Saturday, April 18, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pooch Profiles: Meet Tony

Name: Tony Bologna

Owner: Sarah

Nicknames: Old Man, Sweetface, Old Man Face  

Breed(s): Border Collie, Pit Bull, something else

Age: 6 and a half years

Tony's Story: Sarah says, "He was the unwanted runt of from a litter of 5 boys. Now he's a big old mama's boy." Zia adds: Tony's brother, Yogi, used to visit Dog Park sometimes. They look nothing alike—Yogi is multicolored and shaggy—but they have similar moves.) People think Tony is an old man, but he just looks like one. He's had white chin hairs for years already. 

Signature Moves: Giving Sarah "flat tires" (walking so close to the back of her legs that he steps on her shoes) and producing "camouflage poops that are almost impossible to find"

Habits that Crack Sarah Up: Sarah says, "I think he knows my friends' names (as well as their dogs') and gives reactions based on how much he likes them. Also, he knows I don't eat meat, so he begs off everyone else. I am his last resort."

Loveliest Features: His "old man face" and his "superman sheen" (Zia likes to tease Sarah about Tony's dainty ankles. Also, one day a small child met Tony and gave this appraisal of his physique: "How come he's so big up front and so skinny in back?")

Tony's BDPFs (Best Dog Park Friends): Elliot (Roma and Muzzy, too, though he rarely shows his affection; he's too cool. As you all know from a previous post, Muzzy feels a deep abiding love for Tony and will race across the Park to find him and lavish him with kisses.)

Tony's Mortal Enemies: Teddy, all humpers Also, he's not keen on intact males.

Celebrity/Movie Star/Athlete/Book Character/Philosopher He's Been Compared To: Ferdinand the Bull (Tony loves to stop and smell all the flowers, especially buttercups.)

Tony's Theme Song: Something reggae

What He Would Say If He Could Speak: "If you don't want my bone, just say so." "Are you done with that food?" "Jeez, Muzzy, give me break."

What He Would Sound Like If He Could Speak: One of the mobsters from The Simpsons (Fat Tony, perhaps?)

Artwork That Really Reminds Me of Tony: 

Title: Fashion Dog
Source: The blog Dog Art Today: Modern Dog Art and More by Moira McLaughlin

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Literary Dog

After some soul-searching and some consulting with People Who Know About These Things, I've decided that it is okay to post excerpts from stories, poems, and other works that are still under copyright. (I'm a writer, people. I respect copyrights.) So here is another installment of The Literary Dog. 

This excerpt is from a hilarious and heartrending story by Lorrie Moore, one of my favorite short story writers of the '90s. It's called "People Like That Are the Only People Here," and it chronicles two parents' absurd and bewildered responses to their infant son's diagnosis of kidney cancer. I remember a moment of recognition as a dog owner when I read these two paragraphs near the beginning of the story. 

In Radiology, the Baby stands anxiously on the table, naked against the Mother as she holds him still against her legs and waist, the Radiologist's cold scanning disc moving about the Baby's back. The Baby whimpers, looks up at the Mother. Let's get out of here, his eyes beg. Pick me up! The Radiologist stops, freezes one of the many swirls of oceanic gray, and clicks repeatedly, a single moment within the long, cavernous weather map that is the Baby's insides.
"Are you finding something?" asks the Mother. Last year, her uncle Larry had had a kidney removed for something that turned out to be benign. These imaging machines! They are like dogs, or metal detectors: they find everything, but don't know what they've found. That's where the surgeons come in. They're like the owners of the dogs. "Give me that," they say to the dog. "What the heck is that?"

—from Lorrie Moore's "People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk" in Birds of America (1998, Picador)

Art: World's Minimum Dog by Ten do Ten, 2005

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Trash Talk

On my first Mac, every time I deleted a document in the trash can, Oscar the Grouch would pop up and sing "I love it because it's trash." I loved this little feature until I didn't. But it's true. Sometimes trash is just garbage, but sometimes it has significance. There's a bunch of junk—big stuff—in the Dog Park. Some of it is sort of historical, as remnants of the grounds' time as a state hospital. Some of it, though, is just crap. (There are "No Dumping" signs for a reason, and they are not referring to the dogs.) A couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd document some of the junk lying around Dog Park. Here is what I found. 

There are several of these tires filled with cement in the Park. There's actually one right near the south parking lot with a pole stuck in it. (Someone set a bag of poop on that one months ago. Perversely, I have not picked it up. It's like a science experiment for me now. I wish I had one of those time-lapse cameras to show the rest of the world gliding by while a flaccid green poo bag lingers unchanged throughout eternity.)  What were they used for originally, these tire sculptures? It's a mystery. 

This twisted metal structure is currently nestled amid poison ivy under the trees along the path that intersects both loops. I suppose it could have been the undercarriage of a picnic table or a bike rack. Now it looks like something the City of Austin would pay real money for to display along Lamar at 5th Street or in front of the main library. How did it get all twisted up? Something really big must have squashed it. 

This tire rim is a recent addition. I first saw it perched upright on its rims on the  side of a hill, about 200 yards from where it lies now. With the light hitting it just so, I couldn't tell what it was. The dogs couldn't either; Muzzy kept barking at it. It reminded me of the Wallace Stevens poem "The Anecdote of the Jar."  

(I don't make idle literary references, people. Here is the poem, for those who care.)

The Anecdote of the Jar
I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (1982, Vintage)

I love this little grouping. It's like a family of trash. Twisted metal sculpture is the dad. Broken white plastic lawn chair is his trophy wife. Beside them are the kids—sculpture dad's second family—tire rim and rusted table top. Don't they make a happy group? During these tough economic times, they like to gather under the scrubby trees and tell stories about when they were young and rust-free, before the world wore them out and discarded them. 

I think that this orange plastic webbing got left behind after the repairs to the leaky pipes that created the stinky mud hole and caused us dog owners such grief last year. Notice how, in such a short time, the wilderness really has grown up around it. I'll bet most of us never even notice it any more.

Ah, the ubiquitous beer can. This one has chameleon-like qualities. Notice how its gold and green coloring helps it blend in with the wood chips around it. After all, aluminum is a metal found in nature. This baby is just trying to return to its roots. 

This one slays me. The cup is setting right next to the dumpster. Someone needs to tell this litter bug that dogs can't drink from straws. (It's like a Hopper painting, no? The long shadows at the end of day, signaling mortality and the trappings of a materialist society. Note: This is a gratuitous cultural reference.) Sometimes trash is just trash. Thanks to whoever picked it up and put it in the dumpster. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dog Dreams

A couple of days ago, I had a strange dream. It was one of those dreams in which I can't find my dogs. These dreams are recurring, and they were bad enough when I only had one dog. Now that I have two, the anxiety level has really amped up. So in this one, Roma, of course, has run off without the least regard for my bellowing, but eventually Muzzy, my mama's girl, comes running up to me with her little red squeaky football in her mouth. When I bend over to pat her and put on her leash, I discover that not only does she now sport the wooly fur of a poodle, but embedded in the fur are dozens of little sprouting plants. Muzzy has become a Chia pet!!! 

I have been puzzling over this one all day. What does it mean? Has Muzzy gone green? Will Muzzy become my meal ticket? Will we win the lottery? Hmm. More likely the dream is telling me to GIVE THAT DIRTY DOG A BATH! 

While I continue to ponder, you, dear readers, might help me out a bit. I know that you might enjoy reading about your dogs—and not just about Muzzy and Roma—in this space. I have been running the occasional Pooch Profile, and I'd love to feature  your favorite canine. Take a look at some of the sample questions below. Answer as many or as few as you like. Make up others that are funnier (take my jokes, please!).  You can contact me at  I may already have digital pix of your pooch from my daily photo sessions at the park, but you may also send in shots that show off your dog to his or her advantage. I would love to hear from you. --z

Pooch Profile Questions:
  1. Dog's name?
  2. Nickname(s)?
  3. Breed(s)?
  4. Age?
  5. What's your dog's story? 
  6. What are his/her signature moves? 
  7. What habits regularly crack you up/drive you crazy?
  8. What is your dog's loveliest feature(s)?  (Go ahead, brag a little.)
  9. Who are your dog's BDPFs (Best Dog Park Friends)? 
  10. Who is your dog's mortal enemy? 
  11. To what celeb/movie star/athlete/philosopher/politician has your dog been (or ought to be) compared? (Again, don't be modest. We all know your dog is the Denzel/Julia Roberts of the dog world.)
  12. What's your dog's theme song? (Roma's is "Superfreak." Don't ask me why. The lyrics go "She's a very dirty girl / The kind you do take home to mother.") 
  13. If your dog could speak, what would he or she say? 
  14. If your dog could speak, what would his/her voice sound like?  (For example, Pavarotti or the lunch lady on The Simpsons?) 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Constructive Criticism

I sometimes forget that our Dog Park is not really an official dog-walking area and that others use the land without even a thought about us and the dogs. For example, the boys who tried to build a tree fort in one of the live oaks along the creek. During the Christmas break, they  hauled in  sheets of plywood from God knows where (and how?) and hammered away while dogs and their owners streamed by on the path only a few feet away. It pained some of us to see idiot children nailing hunks of wood into the trunk of a venerable old tree, but who are we to complain, fellow trespassers on state land?  I did want to shake my fist at them Grandpa Simpson style and shout "You darned kids!," but I figured they would only laugh at me.  And yet, predictably, the project was abandoned as soon as school started again. The kids' gift to us is a mess in our midst—a tree filled with scraps of wood, not to mention paraphernalia of ill-spent youth, bongs and food wrappers and beer and soda cans. I hope somebody had fun.

And yet, in the field just across from the aborted tree house is evidence that someone with a sense of humor and plenty of time to kill once passed through our Park. It is the rock sculpture. A year or so ago, maybe a dozen of these little monuments popped up all over the Park. Most were only a foot or so tall, but a couple were quite impressive, tall and precarious structures that inevitably got knocked down by rambunctious dogs. No one knew who built them. No one ever saw them being built. Like ant hills, they would appear overnight. This one is the last of the lot. It's like a remnant of another era. You can see how the grass  has grown around it. My friend Sarah threatened to kick it over after I took my photo. It annoyed her for some reason, but then she relented. It's good to have these little mysteries around us, if only to remind us that we and our dogs are not the center of the universe.  Although the dogs would disagree, I think.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Quotable Dog

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. . . . When all other friends desert, he remains." 
—George Graham Vest (1830-1904)

Art: Waiting for Master by Tom Heywood (1882-1913), found at William Secord Gallery: