Saturday, June 12, 2010

Under Construction

The construction along Bull Creek Road has been nothing but a big pain in the neck. First, we put up with two years of construction mess while the new fancy apartment complex got built. (Every day, a mattress delivery truck double parks outside, gumming up the turn into dog park.) Now we have the annex to the Westminster Manor going up. (My old man always used to add an extra syllable to Westminster--"Westminister.") I stupidly tried to ride my bike down Bull Creek the day that the City of Austin was digging up the water pipes, too. I was going to get a mammogram, but I needed a defibrillator by the time I had navigated around flaggers and tar trucks and dump trucks and taco vans. I know, I know. Central Austin is a desirable piece of, um, real estate. Fine, fine, and fine. I just hope I live long enough and well enough so that one day I can retire and move into Westminster myself. (Do they take dogs?)

Still, I have to admit that while I hate driving on the same roads as big rigs that deliver gravel or pull land-moving machinery on double-wide platforms, I think construction machinery is cool. I have always wished there were an amusement park for grown-ups where we could don hard hats and then use backhoes and bull dozers and jack hammers. You know, push dirt around and smash stuff up. (I did drive a tractor once in West Texas. It was a small one. I got caught on the gate post a couple of times but managed to drive across a field without tipping over or stalling out. I could have walked in the time it took, and I did not get to cut wheat or plow a field or listen to AM radio.)

I am not alone in this fascination. When I went to Portland a couple of years ago, the city set up bleachers around a major construction site in downtown. Hundreds of people (mostly guys, but also some gals), sat and ate their lunches while men in hard hats dug a big hole in the ground. It was fascinating. And when I was in Berlin in the late 90s and it was under serious reconstruction after the end of the Cold War, the cranes were actually programmed to do a little choreographed dance at night. The Germans can be so creative.

What could we do to make this construction site more palatable and less intrusive? Could we wrap it in pink plastic (a la Christo)? (Of course, in this town, the plastic wrap would have to be burnt orange.) Hmm. I guess as long as all the construction stays on the west side of Bull Creek Road, that will have to be enough.

Ta. -z

Friday, June 11, 2010

Survey Says

Okay, so a lot of people have been commenting on (and fretting about) these surveyor markers that have appeared along the east side of the "Dog Park." In fact, speculation has not been limited to on-site Parkers; one source tells me that the topic was raised earlier this week on the local radio station KLBJ. (I tried to research this, dear readers, but the fact is that I don't get paid enough to listen to a slew of podcasts of morning shock jocks, even for the sake of factual accuracy and blog dish.) I am not sure what to think about about the fact that listeners to a show on a station whose Web site provides links to Rush Limbaugh know and care about our "park." My source also says that people on the show were outraged by the possibility that the surveyor stakes might mean our precious land may be turned into a commercially developed parcel. The usual nightmare scenarios were discussed--parking lots, grocery stores, condominiums. (My dear old dad used to call those "condoms." Snork.) As you might expect, a form of populist rage erupted, and people called in to say that they wanted to go right out to "the dog park" and tear up those posts. Power to the (unorganized but rage-filled) people, but do you have to publicize our "dog park" on the (AM) radio?

As you can see, a few days later, the posts were still there. Plus, I have seen no evidence of hordes of angry Tea Party members or Libertarians trampling our fields. (Unless they are driving the lawnmowers.) Which is a relief. I'd like to mention, too, that another source, whom I trust highly, told me that the posts have been used by TXDoT employees practicing their surveying skills. My eyewitness says that she saw a group of folks out in the fields a couple of weeks ago with their measuring devices lining up the poles. Pshew. But I understand the momentary panic.

We are all on edge. Last night, at dark, a few of us stragglers nearly had heart attacks as a small SUV with the city logo pulled into the south parking lot. Everybody scrambled to find leashes. I flung Muzzy into the car. But the folks who pulled in actually worked for Victim Services. They had only stopped by for their scheduled break. In fact, they were meeting someone with dogs, and, while waiting, one came over to pet ours. Still, my heart was pounding. I am going on vacation in nine (9) days. For one (1) week. Far away. As much as I will miss all of you and all of this, I kind of need to get away.

Finally: Remember that Friday night is now "beer nite" at "Dog Park." Johnny and Michelle have been regularly bringing and generously sharing brewskis (and also providing much welcome seating on the backs of their white pick-up trucks). Thanks, guys!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Small Price to Pay?

According to a recent poll taken by the Associated Press and, more and more Americans are concerned about their ability to pay vet bills. In addition, many are lowering the dollar amount at which they draw the line for providing medical care for their pets. Apparently 40 percent of pet owners are now worried that they won't be able to afford vet bills, and more than a third thought that $500 was too much to pay. If the bills climbed higher—to say, $1000—fewer than half thought that they would agree to treatment. (You can read my source, the Well blog at NYTimes online, here.)

As always, I was a little shocked by the bald economics of pet ownership. I remember once dropping Roma off at a kennel in the Midwest and having to fill out a form that stipulated the amount of money at which any treatment should stop, in case of an emergency. I didn't understand what the kennel owner wanted to know. How much is too much? Is there such a number? I think I must have written $5,000.

Of course, that was during the high-flying 1990s. I was making good money then and had a fallback—a working spouse. Money is much tighter now, but, still, I was unnerved by the $500 cap that people were talking about in the survey. $500? I spent that much on annual examinations and heart worm preventatives for two dogs last fall. In fact, last fall, winter, and early spring, I easily spent that much per month on various ailments and treatments for messed up paws, tummies, teeth, and, of course, Roma's decline and fall. I felt lucky to get out of the vet's office with a bill under $200. I never had one less than $100. My last bill was for regular maintenance--$110 for flea preventative, a necessary evil in this part of the world. I steel myself each time the tech tells me the amount, but I've seen other pet owners with less self-control wince and suck in their breath. One guy screamed with indignation about being charged twice for a particular blood test. The tech made the mistake of trying to reason with him, which only made him madder.

What can we do? Well, part of the problem is that we live in Austin, where vet care is almost universally exorbitant. Some folks I know go to great lengths to take their pets out of town. A couple used to drive to San Marcos for their pets' non-emergency needs. Another took her dog to Oklahoma for dental work. I won't tell you how little it cost. (You won't believe me. I've spent more on a haircut.) I've tried to take a more pragmatic approach lately. I look Muzz over carefully and decide if we can solve the problem ourselves, using resources at hand—diet and a boatload of meds left from Roma's various treatments. For example, the last time Muzzy had paw issues, we started a regime that included pain meds and anti-inflammatories and reduced activity. She got better in a week. I rely more on online resources and my pet medical manual, too. I nearly freaked a couple of weeks ago when I noticed a spot of blood while scooping up after Muzzy. The Web and the manual told me to calm down. She'd probably eaten too many sticks. (Always true.) I added probiotics and fiber to her food and tried to discourage stick eating. Also, I waited to see if there was a pattern to the spotting. Fortunately, the problem has not come back. Still, if something came up that I couldn't handle, I would not think twice about taking Muzzy in. That's what credit cards are for.

A lot of the Well blog readers left comments that disagreed with the findings of the survey. Most said, as you might expect, that dogs and cats were family members deserving of medical care and maintenance just like a kid or a granny, and that they would not put a price on it. They'd skip a vacation or eating out. One, though, dared to go against the grain. He/she said that any pet care spending over $100 was "morally depraved." (He/she didn't raise the spectre of starving children in Africa, but it was implied.) Someone promptly responded, saying that if spending more than $100 on "anything you find enjoyable," then most Americans were guilty of it. Here's to moral depravity, then, one vet bill at a time.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Civil Dog

Last week, I ran across two articles on the online New York Times. One was an entry to Schott's Vocab and the other was a Well blog entry about how marriages would benefit if people treated their significant others to as much affection and forgiveness as they give their dogs.

Schott's neologism of the day was civilogue, "a civilized dialogue in which those in disagreement refrain from stooping to insults or knee-jerk generalizations." The word comes from a column posted online by a political writer named Jeffry Weiss, who thinks it is time to civilize the rhetoric all along the political spectrum, bringing it back to a more respectful and tolerant discourse. He recommends being polite, being kind, and being considerate when countering the politically incorrect blunders of others.

This is a wonderful idea--in theory. I don't know much about politeness. I'm from New Jersey, from a family with barely concealed working class roots, so I was not reared with much politeness, kindness, or consideration on parade. The few social graces that I have mastered are the product of living for twenty years in the South among kind and considerate people who were taught by grannies in white gloves to sit up straight and say "Thank you, ma'am" and "Yes, please" even when they'd rather not eat another piece of pie. The flaw in the system, though, is that everybody has to participate, or things fall apart. By that I mean, I have found that politeness and kindness do not work when the person you are dealing with—for example, Crazy Guy, or the guy who got in my face and screamed at me until the veins popped on his forehead because Muzzy chased his tiny dog—are not interested in civil dialogue but in venting their rage at a stranger, particularly a small, female one. I know that I provoked Crazy Guy to race after me on his motorcycle because I told him to eff off. ("Young lady, if you ever use language like that with me again, why I'll . . ." hop on my motorbike and call the police on you, apparently.)  Yet, I know that there have been folks at the Park who have tried politeness and reasoning with him to no avail. (I did capitulate to the Screaming Guy. I told him I was sorry and that I respected his feelings, but I had to do so at the top of my lungs, which kind of made it sound hostile, which it kind of was. I have never seen guy since.)

My response to all the hostility that I keep running up against at Dog Park (Rich, don't ever call me a bitch again. No one should have to touch your dog's slimy tennis ball), in the neighborhood, at the grocery store (Please, just run me over, Mr. BMW. I know that your business is so much more important than my safety as a pedestrian), on the road, and even online is simply to be prepared to fight fire with fire. Every potential encounter now is fraught with tension. A neighbor I've never talked to in seven years approaches me while I'm walking Muzzy, and I tense for a rebuke about dog pee on her lawn. Instead, she kindly asks what happened to Roma. I feel relieved. Also like a jerk. But I can't let my guard down. Because the next person I meet may come at me with guns blazing. Poor Muzzy. She is so used to these encounters now that she just sits--politely--and waits for the screaming to stop.

Oops. There's no time to write about the second article. I'll do that another day. Here's my attempt at civility for the day: Thank you for reading, as always. I hope that you have only polite and considerate encounters today.