This post dedicated to Abby Crahan's dog, Jack.
Tonight, Will and I made tom kah gai Soup. It's that deliciously tangy, pale red soup you get in Thai restaurants, made with coconut milk and chicken. Oh, it's heaven. And it was raining outside. And we were cooking lots of it to feed all of our friends we'd be visiting later on.
Just the other morning, the police disrupted the idyllic main street coffee house in Montpelier, Vermont. They were after me. Of course.
If you have read this blog before, than you are already familiar with the scene of me working in a public location. Writing is always a challenge, but it pales in comparison to the challenge of avoiding the unsolicited comments and conversation of strangers that seem to befall me as if by magnetic attraction.
On this particular morning, Capitol Grounds was packed. The shrill blast of the milk steamer and conversations of customers blended into a cheerful, cacophonous white noise. I was typing, leaning forward in concentration and every so often rubbing my forehead with my right hand. Typical stuff.
And then the police came in and broke it all up.
Let the record show, counselor, that these events took place on the morning on March 10th, 2010. I had risen early and driven an hour up 89 to have breakfast with an old friend. She called to say she was going to be a little late, so I took the dogs on a quick walk before tying them in front of the diner. I ordered corned beef and hash. The two of us ate for approximately 51 minutes, and afterward I took the dogs for another little walk around town.
It was early spring in the capitol of our rural state, blue and calm and a warm 48 degrees in the sun. Montpelier is an eclectic town of local-food restaurants and book stores clustered around the gold-topped State House. I tied up the dogs in front of the cafe, ordered an Americano and opened up my laptop. From my seat at the window I could see the dogs, sunning themselves like seals and accepting the steady stream of attention offered by the people passing by.
I was halfway through my work when a policeman in his blue starched uniform entered the building. He was talking with the woman behind the counter, and I was unaware of his presence until he turned towards the cafe and announced, "Excuse me! Can I have every one's attention, please!"
The place fell silent. There must have been fifty people there, all looking this young, crew cut officer of the law. He was unusually short. He hooked his thumbs into his gun holster, leaned back on his heals and addressed the crowd. "Who is the owner of the two dogs tied up outside?"
I raised my hand. Fifty heads rotated in my direction.
You know that sudden, irrational guilt you feel when you see a police car on the interstate? You think, oh my God am I speeding? I'm speeding! Did I use my glove compartment to store illegal drugs again? Did I? I don't think I did? Oh god, maybe I did and I forgot? Logic goes out the Subaru window- this feeling is instinctual.
Well believe it or not, I have nearly kicked that instinct. I used to date a cop, and judging from the stories he used to tell me, he was very, very bad at his job. This guy could have had his own CHiPs-esque sitcom. Getting a glimpse of the more human, slam your thumb in the patrol car door and cry while giving a ticket side of the police force had negated my fear considerably.
Regardless, when this police officer outed me to the entire cafe as the perpetrator, I ran through a quick mental checklist. Had the dogs been barking? No. Had they made a mess of the sidewalk as Hometeam has been known to do on certain irritable banker's floors? No. Is it illegal to tie your dogs up on the street? It wasn't yesterday. Were they out there smoking a fat spliff? Were they?
"People are concerned," said the cop, still addressing the entire coffee shop. "There have been a few calls, people wondering if those dogs had been abandoned." Oh. Of course people suspected these two healthy, pure breed dogs were abandoned, at 1:00pm on this sunny day on that busy sidewalk.
"Well....they're not." I offered lamely. Everyone was looking from me to the cop to me again. The officer paused.
"Well, I just need- okay, you know what? I'm just going to go around and talk to you."
He walked around to my seat, and I was aware of how sheepish and embarrassed he looked. I was fondly reminded of my ex boyfriend. "Sorry about that....so---uh...." he brought out a little notebook from his back pocket. "I just need some, uh, some information." I could tell he was ad-libbing. "What's your name?"
I gave it to him. He wrote it down.
"And what's your birthday?"
I gave it to him. He wrote it down. I wondered what he'd ask for next. "You know officer, those dogs haven't been out there that long." He scratched his head and looked down. "I know. I just, I'm just required to have a conversation with you. And okay, I did. Sorry about that. You have a good day." And he walked out.
I turned back to my computer, feeling the eyes of fifty strangers boring into me. What were they thinking? Did they want me to skulk out of there without making eye contact, load my neglected dogs into the back of my car and head for home, where surely there was a dirty toddler and a screaming infant neglected in a crib?
Actually, just the opposite. The rest of my understandably unproductive work day was punctuated by people interrupting me, RE: the dogs. "Hey- beautiful dogs you got there! What are those, shelties? Such well behaved dogs!" Their comments smacked of support and solidarity.
Alright people, I thought, as you were. Public humiliation is nothing new to me. This may have phased some, sure, but compared to other glaring moments in my life, like falling down an entire flight of stairs in front of Lorenzo, my former future husband in Chile, this occurrence did not register on the mortification scale. I thought it had been pretty funny. And totally ridiculous.
Eventually I packed up my laptop and headed for the counter to pay, where the barrista apologized profusely. "I suggested he go around to everyone and ask them if they owned the dogs," she explained, "but he said it would just be easier to announce it to everyone. I bet that was really embarrassing."
I have heard this about motherhood: the first time the baby throws up on you- not spits up but really bblllaaarrrghhhhssss- and your first concern is for the baby and not for yourself, then you know you're really a mother. That is the way I felt, not as a mother but as a writer. You know you're a writer when life throws up on you and your first thought is 'This will make really good material!'
I considered this as I untied the dogs. A man was approaching me on the sidewalk, punk looking with a swagger, over sized headphones over his ears. He was rapping out loud and spitting as he walked. And I thought, 'Yeah, come over here! Spit on my shoes! Tell me something crazy! This will make the perfect end to this story!'
But he didn't. He swaggered past without a second glance. And as I took my neglected, starving, totally unloved dogs for their third walk around town, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.
Miles & miles of adventures through mud-season Vermont meant that Hometeam desperately needed a bath. However, this photo shoot extended what for her is a humiliating and miserable experience. Was it worth it? YOU TELL ME, FRIEND!
I'm so distracted by this situation that I haven't written a thing since I've been here. I have my laptop out and I'm blinking alternatively between the screen and the window. Then this younger, sharply dressed character walks in, sits down next to me and says- out of nowhere, we hadn't even made eye contact- "Is that a really big laptop, or are you just happy to see me?"
"Um....it's a really big laptop," I say. I'm thinking, it's not that big. I'm also thinking.....Really??
"Ha Ha!" Says the man, slapping his thigh. "Good answer! Great answer!" He laughs his way to the counter. I stare out the window and continue to watch the man bad-touch my dog. He's been joined now by a lady, a big lady in a big pink sweatshirt that reads- in puff paint- MY GRANDKIDS KILLED SANTA! It is accompanied by an illustration that I cannot make out from here. And honestly, I don't want to.
You just can't make this stuff up.
When the well dressed man sits down with his coffee, he turns to me and as if we'd been previously engaged in a lengthy conversation. "Soooo......" He cranes his neck to get a look at my keyboard. "What have we got here....Dell? Toshiba?"
I've got nothing much to write, but I dip my head anyway and start typing furiously, hoping to give out the "hard working I've got a deadline" vibe. I do not mean to be rude, but I know this type (and by 'this type I do not mean gay....in case for some reason you thought I meant that.) They are perfectly harmless, but once you've returned their attention in any way it can be hard- nay, impossible-to shake them.
So this is what I've written. And actually, these past 20 minutes have been a fairly accurate snapshot of my life right now. And I can't help but find that just a touch discouraging.
The wedding is over and the bride and groom are sunning themselves in the Cayman Islands. I'm stuck here in Vermont for two weeks as I wait for my MRI, which is scheduled for the middle of the month. In case you have never seen Vermont in mud season, let me tell you that it is misery. The lustre and brilliance of winter has melted into shabbiness and filth, huge piles of snow crouch defiantly on the sidewalk, and the twisting tire tracks in the mud roads freeze into deep ruts in the evenings.
I decided to take both dogs, Hometeam and my parent's dog Latte, into town to run some errands. To begin with, it took me forever to get out of the house. Nothing new there. Then on the way out the door I ripped a giant hole in my jeans against the side of the barn.
'Hey- relax!' you say, 'It's just pants! You could have easily gashed a hole through your leg!' In theory I agree with you, but having spent the morning reviewing my finances, I took a decidedly darker view of things. The way I see it, I own one pair of jeans- one- and based purely on my current income, I will not be able to afford another one until I am eligible for social security.
Now my pants provide the world with a window into my thigh, and things will be quite drafty south of my waist for a while.Then I got in a big fight with the woman at the bank.
I have a habit of picking up any lose change that I come across, and squirrelling it away in a
cheerful polka dotted tin. Some day after I find enough, I will put it into a high yielding online savings account, amass a few hundred thousand in interest, then write a charming book called "Spare Change" or "Spare Penny For Your Thoughts" or "The Wishing Well- How My Wishes Came True One Penny at a Time."
Today, after scouring the couch cushions, I had aggregated enough change to fill up the tin. So I was bringing it to the bank to be sorted and exchanged into bills, always a fun occurrence. At the bank outside of town, a nice white haired lady directed me to the other branch of the same bank, in the lovely stone building in the center of town. That branch had possession of a coin sorter machine, and they would be happy to help me.
I leashed the dogs up and headed for the other bank, where I happily explained that I'd been sent there to use the coin sorter. After a long ugly look, the large lady behind the counter, Diane, asked to see the coins. With a flourish, I presented her the polka dotted tin.
'This?' She asked, blinking at it. 'This is it?'
'Well, yes.' I felt deflated- this was an entire month's worth of coin hunting!
'And they sent you here? They could have counted this themselves at the other bank.'
'They said you had a coin counter here.'
'Well, we do but it's such a small amount it's going to be faster for me to just count these out by hand- Linda! LINDA- look!-' she held up my tin to someone in the back room. 'The other branch sent her here to count this!'
'Can't you just use the coin sorter?' I asked again.
'I am not going to bother. It will be faster this way'.
'Diane, please,' I said, 'Be reasonable, it's a coin counter, it's a machine, how could you possibly be faster-'
I was interrupted by the sound of coins hitting the counter as Diane poured out the tin. She shuffled the coins around with a single chubby finger and one by one began stacking up the pennies.
I just couldn't let this go. 'I'm sorry but- if there's a machine here, how could it possibly be easier to do it yourself? It's a machine!'
Diane did not look up at me. 'Because there are not enough coins to warrant using the machine.' She had taken on the tone of an irritated 2nd grade teacher.
'Yes but what difference does it make-
'It's easier for me to count it-
'But it's a machine! it's a COIN COUNTER! It COUNTS COINS that's what it does!'
'Listen' she hissed, learning forward. 'I'm not going to get up and go over there for this. I'd have to go and put the coins INTO the machine, and then take them OUT of the machine. This is much easier." (I'm not making this up).Next to us, an older man had handed over an envelope to the teller in the next window. She walked behind Diane, clicked on a small machine, poured in the coins with a satisfying jingle, and in two seconds returned to the counter. "Six dollars!" She said cheerfully, handing over the money.
Diane continued to slowly count out each coin. She had moved on to the nickels.
Finally, she was finished. "Ten dollars and thirty seven cents." She said, pronouncing every word carefully. She handed me the money.
At this point, I had declared Diane my enemy. I was about to open my mouth and tell her how ten dollars is A LOT OF MONEY TO SOME PEOPLE and you SHOULD NOT MAKE
PEOPLE FEEL BAD ABOUT IT. Do not judge me. Do not shame- but at that moment Hometeam urinated on the rug.
I don't know what was up with her, she's never done that in her life. And if no one had seen it, I would have whisked her out and not mentioned it. (I'm only being honest.) Unfortunately for me, a few customers in line had witnessed the crime and were looking at me expectantly. Knowing there was no bathroom in the bank, I yanked both dogs outside and tied them up in front of the restaurant next door.
I ran to the bathroom to grab some paper towels, and returned 20 seconds later to find Latte lying lose in the middle of the sidewalk, her leash dragging. Hometeam was gone. In an instant, I realized what I had done. Unknowingly, I had tied them up to one of those weird, tube-like cigarette holders with the base full of cigarettes. In my brief absence, the dogs had dragged it halfway down the sidewalk, where it had toppled over and broken in half. Hundreds of rain drenched cigarettes butts and red tobacco juice had spilled all the quaint corner of Main Street and Elm.
I found Hometeam two blocks away outside a ladies' clothing store drinking from a puddle. There was a middle aged man standing outside his car watching her. "Ohh..." he said to me as I ran up. "I was just waiting here because she looked like someone may have lost her"
"YEAH AND SHE'S A BAD DOG A VERY BAD DOG" I grabbed her and jerked on her leash. The man got in his car, but not before hitting me with a look reserved for bad dog owners and women who hit their children in the grocery store. And I would have BEEN one of those people if my dog were a child. And we were in a grocery store.
At this point, the mess I had planned to clean up at the bank had already dried into the carpet, so I just walked in, approached the counter and said to Dianne 'By the way, my dog peed on your carpet. Sorry.' As I walked out I was thinking 'DON'T YOU WISH YOU HAD JUST USED THE COIN SORTER NICE AND QUICK??'
I brought the dogs back to the car and tied them up on the meter. I reached into the trunk and grabbed a box of Bunny Grahams I have stashed for emergencies. In my frustration I ripped the bag open and the little bunny cookies flew everywhere, a tremendously exciting event for the dogs. At this point, my phone rang.
I wouldn't have bothered to answer it except I recognized the ringer as being a foreign number. It was my school, calling from Chile for the first time since the earthquake.
"Hello?" I asked. I heard the crackle of static. "HELLO?" A young, well dressed couple was approaching me on the sidewalk. I kept shouting at the phone. The dogs and I were taking up the entire sidewalk, and the couple had to sidle over the snowbank to get around me. The moment they passed, I heard a voice come through the other end of the phone line. "OH MY GOD CAN YOU HEAR ME?!" I shouted.
The couple swiveled their heads around, the man looked bemused but the woman shot me a dirty look. I covered the mouth piece and mouthed the words 'Earthquake! They were in the earthquake!!!' As they passed, her in her stylish red wool coat and he with smart suit jacket, I could see their pace quicken.
I could only imagine what I looked like to them, standing in a sea of bunny grahams and shouting into a phone, completely blocking the sidewalk with my unruly dogs. They turned the corner and I could picture the man saying soothingly to his wife, 'Oh, now, let' s just take pity on her. Did you see those torn jeans? She probably only has 10 dollars and thirty seven cents to her name.'
'Mmmmm' the woman replies, slipping a gloved hand through his arm. 'I wouldn't even bother to use my coin sorter for that amount.'
The other day, I pulled my skirt over my deck and slid into the flat water of the Ottawa. Usually do a warm up and then head across the capacious river to an island. On the other side of the island is mccoy's rapid, corner wave and babyface- contingent, of course, on water levels. As I pushed out into the gloss I heard Hometeam freaking out on the bank. Whenever I go kayaking she wines and wimpers and sometimes wades in after me. Sometimes I'll place her on my skirt and paddle around, which she likes very much. But since I was going out to surf, I told her to be good and left her there.
I was almost to the island when something made me turn my head. And thank goodness, because there was Hometeam, halfway out in the deep river, paddling like mad to get to me. Hometeam is shaped like a 1/2 fat badger, 1/2 sleek sea otter, and watching her swim is predictably hilarious. She looked very concerned to be out so far away from shore but also madly determined.
I had to paddle all the way back and try unsucsessfully to scoop her onto my bow, which I couldn't do, so in the end I just sheperded her back to the bank and locked her inside for the afternoon. She was howling mad. I wish I could have taken her with her, but the thought of her little badger otter body recirculating in phil's hole like a stuffed animal on a wash cycle-spin cycle stops me.
Have I mentioned my family's penchant for unchecked anxiety? Well, bring in Uncle Robert and his maybe-maybe-not infected bloodstream for the holidays. It's a deadly cocktail.
My epidemiologist mother, who loves nothing more than a good population wipe-out by the dirty hand of Cholera or the Plague and teaches a class to her Boston University students called "Great Medical Disasters In History," leaps onto the CDC website and starts rattling out symptoms with the relish most reserve for reading the Feast scene in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". "High fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, and backache! ooooh: after a brief recovery period, the infection can lead to shock, bleeding, and kidney and liver failure! Tricky." Then she addresses Robert in a soothing tone, "It's only spread through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, do you know if while you were in Senegal you were bitten by any of those?" And then my sister starts panicking "OH MY GOD I SAW A MOSQUITO IN THE HOUSE!! DO I HAVE IT? DO I HAVE YELLOW FEVER?! HOW CAN YOU TELL?" And Uncle Robert gravely reminds her that it could be too early to tell. And by the time you find out.....it could be too late. "GOOD GOD!" I shout, it being Christmas Eve. Call me a traditionalist but I look forward to a reading of The Night Before Christmas and hanging a stocking or two, nothing more. "IS THIS A CHRISTMAS CONVERSATION??"
Aunt Priscella and cousin Ali arrive a few days later with The Reverend Bob Wiley III, Ali's terrier mix, dressed in a striped dog-sweater. Soon Aunt Priscella (mother's side) is regaling the extended Coogan clan (Dad's side) in vivid detail the grisly tale of my grandmother's ill-fated tumble down a flight of stairs. We must hear, again, about how 'the tough old bird survived' despite severely broken arms, a gruesome bouquet of compound fractures and spilling enough blood that Crime Scene Clean-up had to be called. "She had to drag herself around on two stumps!" says Priscella, imitating the scene by bending her arms and pointing her elbows towards the floor. Ali, who is playing Spore at her computer and shouting "EAT IT!! EAT IT!! OKAY, WELL, MATE WITH IT THEN!" looks up from the screen and says "Mother do you have to tell this story AGAIN?" and then the conversation is shifted to the Latest and Greatest Coogan Family Dispute, about which I don't think I'm allowed to write.
At least my mom can always be counted on for a good time. This year she has insisted that we all embark on a crafty adventure she is calling "Crocs in Bob Land," a calendar depicting the Croc Footwear dressed as humans with googly eyes engaging in such human actives as skiing and hanging out at the beach in a world dominated by the name Bob, including an Easter themed April with a shoe dying for us 'on the Croc.'
Have I offended you yet? Because I didn't think of that one, Dad did.
and seemed to transform into a hedgehog before our eyes.
So anyway, you get the picture. This dog was no picnic. She weighed 2 pounds for the first few months of her life and racked up a killer vet bill. She did find a turning point, long story involving a policeman and a woman named Loa who cried easily, but she did indeed become the world's greatest dog.
Sure, she doesn't look anything like a corgi, but that could be overlooked. She was super happy and healthy and all was well. A year passed, and then one day she refused to use her back legs. At first we thought it was just an injury, knee problems....no....then her legs began to shrink from lack of use. And that brings us to the present day.
By now we're living in Vermont, just the two of us, so I bring her to the vet in Woodstock. It appears, sez the Vet, that this dog has a stunning case of Leg Calves Perthes, an infliction most commonly found in Jack Russel Terriers, does she perhaps have a trifle of Jack Russel in her? (Does she!) No worries, totally curable, just need major surgery on both hips, at a cost of 1,300 per side. Plus more if you want her to have morphine the following night. Plus more if you want x-rays so we can see what we're doing.
Aye-fuckin-carambe! It's a RECESSION, hometeam, can't you give up your back legs?? I gave up Zokas Coffee! (Although to be quite fair I probably wouldn't have it I hadn't moved 3,000 miles away from it.) So anyway, that's what we've got going for us. The moral to this story is never buy your dogs from a breader who says, "We don't do genetic testing before breeding because we think God protects the animals." Well if that's the case I wish God would pony up for the vet bill.