Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Other Side of the Fence

One morning this week I sat alone with George in the shade of the small-dog section of the dog park and was entertained by ten people and dogs on the large-dog side. Often when I go to the park – usually in the morning or daytime – we are the only pair on the small-dog side, while there are always many dogs on the large side of the fence, no matter what the time of day.

Why is this? Are most small-dog owners too lazy to take their dogs to the park? Or too busy? The only time the small-dog side is full is around 7pm, so does this mean small- dog owners work and large-dog owners are unemployed? Do large-dog owners care more for their dogs and devote more time to them? I just don’t understand why I’m usually alone on my side while there’s a party going on just yards away.

In my years at the park, I’ve noticed a few traits of large-dog people versus small-dog owners. I have never seen anyone dressed up on the large-dog side. They’re used to roughhousing with their pooches and come ready to play. In contrast, on the small-dog side I saw a woman in heels and beige slacks who caused a scene when a dog jumped on her. Do small-dog owners tend to be prissy, Paris Hilton-types who buy dogs as accessories?

Large-dog owners are never prissy. They’re ready for possible fights to break out and know to monitor their dogs’ behavior. They bring long ball-throwing devices so they can throw the balls clear across the park for their pooches. They drive SUV’s with huge tires, sit together in the sun, and know each others’ names.

Small-dog owners can be loners and often sit away from the group with a book or cup of coffee. They dress their dogs in clothes (George has a t-shirt that says “Dog Park Security”) and hate it when their dogs smell like dogs.

Large-dog owners are loud. One woman this week was standing at least fifty feet away from me, and I could hear every single word she said. So now I know that the woman in the flannel shirt with the German Shepherd is unemployed, hates illegal immigrants, and prefers Del Taco over Taco Bell.

I have taken George in the large side before, usually when we’re on the way to the groomer, since I know he’ll get slobbered on over there. I’ve always been immediately greeted by the big-dog people and feel we are somehow elevated in their opinions by coming to their side. (Being there means George is butch enough to handle the big dogs!)

But we don’t stay long. I wouldn’t know what to do if a fight broke out, and I don’t want to get slobbered on, myself. I guess I am a prissy small-dog owner after all.

And that’s okay with me. But I have to admit that the large-dog people sure look like they’re having fun! I’ll have to break the boundaries more often – go to the other side of the fence, and get to know the other side.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


After many days of gorgeous weather it turned cold one day recently, but George and I braved the temps and went to the park anyway. And I even parked in my normal spot which forced us to walk across the entire length of the park to the dog area. While George ran around, I stood with my back to the cold wind, leaning slightly so it wouldn’t blow me over, and thought about how I could have parked just fifty feet away and avoided the numbing walk across the park. But that’s not a shortcut I’m willing to take.

In Las Vegas, walking through grass is a luxury. So I always avoid the parking spaces right next to the dog park and instead park on the far side which forces us to walk through a grassy field past trees, picnic areas, and swing sets. And no matter how rushed I am or how cold it is, I always park in those remote spaces.

Why not take the shortcut when it would better suit my schedule? Because I know that once I do, it will make me give in more often, and George and I will miss out on our grassy walk. We’d give up enjoying the simple things in favor of time management. I’m just not willing to do that.

In the same way, I have never ever made a cake or cookies from a mix. I love the old-fashioned feeling of baking from scratch, and I’m afraid that once I give in I’ll never go back. And I would miss the measuring of the flour & spices and the sense of connection that baking gives me to generations of women before me.

So when are shortcuts good? If I take a shortcut home from work, it gets me home faster, but then I miss out on driving through residential neighborhoods where kids play, horses are in backyard pastures, and life seems slower. Shortcuts at work may complete a task sooner, but doesn’t the term “shortcut” imply that the job wasn’t done completely? Fast isn’t always good.

Nowadays it seems like everyone is trying to shortcut everything – streamlining everything – leaving out the very bits of life that give us meaning and fulfillment. And while this is a well-worn theme nowadays, the notion of slowing down and simplifying is overused because we need constant reminders! So why not take one week and try to live without shortcuts? Slow down. Walk the long way to the park. Life may just be better!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Trust your car to the man who wears the star...

Whenever my husband gets in my car, he tells me it gives him “the skeeves.” He is a neat freak, so the fact that my car is not up to par really gets to him. But I don’t really care. I mean, I live in my car. And by “live” I don’t mean that I spend a lot of time in my car; I mean that life goes on there. I eat in my car, laugh in my car, and sometimes even cry in my car. In the backseat are books in case I need to kill time somewhere, canvas grocery bags because I try to be green, an umbrella (because I’m unrealistically optimistc about the possibility of rain), and a dictionary so I can look up words from KNPR. There are smudges on the passenger window from George’s nose as he watches the world go by on the way to the park. My car door has scratches on it from a very aggressive llama at a wild animal park. There is a stain on the backseat from a potted plant I bought that spilled when I took a sharp turn. To me, these are part of life – nothing to worry about.

And while the interior may be unkempt, the machinery of my car is doing just fine, thank you. It goes in for perfectly timed oil changes and regular checkups, due to one reason: years ago my Grandpa owned a Texaco service station.

When I was a kid, Grandpa and his brother still owned the service station on the West side of town in Paoli, Indiana. It was a special place where the local men went to socialize. I was allowed to sit in the brown leather chair in between the front window and the ice cream freezer. If I was lucky Grandpa would give me an ice cream sandwich or I would be there when the last cigar was sold so I could take home the cigar box and put special things in it.

My Uncle John worked at the station in the summer, long and lean in his green shirt with the Texaco patch. I could see him helping customers at the pump, but I was not allowed to go into the service area where the cars were hoisted high. That was a serious area – no kids allowed.

At my Grandpa’s funeral two years ago, a man walked up to Grandma and introduced himself. “Your husband saved my life,” he told her. Years before, he had been out of money and desperate and was walking a small country road looking for work when Grandpa pulled alongside him in his pickup truck and offered him a ride. When Grandpa found out he was looking for a job, he offered him one at the station. “I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t saved me that day,” the man said to Grandma. He ended up working at the station for over 15 years.

Grandpa and I didn’t have a lot in common when I got older, but we could always talk about my car. “How many miles does it have on it?” he’d ask when I drove home from college. Later when I flew in from Vegas to visit, he’d always ask the make, model, and color of my rental. Over the years he gave a lot of car advice from his reclining chair by the front window in the living room.

Everyone in my family knows to follow certain “automobile rules.” Don’t slam the car doors. Don’t drive barefoot. Always pull up to the farthest pump at the gas station. Put a concrete block in the back to keep you from sliding on icy roads. Don’t speed. Follow the rules. We were taught to respect our cars and fellow motorists.

As I write this, I wonder why I don’t respect my car enough to keep the interior clean. But I just figured out why. One summer when Mom’s car’s front corner was dented by another driver, Grandpa fixed it and then painted the corner of the yellow car a bright brick red. Mom was mortified. But I can see Grandpa’s reasoning. It was a good car that was impeccable in its machinery and ran well. What it looked like didn’t matter.

So the next time you’re in my car, please know that it will get us where we need to go. Don’t mind my empty drink cup or the paw prints on the dashboard. I take care of my car in the way that matters. I LIVE in my car!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Purple Velvet?

This week, Vegas days have been warm, sunny, open-all-the-windows weather – perfect for a trip to the park (except for a few days of wind and dust that kept us indoors). As George and I walked back to the car one day, my attention was drawn to an elderly man in a tan newsboy hat who had a shaggy brown dog at his side. He walked from the parking lot and motioned for his dog to jump onto one of the concrete pilings that line the sidewalk every four feet or so. After obediently jumping onto the first one, the dog turned to the man who stood silently by him. Then with a wave of his master’s hand, the dog jumped onto the next concrete block, and then onto the next one. Down the length of the walkway they went, the man silently motioning the dog to jump ahead, then back a few, and forward again in a sort of choreographed jumping dance.

By this time, everyone on the path had stopped to watch the show. Jumping from one concrete block to the next wasn’t easy; the blocks were only about eighteen inches wide, and he’d wobbily balance himself after each jump while keeping his eye on the man in the tan hat.

At the end of the path the dog was commanded to jump onto a huge landscaping boulder, which he did, and then he teetered on top while the man gave a “stay” command. Then the man turned his back and just walked away. And walked. Twenty feet. Forty feet. The dog just sat and watched the retreating plaid shirt. The crowd near me began to marvel at this dog’s poise. After walking over sixty yards away without even one glance back, the man finally turned and gave a hand command, causing the dog to fly off the rock and run to his side. They walked away around the bend of the path and out of sight.

I thought about the man as I drove home afterward. It was obvious that he did this for attention, and he reminded me of Ralph, an 80-year-old man with flowing white hair who often showed up for my shows at the Venetian when I worked there as an opera singer a few years ago. Ralph came to at least two shows a week in complete Renaissance attire – from his embroidered jacket down to his colored tights. My coworkers thought he was crazy, but I talked to him and he seemed to be harmless as he sat in the audience in his costume, swaying and clapping to the music.

On the days I worked at the Paris Hotel, there was another man who came into the casino at least once a week with his dog, Happy. Happy was a smaller version of George, and he sat quietly in a stroller that was emblazoned with his name, allowing his elderly owner to push him through the casino and stop occasionally for the women who would ask to pet the cute dog.

I ran into Ralph in his costume at the Venetian the day after I first met Happy, and I happened to tell him about my conversation with the man who pushed his dog everywhere in a stroller. “Why do you think I do it?” Ralph asked me, gesturing to the green Renaissance costume he wore that day. Before I could reply, we were interrupted by a tourist family who asked him for a photo. I stood and watched Ralph smile and talk with the people before they headed off again.

Ralph’s blatant acknowledgement of why he wears his costumes was a relief to me. He wasn’t crazy - he was just an eccentric old man who liked attention and knew an easy way to get it. Just like the man with the dog in the stroller. And the man at the dog park whose dog performed tricks for passersby.

If I am lucky enough to get to “elderly” status, I wonder what I’ll do for camaraderie. Will I be lucky enough to have children who live nearby and drop by for visits? Will my husband still be with me to keep me company? Will I still have a social life to keep me busy?

Or if life doesn’t go according to plan, will I stay at home alone, or will I get out and demand attention? Honestly, I’d rather be eccentric than lonely. I can see myself in yards and yards of purple velvet…

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Beginning

To begin this blog, I should say something profound. When I was in college and would talk to my Mom on the phone from my dorm room, at the end of the call Mom would say, “Well, I should end with something profound.” …pause… “I guess that was it,” she’d say, and we’d laugh.

Calling this Sundays at the Dog Park with George just made sense. The dog park is where I most often sit and do nothing but think. Nothing but watch George run around and sniff things. Nothing but witness nature and talk to the strangers who happen to sit next to me and begin conversations by asking my dog’s name.
And in those quiet moments with no TV, no cell phone, and no internet – just me and the grass and the dogs and the occasional air force jet that flies far overhead - I find that my creative thoughts are most accessible. I sometimes take my camera and try to take artsy photos, or I take a notebook so I can jot down ideas for poems or stories. But even when no “profound” thoughts come to me, just sitting and being is profound in itself.

In this blog, I don’t promise to be profound. Far from it. Instead, I will write what comes. What I’m meant to write. I will use incomplete sentences and too many commas and might ramble from time to time - forgive me. But hopefully someone out there will relate. So won’t you join me?