Since I’m loathe to simply slap up the “Writer At Work” sign and leave my poor readers with only the Sunday paper or less worthy blogs (blogs of dear friends excluded, of course,) I’m doing the next easiest thing: posting something I’ve already written. Frankie got a lot of love last week, so for all you Frankie fans out there — enjoy this excerpt from my book. And don’t hold it against me if the sign’s there next week.
Arguments with my mother can sound like Abbott and Costello routines. We are parked in the car and my mom is taking Frankie out to do his business.
“When we get back, we can eat!” she tells him.
“I thought you said you didn’t bring any cookies,” I say.
“I didn’t. You said you brought grapes.”
“I did. But those are for lunch.”
“But we always have a snack at the park.”
“Yes. We always have cookies. You’re welcome to the grapes. But they were for lunch.”
“Well, I didn’t bring cookies. I thought we could eat your grapes.”
“Again. We can. I’m just saying, they were for lunch.”
Frankie whimpers to remind us he needs to go out or this could go on forever. As the door shuts, she shoots me a look that says I’m a spoiled child, unwilling to share.
They say that dogs become like their owners or owners like their dogs. I realize that my mom is Frankie’s “mom,” but since he spends most of his time with me, that’s really just a technicality. A recent trip to the dog park made it all too clear — Frankie and I are a bit too alike to do either of us much good.
We were invited to spend a recent Sunday afternoon at the Jacksonville Beach Dog Park. Since this is something my mom and I have always been nervous to try alone, I jumped at the opportunity to go with my neighbors, Trish and Pete and their dog, Chewy — seasoned dog park veterans. Besides, all parents are dying to watch their “kid” on the playground. To see how he acts with his friends.
I was disappointed. Frankie didn’t romp. Or play. Or chase balls. He didn’t even run fast. All the other dogs took off the minute their leashes were unclipped. Frankie just collapsed under the shade of a park bench and barely got up except to lap up the water that stained his chin or investigate the smells left behind by other dogs. Of course, he then raised his leg to mark the same fence post, garbage can or rock (any inanimate object, really.) He had to get the last word on the subject. In the dog world, it’s important to one-up the competition. To outsmell their smell.
He was the same way on a play date at a friend’s house. Boring. Frankie couldn’t have cared less about his three jolly playmates or their big backyard. He stayed inside in the AC, sprawled out on the cool tile.
It’s not like he’s the cool kid who can’t be bothered. He’s more like the grumpy old man who doesn’t want to join in the fun. Anti-social. This is where (I’m ashamed to confess) I see the similarities between us. Lord knows my mom has accused me of acting like her mother. And there’ve been plenty of times when I just can’t muster the will to go out. I’m a self-admitted homebody.
At the dog park, Frankie got up and moved whenever the other dogs started playing around him. And he growled whenever Chewy, a Shitzu-Yorkie mix (that’s right — a Shorkie,) got too rambunctious. Chewy can’t help it! He’s a youngster, still in the puppy phase. That annoying kid who just wants to be everyone’s friend. Frankie seems to have forgotten he was a puppy not too long ago. Apparently he skipped adulthood and went straight to senior citizen.
On our walks though, he seems to prefer dogs over people. Maybe, like me, he’s better one-on-one. But get a whole park full of them together and he opts out. As I watched my boy all by himself while the other dogs ran around in a pack, it was a good lesson for me. Sometimes being alone is just no fun. And okay, I’ll try harder not to growl internally when that family of four sits next to me at the movies.
A few days ago, I found out that one of Frankie’s favorite humans had suffered a stroke. Probably, when I was writing in a recent post the cautionary words that tragedy could strike at any moment.
Jim and his wife, Virginia, would walk First Street nearly every morning. Frankie and I would always see them. Jim would carry two dog biscuits in his pocket just for Frankie. I’ve been around when other dogs and their owners stopped and Jim came up empty-handed. It’s not like he had a pocketful of dog treats to befriend all the neighborhood dogs. Just two. Just Frankie.
It crosses your mind when you haven’t seen some people in a while. I wondered, but had no way of knowing. Until another “regular” we pass told me Jim was in the hospital. They’re just neighbors I met with Frankie. And yet, they’d become a part of our routine I looked forward to. I don’t like change. Nobody does.
Jim carried an old golf club turned makeshift walking stick. Frankie would hear the tell-tale clacks long before I would. By the time they approached, Frankie was jumping for joy. He even let out a couple of excited yips once in awhile. Then he’d receive his treats. But just two. Jim and Virginia don’t have a dog. Did they buy dog biscuits at the store just for Frankie?
I always intended to write about them, though not in this way. I learned some time ago that they were local celebrities. Virginia (Atter Keys) had been a radio and television icon in the ’50s through ’80s. I just knew she remembered Frankie’s name because of Frankie Valli. And then she would start singing.
I don’t know that we’ll see them out walking again, though I do plan to stop by their house. With Frankie. He’ll be excited even without the treats. I don’t know how bad a stroke it was. Maybe we can all sit in the driveway.
So, I’m sad. I miss seeing them out walking. I miss our exchange and Frankie’s enthusiasm. I miss the routine. Remember, things can change in an instant. Soak up the now.
Sorry I’m a little late with this week’s posting, but Frankie and I were vacationing at Snack World (my mother’s house.) Like most vacations, this one entailed lots of relaxing, tasty treats and a general flouting of the rules.
We both enjoy Snack World immensely. Mainly for the obvious — the snacks. Like one of those old-fashioned sweet shops on Main Street, my mother keeps a colorful variety of dog treats in a see-through canister in her kitchen. Like a spoiled child, Frankie has become selective, turning up his nose at some, in hopes that the next goody pulled out of the jar will be even better.
He’s also become wise to the snack routine. In the beginning, he would paw at the side door to be let out to do his business. My mother so appreciated him letting her know when he needed to go, that he received a snack when he returned through the back door. After months of receiving treats this way, he started skipping the part where he actually went to the bathroom. It was discovered when he began pawing to get in just seconds after pawing to get out. Frankie was leaving out the side door and immediately circling around to the back door, just to get the treat.
I too, enjoy the food, though it’s challenging when I’m trying to watch my weight. Mom doesn’t keep anything fat-free or light in the house. Since I can’t cook, I often look forward to having scrambled eggs or a grilled cheese sandwich. But it’s a real grilled cheese. Not 2% cheese and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. It’s made with thick bread, tons of regular cheese and you better believe it — real butter.
A different household means different rules. Forget consistency. It doesn’t exist. But Frankie’s smart enough to keep it straight. At home, I’m the mom, the disciplinarian. But there, I’m a child too, and under my mom’s roof, Frankie lives by her rules. Which is to say, he gets away with murder. He’s allowed on the bed, to beg, and to chase the cat, just to name a few. It’s no wonder he jumps up and down in excitement whenever she comes to pick us up.
My routine disappears too. My computer isn’t there so I can’t write or send emails. Usually my power chair isn’t there either, so I can’t walk Frankie. Gone are the 4 a.m. wake-ups and we all watch a late-night movie on my mom’s big screen. If Frankie could talk, I’m sure he’d be bragging to his friends at daycare about what he does on his vacations. And it’s not even summer yet.
I’ve always been the type of person that didn’t believe in dressing up animals. I hate those email jokes where there’s some poor attired feline who looks ticked off (obviously,) and I would never humiliate a cat with an outfit. I felt bad for my friend’s Labrador when she slapped a pair of plastic antlers on its head at Christmas time. Once again, Frankie’s changing my ways.
I was swayed by the persuasive tactics of commercial marketing. Have you seen the rows of pet costumes at Target? They’re adorable. Last year, still unconvinced, we did things my mom’s way — last minute. We were stuck with the unoriginal, far from clever, hot dog dog costume. Maybe this would’ve been cuter if Frankie actually was a Dachshund, but a Pekingese as a hot dog wasn’t that funny. I was a little embarrassed walking him the morning of the 31st, not to mention constantly worried he was going to pee on his getup. (Though I now know these costumes are made with strategically placed straps for safe and comfortable widdling.)
Amazingly, Frankie seemed to not only tolerate it, but enjoy it! Maybe it was all the extra attention he was getting, but there did seem to be an extra bounce in his step. Frankie has always trotted happily, but as ridiculous as it sounds, as a hot dog, he pranced.
This year, we’ve done things my way. Planned out and well in advance. Frankie’s Halloween gear was originally a sweater. Black and white striped with a skull and crossbones. Simple. Cute. I steered away from anything that looked too uncomfortable or went on his head. (I may have changed my mind, but I still have my compassion.) The problem was, his sweater looked like it had gone a couple rounds in the dryer. Way too small, it only came halfway down his back. I marveled that my mom was even able to get it on.
The sizing charts of pet costumes and a book on the Pekingese have called Frankie’s weight into question. The book says “dog show standards” (yeah, right) are limited to a maximum of 14 pounds. At last weigh-in, Frankie tipped the scales at 20. The sweater chart listed his breed as size small. Yet, what I received looked fit for a Chihuahua. We were told he’s all Pekingese, but he’s a rescue, so either he’s a very big boy or he’s mixed with Bulldog, which would explain his absolute stubbornness.
Validated for beginning the process early in the month, I returned the miniature sweater in favor of two more outfits, in hopes that one would work. One did. And Frankie felt so good about it at photo time, he turned toward the camera at his name like he was working the red carpet.
In the end, he’s a contest winning Hawaiian Guy. That’s right, the dogs are having a party and costume contest on Monday at daycare. As a columnist in Tallahassee says, this is what happens in America when you don’t have children. Silly yes, but I’m embracing it. If you see us on the street on Monday, I’ll be the one proudly walking the prancing Hawaiian Guy.
I’ve become one of those crazy animal ladies. Notice I didn’t say crazy cat ladies, because, to be honest, Bella and I have never had a problem. And Bella is just one cat. I think you have to have four or more to be official. Three is pushing it. If you live with a significant other or kids, you’re safe. Don’t ask me why. I don’t make the rules. No, the problem started when Frankie came to live with us.
I bought a cat condo last week so Bella would have someplace to get away from him. I always thought they were kind of tacky. But, like parents who say they’ll never leave toys strewn about the living room, it happens. Out of necessity. And for me, guilt. Guilt for bringing a dog into the house. So I bought what I considered to be a more tasteful one. A ridiculous amount of money for carpet and sisal rope, it sits unused in the corner. She hasn’t touched it.
Mealtime has become tricky too. First, Frankie got a can of wet food because it successfully disguised medicine. Now Bella happily munches the moist stuff too. Again – guilt. I couldn’t very well treat him and not her. My apartment used to smell like eucalyptus and incense. Now it smells like salmon and giblets. And that’s just going in. With the two of them lying around all day passing gas, I’ve decided the cans should come with warning labels. Possible side effect: intense flatulence.
I’ve even found myself saying the very things I used to roll my eyes about. Things like, “We need to set up a play date!” or “Frankie will be at doggy daycare that day.” I used to think daycare was for spoiled little rich dogs. Now I defend it. “He needs to socialize with other dogs!” I say. I believe in the power of the pack. I think Cesar Millan is a god.
A friend of mine has a theory about all this pet mania. It affects those of us who’ve never had children. Or empty-nesters. I’ll leave this one to the mommies and daddies out there. I’m in no position to object. All I know is my once impeccable apartment is littered with squeaky toys and if you’re wearing black, I’d advise against sitting down. But I make no apologies. They’re part of the family.
I admit to feeling a little frazzled lately. You see, my mother was recently released from the hospital. Since I have a variety of handicaps, the majority of the caregiving burden fell, and is still falling, to a good friend of hers. This doesn’t mean I get off scott free. There’s still family and friends to update, finances to figure, and plenty of general worry left to go around. Not to mention, the full-time care of a particular white devil named Frankie.
I’ve always defined myself as a cat person. Cats seem to fit seamlessly into the writer’s lifestyle. Dogs? Not so much. I’m no sooner pecking away at the keyboard than I hear a loud crash in the other room and wheel in to find Frankie standing on top of a table, surrounded by scattered picture frames. Cats will let you be when you’re on a roll. Dogs need constant attention. Dogs need to go out.
In fact, I’ve found that the amount of havoc The White Devil wreaks is inversely proportional to the amount of exercise he gets. I know we need the rain, but a rainy day for me is, well … hell. Weather permitting, chances are, Frankie’s out for a walk.
And as a reluctant dog owner, no I’ll call myself a dog guardian, I can tell you the benefits are many. There seem to be few problems a brisk walk around the block with a four-legged friend will not solve.
First, it’s virtually impossible to keep your mind on your problems. There are other dogs and owners to greet, meetings to supervise, and optimal bathroom locations to scout out. If your dog is especially popular, the meet and greet portions can go on indefinitely. Sometimes I think Frankie is running for mayor of my small beach town. It particularly amuses me when he knows someone that I do not. This happens a lot, as he is my mother’s dog and frequently goes places with her instead of me: on walks, to the groomer’s, doggie daycare. Several times, we’ve passed people that wave and call out, “Hi Frankie!” And I don’t have a clue who they are.
There’s also the benefit of communing with nature. I realize not everyone is lucky enough to have a view of the Atlantic as part of their daily stroll, but nature can be found in even the most suburban of gated communities. There’s dew on the grass of those manicured lawns and the warm pink glow of a sunset is beautiful in any neighborhood.
And hey, let’s face it. You just can’t rush a good … poop. If you are trying to hurry home to your list of a million things to do — forget it. It takes what it takes. You might as well surrender to it and enjoy your moment of peace. If Frankie could read, (and talk!) I’m sure he’d ask for a newspaper. After all, there are some mysterious inner workings at play here. It’s an intricate process, one whose steps cannot be skipped. I’ve watched and waited while Frankie does so many circles, I’m sure he must be dizzy. When he finally goes, inside I’m dancing a jig.
Lastly, there’s the benefit of all this exercise. To you. Personally, I miss out on this one, with my power chair on high and Frankie trotting along beside me, but everyone knows how physical exercise reduces stress. So, pick up the pace! Unless your dog is doing circles. In which case, slow it down and think zen.
A little white dog keeps hiding and re-hiding his bone. As the soulful melody plays on, he worries and digs it up, only to bury it again. This is the Travelers Insurance commercial. I don’t know why I thought only movie dogs and dogs on television behaved this way. But this is real behavior attributed to real dogs. I’ve seen Frankie in action.
The first time I witnessed this, Frankie was pacing back and forth so much I thought he had to pee. I didn’t see the bone he had tucked in his mouth. Outside, I watched in fascination as he dug a hole, placed his treasure inside, and shoveled the dirt back with his nose. Then proceeded to have a sneezing fit.
I called a friend. “Did you know dogs really do this?” She knew. She and her husband had stopped giving their Westie bones because he never ate them. Instead, he proceeded directly to the backyard.
Since Frankie’s an indoor dog, I’ve found them all over the house. At the bottom of the laundry basket, behind books on the bottom shelf, between sofa cushions. Whenever I enter to find books spilled out on the living room floor, I know Frankie’s been digging again.
Having him around has been good for my obsessive compulsive-ness. It used to be my house was neat and I knew where everything was. Yesterday, I found a half-chewed rawhide behind the pages of my old high school photo album, along with a shredded corsage from Prom 1986. Only the ribbon could be salvaged, which is really all I should’ve kept anyway.
Problem is, Frankie’s not like the dog in the commercial. His compulsion only seems to extend to the burying part, not the digging up part. Contrary to what everyone says, he does not seem to remember where they are. Nor does he ever look for them. Out of sight, out of mind. If I happen to sit on one, fine. But I’m certainly not digging in the dirt. The one outside will probably be unearthed 50 years from now like some old time capsule. Either way, Frankie’s not worried.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Amy and I’m currently working on a book, Misadventures of a Happy Heart: A Memoir of Life Beyond Disability. The working title really tells you a lot about this blog and its categories. There’s On An Adventure (or misadventure as the case may be,) my perspective on life as a recently disabled person (From Down Here,) and my happy heart (or overall positive outlook.) Continue reading “Sooner Than I Thought”→