A Dog’s Night Journey into Day

My daughter and her family are moving to Orlando for the summer. Her husband, Bryant, drove a U-Haul up from Miami yesterday evening to drop off the first load. He brought along two dogs and left them with us.

Sedgewick and Shakespeare had spent most of the day in a bedroom. Annie and Bryant wanted to keep them out of the way during packing and loading operations. The trip from Miami to Orlando took around five hours. The cooped up dogs arrived at 11:30 in an anxious and unusually energetic state.

Bryant left quickly to find his air-b-n-b. He didn’t wish to possibly expose me to a South Florida dose of corona. He felt fine, but during the last few days he’d been interacting in Miami with folks at a U-Haul dealership, with movers, and with used car salesmen. His sudden departure from my house left the dogs feeling disoriented. They didn’t have time to get acclimated to their new digs in the company of their master.

The two ventured twice into our backyard to relieve themselves, sniff and explore. I sat with and petted them to offer a friendly welcome. I even invited them to join me in bed. But instead of settling down for the night, they stood on the carpet near the front door and whined. They appeared to be summoning Bryant’s return with high-pitched pleas.

Judy woke up and joined us. She offered greetings but failed to reassure them. We eventually herded them into my bedroom. I lay down. Judy shut the door behind them. I managed to fall asleep around 1 a.m. The agitated movement of two dogs in my bed woke me at four. Their harnesses jangled as they turned in nervous circles. I tried to ignore them but eventually turned on a light. I recognized Shakespeare’s intent gaze as his signal that a walk was required. I muttered, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Ten minutes later, I sat on the porch trying to retie my shoe while holding them back from bolting into darkness. I led them on a leash down the cross street nearest my house. They marked territory with abandon, set off a motion-detector light, and woke up a large dog. It took offense to interlopers rambling near its domain. I quickly turned and dragged my charges home. Baying accompanied us along the way. (Sorry, neighbors.)

The two finally settled down after we returned. I managed to fall back to sleep. Then a neighbor started his car motor. (He leaves for work at 5:30.) Shakespeare and Sedgewick kicked into watchdog mode, rushed to the front door carpet, and howled at the receding noise of the man’s car driving away.

The racket went on and on. Shakespeare eventually gave up and settled down on a sofa. Sedgewick continued to bark and whine. I finally coaxed Sedgewick to come back to my bedroom. I plopped him on my bed and crawled under the covers. He stirred and continued to whine.

I considered the possibility that three hours of sleep would be all I’d get for the night. I decided to meditate to ease my frustration. I sat on my bed with a pillow behind my back, closed my eyes, and began to follow my breath. As my mind calmed, so did Sedgewick. He curled in front of me on the bed and laid down his head. After twenty minutes, we both drowsed. We slept till morning.

Postscript: the next four days went more smoothly. We took two walks a day. They properly barked up delivery men who ventured onto the porch. They claimed habitual sitting sites on the sofas. They protected the yard from dogs fenced inside the neighbor’s yard. Sedgewick slept calmly through the night. Shakespeare offered companionship to Judy as she listened to audiobooks.

Annie, Bryant, and baby Ava came by on Monday morning to retrieve the dogs. Shakespeare gave Ava a lick on the cheek after he joined her in the car. Neither dog gave us a glance as their true owners’ car backed down the driveway.

Home

We said goodbye last night to Annie, Bryant and baby Ava. They were gracious hosts under trying conditions (Annie is finishing her doctoral thesis; the virus news is all bad.). Ava, at five pushing six months, is clear-eyed and curious about the world around her. She registers complaints but can be soothed easily once the discomfort is understood. She looks you straight in the eye with innocent acceptance and wonder. She’s trying to figure out who all these people and dogs are, what they do. She smiles frequently but only laughs when an unexpected delight tickles her.

Judy and I went to a nearby park and nature preserve a few days before we left. A meandering path wandered between stands of scrub trees, reeds, cattails and weeds. A round, red, metal navigational buoy flung inland by Hurricane Irma (?) rested at the base of a stand of trees. A lake could be glimpsed but not approached. Impenetrable thickets blocked the way, but a sign emblazoned with the image of a bull gator still warned visitors to avoid feeding wild animals.

Our stay at the air-b-n-b smoothed out. The bangs and loud voices that disturbed us the first night intruded occasionally, but no repeats of the neighbor woman’s highly operatic moment occurred. Traffic noise woke me up each morning at 6. The house still seemed sterile and institutional at the end of the visit. But time spent there didn’t dampen my spirits more than a stay at a cheap motel would have.

We pulled into our driveway at 3 this afternoon. The garbage in the trash can out front stunk; the interior (sans air conditioning for the last four days) carried an unusual funk. Dust and clutter left behind still reminded me that a good house-scrubbing is in order. But the plants in the back yard and the paintings on the walls greeted us as familiar friends. We felt relieved to have our privacy back, happy to be home.

Air B-N-Bwhat???

Judy and I drove to Miami to visit our daughter’s family a few days ago. We rented an air-b-n-b in Cutler Bay. The house had recently been opened by the owner for business and had an unfinished look to it. Bare, white-painted walls gave the rooms an institutional feeling. A narrow breakfast nook off the kitchen featured a long counter, two stools and no windows. Three doors, two at the end of a hall, one leading from the nook to the garage, sported warning signs. They read: Private–No Trespassing. We assumed that the owner used the rooms for storage, or that she hadn’t managed to remodel them yet.

We sat, while recovering from the five-hour trip, in a living room spartanly furnished with a floor lamp, a lumpy futon and a big screen TV. I heard distant banging noises as if someone had slammed cupboard doors shut. The muffled sounds could have come from inside the house or just next door. Was the landlady at work on one of the unfinished rooms? Judy went outside to investigate.

She came back a few minutes later to tell me that a young woman had rented the other end of the house. Judy came upon her as she bent over a text book. Spring Study Break? The two doors at the end of the hall lead to a separate apartment. Who knew? The owner had mentioned on the website that she had another apartment, but we hadn’t realized that its location coincided with ours.

We drove in the dark after supper to see Annie, Bryant and baby Ava. We came home around 8 and began to settle down for a quiet evening. I turned on a movie, but we didn’t get far into the plot. We heard a loud woman’s voice echoing down the hall from the No Trespassing rooms. The distraught, angry tones rose and fell. A man’s spoke evenly, quietly attempting to calm her down. He didn’t succeed. The intensity kept rising as the young woman yelled loudly, shrilly about the man’s shortcomings. (Most of the words were unintelligible, but the topic and target of complaint were unmistakable.) At one point, we heard her keen in a tone reminiscent of pinched air rushing out of a balloon. The keening noise appeared to shift from one location to another, the sound fading gradually then growing louder again.

I asked Judy if she knew the address of our rental in case I had to call the cops. Judy advised me to bang on their door and say, “Is everything all right?” if sounds of physical violence began. We continued to listen carefully and heard fists banging in frustration on a table (?). No cries of pain or thuds or smacks followed. The man continued to speak in a low, calm voice.

I went to use the bathroom located a few yards from the forbidden doors and heard the woman screech, “Every time we go somewhere, you do something horrible! I feel…terrible!”

The argument continued but gradually faltered. Judy and I had wondered if we would get any sleep that night, but quiet eventually reigned at the other end of the house.

The next day all seemed well with our highly dramatic neighbors. A few cupboard doors slammed. The woman spoke sharply but briefly. We heard cutlery scraping plates as they ate their lunch. A cooking odor passed beneath the one inch gaps between the bottom edges of the forbidden doors and the floor. Fried fish.

January is the New April

Mom wrote last week to report 60 degree temps in southwest Ohio. We played spring baseball in 60-degree weather when I was a kid. Times and weather patterns have changed: January is the new April.

Back when, the coldest days of the year in the Midwest clustered in mid January. 20-below temperatures persisted for two weeks in 1977. When a February mini-thaw arrived that year, folks basked in the relatively balmy, just-above-freezing weather. I also remember a January day in a mountain valley in Pennsylvania where college kids strolled around campus in shorts and t-shirts. The mercury read 36 degrees.

We had several harsh winters when I was an undergrad at the University of Dayton. One of my friends, a fellow biology student, spent his early years in sub-arctic Minnesota. He kept his thermostat set at 50 degrees and didn’t mind when frost formed on the floor beneath drafty windows. One particularly frigid night, he noticed my running nose and shivers as I huddled in a winter coat on his sofa. He took pity and offered some advice: he told me to shed my coat and stand outside on his porch. He said, “You’ll feel nice and warm once you come back in.” I didn’t follow his instructions but chose to go home where I sat near a register and sipped hot chocolate.

This same friend suffered the tortures of the damned during the summer. He worked in a factory with no air-conditioning. The most relief he could summon at home came from sitting in front of a floor fan. I felt tempted, when he chafed and moaned about steamy Dayton summers, to tell him to go stand out in the full sun until he felt faint. He’d feel much cooler when he came back inside.

This week, the Canadian Arctic reclaimed its normal dominance by sending waves of frigid air south. Miami had a low of 43 degrees this morning. Comatose iguanas fell from trees creating cold-lizard precipitation, a weather phenomenon occurring only in south Florida. Our temps in Orlando flipped from an 80-degree-high/60-degree-low to a 52/38 split. A blustery wind whipped by at 20 m.p.h. further chilling cold-averse central Floridians.

Judy and I drove to the grocery store this morning. Wind shuddered the car and sent plastic grocery bags and bits of paper (trash day in a neighborhood lacking in garbage can lids) drifting by like the jetsam in the tornado scene from “The Wizard of Oz”. I saw Judy shivering in the seat next to me, her arms wrapped tightly around her chest. I took pity and thoughtfully echoed my college friend: I told her that when we lived in the frozen north, we’d consider a day like this a lovely spring day. I implied that temperature is a relative experience. Her discomfort was all in her head.

She didn’t agree. She turned the car heater to full red.

Trip to Miami (The Photo-bomber Strikes)

West 176th Street, Miami

Judy and I travelled to Miami during my Thanksgiving break to visit the Everglades, say “hey” to my daughter and son-in-law, pet the dogs.

Judy with Sedgewick and Shakespeare.

Bryant made a brine-soaked turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade cranberry sauce, and roasted green beans. I ate two servings. A small factor interrupted the meal intermittently, but we shared a companionable time. We talked about life in Miami, Annie and Bryant’s workload, their progress in finishing their degrees, job searches.

Time for treats.

Judy and I drove an hour through Homestead and Florida City the next day to the Everglades National Park. Saw two gators, egrets, herons, anhinga, gars and blue gills. Lots of happy, nature-loving Japanese tourists crowded the boardwalks. A warm wind blew across sawgrass, pond apples and cypress domes.

We got together in the evening at our place with Annie and Bryant and the small factor (our air b-n-b didn’t allow dogs). We ate left overs, talked about music, American history, politics, movies.

Today we stopped for brunch before heading home. Bryant served us turkey noodle soup. We got to pet the dogs one more time. Took a lot of pictures before we left.

The small factor photo-bombed shamelessly.

Ava (two months old) attracting the photographer’s attention by smacking rattles.
Ava making a sudden appearance in a portrait of Judy.
Photo-bomber acting nonchalant: “How did I get here?”

We picked her up, walked and played with her for extended periods of time. We didn’t intend to let her bend us to her will but couldn’t help ourselves.

Ava directing the camera angle for the shot. Mom and Dad acting as background props.

She already had her mother and father in her power before we arrived.

Gramps and Gram Visit for the First Time

Annie and Ava
Bryant and Ava having “tummy time”. Sedgewick pondering the changed state of affairs.

Driving to Miami is no one’s idea of a picnic, but Judy and I had a strong motivation to make the five hour trip from Orlando. We wanted to hold Ava, our first grandchild.

I had a two-day gap in my schedule this week, so we loaded up the car and took off this Thursday. The turnpike holds a few mysteries for the uninitiated. Some stretches are covered by photo plate reading, and others require tickets. Some entrances are clearly marked. Others, especially at the jumbled service plazas, inspire puzzlement. Some exits only properly service cars with transponders. Folks bearing paper tickets must travel on to other exits, visit towns they had no intention of visiting, and double back. Traffic gets progressively more cutthroat once one travels south of Palm Beach. Construction zones multiply.

Annie, Ava and Bryant seemed properly exhausted. A new way of life requires tough adjustments. Ava mostly slept and ate. Her cries were plaintive but not unreasonably demanding. She calmed down readily once basic needs had been met. She kept her eyes closed for the most part, but peeped at us occasionally. When unwrapped from her swaddling blankets, she stretched her arms, legs, toes and yawnnnnnned. The world, if I’m interpreting her reactions accurately, appears unexpected but untroubling. She’s too bleary to worry much about anything.

Judy and I spent a lot of time holding her. We marveled at how small and frail she seemed. We’d forgotten over the last 30 years what newborns are really like. I felt calm and peaceful once she settled in on my stomach. I wanted to join her in baby slumber land.

I walked her around the apartment, rocked her in my arms, sang a few songs. K.C and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” worked well. Steady rhythms and innocuous lyrics soothed her. Might have to sing soft 70s rock at the next visit. I draw the line, however, at “Muskrat Love”. My sweet granddaughter will never experience that horror if I’ve got anything to say about it.

Unexpected surges of happiness and mellow joy struck me on the drive back to Orlando. I had a bit of extra pep in my step during class yesterday. Ava is here, and we met her.

The Miami Pack

 

DSC_0353 (2)

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.

DSC_0351 (2)

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.

DSC_0352 (2)

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.

 

 

It’s Getting Kind of Weird

DSC_0226 (2)

Last week I watched the news and followed the ongoing disaster in Texas.  I didn’t really know what it felt like to be there, but I’ve been through several hurricanes since I moved to Orlando in 1991.  Last year a major storm ran up the length of the east coast and sent tropical storm force winds our way.  A tree branch fell on our power line.  I removed it while the wind still gusted in the 50s as the line bent down several feet and looked ready to break.  I didn’t want my wife to suffer through several powerless days.

Now I’m waking up early to look at the latest forecasts for Irma.  Yesterday the spaghetti models tracked the hurricane to the northwest edge of Cuba.  After that the paths diverged, but a lot of them sent the storm straight up the peninsula.  My stomach flipped.  We’re probably going to get hit.  My daughter and her husband live in Miami, and they’re in the target zone too.

This morning I checked again and saw no improvement.  I knew that drifts and shifts can still occur in Irma’s path, but my sense of dread deepened.  I flipped to other sites and turned on the local news, but nothing gave me any real reassurance.  I gave up when I heard a garbage truck lumbering around a curve in our neighborhood.  I had been lazy the night before–the kitchen bin was still full.

I hauled a can to the curb and saw butterflies flitting around flowering bushes in our front yard.  Two grasshoppers mated in the driveway.  Nature seemed intent on going about its business regardless of impending doom.

DSC_0225 (2)

I decided to do the same.  I washed dishes, got breakfast and read from Terry Pratchett’s, Hogfather.  Then I went outside and raked magnolia seed pods and twigs off the front lawn.  In back I picked up dead branches fallen near the east fence.  I climbed on the roof and pull more branches off the roof.  I came inside, took a shower, and got lunch ready.  All fairly normal activities for a Tuesday morning.

My daughter called at noon, and we cancelled her upcoming visit.  She told me about her hurricane preparations in Miami, and we wished each other good luck.  I passed the phone to my wife and went about my business.  Time to run errands and get ready to teach a class tonight.  Such an average day.

Publix was a mixed bag.  A man in the parking lot gave me his empty cart and said, “Better take it, man.  There’s none left in the store.”  The aisles were crowded, and I grew impatient when shoppers parked their carts, stood next to them in the middle, and blocked traffic while they contemplated the selection of can goods left on the shelves. Some were so intent on studying their lists that near collisions were a constant threat.  Two woman slowly pushed their carts side by side in the main aisle leading to the cash registers.  They engaged in a leisurely conversation as I silently walked behind them, but one finally stopped and stood aside to let me by.  She said sarcastically, “There, now you can pass me.”  And when I did with some difficulty (her cart still partially blocked my way) she called after me, “Have a nice day!”  A Publix worker stood with her arms crossed in front of the egg shelves.  She surveyed the crowds of customers weaving from aisle to aisle with a look of grim disdain.  I gingerly picked a carton off the shelf behind her as I wasn’t sure if she was there to guard them.  Another employee came up and said, “There was this lady who filled her cart with water, and then another one next to her got the bright idea and started to do the same…”

The weatherman in the latest forecast hopes that a cold front will arrive in time to push Irma off the east coast.  His expression looks a bit desperate, and I take no comfort.

But for now my kitchen garden is blooming, the butterflies are darting around the blue porter weed in the backyard, the bee balm attracts bees near my front porch, and the grasshoppers are mating.  Judy is listening to an audio book, and I’m writing this post.  A relatively ordinary day.

DSC_0227

But it’s getting kind of weird.