Monday, August 01, 2011

Livie and Jason - an exerpt

By the time she reached Magnolia and Sims, the rain seemed to be letting up.  Given the fervor with which it had been coming down, "letting up" was definitely a relative term, but Livie felt a sense of relief anyway.  If nothing else, the wind had died down, and rain was no longer pelting her in the face. 

She was adjusting her umbrella, trying to maximize the coverage, when her cell phone rang.  Oh, crap.  She contemplated letting it go to voice-mail again, but Jason would start to worry if he didn't get through to her soon.  Besides, he had a big presentation in the morning.  Even with the time difference, he was probably ready for crash.  She flipped her phone open.

"Hi there."  She tried to sound like she had been sitting at home waiting for his call.  She hadn't mentioned her plans this morning over breakfast, and telling him now would just wreck his concentration.  This was an important trip for him, and he needed to have his head in the game.

"Hey, babe!"  She could hear the smile in his voice.  "I finally got you.  Where've you been all night?  I've called, like, 3 times.  I was starting to worry."

"I guess I've had my phone on mute.  Sorry."  The lie rolled off her tongue with disturbing ease.  "How was your trip?"

"Smooth and uneventful, just like I like it.  Except that I had to sit next to Farty Jim for the second leg.  Ugh.  That man needs to see a doctor."  Jason laughed.  "It wasn't so bad though.  Did you know he's started brewing his own beer?  He invited us over for dinner in a couple of weeks when this batch is all ready."

It was just like Jason to become friends with the ugly duckling of the office.  Misfits and strays, in both animal and human form, were drawn to him as if by magnets.  He had no idea why, but Livie understood.  She'd been drawn to it herself, hadn't she?  Jason had an air of patience and understanding about him that appealed to those creatures that had faced primarily ridicule and rejection in their lives.  Although he had a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor, he was unfailingly kind.  He had a way of teasing that made you feel included instead of ostrasized.  No doubt, "Farty Jim" knew about and embraced his new nickname with the same good humor with which it had been bestowed.  That's just how things worked around Jason.

"Sounds like a plan," Livie said.  "Just let me know when so I can put it on the calendar."

"Sure thing, Liver."  Her heart twinged a little at the carefree affection in his voice.  "So what's happening with you?"

Her mouth and ears continued the conversation with him, sharing anecdotes about the cat and listening to more in depth descriptions of his trip, participating in the kind of rambling, aimless conversation that couples so often have with one another. Her mind, however, was busy chastising her for getting herself into this situation.

It wasn't that she was unhappy.  Her life with Jason was almost exactly what she had hoped it would be.  They had been married for nearly 10 years now, and they still held hands whenever they walked next to each other.  They rarely argued, although financial discussions tended to get tense.  They were still intensely interested in each other and could talk about a great number of subjects at length: politics, religion, current events, daily life, sex, aspirations, family, and so on.  As a child, dreaming about married life, these were the yardsticks against which she had measured her visions. 

"Guess what I did during the lay-over in Chicago."  Jason's challenge broke through her thoughts.

"I bet you headed to that hot dog place, Big Dogs, as soon as you got off the plane and had yourself a foot long with everything on it," Livie replied with certainty.  He wouldn't have set foot in the Chicago airport at lunchtime without including Big Dogs in his plans.

Jason laughed in affirmative.  "You know me too well, darlin'.  You know me too well."

Perhaps that was the problem.  Everything was just exactly what she expected.  After college, her life had followed a well-delineated path, like a train on railroad tracks that may curve this way or that slightly but never sharply enough to upset the engine.  After a decade of travel, these tracks had become too predictable.  The weeks came and went with numbing regularity.  The alarm woke her to the same worn comforter and pale walls each morning.  Her closet held the same clothes and the cat made the same demanding cries for food.  Each day brought its own combination of the same chores she'd been doing for years, dishes needing washing, laundry needing folding, floor needing sweeping.  Even the volunteer work she had taken on to fill her days had become predictable.

"So then, the head guy, he says 'Well, I'd like to get this done as soon as possible.'  As if the rest of us were just sitting around on our thumbs, you know?"  Livie could tell by Jason's tone that he was twisting the top of the hotel bedspread into little volcano shapes in front of him.

"Did you spit in his eye?" she asked, knowing that it would make him laugh.  The rain had nearly stopped now.  She stuck out a hand and watched the drops roll across her palm.

"Almost," he chuckled.  "Almost.  I did ask him exactly which part of the evaluation process he wanted me to skip in order to make the new deadline.  That brought him up short."

Jason's schedule might change from month to month, but essentially he chugged through the same series of stations - observation, write up, presentation, follow up - for each company that hired him.  He could be counted on to send a postcard from each city he visited.  The majority of the time she could guess what was written on the back just by looking at the picture.  It was a form of finishing each other's sentences (which they also did on a regular basis), she supposed.  After years of shared experiences, she had grown to anticipate his jokes and references.  She recognized the twists and turns of his mind almost as well as she did her own.  For example, she could hear in his voice that he was winding down, reaching the edge of his energy reserves.

"Well, it sounds like you've had quite the day," Livie said.  "You should probably get some rest, so you're ready to go to battle again tomorrow."

"You didn't tell me about your day," Jason countered.  "Tell me you didn't waste away from loneliness all day."

This was her opportunity to come clean.  She could just tell him about the phone call she had received and they could both have a good laugh over what Harold had suggested.  Talking about it, bringing the evening's events out into the light, would disperse the mystery.  Her current plan of action, so exhilarating up to now, would be revealed for the foolishness that it really was, and she could head for home (stopping for a pint of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food on the way).  She could return to the comfortable cocoon that was her life.

"Oh, I didn't do anything but lounge by the phone, pining for you, my dear," she said.  "And I'll do nothing but the same until you call me tomorrow night."  After a few brief expressions of love, they both hung up. 

She didn't want to be a caterpillar, safe in a cocoon, trusting that each day would be just as boring and predictable as the last.  She wanted to do something shocking and dangerous.  She wanted to feel adrenaline in her veins.  She stepped out of the doorway that had sheltered her though her phone call, and resumed her journey along Magnolia Street.  Thunder growled menacingly as the rain began to come down in earnest again.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Letter - Quick Write 4/18/11

 Wrote the bare bones of this in 20 minutes.  Then spent another 40 adding detail and flushing it out.  It has potential, but I'm not sure I want to write another story with violence in it just yet.  And this Frank is just brimming with violence, no?

- - - - -
The Letter

He had worked at that soul-sucking company without complaint for ten years, and this was the last straw.  Frank stared at the crisp, white paper in his hand in disbelief.  He had remained loyal to Lakes for 37 years.  Despite every degrading and insulting demand they had thrown his way - pay freezes, reduced hours, a revolving door of incompetent, overpaid middle managers - he had tried to see things from the company perspective.  He had accepted every pathetic excuse they had given him. 

"Times are tough all over, Frank."
"I understand, Mr. Pickford."

"There just aren't enough hours this week, Frank."
"Maybe next week will be better, Mr. Pickford."

"It's too bad for the guys who used to work the line, but without that new sorting technology we would lose our edge.  Then there'd be no jobs for anyone, Frank."
"Of course, you're right, Mr. Pickford."

He had bent over backwards for that damned company for 2/3 of his life, and this was how they chose to repay him?  Less than 100 words (even counting that jackass's pompous signature) on a single sheet of copy paper?  Perhaps he had simply misunderstood.  He scanned the brief paragraphs one more time. 

Dear Mr. Miller,

This letter is to inform you that you no longer qualify to receive health benefits through Lakes Recycling and Waste Management.  Health coverage is provided to full time employees only, and since your hours have averages fewer than 40/week for the last 6 months, we will be reclassifying your position as part time effective September 1st.

Please contact the Human Resources department at (723) 555 - 8832 if you have questions regarding this change to your employment status.


James L Pickford, Jr
Senior Management
Lakes Recycling and Waste Management

There was no chance of misunderstanding.  The meaning was crystal clear.  His reward for being a cooperative and understanding employee was to lose what few extra hours he could pick up, the minimal dollars they brought in, and his insurance all in one carefully crafted letter.  With the news from Helen's recent appointment still weighing on his mind like a lead blanket, their timing couldn't have been more perfect. 

Frank tossed the offending letter on the table and stood up.  Grabbing his jacket and slapping a baseball cap on his head, he headed out the back door.  What the hell was he going to do now?  Frank didn't have an answer to that question yet, but one thing was certain.  Someone was going to pay.

He stomped his way across the yard toward the shed.  Helen's cat, Greta, saw him coming and high-tailed it for the bushes, hissing resentfully at his intrusion onto her hunting grounds.  He and Greta had a hate/hate relationship, and that was just fine with him.  He paused to insert a key into the padlock holding the shed's door closed.  Used to be that you didn't have to lock up everything you owned.  Now you couldn't leave a potted plant on the porch for fear some neighborhood brat would steal it and try to smoke it.  The lock popped open, and Frank nudged a brick in front of the door to keep it ajar.

The light was bad inside the shed.  There was only one window, and that was so thickly covered with dust and grime that it reduced even the brightest summer sun to a murky gloom.  Frank had originally intended to hook the shed up with electricity, but those bastards down at city hall did everything they could to keep the average Joe from understanding their convoluted building and renovation codes.  By now, he knew the inside of that shed like the curve of his wife's hips.  It was familiar, comforting.  No point in changing things this late in the game.

Guest Author!

This story was written by a (secret) guest author.  I think it's fabulous.  I particularly like how REAL the characters are - even shy little Doris - in such a brief story.  Leave a comment and let my guest know what you think.  :)
- - - - -

 Tyrone had worked for the company for ten years, and this was the last straw.  This memo.  This attack.

He gripped the memo so tightly it crinkled as he leapt up, shoving back his chair all eight of the inches it took for it to smash into the cubicle wall.  A quiet "whoa!" slipped over the wall accompanied by the clatter of falling pens on the other side.  He stood a moment, staring into the overhead fluorescents as he ran over the lines in his head.  He glanced down at the page again.

 ... and hawaiian shirts ...

Hawaiian shirts!  Fuming, he stomped out of the cubicle and into the narrow walkway, elbowing aside Doris from the mail room.  She stumbled back a step, bumping another cubicle, and gawked at his retreating form.  The cubicle's inhabitant, Steven of the malodorous tuna sandwiches, slowly raised his head over the wall to see.  Tyrone ignored it all, pounding forward toward the elevator.  More heads popped up as he went, the commotion slowly attracting the attention of the entire office.  By the time he reached the elevator doors, a small forest of quizzical heads had sprouted in his wake.

He stabbed at the "up" button four times in quick succession - Ha - Wai -Ian - Shirts!  Righteous indignation boiled over and he couldn't hold still.  He paced back and forth in front of the doors, pausing every few seconds to roll his eyes or sneer at the crumpled paper in his hand.

The elevator was slow.  Above the doors, the 9 winked out, and, after a long moment, the 8 glowed.  Tyrone froze and stared up at it for a couple of seconds, then resumed pacing.

How many times had Frank come in in a Hawaiian shirt, blazing with tropical color and life, daring the office to just try to drain the life out of him?  How many times?  And now this memo?!  Tyrone looked down at his own green sweater-vest, coordinated striped dress shirt, muted slacks.  Respect.  Respect is what this is about.  Hawaiian shirts!


A polite cough turned Tyrone around, and Doris smiled shyly at him with a twinkling wave.  "Is there something wrong, Tyrone?  You seem kind of agitated...," she trailed off, putting her arms behind her back and almost toeing the floor like a six-year-old.

Tyrone put his hands up a moment, started a shout, then caught himself.  He looked down at the paper, up at the "5" glowing above the elevator, then back at Doris, who looked one snippy remark from jumping out a window.  He pushed up his glasses, exhaled a sigh, and pointed to the memo.  "Yes... there is something wrong.  There is something wrong here at Jemason Incorporated, and it's rotting employee morale and driving customers away and probably making half the executives drink themselves to sleep every

His pace accelerated and volume rose with each word, until he was stabbing the page with an index finger to punctuate it.  Again, he caught himself. Another deep breath, a hand through his hair.  "Okay, I'm sorry.  This has got me a little worked up..."

As he searched for words, Doris pointed at the memo and offered, "Is that the dress code memo?  It doesn't seem too strict to me-"

"Strict?!  Hawaiian shirts!" He stabbed it again, tearing a hole right through the word "Friday".  "Of course it's not too strict!  This vicious assault on corporate efficiency allows Frank, or any Johnny-dress-crappy with a closet full of eyeburn to wear Hawaiian shirts three days a week!  This. Will. Be. Changed.  This company can't afford to lose me, I'll tell you that right now."

Doris shrank before his withering rant, glancing left and right as if seeking someone to tag in.  Plenty of people were watching, and more were listening, with their heads ducked out of sight, but none close by.  When he finished and took a breath, Doris edged away backwards, mumbling what quiet platitudes she could find for a crazy man.

The elevator dinged and silently slid open.  Tyrone glanced back at it, watched Doris retreating, then sit his lips into a grim line and turned.  He strode into the elevator with the pure purpose of a holy crusader.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


I have spent the last 30 minutes trying to write something worth reading, and it's not working.  I don't feel smart or funny or thoughtful or interesting today.  Today I just feel mean.  I feel like pulling my sister's hair.  I feel like sneaking up behind someone and knocking the books out of his hands just so everyone will laugh.  I feel like throwing rocks at the windows of an abandoned house just so I can hear the pieces rain down, knowing that someone else is going to have to clean up the mess.  I want to punch my hand through the wall or knock over an entire bookshelf or take a baseball bat to someone's mailbox.  I want to do something that will release this nasty, ugly, angry feeling that is boiling up inside me.

You are probably wondering what could possibly be making me feel this way.  Perhaps a poem will help me explain.

- - - - -
No Damned Good Reason

Because the sleeves on this sweater are just a little bit too short.
Because the sun was shining right in my eyes.
Because the returns register is located way in the back corner at Kohl's.
Because my iPhone has been cracked for 2 years.
Because someone hurt my feelings.
Because I can't see around that gas guzzling SUV in my way.
Because people are careless.
Because I am careless.
Because I had to take the compost out yesterday.
Because I don't have the words for what I'm trying to say.
Because my lips are chapped.
Because those blueberries aren't as sweet as I'd like.
Because a car speeding through the parking lot almost hit me.
Because my computer locked up.
Because there has been a slightly tweaked muscle in my neck for 10 days.
Because I can't have that thing I want.
Because I can't have lots of the things I want.
Because there's water damage on the bathroom ceiling.
Because I burned my tongue on hot tea this morning.
Because I forgot to floss.
Because gas is so ridiculously expensive.
Because a text message woke me up 2 minutes before my alarm went off.
Because my hair-tie isn't working right.
Because iTunes keeps shuffling through depressing songs.
Because I can't think of anything to write.
Because I don't live on a Hawaiian island.
Because I don't feel appreciated.
Because I am shallow enough to feel under-appreciated.
Just because.

- - - - -

Whatever.  I know that life is good.  I know that I am lucky.  I know that I am loved.  I know that there is no damned good reason for the way I'm feeling.  At the moment, that is all irrelevant.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Great Expectations

I have been working with children for as long as I can remember.  My first experience in a classroom was when my baby brother (Hi, Ty!) was in kindergarten.  I traded my study hall period for an hour of helping in his classroom.  I read with them, played with them, helped them complete activities, and listened to their stories.  I was in 7th grade at the time.  I have held some kind of education related position every single year since then.

Many of the things I do today are the product of hard work, practice, and dedication.  Some skills were mastered relatively quickly.  I've been walking and talking (to varying degrees of success) for 30+ years.  I took to reading like a duck to water.  Some were developed slowly over many years.  My sewing skills have improved through the repetition of 2 decades.  Mathematics and writing are still works in progress.  The fundamentals of teaching - understanding what is going on inside the minds of children and being able to communicate new ideas to them - are skills that I don't remember learning.  Teaching is what I was born to do.  It is my purpose in life, and it is a part of me at a cellular level. 

Anyone who's had the dubious pleasure of carrying on a conversation about education with me will be able to tell you that I am more than a little opinionated on the subject.  I have very strong feelings about what education is, how it should be done, and what is wrong with our public school system.  I am very passionate about all things relating to the welfare of children and the molding of our future generations.  Despite my lack of personal hands-on experience, I have some very distinct ideas about parenting, as well, although I am the first to admit that theory and practice are two very different animals.

All that is preface for me to admit that I am a snob when it comes to teaching.  I have very high standards when it comes to adults interacting with and holding influence over children, especially when said adults are supposed to be trained experts.  If you wish to be a part of this thing that is the very core of my being and the reason for my existence, you better be ready to give it your A game.  I have no patience for people who treat teaching like a hobby or a 40hr/wk obligation. 

What does it take to be a teacher I will look up to?  I'm so glad you asked!  I've arranged it into a nice little acrostic poem just for you! 

- - - - -
T is for teamwork.
As a teacher, you are one small part of the team that is guiding each child into adulthood.  You have to be able to work within the spectrum of teachers they are going to experience from kindergarten through high school and beyond.  You have to be be willing to share ideas with and get ideas from the other teachers you work with every day.  Teaching is too big a job to be contained within one single person.  The only way to make the most of the collective knowledge, experience, and abilities of the educational system is to keep lines of communication in good repair.

Most importantly, you have to understand how to be an effective member of each and every Parent-Teacher-Student triangle of which you are a part.  This includes accepting the weighty responsibility of your chosen profession.  As the "professional" within this triangle, you will be held to a higher standard in the areas of self-control, knowledge, ability, and leadership.  If you don't want to do your fair share (and often an large part of someone else's fair share), teaching isn't the job for you.

E is for enthusiasm.
Politicians and businessmen are doing their best to drain the fun and wonder from schools and turn them into factory floors.  Students today are subjected to insanely high levels of testing and stress within our educational system, leading to feelings of anxiety, frustration, fear, and depression.  Teachers must be able to reach through all that and convince their students that school is a positive place to be and that the process of learning is rewarding.  Kids have an amazing ability to see past your facades and into your true feelings.  If you don't truly enjoy your job or the material you are teaching, they will know that and it will influence their willingness to cooperate with you.

This doesn't mean you can't have a bad day.  Even the most enthusiastic teacher will have an off day.  Children know what it is like to have an off day or make a mistake, and they can be very forgiving as long as they trust that in your heart of hearts you are enthusiastic about what you are sharing with them.

A is for accuracy. 
 Obviously, the foundation of accuracy is having knowledge.  This means being a life-long learner.  Good teachers see themselves as continuous students.  They take classes.  They read.  They talk about politics, religion, and the many other complexities of humanity.  Good teachers reach outside their comfort zone to explore uncharted territories and make unexpected discoveries.

Being accurate isn't about how much information you can hold in your brain, though.  If it were, I'd be screwed.  I will freely admit that there are a great number of things that I do not know.  For one thing, I have only studied tiny bits of a very small number of the subjects available to humanity in the 21st century.  For another,  I do not have a very good memory, and I'm sure that I have forgotten the majority of those things I have studied.  Accuracy in teaching is often about your willingness to say "That's a very good question that I don't know how to answer.  What could we do to find out?" coupled with your legitimate interest in the answer. 

Accuracy is also about being able to gracefully admit to being wrong.  There are going to be times when a 9 year old knows more than you about a particular subject.  You and your ego have to be able to acknowledge their expertise and admit your own ignorance.  This must be done carefully, however.  There is a fine line between allowing kids to see that you are still learning and making them think they can't trust you to know what you are talking about.

C is for curriculum.
Developing a curriculum that works for your style is one of the most important jobs in teaching.  Unfortunately, the textbook companies have such influence over schools that teacher prep courses often focus on how to follow a teacher's manual rather than how to truly develop lesson plans.  A teacher's guide can be a great resource, especially as new teachers are finding their footing, but it makes me cringe to see experienced teachers moving day by day through a mass produced curriculum with little to no regard for the actual progress of their students.

Good teachers know how to tailor their lessons to meet the needs and interests of their students.  They recognize the individuality of each child in their care, and know how to blend those unique individuals into a working whole.  Good teachers make their lessons both motivating and meaningful.  They can break a concept down into components small enough for students to master while simultaneously allowing students to visualize that concept's importance within the big picture.  Teachers must know their students and their standards like the back of their hand, but they must be able to make adjustments on the fly.  When curriculum planning is done correctly, the teacher has found that perfect balance between preparation and improvisation.

H is for heart.
 In my opinion, this is the most important component of teaching because this is the driving force behind everything else.  Being a teacher means adding a new batch of children to your family every year.  It means expanding your heart to include each name on your roster.  Not just for the time that they are in your class, but for the rest of your life.  If you are doing it right, you will suffer from empty nest syndrome every June as your hatchlings fly off and leave you.  You will wake up in the middle of the night wondering whatever happened to that poor little guy from 5 years ago.  You will feel pride whenever you run into or hear news about a former student.  You will brag about them to your family and friends because they will be a part of your family and your heart forever.

Like all parents, good teachers also experience frustration and anger.  If your students don't disappoint you or upset you occasionally, you aren't investing enough of yourself into your teaching.  If your students are failing tests or neglecting their work or tuning you out, you should be driven to do whatever it takes to find a solution.  This means digging deeper into the causes behind these behaviors.  It means thinking outside the box and calling on every resource at your disposal.  Teachers have to be able to morph frustration and anger into the fuel needed to keep going until something works.

It is vitally important that your students feel your pride and learn to trust that you care about them before you express your frustration or anger with them.  It is equally important that they understand that your pride and frustration aren't mutually exclusive.
- - - - -

There you have it - the five elements that I feel are absolutely necessary for quality teaching.  I recognize that it isn't possible for any teacher to excel in all these areas at all times, but the teachers I respect the most are the ones who recognize the value of these aspects of their job.

I should add that time, while not actually mentioned by name, is woven into each of the 5 aspects above.  It takes time to communicate, to care, to plan, to learn.  Good teachers come in early, stay late, and spend a significant portion of their weekends and their often envied vacation time working.  Teaching isn't just a hobby.  It's not even just a job.  It's a lifestyle.  And it takes a special kind of person to life it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Front Porch

The entrance to my humble modular home is still accessed by the same temporary set of  wooden steps that were put in when the house was first pieced together 6 years ago.  I believe that the expectation was for us, the first owners to actually take up residence within, to replace those temporary steps with something more permanent.  A deck, perhaps, or maybe a nicely formed set of concrete steps.  Unfortunately, those expectations couldn't stand up to the aggressive combination of apathy and penny-pinching that guides our home maintenance program.

Most days, firmly entrenched in the GO GO GO mentality that is so prevalent in our society, I hate those steps.  Did I say hate?  Hate doesn't carry enough emotion.  I abhor and revile those steps, with their wobbling treads and peeling paint.  I despise their penchant for impaling my fingers with splinters.  I loathe the way the nails slowly work their way out of the wood, striving to snag unsuspecting shoelaces and pants seams.  I detest the railings and their hidden unreliable nature.  When I look at them with the eyes of a consumer, a rat racer, a participant in the one-up-man-ship of neighborhood living, I wish every day that I could replace those dilapidated steps with something that more closely resembles the elaborate dreams in my head.  Occasionally, however, the scales of materialistic desire fall from my eyes, and I am reminded how comfortable my steps really are.  This morning was a perfect example of this kind of clarity. 

By 8:00, the sun had risen past the redshank bushes on the top of the hill and begun it's march across the sky, unseasonably enthusiastic for a January high desert morning.  Under this energetic glow, the front porch warmed up quickly.  The dogs, who had been baking happily on the top step until I opened the door, swirled excitedly around me as I settled my bottom on one step, feet on another.  Uncontainable in the sheer joy of human company, tongues swabbed my chin and noses pushed their way under my hand. 

I gazed out over the piece of land I call home.  A long, green hose snaked its way from the spigot at the corner of the house, through the legs of the lawn table (lonely now that all its chairs have been banished to the garage), to the base of one of the currently dormant lilac bushes.  A slight breeze danced softly through the tops of the redshank, but the air at ground level was undisturbed.  A bluish haze of mountain, trustworthy and solid, stood guard in the distance.

I could smell the ground and the bushes, the dogs and the house as they all soaked in the sun.  For a brief moment, there were no far off cars, no barking neighbor dogs, no planes zooming overhead.  There was just the peace of being exactly where you are supposed to be, surrounded by the things that bring you joy.  There was just home, and there is no place I love more. 

Broken down, old steps, and all.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Belief System

Having a fascinating discussion (depending on the security settings in place, you may or may not be able to follow that link) via FaceBook regarding religion, progress, and the future of humanity.  Got me thinking about my personal belief system.  The Religion of Sol can pretty much be boiled down to the following:

"All I can do is live my life the way I believe it should be lived for the good of as large a monkeysphere as possible and with as little hypocrisy as possible, and hope that everyone else will do the same."*

I know there's a lot of room for interpretation there, and as my dear Uncle Neil pointed out, "Hope isn't enough.", but that is the foundation upon which my daily decisions are made.  And isn't that what religion is all about?

*I know that it is the epitome of gauche behavior to quote one's self, but I wanted to remember this.  And I'm pretty gauche even at my best.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


When we were rearranging furniture a few months back, we finally decided to get rid of a couple of old living room chairs.  Hand-me-downs from Mike's parents (as much of our furniture is), they are short, squat things of a indeterminate beige coloring.  When we bought our first house, I purchased slipcovers for them to disguise the way the cats had shredded the backs into non-existence.  Choosing the least hideous of the patterns available was a challenge, so for some time they were short, squat things covered in giant blue cabbage roses.  Most recently, they have served the sole purpose of providing comfortable seating for the quatrain of cats that own us.  If you, yourself are owned by even a single cat, I'm sure you will understand why it took us so long to act upon our desire to dispose of these chairs.  Having experienced a full and productive existence, the chairs were finally moved to the garage, the purgatory our belongings end up in for that endless period of time before we finally load them in the trailer and take them to the dump.

But this isn't just a story about chairs.  This is mostly a story about my dogs, Trooper and Wiggles.  Trooper is a 7 year old black lab mix.  He has a stocky build, huge paws, and a head shape that makes people ask if there is pit bull in his lineage.  (Maybe?  I don't know.)  He has a sweetly serious temperament, taking everything I say to heart.  Although he doesn't pick up commands as quickly as his sister (Mia) did, once he understands what I want of him, he does it without question or complaint.  The only thing he won't do, no matter how much I command, suggest or cajole, is set foot in water.  You would think a lab who experiences 100 degree temps every summer would love getting wet, but Trooper would rather roast to death than put one paw in the wading pool we provide for them. 

Wiggles, on the other hand, loves the water.  She not only stands in the pool, she lays down and rolls around in it.  Wiggles is a black lab/retriever mix.  She's probably about 3 years old.  She appeared out of nowhere a couple years ago, a mostly grown, not quite starving pup who was desperate for some love and attention.  She would climb over our 6 foot chain link fence (as just about any dog in the neighborhood, including my own, can apparently do) and cavort with Mia and Trooper for awhile before we noticed her, causing her to climb back over the fence and run off.  This went on for several days before I finally told her that if she wanted to stay with us she had to stop reminding Mia and Trooper how easy it was to climb the fence.  I put the training collar on her and did a few laps showing her what I meant.  She was a quick learner, needing only the beeps and my tug on the leash to get her to understand.  "She's a smart one," I told Mike.  Ha!  I spoke too soon.

Wiggles is well meaning and eager to please, but she's a far cry from smart.  Lucky for her, she is ridiculously adorable.  As soon as she sees you, her whole body starts to wag (hence the name) and she immediately starts searching the vicinity for a stick or rock or blade of grass or something to hold in her mouth.  Her life would be perfect if she could spend every waking minute and most of the sleeping ones jammed up against a human being who would consent rub her chin nonstop until the end of time.  Being a youngster, she is full of energy and loves to play.  Her favorite game is Annoy the Hell out of Trooper.  She bumps into him, bites at his legs, runs circles around him, and generally does all the things an annoying little sister would do to inspire an older brother to lose his cool and start chasing her in circles.  She's very good at this game.

Although I am the Alpha of my little pack of canines, Trooper is the second in command.  He eats first, he has the best territory, and he is the first to chase off the cars that occasionally drive past our house.  Wiggles constantly challenged Mia's status in the pack, probably because she knew Mia was sick, but she never challenges Trooper's authority.  He is the clearly established dominant.  Except for one thing.

Here's where the chairs come in.  During the recent rainy monsoon season at our house, we let the dogs reside in the garage for a couple of the wettest, most miserable days.  During that time, Wiggles discovered The Chairs.  You can tell that's how she thinks of them, with capital letters.  She loved The Chairs and spent the remainder of the rainy days snuggled down in one or the other.  By the time the rain stopped, she had grown so attached to The Chairs that it broke her little heart when she was once again restricted to the out of doors, chair-less.  Every time I would open the garage door to fill their food bowls, she would sneak inside and hunker down on one of The Chairs, pleading with her sweet, brown eyes for me to let her stay there.  Finally, I gave in and moved The Chairs out into the kennel area.  She and Trooper both prefer to sleep on the chairs than in the igloos unless it is exceptionally cold and windy.  Even then, Wiggles will often stay on The Chairs, causing me to fret about her well-being and cover her with a blanket.  (I know... I know... ) 

Somewhere along the line, Trooper decided that he liked one of The Chairs better than the other.  Perhaps because of the feel of the cushions.  Perhaps because of the way Wiggles had gnawed an arm of the other one to destruction.  Perhaps because of some doggie reasoning that I will never know or understand.  Whatever the reason, Trooper only likes to sleep in His Chair.  Wiggles, being the brattiest of bratty little sisters, immediately decided that she, too, preferred sleeping in His Chair.  And since she is usually the first to settle in for the night while Trooper is still securing the property, she is often in His Chair when he wants to go to bed.

He's the bigger, stronger dog who has been here longer and has a higher standing in the hierarchy of our pack.  You'd think he could handle this.  You would be wrong.  Instead of making her move, he sits next to the chair and barks.  Not the 3 note bark that he uses to warn trespassing cars and animals of his presence.  Not the howling bark that he uses to commune with his coyote brethren.  One single, sharp bark.  I have secretly observed him doing this through a window.  He is sitting in front of her, but he is barking in my direction.  He wants me to know that she is in His Chair.  If he happens to see me moving around on the other side of the window, he runs over to the edge of the kennel, stares intently at me, and repeats his one sharp bark.

The first time this happened, I was confused.  Was he hurt?  Had something gotten in the yard?  Had I forgotten to feed them?  Then, I suddenly recognized the tone of his bark.  I recognized it from my years in the classroom, my hours of playground duty, and my own personal experiences with younger siblings who liked to take my things and drive me crazy (and whom I may have, on rare occasion, tortured in return).  I knew exactly what he was trying to say.

"Mooooooooooooooom!  Wiggles won't get out of my chair!"

My dog, Trooper, is a tattletale.