Singin’ in the Rain-out

Singin in the Rain out

There’s an old photograph of you and me at the yard. I was maybe 14, my first time at the ballpark of my dreams. There, it’s always 72 degrees and sunny. Santo’s and William’s flags on the foul polls. I remember when Ron said having his number retired by the club was better than being in the Hall.

 

I remember going to the Hall with you and Dave. Cooperstown, where the game was “invented” by Doubleday. I blew a gasket on the drive to Cooperstown. Leave it to me to screw up an otherwise perfect weekend, huh? Still and all, it was pretty spectacular, even if they didn’t allow beer at the ballpark in Oneonta. That’s a “bucket list” kind of trip, going to the Hall of Fame. Remember, after the steroids fiasco (well, the first one anyway. Didn’t A-Rod get the memo the first time?), we used to joke that they should have a Roids Wing in the Hall with a special exhibit with the Bonds and Sammy and Giambi and McGwire plaques?

 

Good old Sammy. Even if he was juicing, that season was one of the most exciting of my life. I mean come on, a Cub and a Cardinal in the race for the HR title? Honestly, that’s why I chose Chi. The theater department was just a reason to go to Loyola. You had that rule, within a day’s drive and preferably Catholic. Loyola had all that and “next stop, Addison” to round out the deal. There’s a song by the band Green Day, the one with the line “I hope you had the time of your life.” The song plays over a montage of that ’98 season. Well, I did have the time of my life.

 

Those were some days though. You and me, Boyo and Coop, Pooks (or is it Mumps) and Looney and AstroJack and Spilzbury. That’s where my brother and I became friends. And Stinktown had something to do with it too. And, of course, the infamous Wrigley Field incident. I let him explain that one to you. First and only time I went to jail for someone else’s wrongdoing. “We wanted to see the field under the pretty snow, your Honor.” You’ve still got our rap sheets framed on the wall. At least I was good for a laugh now and again.

 

You always had that morbid request of having that Donald Hall poem “Game Called on the Field of Life” read at your funeral. But I am clean now and I want you to stick around a lot longer. Who knows, maybe we could have your body frozen Ted Williams-style and thaw you out if I have your grandkids. Besides, Jake is going to need you take him to his first baseball game with his Bapa. Of course, in a couple years bleacher seats at Wrigley will require a donated kidney. But to hell with it, you’ve got the Sigler immune system. The Ebola virus couldn’t bring you down.

 

Besides, with all the parallels they’re making with human and veterinary medicine these days (I know, I’ve read articles about this), I may come up with something. Probably just in time for us to catch one of those late-April, bone-chillers, like the one when the usher caught Dave peeing in the trash can. Coldest. Game. Ever. I swear, you drank beer to fill your bladder so you had to go the john to get warm and empty your bladder in order to go back to your seat to drink more beer. That men’s room was behind the section of the ballpark where “The Catch” occurred. No, not Mays at the Polo Grounds. I’m talking about that time a foul ball went sailing over the stands and, in one motion, you raised a hand, caught the ball bare-handed (at least that’s how it happens in my mind’s eye, so don’t ruin it) , and handed it to your daughter. That was nice work, Da. It’s the section of the ballpark in front of that store where, again on an especially cold day (we saw a lot of games over the years and they weren’t all 72 degrees and sunny), on the concourse where I purchased that gray “Wrigley Field: Est. 1918” sweatshirt. $80 for that one. So what did I do? I wore that sweatshirt for like 10 years until it was literally falling off my torso.

 

Remember that time we were walking back to the parking lot outside the clubhouse and Harry Caray came out of that little side door? You had to push me a little, but I scampered up to him and he signed my ball. “Holy Cow Harry Caray!”. I still have the ball, the one with the signatures of Ryno and Andre Dawson and … Luis Salazar. Who knew that 20 years later, his signature would make the ball unsalable. No matter. That parking lot is on the exact opposite side of the ballpark where that little bar was that you always used to go get a brat before the game. Just down the street from Hi-Tops. Me and Spilz and Pooks and Looney and Astro logged many hours playing Golden Tee there.

 

All my memories of Astro at the yard involved us sitting in the bleachers. The bleachers were great because there was never a bad seat (remember when Harry called a few innings at that spot in the bleachers?) I literally have pictures in the slide show in my mind of you in the floppy hat and all the guys in those bleachers  Unlike the grandstand. There was one time when your other son toted me and Looney around to like 4 different seating places to get a better view. I think we found you eventually, right near where we started. Honestly, that was the difference between me and my brother and baseball. I have always had a romantic, “eating a hot dog, popping peanuts, Singin-In-the-Rainout” take on baseball. Dave just wants to find better seats.

 

Post-season starts soon. All original teams in the National League going to the playoffs (Who cares about that “other league”), including the hated Cardinals. If pressed, I’d say “Go Dodgers”. Tommy Lasorda and Jackie Robinson and all that (although it still kinda stings that the guy who moved them out of Brooklyn was named O’Malley). All will be quiet in Wrigleyville though. I’ll be busy with school, but I will make sure to catch a least a couple games at the house where the Shrine to the Cubs sits in your basement. That old wooden board with all the Cubs memorabilia and the signed Doug Dascenzo card (remember when they called on him to pitch an inning!) is on the wall with me and Dave’s rap sheets and that El token machine and those panoramic paintings of Wrigley Field. I love that basement room, I always feel a child-like sense of comfort and belonging when I sleep down there. We’ll go back to Wrigley day one day, you and me. And we’ll say “Hi” to the Scary Harry statue outside the ballpark and of course we’ll sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame at the seventh inning stretch with our arms around each other’s shoulders. I’ll see if Santo’s free that day.

Advertisements

The Family Dog: What’s in a Name? (Or The Laundry Incident)

 

The origin of the name of the family dog has changed over time for my family. In my experience, I have encountered some dogs with terrific names. Wrigley, a yellow lab with a Chicago Cubs collar, was a regular in The Hotel. Clyde Frazier (I swear that was the dog’s name) came in every now and then. We saw Gus the Akita once in a while. And of course there was Jabba. Yep. You guessed it. Big old Saint Bernard. And of course, easily in my top ten names for dogs ever, Odin the German shepherd (Odin, if you don’t know, was the top dog among Norse deities. I mean, Odin was even higher than Thor among the mythological gods of the Scandinavian countries) Naming a dog is your chance to exercise your creativity so every time I see yet another dog named Sadie or Buddy or Bella, I weep at the lost opportunity.

I don’t know where Reggie got his name. As I have said, I think George (George was a girl) got her name from Bapa, my mom’s Dad. By the time we got to Gertie, my family had grasped the concept that you can name your dog anything you want so why not have fun with it? Gertie was named after Drew Barrymore’s character in E.T. I don’t remember precisely what brought Gertie down in the end, though a mishap involving my mom and a pillow certainly wouldn’t come as a shock. So by the time we got to Casey, my parents’ hadn’t honed their naming skills quite to my liking, but his nickname, Caser P. Casers, suited him well. The dog was as useless as a bag of broken hammers. But he meant well and he did well at easing my parents into their “Empty Nest” phase. Well, almost empty.

I don’t know quite how to explain Liz, but I’ll try. My sister Liz is 4 years younger than me and in her lifetime, she has been labeled many times. When she was a kid, the specialists said she had a “learning disability.” When she was pre-pubescent (I think), my Mom took her to the University of Iowa where, after a battery of tests, they labeled her again as Pervasive Developmental Disorder and they said they had never seen anyone quite like her. We knew all along that there was something very interesting about her, my mom even more so because she had been a special education teacher for a while before Liz was born. She was certainly high-functioning, what with being in the mainstream public school system until she was 13. I mean yeah, she met with a Resources Teacher all the time, but the concept of autism hadn’t fully developed a meaning yet, at least not in the public school system. It had however, gained a foothold in our family when the movie Rainman came out. It was eerie to see someone with a lot of the same mental quirks as my sister on the big screen. Liz had developed some very interesting habits I’ll share that will kind of paint a picture of how her mind works. 1) She learned how to say the alphabet backwards before she knew how to say it forwards. 2) She had the license plate number of every friend of the family, relative or distant associate memorized. 3) She knew the address, telephone number, and names of every friend, relative and their children of my family as well as the square footage of their house and the mileage on their car (those last two may be embellishments, but I honest don’t know if they are. No one ever asked her those things) Point is, she was definitely a strange bird.

Then a few years ago, Liz was re-re-branded as being on the Autism spectrum (Pervasive Developmental Disorder was actually taken off the list of mental disorders of some big-time psychology tome, right around the same time that obesity was named a disease. So you see, the clinical diagnosis of a lot of things doesn’t hold much truck with me). I heard about Autism Spectrum Disorder once on NPR and the guest seemed to have a viable explanation for it, so it’s the one I’ll go with. In social spheres, Liz does pretty well. She has a job in the food court at a local college and spends what it is becoming clear is a copious amount of hours on Facebook, and is generally a nice person, if short and curt. Liz has this amazing ability to get right to the heart of an issue and not so much tease it out as rip it from its roots. When asked recently how she lost some weight, Liz said matter-of-factly, “Well, I figured out the stuff that I was eating that made me fat and I stopped eating it.” Well played, Sis.

Liz was the only one home when Casey got hit by a car. Casey, in typical Beagle fashion, has the attention span of a gnat. Liz had been outside on the front steps rolling and banding newspapers for her paper route. I’m not sure if Casey was on a leash at the time and I’m not sure it would have mattered. He got distracted very easily and when he did, he was off and running. If memory serves, he apparently had a problem with the way some cars just looked and he tore out into the street to chase one down. The car hit him head on and, as it was described to me, he didn’t die instantly. Instead he kind of meandered back to our front lawn, looking quite confused I’m sure, and collapsed on the grass. That, however, is not the way Liz described it later to my parents.

“Y’know how the clothes look in the dryer when the dryer is running?”

Apparently, Casey, in his zeal, had struck the car head on, flopped into the wheel well and spun around a few times before being spit back onto the street. As I understand it (again, going by what my sister told us) he kind of stumbled to the curb looking quite dazed, and collapsed. Casey croaked by the time they got him to the emergency clinic. Poor little guy. What a helluva way to go.

I don’t quite remember how much time passed until they brought Abby into the house, but it couldn’t have been long. She wasn’t a bright animal. When my mom did one of the tests to check on the intelligence of a dog – throwing a blanket over the dog’s head and seeing how long it takes the dog to get out from under – Abby just lay there contentedly as if to say, “So, this is how my life is going to be from now on? OK.” She did do one smart thing in her life. One day when we were all out of the house, Abs got diarrhea. When we got home, we saw that she had left five or six piles of poop, but not all over the house. They were all in the bathroom. I guess she must have figured that if this is where her family goes to do this sort of thing, she would follow along.

For most of the years that I was living God-knows-where doing God-knows-what, Jumbo held down the fort of the empty nest. And to be fair, she didn’t start out as Jumbo.  Once again, I don’t how she got the name “Abby” but it didn’t last long. She started out as an adorable lab puppy, jet-black with a sweet little face that could have melted butter. But over the years, she started gaining weight. A lot of weight. And the thyroid condition necessitated the ingestion of medication that made her insatiably thirsty. Her cute little puppy bowl graduated to a regular water bowl for a medium-sized Labrador Retriever. By the time she had been on the meds for a month, she had graduated to a water trough that needed to be filled 3 times a day. She had evolved from the sweet little puppy that she started as into Flabicus Maximus. We called her Flabby. She also had eczema, a skin condition that made her scratch herself constantly. Considering it was the only spot she could always get to, she had scratched the small of her back completely bare and raw. By the time she was an old dog, she looked like a coffee table with a big white coaster in the middle.

The Family Dog

The Family Dog
In the past year, I’ve read about 30 or so books about dogs. Some of them were behavioral, some anecdotal. I’ve read the Truth About Dogs and One Nation Under Dog, A Dog Year and The Dogs of Bedlam Farm, Dog Walks Man and Dogs Never Lie About Love (Okay, full disclosure, I didn’t read all of that book. Alright, complete, full disclosure, I read about half that book. Maybe 1/4th of it. I probably got about 1/5th of the way in before taking it back to the library. It’s just that I had recently finished The Truth About Dogs and found that book so convincing that most of the theories put forth in Dogs Never Lie … just seemed preposterous.) But dammit, I had already, at least subconsciously, decided to make working with dogs more than a hobby. It was to become my life. And, like anybody who has aspirations to become or is a writer, it occurred to me one day that I should write about dogs. Why not? All you have to do is look at the numbers to know that everything dog-related is flying off the shelves these days, whether it be the shelves of Barnes & Noble, the local library, Petsmart or Walmart. America is seemingly starving for this stuff. But what to write about? The industrial side? One Nation. Anecdotal? Dog Walks Man. Personal Memoir? Pack of Two. That’s one of the myriad reasons why I started this blog: to be an avenue for me to bounce ideas against like Jack Nicholson in The Shining when he’s bouncing the tennis ball off the wall in that huge dining room. Just see what sticks.
When I came up with the idea of a post called “The Family Dog”, I hatched the idea of writing stories about all the dogs that have come and gone through my family’s life through the years. I don’t know if this will be just a few posts or a recurring theme, one that I will revisit periodically. But today, I feel like I should tell you about Gertie. Well, let me backtrack. I’ll tell you about Reggie and George first. Reggie was a mutt and he bit my sister trying to get baby food off her face when she was a baby. There. That’s what I remember about Reggie. I remember George was a mutt too (A “mix” if you want to use the dog equivalent of politically correct. I, however, do not. He was a mutt) and he might have been named after my Bapa (my mom’s dad) but that is pure speculation. And he bit me. I have the strangest, most random memories of my childhood. I remember my brother and I used to share a room and every night, we would lay there and he would say “Andy,” and I would say “What?” And he would say “Nevermind.” This went on for what seemed like hours. Every time I would let a little more time pass before I said ”What?” and he would counter with “Nevermind.” until finally he would say “Andy?” and I would wait for what seemed an interminable amount of time (sometimes, we would say “Andy?” again if I didn’t respond. He really was a jerk sometimes). Then, I would finally break-down and say “What?” and he would be fast asleep. The root cause of some adult mental disorder is in there somewhere.

And I remember George bit me. I was hiding behind a chair in the family room of the “old house” and I was eating a graham cracker. I do not know why I was hiding behind the chair in the first place (there was nobody else in house but me and mom and she was napping) so don’t ask. I had an extremely active imagination as a child. I remember once I went out to the driveway of my grandparents’ house to play in a our new Ford Taurus station wagon. “Playing” meant I would sit in the driver’s seat and crank all the knobs that controlled the vents and the volume knob on the radio back and forth like I was Sulu in Star Trek. And nobody ever came to see what I was doing in there. I guess if I wasn’t kissing the exhaust pipe they figured it was harmless fun.

Anyway, I honestly don’t remember if George even meant to bite me. I don’t even remember if I somehow provoked him to bite me, although I probably did and I remember mom freaked out and George was out of the house that day. That was Mom for you. She is unbelievably neurotic and has become even more so with her grandchildren. I weep for them when she goes to Providence to visit. I’d tell you more about that but Mom has covered that in her column she writes for her neighborhood association newsletter and I don’t want to steal her thunder. Which brings me to Gertie.

Gertie was named after Drew Barrymore’s character in E.T., the little sister. Unlike Drew, who was unbelievably cute in the movie, Gertie was not. Gertie was ugly. No, she was fugly. She was a fugly dog. She peed and pooped in the house, did no tricks, and my mother hated her. Now that I think about, we kids weren’t too crazy about her either. I think she gravitated towards Da because he may have been the only one in the household who remotely liked her. Not that we all hated her or anything. We were just kind of indifferent to her. God, now that I’m thinking about it, no wonder she pooped on the carpet. I probably would have too. Screw these people. We had Gertie forever, like 13 years and to my knowledge, she never received veterinary care of any kind. I don’t remember that she needed it, you understand. But I know that if that dog were on fire, nobody wouldn’t have been frantically looking for a bucket.
After Gertie came Casey. Casey was a little more accepted around the house than Gertie, although behaviorally he was, well, he was a Beagle. So, two strikes against him out of the gate. There’s a photo, probably still floating around in an album somewhere, of Casey ripping apart the dust jacket of How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete. He was a good boy, no question of that, terribly affectionate and terribly misbehaved. My parents brought him into the house right before the boom in all things dog-related had saturated the country. So there was still no research about what dog worked right for a family, what temperament would work best with my family’s busy lifestyle. None of that. The American household had still not yet grasped the concept of doing some R & D before bringing a dog home, let alone a beagle. So really, given all this, the Laundry Incident really came as no surprise to anybody.

Not Karma, Exactly

My Bed

 

I always had a difficult time reconciling two completely different aspects of my personality. I used to define myself as an atheist. Upon further deliberation and with help from my personal theologian (my father, the staunch Catholic), I discovered I was actually agnostic. Now, in order to properly define this term, one need only look to one simple statement: “I don’t know.” But even that doesn’t really define me anymore. Again, after some rigorous counsel with the old man, he labeled me a “believer.” And so far, that’s been working out for me.

 

And yet, I have believed in Karma since right around the time I was old enough to know what that word meant. Wikipedia says Karma (I say Wikipedia, not Webster’s Dictionary, because honestly, which carries more social significance anymore?) means “the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, that governs all life.” I have come to think of Karma, at least the definition that has come to have meaning in my life, as a loose interpretation of that principle that can be translated into one simple statement. To wit, the Universe is smiling on me. Let me explain.

 

For more than a year, I worked the overnight shift at The Hotel. During that time, my Ipod was my best friend. I have long had an affinity (some might say an obsession) with stand-up comedy. I have been an aficionado of it for many years and I have my favorites (Carlin, Hicks, Lewis Black, and of course, the venerable Patton), my second tier guys (Dave Chappelle, Rock, Giraldo, Louis CK) and the honorable mentions (Denis Leary, Kevin James, and many others). In this “many others” category was Jimmy Schubert, a comic of whom I had exactly one Comedy Central Presents show (20 minutes). And on those long overnight shifts when it was just me and about 30-40 dogs and cats twisting the night away, I listened the hell outta that show. One of my high-water marks of any good stand-up is he/she has to be able to keep the audience engaged through every joke in the act. Schubert did this superbly with a bit about conjoined twins who liked to date and wanted to be a country/western singer(s).

 

 

What’s this got to do with Karma or the Universe smiling on me? Come on, I’ll bring you back to me. This morning on the local Zoo Animal Circus morning radio show was none other than Jimmy Schubert. He’s performing in town soon and in the melee of conversations the guys were having, Schubert mentioned that very bit about dating the Siamese twin lady. If you know anything about stand-up, you know that comics recycle their acts all the time, some of them for more than a decade. But the fact that Schubert happened to talk about that one bit that I have loved for many years was, well, for now, it was a coincidence.

 
Okay, so you’re probably thinking “Andy, that’s nice that you heard one of your funny men talk about a routine that you like. Now I’ll pat you on the head and give you some Jell-O.” Stay tuned. It gets a lot weirder. After the car trip when I heard this comic on the radio, I returned home and talked to a housemate. Apparently, the landlord/sober living mentor that owns my house had been over that morning and, after a random room check, was none too happy about the various beds that had been left unmade and the dishes that had been left out all night (one of the core values of the house is “your mother/wife/girlfriend doesn’t live here, so clean up your damn messes). What does this have to do with the Universe smiling on me? Well, smart-ass, I’ll tell you. That picture of my bed? That’s how it looked this morning when I left. I had done such a shoddy job of making my bed yesterday, I made my bed first thing this morning and stacked the pillows just right and arranged the sheets and blankets in such a way that it would be like crawling into a womb when I took my afternoon nap today (I wake up for school around 5 AM every morning these days and have come to love my afternoon siesta). And I was the one that slapped two “$10 Fine” Post-its on the dirty glasses on the kitchen counter. So not only was I setting a good example for the new guys in the house, thus validating my quasi-role model status in sober living, but my landlord had seen all of it, thus proving myself to him as well (no doubt a good thing since he had written me a recommendation for a scholarship, which he doesn’t do). Well alright, you’re 2 for 2, Andy. What else you got? Dig this …

 
Less than an hour after I got home, I went out on the patio to have a smoke and look at Facebook happenings. The very first thing I saw was a photograph, shared by my buddy, of a NASA rocket launch and in the foreground of the photo was the silhouette of a frog being blasted right off the freaking planet. And that has what to do with the story? This morning, right before I left campus, I found a frog hopping around on the men’s room floor. After quickly researching frogs in my veterinary technology textbook and seeing no evidence that a frog could have rabies or some other nefarious condition, I obtained a paper towel and went into the men’s room. The frog had made its way back to the corner stall and seemed to be assessing the fact that there was no more floor to hop on. After a brief scuffle (“I’m trying to help you out, dude, hold still …”) I cast the towel over him (my teacher had warned me that it was a probably a tree frog and that he would probably pee on me) and dropped him off in the grass outside. He stayed there for a moment, blinked a couple times, said “Thanks” and went a-hopping into the sunshine.

 
Am I saying that the frog that was blasted into oblivion by the NASA rocket was reborn into the frog on the men’s room floor at Iowa Western Community College? Yes, that’s exactly what I am saying. I mean the shuttle launched in Florida last week, about the time it would take (for a tree frog) for a leisurely cosmic trip to Iowa so I would find him in the john. A long way to go (for the Creator of the Universe and the frog) to tell me that God is smiling on me at this particular moment in my life? Perhaps. But if I score a B or higher on the test I took right before I found the frog, I dare you to tell me I’m wrong.

St. Crispian’s Day

For Tom Hightower, Jon Pruitt, Tim White and the men of the 1212 House

“If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

– William Shakespeare, 1599

Mother and Child Part 2

Moose and calf

Mother and Child Part 2

 

 
One of my goals for the summer was to start running again. I had been running off and on for about 5 years before that, beginning in my freshman year in college and I soon discovered that I loved it. I loved it because even having been a regular smoker for 4 years at that point, I could still run about a 3 mile stretch with my heart feeling like it was going to explode. And in Chicago it was especially easy because the Loyola University Chicago Lakeshore Campus was literally on Lake Michigan. I could cover the majority of my run and do so on the beach. Calm waters, rigorous waves, monsoons. I ask you, would you be able to turn that down? I didn’t think so.

 
The friends I had taken the sojourn to AK with were Katy and Bob. Katy had been my friend literally my whole life. We have baby pictures together. Our moms knew each when they were kids. Katy’s brother Tim is a year older than my brother. Her sister Kory, a year younger. Me and Katy and our baby sisters, Liz and Suzy, same age. So when she told me about her plans to move up to Alaska for the summer, it took about 17 seconds of deliberation before I decided to jump on board. Apparently Seward had become quite the bustling little tourist spot. Three of the big-time cruise lines had made Seward a stop on their Alaska tours along with other coastal towns. Meanwhile, Seward had a hot spot of a beach front camping areas where retirees and their massive RV’s could park and bask in their golden years. And Seward had responded in kind with an impressive tourism industry sprouting up. By the time we got there, there was an impressive little community of a respectable upscale restaurant and a bar, little touristy shops and the harbor where the cruise ships parked along with many, many small boats and yachts There was a fish cannery on the north side of town where the employees camped and a little gas station/liquor store down the street. There was a big-box general store of sorts that sold everything from lawn furniture and camping gear to clothes and some non-perishable food. All this was on one end of town. About ¾ mile down the road was the other half of town which sported a freshly built marine life nature center, a couple more restaurants and bars, a a hotel and a quaint little downtown area with some old-school shops. I worked at one called Brown and Hawkins. B & H was kind of an outdoor outfitter with rubber boots, Carhart attire, and other gear. The owner, bless her heart, had also gotten on the tourism bandwagon and stocked the store with copious amounts of Alaska t-shirts, do-dads, bobbles, and nick-knacks. The store was also a Patagonia outdoor gear retailer, so there was an entire section devoted to Patagonia gear, underwear, etc. Including a lot of Patagonia tops and jackets the owner had embroidered with “Seward, Alaska” or simply “Alaska” on the left breast. I’m all about exploiting the status of Seward as a tourist trap in the name of capitalism, but Patagonia gear is just one thing you shouldn’t mess with, but not matter.

 
Anyway, Katy and Bob and I had found a campground on the north end of town that would suit us great. It was outside a military base with hook-ups for RVs and a public restroom, a dumpster, and a big sign in the middle that detailed The Rules. One of these was the stipulation that a party could set up camp at a campsite for two weeks maximum, then they had to vacate. I think it was Bob that construed that as one could occupy one specific campsite for two weeks. The sign said nothing about vacating a campsite and choosing another one in the same campground and living there for 2 weeks. Wash, rinse, repeat. For the whole summer. Sounded good to me.

 
When at the REI in Anchorage, I had purchased a little 1+ person tent that housed me and my sleeping bag and a few other items. I had a mesh shelf that I strung overhead that held my glasses, contact case, battery-powered alarm clock and a book. I had a small storage bag where I kept some pre-packaged food items that I strung from a nearby tree just in case the errant bear wandered into the campground to check and see if the dumpster held any new goodies. Self-contained unit. I was pretty proud of myself.
Bob had purchased a 5+ person Taj Majal for he and Katy and Bob’s dog Dudley to ”rough it.”  Bob’s little compound consisted of tarps underneath, tarps over the tent and various bungie’s to tie everything down snuggly. With the help of a little foyer in the front also covered with bungie’s, Bob had created a very impressive domicile for him and his family. I lived in the equivalent of a housing project.

 
I had started running very even-paced. Slow at first but within a few weeks, I had escalated to a steady gait that began at the campground about a half mile north of town, into the town itself, down to the southend where the town met the ocean, then doubled back along the beach front around Seward and back to my campground. It was a glorious way to cap off a work day. I would come “home”, change into my running gear, and embark on the most glorious 3 miles you can imagine. Summer in Alaska, indeed. And it was on this return trek back to the campground one day, after I had slowed to a cool-down walk when I crossed the little 2-lane highway back into the campground and saw them.

 
There was a little dirt path that veered off the highway into the campground. In that path was a moose and her calf. It has been 15 years, but if memory serves, she had to be at least 6 1/2 feet hoof to head and at least that long. And her calf was just a little guy, nosing around in the brush. My halt could not have been very stealthy because she looked me dead in the eyes, then at the calf, then at me again. The silent dialogue went something like this:

 
“Holy buckets. You’re a freakin’ moose.”

 
“That’s my baby. He’s eating. Don’t start anything, please.”

 
“Wow. You’re a moose.”

 
“You said that.”

 

 
“If you don’t mind, I’m just gonna stand here. Folks back home are not gonna believe this.”

 
“ I feel the same way.”

 
Then the calf looked up, a little startled. My ankles being locked as they were, I stayed where I was. He went back to foraging. I kept my eyes on Mom, who then turned to watch her baby. The whole moment couldn’t have taken more than 15 seconds, but for me, it was a moment I will treasure until the day I die. Then, a truck pulled up right between me and Mom and stopped. Some yahoo told the driver to stop and struggled to get a camera or a rifle or some other intrusion into my quiet moment with God. This allowed Mom enough time to nose her calf and the two of them trotted across the road into the forest.

 
I have been to zoos and hiked in the outback of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and South Dakota many, many times since. But that was the first time I had been face to face, literally, with Mother Earth and her majesty. That’s why I went to Alaska.

Mother and Child, Part 1

Seward Aurora

Mother and child Part 1
When I spent a summer in Seward, Alaska, I wasn’t exactly prepared. My first night there, me and some friends slept at a campground at the beachfront area. Now, at this point in my life, my experience with camping of any kind was minimal at best. Yes, I had gone “backpacking” once with my brother through the Black Hills in South Dakota. To use the term “backpacking” is being pretty generous. Yes, we slept in a tent. Yes, we used camping stoves and water filters to obtain potable water. Yes, I employed a sleeping bag. However, as far as backcountry camping goes, the Black Hills lacks. We did all the things you do when you are backpacking, but we also ran into two restrooms in the rec areas on our travels. Unfortunately for me, I have been a morning coffee-drinker since my early 20’s, and as anyone who drinks coffee regularly will tell you, sometimes it can be a race against the clock on finding a lavatory within 20-30 minutes after the first cup. In The Bush of the Black Hills, it was no different. My brother, however, is not a coffee man, and hence did not have the same sense of utter urgency as myself when it came to this particular necessity. He could go for as long as it suited him before he felt the need. I wasn’t so lucky.

“What do you do when you have to, um …”

“Take a dump?” he asked brightly. He went into his pack and fished out a garden shovel and handed it to me.

“Make sure you cover up the hole with mud when you’re finished!”

This whole trip was a new experience for me and I was determined to be as “outdoorsy’ (a term I have come to hate in my life), so I bucked up and headed off into the woods. I wasn’t entirely clear on where exactly I was supposed to conduct my morning constitutional, so I found a spot up the trail from where we were and dug, squatted, and shoveled. No fuss, no muss.
As we packed up our camp and started hiking, my brother decided to tighten his boot laces. He found a log off the trail and mounted his foot on it.
“Dude, you’re supposed to dig a deep hole.”

 

I approached him and the swarm of flies congregating around my fresh pile of crap. Okay. My first time doing my business in the woods. No problem. Won’t make that mistake again.
The next day, my body was adjusting with stark alarm at hiking all day and eating meals especially high in fiber. This time, I had a Speedy Delivery to drop off. Noting my experience of the day before, I vowed that this time I would dig a deep hole so no evidence at all could be seen. I trotted off as my brother packed up our camp. Finding what I thought what a suitable spot, I made my deposit. About half-way through my squat, I heard him laughing hysterically. I turned my head and discovered that the place I had chosen for my second communion with Mother Nature was about 15 feet off the trail and in wide open view of Dave and anybody else who happened along to gaze at more “scenery” than they bargained for. I sighed deeply. When I was done, I shoveled and we headed out on the trail. Round about 3 P.M., we found a lovely little lake in our little “outback” and a lovely little public toilet my brother used. Shitting in the woods: Me- 2, Dave-0.

So by the time of that first night in Seward, AK, I certainly wasn’t totally green, but I had a lot to learn. For instance, I hadn’t brought a sleeping pad. Nor did I know what a sleeping pad was. I would find out the next day that a sleeping pad is a swatch of foam rubber about ½ inch thick, 6 ft. long and 2 ½ ft. wide that prevents your body from being in contact with the cold, hard earth beneath it. So, my errands for that day became a sleepless, groggy trip to the Recreational Equipment Incorporated in Anchorage two hours north to purchase a tent for myself, a sleeping pad and other sundries. Also on my list was a new pair of cross-trainers as I planned to make running again on a regular basis one of my goals for the summer.

In the Open (or Solitude by Duke Ellington)

Sometime
late in this trip
early in this journey
A group of friends met down on the Farm
With Donkeys, and sheep
And a behemoth name Elvis
There was Flo and Simon
Lulu and Fanny
And dogs, oh, were there dogs!
Izzy and Lenore and Pearl and Orson
Red and all the others
whose bodies and spirits live in the barn and the pasture
In the folded corners and tattered covers
of all my books next to my bed

The gentleman with the walking stick
He’s the one
I feel like I’ve been watching his trek
From Jersey to Bedlam
And then Bedlam, again
I’ve lived so much of his life
Right alongside him
His sister and the Newfies
Hospice and therapy
Carrots for the donkeys
And sometimes … Nuts!
I spoke one day and echoed his words
I bore myself to his friends
And I wept that night

And the unthinkable happened
At long last, after so many years
I wanted to write again
So I did
And he and his friends listened
Listened to my story, held my hand
Assured me that I was doing the right thing
Assured me I could pack my bags again
And start walking
Never knowing where I would end up
And for the first time, walking anyway.
They live in Ohio and New Jersey
Then there’s the one across town

So maybe, I’ll see them one day
Down on the Farm
And I’ll tell Red all about Kilgore
They would have got along, I’m sure of that
And I’ll greet the man with the stick
And the funny hat
And shake his hand.
And have others read it

The Stripper and Fur Elise Part 3

It’s called your Hot Seat. You sit down with a jury of your peers and your counselor hands you a list of Assets and Liabilities for staying sober once you’ve left the comfortable womb of Valley Hope and ventured into the Outside World. The entire patient group has written down on a piece of paper, anonymously, a particular asset or liability of your character that might be an aid or a hindrance in your efforts to stay sober. I’m fairly certain this occurs at many treatment facilities across the country, so I don’t think I’m letting any cat out of the bag by writing about it. It occurs your fourth week of a 30-day program (that is, unless your insurance company feels that you’re sufficiently “cured” of your addiction and you get shuffled out the door at 3 weeks. My parents, God bless them, ponied up for the extra week of rehab, so I got to “graduate” on time). By that time, everyone in the entire patient group has had the chance to encounter everyone else in an individual or group setting and the natural dynamic of your character shines.

Michaela was handed 2 sheets of paper for her Liabilities. That’s a lot. Most people, at least when I was there, were handed one sheet of paper for their liabilities and one for the assets. And the list didn’t even necessarily take up the whole sheet. You then read, out loud to the group, the contents of each sheet. Many of the suggestions advise against “hanging out with old playmates” and “playgrounds” or how your job might necessarily lead to “going back out.” Valid points, certainly. I mean after all, a couple guys in the group were bartenders, so do the math on that. But a good chunk of them pertained to intimate details about the person and posited valuable insights. Truly it was a valuable tool for rehab and recovery.

Now, I should interject here, by the time it was time for people to write down my liabilities and assets, I was curious to see just how closely those pieces of paper were screened before someone typed them up (If you haven’t been able to tell yet, I have a penchant for trying to find the “funny” in most situations. Sue me) So when it came my day for folks to write down my liabilities and assets, I took a couple sheets and for Assets (again, it was anonymous) I wrote something to the effect of “I honestly can’t tell why this guy is not the President of the United States yet” and for my liability I wrote “None as far as I can tell.” I then dropped both pieces of paper into the bucket along with everyone else. Well when I read out loud my sheets, I got a fair amount of laughter from the group when I revealed that I had written those. My counselor Jim didn’t laugh. So there, Jim, I admitted it was not funny and this was a serious process that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Okay?

Anyway, Michaela started to read aloud her list of Liabilities. I don’t wish to get too detailed on this, so I’ll just say the phrases “bragging” “not taking this seriously” and “obnoxious” were mentioned and mentioned often. Then Michaela was allowed the chance to defend herself. I guess she was taken aback enough with the volume of criticism that she simply didn’t talk at first. Though I do remember she said “Wow” a few times and there were a couple halted attempts to address the group. I don’t know if that was the first time that she had heard all of those things before, but I think the group certainly made a few significant points. And to her credit, some of the assets commented on her natural intelligence, which she clearly had, and it seemed a universal thought that she let herself get bogged down in the quagmire of addiction, something every person in the group was guilty of to some degree, but Michaela to almost epic levels.

“Now,” her counselor said to all of us, “I want Michaela to walk up to each member of this group and I want that person to look her in the eye and say something positive.” By this time, I had pretty much resorted to fleeing anytime I saw her coming, so it was definitely not easy for me to do this. But, when she got to me, I looked her in the eyes and said “You’ve talked about how you’ve been in and out of rehab for so long. I just really hope this time, something sticks.” And I gave her a little smile. And perhaps best of all, she did graduate from Valley Hope, something else she had said was most definitely not her modus operandi.

I wish her well.