My Dog Is Ruining My Life

Well, we all know we’re talking tongue-in-cheek here . . .

But just to entice you, here’s the beginning of my Indie Writers Deathmatch story —

“Impossible,” says Gary. “Dogs are pals – playmates. Nobody will ever love you the way they do.” His voice crackles. Words snap and pop. Tunnel . . . lunch meeting . . . lace panties. “You’re breaking up,” I tell him. “Lace panties,” he says again.  Red. Eight p.m.  I shake my head, hang up the phone. Misha surfaces from beneath the bed, eager to give me her peace offering,  a pair of red lace panties she is so sure will make up for the overturned trash can, merit a pat on the head, if not a biscuit.  She drops the panties on a neon green Frisbee lying at the foot of the bed. 

The hyperlink above will take you to the Broken Pencil site, where you can read the rest of the story (just click the link above my name), maybe even cast your vote for it (which requires email login, something some people, understandably, shy away from). So even if I need Russian hackers to help me get past this first round, which ends at midnight tomorrow (Sunday),  I’ll take great pride in knowing my story was selected to compete and even greater pleasure in sharing it.

Fictional dog aside, these irresistible puppies, found alive after the avalanche in Italy, are guaranteed to take your mind off current affairs.

Let the games begin —

Summertime Blues

Twice in my life—one morning up at Machu Picchu and one afternoon at a Zen rock garden in Kyoto years ago—I had that exquisite present-moment sensation that these days I work (too hard I fear) at experiencing. More often it’s the past/present/future all tied in one that has me in its grip: the past tugs, the future taunts. Spirit is no match for the weight of all things sense-related. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Something in the air today—a summery breeze, a whiff of wild roses, the Portuguese Water Dog whose bark is pure squeak toy—takes me back to a day not unlike this, summer 1997, and with it the memory of feeling like the worst mother in the world. There—I said it!

It was my daughter’s first summer at sleep-away camp, also the summer she convinced us we really really really needed to get a dog, which became the bargaining chip for her not signing on for the full seven-week program. Visiting weekend rolls around quickly, we do all the parents’ weekend activities, she doesn’t want to leave.  Mama Bear has a quick consult with Papa Bear. Fine, we tell her, you can stay. But no dog. Let’s face it—no family ever really gets a dog just for the kid(s). And if she really wanted a dog, all I wanted was a few weeks of her devoted attention to the new family pet.

Suffice it to say that it was a long drive home made longer by the thick silence. Next morning rolls around, I go out for a walk, burst into tears when I run into a friend whose daughter is at the same camp. I thought I’d done something terrible, taking my daughter home just when she was getting comfortable being away. My friend laughs, with empathy.

maggie on her perch 2Gotta admire a girl who knows her priorities. I get back to the house and find my daughter already checking Penny Saver ads for adoptable dogs at nearby shelters (the Internet was not yet the go-to place for everything). The rest is history. Visits to a few different shelters and the Shepherd mix who would become known as Maggie insinuates herself into our lives. Never mind that my first choice was the very well behaved border collie-mix with two different-color eyes. Maggie was ‘The One,’ instant love the moment Sara laid eyes on her. As for me? No regrets. Ever.

I love summer—throw on a simple skirt or dress, slip into sandals, sit outdoors at a favorite French bistro sipping a martini. I don’t get to the beach much anymore, but all it takes is a touch of humidity to bring it all back in a flash: the bus to Sheepshead Bay/Manhattan Beach with friends, the blankets spread on the sand, the tinny radio playing top 40s à la Dan Ingram or Scott Muni. The cooling feel and smell of Noxzema. Excursions all the more memorable in wallet-size B&W prints.  Statue of Liberty, 1963.

statue of liberty 2statue of liberty 1963

Nostalgia, by definition, is a yearning for something gone. Many lifetimes seem to have passed between my own teen years and now, but all my daughter has to do is write about her camp years and I’m there, the ritualistic parents’ visiting weekend that punctuated each summer for five years. First things first: make sure to book the dog with the dog sitter; book a room at a B&B near camp; remind friends in the Boston area that we’d be stopping by on the way home. Pray for no rain, so that most of visiting weekend isn’t spent indoors. I relished every minute of it.

Wasn’t it yesterday?

Eddie Cochran

Today I run into a neighbor at the supermarket. She can’t help it when the tears start up, the husband who just stopped loving her. The house is sold, the divorce nearly complete. I give her a hug of comfort. She asks me to send regards, some of the neighbors we’d regularly run into on our walks—with the dogs (duh), great connectors that they are. One of those neighbors has Alzheimer’s and may (or may not) remember the neighbor who sends regards.

I love summer, really I do, fleeting as it is. Freewheelin’ days and natural tans. Fireworks and fireflies, burgers on a charcoal grill.

Music through the open doors, me in a chair on my deck. Listening.

I’m driving in the flats in a Cadillac car
The girls all say ‘you’re a worn-out star’
My pockets are loaded and spending every dime. .
. .

A recent study re: How music makes baby team players makes me laugh. It seems that when you hold a toddler, moving rhythmically to a song—Twist and Shout, in the study—they learn something about coexistence and compassion. Another duh. It’s not rocket science to recognize the power of music.  We may not sing camp songs on Facebook, but we share music, a connector as primal as it gets. We shares photos, thoughts, see me/hear me right now. Facebook may stretch the definition of ‘friend,’ but if you’re one of mine, those status updates are reassuring:  I know what you’re doing this day/this night/this summer.

Not so much those first years at camp for my daughter. I had to wait for hand-written letters, and so did she. Phone calls would come, but so would busy signals trying to get through. I think she was lucky to go to camp at a time when cell phones were not even part of the equation.

Time moves quickly/too quickly/even more so during summertime. Physicists have an explanation for this. Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman’s exquisitely poetic rendering of how a genius like no other might have dreamed alternative scenarios of time, is a book I go back to again and again. I had the pleasure of sharing those visiting weekends with him, his wife, our daughters.

Yes, I love summertime, with its long days. Midsummer nights of dreaming and partying, nothing wasted about youth even if it (eventually) slips away.

 

Dear mom, please send tampons . . .

SomethingSara copyLike many other white Jewish girls from Westchester, NY, I spent the best summers of my life at sleepaway camp. When June rolls around, my camp friends and I, all still in touch, feel nostalgic for what we used to anticipate so greatly. Nostalgia often leads to a slippery spiral of looking at past relics – something we’ve been doing more as we start to try and gather camp memories for our camp’s centennial next July (and we’re not the only ones!! Older generations have already started booking houses a year in advance.) I asked my mom to send me some letters to share with friends and we’ve been discovering some gems.

Exhibit A. Sara’s first letter home (click photo to enlarge)

Well that was cute: Mom, I don’t really miss you, but here’s a laundry list of things I forgot that I need you to send. Keep in mind we weren’t allowed to call home at all for the first two weeks as young campers, so back in the ‘90s all correspondence was through the USPS (I’m told things are a little different now with that ol’ Internet guy). The letters (spanning 1997 – 2002) have a consistent pattern: usually a short update about what was going on at camp, followed by a much bigger list of things I wanted my parents to send . . . magazines, stationery, clothes, candy, CDs (but hidden of course!!). Reading through them made me feel kind of like an asshole. Hi guys! You’re paying thousands of dollars for me to go have fun, but I need more things! My mom, being the dear that she is, sees it differently. She said that I’m not a bratty asshole and to her, these letters were just reminders of how much fun I was having away from home and how happy she was that I was happy riding horses or practicing my tennis swing.

I did write home occasionally without asking for anything.  Walden 1997 car accident copyI’m sure my mom loved finding out about a car accident through a letter! It couldn’t have been that bad: I mean we still continued the hike that day. Worse was getting lost on Mt. Washington five years later, like really lost, for about five or six hours maybe? And having to be guided down the mountain by professional hikers.

Exhibit B. Tell Dad or Don’t tell Dad

Walden 1998 Mt Pleasant copy
The funniest things about these letters are the reminders of how much I haven’t changed – and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Every young girl (and adult girl, I might add) confides in her mother in ways that she doesn’t necessarily confide in her dad. Please DO NOT tell dad that I used tampons for the first time and that I need you to secretly send me some because, ew, Dad doesn’t want to hear about my period. These days it’s more of the Don’t tell Dad I bought a new pair of shoes variety (Don’t worry, Dad, I didn’t–just giving an example!) or Don’t tell Dad I was in a car accident. (It’s okay, Dad, that one was like four years ago and you know about it by now). 

Obviously it’s perfectly okay to tell him not to wear a Speedo on visiting weekend, though – something he threatened me with every summer.

Speedo

Exhibit C. Six years later

Six years after my first summer my grammar has improved quite a bit and so have my letters, I think! I’m still into pop culture (later that year when Catch Me If You Can  and Gangs of New York come out, my love for Leo will return), and I’m now  comparing my parents to the Osbournes because all my friends thought they were like Sharon and Ozzy. Turning 16 my last summer of camp was a big deal. My birthday was always after camp ended, so I needed something to look forward to like possibly a Jetta (it only took another six years to get one!!). And peaches.

Exhibit D. The Dog

Walden -- Maggie 1998 copy Another consistent thing . . . I cared a lot about my dog. I even wrote her a letter. The hardest part about being at camp, or at college or across the country, is the relationship we have with the pets we left behind. You know why? Because it’s a physical one. We can’t talk on the phone. They can’t write to us or tell us how they’re feeling. We can picture them wagging their tails, but it’s not the same. Thanks to things like Skype and FaceTime we can have a little bit more of a relationship with them, but let’s be real – they can’t really hear us or see us and they have no idea what’s going on.Dogloo

And it’s sad, too. My last memories of my dog through FaceTime were of her suffering through lymphoma. This was years after my camp days and witnessing her slowness and skinniness through a shitty camera really sucked, even if it reminded me that she was the reason I left camp early my first summer. Trust me I DID NOT want to leave early. There were lots of tears and lots of silence in the car ride home, but I really wanted a dog. This dog I ended up finding was the only thing worthy of me leaving camp early my first summer, and I’ll never regret it.

As we prepare for the centennial next year, my non-camp friends still like to tease me about how much I loved this place. I, personally, don’t think there’s anything crazy about loving something so much that brought you together with some of the most wonderful people you’ve ever met. My favorite travel buddies to this day are my camp friends. A few of us had an epic time in Spain a few years ago and got along so well because of the things we went through as young teens. At one of our friend’s weddings, the bride explicitly told us that the groom did not want us doing any camp songs or cheers. This was a wedding, not a camp reunion. Sorry, Kyle, it was really a camp reunion, because we ate all your rejected cake the night before (one of our group is a talented baker and cake decorator, who made the wedding cake; Julie Horowitz, I am plugging you here: http://duckscakery.com), while looking at old pictures, reminiscing, and drinking wine.   The memories are priceless and the friendships last a lifetime. What’s there NOT to obsess, or get a little nostalgic, about?