Saturday, August 31, 2013

My old man and me

There you go, you’re gone again…

I was listening to the old Johnny Cash tune the other day while I was thinking about how I would mark my father’s 100th birthday.

I always perceived my Dad as kind of elliptical. He was there, but not quite. Not ‘available’ there. You didn’t go to Dad with problems because he’d likely refer you to Mom, who usually was the problem…

As a kid, I thought he ran the family business, but the older I get the more certain I am that he was the guy who worked in the butcher shop and counted the money at the end of the night, and my mother was the one who ran the kitchen and called the shots. Mom was at the center of the action; Dad’s butcher shop (and the front counter, which he also manned) was at the periphery.


But his accomplishments were vivid. He served in WWII from before Pearl Harbor to after VJ Day (look it up, kids). He was shot down over the English Channel and was awarded a Purple Heart. Then he came home, married a well-connected, stunning beauty and took off in pursuit of the American dream he had fought so long and honorably to ensure.

He sold lacquer thinner (but not well because he could never take advantage of a rube and sell the rube something didn’t need, or more than he could use); opened business after business to modest success, solidly establishing himself as a Job Creator through the decades; and most impressively, became an adoptive father to four orphans, taking up the responsibility for the last two after his 50th birthday.

He was a Knight of Columbus and he worked charitable events. He started his own charitable organization in his 70s when he saw a news report that people in his city were going to bed hungry. His organization consisted of him, collecting non-perishable food outside of church all Sunday, every Sunday, then driving the food down to a mission on the south side of town.

And although he never talked about the war, on any other topic he was a well-regarded raconteur. I can recall many times my Dad regaling a crowd of friends with a lavishly-performed anecdote or questionably-tasteful joke in our wood-paneled rec room in the basement.

I remember both my parents leaving home before sunrise and coming home after dark, six or seven days a week, depending on the business at the time.

And my Dad liked to smoke. Loved to smoke. He didn’t die until they took the Tareyton out of his hand. Seriously.

He took us with him bowling sometimes, and it was always very exciting. It seems like it was on a school night, so being away from home and up late was especially enticing for me as a kid. SO much more potential trouble to get into. And more importantly, the Ben Franklin’s in the same strip mall that housed the bowling alley also sold comic books. Comic books in our house went back and forth between being objects of derision, hostages held in exchange for my improved behavior and all too often, casualties of combat. So any time I could get my hands on a couple new ones was a big deal. Back at the bowling alley there was a lot of laughing and swearing and smoking and drinking. Everybody had a great time on bowling night.

Today we would probably describe most of my father’s generation of combat veterans as victims of PTSD, when to themselves they were just the grocer, the gas station owner and the guy who ran the cleaners. The shit that should have been eating them alive, they ate instead. Ate it for breakfast, most of them.

But like I said, my Dad didn’t talk much, not in front of us anyhow. Maybe I was too young and he was too old. What exactly did we have to talk about? And I was kid number three of four. Typically kid 3 gets a brief moment in the spotlight, then the final kid arrives and she’s an infant and proceeds to suck up all the emotional oxygen in the room.

(Sorry. My issues.)

But I tend to think my Dad’s reserve was a stoicism born of growing up during the Depression, surviving the horror of WWII, and watching helplessly as start-up business after business went by the wayside. And I was too damn young, then too stoned, to think about asking him about his life; his childhood spent hopping tenement rooftops in downtown Chicago; later, hauling cases of Coca Cola up and down those same tenement stairs; the girl down the street he grew up with, then courted and married after the war.

It was a rich vein that I failed to mine. Don’t know how much he would have shared (for instance, he refused to take me to see the movie “Midway” when it came out because it cut too close), but I’ll regret for the rest of my life not having asked him anyhow.

He was my Dad. He was born September 1, 1913 and he was a damned good man; better than I’ll ever be. He made the world a better place for having been here, and really, what greater accomplishment can there be?

I miss him.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Summer Vacation Report: The fire this time

This week, The Missus and The Boy are off visiting her familial colleagues. They go near the end of every summer and I usually plan a big project… that inevitably fails.

So this year, I was just going to lay low, read, watch TV, play some guitar badly, that sort of thing. Low hanging fruit, ambition-wise. How could I possibly fail?

Well, although I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a failure as yet, it has had aspects of failure attached to it. Maybe more failurey than failurish. And then only when viewed through the prism of my pre-planned regimen of resting and relaxing.

Let me explain…

The Kids left on Saturday and I labored feverishly all day Sunday to get ahead on work so I could take the Big Dog to the vet the next day. He’d blasted out his ACL, and the least expensive, most reliable doctor to perform the still-wildly-expensive operation works elsewhere in the state, a couple hours away. The vet was gonna open him up and drill a metal rod onto his leg bone to replace the tendons he had previously detached from their points of skeletal origin. (See finished assemblage below.)

Adding in the surgery and recovery time, I was looking at a best-case-scenario of a 16-hour day. A tedious 10-hour stretch of boredom, bookended by two long-ass drives through unfamiliar, barren territory.

It’s like all my least-favorite things got together and decided to throw me a party!

Putting aside how much the operation was going to cost and some friends’ misgivings, we scheduled him for the Monday of the week The Kids would be gone. Since the dog and I had to be out in the boonies (but it’s a ski resort, so there is a lot of money around, hence the high-end doggie doctor I suppose) by 8 a.m., we left at 5. We had a pet-sitter coming over to hang with The Little Dog for a while a couple times during the day.

I’d been dreading this massive, day-devouring task for almost a week now. But it was finally upon me and we headed out to go do this thing. The poor doggie had no idea what was going on, just that every time we take him for a ride in the car, it ends badly for him, so he started in with the howling and yelping and bouncing all over the back seat. And the only light outside was coming from Moroni’s trumpet a block over.

The drive was uneventful until after we’d left the freeway and commenced the longer part of our journey, on the usual winding piece-of-shit two-lane highway you find on the way to anywhere rich people vacation. It was deserted enough that I could use my brights and only had to douse them a couple times for oncoming traffic.

After a while, some fog moved in. I played with the lights, wondering if regular lights might be better in fog. It didn’t seem to make a difference in the awful gunk. Then a bunch of something—bugs? I was hauling ass—started hitting the windshield, and I was puzzling over that when I turned a curve and the hillside on my immediate left was a wall of flames. I could feel the heat hit the drivers’ side of the car and was grateful The Big Dog was curled up on the other side of the back seat. I sailed past and fumbled with my phone to call 911. Somebody should put this shit out before someone gets hurt!

It wasn’t too long after that that I came to a short line of brake lights, and the glow of another fire ahead of me. I pulled over, and the long and the short of it was they’d just set a firebreak and we could be there all day. Or I could take the back way to where I was going, that I hadn’t mapped out ahead of time and didn’t even know existed before that moment. Well, on the rare occasions that I set my body into motion, it tends to want to remain in motion. One sodbuster was pulling his pickup truck around and I asked him if he was going the same place I was. He said ‘u-yah’, then agreed to let me follow him after he tried unsuccessfully to pound some very simple directions into my empty head.

Eventually The Big Dog and I got to the vet’s and were an hour late. I’d been on the phone with them all morning, but still managed to overshoot their place by about 5 miles and it had all been hilariously hassle-laden. There was even a natural disaster thrown in! The Dude would definitely not approve.

The doggie doctor talked to me but I was already hip to the deal. Let’s just do this thing. The doctor kept talking and pointing, but I’d already left and gone to my happy place.

Afterwards, I headed out with, hey, at least one fewer hour that I had to kill.

I drove up to the fancy resort destination, Posh Town, and all the people were beautiful and the main street is quaint with all sorts of cozy, upscale storefronts. I felt like I was in a movie, but it’s one of those movies that guys only ever go to on first or second dates. I was a fish out of sparkling mineral water and got the hell out of Dodge just as quick as I could. There was another little town down the road a spell, looked a little dingy and working class—I got right away that the hardscrabble little burg was where all the workers from the fancy ski town live. Grubby Town is where they stash their blue-collars when not in use.

I loved it. I stayed in Grubby Town all day. They have a nice little library with wi-fi, someplace else that sells tuna salad sandwiches, some cool back country to explore and then when the heat and smoke were getting impossible, a movie theater that looked like a penitentiary on the outside but with sweet air-conditioning on the inside.

Saw the new Matt Damon flick only because it was playing then, and it wasn’t the Smurfs. I liked it more than I thought I would. The plot itself was pretty by-the-numbers sci-fi, your classic reluctant hero’s journey, but the details and even the performances were thought provoking, especially Jodie Foster’s. On paper, her part couldn’t have looked that rich, but she brought her A-Game and invested her character with an inner life she never shares that actually occurs to the audience to wonder about.

And there are enough subtextual allegories to current affairs to keep left-wingers smug and right-wingers in a lather, so it even worked as sci-fi. Kudos to Elysium.

Afterwards there was still time to kill and it was getting hot out. Went for a walk in the shade at the foot of a small mountain just down the road until I noticed all the bullet-pocked “NO TRESSPASSIN” signs around, and crept carefully the fuck back on out of there.

Finally got the call about the dog and went to pick him up. Post-op care instructions followed, which I had the presence of mind to record so The Missus could bullet-point them for me later (true fact). The poor dog’s left leg was a denuded, bloody, patchwork-looking mess, but part of their deal is, the stitches are on the inside somehow, so the dog is less likely to chew them out. It was still pretty damned ugly and sad, though.

At that point I had to decide whether to take the more direct route back that could go up in flames at any moment, or the longer, surer way back. I opted for certitude. As I passed the turn-off to the direct route on my way out of town, I considered it again, and again decided against it.

When I eventually got back to the interstate, the air was clear and I was kicking myself for not taking the shorter route. Until I got to about 10 miles the other side of that highway’s exit and the air got dirty brown with smoke again. Today they’re having meetings in Grubby Town about whether or not they’re going to have to evacuate in advance of the fire. The whole town I spent Monday in could be a memory by week’s end.

It messes with your head.

Eventually we arrived back home, safe and reasonably sound. Not sure what the pet sitter was doing when she was here, but it apparently involved more sitting than pet. The master bed had been shoved across the room, slammed diagonally into the far wall, and something wooden had been masticated and expectorated all over the front room carpet. Which was not unexpected; that’s why we paid someone to watch the dog to make sure we didn’t come home to this sort of this destruction.

But it doesn’t matter, I’d already decided to take The Little Dog to the vet and board him for a few days. There is literally no way I could have restrained him from accidentally damaging The Big Dog during the initial recuperation.

I only mention this because, as I may have previously mentioned, The Little Dog is a crafty, crazy fucker. He’s like Obi, but without the ill will. Or like Woody, but without the good will yet. So I lured him into the car first thing the next morning—the last place I wanted to be after all the driving the day before—and schlepped him down to the local vet, where we board our dogs when necessary.

I walked him the 10 feet from where I’d parked the car into the carpeted foyer of the vet’s office, where he immediately hunched over and produced a healthy dump. Right in the space where, if I let the door shut, the bottom would catch and scrape the poo in an expanding crescent shape from where it landed to where the door closes. And the desk lady was not at her desk. I was stretched like a contortionist, restraining the excited Little Dog, keeping the outer door open to keep the poo from spreading and pushing the inner door open to cry for help.

That’s right, folks. Three hands.

When help arrived at last and I was able to pull the dog back out the door, he left a final plop on the concrete stoop for good measure.

Needless to say, The Little Dog made my mixed feelings about abandoning him disappear like magic.

Ideally and not coincidentally, that’s it for adventure this week. I sure hope Grubby Town and Posh Town don’t burn up. I liked the people in Grubby Town and as I said, I’m pretty sure most of them are support staff for the people who patronize Posh Town. If either one of them goes, the other is screwed.

The Big Dog is coming around, too. His leg is starting to purple with bruising, but I was warned to expect that, too. And tonight he came up to me and tried to get me to play with his bone with him. Telling him to fuck off and let me watch TV never felt more comforting.

The bulk of my workweek is behind me and we don’t pick up The Little Dog and The Kids until Monday. If this is my last post on the subject of this vacation, I will mean I have succeeded in my modest intentions at least for the latter half of the week.

If not, someone please remind me what comes after the fire…?

Sunday, August 04, 2013

When it rains, it pours

...that is rain, right?

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Devious Dog Buckles Down

The new dog lives to give The Man (literally) the finger.

For instance, see above. He’s gone through several collars since we got him by slipping it into his mouth and chewing right through it. I’m sure he thinks it’s very funny, ha ha motherfucker.

Yesterday I went out in the yard to bring him in to find him stuck, having maneuvered the metal and plastic buckle into his mouth instead of the considerably more chewy polyester collar. I was so concerned I dropped what I was doing and immediately began taking photos. Then I ran out and bought him a collar that has about 3mm wiggle room. Already caught him trying to Houdini it into his mouth and failing miserably.

Ha ha, very funny motherfucker. This round goes to The Man.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Summer Vacation, Week 2

This is the second week in a row The Boy and I have been left to our own devices. It has been... eventful.

The new dog (he doesn’t even rate initial caps yet) continues to be a challenge. The other day, inside the house, he lifted his leg and began peeing on a CD rack right in front of The Boy. Well the kid starts yelling, I come running out, the dog retreats to his crate when I start yelling… all kinds of bad wackiness ensues.

Later that day, I drop the ball and the new dog sneaks out of the house while I’m on the phone with The Missus. The Boy goes, “Uh, Gizmo is gone” in his best really-small voice. I drop the phone and go racing out of the house. He’s gone. I hop in the car and go driving all over the neighborhood, then remember a friend’s advice to use a hot dog as a lure. So I race home to get a hot dog, and The Boy tells me he heard barking from just a few doors down the street. Race back to the car, drive down the street and there he is, just making the acquaintance of the neighborhood dogs through the slats of their fully-enclosed back yard fences. I drop the car into park and hop out, calling his name.

He gets one look at me and takes off. Exactly the same as he did on the very first day we brought him home, only this time he’s low-running. He’s in full flight.

Even though he is technically retreating, somehow I don’t feel like I’m winning.

All the neighbors are out on their stoops, listening to shitty music as I go driving by, obviously in pursuit of a dog that doesn’t want to be caught. I know I’ll have to drive past them going home, too, and whether or not I have the dog with me, I’ll feel like an asshole.

The new dog is still running at a full sprint—really stretching his legs. He gets to a big grassy berm that runs adjacent to the busy freeway on the other side, and I realize that if he takes off to the other side of the berm, the next sound I hear will probably be the squeal of brakes and…

Fortunately, he doesn’t. This stretch lasts several blocks, and it’s here he—in mid-chase—stops to poop. “Now is my chance!” I kid myself. I pull the car up ahead of him, slam it into park, fling the door open, the Starsky and Hutch theme song playing in my head, race toward him… and he takes off. That was as close as I got to him again.

I ended up watching him disappear over the horizon, way across the other side of the empty field where I taught The Boy to ride his bike last summer. I called and called and he just wasn’t having any of it. He was gone.

I drove home—past all the neighbors again—without him, and had to tell The Boy as well as The Missus, who was still on the phone. The new dog was wearing a collar though and has been implanted with a GPS device or something, so I assured the kids he would be back.

I finally get The Boy to bed, but in the wake of all the drama, the last thing he wants to do is go to sleep. And good thing, too. Once again, he was the one who heard the barking from down the street.

Knowing by now that the new dog is not gonna come to me, even if by some miracle that is him we hear, I leash up The Large Dog and we tumble out of the house. I’m going full-steam to where I first sighted the new dog with his best buddy in tow. But as I race past our non fully-fenced-in yard, I see movement in my peripheral vision. I glance over, and there is the new dog, sitting in the side yard, chewing on a log like nothing ever happened. We walk over and he comes when I call his name.

By this time, I have done a lot of running and jumping. Every time I Starsky and Hutched the car, I did a lopsided chase scene with the dog before retreating to the vehicle to give further hot pursuit. My appalled and outraged 51-year-old body is still hurting in places it never occurred to me could hurt before. What exactly did I do to so injure my right ass-cheek?

Now when either dog is going inside or outside, we implement security protocols so severe it makes a Hannibal Lecter prison transfer look like a game of Red Rover, Red Rover.

So that’s how we went into the week and it’s been fairly tough sledding since then. Our car’s minor fender-bender a while back chose this week to become a crisis situation, with us learning that we’re in line to receive about half the money we’ll need to replace the car, which was rendered “no longer drivable” while being examined to produce an estimate for the other party’s insurance company. We had to take a cab home after returning the rental. Today The Boy and I went down and cleaned the old car out of all our personal effects. I felt like we had brought the car in for a tonsillectomy and it died on the table while undergoing a heart-and-lung transplant.

And the fucking new dog went on a hunger strike after returning. I eventually had to cave on that one. Could not have The Missus coming home to a dog that it would be hard to convince her I hadn’t deliberately starved.

(I’m not saying the dog is evil, I’m just suggesting he may be a conniving back-stabber.) And in addition to being smarter than I am overall, he is also clearly the better tactician.

Tried to take The Boy to the local glow-in-the-dark miniature golf place, only to find that it has closed. And there are no other miniature golf places around except for one we found at the nearby kids’ water park and Mega-Fun Zone. We are going to try that tomorrow.

Also took The Boy to see the new Wolverine flick (not age-appropriate as it turns out) and watched an excellent new straight-to-home video Justice League movie that performed the neat trick of making third-tier hero The Flash an interesting, viable character for 74 minutes. Oh, but the big hit was “Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.” Painful to sit through, but at least there was the cold comfort of knowing that none of the talent have careers anymore (sorry, Rick Moranis).

Yes, last week was definitely more fun so far. Too much heavy shit this week. But we’re gonna try to make up for it in the couple of days we have remaining. Front-loaded all my work this week so my time is mostly my own, and the only obligations The Boy has are ones I have, too.

Oh but that new dog is going to be the death of me.