Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's a Hard-Knock Life for Muzz


Life is hard for the Muzz. She's always on the wrong side of the door. And these days, the designated ball thrower sits all day long staring and cursing at that screen on her desk. Then, when it's finally time for Dog Park, it rains. And it gets dark by 7:30. Oh, and every muddy paw print on the floor, rug, sofa, and bed is greeted with shrieks of indignation, like a Michelangelo has been defaced. As a result, we think it's best to take a little break, like we did this time last year. So, we'll check back in next month when everybody is in a better humor and has something interesting to say. As always, thanks for reading. z

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mifky-Pifky at Dog Park


There is always mifky-pifky going on at Dog Park. Someone is always trying to hump someone else. But the dalliances are usually meaningless. (The phrase mifky-pifky, as explained on Schott's Vocab, is real. It's defined in the Oxford English Dictionary and attributed to writer J. Margolis, who wrote this for the Chicago Tribune in 1985: "There's all this mifky-pifky going on, but not for me." In 1985, that was true for me, too. Also, 2010. But I digress.) There are some dogs at Park that inspire more mifky-pifky than others. They tend to be Rhodesian Ridgebacks. One intact male named Gus has the power to make all the dogs lose their minds, both of mine included. There was something a little hilarious and unnerving about watching ancient, arthritic Roma hurl herself at Gus. Gus seemed to enjoy the attention, but he also savored her torment. So cruel, Gus, so cruel. Even Muzzy seems to grow a little weak in the knees when Gus is around. She charges up to him and dances in circles, but, poor thing, has little understanding of why. Rome knew exactly why.

Recently, Naya (second from left above) was the focus of a great deal of mifky-pifky. While in heat, she was the siren of the dog park for a couple of weeks, courting dogs of all sizes and both sexes. The poor dear was so frustrated that when she had no gentleman callers, she'd hit on whoever was nearby, once giving Bailey (female, with a bum back leg) a serious nuzzle, nearly knocking her over. It really was like watching the Nature Channel. Even if Naya had not had biological factors on her side, you can see why she and her sister Elphie (second from right) are the universally acknowledged "Super Models." They're gorgeous. Just look at their tawny hides and slender haunches. Yikes. They are truly the Naomi Campbell and Heidi Klum of the Park, flawless, haughty, merciless. If I were a deposed president of Liberia, I'd have my body guards deliver bags of rough diamonds to their hotel rooms, too. Again, I digress.

So what is my point? Good question. As an observer of the way the world works, I'd say that mifky-pifky at Dog Park, as in the world of humans, is just one of those things that you've either got it or you ain't. And as an editor of world history textbooks, I think it's safe to say too that if you got it, work it, baby, because you won't have it forever. All great empires eventually fall. All monuments will collapse. Time is not on your side. As my mother taught me, "There's always somebody younger and cuter than you out there." So, as Tim Gunn says on Project Runway, "Make it work!"
-z

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise


Muzzy and I braved Dog Park yesterday, during a brief break in the rains brought to us courtesy of Tropical Storm Hermine. At home, we peeked out the windows and saw light gray skies in the west and thought we'd be safe. When we turned east in the car, though, the sky was black. We pressed on, hoping the rain would hold off, but we had no sooner pulled into the parking lot, then the skies released another barrage. Another devoted Parker was just loading up his dogs, prancing around in the puddles, trying to haul each of three soggy pooches into the hatchback before he got completely soaked. We sat in our car for about ten minutes, lulled by the soothing rhythms of the downpour, the rain scalloping down the windshield. At the first let-up, we hopped out, but the break was only momentary.

I have never seen Dog Park so drenched. The fields that last week were like trampled straw and pocked with cavernous cracks  had become marshy wetlands. Muzzy's every step kicked up a plume of water. She blinked her eyes against the spray and looked annoyed. Beneath the pecan trees, we got drenched just from run-off. We made our way across the field, ankle deep in water. Rain was sluicing down the slope behind us, torrents of water eddying around our feet. We were soaked in under a minute. Fortunately, Muzzy knew that this trip was all about getting her business done. Once her mission was complete--and nearly washed away in the tide, we got back in the car and drove home through yet another cloudburst.  It was all pretty exciting. If I didn't have a dog, I'd have missed that little adventure. -z

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Cuter Than Republicans"


I don't want to get anybody into trouble by naming names, but a Loyal Reader surreptitiously took this photo at the "First Pets" exhibit at the Bob Bullock Museum and provided the topic for our blog. Pictured above is a display is of the First Dog of Texas's dog house, a replication of the Governor's Mansion. Here's what the display text says:

"The Mansion-themed doghouse became a popular attraction during Christmas candlelight tours hosted by Governor Rick Perry and First Lady Anita Perry (2000-). In 2004, the family incorporated images of Lucy, their Miniature Dachshund, in several holiday decorations throughout the house. Lucy actually did not sleep in the canine Mansion but stayed with the family in the private quarters."

My comment to Loyal Reader was that I had no use for certain Republican governors but that Lucy was in all ways cute. To which LR replied, "Dogs are always cuter than Republicans." Who am I to contradict? Thank you, LR, for the photos and for making me laugh. -z

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Dog Tulip

Over the weekend, I saw an article in the New York Times about the upcoming movie My Dog Tulip. It's based on the book of the same name by English writer J.R. Ackerley. I've never read it. I will now, and I'll review it here. (Without fear of input from a disgruntled author, mind you. Ackerley's been dead since 1967.) Today the NYT gave the film a quietly rave review. It's a beautiful film, judging from the trailer (click below). The animation is all hand-drawn, and the voices are by top-rate actors.  The images are spot on, too.  Dog Parkers will appreciate the film's treatment of a familiar view--that of a romping dog butt. Enjoy. -z


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

File Under "Double-Take"

Hi, all. Fellow Parker and blogger Michelle (Mindy) sent along a link to her friend Tony Chor's blog. Tony posted this picture. What do you think?


I saw it and thought, "There's something definitely wrong with that panda." Those of you who have had your coffee have probably already figured it out. That's no panda; it's a dog. Hunh. I had a similar reaction the day I looked out my window to see a neighbor walking the ugliest dog on the planet. Oops. It wasn't a dog; it was a pot-bellied pig.

At Dog Park, we have plenty of dogs named Bear (or variations, like Oso), but none actually looks like it could climb a tree or bust into your car (or your cranium) with razor sharp talons. The "panda" pictured here is eerily like the real thing. Plus, it really lives in China. To read Tony's entry and find a link to a CNN  story about China' new craze of dyeing dogs to look like wild animals (and even Ninja turtles), click here. Thank you, Michelle! Thanks, Tony!
-z

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What Dog Park Blog?

Oh, right, this dog park blog. I've been cranking away on a manuscript--juggling the ancient Egyptians and the imperial Chinese. 2600 B.C.,  1400 A.D., I don't even know what millennium I currently inhabit. Throw in a new software program (I'm on a first name basis with the good but terribly confused people at Adobe) and an "urgent" proofreading assignment this weekend, and I'm completely knackered. So I go to dog park every night, but I'm not really there. I'm thinking about how to explain to twelve-year-olds that imperial China's most ruthless and effective ruler was a woman named Woohu, who got her start in life at court as a courtesan from a common family. Soon she was running the place. She married up, she plotted, she connived, she assassinated, she overthrew her own son, and she renamed a dynasty. Cool. No wonder she was the only girl. She tore the place a new one.

Right, so dog park. Look, I'm just going to play my bad hand here. My head's just not in the game. I got nothing. Bupkis. So, I took a couple hours off on Friday afternoon to watch a movie on my computer. I may be the last person on earth to have discovered A Town Called Panic, but I loved it. It's like a mash up of Gumby, Monty Python, and high school French club. Small, plastic molded cowboy, Indian, and farm animal toys come to life, playing piano, taking showers, drinking cheap wine, chasing mermen, and falling to the center of the Earth. Intrigued? Check out the trailer below. There are no dogs in the movie, alas, but one sat under my feet while I watched it.
-z




Saturday, August 21, 2010

Name Tags



The other day I noticed myself doing something odd. Before putting away a fresh box of Muzzy's heart worm preventative, I found myself writing her name on the box with a green Sharpie. Next, I looked at the calendar and saw that the reminder sticker also was marked "M," as opposed to "R" for Roma. As you know, Roma shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving Muzzy an "only dog" and me an only-dog owner, eight months ago, but there are reminders of her everywhere. Her name is still on her food bucket. Her meds haven't expired and still sit in the cupboard. Her leash still hangs by the door. I feel weird about using it to walk the Muzz. Because it's not a spare; it's Roma's.

While I was on vacation in Maine, Roma appeared in a dream. She just walked through a door, and I leaned over and thumped her gently on her rib cage, feeling a surge of joy. "You came back!" was my first thought. The next was, "Oh, wait . . ."  The dream continued, but that moment with Roma is the only part I remember. Frankie's Diane says that next time Roma appears in my dreams, I need to tell her that it's okay to move on, so that she can "move on and come back for real." Roma never needed me to tell her anything important. I think she'll figure out how and when—and if—she wants to return to a plane of existence that is home to so many idiots. Since then, though, I've been thinking that I see her around the house. The big yellow bag of dog food in the kitchen corner has been making me do a double-take every time I walk by it.  So has that nightgown hanging on the bedroom doorknob. I know that Roma is not coming back, certainly not in the same form in which she left. At the same time, though, I'll continue to write Muzzy's name on Muzzy's stuff—because I am pretty sure that we won't be on our own forever. Someone else is bound to come along. And when he or she does, I have a red Sharpie for writing a new name on stuff.
-z

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Office Dogs



Occasionally I read the Freakonomics blog that appears on the New York Times Web site. The guys who write it always make interesting observations about how people spend their money and their time. The heading for today's blog was "Dogs for Everyone?", so of course I read it. I looked forward to reading about why everyone should have a dog. But the topic was actually about the impact that dogs in the workplace can have on the behavior of the human workers. Here's the premise of the study that Levitt and Dubner cite: At workplaces that allowed employees to bring dogs, workers were significantly more likely to be loyal to and trusting in their co-workers and teammates. According to the blog, the scientist running the study "also asked 13 groups of people to play a version of the prisoner’s dilemma game and found that '[h]aving a dog around made volunteers 30% less likely to snitch than those who played without one.' " Interesting, no?


Being economists and not psychologists, the Freako guys did not hazard any hypotheses about why dogs make workers feel more like, well, part of the pack. In my own case, I have a dog in my office all the time, but I don't have actual co-workers, so the study doesn't quite fit. Muzzy snores happily but often bolts the room when my cursing at the cursor gets out of hand. She also skedaddles when my tube of lip rolls off the desk and plonks on the floor  and any time the printer grinds into gear. Still, I do register Muzzy's presence during my day. If I sneeze or burp around her, I always excuse myself. And when she executes a command, I often say, "thank you" instead of "good girl." It is not that I'm worried about hurting Muzzy's feelings, mind you. (And believe me, I wish that she'd excuse herself after some room-clearing gas attacks.) But I do worry about getting out of practice of knowing how to behave around other humans. If I let what few manners I have slip entirely, I may not be able to pass as a civilized adult when the occasion calls. 


So I think what the study discussed in the Freako-blog today hints at is that dogs do appeal to our better nature. Even if they are not judging us, we read all kinds of things into their big brown eyes. They are sentient beings whose loyalty and trust in us challenge us to be better team players. Who wants to look like a jerk in front of the dog? Or let's put it this way: What does it say about a person who is capable of acting like a jerk in front of the dog? You just don't want that guy on your team. 
-z

Monday, August 16, 2010

Baxter's in the House at Downeast Dog News


One thing that I noticed while in Maine is that Portlanders love their dogs. We saw dogs everywhere on our trip--on the ferries, hanging at the docks, strolling the streets, and chilling in coffee shops. Most were on leashes and all looked well cared for--even the dogs that belonged to the grungy, panhandling kids. To reinforce this point, someone in our group picked up a copy of the free monthly newspaper Downeast Dog News.

The paper is published by Wendi Smith and distributed free at "dog-friendly locations in Maine," but out-of-staters can purchase subscriptions for $25 a year. The paper not only reports on dog-oriented events like dock-jumping contests (who knew there were so many?), but it is also full of advice about how to choose a puppy or share dog custody in a divorce. It contains photos and profiles of dogs in need of adoption as well as lists of pet services and training classes. My favorite part of the August issue, though, was a how-to column "written" by a German shepherd named Baxter. Check him out in the photo below. Don't you wish you had tall, pointy ears like that? He's the Vulcan of the dog world. Baxter's column this month is about how to stay cool during the "hot" weather in Maine. (A whopping 85 degrees!) Baxter is clearly a pro. His voice is warm and friendly but also a bit mischievous. Clearly he knows how humans think as well as the ramifications of telling fellow dogs to dig in the flower beds. Also, he's wise enough to know to leave the cat alone. Baxter, you can write a blog entry for us here at NBUT any time. Enjoy. Or, as Baxter says: Chow! -z

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bull Creek BullSh*t


I'm just getting around to looking at stuff people have recommended I read. Right before I left town, Johnny showed me an article from the Austin American-Statesman by Ricardo Gandara about the recent trashification of Bull Creek Park, which used to be Roma's other favorite park. We would go there regularly for some splashy fun and hiking. I have many happy memories of that park, but we had to stop going when it was clear that the old girl couldn't handle the terrain. (Hmm. Honestly, the last time I took her and Muzzy was an ordeal. When I let both dogs off leash, they ran in opposite directions. Muzzy was afraid of water, yet she charged up and down the creek's edge to bark hysterically at dogs playing in the stream. Meanwhile Roma had hauled arthritic bones to the top of a picnic table and was eating scraps. My cries fell on her actual deaf ears. I swore I would never take the pair of them back to the park again. Still, rather than leave Roma at home, we just quit going.)

Anyway, the article, published July 28, reminded me that the park, which was largely leash-free for many years, changed its rules last December and now requires all dogs to be on leash. The reason for the new rule was a dangerous increase of fecal bacteria in the creek, allegedly caused by too much dog poop and not enough pick up. The waters are much cleaner now with the leash rule in place (although I hear from some Dog Parkers that it is rarely enforced), but the current problem is trash.

The article documents the kinds of garbage strewn around the park--empty beer cans, cigarette cartons and butts, food wrappers, dirty diapers, and used charcoal. One regular visitor to the park told the reporter that he had witnessed people relieving themselves the bushes and even driving their cars into the creek to wash them. Two groups actually get blamed in the article for the park's trash problem. One, of course, is the City. Austin Parks and Recreation Department is so understaffed that crews can only empty the trash cans once every other day, and the cops are slow to respond to non-emergency calls. (Really?) The other group, amazingly, includes the dog-friendly volunteer organizations that once helped maintain the park. The Bull Creek Dog Off-Leash Group and the Bull Creek Foundation both used to participate in regular clean ups and park landscaping efforts. But both groups felt alienated by the City's decision to revoke the leash-free status and its refusal to compromise on the issue. As a result, both groups stopped coming to and caring for the park. Hence, the increase in trash. The director of Parks and Rec and an Austin police officer told the reporter that the park will become a higher priority for patrols, but they also pointed out that trash itself isn't crime. The article ended with a park visitor's rhetorical question, "How simple is it to pick up after yourself?" I think what he meant to ask is "How hard is it to pick up after yourself?" Answer: It isn't, if you're not an inconsiderate and lazy cuss.

I think it's interesting that dogs and their dog owners get blamed for both problems at Bull Creek Park. I get that the E. coli problem was linked to the dogs. Bull Creek park slopes downward. Anything not picked up at the top of the hill will eventually get washed into the creek. But to blame the dogs and their owners for not picking up trash they didn't make in the first place is kind of ridiculous. Many dollars have been spent recently on campaigns to get people to pick up dog waste. Have they worked? I haven't read any statistics, but I've certainly appreciated and used the bag dispensers and nearby trash cans at Turkey Creek and Red Bud Isle. But I think people may have forgotten that the motto "Don't mess with Texas" originally referred to trash, not to political beliefs or tax laws. How do you get picnickers and other park users to pick up their own waste? Would printing cute and informative ads and dispensing colorful, personalized garbage bags help? How a campaign with huge signs that simply say, "Hey, dumb*ss! We've driven away the dogs and cleaned up the water, now pick up your damn trash!"?
-z

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jetlag, Lifelag

Oof. Has it really been a week since I returned from Maine? I've suffered some serious re-entry burns. After spending a week sitting and watching Casco Bay gently lap against against million-year old rocks and stirring myself only to dine with my companions on lobster, mussels, blueberry cobbler, and fresh corn, I've had trouble readjusting to Austin's million degree heat and regular poop pick-up.

You may recognize the feeling of having memories of a lovely time away tarnished by the too-early race to and through a busy airport, an interminable flight whose soundtrack is the full-throated screaming of small children, the ordeal of lost luggage, the arrival home to a stale, unair-conditioned house, and the trip to the kennel, where you slap down a credit card and pay the price of another airplane ticket. And what happens next? The kennel door opens and out bursts a skinny, frantic dog that has, you realize for the first time, an uncanny resemblance to a ferret, what with her bugged-out eyes and wet, pointy nose. This dog will not, for the next week, give you a moment's peace, but will follow you into the bathroom and lie under your desk and drop a soggy tennis ball at your feet any time you stop moving. Sigh. Meanwhile, you unpack and wash the mountain of dirty laundry and fold up all those annoying plastic bags and pry off and throw away the (apparently useless) airport stickers on your suitcase before stuffing it back in the closet. Then you plow through 100 e-mails before actually getting down to work. Work. I've been whining about not having enough of it lately, and now I've got some, and that means, well, working. Toiling, laboring, exerting, drudging. In my case, I spend my days with the ancient Egyptians. Those guys knew how to work. They treasured unity and treated cats like gods. They were at the top of their game for millennia. The unlucky ones literally busted and hauled rocks in order to build the largest structures the world had ever known until the twentieth century and the advent of steel and motorized vehicles. I'm just sitting in a chair under a ceiling fan.

Still, when all the dust and hot sun and laboring, both real and imagined, gets to me, I return to this video--one minute of time by the bay. You may need it, too. Just click and enjoy. It's Maine. It's 75 degrees and sunny and breezy. The lobstah boats are droning and the birds are calling. They say, "Come back and see us next year!" Enjoy. -z


Monday, August 9, 2010

The Maine Thing


I lived in Massachusetts for two years but never managed to get myself to Maine. So when two fellow Dog Parkers and their mums decided to head Downeast, I was on board. We took planes, trains, taxis, and ferry boats to reach a tiny island that had no cars and no stores but plenty of Yankees (and fellow Texans) and their dogs. The whole island was hardly bigger than Dog Park, but it was quiet and green--also mostly mosquito free.


For the better part of a week, I sat on this rock and looked at this view.


Occasionally, I would stroll around the island--a half hour's exertion. As at Dog Park, there were plenty of conveniently placed dog water bowls as well as signage that will strike you all as familiar.


The Casino was a common building down by the dock. As far as I know, the gambling at the Casino is limited to geezer poker nights. In fact, the place is extremely family-friendly. Our whole crew was invited to the weekly Saturday night dinner at the Casino. Every week, several families cook for the entire island. We enjoyed excellent antipasto and manicotti. Alas, no dogs were allowed at dinner. And, because I was a guest, I did not use Stacey's Sharpie to correct the misplaced apostrophes on the dogs' bowls.


The dogs I met were all well behaved, even the ones on the ferries. (Dogs require their own tickets if they were not in carry-on bags or crates.)



Dogs were not so welcome on a neighboring island, which we could reach by foot when the tide was low. Stacey and I trekked halfway around that larger island only to be confronted by this unfriendly sign: "Dogs and other pets are not permitted." The purveyors of a restaurant on this island also overcharged us for lunch.


So we left and never went back. We returned to our tiny island and watched the world pass us by.

-z

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Twilight Sky Over Dog Park

We are now stuck in that part of the year when it is too hot to go to Dog Park before 8:00 at night, but the sun is already setting before 9:00. Recent rains have helped cool things down, however, and we have witnessed some spectacular twilight skyscapes. Here's a slideshow of the sky over Dog Park during sunset last Saturday night. Enjoy. -z

P.S. Muzzy and I are taking a week off. We'll be back to blogging after August 8.







Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More Muzzy Movie

Action! I said "Action!" Alas, there's not much going on in this video of a dramatic post-rainstorm sky over Dog Park and Muzzy grazing. The fun—for me—was all in production.  My camera's audio recorder is shot, and it makes every video sound like a bowl of cereal after the milk hits it. So for this clip (52 seconds, for those of you who are in a hurry), I reconstructed an ambient sound track. I scavenged the sound library on my computer and fiddled with audio levels in order to recreate the aural delights of Dog Park. I think it sounds pretty authentic. Enjoy. -z

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

She Can't Hardly Contain Herself



Every afternoon, I take Muzzy for a short walk around the block before I feed her some dinner. It's usually pretty hot outside and there's nobody around, so I often let her walk off-leash. Lately, one of our neighbors has been out in her yard at the same time. Each time Muzzy sees this neighbor, she gallops up her, her tail spinning, as if this woman were her long-lost mama.  Muzzy soaks up some goo-goo talk then dashes back to the sidewalk, races past me, and, a few yards down, takes an enormous dump.

The first time this happened, the neighbor was amazed. She had gotten into her car and was driving past just as Muzzy was getting to work. The woman rolled down her window and said, "I didn't know I had that effect on her." Apparently it was quite a stimulating effect. I laughed it off at first. But this greet-n-poop dynamic has occurred twice in the past week. I'm getting kind of embarrassed about it. When I told the woman's daughter this story, she said, "That's okay. My mother has that effect on me, too."

The idea that certain people make other people want to poop is an old joke. In fact, I came across this anecdote in Lincoln, a biography of the U.S. President written by David Herbert Donald (Simon & Schuster, 1995). According to Donald, Lincoln liked to tell this story when there were no ladies in the room.

[Lincoln] recounted an anecdote he attributed to Colonel Ethan Allen, famed for his role in the American Revolution. Allegedly making a visit to England after the war, Allen found his hosts took great pleasure in ridiculing Americans, and George Washington in particular, and, to irritate their guest, hung a picture of the first President in the toilet. (In telling the story, Lincoln called it 'the Back House.') Allen announced that they had found a very appropriate place for the picture, because 'there is nothing that will Make an Englishman Shit so quick as the sight of Genl Washington.'"
It makes me smile to think that our sixteenth President liked to tell a story like that one, but Muzzy and I are definitely taking a new route on our afternoon walk for a while.
-z

Monday, July 26, 2010

Oh, Foul Calumny!


Okay, okay, okay. It's time to take this blog back from the asylum inmates. I had no idea last week, when I posted my review of the book The Dogs Who Found Me, that I would provoke such a poop-storm of controversy, both online and at Dog Park. First, some thanks are in order.

Thanks to "Ken," presumed author of the book, for leaving a comment that stated the blindingly obvious: "This review says more about you than it does about my book." Snap! If I may respond: No, duh. I think that in my entry I made my biases perfectly clear: I like books that are smart, funny, ironic, and well written. Ergo, yours didn't move me. Better luck next time. (If I may offer a bit of advice: Before you write your next memoir, take a look at Mary Karr's Lit. It's brilliant, poetic, funny, compelling, and insightful. Try that.) But thanks for jumpstarting the comments.

Also, thanks to Teddy and his alter ego Tex for your comments. I think now you understand how tough it can be to write the funny bits.

To Grumpy Broad, I say thank you for standing up for a blogger chick's right to not like a book. (You have learned well from the master—Judge Judy.)

Finally, thanks to my loyal readers and regular commenters, especially Mixette and Cranky Girl. When I write this blog, I never assume that more than five people will read it. Heck, my mother doesn't even read this blog. So I am always gratified when people respond to my posts in person at Dog Park or online--even when they are busting my chops.

Stay cool everybody. -z

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Literary Dog: Dog Tales of 9/11 & Katrina


Teddy's Johnny loaned me his copy of The Dogs Who Found Me: What I've Learned from Pets Who Were Left Behind (The Lyons Press, 2006) by Ken Foster. I put off reading it for a while. I mean, look at the cover. Look at the big sad eyes on that dog. And the blurbs. I generally don't read books described as "wonderful . . . funny . . . and moving" on the cover or that have back-cover blurbs about life lessons, bravery, and gratitude. The book's obvious earnestness and lack of snark meant that it kept getting rotated to the bottom of my bedside stack in favor of a predictable Ian Rankin mystery or a half-completed New York Times Sunday crossword. (The Mother's Day xword was deceptively easy. I did it in ink, in about two hours. It hangs, like a trophy, on my refrigerator door, next to the movie schedule for the Paramount summer series, which I never go to. I'm thinking that it was kind of patronizing of the NYT to make the Mother's Day puzzle so easy. Come on. "Happy Mother's Day! Here's one that you can do, Mommy.")

But I digress. Because I don't want to have to tell you about this book. Look, it's fine. The author is a sweet, sensitive guy who has had a lot of bad luck that he has turned into meaningful experiences. For example, he was living in New York with his dog pit bull Brando during 9/11. Four years later, he moved to New Orleans shortly before Katrina. In between, he found and rescued at least a dozen dogs from neglectful neighbors and the mean streets. I have to give Foster credit. One thing he captures really well is the ambivalence one feels (okay, I feel) when finding a stray, that sinking realization that the rest of your day is probably going to suck, that you'll be inconvenienced and maybe have to shell out some bucks, but also that you're doing a good thing. The lesson that Foster learns repeatedly is that rescuing a sick, frightened, lost dog means making yourself vulnerable to many things--bites, disinterest from other humans, and, more devastating, feelings of attachment for an animal that you probably can't keep. The fact that Foster keeps rescuing dogs is a testimony to his refusal to become blind to the suffering of animals or cynical about the deeply flawed and selfish human race.

The weirdest thing about this book was that I kept having to remind myself that the book's author is a guy. Seriously, I kept stopping to look at the cover for the writer's name. Ken is not one of those names that can go either way. I can't quite figure out what my problem was. Was I confused because the book reads "girly"? Reading it was like perusing a pre-teenager's secret journal, full of ardent hopes and crushing fears as well as artless descriptions of helpless animals and earnest checklists ("How to Let Go" and "What to Do When You Find a Stray Dog.") Life, the writer discovers, can be so cruel, but thank God for dogs. Well, yes, I completely agree, but I also find that a little irony helps some of us get through the day. Others may feel differently, of course. And to them I recommend this book.

So, thanks to Johnny for loaning the book. And thanks to you all for reading this humble blog. -z

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Song About Treats

Well, sort of. It's kind of a stretch to turn this song, performed by the Jerry Sires Band at Botticelli's earlier this month, into a song about dogs. The song could be sung from the point of view of a dog who wants its owner to "scratch my back and run your pretty fingers through my hair." Muzzy is all for that. There's also talk of behaving and treats, as you'll discover when you click below. Actually, the real connection to Dog Park is the band's able bass player, Dean (standing, center stage, not in cowboy hat or Hawaiian shirt), owner of Bindi, Muzzy's best dog park friend. Rock on, Dean! Enjoy. -z

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Muzzy in the Movies

The right music can make even the most mundane video seem exciting. A case in point:




Enjoy. -z

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Is My Dog Retarded?"



We all know a dog who is what my friend Stacey terms "Special Needs." Sweet, but kind of a doofus or needy or shy, the SN dog gets dissed by the other dogs and can't quite deal with the trappings of modern life, such as doors, stairs, cars, sewer grates, or the noise from the television. This post from Hyperbole and a Half, a blog by artist and snarker Allie Brosh, perfectly captures that moment when a dog owner wonders if her dog is perhaps lacking the correct number of working neurons and synapses. I think it will make you smile. Enjoy. -z

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bugs and Trucks Go BEEP, BEEP, BEEP


We are not getting a lot of sleep here at the Dog Park Annex, also known as my home. The nighttime is full of creatures great and small that are determined to keep Muzzy and me awake and not for fun reasons. The first culprit is a bug that has taken residence under the wooden platform outside the patio door to my bedroom. I have no idea what kind of bug it is, but it is kill-ing me sl-ow-ly. Every night since summer began, it has waited until just before I turn out the lights to start its singing. It has not the  rhythmic, soothing tones of a cricket's chirp or even a cicada's chrrr-chrr. It belongs instead in the techno section, as its call has the same piercing intensity of, say, a smoke detector or an alarm clock or the emergency broadcast system's test pattern. Here is a transcription of its call:

BEEEEEEEEEP! (pause)
BEEEEEPBEEEEP! (pause)
BEEEEPBEEEEEEPBEEEEP! (pause)
CHIRrup, CHIRrup, CHIRrup. (long pause)

The fellow (it's definitely a boy; I've written enough middle-school science instruction to know that it's always the male who makes a racket trying to attract a female, any female) then grows quiet for about seven minutes—just long enough for me to roll the pillow off my head and fall back to sleep. Recovered and still looking for love, the bug starts again:

BEEEEEEEEEP! (pause)
BEEEEEPBEEEEP! (pause) 
BEEEEPBEEEEEEPBEEEEP! (pause) 
CHIRrup, CHIRrup, CHIRrup. (long pause)

This goes on all night long. Clearly, the love bug's not making much headway with the ladies. (Or, I could be wrong. Who knows what goes on during those blissfully quiet seven minutes.)

I have tried ear plugs, and I've tried sleeping with pillows on my head, all to little avail. I have also tried direct confrontation. More than once, I have gotten out of my bed and stormed outside in rain boots and my jimjams to jump vigorously up and down on the little side porch. At first, this tactic seemed to work. Love bug would suddenly break up the band and discreetly relocate, but only for a day at most, and only a few yards away. I could still hear him "singing," but without the resonating chamber of the porch to amplify him, I could ignore him and get some shuteye. Sometimes, thank God, when it rains, he takes a night off. But lately, all my jumping and cursing have done no good. Love bug is desperate. 

(Note: My suspicion is that love bug is a cicada. This is the first time in eight summers that I have ever noticed or been bothered by this insect. Also, a little research at a Website hosted by our friends at Texas A&M reveals that cicadas leave small bores in the ground that they create after burrowing out from underground. I have noticed a couple of those in my backyard, very close to my porch. The photo above is of a dog-day cicada, named for its seasonal proclivities. It shows up in Texas between April and July. Please, please, please God, let it be one of those. July is almost over! No extensions!)

Not that the demise of my bug friend will make nights any quieter. As many of my neighbors know, the good people at Texas Department of Transportation (hosts of the actual Dog Park) are repaving (again?) the stretch of MoPac that runs between the Lake and 2222. And because TxDoT doesn't want to inconvenience drivers during the day, it runs its machinery at night. I live (and try to sleep) roughly 500 feet from MoPac. So when lovebug is not screeching beneath my floorboards, the TxDoT trucks do this: "BEEEP, BEEP, BEEEP, BEEEP!" Unlike my love bug friend, they also go, "Vroom, vroom, vroom," which makes the house vibrate like an old sea barge. Every morning, all my picture frames are askew. I'm askew, too.

There is a small grace period. Both TxDoT and love bug shut down after 5:30 am. That means I can squeeze a few hours of uninterrupted sleep before the construction crew at the house reno two doors down show up. No beeping, just sawing and hammering and AM music blaring from the car radio. Sigh. It will be a very long summer.

By the way, here is a picture of a real love bug. For details, check this link. -z

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hot Dogs

I know that it's the 13th, but I'm under-employed again, which means it feels as though July 4th weekend will never end. This year, I've used the holiday and my lack of money-making activity as an excuse to put my feet up and extend my vacation at home. In the spirit of independence, I've been sleeping late and, while awake, living on a pretty strict diet of hot dogs (soy dogs, really; sorry carnivores, but they taste just as good and contain no dubious body parts) and watermelon. Mmm, mmm, mmm!

Each day, I can't wait until lunchtime, when I toast yummy hand baked hot dog buns from Central Market (whole wheat, yes, but made with butter and cream), nuke a couple of dogs, lay down a schmear of yellow mustard, and then park myself under the ceiling fan and listen to the radio announce how hot it is outside. I have a real (room temperature) dog at my feet. She would like some of my hot dog, but no soy for you. It gives you gas. But you may have a bite of this tasty crust.

For dessert, a big, thick, bubblegum pink slab of icy watermelon. It's so crisp and sweet. Pure heaven. I thank the powers that be for every delicious bite. Sigh. Summer lasts forever here in Texas. Might as well enjoy it. Ta. -z

Photo credit: I found this delightful graphic at Dog Art Today. Go to that link to trace it farther back.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Welcome to Bizarro World

I rarely go to Dog Park in the morning because I have a long-standing aversion to several people who frequent the morning shift. I call them, collectively, The Coven. A trio of queen bees, they scare the crap out of me. I have been on their bad side for the better part of 7 years for objecting to one of their dogs harassing my Roma. Keeping track of these *lovely women* on my internal radar is enough work to ruin a morning's walk. Who needs the grief?

But today Muzzy definitely needed a morning run, so we went to Park. And after eluding the woman who teases me for wearing boots when it's not raining, Muzzy and I managed to complete almost an entire loop when there she was: the #1 member of the Coven,  whom I'll call Nyoo Yawk N. NYN is notorious at Dog Park for a voice like a fog horn that broadcasts opinions about everything, but a favorite topic is the only way to raise, train, and walk a dog, i.e., her way. Nothing grills a Texan, even a non-native one, like a loud-mouthed New Yorker, and most people stay out of her way. But today she had no minions to lecture, and so I had no warning until she was on top of me and the Muzz. I tried to keep my head down, but I was in her cross hairs. Nyoo Yawk N. stopped me, pointed across the field, and then peppered me with questions like a wise guy in an old RKO gangster picture: "Are you parked over there? Are you going to your car? Do you know that woman in that car? Whose dog is that? Do you know what it did?"

I could feel only the blood pounding in my ears and the laboring of my breath. Instead of formulating answers to her questions, my eyes darted in search of an exit. I managed to stammer out answers, but they really were beside the point. NYN. had launched into a monologue about how the woman across the field had let her dog out of her car, and it proceeded first to terrorize NYN's own small dogs before it went out into the field and took a dump, which the woman did not pick up. NYN was offended in every possible way. She said, "And I waved my arms and yelled, 'Helloooo! Your dog is pooping over here,' but the woman didn't care! She just sat there in her car, and I think that is so wrong, people letting their dogs out while sitting in their cars. I mean it's just not a good thing, and the people who work here hate us because we let our dogs poop in the field without picking it up." She paused for the merest breath and then said, "So if you want to over there and talk to her about it, that would be a good idea."

I have become a deeply suspicious person in recent months. I trust no one, least of all NYN, and I kept waiting for the sucker punch. I kept expecting to hear the whistling of the anvil as it fell from the sky onto my head. And then the world tilted on its axis a little as I understood, "She doesn't remember who I am." And then came the realization that NYN was treating me as an ally. I was stunned, stupefied, but I saw my out. "Yes," I said firmly, clenching Muzzy's leash purposefully in my hand. "Yes, I will talk to her right now." I grabbed Muzzy and strode forward. As I walked away, NYN continued to appeal to me, "Because it's just not right. We need to keep this park clean for everyone."

What had just happened? Had I fallen into Bizarro world? Was I walking in Alternate Reality Dog Park? Had the world become a place where NYN makes sense? Where her bellowed entreaties to keep Texas beautiful actually fall on deaf ears? Where people ignore her without retribution? Where NYN will make an appeal to me, a lowly outcast, to set things straight?  I blinked, but the sky above me was still blue, and the cicadas still sang their songs in the grass.

I went back to my car, and on seeing the offending woman and her dog up close, I realized that I knew them slightly. The dog is a sweetheart—frisky but distant, and the woman, who was just now extricating herself from her front seat, has a bum hip or knee that forces her to rely on a cane to inch her way around the trail. I said good morning. We exchanged pleasantries, but I said nothing about the dog's poop. I had run out of bags myself and thought that I'd simply put things right later by picking up an extra load when I came back in the evening. It would be my own quiet form of justice.

As I put the car in reverse, I saw Nyoo Yawk N. approach the parking lot. She seemed to hang back and watch the other woman hobble into the Park with her dog. And I thought that NYN looked like one of those giant Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloons—only half deflated, with her big head drooping on the fabric stem of a neck, her mouth puckered and downturned, her arms not outstretched but sagging in what looked like defeat. Welcome to Bizarro World. I think I kind of like it. -z

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Old-New Routines



Every time I come back from a vacation, I vow to make regular life more vacation-like. So this week, Muzzy and I have been trying to have more adventures. Yesterday, we went with a longtime friend and fellow freelancer and her two small dogs to the Greenbelt. Muzzy did not swim, but she got plenty wet and afterwards, at a dog-friendly restaurant in South Austin, she remained in down position for the entire meal, despite frantic waitresses bearing trays laden with hot food and crazed kids pushing toy dump trucks around her. Well done, Muzzy! I could not have been more proud if she'd recited the Pledge of Allegiance from memory.

Today we went to Turkey Creek. News flash: The water is still running.

We'd gotten out of the habit of driving out to Turkey Creek, although it was a favorite spot. But the creek dried up even before the drought, and, without water, there's no point even going. Then one summer, I was sick. The next summer, Roma couldn't handle the full 2.5 mile loop or the triple digit temperatures. But Muzzy and I went out today, despite temps in the upper 90s. It was pretty swell.

We had the place to ourselves. The air was thick with the chhrrr chrrr of cicadas and the tang of cedar. Many of the trees are dead but still standing, creating a lacy canopy above our heads that filtered out the hot afternoon sun. The water was not as high as it was this spring, but it still bubbled and churned. And it felt cool and refreshing, not like the tepid bathwater at the Greenbelt. One thing I kind of love about Texas summer is how the temperature outside your skin can be nearly the same as on the inside. It's such a strange sensation to walk on hot, humid days, as if you are swimming through the air, air that is like an extension of yourself. We didn't do the whole loop. We wanted to pace ourselves. Next time, we'll go a little earlier in the day and make the whole loop. You are welcome to join us.

-z

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dogs from My Past


Meet Coffeecake. He was a redheaded dachshund beloved my mother. Lore has it that he was the runt of his litter, small enough to fit into my tiny mother's raincoat pocket in 1962 or so. He was a well established princeling by the time I came along several years later. Spoiled by my mother, Coffeecake hated my father. Not surprisingly, my father hated him back. (A WWII veteran who was the son of a WWI vet, my father had a thing about bossy Germans, including, or especially, those in his own mother's family.) I wasn't so keen on him either, but it seemed terribly important that I get him to like me. At best, he tolerated me. He climbed over me when I lay on the floor reading comics. He appeared in every birthday photo, usually with his "wurst" end facing the camera.

I used to toss him dry Cheerios from my bowl, as I stood in front of the television in the den, bouncing my knees to the music on the Jack LaLanne show. That seemed like a way to bond, until the time that I crawled under the sofa after him to proffer a piece of cereal. He bit me on the nose. He also bit my mother's friend, Marlene, on Christmas Day. In his defense, she had had several whiskey sours and was trying to smooch on him. I'd have bitten Marlene, too. She smelled like cats. He also bit my grandmother while she was babysitting me. The ambulance came. In all the drama, nobody remembered where I was. I watched everything from the kitchen doorway. This little episode did little to thaw the Cold-War-like relations between my grandmother and her only daughter-in-law. They didn't reach detente until well after the Berlin Wall came down.

Obviously, Coffeecake, despite his delicious name, was not a likable or sweet dog. In his later years, he was fat and ugly. Unfixed and covered in warts, he trotted around the house leaving behind an unmistakeable musky odor. One form of torture my brother and I perfected was to force each other's face into the dog's pillow, a green-tassled sofa cushion that was waxy and pungent from years of use. Ultimately, like many of my unpleasant relatives, he lived a very long time. He was fifteen or sixteen when he died while napping on a summer afternoon in the late 1970s. I remember only feeling sad for a matter of minutes. We had another dog, Sam, who was a big lug of a Labrador. My brother and I liked him much better than Coffeecake, even though he bit us, too. In both cases, we got yelled at for bothering the dog. No mollycoddlying for us. It's a wonder we survived.

-z

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fence Me In; Don't Tie Me Up


Over the July 4th weekend, I tried to stop occasionally and reflect on independence. I am grateful for the independence I enjoy every day. I've been an adult for a long time now (chronologically anyway) and still every day I am thrilled at the fact that I get to make my own choices, that I can drive a car wherever and whenever I want, that I can own my own home, and that I can work my own hours and at whatever jobs I choose to take. I don't have a husband, children, a boss, or a landlord. I am, however, enthralled to a dog. But even that's a choice, too, as you all know from your own experiences. So, I have a lot to celebrate.

So I was kind of intrigued when I heard on KUT news that a local woman was observing the holiday by chaining herself to a tree in a city park. Her point was to bring awareness to the plight of dogs that spend their entire lives chained to an object, something that is now illegal but still all too common in Austin.

The woman is Bobbie Oliver, and she is a retired Austin police commander. Her plan on the Fourth was to spend 17 hours chained to a tree in Garrison Park. She and about 80 other people around the nation were participating in a one-day event they were calling Chain Off. Here's what Oliver told KUT:
“I’m out here all day because I want to get a little taste of what it’s like to be on the end of a chain,” said Oliver. “And it’s just hard to understand unless you’ve felt the boredom and the complete powerlessness of it.”
The report mentioned that she had generated a little interest from people passing by. At least one person was concerned about her mental health and called the police. Others kept their distance. I was pretty impressed. My initial reaction to the kind of statement Ms. Oliver was making is to dismiss. I am liberal in my politics but suspicious of public protests, at least those that are not about crowds of people chanting and holding signs, where there is some safety and power in numbers. I am never quite convinced that stunts that involve chaining oneself to something are solely about drawing attention to a cause. But when a former officer of the law makes the commitment to do something that is so uncomfortable and also painful to contemplate, I had to rethink my stance. I hope others paid attention, too.

Which brings me to the local ordinance that is at the heart of Oliver's protest. A while back, I complained that I was not allowed to leash Muzzy outside my branch library. I thought that the problem was specific to the library, that dog-unfriendly people had complained, but no. The ordinance that is supposed to protect dogs from spending a lifetime chained to a car on blocks also prevents us from tying our dogs outside a building while we run in to get beer or a library book.

The ordinance was amended in June of 2007 to remove all language that once allowed unsupervised chaining of dogs in Austin. Here's Part 3, Section 3-4-2 (Restraint Requirements For Dogs on Private Property:
"(A) . . . a person may not restrain a dog with a chain or tether unless the person is holding the chain or tether." 
The following is shown as crossed out:
"(A person may not restrain a dog by a fixed point chain or tether for more than eight hours in a 24-hour day unless the chain or tether is at least 10 feet long, has swivels at each end, and is attached to a pulley or trolley mounted cable that is mounted no more than seven feet above ground level.)" 
Other parts of the ordinance outline the basic requirements for secure enclosure of a dog, none of which involves tethering or chaining. You can read the full text of the revised ordinance here.

Of course, this is a non-issue for readers of this blog, who spend hours of their day sweating and swatting mosquitos and gnats at Dog Park while their dogs romp freely (and, yes, illegally) in the burr-laden fields, but it is always important to remember that not every person or every dog gets to enjoy the independence he or she deserves.

Thanks for reading. -z

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Wonders of Modern Technology


Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I can now scan documents and photos. I am thrilled. No more taking flash-bleached photos of photos or documents and then downloading and cropping. Now, with the press of a single button, I can digitize pretty much anything that will fit face down on the scanner's flatbed. So exciting!

My new scanner is like a time machine. It lets me resurrect photos that have been stuffed in shoe boxes for more than a decade, and relive the moments in them. Now I can now digitally revisit my Roma artifacts—as well as preserve and share them on the Web. Roma, of course, was born long before the acceleration of the digital age (and she passed away six months ago this week). All the photos of her youth and middle-age were taken and printed the old fashioned way—on film and at the nearest drug store. So, I am pleased, very pleased, to be able to show folks (most of whom only knew her as an old dame) evidence of Roma in her prime.


But first, here is the health record that came with her from the Austin Humane Society. As you can see, she was originally called "Chardinet," pronounced Chardonnay. I don't think I ever realized before that her name was not spelled like the wine.



Here is Roma at age 2, in August, 1998. We had just moved to Iowa City, Iowa. (I can tell from the unforgivably ugly carpeting.) It was in Iowa that Roma discovered the joys of snow and winter, joys I did not share.


Here she is at age 3, at my parents' house in Pennsylvania for Christmas.  I had forgotten that she was pretty solid, almost voluptuous, in those days. Also, her right ear did that flop-down thing. The tip would jiggle cutely when she ran. For some reason, in her old age, both ears stood up properly. Her look of intent earnestness, however, never changed.


And here's my girl at age 7, cooling off at Bull Creek Park, her favorite place in Texas. We had just moved back to Austin after our stints in the Midwest and New England. Although Roma loved cold climes, I did not. I regretted bringing her back to Austin (in August, no less), but I missed my friends and Austin's laid-back vibe, good food, and (usually) mild winters.

My sketch of Roma at the top of this page is an artifact I unearthed recently in a box of old papers. Apparently, I drew it on the back of a print-out of a chapter from my ex-husband's dissertation. That fact helps me date it to 1996, the year that we adopted Roma. (She was the best birthday present ever.)  My rendering makes her look a little more coy and wide-eyed than she ever was. Gosh, I miss that dog.

Thanks for indulging my little dog walk down memory lane.
-z

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Crazy Guy Magnet


As you all know, I've had my (un)fair share of run-ins with Dog Park's Crazy Guy. Apparently, my ability to attract Crazy Guys is not limited by geography. At the end of my trip to Chicagoland, I had several unfortunate encounters with CGs. Two took place as I sat on a bench by Lake Michigan, enjoying this view and, as always, minding my own business.

I had been taking in the scenery and enjoying the lakeside breezes for about five minutes, when a group of fellow tourists passed by. They asked me to take their photo, which I was happy to do. I took the shot, returned the camera, and exchanged pleasantries. A moment after the group walked away, I heard a voice say, "Hey, you know what would have been really funny?" When I did not respond, the voice got louder and more insistent: "Hey, Camera Lady!"

The voice belonged to the guy sitting on the next bench over. A skinny dude, he had a baseball cap perched on his head and was missing several front teeth as well as his left leg from the knee down. My glance emboldened him. He continued, "It would've been really funny if you had grabbed their camera and run away, yelling, 'Thanks for the camera, losers! Welcome to Chicago! April Fools!'"

I nodded, "Uh, huh." Then I looked back at the water. Within seconds, another fellow lumbered along. To every person he passed, he gave this blessing: "Follow the yellow brick road." He even said it to the first crazy guy. I waited to see if some kind of reaction would occur—like when matter meets anti-matter. Would the clash of two CGs cause some kind of psychological black hole to form over Lake Michigan and threaten to swallow the entire city of Chicago?

Of course, nothing happened, but I did feel the need to talk to a professional. Fortunately, Bob Newhart was holding sessions nearby.


Be cool—in every sense of the word. -z

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Year of the Dog


One stop last week was Chicago's Chinatown for some delicious dim sum. Hmm, hmm. Yum. After stuffing ourselves, pals Maria and Alfonso and I took a stroll as a digestive aid. I saw the figure of the dog and started snapping photos even before I understood that all the animals of the Chinese horoscope were on display.


Just for the record, I was not lucky enough to have been born in the year of the dog. Neither were my own actual dogs. I do like this description of the "type," though. As you can see above, while loyal, dogs "have sharp tongues and do have the tendency to be fault finders." Also, I love the bit about Year of the Doggers being stubborn "when filled with righteous indignation." Perhaps my Roma was a YOD dog after all.


Just for the record, both Maria and I were born in the year of the Snake. Never mind what year, smarty pants. (We have already established that I am 6.3 years old in dog years. You do the math.) Snakes are smart and snarky and can be self-righteous pains. Also, we don't like criticism, so think twice before you send in that comment, 'k?
-z

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

President Lincoln's Dog


Last week, my pal Maria and I took a break from Chicagoland and headed downstate. We spent an afternoon in sunny Springfield, ground zero in the Land of Lincoln. The town doesn't have much personality, but it had a mysterious disorienting power over us. Despite the fact that downtown is probably smaller than Dog Park and uses a grid system, we could not, for either love or money, get our bearings. We headed off in the wrong direction every single time we consulted the map. It must have been the aura of greatness interfering with our navigational processes. Eventually, though, we did find our way to the Lincoln House, where Lincoln lived in for seventeen years, until he was elected President. 

Lincoln paid $1,500 for the house in 1842. That seems a lot of dough for a place with no running water. (Note: The privy was a three-holer.) Mary Lincoln decorated the place according to the Victorian principle of "harmony through contrast," which means that the carpets and upholstery were some crazy, mixed-up colors and patterns. Think plaids and houndstooth—chosen by someone with colorblindness, and you get the idea. On the bedroom walls, hung photographs of eminent politicians of the day. The tour guide explained that back in the mid-19th century, modesty was a valued virtue. It would have been prideful to show photographs of one's family on the walls. Instead, one hung images of people one admired. So no Elvis on velvet. 



As fascinating as real estate values and interior decor are, of course, what was of most interest to me was Mr. Lincoln's dog, Fido, "a yellow mixed breed." Whatever his mixings, he was obviously enormously patient. As you know, photographs weren't created with the snaps of a button back then. He would have had to sit very still for several minutes. Unless someone was dangling cheese in front of him, I don't know how he managed. Muzzy would never have lasted so long. Even when asleep, she flings herself around.


Fido's fate is unknown. He parted ways with the Lincolns after Abraham won the presidency in 1860. According to the National Park Service, Fido, despite his name—Latin for "I trust"—was given to a neighbor when Lincoln and his wife and sons left for Washington. Poor Fido. And they say in Washington, D.C. that if you want a friend, you should get a dog. I don't know what they say in Springfield, other than "D'oh!" or "Doughnuts: Is there anything they can't do?"
-z
The credit for the photo of the Lincoln House goes to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. The Fido inset at top and the bottom photo are from the Illinois State Historical Library. The middle one I filched from Amazon.com. Sorry.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bad Dog, Good Food

Hi, everyone. Muzzy is glad to be home. Me, not so much. Chicago in summer is pretty excellent. For one whole week, my friend Maria and I ate fantastic food, saw plenty of sites, drank plenty of drinks, and lived a carefree (read: dog free) life of hotels, cafes, museums, lake-side views, and breezy summer weather. That said, if a dog walked down the street, I would turn away from whatever architectural wonder I was gazing at so that I could dogle. (Note to self: Walking a dog in Chicago in summer is great; in winter probably not.)


Maria and I made a special trip to have lunch at the Bad Dog Tavern in the Lincoln Square section of town. On Fridays, salads are only $6! A bargain. And delicious. Also, dogs are always welcome. We saw a big friendly Lab there. He was not a bad dog at all. No begging. Even the dogs in Chicago have manners.


One of the things I forget, living in Austin, is that summer is the time when people elsewhere in the world eat outside. We ate al fresco at every opportunity. What a pleasure to eat a good meal while not being eaten by mosquitos or scorched by the sun. 


Here is Maria.


See you at the Park. -z

Friday, June 18, 2010

Out of the Office


Muzzy and I will be away from our desks for the next little while. We'll start posting again after the 27th. Stay well and (try to) stay cool. -z

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

They Flea From Me

This week's entries seems to have an animal-kingdom theme going, so I thought I'd keep it rolling with this item. I read about it at Dog Art Today. A full article can be read here, at the Web site for GoUpstate.com.


This is sculptor and artist Vivianne Lee Carey. Her latest installation, "Hair of the Dog," runs between now and June 26 at the Artists' Guild Gallery in lovely Spartanburg, South Carolina. Ms. Carey has spent a year studying real fleas and designing giant artificial ones from wire, metal, and tufts of dog hair.

According to the article, Carey's frustration with "pretty" art, along with the never-ending task of sweeping up shedded dog hair at home, led her to this latest creation. There are 56 giant flea sculptures included in the show, each with its own "personality." Ms. Carey has no reservations about her feelings for fleas. "I love them," she says. She mentions an anecdote in which an infestation of fleas saved a few Holocaust victims from being captured by Nazis. That's a great story, but I think the millions of Europeans, Asians, and North Africans who died horrific deaths caused by flea-transmitted plagues in the fourteenth through nineteenth centuries might beg to differ with Carey's assessment of the little buggers. Still, she agrees that ticks are pretty abhorrent.

Enjoy! -z
Photo credit: Tim Kimsey

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Frankie = Catfish?

Diane was deeply offended the other day when Johnny's cousin, who came to visit from the Valley, said that her dog Frankie looked like a catfish. To be fair, he was referring to a specific kind of catfish at the moment that it is caught, with its mouth open and gasping. What's more, Catfish Cousin explained, the resemblance was clear only when Frankie's ears were set back.

Readers, I leave it to you to decide.

Exhibit A: Frankie, in profile, ears back, mouth open (photo courtesy of Richard):


Exhibit B: "Texas catfish" (Image shamelessly pilfered from the Web)


Exhibit C: Blinkie (Image courtesy of The Simpsons)


Exhibit D:  Catfish, fried. (Image also shamelessly pilfered)


Is there really any question about which of these "catfish" would go best with a beer  you would want to snuggle with?
-z