Invasion of the Canines

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My bed, early morning:  sleeping with the enemy.

It began slowly, so slowly that we remained unaware for several days that they had already established a beach head. They pretended to be adorable creatures, uncomplicated beings who lived for simple pleasures.  They fooled us with their cuteness, their large eyes that drew us in and made us want to pet them, feed them, take them for walks.

2 out of 5 dog nests:  colonization has begun.

Before we knew it, our house was cluttered with their food and water bowls, their leashes, harnesses, medicine.  Pillows and sheets lay strewn on the floor in cool spots where they could lounge.  Our house began to seem more like their house as they competed with us for seats on the sofas, as they attempted to control entry and exit by barking at anyone approaching the door.

Our daily schedule shifted until we adopted their Circadian cycles.  I found myself taking them for walks at eleven o’clock at night, the time of day when I normally flip between reruns and the local news while dozing in my recliner.  I learned to look over my shoulder and step carefully while cooking, as the canines tended to hover near my feet waiting for morsels to drop.  Without quite knowing why, I began to give them slivers of cheese as they gazed hypnotically up from the kitchen tiles.  I felt pleasure as I watched them gobble up my offerings…I admit that my will is mostly compromised.

My wife is so far gone that she smiles when they attempt to muscle her out of her spot on the sofa.  One climbs in her lap, stands on its hind legs on her thighs, places its forepaws on her chest, and stares into her eyes.  Judy responds to his aggressive, I-won’t-take-no-for-an-answer approach by hugging  and petting him.

DSC_0355 (2) With Judy under their control, they turn their attention to me.

It will all be over in about a week.  The canines have arranged for our daughter to take them back to Miami, their base of operations.  But will their influence leave with them?  Late evening walks are cool and peaceful in our neighborhood.  I may continue them.  Sharing food, attention and living space with “innocent” creatures has begun to seem normal.  Dogs in my bed, burrowing under my blankets give me a sense of security as I fall asleep.

Where will it end?  Will I start to haunt pet stores and shelters?  Will I stare with envy as dogs parade their owners up and down my street?  Will I even feel a bit of affection for the pit bulls next door who look at me as if I’m a large slab of meat?

I’m like Donald Sutherland in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers:  another species is trying to take over my life.

 

 

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The Miami Pack

 

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Sedge and Shakes

The Book and the Traveler arrived at our house with their Miami pack in tow.  “Sedge” and “Shakes” surveyed us suspiciously, but the Book assured us that they’d be no problem at all.  Judy and I smiled and nodded…We had no choice.  The Book knew that she could count on us for favors, that we couldn’t say no.

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Sedge, the nervous one with searching eyes and the shrill bark of a killer, stared us down as if willing us to make a sudden move.  (We all knew how that would end.)  Shakes studied us carefully to search out our weak points.

Book and Traveler told us a few weeks back that they had to make a trip to Las Vegas to “make presentations at a conference”.  Who knew what they meant by presentations?  I didn’t ask them to describe the attendees.  It was better that I didn’t know.

I drove B and T to the airport and wondered what they had packed in a giant suitcase… Book’s modus operandi is to carry books wherever she goes.  Perhaps she had packed a few extra.  It’s part of her routine to build a fortified nest of texts before she “delivers a paper”.

T talked about distant countries during the drive, the habits of the native folk, the crowded conditions, poverty.  Perhaps his trip to Vegas was yet another scouting mission, but this time to assess the state of American life.  What did he plan to do with this information?

When I arrived home and turned the knob on my front door, a series of sonic disruptions tore through the air.  My eardrums ached as if they had been ruptured.  The intimidation had begun.  Sedge and Shakes had been on the look out, and they met me on the carpet inside the door.  Shakes pounced on my calves, and Sedge circled my ankles as if attempting to trip and take me down.  I stepped  back, and they dashed away.

I anticipated that they would attempt to establish their dominance inside my home.  My fears were confirmed immediately:  they leapt onto sofas in strategic positions and dared me to dislodge them.  They had the high ground.  I slunk to my recliner in defeat and tentatively sat down.  They stared at me, and Sedge yipped once.  Shakes yawned and casually bared his teeth.

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I retreated to the kitchen a few minutes later to put on a roast, and when I returned I saw them lolling on their cushions fast asleep.  They knew that their campaign of  territorial conquest had been successful and that no further effort was necessary.  I skulked away to my bedroom and met Judy in the hall.  She seemed unusually cheerful and reported that our two “guests” had been good company.  Stockholm syndrome:  the first signs.

I avoided Sedge and Shakes for the next hour or two, but an odd sound pulled me out of my room.  Shakes sat in his spot on the sofa and fixed me with a burning look of subdued aggression.  He barked once in a commanding tone.   Judy said, “They want to take you out for…a walk.

I gulped and reached for the leash.  I thought of the scene in The Godfather where three mobsters drive to a remote spot, and two execute the third.  “Leave the gun and take the cannoli,” I thought as I stuffed a plastic pooper bag in my pocket.  Maybe I’d return with a dog deposit.  Maybe I’d not return at all.

They pulled me to a drainage canal and nonchalantly urinated on bushes and random muddy spots.  They tried to chase a squirrel, a lizard, two egrets.  A gentle breeze blew, and I relaxed.  Maybe this was a just a walk after all.  But Sedge suddenly turned toward me and growled.  Shakes took a position on my left flank and waited with a quivering left haunch.  What did they want from me?

I knelt down and patted Sedge on the head, and he licked my hand.  Shakes wagged his tail when I scratched his chest.  I paid my tribute to them, and they accepted me into their pack.  I was a made dog.

Shakes squatted and squeezed out a log.  I picked it up with my plastic bag.  I said, “Good dog,” and they pulled me home.

 

 

Napping Out of Control

Ed woke up from a nap, yawned and stretched, sat up straight on the sofa.  He asked me, “What time is it?”  I said, “Three,” and he replied, “That late?!  I’ve been napping out of control!”

Judy described Pine, Colorado, the little town near her brother’s house in the Rocky Mountain foothills.  She said, “There’s the Bucksnort Tavern, and there’s a drive by library.”  My eyes widened, and then we laughed.  I pantomimed a murderous librarian idling along a curb while slinging hard backs at cringing pedestrians.  Judy went on to explain that the library was a box on the side of a building.  Books could be borrowed or returned according to whim.

When my daughter Annie was a toddler she suffered from food allergies, and we had to carefully monitor her diet.  One thing she could have was granola.  When snack time came midafternoon, we sometimes said, “You can have half a granola bar.”  When we asked her one day what she wanted (peaches were another option), she called out, “Half!”

One day I sat writing bills, grumbling as I balanced the check book.  My water bill was high.  The city of Casselberry had taken over our service a two decades before, and still charged our neighborhood an exorbitant rate.  Annie (now a twenty year old) asked me what I was doing.  I said, “Just writing a check for the Castle of Shitzelberry.”

I recently read a feature about how airline attendants punish surly flights of passengers.  Changes in altitude apparently cause an intestinal upwelling of gas, and our friends in the sky walk up and down the aisle near the end of a flight to “dust the crops”.

Jack worked in the kitchen at a pizza restaurant with me, and when he wanted to go home early he would begin to sing loudly enough for the diners to hear.  He chose Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” one night, but substituted his own version of the lyrics.  The song became, “Another one bites the crust, another one bites the crust.  Hey, it’s gonna get to you!  Another one bites the crust!”  That got Zukavecki the night manager to come running.  Zukavecki told Jack to keep it down and that he had to finish his shift.  Jack waited until the manager left the kitchen, and then belted out another Queen song:  “Bohemian Rhapsody”.   He focused on the “let me go” section singing, “Zukavecki let me go, Let me go, Zukavecki let me go, He will not let me go,  Let me go go gooooo.  Bee–ell–zuh–bub’s got a devil for a son in me, in ME.”  Zukavecki let him go.

Sometimes when I’ve completed a job I announce, “It is Swedished.”  My kids know better than to ask me what I mean by that.  If they do I say, “Why should the Finns get all the credit?”

Close Encounters of the Arachnid Kind

I glanced sideways as I drove my car to work this morning and saw a spider the size of my thumbnail swinging on a thread.  His silk must have been attached to the ceiling as he swooped back and forth like Tarzan at my eye level.  I waved my hand at him, blew him away from me and saw him land on the top edge of the passenger side door, whence he disappeared.

That set me on edge once again.  Earlier in the morning a wolf spider landed in the shower a few feet away from me as I sat on the toilet.  I had just stumbled out of bed, so his sudden appearance (and initial charge in my direction) startled me.  Wolf spiders can get huge, have long legs, and move very fast.   This one was double the size of a fifty cent piece and covered a yard in half a second. I threw a roll of paper towels at him as he crouched and glowered at me.  I made contact, but Captain Arachnid sped off to a corner of the shower.  I tried once again, failed, and the spider ran into the curtains and hid.  I scrunched the folds together, but couldn’t spot him.  I searched around the toilet, the curtain, the floor of the shower, but finally found him huddled in a corner formed by the bathroom wall and the outer edge of the shower.  I threw a shoe at him and missed, but he didn’t bother to move. He was either exhausted or wounded.  I delivered the coup de grace (juicy and sickening crunch) by pressing down with a piece of paper towel.

My wife and I had watched a PBS science show about memory the evening before.  A psychiatrist in London had figured out a way to disrupt memory reformation in order to cure phobias.  She frequently treated a fear of spiders and took patients to a room with a terrarium holding a tarantula.  Their eyes widened as they confronted the furry beast, and they nearly backed out of the room when the shrink suggested that they touch the edge of the glass.  After they managed to do her bidding, she took them out and gave them a drug that inhibited memory reformation.  The disruption somehow shifted their attitudes toward spiders, and the psychiatrist soon had them petting tarantulas and cooing to them as if they were pets.

I told my wife about the spider after I fled the bathroom and said, “Remember that show last night?  I think I need therapy!  Where’s that drug?!”

Timeline:  see a show about arachnophobia; wolf spider adrenaline fest the next morning; spider swinging at my eye level in an enclosed space an hour later.  Are the gods sending me a message?   Have I offended in some way?  And is it time for me to build an altar, install a spider statue, and offer burnt sacrifices?

Please advise.

A Sense of Humor Helps

There are many ways to judge whether a relationship might work. Sharing or at least tolerating each other’s sense of humor is one. When my wife and I dated I sometimes cooked a meal for us, and one night Judy held up her plate with a pathetic orphan look on her face and said, “Please, sir, may I have more?” My eyes popped wide as I recognized a speech from Oliver Twist. My previous girlfriend had thought that Steven King novels were the height of literature, and Judy quoted Dickens. My heart leapt with joy.

I had first studied biology in college, and Judy was in the process of earning her Ph.D. in plant physiology when we met and married. On our honeymoon in Maine we climbed to the top of a mountain in Acadia National Forest. A cold breeze blew as we stood on a rocky plateau at the top, and a thick fog surrounded us on all sides. She pulled a sweatshirt out of her backpack, and her head got stuck inside as she attempted to push her arms through the sleeves. She stood with her arms waving over what appeared to be a headless torso and I said, “My wife, the hydra.” She started laughing, and it took her a bit longer to emerge.

When Judy got pregnant with our first child we went to an OB/GYN group in State College. We saw four doctors on a round robin basis, and some could be gruff and rude. Judy appreciated it when I nicknamed a sixty year old man, a former army doctor, who kept advising Judy to watch her weight. His name was Wengrovitz, but we privately referred to him as Vinegar Tits. Dr. Mebbane gave us stern lectures at odd moments, and we hoped that he wouldn’t be on call when it came time for the delivery. We held up our arms in crosses as if warding off a vampire when we discussed him and called out, “Med Bane” in hopes of repelling him.

I rewrite lyrics to pop songs, and sometimes sing my version of Joe Cocker’s, “You Are So Beautiful, To Me” in the morning while making breakfast.  Original version:  “You are so beautiful, to me.  You’re everything I’ve ever hoped for.  You’re everything I need.  You are so beautiful, to me.”  My version: “You look available, to me. You are everything I’d ever settle for. You’re the only woman I see. You look available…to me.” Judy doesn’t take offense but comments on how romantic I’ve become over our years together.

We got new flip phones a few months ago. Sometimes my phone emits rapid bursts of beeps when I walk with it in a pants pocket, and it woke me up one night with a beep and flash of light as it rested on my bureau. Judy took it from me when it sounded off during a meal and searched through the menu. I asked her to look for a “random bullshit” button that she could turn off. She went through a bunch of applications, but didn’t find anything that might help. She handed it back and drily said, “Sorry, they don’t list ‘random bullshit’ anywhere.”

 

My Wife Doesn’t Support the Arts

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It all started with her African violets.  Judy asked me to watch over them while she went away for a few days to a plant physiology conference.  I put them in my bedroom, admired the round forms of their leaves, and decided to do a series of charcoal drawings.  The series went well as I recorded the gradual descent of the stems, the drooping and dropping of the leaves.  When she returned I showed her the drawings before I returned her plants, and I waited for her to praise how closely I watched over them, how I put all my powers of observation into making a faithful record.  Instead she cried, “You didn’t water them!  They’re half dead!”  Her outburst shocked me.  How could she not understand that true art is about the cycle of life and death, the drama of mortality?  Her plants may have given up their lives, but they had made a worthy sacrifice for Art.

I decided to ignore her odd sense of priorities and married her, but the early days of cohabitation were fraught with tension.  Judy objected one day when she found me in the kitchen mixing painting solutions (varnish, stand oil, paint thinner) at the dining table.  She exclaimed, “We eat there!”  “Of course we do,” I replied.  “Are you saying that a table has only one function?”  She couldn’t find an adequate response to my query, but I agreed to mix my painting media on the back steps.  I thought, “This is how it starts.”

A few months later she asked me where the hammer was.  She’d rummaged through the tool chest and the drawers in the kitchen and couldn’t find it.  I said, “I’m using it in a still life.  Don’t touch it.  I’ll be done with it in a month or two.”  She shook her head in disbelief and failed to comment on my innovative use of nontraditional subject matter in a genre filled to overflowing with fruit ‘n flower paintings.  I began to wonder if I’d married badly.

DSC_0260 (2)Cat and Hammer, Oil/Canvas, 1985

Three years later she forced me to shut down my studio in a spare bedroom in our duplex apartment in State College.  I had to relocate to a cold and drafty basement and work wearing a coat during the winter months.  At the time of my banishment Judy was seven months pregnant and refused to listen to my objections.  She said, “We have to get the baby’s room ready now.”  I began to suspect that she placed more importance on family than on Culture. So bourgeois.

And then one day about six months later, she came down to the basement with a load of laundry on one arm and our daughter on the other.  I thoughtfully interrupted an intense painting session to warn her to not step on a tube of oil paint that I had left, for a no longer recalled strategic purpose, on the floor drain in front of the washer.  I gathered from the pained look she gave me that she thought that I should quit working and move the tube.  I gallantly ignored her unreasonable expectations and began to rework a difficult passage that I’d been struggling with for days.  (The demands my paintings made on me often left me exhausted and mentally battered, but I had become used to making sacrifices.)  I barely noticed when she slammed the lid to the washer and retreated with baby back up the basement stairs–stomp, stomp, stomp.  “Some people,” I thought, “have it so easy.”

This morning I set up my French folding easel in my bathroom and began a palette knife self-portrait.  I spent an hour or two.  Judy wondered what kept me out of sight for so long, and I asked her if she’d like to see how I had managed to turn yet another room into a studio.  She stared at my work arrangement and the newly begun painting, but instead of expressing wonder at my ingenuity she said, “I guess this means that you’ll be using my bathroom a lot.”

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My wife.  The muse.