Posts Tagged ‘Emma’

As I write this here in the United States, we’re nearing the end of the three-day weekend devoted to Memorial Day. This is my favorite holiday, the holiday with an entire summer up its sleeve. The weather has been abfab and the house projects ended well, without the traditional two extra trips to the hardware store. The writing flowed, the dog charmed everyone at the beach, and as always the music is the best.

We trimmed two of the hedges that border our yard. Whenever I hack my way into these walls of vines, leaves, branches, and the mysterious dark spaces loved by raccoons I remember again why the Germans hid behind them on D-Day.

We sorted through shoeboxes of old photo prints, slides, and negatives. (What can you do with negatives today? Sew them into a Victoria’s Secret sarong?) Here’s a photo I found that stands in for my mood this afternoon. It’s Emma, our first dog, on a hike called West Cady Ridge in the Central Cascades of Washington, probably in late spring 1995:

The joy of being a dog
The joy of being a dog.

Of course, what’s a holiday weekend without a box from my Dad? Among the treasures I don’t know how I ever lived without were four spindles of string from the 1960s:

Spindle City
Free to good home, moldy atmo included.

All this string (one spindle holds twine) comes from an age when packages were routinely strung up. Pies, cakes, and donuts from a bakery always arrived in a flimsy cardboard box tied with string. Packages from department stores and even supermarkets were often hog-tied as if they might bolt if they had a chance. Four spindles of string – nothing’s getting away from me now.

If you live in the United States, I hope your Memorial Day weekend has gone at least as well as mine. I mean that sincerely, whether you support Donald Trump or a rational human being. Thanks for reading along, and welcome to: Big Week!

Random Pick of the Day
Miles Davis, trumpet, Gil Evans, arranger and conductor, Porgy and Bess (1959)
The highlights are what you’d expect – “Summertime” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” – but the whole album is grand. Do you believe in heaven? If there is one and you end up there, you’ll be hearing this disc a lot.

Random Pan of the Day
Bad Religion, 80-85 (1991)
These Southern California political punks are harder-hitting than The Ramones, but 30 years on both bands have the same problem: Every song sounds the same. Thirty years have turned Bad Religion into a Weird Al parody of themselves. It doesn’t help that the drumming reminds me of Fred Flintstone’s feet slapping against the pavement to make his car go.

If you had lived in SoCal in 1980 through ’85, these 28 tracks would fill you with nostalgia; you’d be back on the streets in no time, though you might not remember what it was you used to do there. I couldn’t get all the way through them, but I must honor Bad Religion for the title of their 1983 debut: How Could Hell Be Any Worse?


Last month’s delivery of the junk my Dad brought home from his voyages with Columbus made me think about flashlights. I have never lacked for flashlights in my adult life because my father was a faithful subscriber to the Flashlight of the Month Club.

Dad’s all-purpose emergency plan was to equip every room in his house with a flashlight. This is a plan that could only have been cooked up by the Flashlight of the Month Club. As soon as I owned a house, Dad had a place to send his surplus. Of course you have to ask how equipping every room in your house with a flashlight will help you in an emergency. For example, if you’re in a room that lacks flashability and the power goes out, you could always fumble your way to a more helpful room. This process is even easier if the power goes out during the daytime.

If Donald Trump becomes president, flashlights won’t help.

A day or so after unpacking the latest round of flashlights, I spotted this display from the 1960s at a local antiques shop:


This made me consider the evolution of this handy tool. (The British invented it, so I should call it a “torch,” but it says “flashlight” on the Flashlight of the Month Club tote bag so I won’t.)

Today, most flashlights are made from plastic, not metal. The barrels are no longer ribbed for your pleasure (they’re knurled). LEDs are replacing incandescent bulbs. The push-button on-and-off switch has replaced the slide switch. One thing remains the same: A flashlight powered by batteries can’t operate when the batteries are dead.

Years ago, while hiking, Special D and I stayed too long on a ridge and had to hike down in the dark. I fished the flashlight out of my pack and switched it on. It stayed off. I tried the flashlight in Special D’s pack. Nothing. Fortunately, we had with us our first and most resourceful corgi, Emma. She understood immediately that Run-DMIrving’s son had brought disgrace on the family name. She expertly led us down the mountain. All we had to do was follow her fluffy white stern.

(There was a bright moon, the trail was well-blazed, and we were in little danger of going astray. Emma still deserved all the acclaim she received.)

Emma on TV

Dad was also a faithful subscriber to the Pocketknife of the Month Club. I could tell you this all-purpose emergency plan, but you can probably guess.

Random Pick of the Day
Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (1975)
After two inconsistent records, Springsteen takes command of this disc and our lives from the first note. There are few opening tracks in rock like “Born to Run.” It’s the musical equivalent of “Call me Ishmael” or “In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit” or “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This record rips the bones off your back. You don’t own it? Why are you being so mean?

Random Pan of the Day
The Grateful Dead, Anthem of the Sun (1968)
There’s plenty of disorganization to go around on this disc. You either revel in it or you end up hating hippies. As I listened to Anthem of the Sun this evening, I decided that Greg and Duane Allman must’ve loved this record. You don’t get “Whipping Post” without “New Potato Caboose” as a model. And I have to admit, “New Potato Caboose” is a groovy name for a song.


The naturalist Hal Borland wrote a memoir called The Dog Who Came to Stay. You can tell from the title how that story turned out. This story is not that story.

In September we promoted a promising new player to our family: a 10-week-old corgi. We named her Xena, Warrior Puppy.

debate prep
Xena listens to another Republican presidential debate.

Soon we were all in love, despite having to rush her outside in the middle of the night and the accidents on unlucky carpets. We were all planning to live happily ever after.


Long-term readers of this blog know I’m about to say Wrong!

We lived happily ever after for approximately two months while Xena grew from a 6-pound puff ball into an actual canine. Then she got scared. We don’t know what the trigger was, but I blame the folks on the next block who are addicted to inflatable Disney crap. One night right before Halloween, Xena and I encountered the huge gaseous Minions these style masters had staked to the grass (and the side of the house, and the roof). Xena immediately turned and rushed me homeward. I figured she had good taste.


Over the next three months, Xena conceived a theory of the world as being about as safe as the set of The Walking Dead. She became afraid of cars, trucks, bikes, scooters, and joggers. True to her name, she wanted to fight them. It took me an hour to negotiate a truce between her and our exercise cycle. Xena was suffering from what’s called “reactivity.” It’s uncommon. We were stuck with it.

We read the research. We hired experts. We tried various fixes. We despaired. We couldn’t walk Xena in our own neighborhood. On Tuesdays, when the Trucks of Terror came for our garbage and recycling, my wife and our dog had to be somewhere far away – one of Saturn’s moons, for example. We had to smuggle her into parks, waiting in the car until we had a clear run for the trees. It was like living in O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief,” where the desperate kidnappers pay the father to take his brat back.

Few things in life are as unsettling as a dog erupting two feet from your head at 4 in the morning because she wants to chase down and kill a freight train trying to sneak past her – a mile away. In all the years we’ve lived with corgis, only one ever reacted to a moving train, and that was because she’d spotted a man standing in the open door of a boxcar. Emma knew that was a safety violation.

No one here at the Bureau was thriving.

Special D finally called the breeder, who said she’d never had a litter like this and that two other people had already returned their pups. We said, we’re returning ours.

It was an emotional decision, made even more emotional by the lengthy drive to the mountain town Xena came from. Now we’d lost three dogs in three years, but this one was still alive. And ready to attack.

Xena was quiet most of the trip (we could only give her breaks in secluded areas off the highway), but when we got within 15 miles of her ancestral home, she started to bark. She knew where she was.

We arrived after dark. Xena almost flew out of the back of the car. I put her in the breeder’s arms. Xena wiggled with joy and licked the woman’s face – and then she turned and licked mine.

She’s saying goodbye, I thought, and she’s pierced my heart. No, of course not, I told myself; humans think that way, not dogs. We endow our dogs with human personalities. We speak for them. But we are not dogs and dogs are not us.

I realized that I couldn’t go through life thinking that I had failed this dog and yet she still had the decency to wish me well.

So I changed my thinking.

Xena is back at the breeder’s, with her mother and two of her siblings, in a rural area with little traffic. She’ll eventually go to a home with a lower threat level than our place. She’ll feel safe. She’ll thrive.

Xena wasn’t saying goodbye on that cold, disturbing night. She was saying thank you.

That was a month ago. Yesterday we brought home a new dog. We’ve named him Lucky. We hope this one will stay.


Teddy Ballgame

Posted: June 13, 2013 in Dog reviews, Miscellaneous
Tags: , , ,

Teddy 08

His original name was Schroeder. He’d lost two homes by the time he was four. His first home was overcrowded. His second was negligent. He lived on the streets for a week. He came to us in October 2004 through CorgiAid and a series of coincidences worthy of  A Tale of Two Cities or Les Misérables. We named him Teddy, after a collie my Dad’s family had in the 1950s. Teddy won the lottery, and that first month we had him, the Red Sox won the World Series. We gave him his first nickname, Teddy Ballgame, after the great Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams.

Like all pets, Teddy collected many other names (Teodoro, Teddilini, Teddilicious, The Tedster, Mr. T.), but the important thing to him was having a permanent address. He worked hard to fit in. He studied us as if we were his senior thesis. He was younger, larger, and stronger than our senior dog, Emma, but he bared his neck to her and followed her lead. (When Emma decided to retire, she ceded all of her duties to Teddy, even though they had no written language and no HR department to manage the transition.)

Watch and learn, kid
Emma to Teddy: “Watch and learn, kid!”

In 2005, my sister and her daughter, Isabelle, visited us. Isabelle was 6. We couldn’t predict how Teddy would act with a small child. We found out later that Teddy had had these creatures in his first home. He melted in Isabelle’s presence. Anything she wanted to do, he’d do. Isabelle wrote Teddy a couple of letters after she left. Teddy dutifully answered them. Isabelle wanted to believe that Teddy was corresponding with her, but she had her suspicions. She told my mother, “I think Uncle Stevie is helping Teddy write these letters.”

Critters in motion
Critters in motion.

Teddy was a champion sleeper who could launch himself at his bed from three feet away and land curled up and conked out. But wide awake he ran amuck whenever visitors arrived. Then he found himself in lockdown (the back room). He was not much of a cuddler. He wrestled when you picked him up. He wrestled when you brushed him. He wrestled when you toweled him off. He barked louder than God and was more stubborn than Pharaoh. It was impossible not to love him.

Steve + Teddy guard the house 0607
Steve and Teddy guard the house.

Teddy never chased squirrels or cats out of our yard unless we made an official request. He disapproved of cats outside and feared them inside. He once tried to climb on Deborah’s head when a cat entered the room where they were sitting. He was not a good puppy player – he either didn’t like other dogs or didn’t know what to do with them. He wasn’t overweight but he was built like a tank. (A vet told me, “No, tanks are built like Teddy.”) He disliked running – even when he was young, I could outrun him. He wouldn’t run after an object unless that object was an Alpo Snap.

Teddy & tulips 1 April 2008
Ready for the county fair.

There was no place Teddy would rather be than with us, whether he was sleeping on the cool tiles of the hearth while we watched TV or under the table while we talked or riding in the car and hearing our voices or walking the banks of the Boise River or the beach at Manzanita or a college campus here in Portland. He especially liked it when we were all at home. Sometimes he’d sit on the back deck and look through the window at us inside. I like to think he was marveling at his good fortune, but he was a herding dog. Maybe he was just congratulating himself on keeping both of us in the barn.

Teddy waits for a lift 0108
Stairway to Teddy.

Our friend Bob says that when a dog can’t be a dog anymore, you’ve reached the end. As pet owners we have to have the guts to recognize that and act on it. We did that today. Teddy was 13. He’d come a long way for a small dog who started off in Tulsa and was homeless in Idaho.

Iron Mt 070410 wildflowers
Teddy conquers the wilderness.

Teddy loved kibble, scrambled eggs, baby carrots, the stalks of romaine leaves, rawhide chews, sidewalk mystery snacks, all representatives of the U.S. Postal Service, and coeds. For years he patiently sat on his pillow in the living-room window and watched the street until he willed us both to return home. I’ll miss that furry face in the window, our guardian, friend, and fellow traveler. Farewell, Teddy Ballgame, and thank you for walking us all this way.

Teddy worried about the snow 1208

Our current dog, Storm Small, doesn’t care for music. He certainly doesn’t care for anything I care to play. He puts up with the music from the television only because the television sits in the same room where he prefers to sleep. I think he enjoys the piano at the beginning of Battlestar Galactica. He won’t admit it, though.

But our first dog, Emma, was an astute critic with a complicated relationship with music. It was based on geography. If I was working in the garage and she was at her post in the open door, making sure I didn’t wander away and get lost, she made no objection to anything that played on the radio. Unless it was “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction. When I heard the opening guitar I knew I had about three seconds to hit OFF before the dogs on the song started barking and Emma went to DEFCON 1.

Things were different indoors, where Emma slept for years under my desk. Everything was fine until I took my headphones off. Emma would stay put for music by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, and their Baroque contemporaries, but not for anything earlier or later. Chanting made her growl, and she had a particular dislike for the Seattle scene of the ’90s. Also for Pink Floyd. When confronted with Soundgarden or Dark Side of the Moon, she’d pack up and find someplace else for her regularly scheduled day-long nap.

What’s in a name? I’ll tell you what’s in a name
In the late ’90s, I worked for a computer game company called Sierra On-Line. Sierra On-Line has been bought and sold many times (twice while I was there); today it’s just a name they slap on a box or a download. But in those days the company was alive and well and churning out games, most of them with “Quest” in the title, such as Quest for Glory, King’s Quest, Police Quest, and Space Quest (but not Jonny Quest).

Quest for Glory was a fantasy role-playing game with a sense of humor. Puns, anyway. The fifth title in the series, Quest for Glory: Dragon Fire, featured a soundtrack by the composer Chance Thomas. You can get something done with a name like Chance. It sounds just like Race Bannon from Jonny Quest, and he was the guy who was always saving his egghead employer from yetis, spies, and aliens. One of my chess kids was named Chance. He’s in high school now, but while I had him he once shaved a dollar sign into his hair. He has a brother named Hurricane (of course he has a brother named Hurricane), who is in the fifth grade and who dunks his head in a bucket of ice water before every tournament. Oh, why was I named Steve??

I traded emails with Chance Thomas as our career paths crossed, and when QFG: Dragon Fire wrapped he generously sent me a CD of the soundtrack. Fantasy RPGs aren’t my thing, no matter how funny they are, and I figured that Chance’s soundtrack wouldn’t be either (it wasn’t), but he had taken the time to send it so I played it.

I don’t remember it now, except that it was fairly dramatic and occasionally raucous and nothing like the serenity of Handel’s Water Music. And yet, though I was not wearing my headphones, Emma didn’t abandon her den under my desk. In fact, the music made her relax. In fact, as the music progressed she reached her relaxation release point, which I detected around the 30-minute mark. I immediately deployed one of the emergency candles I kept at my desk for this purpose. When you own a dog you laugh every day, though sometimes it’s not until the next day.

My father-in-law was fond of saying that dogs have only one thing to say and only one way to say it. Emma had more tools in her critical repertoire than you’d expect from a dog, and she displayed a talent for brevity that I lack. In the time it took me to write these 700 words, Emma would’ve made her opinion known and gone outside to eat a bug. I don’t understand the opinion she was expressing with her violation of the international ban on chemical warfare, but then I don’t always understand Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, either.

If there’s a lesson here, it escapes me. I wrote this because I heard “Been Caught Stealing” and realized I only knew the first three seconds.