Days Since Last Accident

RIP Sadie Mac Dog

Sadie Mac DogSadie Mac Dog took her final nap this morning. She was grumpy, too clever for her own good, prone to roll in deer poop at every opportunity, and was the bane of UPS drivers county-wide, but she was still one of the finest dogs I’ve had the pleasure to know. I’m heart broken, but am glad she is no longer in pain.

Some of my fellow Christians argue that pets do not go to heaven. I’m sure they have their reasons, but I argue that even making such a statement is in danger of placing limitations on God that I do not believe exist. Perhaps pets don’t make it to the afterlife. However, if God should want us to be reunited with our loved ones who have gone on before us, surely these joyous creatures he supplied to help make our miserable lives less miserable might also join us in the great beyond. He made them to begin with. He is the author of reality. He can do what he wants. And I hope that Sadie and I will wander the trails together again some day.

The Prue Saga

A pup named Prue

While in the bedroom dressing one day a couple weeks ago, I happened to look out the window and spotted a dog run past, into the back yard.  This would not be abnormal, as we do have three dogs.  However, it was not one of ours.  The dog I saw was very hound-dogish, probably around 50 pounds, black, white, and brown.  It sniffed around, had a squat, and trotted off into the brush at the edge of the yard.

“Huh,” I said, figuring it was a dog from the neighborhood–one I’d not seen before.

Our actual dogs, who had been lazing on their dog pillows the whole time, suddenly came alive at my “huh,” somehow sensing the intruder or that I’d seen something of interest, and began barking the sort of vicious, ferocious barks that only come from the throats of dogs separated from their enemies by a pane or two of glass.  The other dog suitably cowed (or at least now absent from sight), they settled down again, secure in the knowledge that they’d demonstrated enough ferocity that their jobs as defenders of the realm were safe.

The next day, I saw the dog again, this time lurking in the front yard.  Our dogs didn’t notice and soon it wandered off and down the trail at the edge of our yard.  I didn’t think too much about it.  I wondered briefly if it was an escapee from the humane society, which is down the hill and across a couple of fields from us.  But I didn’t wonder this too long.

Over the next couple of days, I saw the dog a few more times.  Sometimes our dogs saw it as well.  Sometimes not.  My general policy, on the rare occasions we have such visitors, is not to feed them lest they stay and become dog #4.  Soon, though, the wife began to notice it too and she has no such policy.  It was getting cold out, she said, and it would need food to keep warm in the night.  Fine.  We put out a bowl and it was empty within an hour or two.

Last Sunday, the wife called me over to look at something on her phone.  It was a picture of the dog we’d been seeing, as posted on one of the local Facebook yard sale sites.  The author of the post was a lady named Amy who works for the nearby humane society.  We contacted her and it turns out the dog was indeed, as I’d wondered, an escapee from the HS.  This dog, whose name is Prue, was a young female pup that had been adopted by a family elsewhere and had been scheduled for delivery before her untimely escape from one of the volunteers who help walk the dogs.  They’d apparently chased her all around the woods near our house until they’d reached the trail behind our house, which led them to our house where they found themselves staring down the barrel of our dogs.  Our dogs have shock collars and stay in the yard, but the pursuers of Prue did not know that, so they said, “Today, my jurisdiction ends here,” and went back to the barn.  (I learned this from them a couple days later.)  Amy said that Prue was part of a litter of puppies of the treeing walker breed of coon hounds.  The other pups had acclimated to humans.  Prue ran from them on sight.  She apparently did pretty well with other dogs, but was super timid when it came to people.

We let Amy know that Prue was a regular around our house.  The following day, she had a great big live trap delivered and set up just off of the trail.  They put some breakfast biscuits and canned food in it and we hoped for the best.

In late afternoon, we saw Prue creeping through the brush behind the house.  I decided I was going to try and make friends with her, and went down to sit on the back steps of the house, armed with an open can of stinky wet food and a spoon.  She saw me and fled like the devil was chasing her.  What I later learned was that the wife could see Prue’s escape from inside the house.  The dog ran around to the front yard and made for the trail.  But she paused, near the fence behind which was the live trap, and sniffed at the air before trying to find a way through the fence to get at what she was smelling.  Then, naturally, our dogs got wind that something was up and began barking their fool heads off, startling Prue and sending her skittering into the trees, not to be seen again.

It got cold that night.  We hated the thought of the poor dog outside, let alone possibly stuck in the live trap where the winds could just whip through her.  We checked the trap at bedtime and then the wife set an alarm for 2 am to go check again.  The only thing in the trap at that hour, though, was a cat.  It wasn’t one of our cats, but it was apparently just as pissy as the wife let it out.  She then had difficulty setting the trap again in only the light from her phone, so she propped the door open with a stick and hoped the dog would somehow trip it going in.  It did not.

The next morning, I reset the trap and put some new canned food within it to replace what the cat had eaten.  In the afternoon, Amy texted to suggest we move the trap closer to the house.  I was all for this, and suggested the boardwalk on the far side of the garage, out of eyesight of the dogs, but not from the laundry room window.  We could check the trap without leaving the house.

There was a minor blizzard Tuesday night.  We had a few inches of snow and lots of wind.  Temps were in the teens.  There was no sign of Prue.  The wife made a concoction of ham and microwaved wet dog food and put it on top of the cage, hoping the smell would bring Prue in.  We saw no sign of her, though, and soon the bowl was frozen solid.

“She’s found herself a place to hole up,” I suggested.  There are, after all, any number of places to do that in this neighborhood–the crawlspace beneath one of our outbuildings the most logical to us.  We still hated the thought of the dog shivering outside in the weather.

I was relieved the next morning to spot Prue in the yard–nowhere near the trap.  And she stayed away from it, even after I’d rewarmed the dogfood/ham concoction and even climbed inside the cage to put it at the back, behind the trip mechanism.  It occurred to me while I was in there that if I tripped it I’d be trapped in the cage, in the cold and might not be able to get turned around to let myself out.  This did not happen.

Days passed and different treats were left in the cage to entice the stubbornly absent, though still living dog.  We’d see her around, but if she saw one of us she was gone in a flash.  The only dog to be caught in the cage was our dog, Sadie, who couldn’t resist going in for a weenie.

“Well, at least we know the trap works,” I texted to Amy the next day.

On Thursday, at Amy’s suggestion, I moved the cage down to the far back corner of our yard.  Clearly, we reasoned, it wasn’t doing any good near the house, and we couldn’t let our dogs free in the yard without watching them every minute to keep them from getting trapped and eating all the bait.  We had to put it somewhere outside of their collar range.  (Or at least the collar range of Maya and Moose, as Sadie doesn’t usually wear her collar, since she knows her boundaries and stays within them.  Usually.)  I thought that maybe if I put the trap just out of the yard, in the brush I’d seen Prue lurking in a few times, she might care to investigate it.

Prue did not care to.  A possum, however, did.  He did not think the trap was awesome, and hissed at us, refusing to stop climbing the bars and escape when the door was left open for him.  He also ate all the wieners.

On Saturday, Amy came by herself, armed with a bag of WalMart chicken tenders.  She said she thought that this was the day we’d finally catch Prue.  And, late in the afternoon, it seemed we were about to.

A Prue sighting from within the house

I’d let our dogs out to potty in the front yard and had strolled around to see if Prue might be in the trap.  She was not, but Maya picked up the scent of the chicken and went over to sniff the air at the border of her collar.  Then, her face darted to the side and she bolted around the back of the house.  The other two dogs were still around front, so I knew she must have seen Prue.  I dashed back around front and herded Sadiemoose into the house.  Sure enough, I could see Prue in the back yard through the windows.  And Maya was there too.  And they appeared to be… playing.  Prue was still skittish, but she actually seemed to be having fun.  She would creep up to Maya (who, being a St. Bernard, was twice her size) and lean close to sniff at her.  Then Maya would lunge playfully and Prue would bolt a few feet away before starting it all again.  I ran to get the wife and we came and watched them–trying to find new vantage points along the back side of the house as the dogs romped and played closer and closer to the location of the trap.

Then we saw Prue stop and sniff the air, then move away, following the scent, moving down to the trap itself, leaving Maya to jump around at the edge of her boundary.  Prue sniffed at the chicken through the back side of the cage.  Then moved along its length and closer to the open door.  Then, just when we thought she was going to step inside…  she bolted away and back toward the front yard and was gone again.

“Noooooo!” I screamed as quietly as I could.

We moved all around the inside of the house, trying to get a view on where Prue had fled, knowing she wouldn’t be able to resist going back.  We had to lock Sadie and Moose in the bedroom and close the curtains on them, because they woudln’t shut up.

Soon enough, Prue did return to the hill above the trap and then was back at the trap itself, and to its door.  As we watched, we saw her step into the trap itself and take another couple of tentative creeps forward.  And then she bolted and was gone again, this time running fully across the front yard and disappearing down the trail on the complete opposite side of the house from the cage.

The wife began smiling.

“What?” I said.

“Nothing.”

“No.  What?”

“Well, you know… if she likes Maya so much, and is already hanging around the house… maybe it’s a sign that she’s really our 4th dog?”

“Uh uhhh!” I said.  “This dog is strictly visiting.  And as soon as she’s caught she’s getting shipped out to her new home, very far away.”

I wrote Amy a text, telling her that we almost had Prue, but that the dog was too smart for us.  We did note that she at least had fun playing with Maya.  Amy said it sounded cute and that she was still optimistic.

Prue goes home

Eight minutes later, Amy texted me a picture of Prue with the note: “Look who came home!!!!”  I don’t know if it was playing with Maya or what, but Prue apparently decided that being on her own was for the birds and it was time to go back to her pack.  She had turned up outside of the humane society and followed one of the dogs there right into the building.

I told Maya what a good dog she was.  Maybe she had nothing to do with Prue’s return to home base, but I like to think that playing with Maya made Prue miss her buddies back at the Humane Society and that she decided being out on her own was for the birds.  The fact that she ran immediately back would seem to maybe support this.

We never went down to spring the trap.  It was still baited, so we half expected to find another possum in there.  I joked that if we caught a skunk then I was leaving that to the humane society to release.

Instead, we caught Sadie again.

Yep, the siren call of day old chicken tenders was too much for her, and she was found trapped in the cage Sunday morning, after we let her out to potty.  We left her in there for 20 minutes or so, since the weather was nice.  She lay down and chilled out, but was super happy when her “pa” came to rescue her.

 

Release the Saidaukar!

 

 

Sophie’s Escape Room

Last Friday, our friend Belinda Anderson called to see if I and “the kids” wanted to go on a walk with her down at the fish hatchery in White Sulphur Springs.  By “the kids” she meant of course the only offspring my wife and I have dared to produce, our three dogs, Sadie, Moose and Maya.  I thought it was an outstanding idea, as the past two days had been nice, with temperatures in the 60s for the first time since November.  I was also eager to get a look at the fish hatchery, to see how it was rebounding from the devastating flooding in the area last June.

Trouble was, I had a Sophie’s choice to make when it came to “the kids” because I had three dogs and only two leashes.

We actually own three leashes, but the third retractable leash was in the wife’s car, at work, and I couldn’t find so much as a cloth leash in the house.  Even if I’d had all three leashes, though, the task of taking our three dogs on a walk with only two human beings present is not one I ever relish.  I always wind up having to walk at least two of them, passing Moosie off to Belinda since he’s only 45 pounds of brown obedient dog to deal with.  I then have to walk Sadie and Maya, who are 80ish pounds each, don’t really like each other much, and have a tendency to run in opposite directions when they’re not making a braid with Moose’s leash.  But, hey, I only had the two leashes, I reasoned, so that meant I had to leave one dog at the house.  And since Sadie and Moose have seniority, Maya was have to be the one to get left behind.  Not that this makes the job of leaving her any easier.  If you leave Maya outside with her shock collar on (her “purty collar”) she just howls and jumps on the car with her huge St. Bernard feet and claws, trying to get in with the others.  And if you leave her in the house, she’ll just park herself in the stairwell window and leap on the glass there, potentially tearing down the blinds, while simultaneously rolling huge doggie tears that will break the heart of any dog parents backing out of the driveway, facing her.

Instead, I left her in our bedroom and closed the door.  I figured probably have a nap on our bed, maybe do her nails, and really get in some “me” time while we were gone for an hour or so.  Then I’d give her extra treats when I got home, take her for a walk down the trail and all would be forgiven.  Thusly planned, Sadie, Moose and I left for our walk at the fish hatchery.

An hour or so later we returned to find Maya waiting in the yard.

Er.

This wasn’t good.

Maya being out of the house meant one of three things: A) the wife had come home early, and had let Maya out (not likely, as her car was not in the driveway); B) an intruder had broken in and let Maya out; or C) Maya had somehow managed to escape the locked house on her own.  I wasn’t sure which of these options I liked the least.

We know from experience that Maya can get into the house if the doors are unlocked because she knows how to operate the exterior handles of both the back and front doors (one of which normally requires an opposable thumb).  However, those doors were both locked, not to mention she’d been left in a closed bedroom the door knob of which she has yet to master.  Given her weight, though, I was immediately afraid that she might have managed to break the glass of our floor-length bedroom windows, which are practically door-sized themselves.  She had no blood on her, though, so if she broke out she did it cleanly.  This would require investigation.

Slowly I unlocked and opened the front door.  No intruders killed me.  The back door, I saw, was closed and locked and the bedroom door was still in place and closed.  I opened it to find that indeed she had gone through a window, just without breaking the glass.  What she appears to have done was chosen the one window in the room that is covered by a screen, clawed through that screen and used her weight to force open the window on its track.  She could have tried any of the other screenless windows, but, no, she had to go through the one with the screen.  The window has two latches, but only the top one was closed.  It gave to her force without actually breaking, though.  Once it was open enough to squeeze out, she was free.  Only later did we discover that she’d also peed all over Sadie’s dog bed, which was directly in front of her escape window.

I was angry, sure, but mostly at the screen being torn.  Her escape was otherwise pretty impressive and definitely sent a message that she doesn’t want to be left behind.

When we were about to climb into bed that night, we discovered yet another doggie protest action, one which did not feel good to discover in sock feet: the dog bed directly beneath the window through which Maya had escaped was soaked through with what we can only assume is dog pee.  At least, there were no empty 32 oz cups of water handy.  And it was Sadie’s bed, Maya’s usual arch nemesis.   She probably decided that if Sadie got to go somewhere, at least she wouldn’t have a dry bed to sleep in later.  Either that or Maya just really had to go and didn’t quite make it until her escape could be enacted.

The job of replacing the screen has got us in a screen replacement project for the five or so screens our various doggie residents have destroyed over the years.  They’re such a pain in the ass to replace, though, that after we did the one Maya tore up, we decided to make it a one-screen-per-day kind of project.  Or maybe one a week.

Horribly True Redesign

I’ve had this WordPress version of my website for a couple of years now, and it’s gone through some alterations here and there.  At one point I’d had a theme that allowed me to conveniently organize my 40 plus Horribly True Tales in a manner that allowed for easy navigation.  You could see all of the HTT title displayed in one place, giving you a better idea of what they were about rather than having to scroll through page after page as if they were originally written as blog entries.

Recently, my sister-in-law and biggest Horribly True Fan of all time, Amber, requested I do a reading of one of the stories.  And when I went to try and find one I could barely make any sense of how to find the one I was looking for.  Not sure what happened, but somewhere along the way one of my redesigns inconveniently ditched the convenient all titles on display feature.

So I’ve added them all back on the main Horribly True Tales page.  There you’ll find  list of all of the tales in reverse chronological order.  (I’d love to have some sort of widget that would allow me to make them sortable, but so far my coding skills have not allowed this.)

Furthermore, let it be hereby noted that during a recent spelunking session into the depths of my hard drive, I found a handful of previously unpublished horribly true tales in draft form.  Most are in pretty good shape already, but did not see publication for various reasons.  I have also located a number of Horribly True Tale worthy stories I’d written for previous blogging efforts, some of which involve lost tales of our dogs, that I plan to publish as well.  And, as if that weren’t enough, there’s a horribly true Alaska tale or two to come as well.

SO keep your eyes on this space for all new/old horribly true material.

Some of us are too smart for our own good.

I took the dogs on a walk down the trail behind our house.  As is their wont, the dogs scattered to the winds, save for the two I had on actual leashes due to their predilection for wandering over to the nearby goat farm to hassle the kids.  After 10 minutes of standing around in the clearing at the end of the trail, I clapped loudly and most of the dogs came back.  Sadie, who I’d last seen wandering beyond the pasture fencing, failed to return immediately.

Back home, I got everyone into their shock collars and went outside to clap for Sadie again.  She was in the yard waiting for me, most of her white fur covered in thick gray mud.  I knew she would need hosing off before she could come in the house.  I also knew she’d never stand for it.  I walked over to her and could see she was on her guard against me grabbing her collar.  I allowed my fingers to brush along the fur behind her neck and she was away in a shot, running around the side of the house.  I continued into the garage to turn on the spigot of the hose, then unrolled some of the house from the hose wheel.  I called for Sadie, but she did not come.  It occurred to me that the back door was wide open, my wife seated just inside reading a book.  I popped my head in the front door.

“Hey, you probably ought to close the back door.  Sadie is coated in mud and headed this way.”  The wife complied.

I returned out front and called for Sadie some more.  No dice.  So I did a little yard work, sprayed the surface of the former holes a certain other dog has dug in my hard, which I recently filled with dirt, grass seed, and a variety of dog shit, to prevent redigging.  Probably 20 minutes went by with no Sadie to be seen.  I marched around the house looking for her, expecting to find her on the back deck.  Nope.  She was also not on Sadie Knoll, the perch she likes to lay on in our side yard.  She wasn’t hiding behind the retaining wall.  She wasn’t in the wood shop.  She wasn’t lurking in the bushes or under the side deck.  That damn dog had “run oft,” I thought.  She was probably hanging out in the weeds, knowing what was awaiting her if she did come back when called.  At least, I hoped this was where she was hiding.  Worse would be if she was out roaming the neighborhood, biting all of its children and goats and leaving muddy footprints on its front walks.  I went in the house.

“You’re sure Sadie’s not in here, right?” I asked.  The wife said she didn’t think so.  I went in our bedroom.  Sadie wasn’t on our bed, or on her dog pillow.  She also wasn’t on the cool tile of the bathroom.  There were no muddy footprints to be seen, though there had been a smudge of mud near the back door.  I checked a few more places downstairs, but saw no evidence of the pooch, so I went outside to clap and call for 10 more minutes.

“She’s still not back?” the wife asked upon my return.  I told her, no, and that I was getting pissed.  But there was one more place I wanted to check, just for kicks.  I went to the stairs and began to ascend.  I knew Sadie could not have climbed them before me because our cream colored carpeting on the stairs was only mildly filthy with standard issue dog dirt.  Similarly, the landing at the top of the stairs only had the same high-traffic foot dinginess that we’ve been looking at for weeks.  I mused aloud how this was a fool’s errand, for surely if Sadie had snuck in the house before the wife had been alerted earlier there would be a visible trail in her wake.  Then, I peeked into the office and saw this…

wpid-20151105_160912.jpg

That sneaky little cuss had indeed run in the back door and hidden herself away  in my office before anyone knew to stop her.  And she’d sat up there, hearing me call and clap for her for the better part of 45 minutes.  You can see from her expression that she was sadly aware that the jig was well and truly up.

I fetched a leash and led her down to the front yard where I sprayed her til the water ran clear.  Took 10 minutes.  She then lounged on the back deck, drying in the sun.

In her defense, the carpet on which she lay down in the office was actually a left over piece of carpeting that was resting atop the regular carpet.  So it’ll be easier to clean.  I hope.  Sadie herself may yet need another bath.

Dog story

Last week, we went to a Labor Day gathering at the home of our friends Rebecca and Chester.  Naturally, everyone who came to the gathering prepared way too much fantastic food, so it was a feast that never seemed to get any smaller no matter how much we ate.

One of R&C’s dogs is a three-legged pooch called Tripod.  A very sweet animal, it gets by just fine with just the three.  While standing around Rebecca’s kitchen, one of the other attendees asked how Tripod came to lose a leg.  Chester began to tell the tale, but Rebecca stopped him and said she had thought it would be funnier if they passed the storytelling baton to me, as the writer in the room, and let me come up with a story on the spot. No pressure.

“Get to work,” my wife said.

“Okaaaaay,” I said slowly, allowing me a few seconds thought.  “So there was this orphanage that was on fire, you see,” I began.  “And Tripod–well, the pre-Tripod, mind you–was rescuing all of the orphans from the fire,” I continued at a measured pace.  “One by one he just kept dragging them out until he finally got to the very last orphan.  Then, just as he was pushing that final orphan out into the safety of the night, the frame of the building collapsed…”

“And chopped off the leg,” Rebecca said.

“No, no.  He narrowly escaped the collapse…” I continued, dreaming up another tragedy that could befall the poor dog.

“Tripod’s a girl,” my wife said.

“No.  Not at that point in the story,” I quickly said.  “That happens later.”

Another interlude involving camps and cats…

I had not planned to return to Starkville to see the camp show this year.  I always want to, but with the Lewisburg Literary Festival coming up on August 7 & 8 and me with a 10 minute play to memorize and rehearse it seemed a foolhardy thing to do.

About mid week, Leigh Ann, wife of my best friend and brother Joe Evans, called to alert me to the fact that Joe was to be inducted into the Summer Scholars Hall of Fame this year.  The Hall of Fame is something that’s been done for the past 10 of our camp’s 34 plus year lifespan, honoring people who have served the camp in a variety of capacities.  Joe has been one of the longest-serving staff members, coming in at around 30 or 31 years of service, by my memory.  This was all being done in secret, too, which would be great if the secret could be kept until the ceremony.  This is not precisely easy to do, though, for Joe is a pretty savvy guy and might already suspect something like that was in the offing.  I wanted to be there to see him recognized.

I texted Leah, back at camp, and asked if they’d had to give away my room to someone else.  “Nope.  Come on back,” she wrote.  My driving hands began to itch.

On Thursday of last week I learned that my scene partner in the play we are rehearsing could not meet until Tuesday of this week.  Seemed the chance to go was mine if I would take it.  But how to sell this to the wife?

My wife has a love/hate relationship with camp, as do most of the long-term staff spouses.  On the one hand, they know we love the camp and would do anything we could for it.  They know it’s a constant draw, especially for those of us who help the campers in creating it (as I did as script consultant).  We want to see the finished product and get antsy when we can’t.  On the other hand, camp takes us away from home for long periods of time, which causes rippling effects on those who are used to being able to rely upon us being around.  And for those of us who live 11 plus hours away, it can be even more of an effect because there’s fuel costs to be considered.  I had told her that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go back.  Now that I had the free and clear time-wise, though, I wondered what she would think.  Would she approve or had she already assumed I was staying and made other plans for us?

Naturally, she saw right through me.  After moping around for most of Thursday afternoon, wondering silently how to present my case, my wife hit me with, “So, are you going back tomorrow?”

“I’m seriously thinking about it,” I said, hands continuing to itch.  I then began packing the car to make them stop.  I sent Leah a text to let her know I was coming and not to tell Joe.  I then wrote the associate director and told him, as well as Leigh Ann.  They would be the only three to know my plans for sure, now to throw scent off the trail…

On Facebook, I found an appropriate photo of the set from this year and wrote: *sniff*

Joe quickly responded to this by saying: “This is your own fault, Eric Fritzius.”

Heh heh heh.

I lit out before 7 a.m. on Friday.  I had to get to camp before the show started at 7, preferably an hour before.  I didn’t exactly have a plan of what I was going to do, but figured something would occur in the moment.

When I stopped for gas, I looked up the Summer Scholars Facebook page on my phone and wrote: “Everybody in the show tonight break a leg. I really really wish I could be there to see it with my own eyes.”

A little while later, my friend Tristan Durst wrote: “I still hold out hope that you’re going to show up and surprise us. So. Don’t let me down.”

Took me 40 miles to come up with a response, so at the next rest stop I wrote: “If I had a Tardis, I would be there yesterday.”

Then I went radio silent for the rest of the way.

I arrived in Starkville around 5:15, just enough time to grab some grub before putting my plan into action.  It would be a matter of timing.  See for decades now the staff of Summer Scholars has organized an acapella ensemble to sing a song at intermission.  And for just as long they have met at 6 p.m. in the back corner stairwell to rehearse that song in preparation for debuting it to the campers after they’ve warmed up in the theatre’s scene shop. I snuck in the costume shop door at 6p and headed into the scene shop, expecting to see costumed campers waiting.  However, only my friend Gand frequent clone Glen was there.  And from the amount of general stuff in the middle of the floor, I knew plans had changed. Glen revealed that the kids were downstairs in the lab theatre and the singing ensemble was in a different place to rehearse.

“Hey, check this out,” he said, passing me a program for the camp show.  I saw the logo for the title IN A BIND on its cover–mighty sweet–before Glen flipped to the back cover where Joe’s face stared out.

“Does he know about this?” I said, disappointed that the secret might have been spoiled.

“I don’t know how he couldn’t,” Glen said.  “These are everywhere.”

wpid-20150724_180418.jpgAh, well, I thought.  Someone else’s department.  I had a reveal to accomplish, so I swore Glen to secrecy and headed down to the lab theatre.  A few campers saw me along the way and gave me hugs, but mostly I was just a generic staff-face, able to blend in.  Even after I arrived in the lab theatre, I made no big deal about my presence and all but a few campers seemed to notice me.  My plan, such that it was, was to hang out in the lab until the ensemble arrived.  I might hide, or I might just lurk until I had a chance to reveal my presence to Joe.  But this was tricky.  I didn’t want to be discovered mid-song and interrupt things.  Then I spotted it, a lone black rehearsal door over at one end of the black box theatre space.  It was perfect.  The two campers who were seated beyond it were engrossed in their phones and headphones, so I just went over and stood behind it, out of the way and mostly out-of-sight.

I see a black door and I want to paint it... oh, wait.

I see a black door and I want to paint it… oh, wait.

After 15 minutes or so, I heard Tristan’s voice and I peeked around the corner to see if it was her.  She spotted me and started crying immediately.  I told her my plan was to wait for Joe and crew to arrive.  I had still not worked out what I was going to do once that happened.  A few minutes later, the kids began warmups, all in a circle on the other side of the door, which was, itself, aimed at the entrance to the lab theatre.  They did vocal and physical warmups and then Tristan signaled me that Joe and crew had arrived.  I was able to use the door’s peep hole to spy on them as they circled up in the middle of the circle of campers.

“I want to open the door,” Tristan whispered.  I grinned.

Someone shushed the group of kids and everyone began to grow quiet in preparation for the song.  When it was almost completely quiet, I struck.

BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM, I knocked.

There was laughter from the kids, but only a few knew what was happening.  “Who is it?” someone said, but no one opened the door.  What I only learned later was that my banging on the door was infuriating Joe.  Here he was trying to get this song sung so he could get back to the important work of making sure everything was working so he could direct the musical accompanists from his position on the front row while they were secreted at the back of the stage with no physical line of sight (long story there), and some jerkweed camper was banging on the door and being an ass.

I happily banged again.  BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!

Finally someone opened the door.  It swung on its hinges and I stared out and into the angry, then shocked, then elated face of Joe Evans through it.  I started to say “Avon calling,” but was drowned out by a sea of cheers, as most of the people in the room had no idea I was even there to begin with.  It was awesome.

Joe and I hugged it out, then they got to the serious business of singing an acapella version of “Dr. Worm” by They Might Be Giants.

Leigh Ann had saved me a seat on the front row.  There I sat, saying hi to friends, staff, and former campers.  There were indeed programs everywhere, but Joe didn’t seem to have one.  Then the show started and my enjoyment began.  Act I was great.  Then, at first intermission, Dr. Joe Ray Underwood and associate camp director Joel Rutherford came out to conduct the hall of fame ceremony.  It looked something like this…

Joe swears he had no idea up until the point when they said his name.  He later said he could see the evidence was all around him, but he never paid much attention to any of it.  The strangest thing, he said, was that Leah wouldn’t give him a copy of the program before the show.  It was great to see him honored for all the work he’s done for the camp and for the kids who’ve attended it over the years.  Joe truly is the heart of Summer Scholars.  And his own words in the ceremony tell you precisely why.

The show was fantastic!  One of the all time best in terms of performance, sound mix, lighting, set, costumes, direction, dancing, and, yes, script.  The kids wrote a good one.  It was pretty light lifting for me as these things go.  wpid-20150725_123359.jpg

The following day, I went out to breakfast with the parents and then went back to their house to see kitty Abin.  I was prepared for a tearful reunion, in which he ran to me and leaped into my arms to once again see the savior who rescued him from hunger, disease, and the elements out on campus.  He ran, all right–away from my ass.  And hid.  Took quite a while to coax him out and more time to get him to let me pet him, let alone pick him up.  By the end of my visit, though, he seemed to like me well enough.  Dad suggested that Abin thought I was coming to get him and take him away again.  Perhaps he thought I was going to take him back to the bushes I found him in.

He’s doing great in his new home.  He’s bonded with my dad moreso than Myra, but seems to be developing into a great housecat.

The rest of the weekend was spent hanging out with great friends, seeing the show a second time (even better!), wagering on which camper would cry first during our final meeting (I won $10 in the pool last year, but I picked a bad horse this year), eating stupid amounts of bad food, and watching Sifyl and Oly at three in the morning.  Despite a few complaints along the way, and a near record number of characters to have to write for, it was one of the best years on record.

I always feel a strange mixture of anticipation and dread as camp approaches.  Gives me night terrors and butterflies in my stomach, and this year a case of the shingles.  Right now, though, I find myself oddly looking forward to next year.

I can feel… I can feel the urge to buy a Suzanne Vega album!!!!

The lovely Suzanne Vega was in concert recently at Carnegie Hall WV, in Lewisburg.  I have had my ticket in hand for months now because I consider myself a huge Suzanne Vega fan.  However, as the concert drew closer, I began to question my own faithfulness as a fan.


When I was in highschool, I enjoyed Vega’s music on the radio, with her breakout hit “Luka.”  But I have to admit that it probably wasn’t until the remix of “Tom’s Diner” by DNA hit the airwaves that I decided to jump in whole hog and actually buy her album Solitude Standing.  It quickly became a favorite.  I just loved her quiet, sorta smoky voice, and the stories she told.  “Luka” and the original stripped down “Tom’s Diner” were not even my favorite songs on it.  The title track was great, “Gypsy” and “Calypso” beautiful and intriguing.  I was already into bands like 10,000 Maniacs and dipping into R.E.M., but Suzanne Vega quickly became another in the line of gateway drugs into more substantive artists who weren’t just the standard, bubblegum, Debbie Gibson pop.


I managed to miss her next album, Days of Open Hand, on its release, but eventually did pick it up.  The next of her albums I gravitated to, though, was 99.9 F° (1992), was a departure from the style of Solitude, but I got over the more industrial-sounding hump and really started to enjoy it.  Again the title track was a winner, as were Rock in This Pocket and Blood Makes Noise.  At some point I went back and picked up her 1996 debut.


By the time Nine Objects of Desire was released, in 1996, I was in college radio at WMSV at Mississippi State.  At the time, the station was not focused on playing singles, so we could play anything on the album.  Most were sexy gems, made even more enticing to me by her picture on the cover–that red hair against the green of the background and the apple.  So nice.  I loved “Caramel,” “World Before Columbus,” and “Honeymoon Suite” the best.  Her storytelling continued just as complex and concise as always, her voice still slightly smokey.  If I’d known what smooth bourbon was at the time, I might have applied that description, but I was still 15 years away from any kind of appreciation of that.

I graduated in 1996, immediately became very poor, and did not buy a lot of albums for a couple of years.  But I continued to listen to those of hers that I owned, particularly Nine Objects.  I’m a bit strange with music I love, though.  There are a number of cases in my collection where I love a given artist and a given album or albums by them, but am very hesitant to spend a lot of time on newer material by them.  I often still tend to buy their music, but it sometimes take me several listens to really decide if I like an album and if I don’t do that right away then the chances of me doing it at all decrease.  I think it was often easier for me to get into music back in the days of cassettes and CDs, before digital music, where you basically had a physical object sitting around to remind you you hadn’t listened to it yet.  I still buy CDs, but I immediately rip the music and it winds up in the cloud.  I store the CD in a binder sleeve, gut the CD case itself and keep the liner notes in a box with all the others.  Saves space, but makes for a crappy display.  And everything is out of sight, out of mind.  My music listening has dropped off tremendously even though I have every album I own at my fingertips at all times via my computer and my phone.  Irony, no?  Suzanne Vega should write a song about it.

I’m embarrassed to say that I did not do a very good job at at keeping up with new albums.  It’s kind of what happens to some of us who leave our primary music-fandom-formation years.  I did buy 2001’s Songs in Red & Gray at some point, but have no memory of listening to it.  I think I bought it as part of a multi-album purchase and it got put away somewhere safe before getting listened to.

Because of this lack of faithfulnessI was already questioning how big a fan I truly was of Suzanne Vega as her concert approached.  She’d released nearly at least as many albums as I already owned since the last album of hers I’d really dug into.  So I was anticipating a concert that could possibly have lots of music I was unfamiliar with.

As I sat in my sixth row seat near the middle of the house, the nice lady next to me said, “So… What song of hers are you most hoping she’ll play?”

Shit.

I couldn’t even recall the titles of any of her songs.  Oh, sure, I had “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” easily in hand, but you don’t want to be the guy who says the very VERY obvious answers.

“Wow,” I said.  “Probably something from Nine Objects of Desire.”

“Oh, you really do know her work,” the lady said.  I explained that “Nine Objects” was my favorite album of hers and that my library after that was actually pretty thin. Really, I was just hoping to hear some favorites from across her range.

And we did.

Suzanne Vega gave a lovely concert, a nice mixture of new and old with, naturally, more emphasis on the older songs, going back to even her debut album.  However, the ones she noted were fairly new were excellent.  She was charming and full of stories about the origins of some of the music.  Her voice was every bit as gorgeous as when I first heard her in the late `80s.

After intermission, she returned to sing more familiar tunes and a few ones from older albums I owned but which I had forgotten.  Toward the end, she thanked everyone in her crew, and the venue, and then began her big hit “Luka.”  I had to force myself not to sing along with her, as I have hundreds of times on that song before. Then, at the end of the chorus after the second verse, she was about to head into the third verse then, just as she reached the place where she was supposed to come in… didn’t.  She continued to play, as did her electric guitarist (Gerry Leonard, who was a badass), but looked a little thoughtful as she did.  Then she smiled and said, “I just sang the third verse in place of the second. And now I’m trying to remember the lyrics to the second verse.”  She kept playing as the audience began to chuckle.  “`Yes, I think I’m okay’ … no, I sang that,” she said.

“Maybe it’s because I’m clumsy!” I called out in a loud voice from the sixth row.

“`I think it’s because I’m clumsy,'” she said, correcting my paraphrase.  “That’s it.”  And then, with perfect timing, as she’d reached the entrance to the verse in what she was playing, she instantly began singing, “`I think it’s because I’m clumsy, I try not to talk to loud…'”

I beamed from my seat.  That might have just made my year.

Thinking about it in the minutes that followed, I felt grateful to have witnessed a quirk of memory that plagues great performers like Suzanne Vega and those of us on my much lower performing level as well. You might have sung a particular song thousands of times, more than any other song you’ve ever sung in your whole life, and know it by muscle memory.  However, muscle memory can occasionally develop a cramp–especially if you get the elements of that memory out of the order your muscle has memorized it by.

Afterward, I stood in line for an autograph on her CD from last year, Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles.  I thought of lots of things to ask her and tried to winnow this down to something memorable and short, since it was already after 10p.  When I reached the front of the line, I passed her my CD and said, “Hi.  I was your prompter.”  Then, thinking she might have been bummed out by it, I added, “Sorry.”

“No, no,” she said with the most genuine smile. “I actually love it when people help like that.”

And then, just like that, all the additional stuff I had thought to say to Suzanne Vega, back when I was standing in line, was no longer in my memory. Instead, I thanked her, told her the concert was lovely and then slipped away into the night.

The album is very good.  True to Suzanne Vega form.

 

Synchronicitous Events #3

I have heard the term “objet d’art” twice today.
Once in the movie Dead Again, which is a movie largely revolving around reincarnation.
Next, I heard it in the first episode of the Rainn Wilson dramedy, Backstrom, in a scene with a Hindu doctor in which the topic of reincarnation is also raised.
It’s been probably years since I heard the term at all, though I’m sure I’ve read it in that time.
That is all.

Synchronicitous Events #2

Today while at play rehearsal, the topic of actress Margot Kidder came up.   Our director, I learned, is friends with someone who is currently working with her on a film project.  Naturally, with the topic of Margot Kidder broached, we began discussing some of her history, such as her appearance in the Superman films of the `80s and her enjoyable appearances on the early `90s sitcom Boston Commons.  And, of course, the time she had an imbalance in her medication and wound up in someone’s Los Angeles back yard during a manic episode.  We all noted that we liked her.

Hours later, as I was walking into my house listening to episode 1515 of the podcast Never Not Funny on my phone, who should come up in their conversation but Margot Kidder, in reference to celebrities going a bit batty.

Oooo weeeee oooooooh.

 

UPDATE: 11/15/14

Was listening to the Film Vault podcast’s October 31 episode today and Margot Kidder came up there, too, in reference to the movie Maverick, in which she appears.  I’ve not thought of Margot Kidder in years and three references to her hit me in the space of three days, each from unrelated sources originating weeks apart.

 

Actual Conversations Heard at My House #4

SETTING:  My house, at around 4:15 a.m. after I’ve spent the past twenty minutes being repeatedly awakened by our cat D.J. who is loudly meowing to be let out, or be fed, or because it’s too pleasant and dry inside our warm, non-rain-soaked home.   He only pauses in his meowing to wait exactly the amount of time it takes for me to return to slumber before giving it another round.  Add to this Maya, our St. Bernard, who has awakened me twice already to go to the bathroom and has now chosen the cat’s latest squall volley to whine and loudly shake her ears to alert me a third potty requirement.

ME:  (RISING FROM BED, QUIETLY FURIOUS)  That is it.  I’m murdering everyone.

MY WIFE: (STILL HALF-ASLEEP)  Don’t murder me.  I’m on your side.

ME:  That’s right.  You are.  Okay.  I won’t murder you.

She now has no memory of saying this.

Synchronicitous Events

All right, dammit, I’m pulling the trigger on a new blog feature.

For years now I have been experiencing episodes of synchronicity (or at least high coincidence) on a near daily basis.  Often these revolve around the podcasts I listen to, and how certain topics will crop up on completely different shows, recorded by completely different people, weeks apart, often geographically distant from one another, yet get listened to by me within an hour of one another on the same day.  I’ve been meaning to start writing these down, because some of them have been pretty astounding to me.  I make no claim to knowing or even speculating what any of it means, though the déjà vu side effect of something changing in the Matrix does make a satisfying form of sense to me.  Instead, I will now set about to chronicle them when they happen so as to see if there is an overall larger pattern even if that pattern would suggest that I am nuts.  Or not.

Today’s Synchronicitous Event was entirely print-based…

Some background:  While working on finding some appropriate material to read for the fastly impending creative writing class I will be teaching at a local federal prison, I was perusing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams’ posthumously released collection of writing The Salmon of Doubt.  In it, there is a brief essay describing a time in 1976 when Adams was waiting for a train and purchased a newspaper, a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies and sat down to enjoy them and do the crossword.  His items were laid out on the table before him.  Before he could open his cookies, though, a stranger across the table from him picked them up, opened them, ate one and replaced the packet on the table.  Adams didn’t know how to respond to this, so he picked up the cookies, took one of his own, ate it and returned the packet to the table.  He said they went back and forth like this through the entire pack of 8 cookies, each taking one after the other.  Only after the cookies were gone and the man had departed did Adams pick up his newspaper only to discover his original pack of cookies had been beneath it the whole time.  It’s a fantastic story, but it gets even better, for Adams used that very story as an anecdote in his 4th book in the Hitchhiker’s series, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.  In the book, his primary character Arthur Dent tells the story to his new girlfriend, Fenchurch.  My goal, having located the nonfiction version in the Salmon of Doubt, was to then go and locate it in So Long… in order to see the differences between the two in case that might be of any use to my students.  Before I could find one of my three copies of that book, though, I had to go take care of some bathroom business.

Whilst business was being taken care of, I perused my copy of Doctor Who Magazine, issue #475, in which there is an in-depth examination of the classic Tom Baker serial The Talons of Weng Chiang in their monthly The Fact of Fiction section.  The section goes back and forth between describing events in the story and providing DVD-style commentary and explanation of those events.  In the section about Part Two of the story, the article mentions that the Doctor, speaking to Professor Litefoot, makes a joke that his companion, Leela, is a savage who was found floating in a hatbox as an infant.  “A hatbox?” Litefoot responds.  The article’s commentary points out that this bit of dialog parallels a scene in Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest in which “Ernest” explains to his potential mother-in-law how he had been found, as an infant, in a hand-bag in the cloakroom at Victoria Station.  “A hand-bag?” she then exclaims in response.

Cut to ten minutes later.  I have returned to my office, found my copy of So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, am looking for the story of the cookies, as told by Arthur, but in my searching I come upon another Arthur/Fenchurch scene on page 56.  (Douglas Adams typeset the Hitchhiker’s books himself and most editions will have this occur on page 56.)  In it, Fenchurch is starting to tel Arthur about her past and Arthur says he has a question for her.  She senses what that question will be in advance and offers to say it with him.

“Was I found…” she began.

“… in a handbag,” joined in Arthur.

“…in the Left Luggage office,” they said together.

“…at Fenchurch Street Station,” they finished.

“And the answer,” said Fenchurch, “is no.”

“Fine,” said Arthur.

“I was conceived there.”

“What?”

“I was con–“

“In the Left Luggage office?” hooted Arthur.

 

Clearly the Importance of Being Earnest is what they were both referencing, a fact I never realized was the case during any of the previous times I’d read the book because I had not read the play.  It had occurred to me to wonder why Arthur anticipated the circumstances enough to form the question, but I figured, rightly so it seems, that this was an English joke or reference that I just didn’t get.  That’s all fine and good, but the fact that this synchronous bit of literature fell into my lap minutes after reading the origin of the reference in Doctor Who Magazine is very odd and disconcerting to me, though mostly in a positive way.  I like to call such off-putting and hard to explain encounters as “bad craziness”–not meaning that I think I am crazy in a bad way, but that the situation is crazy and it’s bad that I can’t explain it.  Once I found the section of the book I was actually looking for, there was another allusion to her conception in the train station, which might have caused me to go back and recheck the previous story just to make sure I remembered things right.  Again, bad craziness.

As we lay in bed, about to go to sleep, I told the above story of bad craziness to my wife.  She, while trying not to smirk, said she thought it was a plot against me.  She said, furthermore, that she thought there was likely a conspiracy at play.  This light ridicule is, of course, a typical reaction of people when faced with those who’ve just felt their world’s kilter jarred.  And while I knew she was mostly kidding, it still annoyed the bejeezus out of me.

“I’m making no such claims,” I said.  “It’s just very odd that the reference happened so soon after I’d read its explanation.”

 

————–

Things to do:  Reread So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.  It’s been many many years since I last did.

Things to do: Read the Importance of Being Earnest.  It’s high time I did. Might get a few more jokes.

 

The Hungry Hungry Escalator

My forthcoming children’s book will be titled: “The Hungry Hungry Escalator.”  It will be based on an incident that occurred to my in-laws and I as we tried to depart New York’s Penn Station recently.  We survived, but have been left bruised and sore, some more than others.

Let me back up.

Last week the wife (Ashley) and I went to New York City by train, on vacation with my in-laws (Ma, Pa, her sister Amber and brother-in-law J.P.)  We were to leave by train on Wednesday morning.  The train didn’t arrive until Wednesday afternoon, however.  That four hour delay, plus some more delays en route, put us off our arrival time by numerous hours.  Instead of arriving at 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, we instead arrived at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, costing us a pre-paid night in our Chinatown-based hotel rooms.   Beyond that, we had a great time, ate great food, saw great shows (the new production of Les Misrables is fantastic–and that was just for the Val Jean understudy!!!), went to some very nice comic shops, and mostly learned how to ride the subway.  (We only accidentally went to Brooklyn once.)

We were scheduled to depart Sunday morning at 6:55 a.m. so we took the hotel’s car service to Penn Station, leaving at a little after 6.  We got there in plenty of time, then found coffee and breakfast–though just barely.  I tried to order six breakfast sandwiches from a Duncan Donuts whose cashier line did not speak much in the way of the Queen’s English.  The ordering process became an Abbot and Costello routine.

ME:  Yes, I’d like six #10s, please.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes.

ME:  No.  Six of the number tens.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes?

ME:  No.  The turkey sausage muffin.  I want six of them.  Please.

CASHIER: The number 10?

ME:  Yes.

CASHIER:  Ten number sixes.

ME:  No.

Repeat.

They were still assembling my six #10s when boarding was called for our train.  I escaped with a bag of sandwiches and two cups of piping hot coffee in a cardboard drink caddy, then joined the family as we headed for the escalator leading down to our train.

We passed the ticket lady at the top of the escalator, showed her our tickets and proceeded.  My brother-in-law, J.P., went first, followed by Ma, Pa, me, Ashley, and her sister Amber.  One of J.P.’s bags had a broken handle, which made keeping it balanced on top of his larger suitcase difficult.  It fell off on the trip down, but he was able to replace it.  However, as he reached the bottom of the escalator, the bag fell off again.  Ma, who was right behind him, saw it land on the steps in front of her.  She planned to step to one side of it on the escalator’s lower landing and push the bag out of the way with her own rolling bag.  Only because her bag was in front of her, she didn’t see where the landing began, misjudged the end of the escalator, caught her bag on his and then went crashing over the two bags as her legs were knocked from under her.  I looked down in time to see her fall, and I turned to alert Ashley, who was a couple steps above me.  When I looked back, I had time enough to see Ma’s coffee splashed across the metal landing plate below before I found I was being knocked backward by Pa, who had been knocked off of his feet after crashing into Ma and the luggage, not to mention his own luggage in front of him, as we were carried toward the growing pile by the still-moving escalator.

Ma was on the landing and Pa close behind her, but I was trapped at the point further up where the metal steps are still very much metal steps and have not yet shrunk beneath the landing plate.  My feet were trapped beneath Pa and the luggage, while my upper half was being gratered by the teethy metal steps.  Somehow I kept the coffee caddy level on the way down (which shows my sense of priorities when it comes to life: “Save the coffee!”).  While the cups were still in their caddy, held in my left hand, that hand was being pushed toward my face by luggage from below while my right arm and back were shoving me toward them due to being pushed by the steps from above.  I don’t count escalators as a phobia of mine, but I did watch the Doctor Who story “Seeds of Doom” a number of times as a child.  I still suppress shudders at the thought of the massive grinder the story’s villain attempted to feed the Doctor into via an automated conveyer system.   My situation at that moment felt reminiscent.

Ashley and Amber, meanwhile, had been a few steps above us, and saw the oncoming pileup.  Ashley began yanking luggage from the space between her and me and chucking it back up the escalator for Amber to catch, so that those of us in the pile wouldn’t be buried under it.  There had fortunately only been one lady above Ashley and Amber and she wisely fled back up the steps to get away from the chaos pile.  Ashley also had the presence of mind to shout for someone to stop the escalator–only, in the moment, she couldn’t remember the word escalator so she instead shouted “Stop it!  Stop it!  Stop the thing!”

I also tried shouting, but I wasn’t much more coherent because I was staring at the business end of two scalding coffees being pushed closer to my face while I was being pummeled by the toothy metal steps on the other side.  (My other arm, I realized, still clutched the bag of sandwiches.)  The extended handle of my rolling suitcase was being pummeled by the steps and it sounded as though it was being crushed.  This sent me into a panic because I figured my fingers would be next.  Ashley said I began screaming a mixture of “STOP IT!!!!!  STOP IT!!!!!” and “OWWWWWWW!” at the top of my lungs.

Below, J.P. was trying to hit the stop button, but it was covered by a plastic lid that was latched in such a way that simply lifting it wasn’t part of its design; it took him a bit to get it open and hit the button and the escalator came to a halt.

I managed to climb out of the luggage and get to my feet.  I had still not spilled the coffee.  I was shaken and cursing, mostly under my breath.  I looked down to see where Ma was at.  She was standing down on the concrete of the train platform, looking back up at me with wide eyes.

“Ma?  Are you all right?” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said.  Her expression made me wonder if she was more badly hurt than she looked. What I didn’t realize until she told me later was that Pa had pushed her free of the escalator and she’d been able to turn around to see me being grated by the steps.  She had been frightened for me because I was wearing my leather satchel around my torso and she could see the strap tightening.  This was because the steps were pushing it further beneath me, but to her it looked as if part of the strap might have been caught in the works and was in danger of strangling me.  My incoherent screams couldn’t have been helping matters.  Thinking about it now, though, had I not been wearing the satchel, I would have been a little closer to the steps themselves and might have been physically injured as opposed to pride-injured–which is mostly what I suffered.  At no point did I feel like I was being choked, but Ma she was about to have Pa free me with his knife.

The ticket lady came down the now stationary steps and was very concerned for all of us.  She didn’t want us moving around until she could ask a few questions and assess the lawsuit potential–though she didn’t actually say that last part.  Ma said she felt like her hip, shoulder and arm were probably bruised, but she didn’t feel anything was broken. I shook myself out and said that I felt okay, too.  Pa, who over the course of the last year has undergone not only triple-bypass heart surgery, suffered a stroke, recovered from it, and had his carotid artery cleaned out, said he felt fine.

The ticket lady offered to help us fill out an accident report, but that would involve not being on the train, which was about to leave.  Seeing that we were all pretty much intact as far as we could tell (not to mention the inspection of my physician wife), and how none of this had been Amtrak’s fault to begin with, we decided to just soldier on down the track.  We boarded the train.

I think we were all in a bit of shock for a while.  The situation, bad as it was, could have been worse.  Mostly, I felt stupid for not being more quick-thinking in the moment and winding up at the bottom of the pile so swiftly, while Ashley, Amber and J.P. saved the day.

After half an hour or so, we all ate our cold breakfast sandwiches and drank our coffee.  I felt a little sore and for a little bit I thought I’d bruised by coccyx, but I eventually decided there wasn’t much wrong.  (I’ve still had cause to shout “Ow!  My coccyx!” over the past day, but only because it’s fun.)

The rest of our train trip home was, thankfully, uneventful and undelayed.

Dear Bryan Fuller…

Just read the news about the potential PUSHING DAISIES Broadway musical.

As a huge Pushing Daisies fan, with many many friends who are as well, I think I may be the only one I know to say: I’m actually against this.

While on paper a Pushing Daisies musical seems like a great idea, IMO it is too drastic an alteration of the ideal format for the story it was telling and existed in, which is television or film. The show was born in that medium and did amazing things in it while it lasted. It also incorporated many elements of Broadway musicals along the way, which were used to make this little TV show about a bittersweet relationship between a piemaker and the reanimated dead girl that he loves, into something magical and unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV.  ON T.V.

Could a stage version of the show exist? Sure.

Could it be amazing? Sure.

Would I want to see it? Sure.

Should I shut up and trust that you and your fellow creators know what you’re doing and have a master plan in place?  Quite possibly.  But I cannot do so without respectfully appealing to you to reconsider this Broadway plan in the short term.

I maintain that the stage will not be the ideal place for a fitting conclusion to your story–a conclusion or continuation that we the fans have wanted so badly since it went off the air. A translation to the stage, while gaining all the elements that make Broadway musicals so special on their own, will lose much of the visual and special effects elements that helped make that show beloved. Television acting and stage acting are different creatures. It’s closeup magic versus stage magic; David Blaine versus David Copperfield. Both are impressive, but for very different reasons.

As great as a PD musical could be, I will miss the twinkle in Ned’s eye, Chuck’s knowing smile, Emerson Cod’s world-weary sneer, Olive’s subtle longing, the conflicted expressions of Aunt Vivian, and the one-eyed steeliness of Aunt Lily. (And what about Digby?!)

Furthermore, an ending to Ned and Chuck’s (and Emerson and Olive, and Lily and Vivian’s) story needs to exist in a format that can be shelved alongside the TV box sets we’ve watched and rewatched and forced so many others to watch over the years. Give us something which can be enjoyed by the mass audience worldwide that fell in love with the show! Requiring that it be seen on Broadway, where it will have a limited run, for a limited amount of people–or, if successful, will start trading out cast members when they decide to move on to other roles, assuming all of the original cast will even commit to it–is FAR from the same thing as a final curtain TV movie. And, frankly, it isn’t fair to the thousands of fans who have kept the fires burning.

This is not to say that I believe a Pushing Daisies Broadway musical couldn’t be pretty damn astounding on its own merits. It certainly could. And I would actually be 100 percent behind it had the show been given a proper ending on television. By all means, do an adaptation then and give us a Broadway show. But please, Bryan Fuller, don’t give it to us in place of the ideal ending to your story just because it could be cool. Kickstarter this thing like Veronica Mars. Let the fans fund a movie, or Netflix or Amazon mini-series, (assuming rights could be secured). Bring back the cast. (Okay, you can recast the kids, or just pick up young Ned and Chuck’s story further along with the same actors, somehow.) Bring back Barry Sonnenfeld to direct it. Bring back Jim Dale to narrate it. Give us the ending that I know exists in your head. And do so in the same format in which it began: film.

Yours,

–eric

Kitty on a Milk Carton (Part 2)

On Sunday, after church, I went out to investigate the forest floor beneath the hickory tree we’d seen the vultures in, in case there was any gray fur left from a kitty meal.  I didn’t find any.  Meanwhile, the wife went down the hill to try and talk to neighbors.  They knew D.J. and had seen him around in the past, but not recently.  They agreed to keep an eye out and to check their outbuilding in case he’d snuck in there.

Throughout the afternoon, we kept waiting for him to just meander on in, but other than repeated “Fatty” misidentifications, we saw nothing.  It was to the point that Ashley couldn’t even be sure she’d seen him when leaving on Saturday morning.  She was afraid she’d just seen fatty trotting by the driveway.

“Oh, no,” I said.  “Fatty doesn’t trot.  He lumbers.  And it wouldn’t have been any other cat because it was running toward our house.”

At 4:50, Sunday afternoon, I was struck by the sudden feeling that D.J. was alive.  It was a warm and confident notion that said, he was not only alive but was on his way home.  In fact, it was so strong that I wrote it in my phone, as if speaking or writing it would make it real.  I then watched the back door, waiting to see his kitty face peering through it, or to hear his “wipewipewipewipewipewipe” trademark.  Nothing.

Sunday night, I posted a picture of D.J. to Facebook and asked my friends of a praying mind to say one for him.  A number of people responded that they would.

It was difficult to go to sleep for both of us.  We were both feeling down and with good reason; see, beyond Emmett’s brief disappearance from a few years ago, we’d had a previous experience with a cat disappearing, which did not end so well.

Avie Kitty

Avie Kitty

Our cat Avie was the second cat we had following the passing of my 17-year-old cat Winston.  (The first died of panleukopenia, and the less said about that the better–beyond the standard, “Get your kitten vaccinated!” advice.)  Avie was a sweet kitty, though vicious if you happened to be a baby rabbit.  We nicknamed her Kissy Kitty, because she tended to snuggle up on my wife’s chest and would kiss her sweaters.  We left Avie with our friend Scarlett while we took our dogs with us on vacation back in 2010.   When we returned, Scarlett informed us that Avie had escaped the house during the week and had not come back.  We shrugged this off, thinking she would eventually return, or that it wouldn’t be a problem to locate her.  None of our efforts proved fruitful.  We searched the neighborhood, put up posters all over, went door to door with flyers, and made daily trips to the Bluefield Humane Society for three months because we had a tip that one of their neighbors regularly caught local kitties in a live trap and hauled them in to kitty jail.  (We even called that neighbor, just to let them know we were on the lookout for a particular kitty, but they denied being the neighbor that did this.)  We had a few leads, but mostly these turned out to be the wrong cat.  We had fingers crossed that she might make it across town and turn up at the house someday, but if she ever did it was after we moved to Lewisburg.  We were broken-hearted for weeks, and could only console ourselves with the hopeful vision of Avie sitting on the lap of some little old lady, kissing her knitted shawl.  It still makes me sad to this day.

The coda to that story is that our friend Scarlett, from whose care Avie had escaped, is responsible for giving us D.J. and Emmett.  She’d picked them up as kittens from the humane society a couple months after Avie’s disappearance and her kids had named them Deja Vu and Emma.  Only they wouldn’t stop peeing in this one spot in her house, no matter what she did, so she said we could either take them or she was returning them to the humane society.  We, somewhat reluctantly agreed.  Emma turned out to be a boy, so we renamed her Emmett.  And since one of my Top 10 favorite movies is Silverado, I decided that if we had an Emmett, we needed a Jake, so that’s what I renamed Deja Vu.  The conversation in which we broke this news to Scarlett went something like this…

“We’re renaming Deja Vu to `Jake,'” I said.

“Oh, Jake, like in Twilight?” Scarlett said.

“No!  Not like Jake from Twilight,” I said, annoyed at all things Twilight.  “And the other one we’re renaming Emmett, cause it’s a boy.”

“Oh, Emmett, like in Twilight?”

Knowing that this would be a conversation we would probably have to keep having, we abandoned our Silverado theme and just renamed Deja Vu to D.J.

As we weepily lay in bed Sunday night, the wife said, “I guess we lost another kid.”

“Oh, I still think he could turn up,” I said.  “I keep waiting to hear him wiping at the glass.”

“Yeah.  Me too,” she said.

We talked more about the possibility that he was trapped somewhere, maybe in someone’s garage.  However the fact that it was now Sunday night and this hypothetical family had not returned from their hypothetical weekend trip to free him weighed on us.  If he wasn’t trapped in a garage, and if he wasn’t dead on his head, the other alternative was that he was alive but injured and couldn’t reach the house.  The fact that it was already 20 degrees outside and snowing didn’t help us in this line of thought.

I slept fitfully.  The wife barely slept at all.  Then what little sleep we were getting was broken by the sound of chainsaws at 8 a.m. Monday morning.

On Friday, some utility workers had been sawing trees and limbs along the power line path, just below our house and evidently they’d returned to finish the job.  It made me wonder if the sawing might be connected with DJ’s disappearance–if, perhaps, he’d been investigating some of the piles of sawed limbs and become trapped beneath them in a limbslide.  The men wrapped things up by 8:30, though, and no cat turned up.

I phoned the office of the veterinarian in proximity to us, but they’d not had any anonymous gray kittie’s dropped off.  Neither had our own vet.  We then tried to phone the humane society, also over the hill from us, but they were closed on Mondays.

We went our separate ways for errands, and met for lunch before heading home.  I was the first to arrive, hoping to find D.J. waiting at the front door.  He was not.  I called “Heeeeeere kittykittykittykittykittykitty” in the front of the house.  No cat rolled up.  I took the dogs inside and then stepped onto the back deck, where the cat also was not.  I gave it another “Heeeeeere kittykittykittykittykittykittykittykitty,” really putting some voice into it.  Screw the neighbors.  No kitty.

Looking down the brambly hillside behind our house, I decided I was going to head out into it to have a look around.  We know this is D.J.’s primary route to getting down into the rest of the neighborhood, so it made sense that he might be in there.  It would also allow me to investigate the piles of limbs the utility men had left.  I went back inside and began bundling up.  As I was doing so, the wife arrived home.  I told her of my plan, which she said was a good one.  I was then pulling on my gloves, headed for the back door, when I looked up and saw a kitty face peering over the top step.  I did a double take, not wanting to be fooled by “Fatty” for the 53rd time in as many days, but this was definitely a skinny kitty.  I then gawked as my brain sent several “Please Confirm!” messages to my eyes.  They confirmed.  I froze in place, refusing to take my eyes off of him for even an instant, as though he would run away or disappear if I did.  Then, in one breath, I said, “Holy shit!  It’s D.J., I swear to God it’s D.J., I am looking right at him, you have to come and see!”

She came over to see and he didn’t vanish.  We then both carefully moved toward the back door, slipping through its gap and not allowing the dogs to follow.  He didn’t run away, but he did seem strangely cautious, or even dazed.

DJ Kitty returned

DJ Kitty returned

“Let me see him,” the wife said, reaching down to pick him up.  She held him gingerly, as though he might be injured, but he made no pained cries.  He just looked like he was in shock to be home.

After a thorough examination by Dr. Ashley, we determined that D.J. was a little dirty, smelled of old dust, had a few superficial cuts, may or may not have had one of his back legs gnawed upon by something, but was for the most part fine.  We took him in the house and gave him canned cat food.  Then Ashley did another more thorough examination before announcing that she thought he was going to be all right.  He spent the rest of the day napping on our bed and seemed pleased to be inside.

We still have no idea where he was all this time, but our suspicion is that he was indeed injured.  His back leg, while not hurt enough to cause him to cry out, did show signs of having possibly been in the mouth of another creature and we wonder now if he might have been caught by one of our neighbor’s dogs down the hill.  He may have been hiding in a culvert the whole time.  Or he might truly have been trapped in a garage.  What matters most is that he was returned to us.  Our prayers were answered.

Kitty on a Milk Carton (Part 1)

D.J. Kitty

D.J. Kitty

We have two cats, a gray kitty named D.J. and fat lump of a sealpoint cat called Emmett. In fact, we call Emmett “Fatty Lumpkin” most of the time cause it just fits.  Emmett is very beautiful and very stupid.  D.J. is skinny, affectionate and intelligent.  He’s smart enough that he knows exactly which of our buttons to press to get what he wants.  Sometimes this makes him exasperating because getting us to do what he wants often involves waking us up in order to let him out.  He usually does this by knocking shit off of my bedside table, or clawing the window screens which, on our windows, are on the inside.  Lately, now that he’s learned the bedside table puts him in arms reach of me, he’s taken to clawing some unseen thing beneath our bed where I can’t reach him, which he will do until I get up to at least try to reach him.   For the most part, he doesn’t even have to burn this many calories, because our dog Sadie knows D.J. pisses me off through this behavior and, when the cat enters the room in the wee hours, will preemptively wake me up by whining to go potty in order to prevent me being upset with the cat for being awakened. It’s a symbiotic relationship that seems to work for everyone involved, because I’m never upset with the dogs for waking me; it’s the cats, who have a litterbox, that anger me through their interruptions to my slumber.  I say all that as further evidence that D.J. is quite intelligent, because often when I am awakened by the dog I will find him lurking just inside the door to our room, waiting to slip out with the dogs.  And I provide these examples of his intelligence because it illustrates the degree of fear my wife and I were filled with when D.J. turned up missing this past weekend.

The last time I had seen D.J. before his disappearance was sometime on Friday.  I don’t recall him coming in for dinner, but I was busy getting ready to go act in a play.  Didn’t see him when I returned and didn’t see him for breakfast on Saturday.  In the afternoon, still having seen no sign of the cat, I mentioned it to the wife.  “No, I saw him this morning,” she said.  She’d been on her way out to go do some early-morning charting at her clinic and had seen him running along the edge of the driveway in the direction of the house.  I’d not seen him, though.  It was not like him to miss breakfast.

Later, after he’d missed dinner and had still not turned up by the time we came home from the final night of my play, we began to be concerned.  I went to front and back doors calling, “Heeeeerekittykittykittykittykittykitty!” expecting to see him come running from the woodshed, or to eventually hear him wiping at the glass of the back door.  We call it wiping the glass, because that’s what he does.  Just stands up on his hind legs and wipes up and down the glass of the door with his front paws, creating little squeaky “wipewipewipewipewipe” sounds.  It’s one of his trademark moves.  We did not hear them that evening.  Instead, we had several bursts of hope followed by misery when we mistook Fatty for DJ as he lurked outside the back door, several minutes after one of us had put him out the front door.

After midnight, having no luck sleeping, I got up to walk out in the 30 degree weather to check the woodshop in case he’d managed to sneak inside there when I’d briefly gone out in the afternoon.  Nope.  I then walked out and checked his usual haunt of the woodshed, just to confirm that A) he wasn’t there, and B) he’d not been killed in some sort of woodpile avalanche.  He was not and had not.

We know D.J. to be a wide-ranging cat, having seen him all over the neighborhood, but he’s fixed, so the usual male “catting around” hasn’t really been a factor.  He’s also so smart that we know he can find his way back home from pretty much anywhere he’s wandered, so, to our way of thinking, if he had not come home something was wrong.

Back when we lived in Princeton, our other cat, “Fatty,” disappeared for a few days.  After the first two, we realized something was up and began to worry.  We figured he was either dead, trapped, or he’d managed to wander into an adjoining neighborhood and, being fairly stupid, got lost.  Our money, somehow, was on trapped, though.  This was over a three day holiday weekend, and we were imagining him wandering into a neighbor’s open garage on a Thursday only to be trapped when they departed, closing it behind them.  We’d even had a neighbor describe seeing him in the vicinity of another neighbor’s house–a neighbor she knew had left town in just such a manner.  We still don’t know for sure if this was the case, as I heard no mews when snooping around that neighbor’s yard.  But on the afternoon of the third day he turned up, a bit skinnier than when he’d left, but otherwise okay.

The wife and I hoped this would turn out to be D.J.’s fate, and not something more sinister.  We live on the edge of some woods, and allegedly pet-hungry coyotes have been known to roam the area.  That coupled with the 22–count `em, TWENTY TWO–gigantic vultures we saw roosting in a hickory tree behind our house on Saturday was enough to turn our thoughts dark.

( TO BE CONTINUED…)

Actual Conversations Heard in Actual K-Marts #3

SETTING:  Super K-Mart in Beckley, W.Va.  I have enter and approach the service desk clutching a bag containing a defective bubble gun in one hand and my receipt in the other.  This was a bubble gun I had purchased during a tour of multiple Beckley-based retail outlets the previous week, which I was hoping to use for the play I’m directing (“Fish Schticks” by Brett Hersey), which requires bubbles and lots of them.  As previously noted, the gun refused to fire.

CLERK–  Hello, sir.  May I help you?

ME–  (Setting the bag upon the counter)  Yes.  I bought this bubble gun here last week.  It doesn’t work even a little bit.

CLERK– (Looks down at my bag.  Allows a pregnant pause.)  Um, sir, this is from Magic Mart.

(I look down at the bag, from which I had pulled my receipt mere moments beforehand.  Both the bag and the receipt have Magic Mart logos prominently printed on their surfaces.)

ME–  Oh.  You are correct.  Sorry about that.

CLERK–  Oh, no problem.

(I then gather up my bag and my receipt and flee the building.)

I’ll take “Spayed `ers” other than James for $100, Alex.

Yep.  One week back, we took the dog in for a spayin’.  We chose to do this during a week that the wife otherwise had off from work.  (She had not requested a solid week off, but that’s what they gave her.  Doesn’t matter to her, she gets paid the same either way, but it was a nice and unexpected vacation.)  We did this because if anything were to go amiss with Maya’s recovery from the spayin’, the wife wanted to be home to monitor it.

Since the wife had so many days off, my mother-in-law decided to come up as well.  This is always a welcome event.  For one thing, I love my mother-in-law.  For another, she’s a spectacular cook and I’m guaranteed biscuits and gravy for at least one of the days she’s around.  (Which I then take pictures of and text them to my brother-in-law as proof that I’m her favorite.)  The other advantage to having Ma around is that she helps keep the wife occupied allowing me to otherwise get work done.   Since I work from home as a writer, I do have to actually spend some time doing that sort of thing.  But when the wife is off, I feel obligated to spend a good amount of time with her, too, and sometimes my work life doesn’t get the attention it needs.  So my deadlines were thankful Ma was in the house, too.

Maya’s surgery went well.  I went with the wife to pick her up the following morning.  We were waiting in the vet’s lobby when they brought her out.  Maya went right to the wife first.  After receiving a pet there, she turned, noticed me and I got to see her little doggy expression change from one of mere happiness to happiness double plus joy. 

During her recovery, she was a good deal more subdued than her usual self–which is to be expected, since her belly still hurts.  (“Mama paid money to have my belly cut open,” we frequently say, using our Maya voice.  We’re such idiots.)  Much of her initial recovery time was spent camped out on what we call the dog couch, which is to say our old couch that we never sit on and which the dogs get more use out of.  And while she had pain meds to help, I think she was still in pain, because she became very sensitive to the presence of the other dogs.  If Sadie, for instance, tried to hop up on the opposite end of the dog couch, Maya would sometimes yipe as if Sadie had jumped on her.  But we all saw that Sadie hadn’t come close to even touching Maya.  Perhaps Maya wanted to be in pain in private, because she soon retreated to our bedroom, or even our bedroom closet where she would bury herself behind the clothes hanging from the lower shelf.  Sometimes she would hide under the bed in my office.  Her appetite was also much lower than normal and she almost never finished her own food, let alone tried to steal the other dogs’ food.

Even now, a week later, Maya is still pretty subdued compared to her former boisterous puppy self.  She’s begun to play again, and chases Moose around, as well as the cats, but she’s not as needy as she was before the surgery.  Maybe it’s a hormone thing and this is the new default for Maya.  Can’t say I really mind, but it is a difference.

The other thing that has changed since the surgery (fingers crossed) is that we’ve had no more accidents.  Maya also seems far more willing to vocalize when we ask her if she needs to potty.  She’s even gone to the back door, clawed it and gave off a whine to let us know her intent, a few times.

This.  Is.  Awesome.

So far so good.  I’m not going to go so far as to say anything foolish, like, “Well, guess we finally got her potty trained,” cause if I did I’d probably find I’d been sitting in dog poo for the past two hours.

Days Since Last Accident = -1

Every time we think, “Oh, hey, it’s been a couple of weeks at least since Maya last had an accident.  I think she’s finally potty trained!” we’re swiftly proven incorrect.

This morning, upon rising at the behest of Maya who seemed to be indicating that she had to potty, I let her and the other dogs out and then set about to make breakfast.  Being as how it was still -3 degrees outside due to the polar vortex, I let them back in pretty quick, but gave them plenty of time to do their soon-to-be-frozen business.

Several minutes later, as I wrapped up the preparation of breakfast, grabbed my coffee and headed for the sofa, I spied a huge pile of poop by the back door.  I doubted greatly that this had been deposited before the wife left for work, so it must have happened while I was making breakfast.  The thing about me is, even though it’s entirely unappetizing to have to clean up dog shit before eating a freshly prepared breakfast, it’s even worse to just leave it there and eat that breakfast, knowing it’s there to be cleaned afterward.  So I had to clean it up, but not before shaming the dog for doing it in the first place.  While Maya has made great strides in keeping her waste within her until turned into the out-of-doors, she still hasn’t quite figured out a way to willfully alert us when she has to “go.”  Or, to mangle some terminology from Dune, to demonstrate pottysign. 

At night, she’s much better.  We’ve been keeping the dogs closed in our room, which keeps her from wandering elsewhere in the house to make a deposit.  Instead, she usually wakes up, stands and shakes her jowls violently.  When we hear this, we just get up and let her out and she’s never failed to “go.”  This is as close to achieving pottysign–to paraphrase a term from Dune– as she usually comes.  And it only happens at night.  During the day, when she has free run of the house, we basically have to notice her acting like she might have to potty, which is pretty subtle cause to the casual observer it appears exactly like her normal dog behavior.

Most of the time, we just notice her lingering by the front or back door, or peering out of a door adjacent window, and we just get up and let her out.  Occasionally, when we see her at the door and we ask her if she has to go potty, she’ll give us a satisfying whine in the affirmative.  But, again, it all requires we notice her doing that, cause damn if she’s gonna say a peep.

Toward the end of the day, having been let out for a solid 20 minutes not 15 minutes beforehand, I was in the kitchen making supper when I happened to glance toward the back door and saw another pile.  Two in one day, both while I was otherwise occupied in the kitchen, no effort made to alert me beyond staring out a window.  Maybe.

Actual Telephone Conversations Heard at My House #2

TAMMY– Thank you for calling LOCAL Animal Hospital, this is Tammy.

MY WIFE– Hi, Tammy.  My name is Ashley Fritzius and I’d like to call and schedule for our dog Maya to be spayed, probably some time this week, if you can.

TAMMY–  Oh, very well.  We can get that scheduled for you.  (LOOKS UP RECORDS)  How does…. next Thursday morning sound?

MY WIFE– That will be great.  How much will it cost?

TAMMY–  How much does she weigh?

MY WIFE–  (LONG PAUSE)  You spay by the pound?

TAMMY– (ANGRY)  No, we don’t spay by the pound!

(Tammy then snippily told my wife that weight was a factor in the amount of anesthesia they would have to use and that we would have to pay for.  The wife plans to apologize after bringing the dog in tomorrow.)