Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sonny vs me

I know my feelings are irrational. How can a grown man, seemingly intelligent and well balanced most of the time, be jealous of a dog? I mean, the critter has only been here in MY house for three full days. And in those three days he has managed to seduce my wife with his overabundant cuteness and has usurped my number two position in MY household. We all agree that SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) is in charge regardless of what you might think or wish for. I'm ok with that. It's worked to well for us for nearly 46 years, so I only have to protect my #2 spot in the household hierarchy. I've never had a problem maintaining that position through a succession of several dogs and a haughty cat (is that redundant?) The other dogs that have enjoyed my hospitality during their stay (some long, some short) with us never even engaged in the competition for #2. They were either too stupid to realize they had the opportunity, or just didn't care, being content to wallow away their lives as moochers at the family trough.  But this one is different. I knew he was special the minute I laid eyes on him. He was different than the other dogs he was penned with, wanting only to observe the doggie doings, remaining above the fray. I figured he was just a bit shy, or maybe preferred hanging out in the corner so he wouldn't have to participate in the mayhem of a dozen dogs of various sizes and shapes all barking and carrying on, trying to get the attention of would be adopters. I believe it was a calculated plan on his part to wait for just the right person to come along that he felt reasonably sure that he could handle in a battle for position in a nice comfy home. And then he saw me and put his plan into action.
That plan is an insidious breech of the human/canine interaction we are all so familiar with and expect. Man= master. Dog= pet. Master says jump and the dog immediately starts to jump without asking "how high." Master says go out and "do your job" and the dog squats in the usual place and kills some more grass. Master feeds the dog a wholesome diet of kibble with an occasional enhancer such as a bite or two of some actual meat. The dog wolfs down whatever is put in his food dish quickly so he doesn't have to taste whatever the master thinks is good for him. It has always been such: the master feeds, waters, provides shelter, and commands. The dog in return gets a nice cozy place to ply his trade (being a pet), enough "food" to keep him alive, and enough training to satisfy the master's sense of superiority.
Sonny, as you all know by now, is the new kid on the block. It would be helpful to understand him and his motives if you think of him as more Sonny Corleone than Sonny Bono. I think it was his plan all along to be super cute and obedient and quiet so as to ingratiate himself with SWMBO and undermine my position. And it's working. Every time she passes him she can't resist reaching down to pet his ears and coo lovingly at him. That used to be me getting that attention. She would pass by me and pat me on the head and coo "I love you." Now when she passes by me she lowers her shoulder to nudge me out of her way, mumbling something about old men and their bad habits. And now he has delivered what I'm sure he considers the coup d grace to my position; when she gets near enough to pet him, he rolls over onto his back, raises his legs up into the air revealing his underside in an act of pure submissiveness, so that she can give him a "belly rub." All he has to do is play the cute card and she babbles sweet words like love, cute, adorable, precious, and special, with a lot of "good boy" finding its way into the conversation. 
I don't have any "cute" cards to play, unless you consider short gray stubble on both head and face cute. If I want a belly rub, I have to do something extraordinary to get her to even consider the prospect. And then all I get are vague promises about some time in the future, if she feels like it. Whenever I roll onto my back exposing my belly and sometimes other "decorations" her reaction is to cover me up quickly lest I traumatize the peeping toms staring in our window. But, cute as he is , there is one thing (or should I say two things) that he can't match in this contest. When I'm on my back begging for a belly rub, I can toss in a couple of extras for her to rub. He doesn't have those anymore. So, Sonny boy, the score in this little contest you thought would be so easy to win starts out in my favor, 2 to nothing. I think I got you beat, cute or not.  The moral of this little story? When starting a contest be sure you have the right ammo.

Monday, April 13, 2015

there really is a DOG

Lately I've been feeling like that dyslexic agnostic insomniac who stays awake all night wondering if there really is a DOG. Well, as it turns out, all my doubting and worrying was for naught. There really was a dog for me (us) after all. He was just sitting there patiently waiting for us to find him at the dog rescue sight in an industrial park not far from downtown Mukwonago. Sonny was his name there, and Sonny it still is now that we fell in love with him the second we laid eyes on him. 

He is a one year old terrier mix (Jack Russell and Rat Terrier would be my guess) with a little bit of Beagle stirred into the mix. So far he seems to exhibit atypical terrier behavior--I haven't heard him bark or make any kind of sound yet, he hasn't jumped up on me or tried to hump the table leg, he is very laid back and has made himself right at home. He answers to his name when you talk to him, although he seems to do so just to be polite and not appear ungrateful for our taking him into our home and feeding him, providing a nice comfy bed to lounge on, and all the doting praise we lavish on his cute little ass. 
As cute as he is , and as calm and laid back as The Dude in the Big Labowski (I wanted to name him Dude), the real reason I connected with him was the eerily mirroring of our health circumstances over the past year. Some kind of trauma or illness that no Vet was able to diagnose caused him to lose a lot of weight, leaving him looking emaciated, starved and not likely to survive until his next birthday. The people who rescued him say he was acting depressed and uninterested, lethargic and weak, but was beginning to show improvement lately. I, too, had such a year. No doctor, and I saw a lot of them, was able to come up with a plausible explanation for my loss of 32 pounds over the past 9-10 months. Losing nearly 20% of my body weight should have been considered life-threatening. But no one knew what to do about it. I was looking like a refugee from a zombie movie. I was weak and lethargic and depressed, too. But now we both are on special diets that are supposed to help us gain back those lost pounds and muscle. We are both getting stronger. And we are both gaining back an interest in living awhile longer. 
Maybe there really is a DOG that put us together. I look at Sonny and I am inspired by that little dog's toughness. We have a lot of similarities and by seeing him survive and improve, I know that I, too, can do it. But I promise not to hump the table leg no matter how well I'm feeling.

much ado

It didn't cost much, but that isn't why we bought it. It was just a thing that would add a little bit of convenience to the TV room. But no one told me it would be such a problem installing it. They never warn you about the difficulty you can expect when you naively buy something you have
every reason to believe will be a snap to set up. 
If you're a carpenter you know the old adage: 
Measure twice, cut once. If you're not a carpenter, the meaning will be the same no matter what your line of work: prepare properly and every thing will turn out properly. So as I prepared to drill the first hole, I hesitated for a second and then, just to be sure, I measured once more. Now you're expecting me to say I almost screwed up, but, no, I had measured the position of the hole properly and was right on.
Hole? Why was I going to drill a hole? You know those wires that come out of electrical appliances with the three pronged plug-in thingy at the end? I figured that it would look neater if that plug-in thingy coming out of the back of the little new microwave we decided we needed when we saw it in the store, would be out of sight so as not to look messy on the shelf it sits on. To accomplish this neat look, I determined that what I really needed was two holes. 
You see, the new little microwave sits on a shelf that is raised 4" from the top of the counter. That 4" is hollow space that the plug (that's the abbreviated version of plug-in thingy) must pass through to complete the installation of our new little microwave. Two holes means twice the preparation; measuring 4 times to cut, or in this case, drill, twice. Now this is getting complicated. 
Luckily I have easy access to the underside of the counter where the second hole would be located.
The little refrigerator that occupies the space is easily removed, allowing me to take its place.
So I was all set. Then the fun began. What I failed to realize was that the support of the shelf that the microwave would sit on was a 2x4 that,of course, sat right where the hole would be drilled. In moving the location of the hole to accommodate that 2x4 I broke the "measure twice, cut once" rule in favor of expediency. I assumed I could guess closely enough to get away with it. Such arrogance is rarely rewarded.
It will usually drive you deeper into the hole you've dug for yourself. The hole I drilled was to the side of the 2x4. The wrong side. The hole drilled from the underside was on the other side of the 2x4. They did not line up, which made feeding the wire through them an irritating and frustrating task. I spent an inordinate amount of time getting that wire in place. For some reason the gods of DIY were out to get me. By the time I finished pulling that wire I had jammed myself into that space under the counter in contortions that would do the Rubberbandman proud. And to top it off, the wire was too short to reach the outlet. An extension cord fixed that, but it was another instance mismeasurement. 
I manage to turn a simple plug-in into a 40 minute ordeal fueled by ineptitude. One thing learned, I will never buy another microwave.

to be or not

To be, or not to be: that is the question: 
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to sufferThe slings and arrows of outrageous lack,Or to take arms against the house’s shortage of pets,And by opposing end the outcasted dogs denial.To die: to sleep; will no more dogs will crossThe threshold of this esteemed domicile.And by sleep we say twill mend the heartache and theThousand natural shocks that flesh is heir toWhen no dog companion has breeched the redoubt. To die, to sleep; to sleep perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep what dreams may come of Puppies grown to stalwart companions, of unfathomed Love granted us as we shuffle off this mortal coil, mustGive us pause. Though we reason endlessly andEmotionally, both yea and nay, we have yet to defeat The stabbing thrusts of doubt. The question asked of usAnd Hamlet remains unanswered: to be or not to be a pet owner; that is the question. (with apologies to Wm Shakespeare)

We have been arguing (In a nice way) for the past month or so whether we should add a dog to our household. We’ve gone so far as to contact breeders of Goldendoodles, our first choice of canine companionship, and visited the Humane Society to look for likely candidates, but have so far come up still unsure if this is the right thing to do. The arguments go something like this: 

AMe: “A dog is a huge responsibility”
Her: “They’re so cute.”
Me: “it will have to be trained.”
Her: “They’re so cute.”
Me: “ They have to be fed and exercised.”
Her: “Aren’t they cute?”
Me: “ And don’t forget the mess they can make in the house.”
Her: “There’s a really cute one.”
Me: “Who’s going t clean up all the dog shit in the yard.”
Her: “ Cute, cute, cute.”
nd etc.,etc.,etc. So it goes.

easter questions

I have always been confused about the role that the rodent, known as the Easter Bunny, plays during the Easter season. Who invented this creature? What is his purpose? What is the correlation between that mythical rodent and chicken eggs that have been colored? Is the Easter Bunny benign or is that a disguise to hide a sinister charlatan bent on doing no good? Or is he (she) just a warm and fuzzy icon who wants all his worshipers to be overfed on eggs and chocolate?
These questions have haunted me ever since my first Easter as a child old enough to ask those questions. Being born and raised in the Catholic Church and attending Catholic grade school, I was well indoctrinated by the nuns, who ruled my small world and were the final authority on all things holy, in the religious significance of Easter. So it was thoroughly confusing when the existence of a rabbit, who scattered (now we would say littered. Back then ecologists and environmentalists hadn't yet come into vogue) colored eggs and chocolate candy around the house and yard, suddenly appeared on the scene.

Don't get me wrong. I loved the chocolate candy and the jelly beans that were everywhere at that time. I willingly participated in the pagan ritual of dying eggs. I was as eager to grab my share, and more, of the goodies that abounded. I just couldn't figure out where all this largess came from. The notion that some bunny was behind all this hooha seemed preposterous.

I know there is precedent for holiday icons and mascots. Just look at Christmas. There is an abundance of Christmas traditions that on the surface seem silly. The difference between those Christmas traditions and the Easter incongruities is that all those Christmas traditions can be traced directly back to early Christian beliefs and activities that evolved into the Christmas we all know and love.

Not so much Easter. I have no idea where that Easter Bunny, as a symbol at the center of our Easter celebration, originated. None of it makes sense. Somehow the Easter season turned into a free-for-all of bunnies, colored chicken eggs( with the life cooked out of them), and little baskets stuffed with teeth rotting candies. I simply cannot reconcile all that nonsense with any Christian belief dating back to Christianity's earliest days. Easter has become the most secular of religious holy days. I'd be wiling to bet that if you stopped 10 people at random on the street that not one would be able to tell you what the religious significance of Easter is. Somehow that depresses me even in my state of lapsed Catholicism.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

senior eating

We just finished lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. We like the place because it caters to the geriatric demographic of which we are intrenched members. Hard to admit, but the gray hair and beard are a dead give away. This is the kind of restaurant that on Fryday, when it has its all you can eat fish fry, the line to get a table stretches out the door and causes walker pile ups at the curb and cane fights in the parking lot. And that's at 4:00 PM, the usual dinner hour for an aged clientele. By 6:00 PM the place is nearly deserted. The only ones left are the youngsters who haven't quite gotten the scedule ingrained into their DNA yet. 
We've been coming here for ages, even before we qualified for the senior discount and have the system down pat. But, of course, none of that matters right now because we were there for lunch. 
The most important attribute a restaurant such as this can have, and this is essential to the continued success of any restaurant, but especially to one that caters to seniors who know the value of a buck, is portion size. There has to be enough left over on your plate so that you can take home enough for lunch the next day. And you always have to have a way to smuggle the little jelly and sugar packets out of there so you'll have enough to last you until your next visit. 
There is one problem that arises all too frequently however. The clientel being seniors means there are a miltitude of senior moments that can thwart the best of plans. The only way you'll have lunch tomorrow is if you remember to take your doggy bag along with you when you leave the restaurant. 
Looks like we'll be eating peanut butter and jelly tomorrow.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Awhile back Mary and I met with an estate planning attorney to get a new trust established to deal with the consequences of our inevitable demise. The meeting ran smoothly and most of our questions were answered, so all that’s left is the paperwork.
But it all seems so trivial. Here we are, deciding what to do with all the “stuff” we’ve accumulated over the past 45 years. Stuff that has meaning and value, both fiscal and emotional to us, but except for rare instances, means squat to our heirs. By designating certain objects to go to particular individuals, we are hoping that they will cherish and appreciate them as we did and add them to the continuum of family heirlooms. At the same time I know that styles change, taste and sophistication change, and our valued stuff becomes their trash. In trying to do right by them, we will have burdened them with the task of disposal of all our treasures that they don’t want and probably won’t need.
I think a better way to do this is to let them take whatever they want and agree on and sell the rest or donate what might be useful to others. Selling as much as possible puts more money in the kitty to be divided among them and relieves them of the burden of accepting and getting rid of stuff they don’t want. Of course, all this conjecturing assumes that Mary and I are going to drop dead at the same time, and real soon, before we have the chance to use all those assets by living too long.
What I hope we can pass on to our children and grandchildren, that will mean more than all that stuff, is our value system and sense of respect for others. The intangibles that we leave them with, our living example of how to conduct a good life, are our most prized possessions. How can we put that into a trust?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

our return home

It has now been a week since we returned from our Florida vacation.  The return flight was uneventful--just the way I like it. We left 80* and sunshine and arrived home to 35* and clouds, with a nice brisk Wisconsin breeze that effectively lowered the temperature even more.  But, you know what, who cares.  We were home.  And if being home meant freezing any exposed parts of our bodies, that was just fine.  We were home.

One of the best ways to arrive home is to have someone familiar there to greet you at the airport.  We were fortunate to have good friends here to welcome us home.  Tom and Jean were actually returning the favor we had done for them a few weeks ago when we had our turn to be the greeters and met their plane when they came home from their vacation. They put a bit more effort into their greeting, though. 

Tom was standing in the baggage claim area waiting for us so he could help us retrieve our luggage from the carousel.  (I could have done it, but I probably would have hurt myself). But that’s Tom--always willing to step up and help without making a fuss. While they waited for us to arrive, Jean kept driving the circle route around the airport so there would be no parking fee to pay. On time and frugal.  That’s the way we like our friends.

Once we had the car loaded up and were driving away from the airport, we felt the full realization of being home.  Familiar sights, familiar people, and the sense of contentment those bring, make going on vacation for 3 weeks just an excuse to return and feel good about being home.

As we drove into our driveway, the feeling that all was right with the world settled in.  But every saga of travel and returning has to have a glitch, even just a small one, to ensure that the transition back to real life is authentic.

“Honey, why don’t you open the garage door so that we can get inside and unlock the side door from inside,” she suggested. We had to get inside to open the side door because the storm door was locked from inside with no key to open it from outside.

“Remind me again what the code is,” I asked.  
She gave me the string of numbers to punch on the pad that would magically slide the door up, giving us access to our home sweet home. Nothing happened when I punched in the numbers.  Not unusual. It often takes two or three tries to get the pad to cooperate.  But after a dozen tries, with no positive result, even the most optimistic would have to agree that there was something wrong here that continual poking at the keypad would not resolve.

Tom suggested that maybe the battery was dead and installing a fresh one would solve the problem. But, of course, all the batteries in the world would do no good if they were LOCKED IN THE HOUSE. Tom, being the problem solver he is, suggested we go to the hardware store and buy a new battery. So we all piled into the car once more and drove the 1/4 mile to the hardware store, purchased a couple batteries, and returned to the uncooperative opener, sure that we had the solution.  

I installed the new battery.  I punched in the code numbers. Nothing.  Again.  Nothing.  Mary tried it.  Nothing.  Tom tried it.  Nothing. Even Jean gave it a shot.  Nothing.  Then, for no apparent reason, the garage door magically , if mysteriously, opened.  Apparently someone up there took pity on us.

“Mary, why don’t you go in and unlock that side door so we can get in that way with these suitcases. I don’t want to scratch the cars by squeezing between them.” I said while I started to drag one suitcase behind me on the walkway to the side door.  When I got to the door I reached for the handle and gave it a twist and pulled the door open.  Then I twisted the knob on the entry door, opened it and stepped inside just as Mary entered from the garage to unlock the door for me.

Startled at seeing me already inside, she stammered the question both of us were thinking.  “How did you get in? I haven’t unlocked that door yet.”
We both panicked for a couple heartbeats, racing round the place to check if anything was missing or amiss.  But everything was just as we had left it three weeks before.  

It seems that the last one out that door had failed to lock it behind him/her in the hurry to get going.  We don’t remember who was responsible for the potential disaster that could have greeted us. So we agreed to not scream imprecations and yell about the low IQ that enabled such a stupid oversight to occur.  We were so relieved that everything was safe and sound and that our home wasn’t violated that we sighed a “thank you” to St. Joseph, who, we believe has protected and guided us and stood beside us during the whole buying and selling and moving process that has demanded all our attention for the past 6 months. 

So our vacation was an unqualified success from beginning to end. Back to normal with the house key in my pocket where it belongs and a new garage door keypad that works.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

a piece on pizza

Saturday night pizza is almost a religious experience around here. It's almost like going to Mass on saturday night, an obligation, almost a requirement to get into heaven. We've found that Papa Murphy's large Special Italian Pizza more than fits the religious obligation we try to observe. It goes without saying that the pizza is treated with the utmost respect, being akin to manna from heaven. The oven is always properly preheated with the oven rack in the optimum position to insure a perfect pizza for the congregation. 
So when something somehow goes wrong during the whole process, it's a near sacrilege, a shove down the slide into Dante's Inferno, where pizza is always over or under baked, eaten with a fork with no beer to wash it down.  Abuse a Saturday Night Pizza and you will be summarily condemned to eat only nutritious health food from from the natural food store for the remainder of your days.
Well you can say bye to Yours Truly. I am surely on the rim of the inferno, teetering on the edge of condemnation. I committed the most grievous of sins against the holy pie. I DROPPED THE PIZZA! First it slid off the rack when I tilted the rack to free it from the oven, sliding right into the back of the oven and onto the heating coils, threatening to set the whole pizza on fire. So, after flinging the rack on the kitchen floor (a wood floor naturally, which now sports a lovely pattern of burned lines that will torment me with the visual reminder of my sinning), I grabbed the nearest thing on hand to rescue the sacred pie from such a horrible fate. The towel I grabbed somehow got tangled up with the pizza and heat coils, causing a screaming deluge of very naughty words, as both flickered into pretty red and orange flames. But despite suffering a burn on my little finger, I managed to grab a substantial amount of boiling hot pizza and with a shout of hallelujahs, dragged it from its certain fate as a burned up lump of tomato sauce and various vegetables, and most grievous of all, charred bits of pepperoni. 
Unfortunately, in completing the rescue operation, I tossed the pizza onto the floor. Upside down.

I immediately invoked the 5 second rule, multiplied by 20, so we could still eat it if we were so inclined. Understand now, Mary's floors are always ready to serve as a table, being so clean they are nearly sterilized regularly as part of her routine cleaning. I had no problem scraping the detritus of ruined pizza off the floor and into my mouth once I stopped yelling blasphemous curses at it, at Mary, at myself, and at the kitchen gods who allowed such a travesty to happen. In my defense, the oven was really hot, I am particularly clumsy, and don't forget that burned little finger I mentioned. I could play the PD card here, but that seems too much like whining for sympathy. It's just that pizza toppings separated from the crust they adorned so deliciously only 20 minutes ago, could no longer be classified as pizza, but could only be referred to as a casserole.

Saturday is not the holy experience it should be when all you have to celebrate and worship with is a casserole. Granted, it was a pizza casserole, but we all know it's just not the same. As I scraped the scattered remains off the floor, off the sides of the cabinet, and off the bottom of my shoe into a pathetic pile, I begged absolution for my mortal sin committed against that divine cuisine. Everyday, until I can look at the floor where the marks of the battlefield are burned into a reminder of this infamous evening, I will taste burned pizza and see that forlorn lump of once proud blended ingrediants that had the holy honor of gracing our Saturday night.

RIP Papa Murphy's Special Italian Pizza.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

getting homesick

After being here in Florida now for the past two weeks, we are faced with returning home to our reality in a couple more days. Everything here seems somewhat unreal. Actually, when you think about it, it is unreal for us. Our reality is 1400 miles north of here. This is an alternate universe for us.
The semi-tropical climate is certainly unreal for a born and bred Wisconsinite. Palm trees are everywhere for crying out loud. How weird would that look in your backyard in Milwaukee? And shoveling sand instead of snow is not nearly as satisfying a tweek at Mother Nature. 

On the east side of Wisconsin we do have a reasonable substitute for the Gulf of Mexico in Lake Michigan. Granted, Lake Michigan is probably a thousand times smaller, but you can't see across it and it does have some impressive wave action at times. So call it a wash as far as water goes.
The architecture here and at home has only the term "architecture" in common. Here the buildings are mostly vertical and made of concrete and painted hideous shades of pastels. At home the architecture is so varied that to generalize about it is impossible. But our eyes are treated to such a variety of styles around every corner that we are spoiled by the cornucopia of stimulating eye candy that our northern climate demands of its buildings.
There is constantly so much construction along the Gulf coast that it seems that every day a new high rise sprouts up like another phallic weed, obstructing the view of that beautiful body of water that you only get to see if you can pay a ridiculous amount of money to ride up in an elevator to your apartment in one of those new phallic weeds. If I lived here year round, I would get up every morning wondering if "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot."
Yes, Florida is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here. This can remain our alternate universe, to be used occasionally to help us renew our appreciation for the real world we live in.