldn’t have been embarrassed having been seen with Jim, more protective of him. He was my friend.

About a year later, the abandoned garage where Jim resided was torn down and in its place went an upscale restaurant. I boycotted it for a few months until I tried their fried zucchini chips. I rationalized that the restaurant owners had little clue that they took a friend away from me.

Jim was gone. No goodbyes. Nothing left behind.

When I was downtown, I made it a point to look in places where I thought Jim might be. A couple of times after a nice dinner out with Pants, I would order and extra pizza and have Pants drive me to the church steps. I would get out of the car and ask those cold homeless people huddled together in sleeping bags if anyone had seen Jim.

Invariably, they all told me that he had stepped out, that he would be back shortly and yes, they will make sure my uneaten pizza will get to him.

Several months later, I was in the passenger’s seat of my coworker’s white pristine 5series BMW. We were en route to pick up some expensive fish and a new light for her tank at work. As we rounded the corner, I happened to look over at the bus stop and saw Jim amidst his peers.

“Stop the car.”

My friend asked why. I answered her by pushing the automatic window button and yelling out the car, “Jiiiiimmmmmmmm.”

He popped his head up among his crowd, saw that it was me, and came running.

“Amy, where have you been? Ha, I should answer that question. I had to leave. That restaurant was built and replaced my house. I have missed you. Still parking in the same lot? Heyyyy, nice car, and who’s this you’re with?”

Jim had his head inside the car window and was ogling all over my very pristine coworker and her very pristine car.

Coworker: “Um, Amy, what’s this about?”

Me: “This is my friend, Jim.”

While we were chatting, Jim’s friends all gathered around the parked car to get a look and by look, I mean touch. Their hands were all over the hood. And they were heckling Jim by asking if we were his girlfriends. I affirmed that we were.

Then Jim started to take off his shirt.

Coworker got nervous.

Jim said that he wanted to show me something. “I still wear the gift you gave me.”

I didn’t recall giving anything to Jim except for my loose change and dollar bills from my wallet.

Jim took off the six shirts he was wearing, one at a time, until he got to the very last one. It took awhile and coworker was getting impatient. He finally removed his remaining shirt and grabbed the pin that he had fastened to one of them. It read, “I’m broke.”

I am a lot of things, but mean spirited isn’t one of them, at least not since I have met Jim. I let him down gently by indicating that I didn’t get him that pin, and that I tended to disagree with it.

Me: “You’re not broke, Jim. I think you’re a very rich man. You have given me many wonderful things. I am forever indebted to you.”

Jim: “Well, when I make my first million, I am going to come find you and marry you.”

Coworker: “Can we go now?”

That was the second to the last time I saw Jim.

Five years ago, I was walking out of my hairdresser’s shop and I saw a shell of a man that resembled Jim. I yelled his name as if I was asking a question.

Jim turned around and belligerently asked, “who wants to know?”

It’s Amy.

Jim’s eyes were filled with yellow. He slurred his expletive laced words and stumbled down the street. His pants, holey and worn, were held up by a rope. He reeked of garbage and cheap booze. He told me to go eff myself. I got into my car and cried.

I think about Jim a lot, especially during holidays. He inspired me to spend my spare time at a homeless shelter where I help those without jobs put together resumes and 30 second, “tell me about yourself” pitches. I am not supposed to ask them about their past, what got them to this place, and I certainly cannot pretend that I know how to get them out. I am simply there to show compassion and be a friend. After all, I learned these special skills from Jim. I might as well put them to good use. It's the least I could do.