Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Deputy Dog

Deputy Dog in foreground with Katie in Profile
Deputy Dog, the " dog's dog", died last weekend after a short illness. Born in neighboring Monroe County thirteen years ago, Deputy had a troubled early life. He was the product of a local 'Animal Rescue Program', headed by a lawyer/saint, a very nice person, who locates stray dogs and cats, spruces them up, and brings them to Petsmart for adoption every Saturday. Deputy Dog was sadly mistreated as a puppy, and had fled his cruel captors. As a stray, he was eventually rounded up by the authorities and had a death sentence hanging over his head, with a potential pardon, if  quickly adopted. As evidence to his poor treatment, he had part of one ear missing, a defect resembling a human bite profile. He refused to discuss the matter, right to his dying day.

In 2001 Charlotte and I went to Petsmart with the intention of adopting one dog. There were more than twenty on death row. After a family discussion we narrowed our choice to one of two dogs. Unable to decide which one to adopt, we took both for a long walk and quickly noticed they.played together like old friends. Predictably, we left with both as the gallows were being assembled. 'Katie' was two or three years older than the adolescent other puppy, who had a temporary name of ' Boris'. As a big fan of the cartoon Deputy Dog when growing up, I decided 'Boris' looked  the part, so his name was changed. The lawyer/saint was able to legalize this name change for a minimal additional charge.

Kate (aka) " the Sheriff" and her "deputy", Deputy Dog seemed delighted with their new eleven acre home. They took their law enforcement duties quite seriously. Anyone driving up was immediately greeted, and we were duly notified by their distinctive barks. Both agreed that 5427 Rivolli Drive was not the place any rodent, or rodent like animal was welcome. Trespassing resulted in a team approach of search, seizure and execution. On most occasions the criminals were also eaten, but never in entirety. Charlotte and I debated whether this last action was meant to be a message for potential future trespassers, or some type of bragging ritual for our benefit. I recall a short period of time when a number of raccoons, attempting to relocate in our yard, were all killed, one at a time, over four or five successive nights. Every morning, just off the front porch, we were horrified to see the mangled top half of a grown coon. I recall telling Charlotte:
               "Something about them raccoon's hineys seem to be aggravating to the dogs."

These two new family members were real dogs and not your typical modern day inside "yappers". For a decade they stayed outside the entire time. They reminded me of my younger years when I preferred to be outside 100% of the time. Even their attitudes toward the parental figures coincided with mine. In no way did they beg for our attention or seek constant approval. Most kids raised today are toted to their piano lessons,  to karate, and then to soccer, where every practice and game is viewed by the adoring parents. This seems annoyingly similar to the indoor dogs, who race from room to room with the 'master', needing constant attention and praise. As a child I preferred our Sunday 28 inning baseball games with the neighborhood kids, in jeans, T shirts, and no parents, to the Saturday Little League games we played with standardized uniforms, umpires, chalk lines, and screaming parents. What a delight it was for Charlotte and I, as parents, to watch Deputy and Kate play together all day, always on a mission.

When we first brought Katie and Deputy Dog home we gathered everyone around and explained the lineup:
                                  "Cats in, Dogs out".
Maybe the dogs should have contracted the 'Lawyer/ Saint' to negotiate on their behalf, but they didn't.
The cats looked rodent enough for us to be concerned.

Deputy was the friendlier of the two. He was more or less the Will Rodgers of the canine world, never meeting a dog he did not like. His good will extended to all human visitors as well.  He was always so happy to greet everyone who came to see us, including strangers, running to them with his tail a waggin'. We assumed he had a sixth sense to discern the murderers, rapists and tax assessors. We had no problem with first two, but come to think of it, our taxes have been going up.

During the first winter, severe low temperatures were predicted one evening. The television/radio people repeatedly warned that all pets needed to be brought indoors. We had to do something. We did not want the Defax social workers in our home again. That was painful enough when those jerks showed up in earlier years, questioning our child rearing skills, something about:
                "Why does your little girl not have a bow in her hair?".

We made nice beds for the dogs in Charlotte's studio located below the gardens East of the house and turned on the heat. When we woke up the next morning and looked outside we noted the dogs were comfortably sleeping on the porch, and it was 18 degrees. When we went to the studio we discovered they must have taken a running leap, and had gone right through a glass window. We never again tried to tell them where to sleep. This time, Defax saw it our way.

Katie died a couple of years ago of an apparent heart attack in her sleep. "The Dep" did not take this too well. He stayed on the front porch, hunted with little enthusiasm and less success. He was particular freaked out by the lightening and thunder. Apparently Katie made better sense of this threat and together, they weathered the storms. Missing his partner and finding himself alone, Deputy Dog seemed bewildered and frightened. As a team, the Dogs had been fearless. By himself, Deputy grew cautious. Fire crackers were the worst. Though otherwise a proud American and by no means a 'political animal', he grew to hate the 4th of July, then the flag and eventually the flag wavers.
           "Assholes", he preached to the cats.

Soon thereafter, secure his years of good work assured him a comfortable lifestyle, he announced his retirement as a 24/7 watch dog, and asked to be an indoor dog. The vet by then had assured us the dogs knew the cats were family, and would inflict no harm upon them. So in he came. He never yapped, but he did follow us from room to room. We brought his bed from the porch into our bedroom every night and back outside in the morning to his favorite spot, depending on the season.

He remained skeptical of the arrangement to the end. Most nights the three of us would watch an entire movie together. I then asked if he needed to pee and I held the door open. Typically he would pause, refusing to exit, sensing the door would be shut behind him. Without fail I would then go out and pee in the yard. He followed and peed on my pee and the two of us would reenter the house to join Charlotte. Ditto the next night and ditto for 2 years.

Indoor dogs always develop a neurosis or two and Deputy was no exception. He refuse to bathe and amazingly, he did not smell bad. The only time he got into the car was to go to the vet. He was not good at the vet. Once, when he was sick, the vet took a rectal temp and Dep bit the guy. That didn't go over well with the staff, even after I explained to them Deputy's response was genetic:
             " No one", I revealed, "in the entire family tolerates that procedure well. "
After this violation of his dignity, he refused to get into the car, no exceptions, even when we put bacon in the back seat. Luckily in Macon, we have a house call vet who looked after him, sans temps!

With declining skills he teamed up with the cats during the day to hunt. The cats advanced to indoor/ outdoor vocations after 'Jackson', the Maine Coon Cat, escaped and went on a 'walkabout'  for 2 months and to our amazement was able to survive. That's another whole story. Jackson claimed he lived on coyote pups, going into the den at night when the parents were out hunting. Charlotte and I thought this was some sort of bullshit but Deputy bought it hook, line and sinker. Impressed, Deputy and the cats joined ranks though I felt it was a pitiful facsimile to the good old days with Katie. Typically Jackson captured the chipmunks and brought them to Dep, who would gobbled them down in a heartbeat. He loved those chipmunks and always referred to them as "potato chipmunks". He was predictably never satisfied with just one. Apparently there must have been some type of reciprocal protection arrangement. Since his Dep's death, the cats will not go outside.

He was such a handsome dog. Everyone knew he turned down multiple leading man offers from Hollywood, content to stay here hunting and watching out for the two of us. Even when he was older, with gray hair on his snout, he was offered spots in commercials. He turned them all down with the explanation he did not believe in the particular product. He had a few faults but he was definitely a dog with principles.

Dep was in serious decline the last  few months even with the traveling vet doing all she could. He saw the end was coming and tended to reminisce. He told the same stories over and over but we loved hearing them. Mostly they were hunting adventures with Kate. Regrets? Well, he had a few.
       " I should have come in earlier" he said.
       " Air conditioning? Shit.Who knew?"
As you can see he did have a foul mouth and also dog breath, but we never mentioned our concern. I gave him grief about the theft of my precious all black El Camino, stolen one night right under his nose when we were both home. He claimed I deserved to have it stolen for being so insensitive to the plight of immigrants, evidenced by my custom made bumper sticker on the back fender which read:  "I Swam the Rio Grande".  Hell, I told him, I am practically an immigrant myself . Back and forth we would go. It's hard to argue with a dog.

The end was terrible. He went into kidney failure. We discussed options. Dep refused dialysis, I am proud to say, and on the last day he had problems breathing. We didn't bring up the ventilator. When he died we were devastated. I was surprised by the extent of my grief.  More so, than when some people die; I mean the ones we knew. That's probably not right, terrible in fact. What a predictable and ridiculous Catholic thing to do: Feeling guilty about feeling bad. I am certain the nuns who mentored me in my early schooling would have been proud of my "bringing the abstract concept of misery to a new and much needed level." 

But that is where it is. Bad feeling. Terrible loss. A great dog. A real dog. The dog's dog. Deputy Dog. We will never forget him

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


T and T enterprises reunited, in front of our hotel
In 2002, I saw Spanish writer and director Pedro Almodovar's film Talk to Her and was overwhelmed. This was a story, among other things, of two men involved with two women, both in a coma and in the same hospital. It won the Academy award for best screenplay and the Golden Globe award for best foreign film. Talk to Her masterfully deals with the difficulty of male/female communication (sometimes better in coma), of loneliness, and love transcending loss. I recall feeling this movie was so complete, it went beyond the skill of one film maker, and had to be the product of a culture uniquely sensitive, in a very attractive way, to person(s) with a myriad of genuine problems, including neurological disorders. The Spanish, hmmm, I had no idea. They were not even mentioned in the popular book from 1984 The Europeans by Luigi Barzini. Perhaps he felt they were irrelevant compared to the Italians, English, German, and French. But like a beautiful cloud one may marvel at for a few minutes, wonder if anyone else even noticed it, and then forget what it looked like altogether, I had not thought much of Spain since that movie in 2002. By happenstance I am on a plane returning from two wonderful weeks in the northeast section

The Comeback Kid
I discovered cycling in 1969 with my college roommate Todd (See previous entry, The Huffy). We spent many hours together on our entry level 10 speed bikes. Initially our rides were absurd, mostly at night in downtown Atlanta. With no helmets, no reflectors and no lights, we hauled ass, dodging the cars, the muggers and the prostitutes (okay, maybe we slowed a little bit for the night ladies). These night rides were eventually surpassed by the ridiculous 500 mile ride in 5 days, we took through the middle of Florida, in July 1971. Before that tour we probably never rode more than 10 miles in any one day. Once we figured out how to prepare for and manage longer rides, we had a few good trips, including two in Canada. 40 years had passed since we last rode together. Todd  moved to Australia and shortly thereafter gave up cycling altogether. He came out of cycling retirement a year ago and when he did, we discussed a reunion ride for July, 2013.

The original plan was to take on the high Pyrenees in the Southwest of France. But my aging weak legs and Ptosiphobia dampened my enthusiasm for the long 8 % to10 % climbs and descents. So we Google mapped several areas along the Spanish/French border where the Pyrenees begin it's slow decline into the Mediterranean Sea and settled on the city of Girona, a hour's train ride northeast of Barcelona. With an established cycling reputation and several shops renting high end bikes, this was an easy choice. As a bonus, it was not difficult to bring along a mini entourage of other friends and family.

We didn't go to France but Sarah
did get a baguette bag
Girona is a medium-sized city with a small "old town" and river in its center  It is in the foothills of the Pyrenees and about 40-50 km from the Mediterranean. We rented bikes from a great store, which also helped us with  hotel reservations, provided maps and suggested rides. With a year of preparation Todd  was back in his old form. He looks and rides like the five time Tour winner Bernard Hinault. His enthusiasm was palpable and contagious.

The routine was to ride very early every morning to avoid the midday heat, and to get back and spend time with family and friends. Our entourage included the wives, my daughter Sarah and 'other' daughter Jennifer. Our friends Doug and Susan eventually made it over from France and my sister and her daughter, Mary, each stayed with us part of the time. Todd and I averaged riding about 60 miles a day but were usually out for quite some time, having coffee and chocolate croissants, trying to talk to the locals, getting lost of course, and taking advantage of the numerous photo opps. The traffic was very light. The Spanish drivers were unbelievably courteous.

We never had an unpleasant experience while riding. It was as if the area's financial interests depended exclusively on the goodwill of the local and visiting cyclists. The drivers on the winding roads were content to stay behind any rider for a matter of minutes, rather than place either in peril. There was never an impatient car horn or an aggressive attempt to pass us. The contrast between our sometimes hostile locals in Georgia, the maniacal French or to a greater extent, lunatic Italian drivers, was shocking.  No one was in a hurry. If someone from outer space dropped into Italy, after about 2 days, they would conclude, the entire purpose of life was to get from point A to point B faster than anyone else in the country. On one ride we stopped momentarily to look at our maps and several young boys approached to ask what I had on my helmet. When I showed them it was a mirror, they were able to surmise I perceived a need to see the cars behind. When I confirmed their theory, one immediately countered:
              "But why do you need it? The cars will see you."
His innocence was moving. Culture there apparently matters. In Spain, bike riders are respected and admired. If he ever rides in the U.S. he will be shocked by the rudeness of American drivers.

The dwellings in Girona with Cathedral in back round

From the Ride to the Sea
We had 10 rides. Mostly out of town into the hills and small villages, one direction or the other. There were two rides to the sea where we had to go over a Category 1 climb to get there and back. Once we reached the Mediterranean, the road resembled the Pacific Coast Highway, winding along the dramatic rock cliffs hovering above the sea. One day we rode 20 miles out of Girona and then had a 28 km climb to an old town on top of a mountain. We had a bonus of a 20 foot road washout on the long climb, precluding any car traffic. We were joined by Ben, an interesting and likable Colgate Professor we met on the "shop ride" several days before, where several itinerant professionals, locals and visitors all ride together. Many pros still live and train in Girona as Lance did years ago. After a week of stopping for every stop sign and red light, we noted on the shop ride, the locals ran through all of them.

Todd in front of apartment building that
housed Lance and Tyler Hamilton  
Going back to my resurrected feelings on Talk to Her, coupled with a direct experience with the Spanish people on this trip convinced me this was a culture, individually and collectively 'comfortable in their own skin'. I can not overstate how obvious and attractive this appeared to a cycling visitor and to the rest of our entourage. The Spanish ran the world in the 15th and early 16th Century, losing out to the manufacturing English, along with her other European cousins.  Perhaps it takes five centuries of "not being in charge" (or with the French, thinking they are in charge) for this obvious contentment.

The pool came in quite handy for recovery. Here we were
telling Susan how many Spanish pro riders we passed up that day
The food was incredible. We had a kitchen in the hotel. The tomatoes in the small market down the street were as good as our garden tomatoes we cried about leaving behind. We were able to buy whole squid and other good seafood. Naturally we purchased a European Nespresso coffee machine. With 7 to 10 people hitting it hard, it was not that stupid a purchase, until it was time to leave! The restaurants deserve special mention. If you Google the" Top 50" restaurants in the world you will find El Cellar de Can Roca number one. This is in Girona. It is impossible for a restaurant this good to spring out of a vacuum. The day El Cellar officially received the ranking, it had 2 million hits on its web site and in a few days they had to hire three people just to say "no" to hopeful patrons. Needless to say, we did not get in.

The entire experience was life sustaining. The riding, the small towns, the sea, the company, getting to know Mrs. Todd better (Susan, whom we love), breaking bread with family I don't see often enough, old and new friends, the pool side stories, the coffee, the wine, the food. It was a series of pleasures, each stacked on another, and another and another.

How does one capture such an experience in words? The renewal of riding with a lifelong friend after a 40 year interval. The kindness of strangers. The pleasure of  family and friends within the essence of a remarkable culture, brought together in this wonderful city. To borrow "a bit", as my my Australian friends say  from Pat Conroy's  Prince of Tides:  Since I have been home, every day before work as I put on my gear to ride, ".......These words come to me in a whisper, as a prayer, as a regret, and as praise: Girona, Girona, Girona".